Well. I think that I knew it was coming at some point in my life, but I don’t think I realized that it would happen at 25. I’ve become my parents. It’s official; earlier this week I caught myself mid-sentence and realized that I was in the middle of giving the exact same lecture that I myself received a decade ago from good ol mom and dad. I have sweet little Sid to thank for my slipup. Allow me to elaborate.
At the school, we have instituted a mandatory after school homework hour, so that the children are finished with their homework before they even leave campus. The main motivation behind this move was in response to the culture here in Njabini. Most of the children go home at night to hours of chores around the house; they don’t have to dread setting the table or loading the dishwasher; no, they get to look forward to tending to the animals, setting piles of trash on fire (true story – in two months I’ve taken 10 years off my life with the combination of sun damage and toxic fume inhalation from burning piles of trash) cooking dinner over an open flame and caring for younger siblings. It’s no wonder the children show up to school with incomplete homework. Yet another barrier to their productivity, I would venture to guess that 9/10 of these children’s families do not have electricity. Once the light is gone, it’s a lot harder to produce a satisfactory composition. Not to mention that back in November when I first arrived here, I was amazed that a white piece of paper could be brown and stained 12 hours later. Long story short: the community children’s homes are not conducive to learning.
Which brings me to Sid. Around lunchtime the other day, her teacher approached me, with a deflated looking Sid (and if you know this girl, you would know that deflated is not one of the character traits she easily embodies) and proceeded to regale me with a list of grievances against her. Apparently that was the third time since school started 2 weeks ago that she has shown up to class unprepared, not even bringing her backpack or notebooks. Additionally, she has been inconsistent in her homework completion and more often than not, she ends up sitting all day in class with no books or means of taking notes, and instead gets up, walks around, and distracts her classmates.
While the house and school are separate buildings in the same compound, in an effort to reinforce the separation of school and home, we have been teaching the children that when they leave the house at 8am they need to bring everything that they need for the day with them, and we don’t expect to see them back in the house until 3pm when school is over. The first week of classes, we were getting children running in and out of the house at all hours, getting the pencil or notebooks they had forgotten, grabbing the sweater that they hadn’t needed in the morning, or changing into a more appropriate pair of shoes. Not only is it unfair for the 60 community children who don’t have the option of retrieving a forgotten book or item of clothing, but it sets a bad precedent for the children.
Regardless of this rule, apparently Sid had already been in and out of the house twice to look for the backpack which she had “lost.” Frustrated, and frankly, embarrassed (geez, parents reaction or what?), I apologized to the teacher for her lack of preparation (I feel as if it is a direct reflection of the Flying Kites staff if our children aren’t the most prepared for school) and had Sid issue a similar apology to her teacher. I explained that it was disrespectful to a teacher to not be prepared for his class; I then walked inside with her to look for this lost backpack. Our matron, Joyce, suggested that Sid look in the sitting room for her bag, and, lo and behold, there it is, in plain sight on one of the bookshelves. I gave Sid a reproachful look and shooed her out the door, expecting that the problem would be solved. I suppose I can chalk that one up to a first-time parent’s naiveté….
After dinner every night, the children can choose to watch a movie until 8pm, at which point the begin the process of teeth brushing, pajama changing and face washing. As Sid filed past me into the hallway I asked her if she had completed all of her homework. She said, “well no, but I have been told to go to bed.” I said, no no Sid, that’s not how it works. You were only sent to bed if your homework was done, and furthermore, why were you watching the movie when you knew you had homework to complete? Well, she did not have a good answer for that one, so I sent her back to the dining room table and told her to get back to work. (Again, I blame myself for assuming that she would have done her homework during the “homework hour.” She told me that rather than doing her homework, she was entertained by the men who were in the classroom leveling the legs of some of the desks with saws. Apparently it was fascinating stuff). 15 minutes later, we heard the pitter patter of her new furry croc slippers as she shuffled down the hallway to the living area the volunteers were relaxing in. She meekly poked her head in and asked if we could send someone down to the other end of the house to sit with her while she did her homework. Ha. Ha. I don’t think so Sid. We told her to bring her books down to us, and we would all sit with her while she was working.
I was instantly reminded of a book I used to read as child, “Grownups Have All the Fun,” or something to that effect in which a young girl laments going to bed night after night, convinced that her parents wait until she’s sleeping to start the party. She has visions of her parents having pillow fights, watching movies, inviting friends over and eating buckets and buckets of ice cream. One night, she either sneaks down or is allowed to stay up late by her parents, only to realize that they are no more than dull duds for those few hours they are up after she goes to bed. The mother does bills, while the father reads the paper, or something similar, and she is filled with this immense disappointment that there is in fact, nothing special about getting to stay up late. I believe Sid had a similar revelation that evening, as she sat in the room with us while we typed away on our computers, read a book and chatted quietly. By 8:30, a few of us had already gone to bed ourselves.
I kept a watch on Sid’s progress out of the corner of my eye, and every time she looked up to contribute to the conversation, I found myself saying “Sid, back to your homework please, it’s not a privilege to be in here right now, it’s a punishment.” Chastened, she would immediately go back to her work, although I noticed that while her pencil was moving in the air, she was not actually putting lead to paper, as she was clearly eavesdropping on our conversations rather than concentrating on her homework..
After about 45 minutes of unproductivity I was ready for bed, and realized that since I had by default of everyone else leaving, been designated Sid’s unofficial supervisor, my bedtime was not in sight at the rate she was going. I made an executive decision (which I now realize was not a random thought that sprang into my head, rather, it was my genetic destiny kicking into high gear) that there was no way Sid was going to finish her work that night, and I had to come up with a solution. I decided that rather than poorly complete the homework and make us all miserable, she could instead choose compose a short letter to her teacher, apologizing for her prior indiscretions, and additionally, apologizing for not honoring the promise she had made hours earlier to him that from now on her homework would be completed every evening. When I presented her with the two choices she had, she looked as if she had just watched a third eye pop through my skin. Again, I have to explain a bit about Sid as a person for anybody to fully grasp how rare an event it is for her to be speechless. Maybe it’s about as rare as the solar eclipse we had seen earlier that day.
Sid is one of our most effusive children; her emotions are always on the extreme ends of the spectrum. She is one of our happiest, most bubbly girls, but also one of the most aggressive troublemakers. I believe this dichotomy in her emotions is the result of her early childhood. When she was born she had a small stroke that may or may not have affected her brain development (personally, I don’t think she is slower than the other children; on the contrary, she is impressively bright), however the left side of her body is much weaker than the right. Sports and heavy lifting are quite a challenge for her, and she slurs her speech a bit and drools quite liberally; it’s as if she has a permanently Novocained left side of her mouth (imagine the drugs never wearing off from a dentist appointment) In addition to her birth injury, Sid sustained significant emotional and physical trauma as a young girl when she was repeatedly raped by her uncle. In addition to the emotional damage she has incurred as a result of this despicable sexual abuse, she is one of our nightly bedwetters, as her pelvis has been permanently damaged, which affects the ability of the bladder to function properly. So, it is my belief that this early trauma causes her to wear her emotions on her sleeve; for completely justified reasons, Sid is either wicked happy, or wicked sad and moody. However I would say that 70% of the time she is a carefree child.
Now that you all understand what an impressive feat it is to render this child speechless, you may appreciate the sense of satisfaction I had when I felt that I had, in fact, helped to teach her a lesson. After another painful 20 minutes, the letter to her teacher was finished. I think Sid herself realized the irony that she was apologizing for not being prepared for class and promising not to do it again in the same sentence that she apologized in advance for not being prepared for class the next day. While I asked my parents about this when I next spoke with them, and they couldn’t collaborate my suspicions, I am almost convinced that I myself had to write a letter like this at least once to a teacher. I remember it being such an embarrassing experience that it scared me straight for at least a week…
So far so good; it’s been almost a week, and every day Sid has come straight up to me after school and let me know that her homework is complete, and that her teacher has already graded it. I’m reassured, if only for a short while, that my lesson sunk in. Although, if this girl is anything like I was in 3rd grade, I guarantee I’ll be hearing from her teacher again soon.
Another Sid-related motherly moment: the girl does NOT know how to slow down. She does everything at warp speed, which makes her even more hilarious, because she favors her left side, so it’s always slightly behind her right side, but fast nonetheless. So, it stands to reason that she also eats fast; I mean this girl shovels food into her mouth like it’s her last meal. To be fair, a lot of the children do that, boarders and school children; I think it’s a cultural thing, food is not always plentiful, so you should eat all that is put in front of you and be grateful for it. Regardless of the cultural reasonings behind it, our kids are pigs. It’s something we’re chipping away at slowly but surely, introducing them to napkins, placemats (it’s so cute, they have the placemats with the map of the world on it and every night we have them find a country and then give a little fun fact about it. To this day, they can still tell you how to spell Mongolia, and explain that it is known for horses, and a man once rode across the country on the side of a horse, a fun fact they learned over a month ago…) and other accoutrements of civilization. The utensil of choice in Kenya is the spoon, and Sid will shove a tennis ball sized scoop of rice and beans in her mouth, followed quickly by another, and then 10 seconds later, get up from the table choking. I told her repeatedly that her bites are too big, she needs to chew before she swallows, and she most certainly needs to stop getting up and moving around the dining room with a mouthful of food. She listens to me for approximately 3 bites before she is choking again.
After a few nights of this, I decided that the solution was not to tell her to take smaller bites on her adult sized spoon, but to force her to take smaller bites by giving her a smaller spoon. We have a few small sugar spoons lying around, so the other night, I went into the cupboard and presented Sid with her “special spoon.” At first I was concerned that she would be offended by this downgrade, but my fears turned out to be unfounded, as she squealed with joy and showed off her new spoon to everyone. Needless to say, we have had no choking-related incidents since, and every night when the kids are getting ready to sit down, I hear her little voice: “Auntie Hannah, my special spoon please!” Ah, how can you NOT be encouraged by such a wonderful little victory?