BY FLORENCE BETT
Muna is fearless when she’s around me.
I love how that reads so I’ll go ahead and write it one more time, just to ward off some of the anxiety that comes with parenting a toddler: Muna is fearless when she’s around me. When she’s with Nanny Viv, Muna has the mannerisms and orderliness of some prep school dorm prefect.
I was on bed rest for two weeks sometime last July; the doctor had given me strict orders to stay indoors for 10 working days so that my knackered behind could rest and recover. From under the comforter in my bedroom, I overheard Muna and Nanny Viv go through their day. They operated within this precise and predictable routine that was both military in its execution and flawless in its mastery. This was the stuff of NIS or the army barracks or some naval base. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nanny Viv had contact with the Navy SEALS in boot camp training.
And when they tell you babies and toddlers thrive in routine, you best believe your doubtful ass they do.
Here’s how it went: After a breakfast of uji or oats or Weetabix, they’d troop back to Nanny Viv’s room for a post-brekkie poop. Nanny Viv would sit Muna on her potty while she carried on with studyinng her Bible or folding and ironing laundry or some other duty. Her phone would be playing a gospel tune from a local artist, Chibalonza or Gloria Muliro or someone. Nanny Viv liked to crank up the volume so loud I imagined the phone would burst apart from the racket and spring coils and transistors and motherboards would go flying across the room.
As Muna waited for the, uhm, poo (is that the right word?) to drop into the potty, I pictured her twiddling her thumbs or inspecting her fingernails and sighing out aloud, wondering what the hell she has to do around this house to get them clipped and filed on time.
It’d be silent for a few moments then I’d hear her say, “Aunty? Aunty?” Nanny Viv would respond, ‘Yes?” Muna would call out her name again, “Aunty? Aunty?” and Nanny Viv would respond, ‘Yes?”, and the game would tirelessly go on in this pointless exchange for another five minutes.
Sometimes I’d hear Nanny Viv reading the alphabet or numbers out aloud to her, it sounded like they were in Sunday school or a kindergarten. “Sound ‘C’ is for ‘Cat’. Muna say ‘caaaatttt!’ ‘caaaattt’” Muna would repeat what she heard in a fit of giggles and babbles. Hearing her warmed my heart.
They’d go out to play at 9.30AM. Muna would have her fruit and milk while she played with the other kids in the hood. I pictured them going out in Muna’s bike or playing in the swings or just chilling some place, under the sun, Nanny Viv gossiping with the other nannies while their charges played.
She and Nanny Viv would return to the digs at 11AM when Muna would go down for her morning nap – no whimpers, no battles, no negotiations, no cot acrobatics. Nanny Viv would simply set her down and tell her to sleep. It’d be silent, meaning that Muna really had gone to sleep. It was miraculous, I tell you. Miraculous! I’ve never had such luck with putting her down for a nap.
They’d have an engaging lunch at 1PM then repeat the play-fruits-milk routine after, until 5PM, when Muna would take her bathe then dutifully go down for another nap. Dinner would be at 7PM, I’d leave my room after Muna had cleared her plate; she usually spits her food out of her mouth when she sees me and refuses to continue eating, so it’s best that I’m out of sight during mealtimes. She and I would horse around and watch sing-alongs until her bedtime at 9PM, when Nanny Viv would put her down in her cot to sleep.
To this day, no one – and I mean no one – puts Muna down to sleep the way Nanny Viv does. So you can imagine the bedtime stress I have when Nanny Viv is away on her leave, or when we’re out of town as a family, or when we’re in shagz for Christmas.
If you asked Nanny Viv to describe Muna, she would say obedient, angelic, calm, composed and book smart. “Anashikanga maneno haraka sana,” she’d say. “Ata mwalimu wake wa nursery atakuwa anafanya kazi ya bure.”
I don’t know who the hell that child is.
That child that Nanny Viv describes? That’s not the Muna who’s with us Sundays.
On Sundays – Nanny Viv’s day off, when it’s just Muna, GB and I – Muna is anything but any of those glorious traits. Instead, she’s adventurous, bullish, restless, unruly and has a wicked sense of humour. All these dimensions combine to make her fearless. Like a beetle painted yellow in a world of gray.
Muna won’t nap on Sundays. Ah aah, she won’t nap for anyone. She’d rather hold her eyelids open with a toothpick than take a nap. She suffers serious FOMO when we’re with her.
She won’t remember to use her potty either, even if I put it right in front of her. Bathroom breaks will be in her diaper-free pants or the carpet or the couch or wherever they’ll find her playing. And she’s usually the first to call out her own doing. “See soosoo, see.”
She won’t eat well, either, so I’ll keep her snacking on fruit and give her bits of lunch off my own plate.
Muna will play in the digs. She likes to take off her socks before she gets into it. I don’t get it either, I suppose it’s how she wants to be remembered: as The Barefoot Bandit; The Humorous Hurricane; The Sockless Sinner. She’ll scramble to the brow of the couch, spread her arms out and jump onto GB’s belly, as if he’s a trampoline or some large stuffed animal. She’ll laugh hard then repeat the game until GB is an inch away from a hernia. GB may seem pissed but I know he likes it.
Or she’ll clamber up the dining table and kick everything off it – mats, newspapers, that orange handwoven Maasai basket that holds the keys – then dance and chant about, stomping her feet like a Zulu warrior readying himself for battle.
When the table dance eventually bores her, Muna will find her pink plastic chair and drag it up and down the digs, stopping every few minutes to stand on it and shout in her baby talk. She looks like that street preacher from Toi Market. Or she’ll use it to reach knickknacks we’d kept out of her reach. The thing about having a toddler is that you start to move your precious delicate decoratives from one shelf to the next upper shelf, the one she can’t reach yet, then you’ll move it further up when she can, then up further up until you eventually lock it away. Our shelves are bare now. What she hasn’t broken – yet – we’ve put away as a precaution. We can’t put up any decorative items because she’d have broken everything we treasure before she starts school.
Breaking stuff is what makes GB lose it. “Muna, no. No! Leave Papa’s chessboard. I don’t want a piece, no, put it back.” Muna usually ignores him. GB will impatiently turn to address me. “She’s almost two, we need to start disciplining her! She doesn’t have any boundaries when you’re here.”
It’s hilarious at best, at worst it’s because it illuminates my shortcomings as a parent. I’m not like my own mother: I can’t pinch or slap her, or whoop her ass with a sosioth (the traditional stick that’s used to stir the fermenting traditional Kale milk in the gourd, the mursik). I wanted dialogue when I was a kid, would I be sinfully naive to say that I want the same thing with Muna. Dialogue with a toddler? Hahaa. I must be smoking some cheap weed.
He’ll turn back to her. “Muna, no! Give me Papa’s phone. Give me.” She’ll jump off her chair and run off to hide with it. She hides with her feet poking out from where she is; it’s the cutest thing. Getting her out of the digs to play is the only way to calm her, so GB will call out, “Muna, get bike we go outside. Bike, we play. Bike.”
I’m torn: I don’t want to police her just yet because I want to encourage the self-belief and sense of security in knowing Mummy is close by. I want her to try new things, to push the envelope as far she wishes. I actually love seeing her turn the digs a mess. I do. I love seeing her feisty, invincible and free-spirited when she’s out socializing on play dates or Sunday fundays, or when we’re visiting with her grandparents and cousins. On play dates, she pinches the older boys and girls, and sits on the heads of the babies. Hell, she even refuses to return their toys.
Yet I also want to teach her that there’s some stunting that won’t fly. That she has to listen and stand back when we say no.
As I stand at the window to see GB steering her away on her bike, Muna will turn around and flash me a huge smile and wave bye. That smile gets me all fuzzy inside. I’ll blow her kiss and think to myself, Meh, let your fearless baby be – one day she’ll put on her socks and you’ll miss her old sins.
An edited version of this story first run in the August-2017 issue of True Love magazine