Art and Craft

Our mothers raise us with the best of what they know about being mums. Nobody is taught to be a mum. It’s a watch-and-learn as they grow up themselves. They pick up tools and tips and tricks and titbits from every conceivable corner as they mature in the ways of the world, and they stash it away in a secret box they keep locked away in the corners of their minds. They observe, they listen, they ask. They laugh with others (sometimes at others. Shamelessly so), they sympathize, they offer to help them when they can (even when they know they can’t), they bend over backwards. They pray for grace and patience and wisdom. Then they wait. They wait for us – the kids they will bring out their secret box for. The kids they will try to be the best mums, the best versions of themselves they can be, for. The kids who will test their tenacity on parenting and motherhood. Let’s see how far I can stretch myself for this one, they say.

Then they have us. We finally show face.

They think they have it all figured out. But they don’t. The secret box suddenly seems ill-equipped, outdated and useless. Unnecessarily bulky. And musty – what the hell have you been stashing in there anyway? They prepared to be mums, but they weren’t ready. Preparation counts for little when you have this…this person – a blank canvas, a mound of clay, a block of wood, a raw beat – that you must colour and mould and chip and fine-tune. So they fling the secret box away and roll up their sleeves as they scrutinize, truly, for the first time, what sits before them.

Then they begin to get their hands dirty.

You cannot be ready to be a mum, that’s what she told me. You can prepare for it with every purchase for your baby’s closet, every new-moms support group you actively participate, every blog you subscribe to, every baby shower you attend. You stash your home library with books and videos. You stash your secret box with every tale from the old wives’ club.

But you only prepare for birth, but not for motherhood – the craft and the art to being a mum.

When it gets down to it, you take the ball and run with it. You watch and respond. You are reactive, and somewhat foolish, before you learn to be proactive. You follow your gut and listen to your inner voice. You read your kids, you don’t read books about kids. You study them and take notes about them, notes that are so individually tailored you can’t export them as a manual to raise another of your kids.

And this is where you look back in hindsight and conclude that your Mum didn’t get this part right with you: she blanketed her disciplining across her seven kids. Your Mum wasn’t one of you modern parents who negotiated with her errant kids or sent them to the corner for a timeout. She was as traditional as they were made back then. She neither worried about hurting your feelings, your asses or falling out of favour with you. Nor did she worry about how loudly you cried or how much you slithered like an injured snake around her feet as she disciplined you.
You err, you get whooped with her sosiot. Simple.

Quick rundown: A sosiot (read as sosio-th) is a special type of stick they use to clean the gourd that holds the fermenting milk. The gourd is a sotet (again, read as so-th-e-th) and the fermenting milk is mursik. You have heard of mursik, haven’t you? When akina Vivian Cheruiyot and her ilk are checking in at the airport after winning golds and silvers in international sports events, there’s always an elder with a sotet full of mursik at hand to force it down the throat of one of these unsuspecting medallists. That always cracks me up, hehee.
The sotet is dotted with black fire spots. And they have this handmade lids made of cow hide and lined with beads. Intricate and beautiful work. The lids hang from the neck of the gourd on a piece of soft leather. The sosiot is narrow and curved at one end, like a walking stick. Just long enough to reach the bottom of the sotet.
My Mum brewed her own mursik in our kitchen from time to time. It has the same romanticism as saying you brew your own wine, or that you churn your own butter, doesn’t it?
The gourds would be aligned in neat rows in the cabinet beneath the kitchen sink. And every two, three days, she’d get a sosiot to stir the mursik. Then she’d run the sosiot through water and take them out to the sun to dry, ready for the next stir. It’s all part of the fermentation process.

She didn’t throw them out once the mursik had brewed. Nah. She’d dry and harden them in the sun for a week or more then stow them far from our sight. The sosiot, this is what she used to whoop the indiscipline off our skinny behinds. This was her weapon of choice.

Do you remember those Satos when you stayed out too late playing with kina Nana from #17 and she’d be waiting for you at the door; the sosiot in her right hand, her left akimbo? And she had this thing where she bit her bottom lip to show she was mad. The tighter the bite, the madder she was. If she had her red slippers on, you knew you were in for a bigger beating. Because when she knew you weren’t getting enough from the sosiot, she’d fling it aside and reach for her slippers. Scream, child. Scream. I’m not hurting you, I’m loving you. This is how a mother shows she cares.
A primary school teacher for a mum with a sosiot in her hand, tell me that wasn’t a kid’s worst nightmare?

But you weren’t that type of kid, the type of kid who had her discipline meted out so. You were far from hardy. You were needy. And a woose. Your hands were too soft, your thighs too thundery and your bottom too squishy to withstand the whooping of her sosiot. You’d cry before she even started it. Saying you were sorry got you nowhere, you had already crossed the Rubicon. And you were too shaken to ask her not to whoop you. You imagine she derived some sort of sick pleasure from seeing the red streaks of her sosiot criss-cross your guilty skin. So you took it like a cowboy and numbed your emotions for as long as she had the energy to whoop you. A part of you hardened.
But that’s not the worse part. The worst part is that you can’t have a glass of mursik to date because you associate it to the whoopings you received as a child. Your mum injured you for life, heehe. You need professional help to dissociate the two – Oprah? Dr Phil? Anyone?

You believe your Mum got it wrong with you here. You wanted dialogue and diplomacy. If you’d have had a sit-down with her to explain just why you broke her Sunflower thermos and pinned it on your kid bro, maybe she would have told you to be more careful next time before she gave you a hug. You and she would have met on a level of maturity you insist you deserved as a child. Sober resolution of conflicts. Smart meets smart. Intelligent logic would have tramped the physical brutality of her beatings any day.

But who am I to speak when I haven’t run a mile in her shoes, anyway? I am not on the right side of the fence. I don’t have the authority to stand by my convictions. My observations and suggestions are as theoretical as they are outlandish; its stuff I’ve picked up from reading Dr Dobson and watching Modern Family.

She had it right all along; you will understand that one day. Being a mum is about being an artist.

A crafty artist.

Broads, bumps and bellows
Mister Singer

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