As though I haven’t talked about my people enough already, here’s another eye-rolling reminder that I am married to a man whose moniker in my stories is GB.
We have two children, Muna is seven and is in grade one.
Njeeh is two, he’s now wearing Spiderman underwear and is about to learn Kikuyu. Oh, he’s also still sucking his thumb. You should see the young chap: His right hand goes in his mouth, his left hand goes exploring in the Spiderman underwear. He’s usually amazed with what he finds down there, he-he.
Parenting these children is a shared two-person responsibility between GB and I. It’s not a neat 50-50 split – and it never will be – but there is a supportive split that I am grateful for.
When it comes to Muna and school, this is how GB and I have split the responsibilities: he gives money, I give time.
He pays for her school fees and every other school-related expense such as bus, lunch and clubs.
I commit my time – I make most of the school runs in the morning, I sit with Muna for homework and revision, practising handwriting and words for spelling tests, I get her books to read then sit in while she reads out aloud.
We also handcraft those ridiculous assignments that CBC is constantly asking us to craft. (The last item we handcrafted was a traditional music instrument, a shaker. We crafted it from wire and from bottle tops I’d collected after a family hangout in Karura. One day, I imagine they’ll give us a weekend to build a grass-thatched house that a family like yours can live in.)
Giving my time also means that I attend most of the school functions that a regular primary school like Muna would ask us to attend: parent-teacher conferences at the end of the term, project presentations, music recitals, school concerts and dances, more dances and other dances, a dance at the project presentation.
What fascinates me is that these functions are scheduled at prime time on a tight weekday: Wednesday 11 a.m. Or Friday 12 p.m. Never Saturday 10 a.m. You must plan your entire workday around attending the school event.
GB’s and I arrangement works beautifully for us because he’s a corporate suit, fully employed and managing teams. I am a creative writer, partly self-employed. It’s not that my time is less valuable than his (although sometimes it feels like it is) but because I work alone and mostly for myself – I can dance around my deadlines and move things around my schedule to create time for our baby.
I attend these functions because this is how I express my love to our daughter, this is how I show my support as a millennial parent. I imagine that for her, there’s nothing more reassuring than looking out into the ocean of beaming faces, an ocean of unbridled parental love, spotting me and thinking to herself, ‘That haircut makes her look like a Ugandan man.’
I also attend because Muna’s threatening tone always suggests that if I don’t attend, she’s running away from home.
It’s with this in mind that last Friday, 9 a.m., I’m sitting in the big hall at Muna’s school. I’ve arrived early so I’m sitting in the aisle seat of the third row, I’m directly in front of the decorated stage. We usually have these concerts in the small hall but today we have it in the big hall because we’re celebrating a big milestone – the school is turning 20 years old.
Someone in the school felt that it was a fantastic idea to pencil this in for Friday 9 a.m. (Why not Saturday? Why?!) We were informed that the concert would run from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. but I’m now a veteran attendee, I know it’ll run from 10 a.m. to a little after sunset, we’ll be lucky if we get home in time for Citizen’s evening news.
Muna hasn’t had homework in the last two weeks because they’ve been working very hard preparing and practising for the dance they will showcase today.
All this dedication, this breaking a leg, you’d imagine they’re backup dancers for a Beyoncé concert.
At 10 a.m. the MC calls the day to order. A prayer, some housekeeping announcements and off the concert goes. The schoolchildren are wearing colour-coded matching polo shirts and black trousers, it’s quite ceremonial.
Every grade in the school gets a chance to get up on stage and dance. (Every. Single. Grade. Even the babies like Njeeh, the ones who wail from stage fright.) When the children are not dancing they’re reciting a poem in English and Kiswahili, perhaps a Bible memory verse, a skit but there is dancing before and after.
I don’t mean to sound nasty and unsupportive but most of this dancing is lousy. Lousy and repetitive and not particularly entertaining – the moves are wearisome, the choreography is unimaginative.
I know I shouldn’t be saying this as a parent because we love our children and we acknowledge them for all their hard work and talent, we support the teachers for their patience in attempting to make diamonds out of this coal, but buzz words aside, this dancing is lousy.
Still we clap hard and beg for more, we take out our phones to shoot more videos and photos than we will know what to do with. Some of us are already sharing to our Instagram and WhatsApp stories, we are millennial parents after all, this is what we do, this is how the private moments of modern parenting are broadcasted – we hashtag and share no matter how mundane, no matter how lousy.
And so the children dance.
Sweet heavens, they dance.
I stay put in my third-row aisle seat, smiling hard because… because this is what we signed up for.
Then finally, at what feels like the darkness of 8 p.m. has descended upon us, the MC says the birthday cake is being brought on stage, ‘But first, let’s have one final dance from the dance club!’
This is the point where I completely loose all my patience, I want to stand from my seat and yell out, ‘Oh for the love of God, please, no more dances! No more! Can we just cut the bloody cake and go home?!’
Everyone will be stunned into a deathly silence from my outburst. There will be uncomfortable coughs and murmurs, side eyes. Someone will already be thinking of a hashtag for their Tweet later.
The horror on Muna’s face will be the last thing I remember because this is the day she will run away from home.
An edited version of this story first ran in the Saturday Nation on November 19, 2022. It ran under my ‘Culture’ column.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
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