My mama used to tell me that the mind of a child and that of an adult can never really meet. Not naturally. As a result, I felt that parents—at least one— had to put themselves in the shoes of the child. My mother did it for me. In those days when I’d return from school, terrified to tell my father that I needed to pay my school fees, that I needed a new pen or a new notebook, my mother would be the mediator. She’d be the one who tried to understand me. I never knew how hard it was.
I thought everything was and would remain perfect in my own home. I worked day and night to make sure I gave my children all they needed for school. I wanted to give them the best education, I wanted to struggle for them so they won't have to. For my first born son and the two princesses that I’d borne after him. Luckily, we were blessed enough that they never needed to fear coming to my husband and I for provision. School fees were paid before they needed to worry about it, new uniforms were sown before they could ask and stationaries were in surplus at all times.
I believed I had given them all they needed and had in the process erased all cause for fear in conversation. I hadn't. One could never be fully prepared for the sudden hurdles of parenting was another thing my mama had told me.
I try to put myself in my son's shoes, I imagine seeing me through his eyes. I replay in my mind the scene from last Friday, with me as him, to see if I can better understand how he felt, to make sure I can at least be to him like my mother was to me.
I hadn't looked outside that evening but I bet the moon was already out and the sky was a dark blue. I couldn't hear the crickets over the sound of the power generator but I bet they were loud, they usually are. It's been a while since I felt that tension of coming to speak to your Nigerian parents about something you know will drive them crazy, but I've felt other forms of anxiety since becoming an adult. I try to relate.
I imagine myself as him, coming home that evening, holding my running shoes in my hand and clutching them hard so I don't see the tremble of my fingers. I imagine myself as him, dusting the loam off my bare feet because I can see my mother through the louvres of the kitchen window stirring a pot of tomato stew and I know she'd be angry if I dirty her floor tiles. I imagine myself as him, pulling down the door handle and stepping into the kitchen, my heart in my throat, thirsty but afraid to reach for the water dispenser, afraid to make any sudden move.
Beyond that, I can't quite imagine anything else from his perspective. All I can see is my first child in front of me, all shifty eyes and fidgety feet, hunched over like a thief before the village chief.
“Mummy, I want to tell you something.” He hadn’t asked that we sit down, just spoke straightaway as though he was trying to get it over with.
God knows I'd thought of everything I could while waiting for him to speak.
Mummy, the police are after me.
Mummy, I put someone in the hospital.
Mummy, I got someone pregnant.
None of what I thought was likely something my child would say in the near future but I refused to have assumptions in the face of what appeared rather serious, afraid that it might affect my judgement and harm my child in the end. I wanted to handle it perfectly, be the understanding parent and speak for him to his father.
I wanted to support him but then he spoke and all those ideas flew away.
“Mummy, I want to be a soccer player." I'd never have thought of this. "Like, professionally. There's this under-17 camp that my coach wants me to signup for. . .but it's during school time.”
I'd thought it was a joke. Wished it was one. Gone on my knees and prayed it was one, but I knew it wasn't, not with how solemn he sounded. I knew he'd thought it through for God knows how long.
I should've seen it coming, all the hours he spent in the community pitch. I'd stupidly bought him a kit, shin-guards and all, thinking it was just a hobby. He did well in school, he was going to be an engineer someday. This was the wrong time for a phase.
I'd burnt my stew that night because I'd spent too much time trying to enlighten him. My mother was right, children and adults were always on a different rational wavelength because children were too ignorant.
I'd tried so hard to reason with him, told him why the whole thing was a phase and would never end well.
“This is Nigeria bobo, your career would end on that pitch you go to. They just want to eat your money, you won't have any opportunities here. In the end you would have wasted a year or two. You'd end up confused about your future. If you can't salvage things at that point, you'll end up playing Bet9ja for a living. Do you really want to end up a gambler? What kind of useless coach would tell you to skip school for soccer anyway? Obviously that kind of person does not wish you good.”
While I'd spoken the entire time he'd just stared at me with misty eyes, saying words I couldn't win against; “Mummy, please just let me explain.”
I'd turned away from him under the guise of stirring my burning stew. “Let this end here.”
I could hear his teary, croaky 'mummy please' and I wanted to be strong against it, because I knew, even though he didn't that this would never end well.
When he turned to leave, a few words left my mouth, I didn't face him when I spoke. “Don’t tell your father about this.”
This was one of the moments of anxiety in my adulthood. I was afraid of him going to his father solely because there was a big possibility that his father would see reason in his words. His father would encourage him to try and fail. Who would consider my words then? My thoughts and feelings? Who would remember all the struggle I went through to give him a formal education, the same education which was a battle for me to earn but would be treated as trash by my only son.
Nonetheless, I felt a little ashamed when I thought about it afterwards. I've been considering it since that day. My parents never went to school and my mother, just like my father was sure I'd be better off a farmer like they were. What if begging in my stead for a new pen or a new eraser was just as hard for my mama as providing it was for my papa?
I refuse to talk to my husband about it still. I want to understand my son first, hear him out at least, like I always believed I would. I can’t keep it from my husband forever and I can’t let him find out just yet, letting him try to convince me will be something I regret for a long time to come. I want to be the one who tried for the sake of my baby.
It's a cool evening now, the moon isn't out yet. I'm trying to see things from my son's perspective. I imagine myself as him, lying on my bed directly under the ceiling fan, with an arm across my forehead. I imagine myself as him, the knock at the door startling me alert, making me sit up to see my mother putting on the most docile smile she has.
“Bobo, can we talk?”