I have to start by apologizing. To all mothers who earn a living. Working mothers. I couldn’t have been more wrong about you and what you go through, and I’m sorry if I ever belittled your vocation.
My older sister Kembu, had a baby six weeks ago. She regaled me with horror stories from the Labour room and laughingly watched me squirm. Anyway, as custom demands, mother “packed her load” to her home to care for her and her new baby, leaving me to manage the home(siblings and dad). Now, this isn’t the first time this is happening, but there is a difference in that this time, I have a job I go out to everyday. It took me just a week to realize that this was going to be a bit difficult. My house is one of those homes where everything is eaten fresh, so no frozen soups and stews and the like. You know what that means, right? Multiple trips to the market every week, and you’re stuck in the kitchen like everyday. Now when mother was around, all I did was assist as soon as I returned from work, so I took a lot for granted.
Imagine the 180 degree turn when I realized that I would have to rush off everyday hours earlier than usual so as to beat traffic, run to the market, get home before dark, and prepare dinner. I didn’t have the luxury of leisurely going home after making my rounds with my clients for the day. No sir. Now all I thought of was “what are we having for dinner tonight? I hope the kids locked the gate like I told them to. I hope they don’t burn the house down. I hope they don’t open to strangers.” etc. As a matter of fact, on one of those days I had to prepare fresh soup, I was with my last client for the day and while he went on and on about what he wanted from me, I scribbled furiously on my notepad. Poor guy. He probably thought I was taking notes. 😂 What I was writing looked something like this :
- Akwu (palm nuts),
- Uziza leaves,
- Ogiri (a local flavoring),
- Oha leaves,
- Stock fish,
- Dry fish,
Plus a couple of other things I needed to buy at the supermarket on the way home. Thank God he didn’t ask to see what notes I had taken.
Cooking really isn’t a big deal, but it becomes a big deal when you bring work home and you’re the type that has to cook almost daily. Stirring a pot of stew with one hand while answering an urgent call with the other hand isn’t particularly anyone’s idea of fun.
Something happened one weekend that almost made me weep. I had bought ingredients for two separate meals and after preparing one, I had to put away the ingredients for the other one for later. The perishables should have been in the fridge, but since we have not had power in a long time, I had to find an alternative. I had put everything away, or so I thought. The next day was a Saturday, and I usually have a meeting at church on Saturday mornings. While at the meeting, I was subdued because something kept niggling at my mind. It wasn’t until I got home and entered the kitchen that I realized that I hadn’t steamed the meat with which I was to prepare the second meal and it had gone bad! I was so annoyed and I stormed off to the market to buy another batch. I was to have bought vegetables as well, but lo and behold, when I returned from the market, I realized I wasn’t with any vegetables! Thinking back, I realized I had gotten an important call from a client while buying them and I had rushed off to see him, only to return home without my vegetables. Tail tucked between my legs, I returned to the market. Luckily the seller had kept them for me and I just had to come and pick them up.
Or was it the day I got home and went straight to the kitchen still wearing my work clothes because I was late? I was doing my thing until I realized I couldn’t find the vegetables for the soup. Not again! I thought. I turned the kitchen upside down searching for them, to no avail. It was already 7:45pm. Where would I get vegetables? The strain of the past few weeks suddenly fell heavy on my shoulders and I felt like crying. Suddenly it occurred to me to open my duffel bag. There it was, still fresh! Who puts vegetables inside a duffel bag though? Smh.
At some point, father had to travel as well. Well, no difference, except that his new tenant decided to move in in his absence. I happened to be around that weekend, and of all the things, the door to his apartment refused to work! He was royally pissed, and I automatically went into carpenter mode. After a lot of heaving and banging and lubricating with oil, the door finally opened. Just when I thought playing mum was tough, now I have to play dad too. 😒
One evening, while I sat typing away on my tablet, with another eye on my books scattered on the kitchen counter and my ear and nose focused on the pot on the cooker, my littlest sister, Kiisa came into the kitchen and sat quietly. That was strange, I thought. She is a restless ball of energy on any given day. I waited. I was sure she wanted to say something. Sure enough, she drew close after a few minutes and whispered to me, “Chibugo, please, before we sleep this night there’s something I want to tell you”.
Ahhhhhh! In that moment, there’s no direction my mind did not fly to. I dropped everything and tried to maintain a calm face. After a little persuasion, she revealed what was bothering her.
Kiisa: My chest is paining me
Me: (sighing from relief) but you don’t have cough or a cold.
Kiisa: No I don’t.
Me: Did you fall?
Me: (already exasperated) Take off your clothes. (she does so). Where is it paining you?( She points to the right part of her chest and I look)
Ahhhhhh. I look at her face. I can see she knows as well. Puberty has just set in. Now what would mum have said or done? And why the heck did Puberty not wait till she came back? I look at Kiisa and smile. She smiles shyly back. It turns into a full blown laugh and I give her a hug. She’ll be alright. We will have a talk, but not tonight. This mothering thing is not a walk in the park.
It doesn’t end there. Sometimes kids behave badly and you could lose it. It got so much one day, that I sentenced Kiisi and Kiisa to kneeling down with raised hands and closed eyes for an hour. Oh blessed peace! I kept at my work, writing, making calls and sending last minute emails, enjoying the quiet until I realized that it was too quiet. I wondered where they were and found them still bearing their punishment. I had actually forgotten them. Shame on me! 😖
On a normal day, I’d go to bed and count sheep for a long time before I’m able to fall asleep. But this entire period, my head barely hits the pillow before I’m asleep and it seems the alarm wakes me up a minute later telling me it’s 5:30am already! What a life, in which all you think of all day is how soon you can get to bed because of exhaustion.
At a point, I had to sit and think. Is it like this all the time for mothers who work? How do they keep it all together? Do all the girls whose sole prayer point is “Lord let me marry this year by fire” know that it could be like this?
I then understood. All the times I had seen a mother of young children doze in church and shaken my head, all the times I had seen little children sitting outside their school gate by 5pm and wondered where their mother was, all the times I had seen them(mothers) take a quick nap on the bus; now I understood fully. And I apologize earnestly, for having ever thought it was easy. Now I totally understand. Forgive me for being young and foolish.
Mother returned yesterday. Imagine my surprise when I returned from work and met her at home! I almost shed tears of joy. Now I can go back to being young and
The next time you see a working mum, remove your hat for her. The job she does is more difficult than it looks. Forget the #yummymummy and #mumwithswag photos on Instagram.
I think I’m going to get mother a ridiculously expensive gift.
In reality, all mums are working mums, and all mums are deserving of respect and support. – Katie McLaughlin