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I Had One Job

Fri, Aug 25, 2023

“Yes, this is Ms. Kinuthia,” I affirmed and shot back my own question, “Who wants to know?”

It was the school’s late pick-up desk.

“We have your daughters here and would like to know who is picking them up.”

I am that mother. The one who put her career on hold trailed after her spouse to foreign countries and stayed home to be present for the family – two growing-too-fast kids. My KPIs included healthy breakfast (enough protein and fruits), school drop-off, packing healthy snacks and lunches, attending school events, especially those in the middle of the day, organising play dates, and of course, timely pickup in the afternoon.

So why did the girls remain uncollected on this day?

I, the said mother, was deep in Buckingham Palace. I was caught up in the wedding of the young Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip, her coronation as Queen, royal pressures, the young queen’s interesting relationship with Winston Churchill, the fairy tale wedding of Diana Spencer to Prince Charles, oh… and all the rest of it.

I had been lapping up episode after episode of the famous Crown Series on Netflix. How could it be three o’clock already? Meanwhile, my dear daughters had been shuffled from class to the usual pick-up area, and when all the conscientious parents and guardians had picked up their kids, mine, like leftover bananas at the end of a farmers’ market, were shuffled onto the late pick-up desk.

Eventually, when it became apparent that this brood of mine had no takers, the school office rang me.

“Mum, did you forget to pick us up?” the youngest exclaimed when I shame-facedly showed up.

It has been years since, but you can be sure I will never be allowed to forget or let off the hook. I need only comment on how much time they are spending on the screen, and the story begins …  do you remember that day Mum forgot to pick us up because she was on Netflix?

I wish all my gaffes and parenting slip-ups in my 17+ years of motherhood were this light-hearted and easily solved. While this one might provide comic relief, there is more that I would rather not tell… not yet anyway, unless you should knock me out with a sufficient dose of anaesthesia or wait for me to imbibe more than my one to two glasses of the red sparkly. I have stories that I fear to share because if I do, I might be certified – lock, stock, and barrel – a parenting failure.

These are stories of scary places we have been with these offspring—the kind of places that I have to gather myself and share only in whispers. Occasionally, after a vulnerable sharing, I hasten to add – it was only once, and we got on top of it, now they are okay. Because somehow, I have woven my success as a parent, a Christian, a human being into this. Into whom the humans in my care turn out to be and whom you, dear reader, will think I am.

Those are places I will leave to your imagination … think teenage, think 21st century, think media, think middle class … and let your mind roam.

Nothing stirs fear in us quite like when our responsibilities as parents intersect with the tough realities of our world. And parents today face their share of legitimate fears, says Jen Wilkin in a Christianity Today article. We hope our teens will hold off sex, not try drugs – even the supposedly benign and widely accepted weed. We worry when we put our foot down whether we are going to send them straight down into depression. And even then, which part is mental health difficulties, and which one is plain old rebellion? Also, how can we unhook them from the screens? We also want to protect them from hardships. It is so heartbreaking to watch your child struggle to make friends.

Other times, guilt threatens to eat … nay, devour me. Because that voice in my head whispers I should have been firmer, and then we would not be here. That I should have home-schooled them. That I should have banned all pop music from our house. That I should not have bought smartphones for them so early. And that I should not have subscribed to Netflix. Oh, and that we should have memorised more scripture, and yes, I should have said no to all those purchases so that I won’t spoil them.

We often respond in one of two extremes. Either we give up and lower the standards on the values you wish to see them embrace. We end up being permissive as we argue it’s a phase, and they will outgrow it; these are children of nowadays, and young people will be young people, we insist. On the other hand, we claim to have the magic bullet, the cure-all for parenting challenges that will guarantee us ‘good’ kids.

That is not to say nothing can be done… in fact, there is a lot we must do… but if you think there is a silver bullet, you will start trying to control the uncontrollable.

Normally, I try to control by my voice…I become louder and more animated and imagine I can control these humans. I expect that if I argue [preach] my well-reasoned case, they will understand and change. No sooner have I stepped down from my podium than my illusions are shattered by the look I often receive, the one that tells me, ‘That’s your opinion.’

Do not give up hope; fight every which way. Nothing is new under the sun! Sometimes, fighting means being still and accepting that I don’t have to download all my wisdom in one day, and it’s more important to keep an ongoing conversation. Axis, a ministry helping connect young people and their parents, calls it the one conversation that lasts a lifetime.

Serve yourself some grace. These offspring will make choices, and we are not entirely responsible for their choices. Do not give in to guilt or be paralysed by a sense of failure. This is possibly my most humbling lesson… they are human beings with minds and wills… and a choice…and they can choose my values and beliefs, or not.

Also, if you are like me and wont to dramatize, you might need someone to hold you back and inject sanity. Too often, I parent from fear and anxiety – my child only needs to say they don’t want to go to church, and I tailspin into a panic. Before me plays this reel where all my Christian work goes down the drain, and I end up with a heathen delinquent on my couch.

A few years back, one of the daughters in my parenting village added an upper ear piercing we, the mothers, saw red … the impending doomsday in the form of tattooed and pierced children. It took a young adult and her own story of experimenting with various piercings to give us perspective and pull us back from the ledge. Play the long game – one incident doesn’t a lifetime make.

That piercing is now hilarious in the face of the minefields we have navigated in the village. Initiated by an eating disorder, video clips of a youngster smoking what we hoped was merely a cigarette… because we were not ready for cookies and the other rolled stuff. We were not ready for self-harm or sneaking out at night. How, and we were the Sunday school teachers? Our kids had memorised their scripture verses, attended church practically every single Sunday of their lives and camps, we had read the books. Wait a minute … was that a whiff of alcohol under the breath? And seeing as none of us has quite cracked Snapchat, we have a healthy appreciation that there is much we do not know…

If I have any sanity to speak of, next to the other half of my parenting equation (aka husband dearest) is my tribe of mothers. Sometimes, it takes a few nights before one is able to share. After all, you need time to catch your breath after the punch in the gut from the note you secretly read in a diary or the call from a teacher. As the windows of sharing are swung open, shame is ventilated; the crushing burden of the fear that we have failed rolls off; we hold each other’s hands, share the hacks and resources that we have collected, and soldier on in hope rather than giving up.

It’s always sobering to realise that none of us is immune, and you can’t sit pretty and comfortable thinking it can never happen to you. You need not be deceived by the ‘gram-perfect pictures we post, real life is something else. You need a community and yes, sometimes … professional help!

Pray because they are not yours… only entrusted to you for a season…their creator knows them very well. He put them together …staying the course can only be done with the help of the one who entrusted them to you.

I promised myself not to talk about parenting until my kids are in their twenties. I am revising that upwards – maybe to forever – because … as Kenyans say, weueh (wipes sweat from brow) … I have seen things. Since I am still in the trenches and likely to drop worse balls than a forgotten school pickup because I was deep in a TV series, I can only share my treatment plan and ask you to share yours, too.


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