I’ve always been a rebel mom. I was pregnant at 22, and though I thought myself quite the mature adult, in retrospect I realize I was quite young. I don’t regret the path I took though, being a mother at 23 was amazing. I gave him a middle name Mompati – from Botswana, meaning ‘my companion’. I looked down at my little helpless baby and vowed never to be a ‘typical mom’ - whatever that was.
It turns out I have fulfilled that vow – having first orchestrated a stint owning my own petrol station during my son’s second year of life, managing seven staff, mostly illegal immigrants, on 24/7 shifts, and filling in myself even during the nights when staff couldn’t make it. Luckily I was young and energetic enough to juggle the baby at home and lucky to have an excellent babysitter and support of my family. I did all of this to give my boy and I a chance to move on, move up, move out. Discover the world or at least another corner of it.
When I announced to my family that I was moving to Africa with my son just before his fourth birthday, everyone reacted – mostly with astonishment and outrage. I took it all in stride, still believing I was the atypical mom, heading out on an adventure that would give my son a more well rounded world view and prepare him for life in the world, not just the suburb he was born in.
Our first years in Ghana were at times brutal, at times wonderful, but at all times atypical. We were given a large closet called the ‘boy’s quarters’ in a rich Ghanaian family’s home to live in. My son and I cuddled in our little space and decided together we’d give Ghana a chance. There were oodles of children who wanted to be his friend. They touched his hair and sang in unison and he looked up at me with his big shy pools for eyes, so trusting. “Is it okay Mom?” he said without speaking. And I assured him it was.
We enrolled him in the local school and had his uniform sewed by a tailor down the road. And when he headed off to school the first morning with the children fussing around him, all holding hands, I stood at the broken gate, and tears fell heavy down my cheeks. Is it ok Mom? I believed it was.
He learned to eat local food and speak in the sing song local speech, regurgitating the alphabet like his teacher asked. He fit in perfectly and they sent home his ruled workbooks with positive remarks, “Quinci is a good boy and listens well. He completes his exercises correctly and neatly”.
We both counted the days to the first Christmas back home. He missed the cold weather and chocolate bars that weren’t melted… I missed my family and just needed a break. The holiday was wonderful and my mother wept when we left. As we made it through security at the airport he looked up at me and saw my huge tears welling up – “It’s alright Mom” he promised and pulled me down to him for a big tight hug. And I believed it was.
The next years marked our full integration into Ghana. I met a man and we moved in to his family home of 54… We joined the ranks and my son had even more children to play with… At Christmas I couldn’t afford to spoil him in a home with over 30 poor children, and gave him a ball – one big soccer ball and a handful of candies in a homemade stocking. He beamed. I moved between guilt and pleasure at my son’s humble happiness.
The day he came home from school and showed me a welt on his hand I nearly exploded. He explained that the teacher had threatened to beat the entire class if even one did not complete their homework. Inevitably one or more of the kids let the rest down and as promised the teacher had taken out her long reed cane and lined he kids up, whacking each one. The next morning I was by his side at the school, pushing through the crowds of children who saw me not as a student’s mother but as ‘Obruni (white person), which they chanted frantically all the way from the car to the classroom door. I laid it on the line for the teacher – You touch my child again and you will deal with me. She assured me that he had not been the problem and that she beat everyone equally, she then bemoaned the soft skin of the whites and claimed he was the only child that had physical evidence of the beating. I walked out after repeating my first statement and meaning it. He walked along side me and looked up at me. “It’ll be okay now” I assured him. And it was.
The next year his baby brother came – a little Ghanaian, born and raised. We ‘outdoored’ him in the traditional way, with the elders gathered, pouring libation to the Gods... my big son sat by my side, dressed in a gold and white printed outfit with a matching hat. As they lowered his baby brother to the ground, naked and crying, to introduce him to the world, he looked up at me with those big eyes, “Is it okay Mom?” and without words I nodded and squeezed his little hand. I believed it was.
Years later when our youngest left us, dying after a three day illness in my arms, my big boy was far away visiting our relatives back in Canada. I spoke to my mother in a haze of tears and shock and then he came on the phone. His voice, like my anchor, brought me back to reality. He saved me from the oblivion of insanity.
And today I sit here helpless. He is now 15, towering above me, his feet and hands are double the size of mine. He is no longer my baby. He is grown. And he is hurting.
He has been in love and has tasted the exhilaration of a first kiss. I have witnessed his beaming face and I have felt proud and happy and ecstatic for him. I believed he was ‘on his way’ and I believed it would be alright.
But today he is quiet and confused and deeply hurt. He sits in his room at the edge of his bed, plucking melancholic tunes on his acoustic guitar. The girl has called it off, moved on, and seemingly for no reason. This is the reality of young love. And though I remember the days in tears in my room at 16, depressed and feeling I could not go on, I cannot bear to watch him feel even a fragment of that pain.
I have always been a rebel mom, never involved in PTA, always easy going, understanding, open-minded. But today I feel protective and conservative. Akin to the psycho middle American republican over involved high strung pageant mothers who cannot stand to see their child lose out. I have visions of marching straight over to this girl’s house, kicking in the door and holding her at gunpoint for harming my child. I want to make her cower in fear and give her a swift kick in the head for good measure.
But of course this is just a fantasy. The reality is far more scary. My son will have to face the world, and his own demons and enemies along the way. I can only hope that our adventures together have prepared him for the many things ahead that I will no longer be able to assure him will be okay.