We have been going through my little girl’s wardrobe every evening in the last 2 days. She is almost 11 years old but shows a lot more maturity. Herself and her ‘besties’ as her close friends are called have decided to wear skirts, tights and denim jackets to their other classmate’s 11th birthday party. My role in all this girlie stuff is to help her choose a combination of pieces that will not make her look silly. She doesn’t know it yet, but I am determined to persuade her to choose something very conservative. She is still my little girl, no matter how grown up she feels.
When I was 11 years old, I remember that I did as I was told. I had a very short afro. I went to a boarding school, and my mum was convinced that I could not be trusted to keep my hair clean enough to avoid granting residence to blood-sucking parasites (otherwise called lice!). Many of my friends had the same short haircut, so I didn’t feel bad about it. I understand my daughter wanting to dress like her friends, especially since she is the only black girl in her class. The trade-off for me will be that she must clean the 2 toilets in our house before going to the party.
Aside from watching her grow up and panicking that she won’t be a baby for much longer is my constant worry that I am not equipping her as well as I should for adulthood.
When I was growing up, I had three sisters and a lovely female cousin to play with. My mum, who worked as a civil servant at the Ministry of Health, also found time to make us do the most hideous of house chores. She bought pepper by the bucket-load, and I learnt, with much grumbling, how to de-stalk pepper, make a good sauce, make moi-moi with ‘several lives’ and prepare the smoothest, lightest amala as you would expect from a proper Ibadan girl.
She also favoured fresh ogi, which meant that we all learnt how to soak and sieve fresh ogi, even though the awful smell of fermented corn wouldn’t leave our hair for days. We learnt how to scrub cookers with vim and sponge, clean pots with salt and hot water wash heavy curtains in the bathtub with ‘omo’ detergent powder and key soap and clean toilets with Izal.
We lived in the then 1004 flats in Victoria Island, but we still got all the training she thought we needed. We took turns to make meals for the family, and we all had allocated days when we washed the toilets and baths, cleaned the house and did the laundry. We also had a housemaid who we resented because she didn’t do much work, but my mum never paid heed to our grumblings. I used to complain about having to do all that work and study at the same time as if I was the first person in the family to go to secondary school! My mum even farmed us out to aunties needing help with housework, cooking for house parties, babysitting and even tutoring our little cousins.
I used to think all this was unnecessary stress. How wrong I was. My mum never knew that all her daughters were going to end up living far from her when they married. Far from the comforts of home in Nigeria, far from the luxuries of having a maid, a nanny or even a housekeeper, we now have to make do with our own abilities to keep a house. Those enforced housekeeping classes have helped me cope with doing all my family’s cooking on a Saturday; cleaning all the rooms, baths and toilets on Friday nights after work; doing the laundry (my hubby does the ironing, thank God!); plaiting my daughter’s hair on Sunday after church; sorting out homework, and still finding time to write this article, paint my nails and gossip on the phone with my sisters. I am a one-woman force majeure. I have to be because life abroad is so different from what it would have been if I lived in Nigeria.
Young mums reading this: how much time are you investing in training your daughters to be excellent ladies, wives or mums? How many of us leave our daughters to the care of the nanny or housekeeper every weekday and at weekends too? Some mums now think that TV, computer and online games can replace spending time talking and doing things with their daughters. Showering girls with expensive gadgets isn’t going to teach her how to keep her bedroom clean. Can you honestly say that you are spending quality time in imparting little nuggets of wisdom in your princesses? Who is to say what tomorrow might bring?
I know we all pray our daughters will be able to afford all the luxuries needed to be ‘real housewives’ in Nigeria, the reality is that many of the luxuries like housemaids and nannies cause more problems than they are worth and so many people are learning to live without them. If your daughter ends up living abroad, she will have to do all the housework herself or risk her kids being taken away by social services because they always come to school looking dirty and malnourished because their mum is a lousy cook who also can’t do laundry.
So, my daughter is going to learn the tricks to making lovely amala during the Easter break. She doesn’t eat the stuff, but who knows? She might, like me, end up with an Ijebu man who seriously loves amala!
Abi Adeboyejo lives in Birmingham, UK with her two children and her fabulous man, who by the way, prefers that his wife writes down her thoughts than listening to her musings on everything.
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