Be Nice

I’m no Mike Ross, but I have the memory of a dolphin. Did you know dolphins can remember their friends even after 20 years? There are things that infant amnesia hasn’t touched, stuff from my childhood that seem like they just happened yesterday. I have these snippets of my childhood that just got superglued to my hippocampus. They sit there like a rock in a stream, never moving, never getting erased, getting smoother and harder as I grow older. 

Most of these memories are of the happiest, the saddest, the scariest or just the uncomfortable days of my childhood. Sometimes, when I’m building my imaginary castle in Vipingo, they come to the fore. Other times, when I’m struggling with adulting, which is basically all the time, I get these little playbacks of the first time I ever felt that particular emotion. 

For example, I struggle with Misophonia. This little monster is what is commonly known as ‘selective sound sensitivity’. This means that some noises that would typically not bother people trigger negative reactions such as anger, irritation or even anxiety. I have struggled with this all my life until sometime in late 2018, when, irritated to my platelets by my neighbour’s woofer, I googled, “why does sound disturb me so much?”

I was both shocked and relieved to know that it was actually a thing, that my demons had a name. I nodded in agreement and wonder with every sentence I read. It was like I had been carrying this heavy load uphill, and I could finally lay it down. As I thought back to how it started, I remembered the very first day I felt that. I was right on the brink of teenage, in boarding school and already sprouting these hard, painful breast buds. 

If you’re looking for the relationship between my misophonia and my sprouting breasts, there’s none. I just remembered those little bumps, they were so damn painful! They later grew to these massive double dees that have now nourished two human beings. 

On the day my misophonia started, my sister was making these really annoying and obnoxious sounds, like she was trying to scratch the back of her nose or to strangle a kitten. I was getting irritated and my skin was cringing. I begged her to stop, but she just continued, even making it sound worse deliberately. I was so sad that I was getting so affected by this noise that she was making and helpless that I couldn’t make it stop. I hid in a corner where she couldn’t see me and broke down. 

I have colossal imposter syndrome. I feel like a fraud so many times, and no matter how well I do especially with my writing, I have this huge grisly on my back, clawing at my neck and breathing down on me, telling me I’m not good enough and that I’m fooling all of you into thinking that I’m actually a writer. I fight it daily with the strength of David on the day that lion was trying to steal his sheep.

I trace this bad habit to two instances: One afternoon in my pre-teen years, we got home from church, which used to end way past lunchtime.

I’m the last born and we were all home. No one thought of making lunch. I don’t quite remember what I was doing, but someone turned to me and said, “Why can’t you think of something? Why can’t you be like … (they mentioned my cousin who was a year older than me)?

The following Sunday when we came home, I remembered the previous Sunday’s scolding and went ahead to make a pot of Uji. When I did that, someone said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you think!” I was devastated because, in my books, I had corrected my previous week’s mistake and developed some initiative in the process. This may explain why I don’t like porridge, it reminds me of my failed attempts to prove that I was making use of my faculties.

I grew up knowing I don’t think, I have to be told what to do. I still struggle with being called or named a leader of any sort, especially if it’s a territory I’m not familiar with. The flip side is, I hate being told what to do. I will be thinking about making chapati, which I’m very good at, but the moment Mr K asks if I can make chapati, that’s the end of that. Let’s not even talk about starting my own thing especially business or career-wise, it’s easier to baptise cat.

In the second incidence, we were in the Shamba with mom. I’m not very good with farming, I hated it then, I hate it now. We were burning some dry bushes that had been cleared. I kept trying to light the match and it kept getting blown out by the wind. After a few attempts, mom yanked the match stick from me and said, “I wish you know how useless you are!” Yes, she said that full sentence in English. She was a teacher. I was in class six. I don’t think she meant in the way that it sounded, but was like being hit in the head with a mallet.

That sentence has replayed in my mind like a million times. A couple of years ago I told her about it. I was already grown up with kids but that sentence still haunted me. Of course, she didn’t remember. But I had been hurting for almost 20 years! I forced an apology out of her, which is the only apology I have heard my entire life. African mothers did not have ‘sorry’ in their vocabularies.

A few days ago, Wahu the singer narrated how she was sexually molested when she was 9 years old. I don’t know if we need to get a spectrum of what sexual molestation is, but I believe if someone did something that feels remotely offensive and intrusive, that’s molestation. It happened when she was 9 and she still can’t talk about it without crying.

That video reminded me of a phase I went through when I was in nursey school. Yes, I know, I told you my memory was photographic, which really is a recipe for bitterness and misery. I was left alone after my siblings went to boarding school. My mom was teaching in a far away school the whole day and my classes, which were in a different school ended at midday. I used to stay with my cousin, who was older and married.

She’d leave me with her kids and other village boys would come to play with us before she came back home. Every day when she left, two of these boys would taunt me, following me around and teasing me. They’d then go around me, bending to one side with one arm stretched on their foot while the other one was folded at the chest. They were imitating what a cock does when it’s ‘seducing’ a hen, right before it chases it and jumps on it. I was always freaking out that they’d jump on me. Beyond that, I was disgusted by their actions, and I’d only be at peace when my cousin came back home.

I don’t remember them ever touching me inappropriately. But I do remember how that cock dance always made me feel — scared, vulnerable, like easy prey. I was elated to join class one since that meant I’d stop spending time with the village cocks.

I’d be wrong to insinuate that all my bad manners are because someone hurt me, far from it. But there are numerous idiosyncrasies ingrained in me today because of my childhood. It helps to forget, amnesia is one of the recipes for a happy life. People with the best memory are often times the saddest and angriest people around. Try amnesia, one pill several times a times a day. I’m told it helps.

I’m a mom now, and an auntie. I have found myself progressively getting very cautious with what I say to my kids, nieces and nephews. Because I have seen that words do break hearts and spirits, which is way worse than breaking bones. I’m far from perfect, my emotional instability has me shouting at my kids more than I’d care to admit but I’m working on it.

I don’t even let miss Z and Miss T be mean to each other because I know how many years that can run. I apologise a lot. Everyday. I know someday the swings will be empty, the rooms neat, and the toys will still be here, neatly; arranged in their box — but they will carry the memories with them. I’m very well aware that I’m flawed and that I make mistakes and sometimes, the kids are right.

Our family mantra is, Be nice! We try.

5 thoughts on “Be Nice

  1. It’s true parenting during our child hood was by iron fist especially to firstborns.For me it planted some strictness in me that I can’t shed.but I understand it’s becouse we were the head of the heard and we had to lead by example.pasinally i have no regrets.

  2. This blogpost. Before I even intentionally sit & think through my upbringing, the words of my mother to me as a teenager- being the first born “the child who caused me the most pain during child birth ” haunts me to date. I was just being a teenager, an extrovert while at it. Just doing teenage stuff. To date I have never forgotten those words and how they constantly let me see myself as my mother’s biggest source of disappointment- and pain. Honestly, it has affected the way I relate with her…

    Anyways, that aside, I need to take a minute & think through my upbringing- or experiences in my adult life which also have planted some toxic traits I now have- heck even fears, and distrust….. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Thanks, Bilha for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. Firstborns are basically ‘Trial and error’ manenos :). I thank God that you turned out alright.

  3. Wow…..I guess if we all bared our all, we would all have a tale or two – and tall ones perhaps – to tell, about how insensitive parents can be, unknowingly of course. They were particularly harsher on some of us who saw the sun a little earlier than generation Z-ers. There, I have nearly just revealed my age! It is almost as if they were following some rule book – raising us exactly the same way they were raised themselves. Thankfully, with evolving knowledge, we now know that, that rule book was counterfeit!
    It seems to me that the non-dysfunctional African family is the exception rather than the norm, but I guess it merely speaks of how messed up humanity really is.
    Thanks for reminding us that we need to be careful as we raise our heirs lest we damage them emotionally. Because if they are, even their heirs are likely to get damaged as well and the cycle will continue on and on and on…..scary to contemplate.

    • That, Ken, was the whole point. You got it just right. Yes, I feel obligated to stop this cycle with me. I want my daughter to tell different stories when she’s older. We all should. PS: I can now guess your age 🙂

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