My mom’s colleague at the school she taught for over a decade says the first word I uttered was Emmy. Make no mistakes, it’s not the American award. It’s a mispronunciation of the word: Mommy. What was anyone expecting? Grammy or Oscars out of a baby’s mouth? Highly improbable.
When you are four, you expect life to be an unending loop of enjoyment- food, sleep, play and just anything but waking up early to prepare for school. This was where my Mom and I had our initial disagreement. The child wants to sleep an hour more. The parent needs you to be awake and get ready for school. For a while, I had the upper hand. Our conversations went like this:
“Bolaji, wake up.”
“Stand up, your sister is up, I am going to the kitchen.”
In no time, I will be back on the bed, enjoying my sleep- oblivious to the stress of the world.
Then, the face off will take place
“Bolaji, stand up now” she would say. “I need to get to work very early.”
I would have no choice but to get up, grumble a bit, and succumb to her command.
This was the order of events every weekday till Don Moen came into the picture. His music was the game changer. She noticed I got up at the sound of the VCD player once his songs came on. She had reached an epiphany. A ritual was birthed. There were no long talks, cajoling. It was like being controlled by a remote. Don Moen on. Bolaji Up.
Emmy was just the beginning. “It opened the floodgates to your inquisitiveness”, my mum says. I went on a question asking spree. My mom- got a question answering job. She was my first search engine. Larry Page and Sergey Brin- you have to sit this out. There was no question she didn’t answer until one day.
“Bolaji, there are books in the shelf, read them, you will find answers there.”
I was directed to the mini library in our sitting room. It was like Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. Ground-breaking. These were sheets filled with so much information. She could stop answering my questions, I thought. I had a better answering machine.
I immersed myself in books. Lantern series. Ladybrid series. Angus Maciver’s First Aid. Current Affairs. According to Aamir Chan- Instruments that record, summarize, analyze, organize and debate information………………… that are indented for the enlightenment, understanding, enrichment, enhancement of education of the human brain through sensory routes of vision- sometimes touch. Yes, you remember, books- became my primary companion.
Around this time, Wale Adenuga, a Nigerian TV producer had done an adaptation of Ola Rotimi’s The gods are not to blame; which is an adaptation Of Euripides’ Oedipus Rex from his work Bacchae. Call it a double adaptation and you won’t be wrong. I was captivated by what I had seen. So, I begged her to buy me Ola Rotimi’s play. I remember that day; walking hand in hand with my mom into Ambra Royal Bookshop. There was this happiness; seeing that edition of the book- yellow in colour, a man’s face as the front cover which I will later come to know as the Author. I read the book under two days. That wasn’t the last book she bought for me.
In Primary two, when my mom asked me what I wanted as a gift if I topped my class in my end of term examinations, I lit up and said a bicycle. She would agree, and I will begin to nurse ambitions of riding down the street in my bicycle. I delivered my own part of the deal. My mum did not. “Why haven’t you bought the bicycle for me?” I would ask. She would change the subject of discussion and I would become sad. It was my introduction to broken promises. There was never an act of atonement. Instead, I had to listen to tales of how the bicycle will result in reduced grades. It was an attempt to save face. It is something we laugh about till date.
“Mommy, I am already going o.” I would say.
“Have you packed your books?” she would ask
“Oya come,” she would say to me, give me a hug, and have me wear her perfume to school. I wasn’t ten. I was in JSS1. It was the first time I was separated from her. I adapted quite easily and made friends in school. At home, every day, after school, I gave her an account of the events of the day. She listened. My day was made.
In 2009, I registered for Spellbound Spelling Bee Competition, I prepared for this competition with the help of my mom and sister. I was confident in my abilities. I felt I could go all the way. On the day of the competition, we went together. She was excited as I was. The University of Lagos’ Main Auditorium was the venue. We got there earlier than expected, took a stroll around till it was time for the event to commence. I competed but did not win. I cried and cried.
My mom comforted me. “Wipe your tears, you win some, you lose some.” she said. The pain of losing was still fresh but I got over it. We went to a cafeteria nearby and relished memories of our preparation for the competition. A lesson on the process rather than the product was learned.
My mom has a teaching career that spans two decades and counting. Enough to say, “My teaching career is older than you.” in her usual fashion. I did not have the luxury of being under her tutelage directly. Rather, it was her work with the school curriculum that the foundation of my English/Yoruba speaking and writing prowess was built. Her students speak highly of her. Her face lights up whenever I mention her students doing exploits anywhere around the world. The direct consequence of having such a prestigious job. Less schadenfreude. More Firgun
This is what she says anytime I bring such news
“Oh, I taught him in Primary three.”
“I taught her in Primary five.”
Today is another day. For my mom, it is special. It is her birthday. These are some of the beautiful memories I have had with her. From being a disciplined mum to my answering machine, to my confidant. This made it sounds like she is old. Yeah, it seems like a lifetime of being her son.
A birthday can mean different things, a day of reflection, a day of celebration. Today, the two will suffice. Happy 52nd Birthday to my mom. Let the celebration begin.