Having a bawl

It was 3am one recent morning when I found myself changing my son’s nappy for the first time since I became a father in politically deadlocked and mindlessly self-destructive Zimbabwe.

It still seems like a dream that still tugs at my heart. Unlike the nightmare of my country’s ongoing power struggle between leaders still locked in post-elections battle, clothed only in arrogance and self-interest.

Never in my life had I imagined changing a baby’s nappy. For about eight weeks after Tadana was born I offered up a flurry of excuses to Michelle, my wife, to get me off the hook—the baby was too fragile, my hands were unsteady, et cetera. But as I have learned, not much is predictable on the parenthood journey and there is not enough room to hang on to fears and excuses. Unlike my country’s politicians who hang on to their fears and excuses while the nation whimpers, as a father the goal is always to make the baby bloom to its best.

Michelle and I have had to cope with a multitude of emotions; it’s been a roller-coaster ride with much having to be learned as the tiny life unfolds.

In the wee hours of that late October morning Michelle was evidently exhausted from breastfeeding and she didn’t move an inch when Tadana gave his signature bawl.

Unlike on other nights when I had pretended to be lost in deep slumber, this morning I had to struggle to get myself out of my drowsy sleep state. I picked up Tadana and tried to calm him with a gentle cuddle. As I embraced him I discovered that his nappy was wet. In that moment I knew the inevitable had arrived.

I rapidly tried to recall all that I had seen Michelle do when she changed Tadana’s nappy. Without really waking up, Michelle managed to mumble further instructions to me.

Cleaning Tadana with a cloth dipped in slightly warm water, I dried and dressed him in a fresh nappy so successfully I pinched myself to make sure I was not dreaming. He stopped crying immediately and we both went back to sleep. Inside myself I was satisfied that I had achieved a fatherhood milestone.

The next day Michelle decided to give me my first lesson in how to bath the baby: clearly the nappy change was an important cue to her.

Bathing a baby is a methodical and delicate process. It requires one to be as calm as Buddha’s first awakening. In comparison, changing a nappy diminishes in significance. The whole baby bathing experience made me thoroughly ecstatic. However, testing the water temperature with the back of my elbow as Michelle instructed remains a challenge as I can never quite tell which temperature level is right. Michelle has great intuition when it comes to taking care of the baby. As for me, I do my best.

Having crossed several Rubicons in my first quarter of Tadana’s first year, I can safely say that I am now able to cope with his sleeping pattern, which has become increasingly predictable with time. Because Tadana is going through a growth spurt he feeds after every hour and a half, stays awake a while, sleeps, and then repeats the cycle.

His day starts at about 5am. After he gets his morning milk feed he has taken to making low, soft sounds, otherwise known as cooing. The coos are an elaborate form of attention-seeking and ignoring him only invites a morning bawl. So either Michelle or I have to take turns mimicking baby Tadana’s coos. He listens intently and can turn his head at an angle in the direction of our voices.

His body has literally chewed most of the baby clothes that we had budgeted for during his first three months. Our friends marvel at how fast he’s growing and Michelle is always quick to quip that he is a major milk guzzler.

But while Tadana has been growing and evolving and learning new things every day, it seems the big old men and women who rule Zimbabwe haven’t even started crawling or cooing, though they still manage to guzzle most of the country’s milk.

Chief K Masimba Biriwasha is a playwright, poet and children’s author. He lives in Harare

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