Were I the sort of person who has morning tea, I would call him my morning tea child. He came to me around 10, at the time when those who drink morning tea partake in that ritual, at the hospital now called Rahima Moosa Mother and Child, then called Coronation.
My friend Jacqui advised: “Since you have no money for a private hospital, better sign up at Coronation. They have better prenatal and antenatal care than many public hospitals, and are less crowded than Baragwanath.”
The latter would have been the ideal hospital because I was living in south Johannesburg. But I had been there a few times with an ill relative and I knew what a logistical nightmare Bara was. I asked a friend for their address and used that to register at Coronation.
One morning at 8am, feeling little niggles in my body and worrying that the foetus wasn’t sitting properly, I made my way to Coronation. “You’re eight centimetres dilated,”the midwife informed me.
“What does that mean?” I asked, probably looking as confused as I felt.
“It means, mama, that you are about to give birth any time now.”
Oh for real?
They put my legs in stirrups.
“We will check on you every 15 minutes.”
But less than 10 minutes later, I felt something pushing to escape my body. I hoped I wouldn’t soil myself.
“Nurse, nuuurse,” I remember yelling.
They must have thought I was another whining first-time mother.
When they got to me that 25th of June 2005, he had slipped out of my body as easily as sipping a cup of morning tea. But when I held him against my body for the first time, it was not morning tea I thought of. It was of a mouse.
In my head I nicknamed him Mouse because he was tiny and wet like a newborn mouse and there was a tinge of fear in me as I held him. For the first time in my life, I was doubting myself about something that really mattered. I was doubting whether I would do good by this little person who had arrived a few weeks early, but who held my finger in an iron grip as though he would not let life slip him by.
I worried that he was a boy. Worried that this was some revenge from a patriarchal deity to someone who identifies as a feminist. What if he turned out to be the worst type of man? My friend Thoko said that I had it wrong. She said that perhaps a feminist deity gave birth to feminist sons so they could raise the sort of men they would have wanted to be surrounded by. I am willing to concede that she was right.
I am not sure how well I am doing.
Sometimes I get it wrong. As a parent and as a woman brought up in a patriarchal world, there is still a lot of unlearning I have to do. But I try my very best to raise the best child I can.
And he has, by and large, been an easy child to raise. A child, yet sometimes exhibiting immense maturity. This, I think, is because we spent the first six years of his life alone. And so he has probably seen me during vulnerable phases, which has made him sensitive to other people’s feelings. He first exhibited this when he was eight.
We were babysitting a friend’s child. The child came to me yelling: “Auntie Zuki, H hit me.” Anyone who says children do not lie has never spent time with children. H had been nowhere near him so I knew this was a lie, but what my son did next was what amused and amazed me. Just as I was about to refute the charge, H came and whispered: “Mama, sound angry and warn me against doing that.” I did and our young charge was happy and laughed.
He has continued to surprise me with this generosity of spirit and this sensitivity to other people’s feelings. But it is also a character flaw. He does not know how to say no to people because he thinks saying no is unkind. Saying no is a lesson I have been trying to teach him.
When he was at nursery school, he used to echo that common mantra of three-year-olds whenever he was unhappy with me: “Mama, you are not my friend.” And I would respond: “It’s okay. I do not want to be your friend. I am your mother.” He would sulk and walk away. He still sulks every now and again when we disagree. I am okay with that because my role, first and foremost, is to be his mother.
But I am glad that, at the age of 13, he has no problem hugging me and holding my hand in public and we can be friends. I am glad that, in the morning during breakfast, he tells me his problems and we discuss solutions. It feels wonderful to know that he trusts me enough to do this. When he catches the school bus, I am grateful he knows that I am not a perfect parent, just as he is not a perfect son but who loves me as unconditionally as I love him.
I am fearful that my little Mouse, now a head taller than me, may not have me to protect him when he needs it the most, when he grows in a world that is not always kind to gentle souls. But I am hopeful that, when all else fails, love will carry the day and he will be alright.