I’m a Supermum!

Suppose I were to let someone take care of Jeremy for a week, I thought to myself, what instructions would I give the person? What’s my typical day like?

Jeremy usually wakes me up – yes, he’s my alarm – between 6 and 7am. Children and old people tend to be naturally early risers, at least from my experience. Like one time when I was in shagz (the village?) with my grandmother and got up “early” at 7:15am, only to find that she had already milked the cow, made tea, swept the house and even made chapatis. I don’t know if I’ll ever be an early riser but for me, 6-7am is already pretty early if you ask me!

He wakes me up by pulling at my ears, inserting fingers into my nose and poking my eyes, singing in my ears, sitting on my face, jumping on my sleeping form etc.Never has a better alarm been invented. So if you were to take care of Jeremy, you had better wake up earlier than him, or brave this morning assault.

As he is a 3 year old just weaned off diapers (sometimes on, mostly off), it is my duty after coming into (I’m deeply asleep in the early morning) to remind him to go to the toilet, wash his hands and dry them. Sometimes he goes by himself, mostly the excitement of a new day (!) makes him easily forget and he can have a dry mattress but after getting up, he will pause in his jumping up and down with this blank look on his face and you just know it’s coming. That’s when I will rush him to the toilet.. “no no Jeremy, to the toilet, to the toilet!”. I make it sound like it’s a call to war! You have to make these activities exciting so he looks forward to it every time.

In the two hours between 7am when we wake up and 9am when I drop him off at the nursery (daycare center/play school/preschool/baby class/all the above), I have to make him breakfast, feed him, dress him and myself as well. Usually, breakfast is a cup of brown uji (porridge) with a slice of bread and cheese. I don’t know how many of you can make smooth uji without lumps, it took me years of practice to get it right. And even then, sometimes it’s too thick or too thin. I then enrich the uji with some milk. When the temperature of the uji has cooled down enough for him to drink it, I hand it to him. While I make breakfast, he is usually preoccupied with driving his (toy) bus. I have to ensure he pauses long enough to finish his breakfast.

Cooking brown uji

Cooking brown uji

As he takes his breakfast, I prepare his school bag. Into the bag goes:

  • a clean hand-towel
  • his cup bag with a clean cup inside
  • his lunch bag with a dish of rice and spoon inside it. At the nursery they provide them with the meat and vegetable side dishes as well as fruits but rice, oh no way, how dare you suggest that! So I have to make sure to cook rice daily.
  • a change of clothes for the times when he soils the current ones. They always keep a change of clothes, at least one set, at the nursery. If he uses up the change of clothes, then I have to provide a new set the following day
  • his announcement book – not daily, just on the days when they have some message to send to parents
  • his attendance notebook – also includes a diary section where the teachers will tell me anything interesting that happened that day and I will also respond in kind. Things like did he eat, sleep and play well? Will he take the bus on the way back or will I be picking him up, and at what time? All this is in Japanese. My Japanese vocabulary concerning children has greatly improved. The notebook also includes a recording of his monthly weight and bi-monthly height checks. He gained 300gms over the past month.
  • any other items necessary or requested. Like on Mondays, his bag weighs tons because I will be returning a picture book that they lend us for the weekend, or his indoor shoes that needed cleaning over the weekend as well

He has taken breakfast, his bag is prepared, but now comes a challenge: making him wash his face and brush his teeth. Some days are easy, but on others I need to convince him why he shouldn’t leave the house with uji stains on his face. It helps that there are songs about “washing my face, brushing my teeth, etc”. I usually brush my teeth and wash my face at the same time too.

Next is the question of what to wear and what to dress Jeremy in. After I dress, I then have to beg, plead or do whatever it takes to coax him out of his pajamas. If he’s in a great mood – which is the usual case unless he hasn’t slept well – he just lets you change him right away. Otherwise I have to let him know people don’t go to school in pajamas, well, unless they are in college!

By now, I will be in panic mode as I look at the watch that will be saying it’s 8:30am. The distance from our apartment to the parking lot is normally a 2 minute walk and the nursery is just a 5 minute drive from the parking lot, but it will take us about 20 minutes. First, Jeremy has to decide which shoes to wear, and sometimes nothing will do except the yellow shoes. Then he has to carry his bus with him. When I finally drop him at the nursery, I have to wait until he has changed from his outdoor to indoor shoes, given me a hug, and has waved bye as he runs to his classroom.

Then I drive back to campus to start my day. I usually feel like a champion for getting my son to the nursery on time!

Back at the apartment, I will probably hang out the laundry to dry – which I somehow managed to throw into the washing machine sometime after breakfast and before leaving to drop off J. I do his laundry about 3 times a week, mine once, and once for bedding and towels. So pretty much daily. Then I do any dishes that look they won’t last till evening. Take out the garbage, if it can’t wait for the next day. Open the windows to let in the fresh spring air. I don’t make the beds, that’s for super supermums with nannies, and I’m just a supermum. But I sometimes put out the blankets and futons out to air on the balcony. Then I put together my bag – laptop, charger, earphones, phone, phone charger, notebook, diary, wallet, keys, glasses, tissues, tampons, the basics etc – and head to the lab to do some research.

I have a tiny window from 10am to around 4pm to do my research and any other work, workout, have lunch, respond to emails, and check facebook and twitter. Sometimes I will upload a picture of flowers to Instagram. Maybe even update this blog. Thankfully, I have already finished my coursework but boy, wasn’t that hectic, when I had classes and assignments.

It’s 12 noon. I’m writing this at a desk in the lab where I am doing some part-time job. It’s not much, just about 6 hours a week. I am also supposed to be coding my minor research project while revising my official doctoral proposal. I should also be doing some reading as well designing the system for my main research. I just checked my phone for the first time since 9am this morning, and realize I forgot to charge it. I quickly plug it in, I am always on high alert for any phone calls from the nursery, in case I need to respond to something. Like if he’s sick, or if it’s a reminder that the school bus won’t be running today and I need to pick him up.

By 3:45pm I have to be at the bus stop to wait for the school bus. Then supervise the kids as they play outside until around 6pm. If the weather is not good, then we have to play indoors.

Jeremy and his friend play outside after school

Jeremy and his friend play outside after school

Between 4-6pm I have to make dinner while simultaneously supervising play time! Put away the now clean and dry laundry. Do dishes. 6pm is dinner time. Then shower time. Then story time. Or TV time. Bedtime at 8pm. Actual falling asleep time is around 9:30pm. By then, I am supposed to get up to continue research, or study Japanese, or do dishes, or maybe vacuum – oh, wait can’t vacuum at night and risk waking him up. Sometimes I will hear loud voices of some other (single) students laughing just right outside our window – at least that’s what it feels like, and I wanna slap their mouths shut haha.. can’t they see it’s quiet time for me? That blissful time when mothers put their kids to sleep and they can finally sit down to breathe.

Usually, I am too tired to do anything intellectually useful but I don’t want to sleep too early because then I end up sleeping for too long and wake up tired the following day. What twisted irony. So then I end up on the couch just watching a series, I prefer watching classics that I missed back in the day. The X-Files. Sex and the City. But I sometimes watch sitcoms like Mom, Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory.. and dramas like Shameless or The Good Wife. Sometimes I will read a book, I am currently reading Brisingr, the 3rd book in the series Inheritance by Christopher Paolini. I also recently read my first Manga book, called “Weird Storm Boy” 風の磨転郎. It was great actually, looking forward to more.

Cover of Weird Storm Boy

Cover of Weird Storm Boy

On weekends, we’ll go to a park or a children’s event or swimming or the local library or an English class for kids, or somewhere Jeremy can have fun with other kids. On Sundays, we go to church for the same reason, keeping Jeremy meaningfully engaged in play with people his own age. We might stay home and just ride bikes around the campus, as I clean the bathroom, the walls, vacuum and do (grocery) shopping.

So if someone can do all this for me for one week, I will personally give them the supermum cape. And yet, I’m not special neither am I the only one. There are women out there with 2, 3, 4 or even more kids. They take care of their kids and their husbands, they supervise the cooking, cleaning and arrangement of their houses even if they are working or not, they turn up at work looking great and kick ass getting things done. I salute all the women out there with kids, I know the day passed but Happy Mother’s Day, every day.

Everyone is busy, but if at the end of the day you get to spend the rest of your evening sipping on whiskey in your(QUIET) bachelor(ess) pad while you watch TV as this blog puts it, you are not allowed to seek sympathy from me! I can sympathize with Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau though. Sure, I would love a personal assistant or 7, but luckily for me, I can say it here on the blog without an entire country getting outraged.

P.S.

I have recently removed a few words from my dictionary. I know not their definition anymore and will wear a blank look if a topic involving them comes up. They include “dating”, “social life”, “grab a drink”, “go out at night”, “uninterrupted sleep for more than 3 hours”, “sex”, “marriage” etc.

P.S.II
I hope this post didn’t come out too whiny. I actually prefer a busy life and would be extremely bored if I didn’t have important stuff to do. This post was inspired when a recent situation made me wonder whom would I leave Jeremy with were I to travel for a week or two. The answer, only my mother! But she’s all the way in Kenya!

Taking Stock at 28

It’s the eve of my 28th birthday.

For some unknown reason, when I was younger, I always pictured myself at this age on the balcony of my apartment overlooking the ocean in California, a glass of wine in hand contemplating my successful career. Think Gabrielle Union’s character in any movie she stars in.

Instead, I find myself on the balcony of my apartment in a university dormitory in Japan. Okay, I am not at the balcony at this very moment but I plan to go there to take in the fresh spring air after I hit publish on this post. It’s 8:40pm and I’m listening to my son singing himself to sleep. He turned 3 years old about 3 weeks ago. He’s incredibly smart and I’m not just saying that because I am his mother. He is also incredibly handsome, incredibly talented, incredibly kind and loving, and can raise incredible hell when he wants his way. When I am done with this post, I shall probably have some time to think about Prince who died today at the tender age of 57. If you don’t think 57 is young, he could have had 3 more decades, like The Queen who just turned 90.

A recent photo of Jeremy and I

A recent photo of Jeremy and I

So what have I been up to since I last blogged almost 2 months ago? Or since my last taking stock post a year ago?

Making : Plans for a picnic with friends from campus by the riverside tomorrow. Because of seasonal changes in Japan, good weather (warm and outdoor friendly) doesn’t last that long so it’s kind of a big deal when winter clears, spring comes and we can finally have outdoor activities like barbecues, picnics, whatever..

Cooking : Githeri. No, it doesn’t taste the same as I am using sweet baby corn rather than our usual Kenyan white maize. The taste might not be the same but it’s still delicious.

Voila! Presenting the results of my #githeriInJapan experiment!

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 –

Drinking :
A glass of the cheapest wine (2014 Vintage, LOL) I could buy at Costco. It’s terrible. I couldn’t even afford the 2nd cheapest wine!

Reading:
The second book in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, Eldest. It’s a tale of a boy, a dragon, magic, elves, dwarfs, shades, oguls.. you know, fantasy. Don’t ask me where I get the time to read, between taking care of Jeremy, keeping my apartment habitable, doing my PhD and other part-time work in the university.

Wanting:
What do I want? Of course I want many things, like a car whose brakes don’t make a hissing sound when I step on them. But these days I am happy with just what I have and with just who I am.

Looking: At the picture below and how it represents my crisis point at this moment. Why am I even doing a PhD when all I’m doing is reducing my chances of employment? My career choices just got narrowed down to academia and industry research.

Why am I doing PhD?

Why am I doing PhD?

Playing: this song. Translated lyrics are here.

Wasting:
My time in the evenings watching Sex and the City. The show was banned in our home back then because of the sex scenes. I can’t really relate with the characters but I’m enjoying it nonetheless.

Sewing: sewing? Sure, I do have a sewing kit but I’m waiting for the loose button on Jeremy’s shirt to first fall off before I fortify it.

Wishing: there was a magic word to put children to sleep at bedtime. If you think you can just let kids play around until they are too tired and fall asleep, you’re wrong. The longer they stay awake, the more wired up they get, the harder it is for them to fall asleep and the worse the quality of sleep they’ll get. Then they’ll suffer bad moods the following day.

Enjoying: Tortilla chips + ketchup. It’s a Friday night, and it’s the eve of my 28th birthday. I can do/eat whatever I want.

Waiting: eagerly for July. If all goes well, Jeremy and I should make our first international conference appearance in Toronto, Canada.

Liking: the 45 minutes of exercise that I manage to squeeze into my schedule from time to time. I’ve however reduced from 5 times a week to barely once a week; but I am trying to up it up to at least 3 times a week.

Wondering: what’s the role of God in the 21st century? To those who believe in a God or gods, how/why?

Loving: the “moments” I have with J. Like we’d be singing in the shower (nursery rhymes, what else) and I forget the lyrics but then he reminds me. “Say goodbye, mummy, say goodbye!”. Or when reminds me to wear my jacket when we’re leaving the house. Or tells me to make sure I turn left so we can go home when I pick him up. Or when he follows me to the toilet like how dare I make a visit to the toilet and not invite him?

Hoping:
To get shortlisted in some kind of competition I am participating in so I can get a free trip to Tokyo. A trip away is always a good break.

Marvelling:
At just how far Jeremy and I have come. I think we sometimes need to take a break from our daily routine just to look back and just see how much we have achieved. When you have big goals, like I do, you can sometimes feel like you’ve done nothing so far. But even staying alive thus far, is something worth appreciating yourself for. *sips wine. dips a chip in sauce. fuck the calories.*

Needing: a plan to include studying Japanese into my schedule. I refuse to be one of those people who spend decades in Japan and yet can’t speak the language. So far, I have to wake up at 5:30am in order to study for an hour before starting my day. I am still amassing the willpower.

Smelling: his scarf. He forgot it here the other day. This is probably insane behaviour.

Wearing: Clothes with little thought to fashion. I always thought I would be better at this fashion thing when I got older or when I got money but I would rather spend any spare cash I get on books. When I’m famous I’m gonna need a full-time fashion staff.

Following: in the footsteps of many who have gone before us. We may think we are unique but we really aren’t. Not so much anyway.

Noticing: That finally, I’m 1Kg away from my ideal weight according to the BMI calculation. But it’s really an outdated method of calculation that doesn’t take into consideration African curves 😉

Knowing: that life is fleeting. It’s hard to accept that there will be a time when I will not be here anymore. That the people I know, the people in my life, won’t always be here forever.

Thinking: that I’ve spent far too much time writing this post. Cheap(est) bottle of wine is nearly empty!

Feeling: awesome. I’m 1 hour or so away from 28 and I feel awesome.

Bookmarking: sammydress.com. I like to look at the clothes even when I’m not buying.

Opening: my mind up to new, un-imagined possibilities.

Giggling: I don’t think I giggle. LOLing (Laughing out loud), yes. Giggling, no.

Happy birthday to me. It seems like it was just the other day that I was an 8 year old little girl. Time flies. RIP to all my friends who never made it to 28.

I Was Hacked and Other October Stories

In many ways, October was a trying month for me.

To begin with, there was the drama with Jeremy’s ticket, which I have already blogged about.

The journey to Japan was long and tiring. We first flew from Nairobi to Doha, Qatar, a 5 hour journey that was mostly smooth because Jeremy slept through most of it. In Doha, we had about a 2 hour layover, after which we boarded the plane for a 10 hour journey to Osaka. Jeremy slept for maybe 3-4 hours but the remaining hours were spent going to the toilet – to flush it, apparently it is very exciting for kids to hear the sudden flushing sound in airplane toilets – and back to our seats. We probably visited the toilet at least 15 times before J finally tired of the “game” and after eating a whole packet of crisps – hey don’t judge me, he had refused to eat most of what was served even if it was mostly rice, which he likes. So after eating a whole packet of crisps, he relaxed and even watched a bit of Dora the Explorer. He however, refused to sit down during landing and attempts to make him sit were met with wild screams – I am sure the Japanese people in the plane wondered if I was doing something “bad” to him. We finally landed safely, at 5;30pm in the evening but we had another 3 hour journey to Komatsu from Kansai to go through.

Jeremy watching Dora the Explorer on the way from Doha to Osaka

Jeremy watching Dora the Explorer on the way from Doha to Osaka

I had two suitcases, two carryon bags, and Jeremy to look after, but somehow I made it. Jeremy “helped” by holding onto one suitcase so he thought he was pulling it but that was how I was able to “hold his hand”. We made it to Komatsu at around 10pm and I knew he must be hungry because he was asking me for chocolate. A friend picked us up from the train station and we went to MacDonalds where he refused to eat the burger but ate the fries and drank the milk. We finally got to the campus after 11p,m, our home for the next 3 years, and slept long and hard after a hot bath.

The first week was spent at the local city hall filling hundreds of forms – the Japanese are famous for their bureaucracy -, filling forms at the university, I was officially changing my status from research student to PhD student, settling into the new 1 bed-roomed apartment at the university dorm, shopping for necessities, and taking Jeremy to the preschool (called Hoikuen) where he would spend his daytime as I studied.

It was trying being his “mother” and sole caregiver for the first time since he was born. See, I was living with my parents when he was born so my mother took care of the both of us. In addition, he had a nanny and we always had an array of cousins, aunts and relatives to give him care and attention. Of course he also received attention from my brothers and my dad. So now it was up to me to provide all that attention, and it was difficult for both of us because sometimes I could not discern why he was crying. Sometimes he cries because he wants to go to the toilet instead of just saying it (he is toilet trained), or he is hungry but isn’t sure what he wants to eat (you have to present all options you have then he will choose what he wants or you choose for him), or he needs to sleep. The need for sleep is the hardest because he may not want to sleep although he is tired, so he will be irritable and you have to hold and sooth him and “create conditions suitable for him to sleep”. I have since learned his needs – which are the basic food, toilet, sleep – but he also craves entertainment/stimulation and now most days are smooth sailing.

I had a schedule set, I would drop off J at the Hoikuen by 9am, come back to attend classes and do assignments, pick him up at 3 or 4pm, play with him, give him a bath, dinner and he would be asleep by 8pm after which I would continue with my research. However, it took a while for him to get used to going to preschool and he would want to play outside when it was time for lunch, would push other kids as a form of “play” as he was used to playing with older kids back in Kenya, and the Hoikuen would call me to pick him up early. Usually, 12:30. However, by the third week, he was finally staying until 3pm or even 4pm without fuss, he was following rules, he was eager in the morning to go to school and would leave me at the entrance as I removed my shoes and run to his class to play with “my children” as he calls them in Swahili, “watoto wangu”.

Jeremy and I taking a walk at around the campus one evening. We stopped to rest and take selfies!

Jeremy and I taking a walk at around the campus one evening. We stopped to rest and take selfies!

Everything was starting to “settle down”. Having begun the month in a state of debt, I was planning on how to settle these debts, how to adjust my schedule so I could have more research time (I find myself going to bed at 8pm together with J!) etc. The city hall document requests were almost complete, and I was planning on my next blogpost about reviewing 2-3 books I had read recently. I was checking my emails when I saw an announcement from Stanchart telling me the loan rates were increasing, yet again. Yes, I took a bank loan from Stanchart two years ago at an interest rate of 16.9%, but the rates have now increased to 25.4%, possibly increasing my blood pressure as well. I was mad at the stupid economy that is Kenya right now, and the banks that must make a profit whether it rains or shines. Where they expect us to get more money from in the “prevailing economic conditions” as they said in the email is a mystery to me.

Then I got hacked, and anyone attempting to access my blog was faced with a dire warning: “reported attack page”.

I must admit, this warning scared the shit out of me.

I must admit, this warning scared the shit out of me.

Actually, the attackers had been around my blog for some time now. I found weird PHP scripts in my WordPress folder, such as kill.php, sulky.php, sly.php etc.. and my blog would be inundated with DoS attacks and would be inaccessible for some time. Updating WordPress and plugins and themes, changing passwords wouldn’t work.. until finally the dire warning came and even I could hardly access my blog. So now I was in the midst of figuring out how to start afresh, without infected files but while retaining all my 4 years’ worth of blogging content.

Suspicious php scripts in my previous WordPress folder

Suspicious php scripts in my previous WordPress folder

The clearing of the debts and loans, the cleaning of the blog, my assignments – every week I got new assignments for the two classes I am taking – my major research, my minor research project, where I was going to find time to study Japanese, Jeremy and how he was adapting to the school; these were among the many thoughts going through my head as we sang “The wheels on the bus song” on Wednesday morning last week as I drove Jeremy to school.

We had just got to a 4-way junction next to the university campus with no traffic lights but stop signs for the drivers on the “minor road”. I was on the main road and was going straight, and therefore I am not required to stop. I observed a car on the minor road that had stopped, so I merely slowed down and was almost through the intersection when I saw another white car bearing down on us from the left; I saw that it was not going to slow down or stop so I put my hand on the horn and my foot on the brakes. But it was too late, the next thing I heard was the crunch of metal against metal, and the sound of metal scratching against the road as both our cars went in different directions.

I cannot explain what the my state of mind was at that point but I was calm enough to oddly switch on the hazard lights, put the car in parking and switch off the engine, and then pick up J from his child seat that was strapped to the back seat. He was safe from injury and neither had I been injured. Carrying J, I went to see how the other driver was fairing as he got out from his car that had somehow climbed over the curb and come to a rest a few meters into the grass park. He was also fine.

This was my first accident. It was minor accident, when it comes to injuries. However, the condition of the cars is another story. At the point of initial impact, the front left wheel of my car was bent inward and suspended a little in the air, the axle having been bent into an awkward angle. The other guy’s car also looked terrible, with the glass on the passenger side shattered, and the hood gaping open revealing the piping and engine &co. The cops were called and wrote their report, the insurance company came, the guy admitted he was at fault etc… All this time, Jeremy was growing impatient as he wanted to go to school and luckily another student (she’s also a mother whose child goes to the same Hoikuen) who was passing by offered to take him to hospital for checkup and later to school, and I was left to deal with the formalities.

Now I feel like I am back to zero. Carless and broke as I wait for the insurance company to pay me for the damages even as they offer me the lowest amount possible.

But each day offers a new return to normalcy and mundanity, which is what I wish for. We are now using the school bus on most days and borrowing a car from a friend when needed. The most exciting thing I look forward to is when Jeremy has learned a new Japanese word or mastered the name of a new friend. The most satisfaction I look forward to is sending in my report just before the deadline. And when I manage to get enough time to type out a 2,000 blogpost and upload it to my now newly re-launched, clean blog (how I cleaned up is a story for another blog post). I am grateful for these small things. I also happen to have one of the most understanding professors for my major research which is a bonus.

The other day, some tweeps with pea-sized brains looking for some entertainment unearthed and started retweeting some tweets from 2010 (5 years ago!) when I had a twitter bout with a certain gentleman, then nicknamed “The Corporate Gangster”. I simply had no time to indulge them, I am literally and figuratively at another (superior) place and have more important issues to deal with. Like how calmly to navigate the 4-way junction each time I drive through it.

October was a long month, and all I ask for in November is normalcy, consistency, mundanity. I am simply glad to be alive so I can watch my son grow into the fine young man he’s already showing signs of.

(Edit)P.S.
To complete the October misery, I came to back to Japan only to learn that while I was in Kenyan in the summer, the only Japanese musician (and actor, photographer, radio host, Japan’s -well, formerly- most eligible bachelor etc) whose music I listen to, secretly got married but not to me as I had hoped 🙁

So anyway, you can listen to his playlist below.

2014 Highlights

Happy New Year 2015 to all my blog readers, thank you so much for reading and a special one to those who comment from time to time. A blog is nothing without its readers, thank you!

2015 Happy New Year

2015 Happy New Year

I have a lot of things I intend to achieve in the year 2015 and onward, they are not really resolutions but goals. A year ago, I did a 30 things to do before 30 list, but it remains private for now 🙂 I will publish it once I hit 30 and I can take a look back and see what I have achieved so far.

But in our quest for bigger, faster, better things, we sometimes forget to reflect on the past and just be content that we are alive and still have the chance to achieve more. Reflection should not mean complacence and accepting the status quo, but rather should spur you on further if you can see how far you have come and just what you are capable of.

Here are some highlights of 2014 for me:

Jeremy Turned 1 on March 30th

Being a mother has of course, made me a better person. Jeremy is a healthy and energetic young boy and there is nothing more I could ask for. Sooner than later, he shall be joining me here in Japan. I cannot wait for that day!

I turned 26 on April 23rd

Well, all I had to do is continue breathing, and eating, and the years will roll by, but for me a birthday is important even if I don’t like to make a big deal on the actual day. I am grateful for every chance to be alive, every extra day.

Jeremy and I 3 months ago

Jeremy and I 3 months ago

Master’s degree in July

Finally, after almost 3 years I got my master’s degree from Strathmore University. Thanks to the Safaricom Academy for the sponsorship.

Meeting Wole Soyinka at the Storymoja 2014 Festival 

I still haven’t done a post on my blog, but I met The Man, and he signed my two books! Ake, The Years of Childhood and You Must Set Forth at Dawn. He was an honoured guest at the Storymoja Festival and he gave a lecture in memory of Wangari Maathai. That link is my summary of his lengthy speech.

And on the second day, I also attended another of his sessions and I got to ask him some questions, can you believe it guys? I got a chance to ask Wole Soyinka questions. This man makes me feel like my English level is rudimentary, at best.

It seemed Dr. Auma Obama was his right hand person (even if she is seated to his left in the below picture), so I guess I got to meet her too. She’s an author, activist, philanthropist and also Obama’s half sister. Read her interview in Time Magazine.

Wole Soyinka with Dr. Auma Obama at Storymoja Festival

Wole Soyinka with Dr. Auma Obama at Storymoja Festival

Flying to Japan

I waited for almost a year after getting the scholarship to get on the plane to Japan. It was not an easy decision to make, I had to resign from my previous job as an IT auditor with a big 4 firm, I had to leave my son behind for some months because logistics couldn’t allow him to come with me immediately, and I had to research in a field I am interested in, but which has little in relation to my previous work experience.

In the end, I am glad I came. Japan is amazing. Sure, there are some things I don’t like about it (shh.. I didn’t just say that), but there are many things I love about this country. I look forward to the next 3 and a half years or so, and I am enjoying my experience so far. So much to see, so much to do.

I just came back this morning from Tokyo, where I spent about 8 days. Took the subway for the first time. The train network in Tokyo is dizzying, it feels like you’re living in the future 🙂 Before that, I had been living and continue to live in a relatively quiet city of Kanazawa. You almost forget you are living in a country best known back home for its technological advances.

Anyway, the sights and sounds from Tokyo will be another blogpost.

There were very many moments that stood out for me in 2014, but I cannot highlight them all. I read a lot of books, at least 13 from my book reviews. I also read quite a number of lengthy articles (or essays) on the web, from varied fields. Reading for the pleasure of reading. For instance, Aeon magazine is one source of essays I spend weekends reading. I also watched a number of TED Talks (and yes they are all kind of motivational at the end -yay, we can do it!-, but I like to hear about amazing stuff people are doing). I learned to solve the Rubik’s cube, crossing off an item on my 30’s bucket list.

Here’s a toast to 2015, let’s do it!

 

 

 

What Goes Through the Mind of a 26 Year Old Woman?

I composed this blog post in my head while I sat in traffic, contemplating my life. The radio was tuned into 1FM, it’s the only radio station that has a clear reception, since I am still using the Japanese frequencies that came with the car radio. The music is local and urban hits: basically modern African hits – Mafikizolo, Davido, Sauti Sol, Elani, Diamond Platinumz, Ali Kiba (mapenzi yana run dunia comes to mind) etc. But my thoughts drift…

nairobi traffic

These are the traffic jams I have to go through in the evenings. Plenty of time to think. Image from http://monicahnjeri.files.wordpress.com/

My Son

Of course, he’s always on mind, especially if I am idle. I think about how he will start crying for me from the moment I drive through the gate, rushing towards me so I can pick him up then he smiles and tries to remove my spectacles. He’s already widened them beyond belief and now they hang limp and loose on my face. This means I have to remove them and then there is the delicate balancing act of my son, spectacles, keys, handbag, laptop bag and any groceries I may have bought. Usually, I make sure I drop anything else except Jeremy.

When in traffic, I think about what kind of life I want to give my son. Will I bring him up to be a kind, responsible man? Will I help him achieve his dreams and ambitions? Will I be the kind of mother he would be proud of? Can I set a good example for him to follow? How will I afford his school feels? What kind of schools will I take him to? In fact, where in the world will I bring him up? (This will be relevant when you read later thoughts).

I’m grateful everyday for the support of my parents, I’m still living with them and in a way they are parenting both of us. Will I make it when I move out and start on my own? How tough is this single parenthood journey?

Then I relax and decide it will be a journey, one day at a time, and things will always work out, they always do for me, in the end.

Finances

cash-kenya-shillings

Money, money, money… money (know that song?)

Which leads to finances. I have been working in formal employment for almost 2 years now, but I have little to no savings. Start saving now, they say, while you are still young, no matter how much you earn. It is not easy, I must admit. I live a subsistence kind of life; my salary only sustains me as far as the next salary. I need a side hustle that brings in good money. Or a better job, which will of course mean I increase my expenses and we are back to subsistence. How can I make more money? I ask myself.

I am not the type of person who would depend on another for money & security, I always know I will make my own money. And when we speak with friends, we tell ourselves, can we really make enough in formal employment? Business is the way to go, we agree. Entrepreneurship. Some of my friends are already running their own businesses. Some are working, like me. Not many have the courage to be entrepreneurs, not many were meant to be entrepreneurs.

Career

This could be me and Jeremy..

This could be me and Jeremy.. or is it Jeremy and I?

Which leads me to ask myself, do I like what I am doing? Is it leading me to the path of riches and accomplishments (vain thoughts?)

Do I want to continue working in Ernst & Young in IT audit and consultancy? Is there a future for me here, right now?

Then I remember the decision was already made for me. I have already tendered my resignation letter  but will be here for the next 2 months, then have my last working day in early September. I am leaving EY to go back to school. See next train of thought.

Academics

I recently graduated from Strathmore University with an MSc in Mobile Telecommunication and Innovation. Here is a graduation selfie to prove it :- ) (FYI I graduated three years ago with a first class BSc in Computer Science from JKUAT)

graduation selfie

I am serious looking I know but I was contemplating my accomplishments 🙂

Did the time I invested in learning at Strathmore, courtesy of the Safaricom Academy worth it? Definitely. I learned not only mobile programming in all platforms (USSD, Android etc), but also project management, business skills, entrepreneurship, leadership and management. I know I will apply them not only now but also in the future, especially when I set up my own business to make more money so I can better take care of my son (all thoughts center around the same issues, as you can see!)

Japan, October 2014

As you wonder why I am resigning from my job with a reputable, international firm, I will tell you to stop wondering.. here’s why.

I got a Japanese Ministry of Culture and Education (MEXT) scholarship to go and study in Japan, at a university of my choice. I decided to go because I have always wanted to travel, and I’m going to the East first, conquer the world one country at a time. So I am going to the School of Information Science at JAIST to major in Artificial Intelligence. Another MSc. For like 2 years. But I’m young enough, with 2 years of work experience.. and I like studying, and will probably end up in (industry) research. Every tech company worth its salt has invested in research. (Edit: I found out I can do PhD directly, no need for a second PhD. This blogger will be staying in Japan for at least 4 years, including the months she will spend learning some basic Japanese before embarking on her research!)

So I’m leaving in early October, hopefully, fingers crossed. I’ll leave Jeremy and Bella in my mother’s loving arms, then when I’m settled, I’ll send for J. For the next 2.5 years that I will be in Japan, I couldn’t possibly leave my son behind that long! I will have to do everything possible to reunite us.

Relationships

My friend Pitz tells me a woman is her most attractive at 26. He says there was research carried out, apparently. Or is it a survey? So as you see me today, I am at the height of my attractiveness hehe.. so where are those serious men? How will my ambitions to travel and see and work anywhere the world, to study etc.. how will these ambitions converge with another? Is there someone out there whose path will cross mine? Is it okay if I am not even contemplating marriage? Is it okay if I decide I don’t have to “settle down” and can live the rest of my life in single motherhood?

The thing about relationships is that it’s not your decision alone to make. So until someone else comes along whose decisions I want to be a part of, and vice versa, I shall reserve my stall my train of thought here….

By the time, traffic has started to move, but oh wait, it was just a teaser. The cop halts the flow of traffic after 2 or 3 cars. We sit and wait.. and I finally decide it’s time I solved the Rubik’s cube that I’ve been learning to these past few weeks, in between reading books (I am currently reading the Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and I am yet to write the review for Den of Inequities by Kinyanjui Kombani), blogging, meeting friends for coffee, and squeezing in some hours of work between commuting to work in the morning and commuting home in the evening..

Solving Rubik's Cube

I’ve been using a numbered cube to make mastering the moves faster

The cube is just about solved when traffic finally moves and I zoom home to my family, hooting at bad drivers, cursing at those who cut me off in traffic, and nodding to Elani’s kookoo.. I’m going kookookoo so kookoo coz I…aiaiai love you…… turning up the volume of my Japanese radio.

 

The Things My Son Loves

Before I had my baby, I hadn’t had a chance to closely observe and interact with babies.. and the things they do. It’s such fun watching the little one. There are many things he loves doing that you will observe if you spent a day with him:

  1. Food. We don’t have to fight to feed him. He finally hit (and passed) the 10Kg mark. He was 10.6Kg at his 1 year weigh-in.
  2. Biting people. Scratching people. Pinching people. So if he ever tells you, “I don’t bite” don’t believe him
  3. Playing with anything except his toys
  4. Breaking things. Glasses, cups, flasks.
  5. ‘Dismembering’ the newspaper. There is no word to describe what is left of a newspaper after he is done with it.
  6. Getting into a car. Because he knows he’s going somewhere.
  7. Moving around. He does not know the meaning of the phrase “staying still”. You can’t hold him on your lap.
  8. Closing the door. Opening the door. Repeat.
  9. Closing and opening lids of flasks, bottles, containers..

    Opening and closing lids is one of his favorite activities

    Opening and closing lids is one of his favourite activities

  10. Screaming/yelling for what he wants. He’s really good at the screaming!
  11. Getting into closets.
  12. Light-skinned people. Okay, all people but especially light-skinned people and smaller babies. He cries for strangers to pick him up during our clinic runs. One time he cried for this Indian lady and she had to put her 2 year old daughter down and pick him up. The daughter was not amused.

    Crowding the space of a stranger and her baby. Tearing him away from them was not easy!

    Crowding the space of a stranger and her baby. Tearing him away from them was not easy!

  13. My dad. My son loves his granddad so much he cries when he leaves in the morning, and when my father walks into the house in the evening, he has to pick him up or there will be no peace in the house. (refer to #10)
  14. Clapping
  15. TV – especially singing ads. He laughs along to the KWS ad: “leo niko kwa keja“. He loves animations. He cries when the Coke ad ends.
  16. Outdoors. Anytime.

    He loves playing in the sand and dirt

    He loves playing in the sand and dirt

  17. The cat. Although in this video it seems he’s determined to exterminate it.
  18. Yoghurt.
  19. Breastfeeding at midnight. That’s how I know it’s midnight
  20. Laptops. So he can hit any key.
  21. My phone. He plays a piano (more like hammers at the screen) of the Piano Lite application installed.
  22. Talking on the phone. Okay, he likes to put up toys or phones to his ear and imitate us making calls. In fact, he imitates every task you do.

    Jeremy making air chapatis

    Jeremy making air chapatis

  23. Dropping things for you to pick up. He drops it, you pick it, he drops it again, you pick it again, ad nauseam.
  24. The bathroom and any other forbidden spaces. The more you tell him no, the more he wants it.
  25. Lounging.

    Sometimes he just chills and watches people

    Sometimes he just chills and watches people

What’s a Year in a Mother’s Life?

Somehow I have been unable to regale my readers with my tales of motherhood. Motherhood is not just something you can easily put into words, it’s not a just a feeling or a journey or an experience; it’s all that and  it’s also beyond that. It’s more than a transformation from an upbeat, care-less 20-something year old to who I am now.. I feel more deeply, I empathize more, I am more grateful, etc.. and I always look forward to going home at the end of the day. I feel such a deep sense of joy, gratitude to God for giving me a wonderful child and I live each day with purpose; to be the best mother (ever) to my son, to be there for him and encourage him to live up to his full potential, to create wonderful memories of childhood for him.

I quite easily remember the first time I laid my eyes on him, sleeping peacefully in the hospital cot. He slept a lot that first month.

Jeremy in the first month

Jeremy in the first month

Subsequent months saw him become more alert and playful.

He was my wallpaper in his second month :)

He was my wallpaper in his second month 🙂

 

Even before the word selfie was inducted into the dictionary, we had mustered the art. He used to reach out and try to grab at everything.

Jeremy at 3 months

Jeremy at 3 months

 

Then after he turned 3 months, my maternity leave drew to a close and I went back to work. I realized that if I had the option, I would have stayed home longer, freelancing or doing some other work that I could do from home.

He was 4 months in this picture and we were heading to clinic for weigh-in.

He was 4 months in this picture and we were heading to clinic for weigh-in.

In most ways, I am lucky to have my parents support me. I still live at home and my parents are not just dotting grandparents, they are co-parents! This has afforded me peace of mind over his care, and although we all work, my mother always goes home earlier to check on him. We’re having a challenge getting a full-time nanny for him, but we take it a day at a time.

5 months old, and sometimes pensive.

5 months old, and sometimes pensive.

By halfway through his first year, a baby hits milestones such as sitting and recognizing you, especially when I come home in the evening. He was starting to crawl and it was quite a sight watching him spend so much effort to move forward. He’s such a happy baby though, he’s always been so!

A jolly Jeremy at 6 months.

A jolly Jeremy at 6 months.

Watching him make that transformation from a helpless tiny baby to an energetic infant who can kick, scratch, scream, cry, laugh, give hugs, grow teeth and bite people has been the highlight of my life.

Black and white selfie at 6.5 months, say 7 months.

Black and white selfie at 6.5 months, say 7 months.

He loves his food, he plays with everything apart from his toy and he seems to hate unfamiliar environments. From the moment he started crawling, he’s never been in one place for longer than a second. He is constantly on the move, always exploring, pulling, poking, chewing things. His currrent favorite is opening and closing lids of various containers like flasks, hotpots, bottles..

8 months

8 months

He now imitates phonecalls. He’ll put a toy up to his ear and pretend to be talking. He talks, but it’s gibberish for now. If you teach him a trick, he’ll remember it. If you teach him a word, he repeats it. Too cute.

At 10 months.. still crawling around.

At 10 months.. still crawling around.

He finally started standing, for quite long periods of time. He now takes a few steps forward, then tumbles to the floor to continue crawling at crashing speeds.

On the eve of his first birthday

On the eve of his first birthday

On his first birthday, 30th March, we had a party at my aunt’s place. Her daughter was turning 4 at the same time (31st) and it was a joint bash. He had too much cake and soda (I know he’s just one but it’s his birthday!)

My brother gifted him the Barcelona kit he’s wearing below.

On his first birthday!

On his first birthday!

What can I say? Motherhood is the best thing that ever happened to me 🙂

Motherhood

Pregnancy

This is certainly the easiest part of the motherhood journey. Being pregnant is a glorious, life changing experience, although some women would differ with the ‘glorious’ part. If ever I have to choose my gender during my reincarnation, I would choose female each time, just to experience special the journey of nurturing life inside of me.

Photoshoot at Arboretum at 39 weeks. I never realized my tummy was that big till afteward

Photoshoot at Arboretum at 39 weeks. I never realized my tummy was that big till afteward

Some people ask, how does it feel to be pregnant? It feels natural. Your body naturally adjusts as you go along, so you never realize just how big your tummy is, because it grows gradually. I had an app, which tracked the growth of the baby week by week, and I started to feel the kicks, I lived for them. I’d get to and from work in cramped matatus (how I fit through the doors and narrow spaces is another miracle 😀 ); and I’d just chill and watch my tummy make funny shapes (which scared my housemate!). Ah, I miss those times.

Also, pregnancy is easy because you don’t have to take care of the baby really, you only take care of yourself. The baby is never wet, never hungry, never cold.. he’s always fed, always warm, always with you.

Mother to newborn

The Swahili say, “kuzaa mwana si kazi, kazi ni kumlea” loosely translating to Giving birth is nothing, bringing up the child is the actual work. I agree completely.

My son J sleeping, 2 weeks old

My son J sleeping, 2 weeks old

Newborn babies are adorable, angelic, sweet-smelling, sleepy cherubs. But the few hours they are awake, they will cry maybe half the time. For a new mother, it was hard for me to know what to do. You are still recovering from the emotional and physical trauma of labour and childbirth, the baby is crying and you can’t remember the last time you slept or had a shower.

It’s at this point that many new mothers fall into post-natal depression. Suddenly, your sweet, sleeping baby is awake and no amount of changing, breastfeeding, cuddling, singing, swinging is calming him down. Do not be tempted to shake your baby! I am lucky I had support from my family, especially my mother. She was able to take care of him for a few hours so I could catch up on sleep. Let’s just say since he was born, I have had countable nights of 6-hour continuous sleep.

The breakthrough

The first few works are tough, the baby is tiny and delicate. Needs to be fed, changed, cleaned, breastfed, rocked, held (sometimes even when sleeping). The baby will sleep during the day and keep you awake at night. However, a magic moment happens. From around 6 weeks, my baby changed his pattern and started sleeping during the night. He cried less. He started smiling! That genuine, tear-jerking toothless smile. It makes worthwhile every decision that ever brought you to that particular moment. It’s a smile that everything will be alright mummy, it’s a smile that defines true happiness.

4 months old and jolly

4 months old and jolly

Now my son is almost 5 months old, and he hardly ever cries. He smiles, a lot. He laughs out loud. He wants to sit. He reaches for my S4, so he can put it in his mouth. He grabs at the newspaper, but only to tear it into pieces that he can put in his mouth. He kicks a lot when he’s lying on his back, he kicks when he’s on your lap- he’s literally a bouncing baby boy.

When I come home in the evening, he will suddenly realize it’s me and reach out for me.. he isn’t stretching his hands out yet, but if I don’t hold me in the next 5 minutes he will begin to complain.

And he's handsome too XD

And he’s handsome too XD

Visits to the clinic are routine, just to confirm he’s putting on weight, not losing it. Diaper changes are less often. 6-hour long stretches of sleep at night are possible.

Then you realize that yes, motherhood is not easy, but you can do it. You have what it takes. You have the strength of a woman.

Working Mother

It’s the hardest thing to tear yourself away from your sleeping son in the morning. He’s not awake when you kiss him bye but you know he will be reaching for you when he wakes up.

Co-workers, friends, ask me how it feels to be a mother. It’s the most natural feeling in the world. When you make sacrifices, you don’t even realize that you are doing it. When you put your baby first in every decision you make, it’s not something you force yourself to do. It doesn’t take effort to be a mother, I guess you just have to listen to your instinct.

So it is counter-intuitive to leave your very young baby in the hands of someone else for the better part of the day, but in the world we are living in, you have to make a living. I have to go out there and work my best to secure a good future (and present) for us. I have to provide a good education and good life for him; but I also have to maximize my potential and realize my academic and professional goals. It’s a hard thing to leave him every morning, but I wouldn’t do it any other way.

meandHim

Perhaps if I ever have another child, I’ll plan way ahead, so I can work from home or have a flexible schedule for say, the first 3 years before the baby starts school and needs me less.

On Single Parenthood

There are many situations that lead to single motherhood, but all of them boil down to the fact the the father of the baby just isn’t there. It’s never the ideal situation, but this is not a perfect world, we make the most of what we have. Sure, it’s nice to have someone with whom to make decisions and share financial responsibilities with, whether to take the 2-dose Rotavirus vaccine or the 3-dose one; whether to buy size M or L Rompers, whether we just forget formula and give cow milk, and future decisions like which school should the baby be enrolled in. But while the law can force a man to pay child support, it can never force him to be a dad. And I will play the role of both parents to my best.

Single_Parent_jpg

Is Single Motherhood a Trend?
The Sunday Nation a week back talked about Single Motherhood, and while I am contributing to the statistics; I do wonder why there is such stigma associated with “single motherhood”. The stigma (and accusing finger) should be pointed at the errant fathers that abandon responsibility.

I do know a few single fathers too.. somebody care to do a study?

Anyway, this isn’t a forum for discussion on the trends of parenthood in this country; this is a post about a celebration of motherhood. That life changing experience that gives meaning to life for most women. And I’m loving it.

Did You Scream?

Warning: this is likely to be a (very) personal post.

One of the questions on the tip of everyone’s tongue (or edge of the keyboard in this case) after they say congratulations, is how the labour experience was. Labour is said to be as painful as breaking x number of bones? It is probably the most painful experience a woman will ever go through, except it’s pain whose result is often the greatest joy the said woman will ever experience. Talk of opposites! One of my goals this year, that I can tick off that list, was to give birth naturally without screaming. So did I scream? Well, yes and no!

Labour is a process and TV exaggerates. Pushing is the easiest part of a natural labour process not the hardest, like they make it seem on TV. There is no powerful contraction or a rush of waters that sends everyone into a panic and then 5 minutes later the woman is being told to puuush, push dammit as she sweats and screams. Then she pushes out a perfectly beautiful clean and open eyed angel. What happens is, a woman will get contractions – labour pains – that come and go, but as time progresses they become more painful and closer together. The labour process can last anything between 2 hours and 18 hours. Without going in too deep, by the time contractions are 2 minutes apart and lasting for about 1 and half minutes each, where one contraction ‘melts’ into the next, the baby will almost be here. Pushing the baby is relatively painless compared to the contractions at the end stages of the process.

TV dea of the giving birth process

TV dea of the giving birth process

Anyway, during the labour process, the woman and baby are of course closely monitored and doctors intervene at various stages to save both lives in case of any issues. That’s what happened in my case. My water broke (I think if you understand nothing of this post, you can always Google the labour process!) early Saturday the 30th of March. However, labour (pain) was absent, and after checking myself into hospital spent the day waiting for the pain while under monitoring by the medical staff. By 5pm labour had not set in so they decided to induce me. Induction is artificial starting of labour, and within minutes I started to feel the pain. It was bearable at first, but became increasingly worse. Three hours later, on checking the fetal heart rate it was too high, and nothing was able to bring it down meaning the baby was in distress and my body wasn’t ready to push it would take a while longer. When they mentioned an emergency CS to save the baby, my only question was where do I sign?

In the last 30 minutes of that three hour labour, I felt PAIN. It’s not something anyone can describe you have to feel it to know it. Different women experience labour differently, but an induced labour is more painful (because you’re basically forcing things) than a natural labour. If I had proceeded to the very end resulting in a normal birth, I think I would have been screaming my head off. But as it were, at the stage I was in, I didn’t scream but yes I groaned, shed a few tears as I was being wheeled into the theater.

I’ve never been admitted in a hospital before, let alone undergone any surgery. The whole thing felt like a horror movie as you lie on a stretcher and are wheeled to the theater in a green corridor with a white ceiling. In the theater, you lie under the glare of lights as you are surrounded by masked figures. At this point I was still having contractions because of the induction and my chief concern was the anesthetist. I wanted out. You have the option of having local anesthesia where you can chat with the doctors as they do the operation and watch your baby being lifted out of you, or general where you are out. I was too emotional at that time I just needed out, the last thing I remember was the anesthetist injecting the drug into the IV line on my arm and saying “this is the anaesthesia..”

When I woke up, I was alone in the theater with a nurse. I was in pain because the anesthesia had worn off, but the first thing I asked for was my baby. I was told he was taken to the nursery and would be brought later. I was injected with a painkiller which took all of 10-15 minutes to work, and later wheeled to my ward where I slept off. When I woke up for the second time that Saturday night (well it was Sunday, around 3am), my baby had been brought and was sleeping peacefully in his cot. I looked at him and fell in love for the rest of my life! My mother, my aunt and best friend Phyllis spent the night in the hospital and were the first to look at him as he was being taken to the nursery. And now later in my ward he was there so tiny and perfect and sleeping so peacefully.

The next three days were spent in the hospital recovering – both emotionally and physically. Giving birth, whether natural or by CS, is an emotionally intensive experience that can only be equated with the very opposite, death. Giving forth life is such a powerful and joyful feeling, but you’ll be emotionally drained and looking at the baby and wondering if all that was in here (rubs belly at this point). I was glad to be finally discharged 3 days later and now I’m home enjoying motherhood and all the joys it will bring.

Whatever the labour experience, the important thing is that you get your baby safely and anything you undergo, though you may never forget, is totally worth it.

Here we are at one week old 🙂 Little Jeremy and I. Still can’t believe I’m so blessed with a son. My son.

Little Jeremy and I

Little Jeremy and I

Now the remaining 2013 goals include turning 25 (later this month), graduating (late June, everything is on track), saving (proving to be quite hard) and working with Divas4tech.