I have always wanted to be a babysitter. No, not as a career but just long enough to get the feel of how it is to be responsible for another human being and not heartbreak or starve them to a possible death. My mother will hastily invite her prayer warriors for a kesha if I choose baby sitting as a profession. Neighbours and local leaders will use me as an example of the Jubilee government failure at creating decent jobs for the youth. Ex girlfriends will strike off my name from their list of wedding invitations, even if their intention was to make me jealous that I didn’t make it to the finals. Hell, they’ll even unfriend me on Facebook. Those factors together with my lack of parental skills disqualify me as a professional baby sitter.
I have wanted to baby sit just to get the gist of baby care for future application. You know, for when my wife will go to a twerking completion, or overstay her chama meeting, or take photos of our baby for Instagram posts before leaving for a karaoke night with her girls or whatever debauchery wives of my generation will engage in. Why grown ass lactating adults refer to what is loosely a mothers’ union gathering as a girls’ night out is beyond the scope of this article (and the understanding of the writer). I want to prepare for the possibility of when she takes the time off to indulge in what will be the equivalent of what instagram moms do in the next decade. I have wanted to know how to feed a baby just in case my wife will heed to FM radio station morning shows advice that fathers should help their wives with breastfeeding.
So when my sister asked me to babysit her two girls for a couple of days, I gladly accepted. She has a 6 year old who is just beginning to learn the subtle art of guilt-tripping and arm-twisting. She says,”Uncle, si wewe ni rafiki yangu” when she wants something that her parents will otherwise not grant or allow, like candy or watch cartoon past her bedtime. And because I’m a good friend, I don’t disappoint. That’s how you win Uncle of The Year award, I hear.
Her sister, who is a couple of months to 2 years, is so adorable that I actually considered telling my friends that she is a daughter a sired during my campus days. You should hear her say Zebra. And her smile can even halt the runaway government corruption. She resorts to screaming or crying when things do not go her way, like when you change the channel when her favourite ad is on.
She’s so adorable that I even took a selfie with her. Just one. Okay, two, and it’s because she asked for it. She didn’t say the exact words but mumbled something to that effect as child learning language skills can. And smiled in the photo, which should be taken as consent, right?
I was going to tweet the post with the hashtag #parenttings then I realized I barely know my twitter followers save for maybe one or two. The rest could be child traffickers who could use the photo of my niece to negotiate terms with unscrupulous Indian businessmen. Or organ harvesters. If I was going to expose my nieces to strangers on the internet, then I might as well teach them how to use the gas cooker, leave them home alone to go the local watering hole to immortalize the position I had been elevated to and return at 4am to wake them up with hiccups loud enough to warrant a NEMA intervention. I wasn’t tempted to sign up for an instagram account to chronicle the days in hashtags either. Guys, come back. Don’t unfollow me now.
I was the cautious mom in that Dettol advert. I wanted them to within my eyesight. I watched them eat just in case one choked on her food. I checked if they were still breathing when they slept. I would have rushed them to the doctors if they did as much as sneeze. You can’t be too careful with Zika virus having been declared a global health emergency, can you? But as it turns out, children don’t like it when you are all over their business, mundane as their business might seem. Constantly asking if they were thirsty or in need of a snack while they were watching Sofia The First on Disney Junior was not received with an enthusiastic “Yes Uncle!” I had hoped for. Apparently, kids need personal space too.
They don’t want you asking who they are with and what games they playing when they go out to play. They don’t appreciated it if you constantly text, or shout from the third floor balcony, to check on them when they are out. My older niece asked,”Uncle,si wewe ni rafiki yangu?” “Eeeh,”I retorted with contentment that could put to shame that of a politician who has successfully rigged an election. ”Basi mbona hutuwachi tucheze na amani,” she quipped. I smiled to hide my embarrassment as I conceded they could play uninterrupted. I was suffocating them. My head hung in shame as I went back on my laptop building on a browser history that already looks like it can wear a suit and get elected to parliament. It knows no boundaries, and shame.
I was assured that they could take good care of themselves when they came back to the house in the evening in one piece. No scratches, no marks, not even a scar from a shoddily done surgery by an organ harvester. I became secure. The second and succeeding days of babysitting were remarkably better. There was no need to stalk them. I didn’t have to sneak around the block to see if they were playing with kids they were forbidden from interacting with because it is the infant version of snooping on your partner’s phone to check if they have been chatting with their exes. Or the landlord, or their lecturer. Or all of the above. Also because that would have drawn giggles from neighbours and onlookers alike.
We had a healthy relationship. No stalking, no trust issues. I also came to learn that kids love chapatis a lot. Each time I asked them what they wanted to eat, they would say chapatis.
Now, the problem is, I’m a graduate of an education system that deems it more important to have the Agulhas Ocean current and scientific name of maize in the curriculum than have Home Science as a subject.
My attempt at cooking chapatis resulted in what can be used as exhibit in an attempted murder trial. My chapatis had a dark hue to them, like they were paraphernalia at a witchdoctor’s shrine. They had a consistently irregular shape that was inconsistent from one to the other. So after almost two hours, a jerrican of cooking oil, and dough that could be used to stick campaign posters, I went to the neighbourhood hotel and bought chapatis for my niece. Babysitting, like healthy relationships, is about knowing when to let go.
What impressed me most was the sense of security possessed by my nieces. They didn’t feel the need to stalk their parents to confirm if indeed they had attended the function they had travelled for. They didn’t request a Google location of their whereabouts. They were sure their parent would return to them, even if they met more outspoken and adorable babies in their safaris. They were secure. They only talked on phone when their parents called. They didn’t cry themselves to sleep because daddy was away. They didn’t brood because mummy was away. Hell, they could have talked ill of their parents with their friends when my sister and her husband came back a day late, but they did not. Neither did they throw tantrums. They understood that delays occur in life. Perhaps this was reflection of my baby sitting skills, hopefully.
Perhaps the children understood the dynamics of a healthy relationship.