In the past year alone I have sat down severally to try and write about my mother but I always chicken out of it. I never feel ready. I never feel like I have enough content to encompass everything that she embodies, and there is a lot. If you know my mother, really know her, then you know there’s a lot. Well, let me try and put all these archived thoughts down and see if after all this time I can attempt to tell you through a series of stories who she is and why when I count my blessings, I see her in every one of them.
A little after I finished high school, while I was doing a diploma at Strath(I never finished it), a friend of mine named James invited me over to his house for lunch. I thought why not. He had been unwell so I agreed to go see him. Plus he lived with his family and I saw no harm in accepting the invitation.
I did however feel squirm-ish about it, that I have gone to great lengths to justify my actions is proof of that. I intentionally did not tell my mother where I would be and made sure it was a day when she would typically be at work. That way if I played my cards right, she would never have to know.
It was a day when normally I would have been at home because I remember my mum texting me to ask that I do something in the house. I told her I could not because I was not home. She casually asked me where I was and I thought to myself, I am 18 years old, surely I can tell my mother that a friend of mine named James invited me over for lunch and that is where I am. At his house having lunch. So I told her just that. Her response was brief. James??? Where? Okay. We shall talk when you get home. One thing I remember for sure is there was an uncanny number of question marks in the message, even if those were not her exact words.
Given that exchange, I left James’ house about an hour earlier than I had planned to, so that I could be home before my mother and hopefully avoid her all evening and not have that “We shall talk when you get home,” conversation. I anticipated it would get uncomfortable. We did not have the conversation that day, to my great short-lived joy, but over the weekend she summoned me into the living room when she was alone and we had the talk. Ha ha! What is the talk though? We had a chat. We talked about the fact that I was about to be off to uni and the many freedoms that would afford me and how delicate a woman’s reputation can be and why I should try and avoid situations that would compromise mine and then came the ‘punch-line’. I do not know if she had thought about this in advance but it is what I remember verbatim from that conversation, because the phrase is literary gold and loaded with meaning. She asked me to think about whether after four years of university, I wanted to come home with a first class or a first born…
I will recycle this line on my children.
If you are wondering, I came home with neither. That math was a struggle. :-p
My mother is an extraordinary mother, in her own right. For many years now, she has been my Valentine, and the Valentine of most of my cousins as well. She has this tradition of preparing Valentine’s packages for the various households in our extended family. Boxes or baskets with chocolate, cake, cookies, sweets and of course draped in red…ribbons, glitter, love heart stickers and cute little messages that say things like “I love you”, or “Will you be my Valentine?” (Such a precedence! Future potential Valentines…take notes!)
When I moved to Juja for school, I qualified as a house hold of my own so she prepared a Valentine’s package for me and told me to go share it with my friends. One friend of mine asked me what the occasion was when I took out the package and I told him Valentine’s day. He kept prodding though.
“Valentine’s Day? Really? And your mum prepared all this just for you?”
“Well, not just for me, she does this every year, for everyone in the family. This year I got one just for me because technically I do not live at home. Normally I am factored into the package for our house.”
I offered this as an explanation because I thought he was getting at, “OMG Kathleen, look how spoilt you are,” but his next statement was, “Wow Kathleen, your mother is a real mother!” Not to negate anyone else’s mothering but my mother’s is warm and cute and cuddly and includes Valentine’s day packages that scream I LOVE YOU in bright red and holds all sorts of goodies.
It also included chapatis every Sunday that I could carry back to school with me, I came home 99% of weekends. Normally these chapatis are what we had for dinner on Saturday night but in the event that there were no chapatis from Saturday night dinner, the moment we came home from mass on Sunday, my mother would get about making at least 6 or 10 quick ones so that I do not go back to Juja empty handed.
I had quite the reputation for coming from home with a loaded bag. No, not because I brought home clothes for washing, I never did this, but because every single free space in my bag was always stuffed with something else I could carry. Right before leaving home, I would go ‘shopping’ in the fridge and in the store and carry some things. A can of baked beans, chapatis of course, Ribena juice boxes, some homemade cake(my mum bakes a lot!), packets of noodles bought just for me, yoghurt…etc. Hearing me go about in the kitchen and knowing what that meant, my mum would join me in trying to fit everything in my bag and then if there was even a hint of space, add even more things for me to carry.
“Why don’t you take some of the apples in the fridge?”
“Put the bananas on top so that they do not get squashed.”
“Is that where you are going to carry your phone?” hinting that it could easily be stolen.
“Take out your transport money and then put your wallet deep in your bag.”
“Okay mum, take care of yourself,” her parting words to me.
When we were younger, even though there was always a help to prepare breakfast and a driver to take us to school, we have all been to only day school, my mother would always wake up to see us off at those wee hours of the morning. She did not have to, but she did. She would first, as I imagine, open an ear and listen for signs of life at the time when we were supposed to wake up. I imagine this because occasionally when we all slept through our alarms, 10 minutes would not go by without her coming to wake us up herself. On these mornings she would then disappear back to her room and reappear again, as she did every morning, to sit with us as we had breakfast. Perhaps to also ensure I had something more than a glass of coke.
Today as I write this, I write in the mornings, I hear her door open and her footsteps head downstairs. Soon after she comes back up. “Andrew, are you still upstairs? It is already 6:22!” Andrew is my 16 year old younger brother. The only one still in school. These days he takes the bus and as sure as the rising of the sun in the east, my mother always walks him to the bus stop. I asked her once why she still does it. She said to make sure her baby is not stolen. Never mind that the baby in question is about double her height and looks more like her body guard than her baby. 🙂
When he first got to high school and started taking the bus as opposed to being dropped, Andrew tried to fight this arrangement. Can you imagine how uncool it is to have your mum walk you to the bus stop and wait for the bus with you? Wait with you until she sees you get on it and then waves you off, ha ha! Such a cute pair they must make in the mornings. My brother tried to fight this, he told her he was now a big boy and wanted to be going alone. My mum would still not let up so they came to an agreement. The place where the bus stopped in those days was a little beyond a certain roundabout in our neighbourhood. Each morning, they would walk to the roundabout together and then Andrew would go right, towards the bus stop, while mum would go left, to a spot where the bus stop was in full sight, and wait until the bus came by and her baby was safely on it.
These days that arrangement is a thing of the past. Maybe Andrew just made peace with the fact that even at 18 years old, he will be that huge rugby-sized high school boy whose almost-half-his-size mother walks him to the bus stop every morning. Given his size, I bet no one dares tease him about it. My mother even knows the name of the school bus driver! Peter. Peter calls her to let her know whenever the bus is running late and occasionally when mother and son are missing at the bus stop, he calls to find out if they are running late.
She has such a propensity for people! My brother once commented about how as they walk to the bus stop, every single watchman for the various courts and apartment blocks always greet her. She just seems to know everyone! She is always so cheerful and merry and up for conversation. These days she gives me a ride to work in the mornings and she knows all the newspaper guys on the route!
She likes to tell the story of how one morning on her way to work she was flagged down by a policeman, close to where her newspaper selling friends are normally stationed. The policeman, I suppose, was just doing a random routine check, insurance, driving license, the likes. Her two or three newspaper selling allies quickly converged, hovering about the car at a respectable distance to ensure she was fine. Such a wonderful show of solidarity. I know this little action really touched her because most mornings after the cheerful greetings of ‘Hello mum!”, from those guys, she asks me if she has told me that story before and then proceeds to tell me again.
My mother is very kind and thoughtful. She is always thinking of others. I once came home to find the house infused with the smell of freshly baked goods. Normally this is a sign that someone is travelling up country to see either of my grandmothers. Can we just start at that! Every single time my dad or one of her sisters or anyone really is going up country, my mother will without fail bake up a storm!! There will be several bread-sized cakes sent to my grandmothers. I imagine when God asks her what she did with her ability to bake, she will not run out of examples of how she has used it for others.
Back to me coming home and finding the house infused with the smell of baked goods.
“Is someone traveling to shagz?”
Naturally that was my assumption but that was not the reason. She was baking a cake for a young man who she works with. He had recently gotten married and his in-laws were coming to visit over the weekend. She thought it would be nice to bake him a cake that they could serve the in-laws with tea. All this in the middle of the week because she thought it would be nice. She is such a thoughtful soul!
My mother really just has the heart of a child. She is in her mid-fifties but on the inside she is still a teenager. Possibly younger. I cannot tell you how many times I am summoned from my room for the most random of requests. Once, I came downstairs to find she had a traditional sisal skirt on and wanted me to take a video of her dancing in the living-room to Luhya music…and that is not all. She will burst into song and dance anywhere and at any time, she is always just so happy!
Let me start trying to wind up, this post is already pretty lengthy. She makes us the most amazing face masks when our faces are breaking out in pimples. She also enjoys squashing pimples. Andrew, currently going through puberty and battling acne can attest to both the pimple bursting and the face masks. Just this past Saturday I came across him with a milk, honey and rice mask(I think) on his face courtesy of mum. Ha ha. I wonder if I shall be in trouble for revealing that he occasionally has face masks forced upon him.
She gives the best massages! As a prone-to-injury basketball player back in high school, I would come home and she would bring out her oils and creams and fix me right up! Her foot rubs are also quite the treat! Look how she is always going out of her way to do things for people!
She has a marshmallow inside. You’ll find her watching a soap and crying because someone’s child died or some tragedy has befallen the characters. This is where I get my ‘crying during sad movies’ tendencies.
My mother’s laughter is a force to reckon with! It is the kind that not only fills up a whole room, it can fill up a whole house. I know this because many a time I will be upstairs in my room engrossed in something and will hear it. It can go on and on and on when she really gets into it. Maybe 10 minutes. Laughter that no matter your mood will make you smile, infectious. Sometimes I find myself opening my bedroom door to let it in. It is what I missed most about home while in Juja. The likelihood of hearing my mother’s laughter.
My mother loves pictures! If she was a millennial, she would have an Instagram feed about a mile long but as she is not, the walls of our house are now no longer visible because almost every single inch of them is covered in pictures! Our family group is always abuzz with photos from her day especially since she learnt to take selfies. I reckon we must be the most photographed grown-up children this side of the sahara. Or on the face of this planet. Every time my brothers and I are together in the vicinity of my mother, she reaches for her phone and starts taking pictures! I love that she seems to be in awe of us.
While my aunt M was visiting once, she came up to sleep one night, found me still awake and we had the funniest little conversation.
“Yesterday, your mother really annoyed your father and I.”
“Oh yeah? How? Why?”
“She was making us pose for pictures.”
I just laughed. I could relate. My mother can make you smile and pose for pictures so long you would think your cheeks are losing elasticity from overuse.
“Listen nakhayo,” aunt M said to me, “if you get a child like your mother, you must promise me to be very patient with them. Okay? I can imagine that child would be a handful.”
I pray I get a child just like my mother.
P.S. Just in case the previous 2700 words have left any room for doubt, I hereby categorically state that I am a certified mamma’s girl, through and through!
Happy Birthday Mum!
I love you.