Leaving one’s young kids behind is no easy thing. It is unnerving, much like a life changing job interview is. It could also be likened to the emotions experienced when faced with a work presentation that determines whether you are worth your salt. You constantly feel the need to empty your gut, even when it is empty.
I recall how anxious I was when I had to leave Xena in the care of the nanny for a few hours. At two months, she was still so delicate and much as she had put on a kilo or two, she was not any different from when I first held her. Most times when I scooped her up from her cot, she would have this demanding gaze, as if questioning why I had left her unattended. I would smile at her but instead she would unflinchingly stare into my eyes with her big gorgeous eyes, the size of the moon. It was as if she was examining my soul.
I imagined that she could see through my selfish acts that included disappearing acts to the salon. These were appropriately timed to match her two-hour nap sessions. She never cried or threw tantrums at that point but opted for cold treatment. She would hold her gaze for minutes, and the few times I tried to stare her down, her google grew more piercing. I was such a terrible mother. I mean, who prioritizes hair over a two-month-old child anyway? And as severe guilt consumed me, she would give off a wide toothless grin that absolved me off all my sins.
It wasn’t any easier when I had to leave her for a whole day after my maternity leave lapsed. I made more calls home than the tweets Safaricom receives on any day. See, it’s not that I doubted Noel’s capabilities. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I think Noel could raise a whole village by herself. Noel was the first Nanny that we hired. She was skillful in matters babies and taught me how to deal with colic (though Xena’s was mild), how to get the baby to sleep on her own without having to rock or sway her as if performing some sacred ritual, and many other life hacks. Her kitchen orientation lasted two minutes when I discovered that she was familiar with all gadgets and could even bake! In case you think I picked her contacts off the billboard at village market, you will be surprised to learn that she was a real housewife of Kawangre. I was lucky.
Noel had one shortcoming though. She had terrible mood swings that checked in when we least expected. One minute, she would spot the baby yawning and advise me to hold the sides of her mouth to prevent it from growing too big. Have you guys ever heard of that? I would laugh it off as a pile of hogwash, and she would laugh along suspiciously and then take off to the kitchen to get on with her cooking. The next minute, I would call her to hand me the baby’s diapers or something and she would completely ignore me. I would find her in the kitchen sneering at the ugali as she pounded it. On other occasions, she would disappear into the laundry room for hours. Sometimes she would wail hysterically like she was mourning the loss of a loved one. You know how Lunjes grieve, right?
The first time that happened, I rushed to the laundry room, my heart pounding incessantly. She had locked herself in there and refused to open despite my desperate pleas. Amidst wails, she asked me to give her some time alone. The baby was asleep, so I waited behind the door, like a cat would wait to pounce on its prey. When she finally emerged, she informed me that she was just woeful and felt the need to cry, and that she felt so much better. She was human after all, but her mood swings worried me. I called home every hour to check up on the baby after I resumed work, just to gauge her tone. We kept her for six months. Her dismissal happened when I discovered she had helped myself to a bottle whiskey while I was at work.
Along the way, I have learnt the importance of surrounding myself with family and friends who would check up on my babies randomly. This, I believe, would keep the nanny from overly neglecting the child as they would not know when someone would drop by, especially during the infancy stage. When we recently traveled, eyebrows were raised every time we mentioned we had kids.
“Who did you leave your kids with?” they would ask, their countenance suggesting that they were a second away from calling child services on us. Only they didn’t know we have no such thing here, because our politicians would rather “help themselves” to KSH 5.0 billion and have the money sit pretty in their accounts than use it to improve the citizens’ welfare. I guess mostly because in Europe, help is as rare as Unga is in Kenya. It’s not common place to move around without your young kids. Parents and their kids are joined at the hip. Back at home, most couples can enjoy the luxury of travelling and leaving their kids behind because grandparents are always ready to step in and offer support and supervision to the nannies. But this doesn’t work if the grandparents don’t live in the same city as you especially if your kids are school goers and hence can’t be shipped to shags, which applies to the mister and I. Or God forbid if the grandparents are long gone.
It’s important for parents to make time for themselves individually and together, away from the kids. Two things continue to work for us. Having reliable family that we can count on to step into our shoes while we are away. Like literally move in and play the role of mum and dad. Drop the kids to school, help with homework, take them to play etc. My sister and the mister’s brother are always our go to tag-team. They practically drop everything (well except work of course), move into our house and run that show like they were born to. Brenda and Eldy, we remain eternally indebted.
But you know what makes it easier for the kids? Ensuring their routine is not disrupted. Bring your helpers up to speed on whatever it is you do every evening when you get home from work and however you spend your weekends with your kids and let them carry on with that. Keeping the kids thoroughly entertained helps to take their minds off their parents. For us, we try to ensure that they spend their time outdoors over the weekend mostly in restaurants that accommodate kids’ needs.
One such place is Radisson Blu. On Sunday’s, they offer a well thought out family brunch in the most idyllic ambiance. They also have activities that will keep your kids off your back long enough to allow you to enjoy the free-flowing drinks (draft beer or sangria or mimosa depending on the mixologist mood hehe) that are part of the brunch. Win-win for the whole family, right? So, occasionally after church, we like to drive to Upper Hill and enjoy the gastronomic experience that Radisson Blu has meticulously crafted and refined over the years. From continental dishes to a sushi bar, tacos bar and a grill station, there’s so much to choose from and it’s always impossible to sample everything, giving you a reason to go back. The grill station placed at the terrace is our favorite, the sea food for me and the steak for the mister. Xena’s plate always holds three things, mostly the kiddie burger, some pasta and olives otherwise anything else would go to waste. She redefines simplicity.
Last Sunday, while in Istanbul, I called my sister to speak to Xena and when she came on the phone, our conversation lasted ten seconds.
“I am at Radisson Blu making a bracelet for aunt Brenda; can I call you back?” She aptly informed me.
“Oh, ok. Just checking up on you. I miss you so much” I said with a heavy sigh.
“Si then you come?”
“If you miss me so much, si then you come home?”
And with that, I let her get back to her damn art. Whatever happened to “I miss you too.” ?