When Brenda comes home with her Communication book and her teacher’s print-wòrthy handwriting saying that she has been selected to represent her class in a Spelling Bee, my first thought is…”what?”
I don’t say it out loud, no, I do not often say a lot of my thoughts about my daughter out loud, mostly because they are not the kind of thoughts a mother should be thinking about their child. They are not charitable, and God, I want to be a charitable mother.
Sometimes I think I am, sometimes I fail. Maybe it is because I worry too much. I overthink things and then preempt my daughter’s actions.
Now, I tuck my thoughts away to somewhere I can’t reach, and smile at her.
“Wow, congratulations my lovely girl!” My voice is raised, too excited, too dramatic, too artificial.
Brenda hears it too, she has always been intuitive. I think it comes from being an only child. She looks at me, suspicion spotting her face, and says casually: “Thanks, mum but I’m not doing it.”
I blanch. Wait, what?
“Why not?” I ask, rearranging my features, as if I hadn’t been thinking the same thing only a few moments ago.
She shakes her head, drops her Communication book on the dining table and walks up the stairs, her grey school bag still on her back.
I want to follow her. I should follow her. But I think about what her doctor would say. Give her space. Give her time.
My daughter is an anxious child. That is all the doctor has been able to identify her condition as. She has panic attacks often.
It started when she was six. Her first day of Primary school and she had stood in front of her new class and simply couldn’t go in. Her teacher said she looked like she was having an asthma attack, her breath came out in rapid bursts, she clutched her chest, couldn’t speak.
The school nurse had calmed her down and called me.
After several other incidents like that, our family doctor had pinned down a likely trigger: Brenda’s dad, my husband had passed away a few months before her sixth birthday and it seemed the uncertainty of what lay ahead had morphed into a constant nagging fear.
What I did not tell the doctor, was that for three months after I lost Dayo, I woke up at night hyperventilating whenever I looked at the empty space beside me.
It was only when I started sleeping in Brenda’s room that those episodes stopped.
Brenda’s anxiety meant I sheltered her from a lot because she got triggered by many things – new places, new people, new situations. Like a spelling bee.
I open her communication book and read it again:
“Brenda is our best speller in class and has been selected to represent our class in a Spelling bee, for literacy week. Please practice these words with her.”
Something creeps up on me that makes me forget my fear, I recognize the feeling as pride. I am oh so proud of my daughter.
But I am also scared.
I want to know how she feels about it and I think, I think, I want her to do it.
I pick up the Communication book and make my way upstairs. The house was one good thing Dayo did for us before he died. When we first got married, his major wish was that he didn’t want to live in a rented apartment.
“I don’t want to be a landlord’s slave,” he often said.
Three years after our wedding, he finally completed our own home – a five bedroom duplex. Even though he had taken out loans to build it, loans that he ended up paying back for the next three years, I still remember his face anytime he walked into the house, looking like a satisfied man. A man without worries.
The house was our saving grace after he passed away. He didn’t have much, and he only had sisters as siblings, so there were no inheritance wars with bloodthirsty brothers.
Someone once made a remark that if there was anything like a “lucky widow”, I was one.
I knock on her door, because Brenda and I have rules, we have come up with an agreement that works for us both, especially since she turned nine, when she started wanting privacy more than ever.
“Come in, Mum,” she calls.
I enter her room and it is as neat as ever. My daughter is a neat freak. She likes everything in order, her books in the shelf arranged alphabetically, her clothes in her wardrobe arranged according to color codes. Her shoes arranged according to most used to least used.
Her doctor says it is a coping mechanism for her condition. No surprises, no panic.
She is folding her dirty uniform now, which is what she does before she puts it in the laundry basket.
She spies the book in my hand and sighs.
“I’m not doing it. I already told you.”
“Can we at least talk about it?” I ask, sitting on her bed.
“You don’t want me to do it and I don’t want to do it. So what’s there to talk about, Mum?” She faces me then, and I can’t even read the expression on her face.
I am also thinking of how terrible I must be if my daughter can read me like a book. How many other times have my thoughts reflected on my face and caused her to doubt herself?
“Bren…its not that I don’t want you to do it. It’s just…” I pause.
“What?” She is looking at me.
“I…” I don’t know what I want to say or how to say what I want to say.
“Mum…its fine. I don’t even want to do it.”
She is smiling, like she’s placating me for something, but I can see the sadness in her eyes.
“Can I? Can I just hug you?” I ask.