I am at the office when Brenda’s teacher calls. I usually exchange numbers with all her teachers because of emergencies. I want them to be able to reach me anytime if anything comes up regarding my daughter.
In the past, I have developed a kind of friendship with some of her teachers, but nothing that ever really lasted because we all understood that teachers and parents can never really be friends, there is too much at stake.
On my part, I do not get too friendly with the teachers because I want to be objective,if need be. I need to be able to speak up if I feel something is not right with my daughter’s performance without feeling guilty.
This particular teacher, Mrs Taiwo, has kept her distance. It is partly because Brenda has not yet had any severe anxiety episodes this term, so apart from the occasional text message reminding me of school events, we have not really had a reason to talk.
“Good day, Mrs Taiwo,” I say, as I slide my screen to answer. “This is a surprise.”
“Hello to you too, Brenda’s mum,” her voice is chirpy and upbeat. I like how she calls me Brenda’s Mum, rather than “ma”.
“How are you doing? How’s your family?” I ask, even though I do not really know anything about her or her family.
“We are doing great, thank you. Ah, I actually called because I wanted to be sure you were aware. Our Spelling be is next week, and I spoke to Brenda about representing our class because she is so great at spelling.”
“Oh yes, that. She told me about it. We are still deciding, though.” I realize then that we were one day passed the deadline for the conversation we were supposed to have about the spelling bee.
“Really? Well… because she told me today that she is not going to be available to do it. I wanted to confirm that you were aware of this decision?”
No. I am not aware. I think to myself. This was not the plan, Brenda was not supposed to take such a decision without speaking with me first.
“Er… I…did she give her reasons why?” I ask, instead.
“She just said something about leading the class to failure if she represented us, and how she’s really not that good. And…”
“She also said something about you not letting her do it.”
“Mmmm. Really.” I am upset now, with my daughter.
“I just wanted to touch base with you and let you know that with Brenda on our team, we have a fair chance of winning. And the team that wins get an all expense paid trip to attend the Calabar Carnival this year.”
“That sounds great, Mrs Taiwo. Thank you for calling. I will let you know what we eventually decide on.”
“Okay, Brenda’s mum. And…I wanted to say, I’m aware of Brenda’s condition and I understand her reluctance to participate, but I also think it will be a great opportunity for her to start overcoming those fears.”
Even though I often refer to my daughter’s anxiety as a ‘condition’ to myself, it feels weird hearing it from someone else, and the urge to defend her rises in me. I ignore it.
“Thank you,” I say, instead.
The call ends after we exchange goodbyes and I lean back in my seat, letting the conversation run through my mind.
Why would Brenda go behind my back after promising to think about things? Why would she lie?
I thought I knew my daughter well enough, I thought we were reasonably close, but this…this just makes me realize that she’s growing, and becoming more independent, making decisions without me. The thought hurts.
On my way home that evening, I pick her up from our neighbor’s where she often stays when she gets back from school and I’m not home. I am silent as we pull up to our house.
“Mummy, is everything okay?” She asks, when she greets and I do not respond.
I turn the ignition off, and lean back in the chair.
“What did we decide about the Spelling bee?” I ask.
“Uh…I… I was supposed to…think about it.”
“And tell you.”
“Did I what?”
“Did you think about it?”
She sighs, looks away.
“Did you, Brenda?”
“Yes,” she says, still not looking at me.
“And did you tell me?”
“No,” her voice is small.
“What did you do instead?”
She doesn’t respond.
“You went behind my back, and lied. You lied that I didn’t want you to do it. Brenda! Is that what we do in this family? Lie?”
She still doesn’t respond.
“You know what? I was willing to actually listen to you, to respect your wishes, but maybe I’m being too lenient. Maybe I’m treating you like an invalid. Tell me, are you an invalid?” I hear the words leave my mouth, and I know I am no longer in control.
She doesn’t respond again.
“Tell me, Brenda Tamilore Ajayi, are you an invalid!”
“No!” The word escapes from her lips with a gasp, and then she clasps her hand around herself and begins to sob.