By Pumla Nabachwa
Every year, during the week of my children’s birthdays, I shall write each of them a letter that I shall keep separately and present them with the day they graduate (& graduate they will) or when I feel that they can truly appreciate them…whichever comes first. Today, I write a 4th letter to my first born son…Trey Gateja…My Pride…My Joy…My Rock!
I write this with tears rolling down my cheeks. I don’t care to stop them because though they carry mixed feelings, they are more joyful than anything else. Where to start. I’m literally staring at this page with no clue as to which direction to take this letter. In the past, I’ve always poured out a rainbow of the episodes that were our year together. This time around, to do that would be sheer hypocrisy for save for technology, a chunk of this chapter of our lives didn’t have the other in it.
20th September, 2012 – I still remember it like it was yesterday. Save for the muffled sniffs, the tears that kept falling onto my laps and the varied emotions that consumed me, the drive to the airport from your school after our final “see you later” was a silent one. Sitting in the terminal as I waited to board was tough; getting onto that plane was one of the hardest things I ever did. How I gathered the strength to sit still in my seat when we took off without running into a craze, still puzzles me.
My first few weeks in Manchester were a mess. Not even a second passed without me thinking of you. When I closed my eyes, I saw you. When I opened them, I missed you. It was cold; it was raining uncontrollably and the sweaters I had brought with me weren’t keeping me warm enough. I had no clue where my faculty was and when I finally did find it, I had no idea what the lecturer was going on about. I hadn’t sat in a classroom for a while you see and the accent albeit nice (& really sexy) wasn’t making it any easier. I had never felt so lost; so hollow; so alone. You didn’t help either when every conversation we had, started or ended in “when are you coming home?” It was torture and I was a total wreck. It’s true what they say though; time has a way of easing even the worst of growing pains. I decided to consume my hours with my school work. I learnt to distract myself. I learnt to zone out. Your Aunt Yolisa and Uncle Felix were in London doing their Masters programs as well. We didn’t get to see each other often because of school but the knowledge that they were close by helped somewhat.
Despite the rocky start, Manchester was a great experience for me. I will write all about it in a separate letter which you should read when you’re done with this one. I call it “My 12-month affair with a foreign city”. The memories will stay with me for a lifetime and I shall forever embrace the matchless experience it gave me but like every affair, it too had to come to an end. You see, though Manchester might be home to someone, it isn’t to me. Homes are not about nice bathrooms, clean corridors or beautiful wall hangings. Home really is where the heart is and mine was not there.
It wasn’t easy. Childbirth is excruciating and the worst thing about it is that you have no idea when it’s going to end but I would take it any day over the dull agony I felt every single day I had to be without you. The pain you see, never ever really goes away. Each day that came by was no easier than the last. I made new friends, reacquainted with old ones; I smiled; I laughed; I found affection in the arms and company of others; I was usually surrounded but often felt alone. Something always felt amiss. I often felt incomplete. I likened the feeling to a boulder that weighed heavily on my chest that for some reason I couldn’t move. Once in a while, I would break down but more often than not, I simply ignored it. The weight on my chest, the discomfort it brought, it never really eased. I just learnt to live with it. I got better at pretending it didn’t exist but no…it didn’t get easier. I started counting down the minute I left and as soon as I had settled in my room at the University, I marked 2nd September 2013 on my calendar. I had promised to be home for your birthday. I still can’t believe it’s finally here. I told you I was coming back to you my baby. That’s all this journey really was for me…honoring my promise to you. Something I will always do, so help me God.
Page breaker. Being your mother is the nicest most beautiful gift ever but to be honest, even though it came with a pool of anxiety, I quite appreciated the mommy-break this year off gave me. I decided that my time away would be a good opportunity to relearn who I was separate from you. It indeed helped me face a few demons that I had feared to unearth before. You see, you and I are so intertwined to a point that I couldn’t tell where I stopped and you started so I was afraid that embarking on this mental journey of self-discovery with you around might have altered not only my person but possibly yours too. I needed to do this on my own. At the end of it all, I affirmed that I really am happy with our life together as is; Just the two of us…at least for now and hopefully for a long long time. I am truly content and I wouldn’t change a thing about the decisions I have made for us. I still choose you Gateja…each and every time. I still and will always choose you.
The little things. Each time I allowed my mind to stray, it wandered to the little things about us that I missed. I missed feeling the weight of your head on my lap while we watched your favorite Barney cartoon show; I missed holding your hand in mine while we took our evening walks; I missed not wanting to fall asleep because that’s a whole 6-8 hours without you; I missed leaning over to fasten your seatbelt and wiping your brow as you slept in the car seat beside me; I missed the way you would cling to my neck when I bent over to hug you; I missed trying to carry you even though I knew you would say NO and try to wiggle out of it; I missed laughing with you while you laughed at totally unfunny things. I missed tying your shoelaces, packing your school lunches and helping you with your homework (we are the worst homework team in the world btw…we both get bored too quickly); I missed looking into your eyes and failing to remember what my life was before you existed in it. Before anything else, I’m a mother and not even distance could ever take this cup of contentment away from me but I missed being your mom. I missed you Gateja.
The year is 2013. Guess who is looking for votes AGAIN?!?!?! You guessed right. Some General is trying to oppose him but a letter got lost en-route and he was branded a treason case. OUR Kingdom celebrated along with OUR Kabaka its 20th anniversary. Prince William and Duchess Kate added to England’s royalty lineage, His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge. Uganda bagged another recognized Gold. Yup….Kiprotich added to his Olympic medal, a World Championship one too. I pledge loyalty to my people but there is a Jamaican boy called Bolt. You know how to you Spiderman and Ben10 are the ultimate heroes? Well, Bolt is mom’s fave hero. If I ever choose to run away with him, don’t worry, I’ won’t leave you behind. Oh…You had your first sports day this year. Your Aunt Emma gathered all your awesome aunts to cheer you on as you ran. You’re in Team Red. I saw you run and laugh and enjoy yourself. There was a water-bottle filling race where you cheated. We need to talk about this. Also I got all your term reports sent to me by your Aunt Lillian and save for the ‘He needs to learn to concentrate more without supervision’ part, you do pretty good child. Well done. I missed your Aunt Rowena’s wedding. Sob Sob. Jajja boy had surgery on his knee in India and he is healing well. You lost a beautiful aunt, Pamela. You met her once or maybe twice, I wish you had grown to know her.
31st August 2013. I narrowly missed my flight (story for another day) but I got back in time for your birthday. I knew that the first time I saw you again would be overwhelming but I wasn’t prepared for what I felt when I saw you on Kojja Ssonko’s shoulder waiting for me at the airport. My heart struggled to stay inside my chest. I had to keep reminding myself not to run to you and leave my luggage behind for I was back in Uganda and things dissapear here. I tried to keep calm because I didn’t want to startle you. I was as anxious as a woman hoping her blind date would approve. My eyes were filled with tears by the time I got to you. I reached out my arms to you and I wish you could have seen the multiple flip-flops my heart did when you eagerly reached down to hug me and silently uttered “mommy”. You felt so warm in my arms. I wanted to keep you there forever. It was the hearty welcome I was hoping for and more. I have failed to stop staring at and kissing you till now. You’re not too bothered by it; you actually seem to enjoy it. I still don’t understand how I left you but I’m choosing to just be happy to be back here with you.
Tear jerker. Gateja, My love for you is certain. It’s definite. It’s assured. With you I am able to give without the expectation of getting anything back and its okay. With you I am able to let go of bits of myself yet still remain whole. I am glad that through you, I know what it means to freely and completely give one’s heart to another and have them accept it just the way it is. No conditions…No compromise. It’s clear to me that the single most successful relationship I ever had and most probably will ever have is with you. My love for you is honest. It’s peaceful. It’s selfless. The heart you see me wearing on my sleeve…It isn’t mine; it’s yours. You are a silent promise that I will have a friend forever.
Making a child is the easy part. The hard part is everything that comes after that.Your dad (he really does rock by the way), his sister Aunt Lillian and your Nanny Rose have been amazing. I couldn’t be more thankful to our family (both sides), and my girlfriends for the roles they played while I was away. It’s amazing how harmoniously things play out when people work together. Everybody was updating me with pictures and videos and all kinds of information. I couldn’t hear about you enough.
You know I could never let you go without words of advice my child; for what you don’t teach your children, life will. And life’s lessons are quite bitter!
From a dark-skinned mom to her light-skinned son:
The first one is our family’s best shared secret I picked from your jajja.
1. A good education is the finest gift a parent can ever give one’s children.
Formal Learning isn’t really about finding the value of x. It’s about the mental process your brain goes through each time you try to find it; a training to help you deal intellectually with the different struggles you’ll meet in your later life. Education is a discipline love. Take from it all that you can.
2. Do to others as you would want to be done unto your loved ones. Be kind and fair to people regardless of their social status or background. Nobody is beneath you and only God is above you. Don’t discriminate. Don’t judge. Don’t segregate. People are different…allow them to be. Accept them as they are while staying loyal to your own beliefs.
3. Make peace with your Past before it screws up your Present. The past is the heaviest and most useless piece of baggage one can ever carry with them. Leave yours right there where it belongs…in the Past. Take only that which you have learned from it and nothing else.
4. Girls are the fairer sex. Respect them. Don’t give me a reason to tell you this twice – Women are more fragile than they dare to let on. Handle them as you would your most precious glass. Don’t break what you have no idea how to fix! Don’t make promises you have no intention of keeping. Be a man Gateja; and be a good one.
5. And the one I’ll never tire of telling you;
Until you own all the problems in the world, don’t forget to SMILE. Misery should never be an option. Today, Tomorrow, Always; Choose Happiness and nothing less!!!
Gateja, wherever life takes you, Stay close to your mother. Each day without you is a day I don’t want to ever live through again. Your mom will always need you; much more than you’ll ever know. I continue to pray that I remain present with you each moment of your life to watch and guide you as you grow to become the great man I know you are going to be. These are words from my heart to yours. Take them, cherish them. Don’t ever forget them.
Time lost can never be salvaged so I’m not going to try to make up for the past year. Instead, we’ll spend the rest of our lives making new memories together; you won’t remember there was a time we couldn’t. Just in case you haven’t picked it from this letter or the ones before, I LOVE YOU my beautiful child…tons more than the word itself could ever be able to explain. I have waited 350 days (I counted each one) to cradle your face between my hands, look you in the eye, smile and say: Mommy is home Gateja. Mommy is finally home!!!
HAPPY 4th BIRTHDAY my son,
Your MOM. P
P.S You asked me last night why we don’t have a daddy at our home like your friends at school. I carefully responded “Not every home has a daddy in it. Some don’t even have mommys in them. Just be happy that both your mom and dad love and would do anything for you; and they don’t have to stay together to do so.” You didn’t seem convinced so I added that we would continue to talk about it in the morning when you woke up but ofcourse, as expected, you forgot. I know the question will come up again. Don’t worry sweets; we’ll cover that in your 5th letter and the ones after for as long as you need to talk about it. 🙂