My bibi and I walked into a roadshow once. It had a huge banner with “Siku ya mtoto wa Afrika (Day of the African Child)” on it. A choir was screaming about the importance of talking to children. The message went a bit like: “A child is not equivalent to an animal, you can talk and he/she will understand…”. I recall thinking “yeah, we should really talk to our children…”.
I was eight years old!
It’s just recently that I noticed that I don’t think of my past as my “childhood”.
I just think of it as “when I was younger”. I didn’t see my 8-year-old self as a child, just a young person.
I, like a lot of the people around me, grew up way too fast. Some of us locked our inner child away before even re-growing the teeth we lost. There are elder siblings who grew up to raise their younger sisters and brothers. There are hungry kids who needed to earn their bread and counted coins before they could count their fingers and toes. There are little old guys staring out with big eyes at screaming parents before they can recite the alphabet. There are even those who were burdened with obligations to keep family names, businesses, traditions, before they could see enough to decide their own way.
There are children locked up in remote areas of our beings, forgotten but always there. And once in a while when our guards drop, they come out. They play, they are mischievous, reckless and free. Yet sometimes they come out, see what happened to the shell they have become and feel cheated or a little hopeless. There are old children in most of us.
I used to get confused when the little girl came out, I still do at times. Sometimes she giggles and wants to run around. So, I would call my girls, spend a lazy day at home and be merry. Other times the girl comes out hurt and bruised. So, I lock myself in, try to remember when my parents were taller than life, and rock myself to sleep. There are days when I crave my mom’s favorite dish and nothing else seems satisfying then. So many different ways, triggered by memories, scents, sights. The confusion clears only when I recognize that it is the little girl in me peeping out. A few days ago, I mused on what to do with her. I write today with the decision that I shall treat her like my own daughter. When the little girl who was never allowed to be, peeps out, I will embrace her. I will bathe her, feed her and sing her to sleep. I will pace the room singing on the days that sleep is elusive and dreams are painful. I will make her a herbal tea when she has a flu. I will run when she is restless. I will visit loved ones and hug them when she’s lonely. I will rub coconut oil into her thick wild hair and comb it until it shines. I will gently scold her when she misbehaves and show here what to do differently. I will love her, and protect her for who she is and what she means to the woman I hope to be.
For those who recognize the little child inside, this is for us. This is for all the little old children inside every one of us. May we nourish them. May we realize that we can love them enough to heal them if broken or to grow them from love received before. May we realize that we are these children, and we are the grown-up shells from them. May we love them, care for them and build them. Only then can we gain enough growth to channel positively to the world around us. Here is to the little old children within, may we BE.