Adventures in Parenting
2020 by Karen Radford Treanor
story from the distant past. I think back often to the days
when my children were little and life seemed so much simpler—the
days when one believed it was possible to protect them from
were among the first few Peace Corps families to be sent abroad. Our
success in adapting to life in Swaziland led to other families being
recruited, but not always with the same success. Whereas very young
children seemed to adapt to the new life with little sign of unease,
older children sometimes had problems.
children missed television, missed their friends, found Mbabane
boring after growing up in big cities, and resented being offered
soccer in place of the sports they were used to.
didn't have any of those problems, but we had other, different ones.
called ‘Njabuliso,’ the bringer of happiness--wasn't much
of a problem, because I always knew where she was. If she wasn’t
on my hip or under my blouse, she was tied on someone's back with a
blanket. She spent her mornings riding on the housekeeper's back
while the housework was done, something she seemed to enjoy.
the end of the working day, I could often tell what the baby had been
up to by the smell of her head. An odor of "California Poppy"
means she and laDlamini, our housekeeper-cum-nanny, had been out
visiting. Kerosene meant she had spent time in laDlamini's quarters
while the primus stove had been in use. The scents of jam and
rooibos tea indicated there had been friends in for tea and that the
baby had been passed around from lap to lap.
was another matter. We had put her in nursery school before she was
four because we thought she was spending too much time and learning
too many things from the children next door. It was overhearing
young Jõao next door explaining solemnly to Beth, "Then
after lunch Papa takes off his pants and bounces on Mama," that
decided me on nursery school for her during the mornings I was away
Patten's school was attended by a number of local children from all
sorts of backgrounds. The woman had the patience of a saint, and
seemed to cope calmly with up to fifteen pre-schoolers at a time.
school exposed Beth to a variety of accents, and she picked up a
polyglot English-Swazi-South African-Irish manner of speaking. She
also picked up all sorts of interesting pets.
she called me excitedly into the driveway. She had found the biggest
black beetle I had ever seen. It was the size of a small toy car,
and trundled along as if it had someplace important to go. When you
picked it up, it protested in a squeaky growl, sounding exactly like
one of those old-fashioned friction toys that you scruffed on the
carpet to wind up their clockwork. She was very keen to keep it, but
I had to say no because we had no idea what it ate, or if it were the
sort of thing that gave off poison goo or gas. Our entomologist
friend Angelo was too far away to consult.
day after I came home from work I discovered that Beth had
disappeared while I was tending to the baby. It was winter and
getting dark and I was in a panic by the time Gene got home. He
drove away and was gone a long time. I sat hugging Njabuliso and
worrying in ever decreasing circles. Thoughts of the murder of the
old woman in the ditch behind the house returned to haunt me.
Gene returned with Beth. She had followed laDlamini to the bus
depot, and Gene had found her there surrounded by a group of
interested Swazis who seemed to take her presence as nothing unusual.
LaDlamini had been going to bring her home, but had got caught up in
talking to friends. Beth had acquired an orange somewhere on her
travels and was covered with juice and dirt.
a bath and a stern talking to she went off to bed, mystified as to
why her parents were so upset.
another occasion I found her in a storm drain up the road from our
house. She looked extremely guilty but I put it down to knowing she
wasn't supposed to have left the yard. It was days later that I
missed one of my jade earrings and discovered she had been playing
with them in the drain. Of course, the missing earring never turned
up. When Beth was 21 I had the remaining one made into a pendant and
gave it to her along with the story of why she wasn't getting a pair
of earrings. Ten years after that I heard with some satisfaction the
story of how her twin girls had been found in the back yard with the
contents of her jewellery box.
had a knack for small disasters. There was the time she stuck her
hand out just as her father slammed the car door. Luckily VW doors
are constructed in such a way that no bones were broken or skin torn,
but she had a bruise for weeks, and proudly displayed it with the
explanation, “Dis is where my fadder shut my hand in da car
first step off the plane on the day we had arrived in Swaziland was a
big one, resulting in two skun knees, followed by veldt sores which
went on for months. Veldt sores are cause by some micro organism,
probably a fungus. They make unsightly lumps of rough skin and no
amount of washing seems to deter the germs. We finally discovered
that if we scraped away the dead skin on her knees with a dull knife
right after a bath, and smeared on Bacitracin ointment, eventually
the sores would heal.
she was five, Beth climbed the avocado tree in pursuit of the cat and
got on the carport roof. Once up, she could not manage the return
trip. I was 8 months pregnant with her brother, and alone in the
house. The housekeeper had gone for the day and Gene was miles away.
There was nothing for it but to climb the tree and get the child
this point I only owned two dresses that fit, and no slacks. With my
voluminous folds of blue cotton tucked in as best I could, I climbed
the tree and straddled an upper branch. Leaning across, I could not
quite reach Beth. I finally said, "Jump! I'll catch you,"
expecting an argument.
warning, she jumped. I grabbed for her and lost my balance on the
limb, swinging wildly. The insides of both my thighs left a lot of
their skin on the bark of the tree. Eventually, clutching the
solidly-built child, I got upright again and was able to sling her
down to the next branch below.
down!" I said, sucking a torn hand where I had caught it on the
edge of the roof.
can't," she wailed.
you don't climb down I am going to fall on you and squish you like a
beetle!" I roared, to the amusement of some home-going Swazi
workmen who had by now gathered at the fence to watch the fun.
made it down to the next branch and shinned out further on it,
leaving me a space to put my feet, which of course I could not see.
Njabuliso by now had come to see what was going on and was standing
under the tree howling at the top of her lungs, whether from fear or
because she thought she was missing the fun I could not tell.
Scrabbling impotently at the trunk of the tree, she tried to join us.
It took a lot of cajoling and finally threats before she would move
away from where I expected to land if I ever got out of the tree.
she moved away and we got down. A mild round of applause came from
Nobuhle, you shouldn't let your mother climb trees in her condition"
said one of the men, who was apparently one of Beth's many friends.
Laughing, they went on their way.
went indoors and against best medical practice, made myself a gin and
tonic. If the baby had survived the climb, it could survive a drink,
found me painting mercurochrome on my scratched limbs later that
did that happen?" he asked.
got scratched in the avocado tree." I grumbled.
know, you really shouldn't climb trees in your condition," he
advised. I debated throwing the mercurochrome at him but decided the
mess wouldn't be worth the transient satisfaction.
got away from the adventure with one tiny scratch and a torn pocket. I
had scabs for weeks and the whole town knew the story by morning. I
think if one more person had advised me not to climb trees when
pregnant I'd have screamed aloud. Gene did the practical thing and
sawed off the lowest branch, effectively putting the tree out of
reach of our resident marmosets.
only one who got anything out of this adventure was the cat, who
could now climb the tree and get onto the roof secure in the
knowledge that no small girl would swarm after her to disturb her
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