Divergent Generation X

Patricia Sukore

© Copyright 2020 by Patricia Sukore

The writer's children.

In the olden days, in Nigeria, when children were only supposed to be seen and not heard; their rights were withheld to the extent that their health suffered in effect. This write-up is meant to change the Nigerian narrative as regards "literally" upholding the rights of children.

Children in recent times in Nigeria have metamorphosed into a divergent prototype of Generation X.  Even though I have been hunting for answers by probing all the interrogatives, scarce information has always been a hindrance. You have the opportunity to witness this evolution once in a lifetime if you are a mother, twice if you are a grandmother, and thrice if you are privileged to progress to being a great gran. However, I promise you, the more generations you witness, the more your assurance of the unreliability of constancy.
When my children were babies, I made the decisions – all decisions concerning their well-being. How they fed, what they ate, what they wore, who took care of them when I was or was not around, when they slept, which playschool they get enrolled in, how they spent their weekends, who gets to be their friends – or not, and many other interrelated charges’ decision exclusive only to mothers. Fast forward to when they developed to toddlers. Not much had changed, only that the girls preferred particular garbs to other types. They pull the puppy eyes and grouchy faces, ready to unleash a deluge of waterworks when I chose otherwise. The boys at this developmental stage were still subservient, wagging their biddable tails at every one of my directions.
Ten was their period of emancipation from childhood, so I deduced from their body language.  My children – mostly the girls, nearly do not need me for their necessities – not related to money. I provided the money then stayed out of their way. The girls again, being the lead characters in this phase. The boys joined forces with me to censure for insubordination. When their school invited me for my sons’ behaviour, it would be an understatement to claim that I was surprised. I never could have imagined in so many after lives that my placid and well-mannered sons had attention disorder. The primary complaints against them was that they had trouble waiting their turns, do not pay attention to details, do not usually follow through on instructions, fail to finish their tasks and hinder the attentiveness of others in class.
Ian Fleming’s quotation readily came to mind here, that “once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” This was the third time the school was calling on me for my docile sons’ behaviour deficit. The first was in their first grade when my husband and I assumed our boys were trying to adjust to a new life at school. My husband and I smelled a conspiracy by the school the second time because our sons were just the opposite of their depiction. If the school had complained about our daughters, we could have believed their show of candour since our daughters have not veiled their rebellion as far back as when they first learned to toddle.
We had finally decided to withdraw our children from the school – all four of them. The third time could not be a coincidence, we had thought. It must be that the school detests our children, but are unable to tell us frankly. My husband and I, in the head mistress’ office listened calmly as she itemised our sons’ wrongs, until she advised us to visit a paediatrician with our sons.
Really? Do you actually think our sons are mentally unstable?” my husband had asked, not mincing words. “In fact we’ve been expecting another of your calls to validate our suspicions.” We huffed and howled – mostly my husband, in the headmistress’ office until we were sapped – mostly me, of every anger droplet in us that day.
Our outrage had not vexed her in the least. She only smiled a discerning smile, which instead of acting as a pacifier angered my husband the more. It took the intervention of some male tutors to restore calm to an almost deteriorated situation. I drove us home from that scene because my husband kept smouldering for many hours thereafter. I took the initiative. I visited a paediatrician. The headmistress’ knowing smile had hunted me for several nights, it seemed like she knew something I did not.
How wrong and how quick we had judged our children’s school. My sons were diagnosed for ADHD (Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder). I did not believe it because the paediatrician said so, since the paediatrician relied on my observations that were not mine – technically. I had taken out time before my visit to the doctor to gather some evidence – difficult to extract, from two of my sons’ classmates, whose parents happen to be family friends with my family. Jerry’s mother confessed she had prevented her son from making a report to me at the outset. She was afraid of how I would react when I hear how my sons disrupt their class seeing I had always applauded their manners.
Many children with ADHD exhibit the symptoms when they are out of their comfort zone, the paediatrician had pointed out when I voiced my anxiety about my sons school. The headmistress’ perceptive smile now made sense, she thought she knew why my sons were acting the way they were. The Paediatrician had told me ADHD is mostly linked to heredity, and the headmistress, from her years of experience with parents, or parents and children was obviously aware of this fact including other facts surrounding the condition. I realised the headmistress had been trying to assist by suggesting a paediatrician. My husband and maybe I on the other hand, has made it clear in her office that we were titleholders to the condition, and our sons by virtue of inheritance have acquired it.
When I prodded, my mother-in-law revealed a section of my husband’s life he had never disclosed to me. My husband, according to my mother-in-law was hyperactive when he was a child, but she had quickly nipped it before it budded. He was the only one out of her six children who exhibited refractory tendencies, she had alleged. For punishment he’d been sent from age seven to a boarding school intended for unruly children, he’d come back home after two sessions at the school appearing almost stupid. She encouraged me to effect same for my children. The regard I had for my mother-in-law vanished with a poof.
The giant mudslide of teenage independence quickly eroded the governing power I had over my children when they were babies. I was gradually becoming an antagonist in my children’s story, and a hologram in their fantastical world. Truth be said, there were times I saw myself in their light, and that was because I never was an aberrant requiring chastisement as a teenager.
Mum behaves primeval; doesn’t she know this is the 21st century?” I overheard them ask one another, not once, not twice. I began to consider if my teenage years were only in my imagination, seeing a nonconformity in comparison – a total inconsistency in assessment. The things I love they hate, and the things I hate – most things I hate, they embrace in amity.
I must be the abnormal one; I have caught my mind off-guard on countless occasions wandering off with the thought. Maybe my parents had been too stringent in my upbringing, or I may just be an exception in my generation, until I recalled most of my peers were the same as I, they were not abnormal at all – to me they were not. Not to anyone raised in Nigeria by parents or guardians in my generation. Ruminating about it, our parents and guardians had certainly typeset us to behave in certain predictable ways.
If I was ADHD prone as a child, it was quelled by my parents who would not accept any child of theirs adorning the family’s name with shame. Every child who grew up in my generation in Nigeria was mandated to be subservient. You could say nothing unless an adult asked you to. Your opinion did not count even though it mattered. You must not look directly at an adult when being spoken to; it is a sign of disrespect – distraction or deceit in other climes. When an adult assigns responsibility, you must not ask any questions until task is completed. It is clear where I am going with this – when you had a condition – you kept it to yourself.
People rarely visited the hospital back then except it was for an emergency. Though my visit to the paediatrician for my sons had been for an emergency, it would not seem so in my time-line. Delinquent, unruly, disruptive, anti-social, or much worse – deranged were names accorded children who had conditions like my sons. No one interacted with such children in school. The society isolated them. In addition, since their parents considered them possessed by evil spirits, they deliver them to the mercy of life’s uncertainties. One-way or the other, the child ultimately stoops to the combined supremacy of parents and society.
Here I was, a hapless mother, faced with children – my children, now teenagers, who were living their lives. Though they lived with a condition, they lived their lives – fully. The girls were slowly becoming imitations of their brothers. The boys, who before now were submissive, took the lead role in rebellion. They have arrived at a cross road where boys are usually defiant, coupled with their condition –they were a battalion. With my two daughters who were frantically trying to outdo their brothers in naughtiness, it was nothing short of a war zone at home.
I had to understand that this was a phase, like all phases – it would pass. However, the paediatrician had informed me that my sons’ condition could last their whole lives. I was prepared to help them through their ordeal. Ordeal, because it was an illness, and like all illnesses the sufferers’ unspoken heartfelt desire is the act of love from loved ones.
We – my husband and I are undoubtedly the generation of cyborgs, despite the fact that these were not invented in fantastical tales until recently. I did not want to break my expressive children, the ones with a condition, and the ones who surprisingly are without a condition. I did not want to reset their personalities, though sometimes I wished things were different, that they were calm and mannered like other children. However, these are not other children, they are my children, my blood and my husband’s blood runs in them. . The same way other children inherit happy genes from their parents, our sons inherited ADHD from my husband, and maybe – me.
Consequently, I realised, if we – my children and I are to work through this together; some ground rules have to be set. Asides ensuring that my sons’ didn’t skip their medications, it is my responsibility to dissuade their minds from believing that they are helpless and as a result, they do not intend or aren’t able to control their actions. Every negative action, I had always taught them – had consequences. I assisted them to take hold of their destiny by teaching them orderliness in everything no matter how small. It did not matter if it was something as irrelevant as applying pressure to the base and not the mid-section of a tube of toothpaste, or something as important as meeting school deadlines in submitting assignments – it will all add up someday.
I wasn’t going to make my sons feel they were different from other children the same way my mother-in-law instilled in my husband at a tender age that he was an abnormal child. My husband shielded most part of his life from me, I now know why. His adult life was a complete clutter because of the distortion his mother had introduced into it early on. I had not been able to decipher the reason it was difficult for him to stay on a job for more than six months, I have lost count of the number of jobs he had been out of since we got married fifteen years ago. The littlest of offences upset him; we were not always in short supply of disagreements in our marriage. Unknown to my mother-in-law, she had not dealt with my husband’s condition; she had only packaged the explosives into his future.
I was not going to sit by and watch my children’s lives mortgaged on the ground that my questions – most of it, are yet unanswered. The portion of the Holy Scriptures had inspired me, that says “if the whole body were an eye, where was the hearing? If the whole body were hearing, where was the smelling?” For the love of everything lovely, the world would have been a lacklustre place if we all behaved the same way.  

Patricia Sukore is a lawyer and a writer. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria with her husband and children. She had formerly consumed her essays and short stories herself before she decided not to hoard her talent.

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