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I witnessed community parenting full gear


Recently, I sat close to a group of about five women and some children. I became fully attentive and watched them because of the youngest child in the group, a boy of about two years old, very active and energetic, he was playing and generally roughening up the scene.

His first interest was a basket of flowers but he was shooed away before he got there. But next was a basket of vegetables, which he picked out the contents and putting them on the ground. “Mrs. John”, that was not the name all of them shouted; “Look at what Kelechi is doing to the vegetables!”

She reluctantly left her discussions or plain gossip; we thought her chat was interesting enough not to take Kelechi’s action seriously because she quietly put the items back; no shouting, surprise or any attempt to smack the boy. She finished calmly and went back to her talking.

He is her son, I thought with amusement. And then I looked at the boy who had got busy with a plastic waste- basket in which he dumped all his belongings, a toy and half eaten gala and began to push it around. The speed made the basket to crumple and turn over, then another shout for Mrs. John all over again.

The place was her office, I found out, but I still thought she was the mother because this time, she appeared to look for where to smack that boy but not seeing a suitable place, gave up the idea and retrieved the basket. The boy resisted but failed to retain the basket. And that made him cry.

That was when I noticed a girl, the Auntie type, a teenager of about 15, whose nose was buried in a book. That was whom the boy ran to for consolation as he buried his face in her laps and cried; and she consoled him by telling him; “That trash basket is dirty. It is dirty.”

Is she the mother then? I wondered as my interest peaked and I stared as she made room for KC; I have known now that they fondly call him that; she raised her book a bit for the boy to lay his head on her lap while he cried. She continued reading though. But did I see any sign that she is a mother?

I did not but you could not be so sure. Her words calmed him and he got up. The boy was a lovable, good looking and adorable toddler; but Kelechi in gentle scolding was heard too often.

But no sooner did Kelechi disappear from my sight did I hear a very annoyed tone and soft beating, as if the person delivering the blows wanted to beat the daylight out of somebody but dared not hit too hard. When I looked in the direction of the commotion, I saw that the boy had crawled underneath a table to reach a suitcase from which he removed the contents. He littered the floor with them. And it was one woman who had hardly said a word all along who was ‘pummeling’ his back. But it took physically lifting him to get him to stop.

What right had she to beat him?
But it had been a long day and some of them got up to leave with KC in front; they were travelling. I asked, “Who is the mother of this boy? All of them laughed but the woman who had done the pummeling added “me.”

Kelechi has many mummies, all of them chorused. But they left one mummy and three teenage children behind. Before they left, Auntie Type had shown the eldest girl how to crotchet. But I noticed that she was still struggling with it. So with their example, I thought I could pitch in my own mummy bit too; I pointed out that she made it tight.

At this the mummy left behind turned on her; “But they have just shown you.” Seeing the shame on the girl’s face, she said “you did not bring your eye glasses.”

The girl was short-sighted and it was convenient to have Auntie teach her, but she is miffed that she has gone back to school.

Are they your children, I asked; “No”, she replied; “They are my neighbour’s.”

Why was I interested? I hear many of us speak with nostalgia about times past, when a child was raised by any well-meaning person who may not be the natural parents. In those days, a child who misbehaved was led home by the gruff daddy in the neighbourhood, with the cane he had used to discipline him. The parents did not complain because they had told the child repeatedly not to do that thing.

But we should be cautious about who we allow to help raise our children. In these times of insecurity, the advice would be that you know who your neighbours are. There are more houses on the streets these days and bad people who prey on children may sometimes be not so far away from you. But it is laudable if your neighbours can help your children in small but important ways.

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