Lately, I’ve been seeing people on social media reminiscing about their childhood. What I can especially relate to is the grief our parents used to give us when they decided that we’d had enough sleep. My dad would stand on the bedroom doorway and exclaim, incredulously, “You’re still asleep?!”
Said in my mother tongue, the accusation was weighty, one that would heap guilt on you, never mind that there wasn’t anything to be guilty about. From the astonishment in his tone, one would have thought that we had slept until 2pm, yet it was only 8am, sometimes earlier. On a Sunday. During a school holiday.
Those days you never argued with your parents, even when their unfairness was obvious, laid out in the open for all to see. And so we reluctantly woke up and sulked the rest of the day. From the stories I have heard regarding this subject, mothers were more dramatic than fathers in their shaming. A friend narrated how her mother would walk to her bed and declare, dripping with sarcasm, “Bibi ya Member of Parliament, bado umelala?”, whenever she wanted to shame her for oversleeping.
And in a thread I came across on Facebook, someone’s mother was fond of telling them, “Queen Elizabeth is already awake yet you people with nothing are still sleeping?” While another would quip, “Go on, continue sleeping on those eggs until they hatch…” It’s true, mothers can indeed be savage, to borrow some slang.
But what really cracked me up was the one who recalled how her mother would loudly start singing a certain song in the wee hours of the morning, a song that was pointedly directed at them, which began, “Maciaro ma toro…” talking about how those who loved sleep reaped nothing during harvest time. That song, with its deep cutting words, always managed to jolt them out of sleep.
The bullying aside, our parents, who were obviously drawing from experience, had a point. You cannot sleep half the day and still expect to earn a decent livelihood. A friend once told us how much, while growing up, she resented her mother for the frequent tongue lashings she gave her whenever she would sleep in, sometimes getting out of bed way after midday, having arrived home in the wee hours following a night out with friends.
“One day, your problems will wake you up…” her exasperated mother often warned her.
Several years later and two children to feed and educate as well as a landlord who expects rent by the fifth of every month, she finally understood where her mother was coming from all those years ago. She no longer needs any prompting to wake up at cock crow, her many responsibilities wouldn’t allow her to sleep in. She does not even need an alarm clock, the one in her head goes off at 5am or earlier, like clockwork.
If only we appreciated our parents’ wisdom earlier instead of rebelling, I have a feeling that we would have achieved much more than we have. My responsibilities are what jolt me awake every morning – the office work awaiting me, that loan that needs paying, food for my family, clothes and school fees for my children.
Even though he has never said it, my father must tell himself, wearing a knowing smile, “Well, well, look who’s up…”, when we visit, like we always do on the 31st of December so that we can usher in the New Year together.
I am always the first one to get up the following day, after my father of course because you can never beat him, so that I can prepare breakfast for my children, and by extension, the others. Yes, there will come a time when you won’t need waking up because your responsibilities will yank off the blankets on your behalf.