Dinah

Today was BSF day. That is Bible Study Fellowship for those asking. The study was based on Genesis chapters 34 and 35. Now, chapter 34 reads like an action movie. It begins;

Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land.

Nothing out of the ordinary here, unless you know the full story. BSF this year has been a study of Genesis and having begun from chapter 1, I can claim a very good understanding of Dinah’s part in this story. She’s the only daughter of Jacob at this point, and she is blessed to have eleven brothers. Imagine that! The princess in this big household. You’d think she’s untouchable. Especially from the young men hanging around the neighborhood. But no. She had to go out to visit with the women of the land.

Again, this may pass as ordinary – after all which teenager wants to be locked up in the house? Except, this family was not like any other family in Shechem. They were set apart. By God Himself. They were not to mix with the Canaanites who were living in the land. But wait? She was an only daughter. Who else was she to interact with?

Anyway, she did go to visit and with that, one of the ugliest incidents in the Bible is recorded. Dinah is raped by a guy who claims to love her and will do anything to make her his wife. Including getting circumcised, as demanded by her brothers. And not just him but all the men of his entire clan. You see, this guy, Shechem, was a prince so he kinda had power over his people. But Dinah’s brothers were real schemers and in revenge for their sister, they attacked the Shechemites at their weakest moment – on the third day after they were circumcised! The aftermath would have ended up with these guys at the International Criminal Court for mass murder, enslaving women and children, and theft through plunder. It was total pandemonium!

Enough with the background! Grab your Bible and read the rest of the story. That chapter is one where God is not even mentioned. It is chaotic. If you thought today’s world is evil, human beings are just perpetuating what they have learned from their forefathers.

As a mother to three teenage daughters, Dinah’s story struck a nerve. Our world isn’t safe for children. Worrying about them is now a defining trait of being a parent. Even when they are not in any immediate physical danger, the internet presents a daily threat. I don’t want to judge Leah (or Jacob for that matter), but they should have kept that girl on a tight leash! She had no business wandering off, unaccompanied, to God knows where! I fight all the time with my girls – they want to visit their friends, go to the movies, etc and they think I’m controlling when I demand to know all the little details! And my requesting for their friends’ parents’ contacts is always a deal breaker. I know I cannot always protect them but I will do whatever it takes to keep them safe. Well, until they are eighteen!

Damn! The oldest turned eighteen a couple of months ago. I guess I’ll revise that age to twenty-one! But really? What must we do to keep our children safe? I need Solomonic wisdom and maybe the wise guy knew his stuff when he said:

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Oh Dinah! Why couldn’t you just stay home helping your mother Leah? She had weak eyes and she probably needed you in the kitchen to help cook for all those your brothers! See the tragedy you brought about? And you made my mind wander from the rest of the Bible teachings….

Dear Jane…

Have you heard of Toastmasters International (TI)? Well, I hadn’t until November 2018 when the club was introduced at my place of work. Corporate TI clubs provide an in-house opportunity for employees to develop their leadership and communication skills. By sponsoring a club, companies benefit from better leaders, more effective managers, closer-knit teams and higher productivity.

I knew immediately it was something that would interest me. Over and above the stated benefits, I was aware of the need to be more open and share my life lessons, albeit to a small audience. What better way than to do this within a controlled environment where you can share stories with no-one judging you?

Our club was officially launched in February 2019 by none other than Rozy Rana, Chair of the East Africa Toastmasters Territorial Council. Ms Rana has been a Toastmaster since April 2005. She was the first Toastmaster in East Africa to be recognized as a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM), the highest recognition awarded by Toastmasters to any member globally. Her enthusiasm and mastery of the English language convinced me that it was a worthwhile venture and I quickly signed up, being the first person to give a prepared speech at our club.

It’s been an interesting journey since. But this post is not about TI, rather about a speech I gave today that I thought to share with you, my dear readers. TI uses a Pathways learning experience, an online curriculum that provide users with flexibility. Members can choose from eleven paths that teach more than 300 unique competencies. I am currently on the Visionary Communication path for which this speech was delivered. Read on…

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Dear Jane…begun the two-page letter from my 15-year old daughter that I found neatly placed under my pillow one evening in July last year. It was in the middle of a school term and the letter was a culmination of a tumultuous two-month’ period in my journey parenting this Gen Z teenager. After paying school fees and getting her ready for the new school term, my daughter had dropped a bombshell – she was not going back to school! She dramatically proceeded to lock herself up in the bedroom and no amount of cajoling, threats or even a visit to a psychologist’s office could change her mind. At my wits’ end, I resulted to the Silent treatment. Without any electronic gadget, I was sure that boredom would wear her down and she would come begging to go back to school!

How wrong I was! The letter came two weeks into the silent treatment therapy and rather than beg to be taken back to school, it detailed various reasons why she couldn’t go back. She further listed four schools she preferred, giving the pros and cons, complete with the fee structures for each! The young lady had clearly done her homework. As I read it, I marveled that she had so much to say yet every time I had tried to talk to her in the past, I had gotten only tears streaming down her face just one sentence into the conversation.

After getting over the initial shock of my own daughter addressing me by my first name (I am an African mother, after all!), I saw myself in her. You see, I communicate better in writing than in conversation, a trait apparently shared by many introverts. While words effortlessly pour out onto a page or computer screen; in conversation, it often feels like there’s a traffic jam in the pathway between my mind and my mouth!

Written versus Oral – that was my understanding of communication styles as I embarked on my Toastmasters Level 2 project that focuses on recognizing your preferred communication style and understanding how that style impacts interactions with others.

Toastmasters defines four Communication styles; DIRECT, INITIATING, SUPPORTIVE and ANALYTICAL. I completed the questionnaire provided and was not surprised that I scored highest on the Analytical style – I love working with numbers. What surprised me though, was the wide margin by which the other styles trailed behind that they may as well be non-existent. In fact, I scored nada, in the Initiating style!

To be sure that the tool used had credibility, I ticked off many of the phrases used to describe the Analytical style: cautious, precise, curious, disciplined, logical, structured, perfectionist, private, etc.  Yes, we are also the type that tend to be overly skeptical, requiring to see promises in writing!

And to be doubly sure, I checked the descriptors of the Initiating style – you don’t score a zero and not confirm where you went wrong, eh? These were sociable, enthusiastic, spontaneous, fun-loving, impulsive, gregarious…need I continue? They were all things I am not. Well, most of time!

Analytical communicators are one of the introverted personality types. Not particularly suited for dealing with others and would much rather work alone, dwelling on their thoughts undisturbed. But life specializes in throwing curveballs, which we must adapt to if we are to survive. Looking back at the example with my daughter, I realised I could have done better to prevent the loss of a whole school term and loads of heartache. By failing to build flexibility around my preferred analytical communication style, I failed to hear the important things she was communicating.

According to Mark Murphy, founder of www.LeadershipIQ.com, a major philosophical difference that separates the four communication styles is the extent to which one communicates with emotions or with data. Analytical communicators stress on the data. In my case, I focused on the money and time wasted, completely missing the Emoticon bus. I only caught on when she communicated to me rationally and logically. Talk of the child teaching the parent!

I will conclude by saying that my biggest takeaway from this project has been the need to learn to be a chameleon – whether its data or emotions, I must learn what appeals to others and what doesn’t – to help me effectively communicate. At the home front, I am making deliberate efforts to create a fun, lively atmosphere with new and diverse elements suited for my three Gen Zeders.

By the way, the young lady turns sixteen tomorrow. We finally found a school that piqued her interest, and where she is thriving. Of course she had to promise certain things – in writing! I have also kept the “Dear Jane” letter – it shall be revisited one day!

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In this COVID-19 pandemic era, TI has provided me an invaluable distressing chaneel as I get to hop from one online club meeting to another across the globe! Members have embraced the new normal and there is no shortage of humor and deep conversations as the world finds different ways to respond to the pandemic.

Find a TI club near you and thank me later.

She’s only 13

January or Njaaanuary, as Kenyans prefer to call this month that appear longer than its actual 31 days is almost over. But I dare not speak ill of the month my presence was first felt in this world. Yes, to me January is a month to celebrate. Never mind some people who shall remain unnamed pretending to forget my birthday just so I don’t remind them to Mpesa something to my account. Haidhuru, I forgive them but I won’t forget unless they make it up to me –  I’m patient and can wait for another year.

This post however, is not about me even though the njaa seems to have affected not only peoples’ pockets but also their souls. Or how else can you explain the saga of striking teachers and nurses, the teargassing of school children or even the leaders caught on video behaving badly? It seems to me the state of the pocket affects the state of the soul in more ways than we care to admit. So I got caught up in the njaa happenings around me that I neglected this, my budding project. Yes, that is it. This explains the fact that the last time I posted here was before you all went away to indulge in the customary rituals that come with the December holidays. And I should hope that the reason you are eagerly waiting to exhale in the next couple of days was worth the discomfort of tighter than usual clothes, in addition to the disappearing shilingi.

As for me, I shall be holding my breath much longer. Not because of the state of my pocket, thank God, or even because of my now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t waistline. The reason my lungs must fast develop the capacity to hold air for longer is the pair of tweens in my house. I understand this is the age when they are too old for toys but too young for boys. But Wairimu seems intent on disarranging that perfect harmony set by nature.

She called the radio station. Desperate. Her mama, that is. My car radio was tuned to Kiss FM by mistake. The girls think I am boring for listening to Hope FM during the early morning ride to school. But I tell you, with all the ludicrous things around us (or is it just me?), Justo’s soothing voice and messages on Activate is just what the doctor ordered as an early morning dose. By the way, I must state I am rated better on the Most Boring Person scale compared to their dad who kills them with Kameme FM! So, they take any chance they get to switch to “FM2”, as they call it. Apparently, Kiss FM is the only station that plays swanky music. The type that you must know the lyrics and sing along with schoolmates for you to fit in the crowd. The type that you must drop the artist’s name as though they are your bosom friends. So I have been introduced to Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. And I must confess I love Becky G’s Shower song. It lights me up inside like the 4th of July, nay, Jamhuri day. Watching UK singing along to Sauti Sol’s Sura Yako was something else.

Anyway, I have no idea why the girls only seem to like female musicians. Maybe it is a good sign – that they are not yet into boys, you know? That I still got my little angels with me before, God forbid, they are corrupted by this mean world.

Like Wairimu. The girl whose mother called Kiss FM this last Monday morning? In case you missed the story, she said she was helping her daughter clean her room the previous day. A lazy, Sunday afternoon. Maybe after church…or maybe after a sumptuous Sunday lunch. As she picked up some clothes, two condoms fell off from a jacket. You got that right – two condoms. She was so traumatized, she didn’t say a word to her daughter. Hadn’t said anything, even upto that morning when she called Kiss. Her daughter is thirteen. At first the radio presenter had said the girl was sixteen. On hearing thirteen, I sat up straight. I was in the thick of the seven thirty Olenguruone avenue traffic. The rising sun’s rays were right in my eyes, and the car visor was not helping in blocking them. I thought maybe the ultra violet rays were interfering with my hearing, or something. I had just dropped off my twelve year old and her ten year old sister in school and for a moment the crazy thought of taking that Oloitoktok road roundabout and speeding back to school crossed my mind! Don’t ask me what I intended to do once there. I have no idea, but I would have blamed it on temporary insanity brought about by Mama Wairimu claiming that thirteen year olds were using condoms!

Ok. Maybe not Mama Wairimu but the callers who called in after her desperate call for help. And help she got, alright. One guy reminded her that condoms come in packs of three. The fact that there were only two meant that one had already been used. Another one told her the next time she checks there would only be one left! I sympathized with that mother, even as I hoped it was a staged call – to boost the station’s listenership (there’s such a word, by the way). Later, I would rationalize that she was irresponsible to not sit her daughter down earlier and explain matters sexual, or even when she found them condoms. Some of you who heard her must have wondered with me what help she expected from the likes of Shaffie Weru and Kalekye Mumo. But that is besides the point, the point being that girls, as young as nine and ten are well attuned to sexual matters and it’s high time parents stopped sleeping on the job!

I travelled back in time to when I was just about that age. True, I knew zilch about condoms. But so did most adults. It is truly sad that some of us from that generation are still not alive to the changing circumstances that influence our children. I remembered back when I was in Class six. A fresh faced ten year old lass eager to conquer the world of books, the only world that existed to me then. Then this boy appears on the scene. Let’s call him Obed. He was new to our school but he was too loud to go unnoticed. The fact that he was a lunje in a school in the middle of Central Kenya – his father was the watchman of the bacon factory neighboring our school – also made him stand out. He was a bright kid and probably felt threatened by me – the only girl who could beat him hands down in Maths! I know I am blowing my own trumpet here, but that is an undisputed fact, one that the fierce Mr Kariuki could attest to if only he could speak from six feet under. May God rest his soul.

Anyhow, Obed was too mature for some of us. And persistent. Thinking back, he could well have been three years older than me and should have been at least two classes ahead. He made it his life’s mission to make me his girlfriend. And he had a great plan. Funny how boys could embarrass/ annoy you in the name of getting your attention. When his antics of whistling, getting other boys to block my path and dropping my books just for the heck of it failed, he resulted to being Mr Nice Boy. He became friendly and made sure my friends and I could use a shortcut through the factory grounds that his father forbid school children from using. Funny enough, I liked him back. Talk of girls liking the bad boys! But he was funny and unafraid – he took the beatings meted by the teachers unflinching, like a man. The fact that he was a worthy competitor in the academic front endeared him to me more. And that, my dear friends, was my understanding of who/ what maketh a boy-friend.

But Obed knew better, which he aptly put down on paper one day. He discovered I had a male cousin in Class Seven who could serve as emissary. So one Friday afternoon on our way home, my cousin handed me a note with the instructions that I read it in private. I promptly put it in my school uniform pocket and happily skipped all the way home. By the time I reached home, my mother had chores lined up for me and the note was completely forgotten. I removed my uniform and put it in the wash basin where she started off the laundry to reduce on the Saturday workload. It wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to discover such a note now, would it?

That discovery marked the end of the chores for that evening. And the beginning of my sex education journey. Yes, Obed had been explicit in what he wanted from me. His note jolted my mother into action. I am pretty sure she hadn’t held such a conversation with my sister, who is two years older than me. Even though I had not even reached puberty and cannot even remember much of what she said that day, I was put under the radar and she constantly checked on what was going on with me. By the way, I was never given the note to read but I got snippets of it from the grilling I received.

Now, if such could happen in rural Kenya back in the 80’s, imagine what is happening in today’s urbane, suave intranet world. Yet, children today are not entirely bad or out of control as some might want to suggest.  They are just maturing faster owing to societal influences. And it is up to the parents to guide them on how to navigate through the often confusing maze. This will not happen if we bury our heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich. Which is why I pray that Mama Wairimu found the courage and wisdom to talk to her daughter. After all, at age thirteen, some of these children know things that would shock the dead back to the grave should they wake up today.

Dad, what is orgasm?

A question from a twelve-year old girl. She had heard her sixteen-year old sister and her friend discussing as they searched for the meaning in the dictionary. The word was in a magazine they were reading. The younger girl, not wanting to be shooed out of the room, chose to pretend not to hear the conversation but instead waited for the one person who was sure to give answers. And he soon arrived.

Before, “Dad, how was your day?”, or “Dad, welcome home”, the bombshell was dropped.

Imagine the shock on the poor man. The wife is not yet home to save the situation. What should be his response?

He stutters…

“Where did you get that from?”

“Caroline and Edith were checking the meaning in the dictionary.”

“Caroline? Why? Where did she hear it from?”

“Oh, they were reading a magazine.”

“A magazine! What sort of magazine?”

“I don’t know. But dad, what does the word mean?”

The girl is relentless in her quest for knowledge. And the grilling session only help increase her curiosity. Was it something bad? But Caroline and Edith didn’t seem to be doing anything wrong. I wish mum was here. She always has answers to all her questions. But it would serve Caroline right if she was doing something she shouldn’t. After all, she had refused to help with the Maths homework so she could go through that magazine with Edith. She needed to know….

Her thoughts back to the present, she turned to face her father again. Alas! He was nowhere to be seen. She soon found out why as Edith quickly walked past her carrying her bag. Her father soon followed with the offensive magazine in hand. He put it in his briefcase without a word and sat down. He seemed to be in deep thought. Even when Caroline came downstairs with all her gaily self and offered to make him a cup of tea, he did not respond.

Something was wrong. Again, I wish mum would get home already…

That is the kind of case-study situation we were dealing with in the Adolescence course hubby and I attended this last Saturday. Children nowadays are growing too fast and as parents, we are often caught offguard. Thinking back, I am not sure I knew such a word existed until after high school. Sure, I read enough Mills & Boon in my high school days, but I can’t recall “the feeling you feel” being called by its right name. Imagine for a moment that I had come across the word, my parents, let alone my dad, would have been the last people to seek for answers from. In the absence of Uncle Google, I would have preferred to remain ignorant than seek answers. I mean, who relishes a beating just because of a question?

I like that children nowadays are not afraid to ask questions. In fact, I came across a study that indicated children ask an incredible 400 questions daily! That’s on average. Oh, and the study pointed out that most questions are directed at mothers. I would like to extend that study to, Why mothers?) Anyway, as you struggle with the sometimes annoying but easier questions smaller children, such as:

Why is water wet? or,

Where does the sky end? or,

Why do people get sick? or,

Where did I come from?,

Prepare for the soon-coming day when the bomb will be dropped. And with all the media exposure, the questions can only get complex. The expert parent (I shouldn’t have been too quick to judge about their expertise) explained that if your children are not asking such and other sexuality-related questions, you should be worried. (Ok, I thought it better if they do not ask – it means I get to keep them for myself longer!) He also said you should be as factual as possible – you do not want the child losing confidence in you when they finally learn the truth. In any case, they could be testing you – to see whether you can corroborate what Uncle Google or any other uncle for that matter, said!

It was also pointed out that there are questions better answered by a man and questions better left for mum. Our bomber here is reserved for mum. Reason? Dad has no personal experience. The same way mum would struggle to answer about wet dreams! You can imagine I was depressed at this point! This parenting thing is complicated!

I however, agreed with one thing –  do not face the child while explaining. Keep busy with other stuff. Apparently, our misconceptions (I am sure you already know where mine come from) reflect on our face when we talk about things we are not comfortable about. The child will then ‘read’ that the subject is not comfortable for you and they may fail to ask you the next time!

I hope this helps.

 

The Mother Factor

My church recently launched a Parents Fellowship whose aim is to help parents mold a Godly character in their children. Hubby and I quickly signed up because, to be honest, we need all the help we can get in raising our three angels. The first one is not even a teenager (I understand this is where the rubber meets the road!) but as she reminds all those who care to listen, she is a pre-teen! Her school also organizes courses to equip parents in this tumultuous journey and we are currently on an Adolescence course. These are welcome additions into our busy lives (who isn’t?) despite the inconveniences of being treated like children ourselves. Can you imagine we must sign an attendance register, which by the way is withdrawn fifteen minutes after class starts. Not to mention, the homework! Which reminds me I have two case studies to read before coming Saturday! Nonetheless, we dutifully attend if only to glean a few useful lessons from other like-minded and often-clueless parents and the experts (if ever there was anything like expert parents!).

I was reflecting on the huge responsibility parents have  in raising their children, when it hit me how lucky I am to have these resources at my disposal. I stopped in my tracks thinking how my parents, particularly my mother, managed to raise all seven of my siblings and I. She was only eighteen when she had her first child. By the time she was thirty, she had birthed seven of them, had two snatched from her hands by the grim reaper, and still kept a straight face. Thirty is significant because that is when I had my first born! (In case you are wondering, I was waiting for the cows to come home and as you all know, they can be stubborn in the midst of so much pasture!). Anyway, back to my mother. In the midst of all the cacophony associated with such a full house, she still managed to go through college earning herself a P2 teacher’s grade and starting what would become her lifetime career – instilling sense not only to her own brood but to all others that crossed her path, literally!

We all have tales to tell about our mothers. Good or bad, mothers made us what we are today. Forget the strange things they all seem to have learnt from a nameless virtual school. I am sure you have seen them circulating on social media:

…wiping dirt from your face with saliva…

…telling you to go on and break all the cups/glasses just because one accidentally fell…

…the third eye that knew your hand was in the sugar jar even when she was not there…

…whipping you then telling you not to cry, or else…

…banning you from talking to so and so’s children just becaused she and so and so disagreed…

Etc….

Growing up, my mother was not my best friend. Firstly, I thought she was a slave driver. In fact, had I lived in this era of Children’s Rights and being the litigious society we have become, I am pretty sure we might have faced off in a court of law! Or how do you explain a seven-year old babysitting two toddlers and taking charge of the home. Mind you, she expected to find a neat home upon her return, or you faced the music. Secondly, she knew not how to spare the rod and believed the proverbial notion that children only flourish if chastised for any wrongdoing. In fact, she could very well have been Mdzomba’s teacher, the only difference being that she allowed you to choose your own rod, eh, stick. You see, being a teacher’s child was a big deal! According to my mother, the entire village had their eyes on you. Watching and waiting for you to miss a step, and she was not going to let that happen! So we had to be smart; brainwise, in dress and in character. To achieve this, our home was an extension of her classroom, chalk and all – and woe unto those of us who did not keep to the straight and narrow.

Disciplinary action aside, I believe with all my heart that my mother did the best she knew to achieve me. Were it not for her guidance, I shudder to think how I might have turned out. My older sister and I must have bee the reason for her worst nightmares especially during our adolescent years when some nuts came loose. Yet, she continued to give us room and board in her house even when we committed the greatest act of rebellion against her entire being – snubbing church!  You see, for as long as I can remember my mother  has always been a church-going Christian and she brought us up to respect the Sabbath. But hey! There comes a time when personal decisions must be made. And make them we did. And so we conspired to break her heart for at least two years. Years in which her waking thoughts must have been receiving the news that one of us was fooling around with some boy and got herself pregnant – after all, that is what foolish girls did back then!

Anyway, God must have hearkened to her desperate cries and that phase passed without leaving us with permanent scars. And praying she did, still does. My mother’s prayers can stretch to the moon and back. If you are in a hurry, better offer to pray yourself otherwise forget your appointment! And she will mention the physical, emotional, mental, social, financial and spiritual needs of all her children then start all over again with the grandchildren, calling each by name. With a mother interceding like that, wonder not that I am at this place, right here and now.

Now it is my turn – to bring up my own children in what can only be a better manner than my mother’s. I cannot fall short. And that is why I am open to learning about this huge responsibility called Parenting. I read somewhere that kids do not come with an instruction  manual. That may be true, but I am determined to write my own manual, borrowing the best tips from my mother’s style and incorporating the best researched ideas. Of course with help from the One above, the Super-parent. So, help me God!