Friday, 31 August 2012

Great expectations

Hello, parent of an outstanding 8th grader! 

You are receiving this email because we plan to give your son or daughter an award (sports, academic or character) at this year's Middle School Awards Ceremony, and we'd like you to be there to see it!  The ceremony is on Friday, May 25th at 2 PM.  We'll talk a little about why each award is given to that student, and we hope it will be encouraging to you and to your child.  Please come if at all possible! 

One other note: we like these to be a surprise for the students, so please don't mention it to your child beforehand. 

I was terribly excited to find the above email message from my son’s school principal some months ago.

OMG, he’s going to get an award in front of the whole school! I thought to myself. I gave myself several mental pats on the back. This was my reward for all the hours of yelling, scolding, threatening, taking away privileges, reiterating, and manipulating – all in a bid to get keep my son on track. My ‘Nigerian' mothering tactics had finally paid off! This was my reward for all the hours I would spend helping out with homework after ‘work-work,’ until my schedule simply no longer permitted it.

I wondered what the prize would be for. Not sports because, for the first time last semester, he decided not to play a sport. It had to be academics. It just had to be. It would probably be for Math. So the money I spent each month on a Math tutor was really worth it! Or maybe not … maybe it was for English. That was more likely. His English teacher has always emphasized how well he writes. On a recent essay of his, she wrote: ‘You are a good writer. Please pursue it and continue on this path. It is a pleasure to read your writing.’ I put it up on the fridge (along with tons of other stuff) and it’ll stay there until it disintegrates.

Wow – maybe my son would be a best-selling author some day! Or a scholar of some sort! I could barely contain my excitement.

What if the award were for character, though? Well … I suppose an award is an award, but I wasn’t paying all that money in school fees for character, necessarily (sounds absolutely horrible, I know!). I mean, I suppose character development is always a welcome benefit one would hope for from a good school, but I teach character at home. Why pay that much for character when you can teach it yourself and save the money for college instead?

On the big day, I found myself a seat at the back of the auditorium since I would have to slip out right afterwards and rush all the way back across town again for a conference call at the office. My son sat between his two best friends on the other side of the room, totally oblivious to my presence and to the fact that he was getting an award.

My heart pounded in anticipation as they called out one student after the other, one award after the other. I hadn’t expected this ceremony to take forever. I shifted impatiently in my seat as they called out all the sports awards and said a few words about each winner. Then came the academic awards. I watched and waited, holding my breath as they called out one student’s name after the other … for one subject after the other … and as they called out my son’s best friends one after the other … and as the academic awards session ended.

What a minute, I thought. That only leaves … character.

Okay, I suppose I can live with that, I thought, quickly swallowing my initial disappointment. They proceeded to call out one name after the other, along with one character trait after the other. What other character trait could there possibly be, I wondered.

As I waited impatiently to hear his name announced, I glanced over at my son’s side of the room. I knew his two tight friends somewhat (as much as teenagers will let you know). Good kids (like mine) who had had several sleepovers at my house, eating a large dinner together, playing X-Box games through the night, talking and laughing in the dark until the early hours of the morning, and then playing some more the next day (with their unbathed, teenage selves), until it was time to go home. They were all so alike, it was uncanny – they even talked the same. After they spent some time at our house, I stopped bugging my son about mumbling all the time instead of actually talking. (Apparently, they all mumble and mutter at this age instead of enunciating properly.) How come they were focused enough to win an academic prize and my son wasn’t? Well, when he got home, I would just have to point out to him that his best friends weren’t any better than him and that I’d better see him up on that stage for an academic award next semester … This ‘Nigerian mama’ train of thought was interrupted by the announcement of his name.

All I remember now is suddenly being filled to the brim with pride as my son walked confidently up to the stage, trying not to look fazed by what was to come (in eighth grade, you do have a reputation to protect, as he’s explained to me before). I was absolutely bursting. I clapped until my hands hurt and totally forgot my previous train of thought.  

The teachers decided to give my son an award for 'courage.'

As one of the teachers explained, he’s not afraid to express himself in class and through his school work – even if he does end up going slightly off on a tangent sometimes in a bid to be creative. A ripple of knowing laughter weaved through the teachers’ section of the room. I joined them, nodding knowingly, and clapping harder. Yep, that’s my son! ‘Get ready for this one,’ the teacher with the microphone said to a ninth grade teacher. ‘You’re really going to enjoy having him in class and enjoy reviewing the work he turns in. He’s going to give you the ride of your life.’

My son received his certificate and made his way back up to his seat. To his great surprise, there I was, standing right in his aisle, waiting for him. His eyes lit up in spite of himself. I gave him a big hug and he actually (shock!) hugged me back, ignoring the disapproving stares of his fellow students. I suppose he lost some ‘street cred’ that day, but he didn’t seem to mind this time – he was so shocked to see me that he forgot to be a 'cool' teenager for a moment. I totally forgot about the lecture I planned to give and decided to let my son just enjoy his moment in the spotlight. 

I’m so proud of you,’ I whispered to him. And I was.

I thought about all my son had been through over the years, and how he had somehow, by the grace of God, pulled through.  When his father started travelling, he was three. Back then, he would cry piteously into the phone, saying, ‘Come here, Daddy!’ Wondering why he could hear his Daddy but couldn’t see him. He cried less the next year, and even less the year after that. I noticed that he stopped crying completely when he was seven. How he has gone through life seeing his dad once a year or less, only God knows. How he has made sense of his current life, only God knew. His teachers were more discerning than they realized. This was one courageous child and, boy,  did he deserve that award! Naija pikin no dey carry last, a-beg.

On my way back to the office, I pondered over how love for a child is so unconditional. Yeah, we have expectations for our children, but we can live with it if they aren’t lived up to. There’s just no greater love, I think, between humans. Too bad the love for a spouse usually can’t compare. With people other than our children (including spouses), we usually tend to expect much more, and to hold on to those expectations. At least I do.

Someone once said that ‘expectation is the root of all heartache.’ But what’s the point of a relationship without expectations? Without them, from my perspective, all romantic relationships would be superficial and almost pointless. If I don’t expect anything from you, and you have no expectations to meet, and neither do I … then is that really a relationship?

Hmm … anyway. It’s Friday night and I’m too weary to theorize right now.

Just wanted to make the point that the love for a child is pure, pure love. There’s really nothing I can think of that’s quite like it.

Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby. 


  1. Yes oh. Naija no dey carry last. Good job mama. Good job, son!

    1. Thank you, jare. To God be the glory ...

  2. Congrats mum of two. Courage, needed to press in to all we have in God. Doesn't the bible say, 'the expectation of the righteous shall not be cut off'? I agree with you sis, healthy expectations are necessary, for without vison the people perish.

    1. GOOD Word!! Indeed, it does say that, and even God has expectations. The key word is 'healthy,' as you point out, and expecting nothing is tantamount to lacking vision. How profound. Many thanks.

  3. I love this so much. You remind me of myself in this post. A loving mother! If you have been following my comments you might ask "what the heck is she talking about...she isn't even married'. I am not married yet and i do not have any child either, but i have had experiences since i live with my parents and very younger siblings and cousins (they are really younger than myself) and i dedicate so much time to them. I really want to be like you...the proud mom who loves her children so much, it hurts. You are a blessing to them. keep up the good work 'mom'.