Home Away from Home with Abi Adeboyejo
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @abihafh
The school year is almost at an end here in the UK and I am sure in many parts of the world too. I bet kids are eagerly looking forward to several weeks of undiluted fun doing all sorts of activities. In true British style, kids here are already ignoring the possibility of rubbish weather, which we get more often than not.
I miss my dad the most at this time of the year. Mainly because I tend to see a lot of grandparents taking their kids out and about whenever the sun is out. On my way to work this morning, I saw a man in his late 60s or early 70s, pushing a little boy in his pushchair, while they both talked. It seemed like they were talking to each other until the traffic slowed down and I cruised along beside them. It was then I heard them both singing, the little boy belting out a song out of tune while his grandfather sang the chorus lustily.
I remember my dad used to do similar things with my kids whenever he came to visit. He would offer to take them to school and pick them up from school. The kids loved having their grandpa pick them from school so much that they were never happy whenever I insisted that I would come instead. I later discovered that when Grandpa picked them they always made a detour to the corner shop to buy sweets and crisps. He made every effort to be relevant in their lives every time he came to visit and the kids mourned him when we lost him. Even though my oldest was just seven when my dad died, he wasn’t shy to give a speech at his funeral when we came to Nigeria, telling everyone that his Grandpa was his friend and that he taught him to play the piano.
Many young children from immigrant families are fortunate enough to have grandparents. Almost every Nigerian family I know have at some point brought over grandparents or other elderly relatives to come visit. It is thanks to God that people are living longer to see their grandchildren and great grandchildren. It is also a thing of pride for some of these old people to make that maiden voyage overseas in their twilight years. Grandmothers have a clear-cut role when babies are born into the family. They are usually brought over almost as soon as the baby is born to help the new mum through the first few months. They sometimes stay on to help with childcare as the babies start nursery or day care.
The role of the Nigerian grandfather in the life of his grandchildren is not so clear-cut. Historically our culture has always left childcare to women. Older men at best act as mentors to little children in the family, but are not usually seen taking an active role in their day-to-day upbringing. It would seem that times are changing and so are our grandfathers too, my late dad being an example.
I also have friends who have alternated between bringing one grandparent at a time instead of both because of cost and sometimes, space in their homes. I remember a friend whose dad came to help look after her two months old baby. My friend’s mum passed away many years ago, so her dad offered to come and help out in any way he could, as he was retired and bored at home anyway. My friend told me a few days after her dad arrived that she had to leave him with the baby for a few hours to do some grocery shopping. The baby fell asleep in her grandfather’s arms. As she was about to leave for the shops her dad called her and asked her to try to return as soon as possible. When she asked why, he said because he might need to use the toilet. The poor man thought that he wasn’t supposed to put the baby down in her cot and that he would have to hold her for several hours. Bless!
Even though many men come to visit their grandchildren abroad, some are more of an inconvenience to their children than any help. Because majority of Nigerian families living abroad don’t have housekeepers or any other help with housekeeping, it is sometimes a bother to have your dad visiting, demanding yam and stew for breakfast, while you are rushing about, trying to get the kids to have a bath, wear their school uniforms and eat their toast or cereal, while you check that their homework is in their bags, their PE kits have been packed and their recorders for their music lessons are not still in their rooms. You’d expect your dad to help, even if all he has to do is persuade the kids to get up earlier or eat their food. And if not, dad could jolly well just sleep longer and stay in his room. It is better than demanding a hot breakfast, wanting a solid soupy meal when you return from work, fagged out, with the kids trailing your wake.
My husband’s uncle once came to stay and noticed how much my husband and I were trying to juggle housework and the kids. One morning, as I tried to offer him something for breakfast, he smiled and told me to carry on with the kids while he made himself some cereal. When I pressed him to let me warm some moin moin for him and make some cornmeal (ogi), he said he didn’t mind eating cereal, because “when you are in Rome, you act like the Romans” (his words).
Some grandparents may argue that it is not their duty to look after grandkids. I beg to differ. If you have brought up your own kids well, then your role as a grandparent is to support your children as they try to give their children good upbringing as well. Grandparents are supposed to spend time with the little ones, share stories with them, understand their world and who knows, let the kids’ youth, energy and vigour rub off on them. The legacy grandparents leave behind can be made even richer by the memories and time they give to their grandchildren.