Edmond fears being reported to child protective services every day. Why? Because he is a “bad dad?” No. Because he is a foreigner.
Parenting is very hard, especially when you are a graduate student in a foreign land. Every day, I have to smoothly navigate cultural differences in parenting styles. At times, people are offended by the way I play or carry my kids.
Aka is independent and fearless like the Lone Ranger. Like Tonto, Tino is protective and disquisitive. Although they are different, they explore outdoors together.
A small, cozy playground with slides, swings and a playhouse is in front of my house. The playground is surrounded by three duplex houses and a fence. It is a safe place to let kids become kids.
I grew up in Zimbabwe at an army base shortly after the liberation war. In my neighborhood, kids found grenades on the playground. I played soccer in the streets and walked a mile from school without adult supervision.
With all the danger that surrounded us, I do not recall hearing about kids that got blown up by a grenade. Whenever we saw anything suspicious, we called adults. Danger lurked around, but we were taught well.
My parents were not afraid that I would step on a landmine or pull the trigger of a grenade. They were afraid of the future and nothing else. I remember the last question Dad asked Mom before he passed away.
“What are you going to do about Edmond’s education?”
I am now a graduate student in the US and I am confident my kids’ education is secure. They are no landmines buried in dirt or grenades by the wayside. Yet, I am worried about my kids.
I first developed fear after going to the grocery store with my wife carrying Aka on her back. We both thought it was not a big deal. We were wrong, very wrong.
“Is your baby not going to fall?” Many asked at the grocery store. Others chose to rebuke us with a pensive gaze. Silently, I wished they knew how some women in Africa carry a water bucket or work in the fields with babies wrapped comfortably on their backs.
Fortunately, no one reported us to the police for alleged child endangering.
“I saw Tino walking alone from the house and thought it wise to walk with him,” said the elderly woman as she handed me Tino’s hand.
I became very nervous when Tino’s love for playing alone outside grew. At first, I would sit by the door and watch him play. When Aka started walking he began following Tino outdoors, but in the opposite direction.
Watching their baboon-like democratic decision making process is funny. Tino would head to the swings and Aka to the playhouse. After a little while Tino would join his brother to monitor him.
I do not know who told Tino that he is the only one permitted to push and shove Aka. He reminds me of my sister, Ellen. In high school, no one bullied me because they were afraid of her.
Ellen did not protect me only, even my elder brother. One day, my brother was beaten by a neighborhood bully. My sister was enraged, she went beat up the bully. By the way, she was two years younger than my brother.
I do not think Tino would go that far. He is a peace loving kid, but very protective of his young brother. His teachers at daycare attest to that.
“Your child is a gentleman. A little, minute considerate old small man,” Tino’s teacher said between sniffs during a parent-teacher conference a month ago.
One day, I found a note in Aka’s cabby. It was a final warning, Aka was going to be kicked out of daycare if he repeated the offense. He had bitten another kid’s butt and he was less than 9 months old.
Of course, the teacher misconstrued the situation. He did not bite the kid out of rage, but curiosity, I think. Infants and toddlers are cute, but gross. They eat everything they see as they try to figure out the relationship between color, texture and taste.
“Do you bite each other at home?” Aka’s teacher asked me after the incident. I was offended, rightly so.
“We are from Zimbabwe. We are not vampires,” I whispered under breathe. How could she compare my son to Hannibal Lester? Anger welled up my inside, albeit hidden beneath a plastic smile that had encroached awkwardly on my face.
It is funny how awkward moments are breeding grounds for lasting friendships. Aka has grown to be the favorite of the teacher. Every time I pick him up after school, I found him playing with the teacher.
Aka and Tino remind me of the popular adage, even the Lone Ranger needs Tonto. They are free-range kids because of their difference in character. Aka through his independence wants to play alone, but Tino is protective, so sticks around.
“Mom, Aka is going far,” Tino cries out as he rushes into the living room. Every time Tino says this, we have learned he would have tried everything possible to make sure Aka does not go far and he failed.
Together, Aka and Tino explore their little world in front of the house. When tired they came back home safely. Yet, as they enjoy their day, I am filled with fear.
I am afraid my parenting style could offend someone who might report me to Child Protection Services. Despite that, Tino and Aka daily teach me being different does not mean I am wrong and neither does it imply we cannot work together in harmony.