“Another theme park? My goodness!” reads the text from my mother. Although, perhaps, rather than a text, I should be calling it a “subtext.”
She is referring to the desperate outing that I am about to embark on with my three boys, ages 8, 5 and 10 months, in order to avoid spending one more minute listening to them arguing in the house. A close reading of my mother’s message reveals rich and multi-layered depth of meaning. The “my goodness!” (complete with jaunty exclamation mark) keeps the tone light, while the use of “another” neatly undercuts that levity, conveying disapproval. The overall take-home message: I spoil the kids.
‘LITTLE COMMENT GENRE’
This text is a classic of the genre I think of as the “Little Comment,” the signature mode of communication of a certain type of close relationship between a mother and her adult daughter, especially when that daughter has children of her own.
The Little Comment is the product of the female socialization that insists that we be the ones to handle the emotional busywork of life, but prevents us from tackling any of it directly.
Both loving and barbed, it uses a kind of weaponised casualness to criticise, but with complete plausible deniability.
You know that you are dealing with a “Little Comment,” as opposed to just a comment, when on hearing it you feel a stab of either irritation or self-loathing (or more often, an uneasy blend of the two). But at the same time, a perfectly reasonable response to any objection or hurt feelings would be an innocent, “What do you mean?? I’m just saying … ” and then repeating the same statement in an entirely different, newly defanged tone.
Examples of the Little Comment might include, “Oh! The full fat kind?” “Isn’t it interesting how he isn’t wearing a coat?” and “Do children watch their iPads at the table now?” In the right context and tone, even an “oh dear” can qualify.
Although I bristle, my mother is actually showing amazing restraint. The Little Comment is really the recourse of the powerless.
People always say that being a grandparent is all of the fun parts of parenting with none of the grind.
But the flip side of this deal is that grandparents also have all of the adoration with none of the agency.
My mother loves my kids just as much as I do, is every bit as invested in their happiness and success, yet she has no genuine say in their upbringing. She can’t decide how many theme parks they visit, or whether they wear a coat, or how much television they watch, or how to respond when they call their brother a “poopy diaper.”
She sees my absurd helicoptering, my bookshelf groaning with parenting books, my inexplicable inability to get my kids through a single dinnertime without a tantrum. At best she can hope only to influence from the sidelines like a low-ranking medieval courtier.
AT BOTH ITS BEST AND WORST
At both its best and its worst, the mother-daughter relationship can at times be as close as two humans can get to telepathy.
With two people who are both heavily socialised to anticipate and meet everyone else’s emotional needs, the dynamic can become a kind of high-alert empathy, each constantly attempting to decode what the other might be thinking, hypersensitive to any change in pitch or tone, like a pair of high-strung racehorses.
My mother understands me better than anyone, and I crave her approval more than anyone else’s. I could recite her entire value system if I were in a coma.
Every meal needs a salad, music is good and sport is suspect, children should learn a stringed instrument, sleeping late is a moral failing. She doesn’t actually need to criticise. She did her job so effectively 30 years ago that now she need only raise an eyebrow and I fill in the blanks on autocomplete.
In our case, all this is intensified because we live 6,000 miles away from her, having moved to California from Britain when our oldest son was a baby.
Her visits are highly charged for us both. For her, staying with us is a once-a-year opportunity to spend time with her beloved grandchildren.
For me, it’s my chance to prove to her that I have a handle on parenting, to get her to provide the answer to the question that claws away at me for the rest of the year. Am I a good mother? Can I ever be a mother like she was?
As soon as she arrives from the airport, I am on edge waiting for things to unravel. I know it’s only a matter of time before my kids start behaving in ways that would have been unthinkable for me growing up.
It doesn’t take long. Solly’s haunted Lego spy-base doesn’t conform to the overly ambitious picture in his head and he hurls it across the room in a fit of fury.
His brother Zeph calls him an idiot, enraging him further. The baby starts crying. “I see everyone is getting very angry” I bleat, desperately quoting from some positive parenting article I read online. Solly storms off.
“Oh dear,” says my mother. I am crushed.
The uncomfortable truth is that my defensiveness comes not from disagreeing with her assessment of my parenting, but from the painful shame of agreeing.
Like many people, before I had my own children, I thought I would be better at this, that I would be a mother like my own mother was.
Strong and sure-footed, enforcing calm and respect armed with nothing more than the prospect of a strongly worded expression of disappointment.
My mother didn’t need extravagant sticker charts or parenting podcasts to get us to put our socks on.
In my memory, we didn’t have tantrums over “transitions” or throw forks at our siblings or need participation trophies to put a plate in the dishwasher.
Whatever the elusive balance of indulgence and firmness, love and limits that makes a great parent, my mother knew it instinctively.
She had the invisible sorcery of quiet authority, always kind, never needing to shout or threaten. She knew when coats and candy and comfort were in order and when they should be withheld.
She knew the exact number of theme park visits that would ensure a happy and productive life. I’m furious with her because I want to be her.
It’s a strange evolutionary misstep that even the most powerful and noble of all the human emotions can, in any given moment, be trumped by irritation. But really, perhaps this is the ultimate compliment.
I can push back and prickle, safe in the cozy belief that all the questions, big and little, still have answers, and that my mother knows what those answers are.
And I try not to think about the unbearable day when she will be gone and I will have to come up with my own answers, and no comment will ever be Little again.
Ruth Whippman is the author of “America the Anxious: Why Our Search for Happiness Is Driving Us Crazy and How to Find It for Real.”
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
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Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.