We are home now.
A brief sweet week of long lie-ins for my big kids and rediscovering her books and new bedroom for Hat, before we must head north towards school. How swiftly the holidays seem to have raced by? Did time always move so quickly? Didn’t Christmas used to take an eternity to come around again, yet already we are August and people are muttering about plans for a four-month-hence festive season.
Already Nairobi seems so long ago. A small capsule of family and giggles and – in a house populated predominantly by the very young – not enough sleep. The two weeks went by too fast too. I was the proverbial Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. Except that I didn’t feed my so many children broth. My young charges demanded boiled egg and soldiers for supper. So I buttered the toast and cut it as instructed and was reminded of a time when my own young required the same of me.
The immediacy of mothering the small is hugely gratifying: you feel so needed. So in demand. So very necessary.
I did send them to bed afterwards though. Earlier than their own mother might have done. For by then, older than my dear sister and harried from a long day herding half a dozen assorted offspring, I needed to put my feet up.
Are you looking forward to Mummy coming home? I enquired of my youngest niece and God-daughter, Katie.
Yes, she trilled gleefully, ‘cos then we can go to bed when we want to!’
I was born in Nairobi. My father was too. But it is alien to my own children who have spent their lives in Tanzania. They don’t know anybody there – other than their aunt and their three cousins.
‘Good Lord!’ Exclaimed a mildly shocked acquaintance of my mum’s, ‘what on earth are you going to do with teens in town if they don’t know anybody?’
Well. I took them to see Kung Fu Panda, along with the rest of the team. We sat giggling. At Po’s antics and at Kate who, just four, was perhaps a little young to sit incarcerated in a cinema seat for two hours.
“I think it’s bath-time now’’, she hissed 20 minutes into the movie, ‘we had better go home’’.
I sent them, the big ones, my big ones, to watch The Dark Knight on their own. I took them shopping. I fed them pizza and curry and ice-cream, rare treats in the Outpost. And we all fed the residents at Giraffe Manor and stroked their soft velvet noses.
All six children spent endless hours in a garden playing football and French cricket (the little ones, ready for an aged aunt’s early bedtimes, already dressed in their pajamas and smelling delciously sweetly of Baby Shampoo and damp heads).
Amelia blew bubbles for her young cousins. I do not know whose expressions were the more lovely: Lizzie and Kate’s for their evident excitement as they raced to pop each one, or Amelia’s at the ease with which she effected such tangible delight.
Hattie choreographed a ballet sequence and she and Katie delivered it on a lawn glazed with orange evening light filtered cobweb by towering Eucalyptus trees. Ben bought Ollie a cricket ball and taught him how to bowl.
There was something precious about our sojourn. Something sweetly innocent. Time didn’t just stop as far as my own chidren were concerned. It took several strides backwards. No Facebook, no Nintendo, no texting friends for there were none to text there. We played My Spy With My Little Eye every time we got into the car and laughed when Katie spied a HangBag. And when we weren’t doing that we sang loudly and tunelessly along to the Corrs, me too, as I drove six kids (all warbling, nobody wincing at how uncool a mum they had: any wincing came from Granny, ”do we have to have it so loud?”)
Did they mind? Their enforced sortie back to unadulterated childhood? Their mother’s singing? Did my almost-17 year old son object to playing goalie to a seven year old’s kicks for hours at a time? Did my fourteen year old mind reading Tony Ross to a pair of little girls every evening? Was Hat irked by Kate’s eternal pleas that she play camping with her in the tent?
I don’t think so. If they were, they graciously kept their counsel and got on with the job in hand. Getting to know their cousins a bit better. Even – perhaps especially – teens appreciate the glue of family life. Perhaps they must be forced to step, briefly, off the hectic treadmill that is growing up? Perhaps they were quite glad to be allowed to be kids again. Perhaps it gives them time to realign emotional compasses, to take stock, to heave sighs of relief as the pressure of peers is alleviated. For a bit.
And now, after two weeks of rising at dawn to clamorous appeals to eat breakfast en grande famille (Coco Pops), they appreciate home even more: nobody has woken them up even though it’s almost lunchtime.