Don’t we all love public holidays?
You could catch a late night movie the previous night knowing fully well you wouldn’t need to get up from bed early in the morning. Such mornings are cozy as you snuggle in bed, with the blanket pulled over your head, in between dreamland and reality. You are half awake and half asleep. There is no rush to get up and even if you want to get up you know how many times you would do so in your mind before your body finally gets the memo.
The children add a twist to it. They know their parents wake up late on such days. They barge into their room and find their places on the bed with them. Then you all pretend to be asleep for a while before you start feeling their hands and legs poke you in different places. Sometimes you pull them close and cuddle, sometimes you poke back, and sometimes you push them away and find your sleep gear back. If they are like our children, they kick you back and force their definition of a game on you. You know right there and then that sleep is over.
However, waking up does not mean getting up. It’s a given family prayers would be held in bed on such mornings and it could last for as long as two hours or more. The songs are more, the worship is longer and bible study sometimes look like you are in a seminary. It would seem Princess mentally gathers all her questions waiting for public holidays to come.
Today was one of such mornings.
The harmattan haze. Air dry and dusty. Lips parched and scorched. The smell of Christmas visibly resident. Beautiful Friday morning. No school. No work. We lounged in bed, the four of us, with not one care in the world. You would think we were all asleep under the duvet. Not so. The quietness was only a pretense. The silence was just some sacredness that no one wanted to disrupt. We had finished prayers. We had read Matthew 1:18-25 (The reading from Our Daily bread for Dec 1, 2017.) Princess was the one who read. She had given her understanding of the passage and I had taken some time to talk about the birth of Christ and the significance of the Christmas season. We prayed. And then went under the duvet.
In that quietness, in that sacredness, I heard her voice, Princess’ voice.
“Daddy, what is a virgin?”
You see, you never see these questions coming. They throw them at you at inopportune times. Sunday morning on your way to church ‘Mummy, what is blasphemy?’ Sunny Tuesday on your way from school, you hear another shot ‘Did Jesus really die?’ Bright Saturday afternoon after swimming lessons, you are thrown another shot, ‘how do babies come?’ Regardless of whether you wake up from the right side of the bed or not, you must be prepared to answer. Even if you wondered and worried about what transpired in school that day, you must be ready to give adequate answer. See, they don’t inform you ahead of time. No notification of any sort and they don’t bother to check if were ready for random questions or not. They just throw them like arrows, like darts. And then they wait for you to answer.
My wife raised her head a little and looked in my direction. Our eyes met. I knew and heard what she said, ‘Over to you, daddy.’
This is the part of parenting I don’t really fancy. I will tell you why. It is a part that tests your wealth of knowledge and how well you are able to disseminate same with little preparation. It is a part where you learn on the job. No adequate manual or texts like, All The Questions Your Daughter Will Ever Ask You’ or ‘Ten Ways of Answering All Your Children’s Questions.’
It is also a part of parenting where you have to be extremely careful what answers you give. You have to deliberately and carefully select your words. Because for a child, the first answer is the only answer, the first response is the only response, and twenty years later what you said is the only thing they would remember. Why? First impressions not only last longer, most times they last forever. And being a parent means you are poised to give many first impressions or first answers or first definitions. Your answers are their first definitions to many things. These answers would shape their mindsets, it would form their opinions. And the scary part is they hardly ever come back to ask the same question twice. Meaning, you may re-sit WAEC or JAMB, you may write IELTS nine or ten times, for your kids you may never get a second shot at the same question. In fact they may never be willing to receive a second opinion.
You still don’t understand.
You know how to answer adults. You have no difficulty explaining things to an adult. But it’s a different ball game trying to define terms to a 4, 5 or 6 year old. Your choice of words is important, your illustrations must be creative. It’s not safe to rush in and begin to answer with the first words that come to your mind. You also must have the skill to say the same thing in at least three different ways. And God help you if your word bank is empty.
That you don’t answer does not mean they won’t search and find elsewhere. And that is the danger in not answering or not answering well. Be sure they will get their answers elsewhere. If you don’t provide adequate answer, they know and they save it. They may try you a second time at another time with another question. If you fail again, you may lose them. And they will take their questions elsewhere.
It’s the motto of the Boys’ Scout – Be prepared.
“Daddy, what is a virgin?”
I cleared my throat. I checked the passage we read again, Matthew 1:23 “Behold the virgin shall be with child and bear a Son and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us.’
I wasn’t sure whether my wife was interceding for me or just pitying my condition. Because to be honest, I forgot the definition of a virgin.
“Ermm….” I stammered, “…a virgin is a girl or lady who is not married and has not slept with a man.”
You and I know I was not done. Then came the explanation.
“Princess, if I say I want to drink water now, will you take a glass cup from the dirty dishes to get me water?”
She threw her hand in the air, “because it’s dirty. And you have your special glass cup that mummy said nobody else must use.”
“Okay. The same way you will not use a dirty, used glass cup to serve me water is the same way God wouldn’t use a dirty or used girl as mother of Jesus, the Saviour of the whole world.” I sighed. God help me.
“So a virgin is someone who is clean and not yet used?”
I searched my wife’s face for approval. She nodded urging me on.
“Do you pick the dress to wear to church on Sunday from the dirty clothes basket?”
She laughed. “No daddy. That’s dirty.”
“God needed a clean girl to be mother of Jesus and He chose Mary. A virgin is a clean, unused girl.”
Time to throw in your charge.
“And God wants you and every girl to be clean, unused and virgins until marriage.”
And you leave it there for the time being. A little light at a time or else they could be blinded by it.
“Do you understand now?”
Suddenly Champion grabbed his main vein and said, in his tiny little voice, “I want to wee!”
That was our cue to get up and get breakfast.
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