“Why did he walk away like that?”
“I think he is angry none of the judges turned for him.”
“But he didn’t really sing well.”
“I guess he didn’t know that. The next person is up, let’s watch.”
Princess perched on the carpet, her favorite spot for one of her favorite shows, The Voice Naija. She kept her eyes glued to the TV as we watched Damilola serenade for the judges’ buzzer. She followed all the contestants, learnt their names and chose her favorites. Though she never voted for anyone at any point, she always prayed her favorites would be saved from eviction and thus far her prayers seemed to be working.
A commercial break followed before the next contestant came up.
Waje exclaimed, “You are 22! You are just two years older than my daughter!” It was her pitch to make Dami choose her amongst the other judges.
At that point, Princess turned towards me. “She is 22 years old, daddy!”
“And two years older than her daughter.”
“That means her daughter is how old?” She asked.
“You tell me.” Everything else stopped. The tutor in me latched on the opportunity to drill and pique my five-soon-to-be-six year old’s brain. “She is 22, and she is 2 years older than her daughter, so how old is Waje’s daughter?”
Princess turned her head southward and began thinking? The show was no longer important, she knew, and thank Goodness they went on another commercial break. She could see daddy’s seriousness about the exercise and she knew when daddy drilled, it was imperative to remain focus.
“You are not thinking. She is 22 and 2 years older…older…”I stressed. My hands and face were moving all over to add effect and encourage her to focus. My wife watched from a distance and I could tell the weightiness of the moment made her uncomfortable. She seemed distracted from what she was doing by the dining area. I wasn’t surprised. The longer Princess’ answer took the closer she took a step toward us, she pretty much couldn’t bear to watch the drill (and I was thinking if you couldn’t bear to watch, then leave the vicinity). She ostensibly didn’t want her to get the answer wrong and she didn’t want me disappointed either.
I waited. Princess pondered. Wifey sighed.
My wife hummed a few times, paced to and fro and eventually went to the room. And stayed away.
But, honestly, I was enjoying the drill, because I had an understanding of wait-time.
The hippocampus is an important part of the brain that helps process memories. Princess needed to retrieve the old information stored in the cerebral cortex (the largest, outermost part of the brain). I know the nerve cells (neurons) were busy at this time as she was trying to recollect. It was important that I wait and allow her gain entry into her world of stored information. It was necessary I exercised patience and waited. Interference prevents recall. Of course the answer stared an adult in the face, but not a child.
So I waited.
And for reinforcement, I repeated, “She is 22, and 2 years older than her daughter…2 years older…” I moved my hand in the up direction and waited.
Retrieval is a lot of work. The neurons would pass signals to each other and one neuron, scientists say, is connected to possibly 10,000 other neurons. So, I had a faint idea what was going on and the wait was also an exercise in patience for me. The old information and instructions were encoded and stored, I knew I had to give her time to retrieve.
And Wait-time differs with every child. As parents, I believe, we must allow our children exercise this process often and overtime retrieval would not always be delayed. It is actually selfish and discriminating when we ask a child a question and we judge the time frame he/she is to answer. Our getting upset because she delays reveals more our impatience than it reveals her ‘slow’ attempt at retrieval. Wait-time is that period you shut up after throwing that question at her and she has to engage that part of her brain designed for memory, before responding.
The commercial break was over and my daughter was yet to figure it out.
“She is older than her daughter?” Princess asked again.
“That means she is more than her daughter?”
I cartwheeled, in my mind, three times before I answered. “Yes.” Her hippocampus is fully alive!
Suddenly, I heard my wife’s footsteps as she stormed out of the room. I could imagine she was worried Princess was delaying in answering and that would probably make me feel disappointed. She came and heatedly sat on the arm of the chair beside me. I could read her disposition and I knew what it meant.
“Baby, please. Don’t. Please.” I begged as I placed my hand on her lap before she could utter a word.
Princess delayed again. She was distracted.
With her mother’s presence was immense pressure. Yes, she felt it. True there was pressure before mummy came but it was multiplied a thousand times when mummy arrived. And pressure in that measure could be incapacitating. It could hamper the progress made so far.
“She is two years older…” Princess spoke to herself quietly. It was an audacious attempt to focus and shun the four bulging eyes heating her up.
And suddenly, out of nowhere, like a car that has lost its brakes, and before I could lay hands over the controls, my wife snapped. “Are you supposed to do addition or subtraction?”
“Noooooooooooo!!!!!” I winced in pain.
Princess was startled. Wifey was frightened.
“You don’t do that!” I snapped back. My pain was visible. And my disappointment noticeable. I felt like all the building blocks I had painstakingly built to get us here crumbled and shattered. My wife got up and walked away without saying another word.
I still had Princess’ face glued to me. I didn’t want to lose her. I readjusted and recomposed myself. “How old is her daughter?”
With the calmness of a tree and with every composure of an adult she answered, “20!”
I pulled her over and hugged her. We did a high-five and she smiled. And she turned back to the TV to continue the show.
And of course, I was left to go and sort myself out with her mother.
Act 1. Scene 2
The show ended, Princess said her Goodnight and went to bed.
I wasn’t so eager to go to the room. A movie we scheduled to watch together was about to start. But, with the little incident that happened, I guessed I was on my own. I leaned back on the couch and wrestled.
‘Who is supposed to be upset? Me or her? Who is supposed to be offended, really? I should be the one upset. I’m not the one to apologize, she is supposed to apologize to me?
The war was upsetting.
I told you not to interrupt the process, and you` did. Yes, I should be upset. You should apologize to me.
And I don’t understand why you are playing the victim now. I mean, if you had left the girl and I to solve the question by ourselves, would this have happened? Haba!
Whenever I was like this, Pastor Wale’s words always messed me up, like clockwork. His voice was the last I wanted to hear or entertain each time I felt upset with my wife. But, they always came at inopportune times. He said and I paraphrased ‘Being the head, among many other things, also mean being the first to initiate conversation for resolution when there is an issue. That is leadership.’
Alright! Alright!! The best I can do is give her the opportunity to apologize, I will make it easy for her.
I got up. And went to the room.
Of course she was all curled up in the bed, sulking and brooding. And really, seriously, kinni mo se? What did I do?
“Baby, you know I’m upset with you right?” I stood over her head.
“Immediately you came, I told you not to get involved.”
She turned. And just stared into space.
“I wanted Princess to figure out the answer by herself. I wanted to give her the high and awesome feeling of finding the answer by herself, for her to feel how it feels. That joy is priceless and it gives her more power than even a thousand encouraging words. That feeling is what makes her go to bed smiling. It is what makes her wake up the following morning with a strong drive to conquer the world and you don’t want to imagine the poise and confidence she will exude among her contemporaries. I told you stay off so you don’t deny her that feeling. I wanted her to have that feeling.”
“Olami, I didn’t tell her the answer. I only asked her a question.”
“A leading question! The answer is not as important as how she gets the answer, which was what your question was giving away.”
“You didn’t have to snap at me.”
“I told you not to interfere.”
“But you were putting pressure on the little girl. It was written all over her face.”
“And you think joining me on the couch reduced that pressure? It multiplied it!” My voice went up a little again.
“Okay, I’m sorry for snapping at you. But you shouldn’t have been part of the drill in the first place. Every child has a wait-time.” A bit calmer now.
“And every child needs help and assistance too. What is wrong in helping her?”
“No, you were not helping her. That was you being impatient and helping yourself because you couldn’t bear her wait-time.”
“I’m sorry. I just couldn’t bear it.”
“Oyinbo man say, ‘if you can’t stand the heat, leave the kitchen.’ “
“And I left, I guess my mind didn’t.”
“Those drills are good for her.”
“Did she eventually get it?”
I could see that motherly, concerned expression on her face as she raised her head to look at me.
“Yes. But you know it’s not the same again, for me that is, after your leading question”
“You need to take it easy with her sometimes too. She is trying.”
“Okay mummy.” I left.
She called out. “Have they started the movie?”
“Have you finished sulking?”
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