Like many Lagos mothers, I am a homemaker and a slave to the school calendar. I cook and manage the affairs for my family of five relentlessly from September until June then during July and August, I am as lazy as can be. For me, summer is a magical time of freedom.
Many Lagosians travel during these summer months. Traffic lightens and the days darken, with sheets of rain lashing out from grey skies. The city grows wetter and emptier.
Traveling with my family is one of my greatest pleasures in life. Every now and again, I travel by myself to visit relatives or pursue my education. It is always worrisome to watch my house fall into decline while I am away. The last time I left to spend time with my parents, I cooked for several days beforehand stockpiling meals and freezing them.
“All you have to do,” I told my children, “is make rice a few times and buy some fruit when you run out.”
They nodded, hugged me and wished me a safe journey. It seemed so simple. I flew out of Murtala Mohammed Airport secure I had done my duty and my family would barely notice my absence.
My parents and I were ensconced in an Indian city deep in the Himalayas when my younger daughter video called me. “How are things at home?” I asked, watching her jitter on screen because of the patchy mountain internet.
“Terrible,” she said. “Papa’s been working so much, he hasn’t been able to grocery shop. We ran out of fruit. We found some Indomie in the pantry and we’ve been surviving on that.”
My poor, hungry children. “What about all the food I cooked?” I asked, feeling my panic rise.
“Nobody bothered to take it out of the freezer,” she said. “We’re waiting for you to come home to eat again.”
“But I won’t be back for a week,” I said. I implored her to defrost something then sent my husband a text. “How are you managing?” I typed.
“Not good,” he wrote back. “There are no oranges. I think I’m getting scurvy.”
It is sad that the capable young man I met as a teenager has become spoiled after decades of my care. When he left his mother’s house, my husband could do laundry like a pro, iron and cook beautiful meals. My mother-in-law raised a son any woman would want to marry and I have caused all those skills to erode, leaving him unable to source a piece of fruit without my active participation.
I would like to think I am raising our son to be a wonderful partner to some lucky woman but it’s hard to tell. A few years after moving to Nigeria, I told my then primary school-age son I might be taking a trip without him and he reacted with the astonishment of a Lagos Big Boy. “But who will make my chocolate milk?” he cried, bewildered.
I have spoiled these people, I suppose. But they’ve spoiled me, as well. When I got back from my trip, my children lavished me with attention like I had woken up from a decades-long coma. My daughter told me how awful it was that I left. “You’re always around so it’s easy to take you for granted,” she said. “When you weren’t here, it felt like we couldn’t be happy until you came back.”
Maybe it’s wrong to think of my family as spoiled. Maybe they are just loved. One of the benefits of having a devoted parent is that you don’t have to worry about things like making chocolate milk or having your school uniform laid out in the morning. Love helps people shoulder small daily burdens so they can focus on all the other difficult parts of life.
I have nothing exciting planned this summer. But knowing I will catch the occasional glimpse of my husband beaming after pulling an orange out of the fridge makes my heart content. I just hope my mother-in-law will forgive me for ruining her 18 years of diligent home training.
Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.
Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com
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