Race-ing kids in Nigeria vs UK

Although I’m very interested in issues of race and will soon begin a  blog on race, I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of a precipice in doing so. Race is like a vortex into which everything disappears, objectivity, reason, humanity, perspective, context etc.  It’s also difficult to discuss race in a place like Nigeria where race is understood differently to somewhere like the UK or USA.

A lot of black people living in the UK/USA feel racial issues keenly because they live it on a day to day basis. Discrimination in all walks of life from schools to  the justice system, the job market and even the health system mean black parents need not only to have to understand and anticipate possible issues for their children, but also prepare them psychologically to deal with all that oncoming traffic.

There’s a lot of contradictory mantra about how race issues affect children – in this case black children but most agree there are issues. These are not usually simple issues though with obvious problems and solutions.  There are people, black and white who have vested interests in keeping the issues black and white but as a child who grew up in the UK and has seen a lot, I think it always pays to be open minded not get sucked into the vortex.

People in Africa tend to understand race issues differently.  Nigerians have 99 problems but dealing with racism on a day to day generally ain’t one.  When they look around, they are seeing Nigerians screwing over other Nigerians at all levels.  Their problems are navigating life in a country that is like a rickety rope bridge leading to a mythical promised land.  Race issues come way down the list after the price of petrol, power, school fees, putting food on the table, corrupt police etc.  When I demanded black dolls at the biggest department store in Lagos – the (black) manager looked at me oddly and said I was the first person to ask for a black doll.  I realise that’s not just because I’m alert to race issues, that’s because I’m in a privileged position to be able to devote energy to them.

There are a lot of race questions I don’t have to ask here as a black parent, which is nice. There are black men and women in all walks of life here compared to the UK where blacks are a minority lacking in affluence and power.  There are plenty of positive images of black people on display and of course even though there are some white or middle eastern expats here with a more colonial mindset,  any negative opinions on black people or Africans are more likely to be expressed by Africans themselves.

Even though Nigeria is a black African country it’s still dealing with the consequences of colonialism and biases in the international media which continue to portray black people negatively.  I often encounter Nigerians who do not know African history and tend to naively idolise what happens in the West and believe Africans are innately inferior to the white man.  I always try to make sure my sons are well positioned within their world view. I think that’s easier to achieve when you homeschool.

 

 

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Some Mothers do ‘ave ’em – Careers that is

Being a new mother and working for someone else is like a tragicomic Groundhog Day I’ve yet to figure out. Good luck to Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo who went back to full workday two weeks after giving birth. I hope never to run into her child in a dark alleyway as  he may suffer from a humanity-failure related condition in the future.

Much of the advice for working, nursing mums is just laughable.  The first year of a baby’s life you are basically a cow, eating, feeding, sleeping and stroller surfing at the park/mall.  Until you stop breastfeeding there’s not much more you can do. But people want to mess with your mothering.  Here are some gems I’ve come across.

– Express while at work (ask your boss for a suitable private room to express).

Can I ‘express’ what I think of this ‘advice’?  Breastfeeding is a complex skill and a tradition that should be nurtured and managed from generation to generation. It is not just a hand pumping exercise but an important bonding time between you and your child.  Firstly breast milk contains important live enzymes which are best delivered breast to mouth not fridge to mouth. The baby’s mouth stimulates your milk supply.  As soon as you switch to a pump even if it’s a chugging double hospital grade pump (which you’ll feel really comfortable using knowing your colleagues are on the other side of an MDF wall)  it’s the beginning of the end of breastfeeding.  Expressing in my own less than clean office, with the door wedged closed and my boobs hanging out was not one of the highlights of my work-life balance.  I’m sure that’s how I got an infection in my breast.

– Ask for flexitime.

What the hell is flexitime? A way for employers and mothers to feel less horrible about the fact that a new baby is without his mother 4 days a week?   Research shows no-one will respond to, stimulate and calm a child like the mother so to give your child to someone else for most of the week is not striking a balance it’s just inferior care.

– Let the housework go

But unless you want social services to take away your child  the laundry still has to be done, the trash emptied, dishes washed, food bought and cooked and the floor wiped clean so actually you can’t let the housework go. Not helpful.

– Sleep training

There’s very little you can do to sleep train a child who is teething, who has thrown off their covers and is cold, who is thirsty or upset, who has a cold and who just really doesn’t want to sleep alone.  Some children sleep very easily, some don’t – it’s a lottery.  Unless you want to find your child banging his head against the cot bars for comfort like a Romanian orphan you will have to pick him up when he cries most nights.  Co-sleeping can help or make things worse and much co-sleeping safety advice ‘try not to sleep heavily’ is just ridiculous.

– Ask to work from home

Noone really believes you’re working properly from home by the way – not even you.  Working from home is better than taking your child to the office but still doesn’t solve the issue of paying due attention to your child in the crucial first year, especially if you’re nursing and need to catnap during the day.

In conclusion, I do know some lovely women who have high-flying careers and adorable kids.  I don’t know how or what it took. I worked myself during my oldest son’s first two years – it was so hard and kind of fruitless looking back. Somehow we as women find a way through our tears and our laughter and any residual problems our children have as a result of us doing what we have to do.  In the UK there is adequate maternity leave which helps get a mother through the tough first year.  Nigeria is a hybrid society with a very child friendly traditional culture on one side and then a very hyper industrial culture on the other.  ‘Progress’ means there’s a trend away from family help towards Western style nurseries, but without the training, regulation and accountability. Most are full of cheap plastic toys of unknown provenance and friendly nannies who speak very little English because they’ve just arrived from some village.  A 24 hour nursery recently opened in Lagos which seems all kinds of wrong! Nigeria is a country making rapid strides to catch up with its destiny.  Women are a big part of that but when you have a career you sacrifice your time with you children.  There’s no balance.

 

 

 

Private School – first thing to go in a downturn?

Have you seen Queen of Versailles? ****SPOILER ALERT****

Pride comes before a black hole into which your idea of yourself is pulled and utterly destroyed.

Pride comes before a black hole into which your idea of yourself is pulled and utterly destroyed.

It is what it looks like – overweening, tacky idiots spending money like there’s no tomorrow (who wouldn’t?), embarking on building their own  Xanadu until they get hit by the economic downturn and disintegrate before our very eyes.

Many aspects of this car-crash special were interesting but especially when David A. Spiegel, the wealthy timeshare magnate with 8 kids under 18 hits the financial skids, the FIRST thing he does is yank them out of private school and send them to public school – in a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce of course.

It’s a mere footnote as the gilded walls of his life come crashing down one after another but I was surprised. I mean, I’d rather have the best education money can buy for my kids than a Rolls Royce.  Fancy school vs fancy skin (wife was still botoxing), education wins every time!  Why would Spiegel not ringfence his kids’ education if he valued private school in the first place?

It’s a lesson. It makes private school seem like just another consumerist object of envy like a Chanel bag rather than a real necessity. It was sad.

On the other hand when you read stories about families bankrupting themselves so their children can have a private school education it’s even more tragic, just as tragic as Nigeria where a  mediocre education costs up to $25,000 per year. What is it about this private school phenomenon? What is education for?  When private school becomes so expensive that it ceases to liberate people, just entraps them with debt or is just another way of showing off, that’s not in the interest of children.

In many cases private school doesn’t live up to the expectations of the parents. In 2010/2011 86 per cent of pupils from English independent schools progressed on to any university course compared with 70 per cent of those from the state education system.  Note that  the stats say ‘any’, not the best.  An estate agent this year confessed to me about  ‘crying my eyes out’ when both her sons after years and years of paying for private school failed to ace A-levels, failed to get into a good university, failed to show any aptitude for anything other than um maybe being an estate agent. ‘They talk well’, she said. 

I feel like that’s what private education has become, a ponzi scheme where many are lured in with dreams of academic excellence then falling back on the cachet of a really expensive social club when it doesn’t pan out.  If my homeschooling journey’s taught me anything, its to really pay attention to how MY children learn and what’s best for MY children not statistics or a media controlled by vested interests.

When push came to shove,  Siegal’s first response was  to stop wasting money pursuing elitist aspirations because he knew  it was money down the drain. Firstly his kids weren’t going to any great college, he knew that already – they didn’t have the inclination for hard graft.  Secondly he didn’t need contacts from the school, he was the contact (he claimed to have gotten George Bush elected)!  Thirdly they were all already high off their sense of entitlement which is how they got trouble in the first place. Ach maybe he’s not such an idiot after all.

Red flags – Feed me mummy!

My homeschooling journey began in June 2013 after my son’s classmate was kidnapped.  He was two at the time and his mother (Canadian expat) had travelled leaving him at home with her own mother, nanny, driver etc.  Not sure if the father was also there.  Life continued as normal until the nanny mentioned to the grandmother that the toddler had a playdate to attend and off she went with the toddler and the driver.  Then the grandmother received a ransom demand for about 250,000 USD.  My most recent security update suggests that more than half of all kidnappings in Africa happen in Nigeria and that based on the 2013 kidnappings, Niger Delta is the main hotspot followed by Lagos where the risk remains high.  Most kidnappings in Lagos are inside jobs facilitated by trusted domestic staff or friends but they can be completely random.

When I found out about the classmate, I started by quitting my job.  I wasn’t thinking about homeschooling then, just wanted to be able to move with my kids and not be too reliant on staff.  The toddler was returned to his parents ‘unharmed’, in that he was left under a bridge at night and found by his family. I can’t imagine what they went through, never mind what they had to pay. There were a spate of kidnappings in Lagos last year but it does seem to be a rare occurrence now. There are a lot of expats living in Lagos, who have lived here for many years and with their kids.  They are not bothered by the kidnapping stories because Lagos is pretty safe for a megalopolis with terrible infrastructure, inequality and 20 million people. That is testimony to the spirit of the people here.   I’ve not had any bad experiences in my three years here and in this time I’ve been to Brass Island, Calabar, Port Harcourt and various parts of Lagos mainland without incident.   But now I try not to let my kids go out with nanny/driver unless I am with them, no matter how tempting.

That summer at home with my son – we spent much of it in the UK/USA was challenging.  I was now realising the extent to which my son had become disempowered by the nanny culture – which is the opposite of ‘Look Mummy I can do it by myself’.  More ‘Look Mummy my mouth is open for feeding!’  Even at the nurseries and preschools, nannies wait on the children. These ‘nannies’ are not qualified in preschool education, they are just there to wait on and watch the children. My son was used to constant attentiveness for his wants and needs.  If he was thirsty or hungry, he expected instant water or food or he howled immediately but then also expected you to sit and spoon each morsel into his mouth.  He could not handle quiet time – the TV had to be on (that’s what nannies do when you go out by the way, they turn the tv on so the children don’t bother them), one reason I think my son struggles to concentrate.  I don’t blame the nannies either. I was at work and I didn’t give proper guidelines for my kid’s care.  He was used to being sated with sweet biscuits when bored and being carried everywhere. He was starting to fall into pidgin-speak.  ‘Off de light’,  ‘take’  when offering something, broken phrasing instead of full sentences.

That’s when I realised I needed to spend more time with him and my new baby to implement some changes and gradually began researching homeschooling on the internet.  I started to believe I could easily do whatever he was doing at the expensive nursery (although it was a lovely place).  The first few months were stressful, I’m not particularly organised and trying to think of crafts to do every minute sent me into a panic.  Gradually I learned about curriculums and availability of crafts and lesson plans online.  These really helped. I also bought some books around homeschooling and bit by bit I’ve felt more confident.  I don’t regret my decision.  It’s been a wonderful opportunity to spend time with and understand my children better and myself as a parent.

 

 

The world is not enough…

My agent used to say at times, ‘For such a smart girl (I was 16) you’re surprisingly stupid’.  Not sure what he was talking about – I wasn’t listening. I didn’t listen to anybody at 16.

But I do know that you can be the most amazing person in the world and none of it matters if you haven’t got the internal grounding you need to deal with the other less amazing people you are going to meet.

The suicide of L’Wren Scott,  has stayed with me.  Previously I had read her as a talented glamourous socialite turned fashion designer.  One of THOSE rich people living THAT life.  A legendary billionaire boyfriend,  fame and acclaim for her work. What could be better? I liked the fact that she was a diverse beauty, tall, dark haired, elegant and unusual. She was a genuine creative, hard working and not particularly fame hungry.  Then she hung herself and I spent some time reflecting on it – firstly the details, she seemed to have it all – ok she was $6 million in debt but secondly what did any of it mean – nothing.  A friend vehemently declared, women don’t kill themselves over money, they do it for love.  Possibly – Mick Jagger’s track record with women is poor. With all his resources could he not have been more of a support to his ‘best friend’?   But for her own part L’Wren’s reasons for suicide are tragic because most people find a way around suicide.  They leave relationships, declare bankruptcy and start again.    L’Wren obviously didn’t think she had anymore to give – ludicrous and what the world had given her (everything) was not enough.  She should have come to Nigeria.

I’ve felt low in my life before – like people are better off without me and once took an overdose of pills in a vain cry for help.  I’ve always had an irrational need for attention/external validation that I think has come from not getting it from my dad. He never harmed me in any way but wasn’t too bothered about me either.  It hurt a lot and it didn’t seem to matter how hard I tried at school, out of school – he just didn’t seem to care enough to engage with me properly.  It still hurts.

When I see someone like L’Wren commit suicide – it makes me recommit to shoring up my sons so that they can deal with what the world has to throw at them, so they don’t look to anyone else to fill their holes, just one of the reasons why I homeschool. It makes me recommit to my marriage so they can grow up with a mother and a father  who love each other in the same house and it makes me recommit to myself so I am not making someone else responsible for my happiness, so my self esteem is always intact.  Having academic success is great but it’s only part of the puzzle of life.    No success is worth anything if the world is not enough.

 

 

Smug. Married. Homeschooling.

There’s probably nothing worse in the minds of others than being a smug married  homeschooler.  Once you’re married, there’s no way you’re not smug, it comes with the certificate. Married couples are the single most irritating thing you will see walking around Ikea holding hands, testing out the sofas and having in depth conversations about furniture dimensions, like seriously, its Ikea, in a week  the laminated wood will be chipped already, get over yourselves!  Married people posting endless photos of their not even cute children on Facebook  who used to be open minded but now belong to the Tea Party.  Homeschoolers are worse than them.

More irritating than a homeschool co-op?

What could be more irritating?

Homeschooling is like wearing a t-shirt that says ‘I know better than you’ – even if you don’t, even if you’re blundering around in the homeschooling dark without a flashlight and the air is blue with your frustrated curses. Even if you sometimes cry because your kids  don’t care about homeschool and are intellectually curious about Dino King. Even if you meant to homeschool and ended up doing Maury’s ‘Who’s the Daddy Dance?’ all morning instead.

Homeschoolers are intensely irritating to those who send their kids to school. That’s why they are legally persecuted or viewed with suspicion. More irritating than vegans (everyone knows vegans are really crying for meat as they pick the nuts out of their teeth!). More irritating than feminists (everyone who isn’t feminist feels kind of sorry for feminists because they have a lot of facial hair and and they smell. Of feminism).  More than posh people because although posh people seem to have all-gold everything, they still commit suicide and do the self-destructive ish that commoners do.  More than bell-ringing evangelists who tell you you’re going to hell cos you know that day is coming when they are going to be lying in the road, drunk and you’re the one who isn’t going to judge them as you call an ambulance.

Almost as irritating as a homeschooler!

Almost as irritating as a homeschooler!

Homeschoolers are irritating because deep down parents know that homeschooling is probably the best thing you can do for your child if you do it right and there’s really no getting around that. Homeschoolers are irritating because they are basically saying the school you send your child to isn’t good enough for their Little Lord Fauntleroy – which is irritating. Who do they think they are?  Homeschoolers are irritating because you are can’t wait for your children to go to bed when you’ve only been with them a couple of hours and they’ve spent the whole day with their child LAUGHING (you imagine) and making ADORABLE CRAFTS or conversing in fluent MANDARIN.

Irritating picture of homeschooling bliss

Irritating picture of homeschooling bliss

I’ve come to realise the special place homeschoolers don’t hold in anyone’s heart since becoming one myself.  If people can’t understand your position or feel sorry for you then they can feel threatened and that can make you public irritation number 1.

Fieldtrip Fridays #7 – back to the LCC

Today we headed back to the  Lekki Conservation centre with our new field trip buddies who hadn’t been.  I’d been in the process of making excuses about not going anywhere this week so it was good to actually be going somewhere and with company.

On our last trip we saw more tortoises. This time they were hiding but we saw some snake skin a python had intriguingly left for us on the boardwalk. This kids loved that and we also got to see two big Nile monitor lizards close up.

I want to come to this place more often. It’s very shaded so even when it’s hot you can still do outdoor activities. Slightly worryingly, the guide said Lagos State is planning to ‘enhance’ the facilities with a bbq area and bar. doesn’t sound like the most appropriate appendage to a nature reserve where you have to be very quiet if you want to see any animals. Oh and my son threw a huge tantrum because I wouldn’t let him climb the tree house, but other than that – good times!

Look who’s homeschooling too?

There isn’t an ‘official’ homeschooling community in Nigeria that I can see. My guess is the sparse infrastructure, lack of resources, insecurity etc make it difficult to homeschool. That said, some people must be trying if only cos the reasons listed above make good school fees very costly here.

But what about other homeschooling communities?

Ghana has a more active and linked-up homeschool community of mostly foreigners who may be there for humanitarian reasons or to rediscover their pan-African heritage who do not want to pay extortionate fees for the international schools there. I’ve already connected with a couple of homeschoolers there. They seem very organised.

South Africa appears to have a very longstanding and well organised homeschool movement, particularly in the Afrikaans community spurred on by distrust of the ANC government. HSLDA has a lot of links to online content about homeschooling here, just don’t expect to understand much unless you’re fluent in Afrikaans.

USA’s homeschooling community has been mooted to be around 2 million strong and growing quickly.  It is often looked on with scepticism by other Americans for its strong religious base but is now a diverse global industry selling curriculums, lesson plans, mommy blogs, unschooling books and homeschool consulting programs.  Where the USA goes, the UK follows about 10 years behind.

China surprised me.  From the little I’ve read,  I felt that their collectivist culture would be at odds with the idea of homeschool, however some parents are going it alone with a recent survey of 18,000 parents suggesting over 10% were already homeschooling with more looking favourably upon it either thinking they could do better than the traditional system or wanting a different type of education for their kids.

I have to say I laughed out loud when I saw the  Jamaican Prime Minister (and former education minister) had to defend pulling his sons out of school to homeschool them.  Hardly a vote of confidence for his own education system!

HLSDA has a lot of links for international homeschooling groups worldwide.  More info can probably be found there.

My homeschooling goals

People often ask me what my homeschooling goals are – which is a loaded question. On one hand they mean what are the measurable results I want to achieve for my children in a given time period and of course I don’t  have a clue!  On the other hand I think they really mean ‘why would anyone even do that?’.  It puts me on the defensive.

Parents often send their kids to a specific school expecting a specific outcome like you plop your 2 year old at   Ethical Culture in Manhattan for $40,000/year and 40 years later they’re running a Fortune 500 company with a bunch of other jet-owning Harvard buddies. I don’t know if I want my sons to be Ivy leaguers with upturned collars on their polo shirts and a pugnacious drive to earn squillions of bucks, tech geeks who design computer games at 8 or activists who live in tshirts and cheap trainers as they dedicate their lives to helping others.  I know people who’ve had well over $250,000 dropped on their education and not much to show for it except for parents crying into their tea because they spent all this money and they know they’ll be lucky if their kid ever gets off drugs never mind running a Fortune 500 company.

Is this a measurable goal?

Future masters of the universe

Someday you will work for knobs like us

Someday you will work for knobs like us

Or this?

violin prodigy Akim Camera

violin prodigy Akim Camera

What about this? Measurable?

From Harvard to Homeless

From Harvard to Homeless

Am I an unschooler or a classicist at heart?  Do I prefer The Well Trained Mind vs Penelope Trunk?  I don’t know I love both!

I guess what it comes down to is my (new) homeschooling motto giving to me by my husband (he’s Buddhist, went to Vassar and describes himself as a feminist just to put in in perspective)  ‘WORK ON YOURSELF and TEACH BY EXAMPLE’.

Anytime I have dilemmas about how my children are going to turn out I return to this motto and find it great for redirecting my energy positively.

My kids are happy, they are learning, they are curious. Yesterday my three year old asked me about magnets and we spent the afternoon magnet fishing.  This morning  he asked if we could do more magnet fishing. And he also found a kite flying pack I bought for him and asked me about that too – so after his chores we’ll do that later with a little bit of phonics and reading in the car – what, you didn’t know Carschool was the new Homeschool? – violin and maths and some stuff from our Learn and Grow curriculum if there’s still time.

I’d like my three year old son to read and understand basic arithmetic as soon has he’s able to – I keep an eye on things your kid should know by the time they reach kindergarten but I’m not going to put an arbitrary date on things, I’m just going to continue helping him.  As long as I see progression I honestly don’t feel like I can do much more.

To cut a long story short,  I try to make my measurable homeschool goals about me.  I have started reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and I’ve (just) decided to study a MOOC http://www.edx.org seem to have great (free) online courses.    I also want to earn some money this year.  When you’re a SAHM  no-one wants to hear you whine about the lack of organic milk in your local store or the fact that you’ve never been to Italy.  Unless your husband is out of work all your problems are rich people’s problems, white people’s problems, first world problems etc.  I get it. My problem is I still need some illusion of financial independence.   I was working and earning my own money from a young age.  I had a punishing paper round at 11 years old and at 16 I earned enough from my novel advance to fly for the first time.  I worked part time in Nigeria for the first two and a half years I was here editing a popular women’s magazine and left to be home more with my kids but now my youngest is through the tough first year I want to do more and start earning again (while homeschooling) so when I feel like worrying about homeschool, that’s what I think about.

Fieldtrip Fridays #6 – The Whispering Palms Resort, Badagry

So one thing I’m noticing through my field trips is just how nice people are to my kids.  Especially I guess cos we go in during working hours, they aren’t that busy and extra glad to get some new business. Perhaps being ‘not from around here’ also helps too, but it makes me think, instead of being just one kid  in a large class vying for one teacher’s attention how nice to have your view of adults shaped by kind attentive people  who are really pleased to see you and WANT to sit down next to you and high five you and explain things to you and ask you what you think and even carry you when you get tired or ratty and then go out of their way to accommodate your particular wishes and not tell you to be quiet or go sit down or wait.

This week’s field trip was to the Whispering Palms Resort  in Badagry, Lagos.  We stayed overnight as the road is under construction so although its supposed to take 40 minutes on an empty road it actually takes up to 3 hours off peak and if something capsizes it’s been known to take 8 hours.

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The resort is kind of quirky.  It was built 20 years ago by some professor and sprawls along the Lagoon housing animals, african art and even has an art gallery, a heritage room, an indoor/outdoor gym, a swimming pool. miniature golf, paddle boats, hire bikes, a fish park, a sports field, tennis courts – you name it.  If you’re looking for a plush first world experience, let me tell you now –this ain’t no  Club Med.  For a start there’s no actual beach and parts of it are in need of a good clean or an update. Pretty nice for a field trip though.

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Whispering palms has lots of native art and heritage

It was well worth staying overnight,  it was too hot to really enjoy the place until late afternoon and they don’t have the generator on until 4pm – although they kindly put it on earlier for us so we could have aircon.  In the evening the palms do whisper – its pretty atmospheric- and the resort felt very secure.

Our rooms were very clean, the beds big and comfortable, the food was ok.

The kids loved the animals; turtles, peacocks, crocodiles, donkeys, baboons, turkeys, cockerel, macaws and grey parrots and the animals seemed to really like us (except I think they were just really hungry and bored, kept in inadequate cages).   There were two children’s playgrounds and a bar that played upbeat music that they had a bop to.

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We went as a family on this trip as it was hubby’s birthday and his Lagosian friend came too who has lived in Lagos all his life and never heard of Whispering Palms.  It makes you wonder how many hidden gems there are here if you just ask around and take a chance.  I  set myself a 6 week 6 Fieldtrip challenge.  Its taken me 8 weeks but I’ve finished  kudos me!  I’m really chuffed to have made it and I want to keep going…watch this space!