About a year and some change ago, I woke up next to a girl I had been dating for four years and held a conversation we should have held a long time before that. It was about children. The long and short of it all is that she was not interested in having children and I was, and for the longest time we had put off that discussion, not only because it was not an immediate concern, but also because we knew how it would end. And so in the morning of November 1st 2018, we broke up.
But this is not about that relationship, it is about children and the decision to have them. See, amongst the many reasons she did not want to have kids (whether hers or adopted) is that kids are expensive. At first glance it sounds like a silly reason, right? Ati you do not want to have children because raising another human being is costly and will change your way of life. I mean, when you think about how our parents had an average of five and still manage to survive through it, you’d look sideways at a millennial who does not want to share his/her money with a little human who will one day call her, disrespectfully, by her first name – with a cigarette sticking out of the corner of its mouth.
Yeah, I thought such reasoning was selfish too, until juzi when I went shopping for my nephew.
He is going to Grade 3 this year. At least that is what he called it when I asked him. Grade 3, because saying Class 3 or Standard 3 is out of fashion these days. And these days, due to some government policy, kids in Grade 3 are supposed to sit for national examinations. Meaning this little nephew is a candidate, and with great titles come great responsibilities. To the parents of course, not the little one.
My brother sent me a list of books and school items to buy for his candidate, and the moment that message landed in my WhatsApp, my jaw made acquaintance with the floor. For each subject, the boy was supposed to buy at least three textbooks. This kid had 8 subjects to report to school for. That is 24 textbooks.
I could not understand it. And this is the point where I sound like those annoying uncles who proclaim how they walked 10km to school every day, crossing crocodile infested rivers. But nonetheless, during my time, we were given textbooks at school. The way it worked was that they would give us books at the beginning of the year and then take them back at the end of the year. If you lost any of the books, then that’s when you had to pay for it. The reasoning was that it was ridiculous to expect parents to buy each and every textbook for each and every pupil.
Then there are the other items on the list. Like a full rim of printing paper. What is that for? Then six dozen HB Staedtler pencils. That is seventy-two pencils. Maybe those of us who went through primary education when Prof. George Saitoti was the Minister of Education learnt things upside down, but surely, exactly what is a Class 3 – sorry, Grade 3 – kid going to do with 72 pencils? I get that they are ‘candidates’ preparing for, I don’t know, Kenya Certificate for Lower Primary Education, or whatever it is that is, but come on. 72 pencils? Exactly how many deformed domestic animals does this Competency Based Curriculum require these poor kids supposed to draw?
Then of course there is the skoolpoint modelling clay, office glue, marker pens (Staedtler only), and sijui manila papers. Yaani you wonder whether this 10 year old candidate in primary school, or is training in a secretarial college.
I mean, you read through the list of what parents are supposed to buy and then you imagine that the school fees is going to be considerably low, but then that is because you have very little faith in the creativity of headmasters in this country. In that school fees, there is still the provision for stationery.
But then again this is not my money nor my child. I was only doing my duties as an uncle. So I went to one of the leading bookshops in Nairobi, and started pushing my trolley as I filled it with stuff. In one of the alleys I met a man – total stranger – who looked at my cart and asked, “Hio yote ni ya watoto wangapi?”
“Grade” I corrected him, “Grade 3.”
And he looked at me with sad eyes, thinking I was the father. And as he walked away, two kids followed him, and that is when I realized that that look was a look of camaraderie. A knowing look exchanged between financially battered parents in a bookshop. My bill – including two pairs of shoes – came to about KES. 24,000.
When I paid that money, I thought back to the girl I broke up with because I want to have kids someday in the future, and imagined what she would say. She would mockingly ask, “are you sure you have the money to raise a kid?” And I would respond with something as corny as, “the joy of parenthood is not measured in Kenyan shillings.”
The next day was the New Year, and my little nephew sent me a text saying Happy New Year. I responded with, Happy New Year, son. To which he immediately replied with I am not your son.
He was right. He is not my son. If I want a son, I have to pay for one. And I know, as it is, I am too broke to afford one. But damn, nowhere in all those 24 textbooks are they taught the essentials of having chills?