I’ve read too many stories of parents going into hiding or running away just because they have special needs children. They won’t socialise and they won’t bring their children out either because of what people would say.
I knew a woman once who had a 13-year-old son, who never walked, never sat, never spoke a word from birth, (I’m also told the boy is blind.) He crawled on all fours and always cried. And oh, what a gut rending cry that came from him; they were tortured wails. I once asked the mother how she could decipher the cries, which cry meant “I’m in pain, I have a headache”, which cry described, “I need my diapers changed,” when he soiled himself, which cry said, “I’m hungry, I want cereal, not eba,” which cry says, “heck, I can’t communicate with you guys and I’m 13 years old!”
The cries were always long drawn out; you could hear him almost scraping his lung to bring out the most gruesome sounds he could muster…all the time. The quiet moments were either when he was about to sleep or was actually sleeping.
His mum, a fine and surprisingly cheerful and very active woman could find no one to care for the boy, no school would take him beyond a few weeks, not even when he was a baby and needed to go to crèche while she went off to work.
Some parents had threatened to withdraw their kids from the crèche the woman had initially put her son and so crèche owner had to ask her never to return.
Same for school, “We can’t keep him, he scares other children.” she was told. So she had always relied on close family, friends and a few friendly neighbours to check on her boy whenever she needed to go out for anything.
Of course, it meant the boy never attended birthday parties, went swimming or had the pleasure of knowing Shrek or Sleeping Beauty like the rest of his siblings. He was rarely taken out, except to church, even so, it was always a task carrying him from their second-floor apartment into their car downstairs, out of the car in church, place a mat for him at a corner, hope he’d be quiet while the other kids did Bible study.
The boy was born with a birth defect, spina bifida.
As if that were not enough, the gossip mill would not stop churning,
“God knows what these so-called Christian women have dabbled into before giving their lives to Christ, jare. Maybe it was an abortion gone wrong and the boy came out like this.”
Every time she had issues with her neighbours, it was, “Look at you! Shameless woman, instead of you to go and bury your head because of your snake son, you are here making noise!”
And she would hit back at them; she would give them fire for fire!
What galled most of these gossips was that the woman dared to have a life despite her “condition.” She was always active in the estate she lived, one of those government housing estates somewhere at the outskirts of Lagos. She participated virtually in every activity at the school of her other children. She just refused to be a woman of sorrow.
Growing up, I had a family friend, Waliu, the son of my father’s friend. Waliu’s dad like mine was in the military and so the family was also subject to sudden transfers to stations all over the nation.
Like most military wives, too, Waliu’s mum decided she didn’t want to follow her husband around choosing instead to settle in Lagos while her husband moved wherever his career took him. That’s how Waliu and I attended the same school.
Waliu was a naughty boy. He pulled at our hair, particularly those tight weaves that left many of us girls in tears, he would snatch lunch bags and fling them off the school bus, causing the air police to whack both victim and oppressor on the head.
In the classrooms, Waliu would pull the seats from under anyone about to sit causing them to tumble into an untidy heap on the floor. The worst part was, after series and series of punishments, Waliu would repeat these same pranks over and over again.
The school got tired of calling his weary mother in and giving her several warnings. He was a military child, so he couldn’t be expelled besides; his pranks were never life-threatening, though quite nasty.
Nothing worked with Waliu, not counselling, not flogging, of course not naughty corners, by the way, naughty corners did not exist when I was growing up. The hot slaps, backflips, sudden konks on the head did little to stop Waliu from carrying out the next prank. None of these stopped Waliu’s mum from participating in major events in the school either nor among military wives, particularly Muslim women. She was a champion for oppressed military wives, she was in school to demand children be given certain rights, like when the school bus became too crowded, she began to demand for another bus to ply the same route – she didn’t succeed here but she tried.
Then the gossips became loud, even us kids mouthed a few just to show Waliu we knew the source of his problems.
“Your mother was walking without safety pins in her dress when she was pregnant and now the devil has come into you, leave us alone, devil child!”
Nobody thought to tell Mama Waliu that her son might be bipolar. No, I’m not even sure the word Bipolar was coined at that time, the late 70s and early 80s. Anyway, long story short, so it was discovered Waliu indeed was bipolar. At that time of course, he had dropped out of school while the rest of us went on to secondary school and then the university.
Waliu had become belligerent, a danger to those around him and himself as well. To worsen matters, he began to experiment with drugs and I guess he liked the drugs. The rest of the story spiralled down with Waliu’s parents running from one Imam to another, chanting several hours of qurisiu, none of which cured him.
Waliu’s mother never gave up on him. She was a very active woman until she passed away a few years ago. Perhaps it was Waliu’s trouble that contributed to it, who knows, what I know is that she would have died a long time before then if she had given in to the malicious gossips and talks about her when we were growing up.
While the two cases mentioned here seem unrelated, two things stick out, first is ignorance and the fact that some people just like sob stories. Once you have a ‘problem’ they want you to bury your head and be sad for the rest of life. The moment you show strength and resilience, then you are a witch or something worse.
Kudos to parents caring for one special child, get up and go, get a life, fight for your children above all, fight for your right to live!