By NICOLE BURROWS
I am my mother’s only child. My mother has only one sister. My mother’s sister has four daughters. They are my sisters. The third is closest in age to me, and is one of my best friends.
Two of the four daughters have daughters. The three of their daughters are my nieces. Altogether, there are ten of us. We are our own reinforcement. We are our own reserves.
There is much that can be said about the men who were absent in our lives, permanently, or intermittently. Their diminished roles were a result of their own failures and choices. But people make choices. And they live with the repercussions.
My grandparents were separated, a very unusual thing for people of my grandmother’s era, but she felt she had just cause. And, unintentionally, she became the core of our family unit ... a unit led by women who did whatever was necessary to take good care of their offspring.
Papa (my grandfather) and Nana (my grandmother) each had significant roles to play in our lives, although they were not together for most of it. They realised, as most don’t, that they were better living apart. We loved them both, in spite of their separate households. In many ways, this gave us even more to appreciate. Nana and Papa loved their children and grandchildren in spite of themselves or their differences, and this unconditional love passed on to all of us.
My nieces have always meant as much to me as though they were my own children. They are the closest I have come thus far to having children. I feel responsibility for them. I have a unique and important relationship with each one of them, which is, among other things, a function of the timing of their births and my place of residence at the times they were born. My nieces are all very different young ladies.
People once mistook the eldest of the three for my own birth child. She, in fact, is most like me in temperament. She is also an only child. She used to run and jump off the edge of the bed, at the age of three, into my arms ... my lesson to her in trust. “Auntie Ki won’t let you fall.” For a long time, as a toddler, she would scream in excitement and run to me whenever she saw me. It filled my heart no end. As my first niece, ‘Number 1’ has given me first insight into mothering, and she always has that special place in my heart.
The middle of the three is the most diplomatic. She’s a gentle spirit, but, at the same time, very personable and sociable. She is also like me, tender-hearted and feeling. She loved to talk as a child – the complete opposite of her little sister. On occasion, ‘Number 2’ wanted to be the one to tell me something and was upset if someone else already did, and I would tell her to tell me anyway as if it were the first time I was hearing it. I wanted her to know her words and her feelings were important, and that she should speak her mind even if others didn’t want to hear it.
The youngest of the three is the most plain-spoken (like me). She was born at a time when I was most available, so available in fact that, as she grew, she would call me her “fake” mummy. I spent almost every day with her (and her mum) when she was born and for many months that followed. Her birth circumstances were unusual, but it bears witness to the frank and fearless little person she is today. When she came home from the hospital, I was lucky enough to be there, and I looked down into her glassy new eyes, overwhelmed with the life I held in my arms. She was brand new to the world. She would have dreams and goals one day and I would be so happy if she could achieve them all.
Last week, “Number 3” finished her primary school education. As I watched her walk into the school auditorium, flinging her mile-long legs when she walked, the epitome of her mother’s gait, I couldn’t believe this was the same baby girl who not so long ago fit on my forearm. The baby girl is no longer a baby, but, oddly, she may need even more protection and guidance now than before.
She is high school-bound. I wish – as I’m sure her parents do – that I could protect her from every harmful, hateful thing in this life. But I know that I – we – can’t be there at every turn. The best we, the grown ups, can hope for is that she, and all my nieces, and all our children, will remember every experience they have had with us and every lesson they learned along the way, to defend themselves and secure their own successes.
Watching “Number 3” at this milestone in her life, I flashed back to the last few times she asked me to play with her. I couldn’t – I had to work. And I always told her “next time, baby”. But the reality of life is that it happens so quickly. I blinked, and the little girl who wanted to play something, anything, is now a young lady. And I regret not giving her that playtime on those few extra occasions when she asked for it. But I’ll be damned if I let another opportunity to be there for her to slip away. I will be there whenever she needs or wants me to be, in as much as is physically or emotionally possible. To all my nieces (and maybe nephews one day), I vow this same thing. If I have the chance to teach them the things I wish I had known at their respective ages, I will not disappoint them.
But I will always tell them the truth, no matter how honest or painful. I want them to enjoy all of life, but I want them to have very clear heads about the repercussions of choices. It is important that they live lives of honesty and choose from the heart and the head, but they must also live lives true to human reality, because most of what is presented to us in a world of make-believe is exactly that. And it does a disservice to these amazing children who have so much talent, brilliance, love and beauty, like my three nieces, to sugar coat reality. The best choices are the most informed choices and sugar coating is deliberate and debilitating misinformation.
I wish I could promise my three young nieces that all will be well in their country, but I don’t want to do that and risk the expense of them not being prepared if all is not well. I want them to be true citizens of the world. I want them to find their real passions, and lock onto them and follow them to beautiful, long, healthy, happy and prosperous lives, in as much as they can control the outcome.
I never want them to limit themselves and never, ever, allow anyone else to limit them either.
I always want them to think about how they can improve the world and, by extension, the people in it. I want them to think of how they can make life better for as many people as possible and for themselves at the same time, and to do it in such a way that they realise their dreams and goals in the process.
To do this, they have to know precisely who they are, they have to believe they can be/do whatsoever they choose, and they have to trust their abilities and step out in confidence, even if it means separating from the pack and the pack thinking. They are tomorrow’s leaders whether they choose to be or not.
“Number 3” is as loving as she is demanding. She is a reflection of many young people. She bounces with joy and goes after what she wants. Lately, she has taken a shine to Dr Andre Rollins and his passionate expressions in and out of Parliament. She calls him “Independent Bahamas”. And whether you like him or not, unless you are a born follower, you have to admire the young man’s tenacity and his confidence to stand where no one else is standing. In this way, my “Number 3” is the same, and I believe this is why she admires Rollins.
Our country’s leaders should all take note.
The children, teenagers, young adults of today, particularly those who are being empowered by parents and guardians’ full of vision for their children, have been groomed with a fighting spirit, not a passive one. Rollins is right when he says the young people are not motivated by fear and intimidation. They are coming to get what they want, whether the old guard likes it or not.
They believe in themselves. They trust their beliefs and hold them close to their hearts. Their choices are born of those beliefs. They are world citizens who see a greater need and possibility for togetherness without the requirement of sameness. They have all the confidence in the world to see their beliefs and dreams made real, because they are products of a generation that didn’t have the encouragement even if they wanted to strike out, and another generation that didn’t have the encouragement but fought anyway. My “Number 3” and her generation now have the support and the ability; you cannot hold them back.
Present leaders will not hold them back.
If Rollins is genuine, and Greg Moss is genuine, and all the others who have yet to break away from the norms, and all who the establishment calls “rogue” are genuine, the powers that be who choose not to relinquish their stranglehold on power will have hell to pay at the next general election.
The young Bahamians of today can romanticise about the past without living in the past. They know the future they want; it’s as clear to them as the day is bright. And if you are not leading them to that future, you will be relieved of all responsibilities to do so, and they, the real “Independent Bahamas”, will seize the reins.