As the summer rolls on, I have many important things to do. But one thing currently stands out above the rest: the education of my six-year-old son.
Schools are closed and the sun is shining. This is an incredibly taxing time for parents. My boy, Garibaldi Ramsey Owolade, is a fund of tireless energy. Trying to juggle my job with the cultivation of his mind is important.
So, I drew up a plan to teach him some arithmetic and phonemes. Early mornings would be the time for numeracy; late afternoons would be the time for literacy. At times I could even squeeze in a small session during my lunch break. As it was a time of extended domestic intimacy, I was hoping my son would be attentive in my lessons.
He is snoring now, as I write this, enjoying a late afternoon siesta after we went shopping together. But when awake, he is irrepressible.
In my attempt to teach basic times tables he would instead talk about quadratic equations. Where did he learn it from? YouTube? TikTok? It’s hard enough, within the suspended anxiety of lockdown, to concentrate your mind on any mentally taxing task.
He is growing up so fast. Even the theme song of Thomas the Tank Engine doesn’t get him as excited anymore. Instead he now recites the first two lines of Keats’ To Autumn each morning. This may sound remarkably impressive to many parents, but in the context of lockdown it is extremely draining.
It is proving difficult to be with him outside, too. I took him out a couple of weeks ago to Blackheath. We settled down to a lovely Sunday picnic of olives and biscuits. Garibaldi was making a little sketch on his notebook. A mother with frizzy blonde hair was walking with her young child and caught a glimpse of his sketch. She turned and approached me.
‘Wow,’ she said, ‘that’s a brilliant drawing. Is he your son?’
‘Yes.’ I replied.
‘You must be a proud dad.’ I smiled with a mixture of pride and exasperation: she was the third person that afternoon to commend his artistic precocity.
‘What’s his name?’, the woman asked.
‘Garibaldi.’ I replied.
‘Named after the biscuit?’
‘No. He was named after the 19th century Italian General.’
She giggled. Really, I reckon she thinks I am joking. Sometimes I think if I had just called him ‘Gary’ he would turn out to be normal. She kept standing there awkwardly with her child, so I reminded her about the importance of social distancing.
Has he always been a bit different from other little boys? Well, consider this. Ever since he was born, I had been looking forward to his first intelligible word. I was hoping of course it would be something like ‘Papa’. But the first words of Garibaldi Ramsey Owolade, as we were having a Sunday roast, were: ‘Thank you Mother and Father for this lovely meal.’ It’s not exactly ‘Mama’ or ‘Papa’. But back then we were just glad our little boy could express his feelings.
In fact, things seemed great at the beginning of his schooling. Whenever I went to pick him up from school, I had a permanent grin on my face. Teachers would marvel openly to me about him. Whenever I quoted him on Facebook, my friends would gush with incredulity. It was like being related to a (talented) celebrity.
But lockdown has changed all that. Being with him all the time has rekindled my desire to be a father. And to be a father in the richest sense of the word. I don’t simply want to be just a half of his conception. I want to nurture him and watch him grow. I want to witness his frustration at first mistakes, to see his joy at overcoming them. I want to savour his innocence. He can be a child prodigy any other time! This summer, I just want to treasure my time with my six-year-old boy.