I miss the days of my daughter listening to me and depending on me for information. Now, in her mind, I have to defer to her teacher.  When she was still a child, she trusted me. If I would have made her sample bitter-tasting aloe and called it meat, she would be a vegetarian for as long as she would remember the foul taste of the ‘meat’.

I used to tell her stories until the age of nine. They weren’t tales I’d heard or read anywhere. Whenever the clock gonged with the hour designated for ‘story time’ I’d mine a story straight from my head. Sometimes she would ask me to repeat a story I’d told her a week, a month – even a year before. She would remember the characters, the lesson of the story and everything associated with it. I, obviously, wouldn’t remember a thing.

I would also teach her by means of analogies. One day we passed by a place with an alarm. I explained to her how alarms worked. “They scream, alerting you to a problem,” I lectured her: “The word ‘alarm’ means ‘to warn’; I pointed out that when you have a headache and you simply take pills you are like someone that switches an alarm off because it is annoying them. “Our bodies have alarm systems of their own. Pain is our body’s way of telling us something is wrong. Do take pills when you have a headache. But listen to the warning your body is trying to give you: you lack water and you need to fix that.” My daughter would then scour her environment for examples of people taking shortcuts, to which she would then say, “They are switching the alarm off, Dad.”

My daughter is now twelve, and those glory days are gone. She still listens to me. But she listens to me a lot less than she used to. I’m finding myself repeating things: I am tired of telling her to pick up after herself. I’m exhausted from making threats I end up not following up on.

She has a knack for singing along or dancing to Amapiano songs while I talk to her. I have used up all my nerves trying to get her to stop doing that. I have commanded her not to tune into a particular channel that seems to have been created especially to rile me up with its unlimited playlist of nothing but Amapiano music.

I have come up with what I think is a novel solution for my problems. I bought a new phone recently. It’s a big jump from the 4-inch phone I used to squint at. That small phone is now free and my daughter has been begging me to give it to her. She has her own FunDza profile, so it will come handy on that score. She’s even gone so far as to promise to not do things that rile me up, including listening to that ghastly music  – not in my presence, at least.

But, I’m nervous about handing a smart phone to an increasingly too-smart-for-her-boots twelve-year-old child. There’s always a chance she’ll take it to school to show it off to her friends. Then I would have to be called into the office to discuss a confiscated phone. I worry that she’ll find a way to access Facebook, for example, without me knowing. I have heard many a story of children going missing after ‘meeting’ someone on Facebook.

Yes, giving her a phone will put us in contact whenever we are not around each other. But I find the possibility of her in turn getting in contact with all sorts of nefarious characters – including annoying little pests called boyfriends – very worrying.

I may give in and surrender the phone. I may just also decide that she’s not ready after all. But most likely we will end up with a compromise, where she will only have access to the phone as a reward for responsible and cooperative behaviour. And for now it seems to be working – I am enjoying holding a 4-inch-screened trump card in my parental hand. And let’s hope the sound of it ringing need not be interpreted only as an alarm for my parental brain.


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