"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
August 6, 2013
My Seven-year-old Brat
by Imo Eshiet

A lone brat prattles in our nest. Our other kids are either married, living on their own or serving a mission. Those who left moved out reluctantly.

Our nestling brat was born 2006. As I once wrote, doctors wanted her aborted at conception due to her mom’s blood factor. With a priesthood blessing, however, Providence assured her a place in mortality.

Following that blessing, her aunt invited my wife over to the U.S. Here, faith combined with advances in medical sciences to save the baby. Unaware of her complicated beginnings, the kid has grown into a needling gadfly that floods our house with gales of laughter and occasional panic and tears as if to remind us nothing is without opposition.

She is unforgiving when she pesters. Irksome as that sounds, her nettlesome disposition is also a blessing. Since I did not have the will to kick out her live-in adult siblings, they would not have left home without Tina digging them out.

My spunky brat in spotted blue gown and multi-colored pants and black shoes stands up to a sinewy brother.

Because her only sister and three brothers are several years older, there always were some brusque sibling confrontations. So, whenever the big four ganged up in a conspiracy of silence against us parents, we were lucky to have a snitching Tina in our corner.

For example, whenever I found any of my chinaware missing or broken, it was to Tina I turned for help because in the kind of home we ran, everyone was too busy to notice what happened to anything.

One day while I was out, one of her brothers broke a tray of glasses. Hearing the commotion, Tina called out, asking who was breaking what. Knowing there was no way to wriggle out of his dilemma, the frustrated brother rushed into the room and dragged out the pint-sized brat to take in all the details, so she could give a graphic report when I returned.

For getting under the skin of her siblings, Tina frequently has run-ins with them. To them, she’s a crank whose jaws are her most powerful weapon. Tina uses her prodigious mouthy energy to devastating effects — not in eating but in spouting peppery, rapid-fire opinions.

Since she’s so picky with food, she’s so skinny she could be blown away even by a gentle breeze. So her siblings nickname her “Celestiny” or simply “Tiny” a corruption of Celestina, her full name. In a good mood, they use Tiny as praise name for her lean figure. In a contrary mood, they hurl it with scorn impressive enough to let her know just how scrawny she looks.

But in spite of all taunts, the hard-nosed brat stands her grounds and ruggedly counters all who threaten to overstep their bounds with her own threat to call 911.

Tina at five.

Recently, we escorted her last brother to meet our stake president. The brother was leaving on mission and needed to be set apart.

While President Hiatt interviewed the prospective missionary, his wife conversed with Tina in the living room. Knowing our daughter was sharp as a tack, her mom and I exchanged glances, holding our breath.

Asked if her brother was packed and ready to leave the next day for mission, Tina responded negatively. Her eyes glinting with mischief, she declared his room was “a total disaster” but that she hoped he would manage to sort it out for her to move in before he left in the morning.

The 18-year-old, mortified brother sneered at her for the ostensible calumny. Ignoring the unspoken threat, she announced to an amused Sister Hiatt that her brother had an un-missionary, unsmiling attitude and when he managed to smile, it was only among his two brothers.

A kindly grandmother, our hostess took the sting out of the verbal roast. When she was Tina’s age, she too had a brother like Tina’s, she said tactfully. The presence of President Hiatt, his wife and their spirit-filled home helped restrain the bewildered, soon-to-be missionary from shouting down his saucy little sister.

Tina is unsparing when whittling down over-the-top smugness and arrogance. In a notoriously unguarded moment, her mom and I once made some rueful comments. We expressed “genuine” concern over the way a relative was carrying on as if he alone was commanded to replenish the earth.

We had not reckoned that with Tina, blood is thicker than water. She bided her time to turn our gaffe to grist. Soon, her uncle came over for a visit. The little weasel seized the opportunity to let us know her uncle’s literal interpretation of the law of procreation was none of our business. Jostling for attention, she snuggled close to our visitor and dropped the bomb with such eerie vengeance we instantly knew how disgusted and appalled she was at our puffery.

Didn’t he think he was making too many children, she asked with a smirk? Asked what she meant, Tina went viral. Before I could reach out and slap a hand over her mouth, she squealed everything. Her mom and dad, she gleefully announced, had been wondering how he intended to cater for his many children!

While in college I learned that one way of learning was by willful study and observation. In a sociology class, a professor extended the argument to a claim that man is the product of the environment. When asked for proof, he said for us to pay attention to our responses to situations. Better still, he said, when we started raising families we should keenly watch our children.

Tina helped me prove him right somehow. Unlike my other kids, who were raised in Africa — where tradition weighs heavily like an incubus on individual self-expression — Tina was born in a culture that values life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In Africa, it was taboo for children to start and hold conversations with adults. They could only speak when spoken to. Like women at the time, they were to be seen not heard. So no child dared offer an opinion in a gathering of elders, even when those elders were clearly impertinent and unintelligent.

A child in violation was literally bludgeoned into silence. That predisposed us to elder and ancestor worship. The downside was that it made it hard to speak out against dubious adults.

That explains why flawed leaders who brazenly plunder the public in Africa not only get away with unblinking corruption but even enjoy public approval instead of being held to account as such scoundrels are in other societies.

Africa is a dismal continent aggravated by grim poverty and mindless leaders. We need people like Tina to resist ruthless tyrants who upturn the will of the people, ignore the courts, taunt and humiliate the masses, and with thugs, perpetuate themselves in power. These unsavory flinty authority figures must be fearlessly challenged if the continent is to rid itself of their greed and brutality.

If the Egyptians didn’t throw off Mubarak he would still have been sitting pretty on their backs like his fellow geriatric in Zimbabwe.

So if our brat continues to speak truth to power, sit-tight, ham-fisted African rulers who choke our dreams and fracture our lives have one added critic to challenge their complacency.

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About Imo Eshiet

Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.

Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North Carolina Stake.

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