My father always wanted a boy. But the boy child remained elusive till the 8th child was born.
Growing up with six sisters was a lot of fun. We would scream and shout when we disagreed.
Usually over different things like someone took another sisters dress to school and comes back after three months without the dress, obviously, because she didn’t want to give it back. Or something as silly as sharing a piece of information that turned out to be inaccurate.
We never lacked comedy and drama, even my parents developed selective deafness whenever we started bickering.
We argued over everything under the sun but never got physical with each other. And then, we would start talking to each other without apologizing to each other.
When we were children, it was ok to sweep our petty arguments under the carpet. But as adults, we are learning to behave otherwise.
It was exciting having six other people who look like you but are as different from you as night and day.
Having Sisters is An Experience
People seek to know how I get along with other women so well, as in a woman cannot stress me. If you are Nigerian, you will recognize what I express.
And I tell them it is because I identify a trait in almost every female I come across, that I am completely familiar with. I like saying I understand women.
I have the political sister. (She knows how to play nice.)
The Trumpian sister (absolutely, that too).
The perpetual fence rider sister (You cannot convince her to bother anyone in the family or show anger.)
The one with the short fuse.
The grudge keeper.
The workaholic sister.
The one who always plays to win.
The one that will throw anyone that stresses her under the bus.
The big spender.
The penny pincher
the under-planner (if there is such a word).
But all in all, we are all ‘perfect’ girls. Each with its own uniqueness.
Why I Grew Up with Six Sisters
I come from a large family of nine children.
But my parents didn’t set out to have as many children. God willed it, and my mother kept birthing girls in the first 16 years of their marriage.
This didn’t go down well with my father, his friends, and his family. My father always wanted boys. But the boy child remained elusive till the 8th child was born.
Oh, how he asked for a boy; from God, and from my mother.
Being the daughter of a man who preferred sons meant you have to prove you are more competent. Worth it. Not an ordinary girl. As children, my sisters and I knew of our peculiar plight.
Our neighbours reminded us, our friends at school commented thereon. At church, we were the most popular kids. We wore the same styled dresses and hair. When I was younger, I mistook their attention for admiration. It was until I became a teenager I interpreted correctly that they felt sorry for us. Or rather my parents, I now recognize my father’s embarrassment at his inability to bear a son.
In Igbo land, women didn’t inherit, everything you worked for as a man will go to your brothers if you have had one or cousins. It will go to anyone but a female child.
Life in a World Where People Earnestly Want a Boy
I remember declaring to a doctor at the hospital that I prayed for a girl. It was my first pregnancy and I truly wanted it to be a girl. He rebuked me, saying.
‘Madam don’t pray for a girl, ask God for a boy. Two or three boys first, girls can come later.’
I remember how distraught a friend got when she learned her first child was going to be a girl. She repeated the ultrasound at least 7 more times, went to the best diagnostic clinics in Lagos hoping for a change in the results of the scan. Her pastor had assured her of a boy. She’d prayed, sowed seeds and even refused to buy any female baby clothing.
The baby was born female to the saddest mother.
Raising girls is tougher in our society. They must not bring you shame, people will laugh at you. Laugh to your face too.
My sisters and I didn’t make the mistakes most other kids were making. Not because we couldn’t, but because we couldn’t afford to. We had to be perfect, had to shame those who felt girl children were not good enough. We also had to make our mother proud; girls are as great as boys.
We could all wash cars and also followed our father’s business. I started following my father to the bank from my primary school days.
We understood each other in a way most other sisters didn’t understand each other.
We also learned to be careful, too careful too, if you ask me. All our lives as children were to avoid mistakes that could get father angry or bring mother shame.
I remember the day my brother was born. Everyone in my class celebrated with me. It was a victory of course. I was a well-known kid in the large government secondary school I attended, so even the teachers and school principal congratulated me. It was a victory of a sort. Finally, ‘Gracie’s mother has given birth to a boy child’. The whole street came to see the baby boy, the one that wiped away my parent's tears. And when the other boy was born, he was also greeted with fanfare.
But for us as sisters, our lives didn’t change.
Life is a leveller, because soon the euphoria of the boy child passed, and we went back to worrying about other things as a family.
I thought producing a boy will make other worries seem inconsequential, but it didn’t. The sun didn’t shine brighter. Nothing. It was underwhelming for me, I actually looked forward to his birth in naivety thinking life will suddenly be perfect.
In 2007, my father died. And we saw first-hand why he wanted a boy so bad. We were treated a certain type of way because there were boy children in our family. I could imagine the horror if the boys didn’t come. Our culture has to change, our people have to do better.
My experience as one of seven sisters influenced me, I can sniff male supremacists from afar, and this has gotten me into trouble more times than I care to count. I get upset when people mention men being better than women. I have experienced gender inequality firsthand.
My sisters and I learned to fight with and for each other. We now collectively understand how difficult it was for us growing up. How we didn’t make the mistakes other kids made, we could not afford to.
What we could afford to do and continue to, is to support each other unconditionally. To give endlessly.
My six sisters are all sweet and kind. My mum raised us to care deeply for each other.
I have many friends, but I know deep in my heart that I do not need friends. I have got sisters.