Desert/Island Mum #1
In a new series, women raising children on opposite ends of the globe reflect on their experiences of motherhood. Here, Mary Osbourne compares her own childhood in Zambia to that of her daughter, Aida, 7, who's growing up in the Caribbean and talks sea baths, seasonal food and bringing up an only child when you're the youngest of ten siblings.
Mary lives in Barbados with her husband, Nicholas, daughter Aida, 7, and rottweiller, Sid.
Growing up as the youngest of ten children on a farm in Zambia, I lived life on a long leash. By the time they got to number ten, my parents had been there and done that. But despite rarely having their full attention, I was allowed a lot of freedom. My life felt like an endless holiday and days were spent exploring the farm's fields and barns, feeding the chickens, pigs and cows, and climbing on the hundreds of bags of maize waiting to go to market. I learned how to make fudge and toffee and baked mud dolls in an old cast iron cooker in the outdoor kitchen. There was always something exciting and new to do. We played outdoors every afternoon after school until my mum sent the nanny to find us and bring us in for a bath and supper.
The morning school run was an hour's drive with my sisters, nieces and nephews along the dirt track that lead towards our farm, onto the highway to a Convent School in the nearby town of Kabwe. School ended at midday and my dad would be there to pick us up and take us home. And once we got back to the farm, it was a quick lunch and back outdoors we went.
Our home always seemed full. Full of people coming and going - either family, extended family, the farm worker's children, friends visiting - even people coming to buy farm produce. There was never ever a dull moment and there was certainly no time to be bored.
This is such a contrast to Aida's childhood. As an only child, she gets the full attention of myself and Nicholas. Much more than I ever got from my parents. But I do think she misses out by not being part of a bigger family - where cousins and aunts are constantly popping in for a cup of tea. No one calls in unannounced here - every visit is meticulously planned due to the substantial costs involved in travelling to and from the Caribbean.
I also worry about how much outside play she actually gets and how regimented her life seems to be with most days during term time running on a loop of school, enrichments, homework, screen time and maybe some time spent outdoors followed by dinner and bed. But the world today is so different - even when you live on a tropical island. School holidays usually involve some form of supervised camp, and a planned family reunion with Nicholas's family in Europe, as well as a family holiday. But, unlike me, Aida is growing up in a close-knit, small family unit where she is protected. I like to think that her childhood is full, just in a different way. More curated perhaps.
But I can't complain - life here is pretty good. So good that after living here for 20 years, I can't imagine our family anywhere else. Nicholas and I met in Zambia - where his family had moved from St Vincent (Nicholas was born to a Danish mum and Guyanese father and grew up in the Caribbean). And moved to London together on at hot day in August 1987 to study at university. In our ten years there we got to live in some lovely areas including, South Kensington, Earls Court, and Hampstead. We also made some great friends and soaked up as much culture as we could before moving to Barbados to start a very different life.
The days here usually begin with a morning walk on the beach followed by a swim in the sea along with some local gentlemen who never fail to take their daily 'sea bath'. These are the best starts to the best days of island life. It is calm, cool, peaceful and beautiful - so beautiful that I still have moments when I can't believe I'm here.
Once back home it's full throttle with lunch box prep, breakfast, getting Aida ready for school and ourselves for work and out the door by 7am. Both Nicholas and I are self-employed now. And after living here for so many years, we’ve learnt that the mornings are our most productive time. I finish my proper day job that puts food on the table - where work as a PA for a private client - at 1.00pm.
Then my afternoons are spent doings things that I'm passionate about - getting my chattel house cottage (located behind the main house) ready for my Airbnb guests, answering emails, welcoming guests or saying good bye. I also love cooking and really enjoy coming up with recipes that use local ingredients. I shop in farmers markets as much as possible and eat seasonally, indulging in local avocados and mangoes when they're at their best. The rest of the afternoon is usually spent planning our next holiday and dreaming, thinking, reading. Before I know it, its time to pick Aida up from school, or - in the summer - camp, and then its supper prep, an afternoon cup of earl grey without fail, supper and bed by 8.00pm.
If it’s been an unbearably hot day (usually every day during the summer months), we’ll force ourselves across the road to walk Sid and have a quick dip in the sea. Somewhere in there, the Airbnb guests will arrive and I treat them to my customary welcome rum punch and settle them in. I have met some amazing people from all over the world - hosting Airbnb guests has truly given me renewed hope in humanity. Living on an island can sometimes feel lonely and cut off. But hosting has given me the opportunity to meet so many people and I now live my global city life through them. Because I don't think I'll ever stop calling this Caribbean island my home.