That Dream House

Whenever I check my news feed on Facebook, there will always be a post or two on home design, interior decorating and such. A part of me is glad that somehow those posts tell me that my friends are in the phase of becoming a homeowner, have just moved in, or perhaps saving up to purchase one. A lot of them tag their partners, putting captions like ‘My dream house’ and truly, I am happy for them, and understand the euphoria of moving into your very own home, paid with your hard-earned money or the happiness that comes from daydreaming.

Another part of me laughed at myself – where has all my excitement gone? My house is all practical and functional, nothing strikingly pretty or Pinterest-worthy.

When I think deeply – I admit that I introspect on matters of no importance like this – I think my relative lack of enthusiasm on interior decorating stems from the fact that I, for all the ambitious self, have never ever have one thing called ‘a dream house’. I’ve never had a vision on a future house, or a future car or anything like that. Ever. And I married an ultimate minimalist whose idea of owning a house is having a roof above his head and a mattress to sleep on, so we have some kind of parallel vision on what our house should be – sort of.

But I do have this one particular dream, ever since I was a small kid, that is I’d like to have my own personal library. Indirectly it means that I dream of owning a house with a size that allows me to build a room full of books, a comfy chair, a nice and appropriate lighting… but that’s about it.

So when my husband and I moved into our humble 1067 sq ft apartment, we allocated one room for that, which also doubles as a guest room. I started to fill the room with a bookshelf, an IKEA sofa bed, a study desk, an AC unit (should have known that we don’t need this), a nice floor cum reading lamp, a small table for coffee and finally I found that my dream has come true. My husband should really be thankful that I am so easy to please that way.

Beyond that home improvement for me means problem-solving, like finding the best storage solutions, where to put my (and the children’s) expanding collection of books (I’ve imagined a bookshelf in my bedroom, along the hallway and in the living room) , and the future needs of my children.  I admit sometimes I have this periodical obsession about putting pretty decorations on the wall and stuff like that, but with a husband like mine, that kind of proposals will need to be vetted rationally. Well, that is unless I give up and concede that I want those things ‘just because’ – no logical reasons whatsoever – to which my husband will normally oblige (I think he’s just being thankful that his wife still has some feminine traits).

Sure, I got excited too when we were first moving in. Choosing the colour scheme, buying the furniture, designing the kitchen… you should see my home notebook.It’s full of ideas. But after we moved in with the house functioning as it should, the excitement wore out. Spending for little unnecessary pretty things is never justified – I’d rather buy books than that beautiful wall art.

Then again, the little that we have is apparently enough. I don’t think we’ll be happier in a different, bigger, fancier house. These days I even dream about downsizing, moving to a smaller apartment where the chores of vacuuming the floor or removing the spider webs won’t overwhelm me. The other day my husband ranted about how he could not understand the need for people to spend money on designer coffees. I told him people pay for the atmosphere of the coffee houses too hence the price tag, but he insists that unless you are unmarried (and generally could not care much on making your house a home, like him), anyone can make his or her house calming and inspiring enough to drink coffee peacefully inside it.

That remarks, to me, subtly means that even without those fancy vases, a nice kufi art framed, or a feature wall,  I’ve somehow made this little abode a home, one that my husband (and son) eagerly return to, have a cup of hot instant Nescafe,  and find peace in it.

Alhamdulillah.

p.s. I still need to buy more cacti though. I haven’t kill enough.

 

Yang Menarik-narik itu Dunia

Hari ini suapan media sosialku dipenuhi ucapan takziah atas pemergian seorang ‘alim yang terkemuka; ada juga yang menyebut semula kata-kata yang pernah dilontarkan oleh Almarhum ‘alim tersebut. Antaranya yang menyebabkan aku tersentak, tersentuh kerana rapat terkait dengan persoalan jiwa yang aku hadapi adalah sebuitr nasihat berkisar dunia, dan peringatan Almarhum agar tidak terlalu mengejar dunia. Katanya, dunia akan datang sendiri jika kita fokus kepada memelihara akhirat.

Betapa terkenanya nasihat itu pada aku yang sebenarnya berada di persimpangan.

Sebenar-benarnya aku lemah, mudah pula untuk lupa akan hakikat tipudaya dan rekayasa dunia. Saat jiwaku kukuh memegang bahawa pilihan-pilihan yang aku hadapi seharusnya disaring dengan hakikat bahawa yang lebih penting untuk kucari adalah pandangan Allah, Bukan sanjungan manusia atas kepintaran atau kecekapan yang seterusnya membuahkan habuan dunia, aku hampir terlupa bahawa  semua tipudaya itu kadang-kadang menjelma dalam harapan-harapan yang seolah murni – menyumbang kepada kesejahteraan masyarakat misalnya. Bukan tarikan wang bertimbun.

Entah naratif mana yang menyusup masuk ke dalam minda sampaikan aku terlupa segala yang sudah lama aku tanamkan dengan kukuh dalam jiwa – bahawa keutamaan aku sudah berbeza pada saat ini, dan sekiranya sudah berubah keadaan dan keutamaan itu, maka Allah sahajalah yang membawakan peluang untuk kupergi jauh untuk menabur bakti dalam ruang lingkup yang lebih luas.

Kecukupan itu nikmat.

Sedangkan keperitan memilih, mengekang rasa belas akibat hak-hak yang tidak tertunai, perasaan terkejar-kejar itu bala.

Bagaimana aku boleh mahu meletakkan diri dalam kesukaran yang tidak perlu?

Barangkali ia bertolak dari kesangsian: adakah kesenangan ini,rasa selesa ini, sebenarnya satu ujian? Adakah aku sebenarnya harus lari dari rasa selesa untuk cabaran lain? Adakah kesangsian ini sesuatu yang sihat?

Yang paling perlu aku kaji adalah asalnya perasaan yang membuak-buak itu. Apakah didorong oleh suatu ketidakcukupan? Ketidakcukupan penghargaan? Ketidakcukupan cabaran yang menyeronokkan?

Kemudian harus aku timbangi : yang mana lebih dekat dengan syurga?

Mudah-mudahan Allah menunjukkan jalan.

 

The Unseen Struggle of a Child

I am currently reading Erika Christakis’ book entitled ‘The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups’. I still have a few more chapters left, and while I have a lot to say on how the book is organised (it’s really hard to pinpoint the proofs put forward and follow the arguments) I am struck by a number of anecdotes, examples and snippets written.

One particular passage I couldn’t help but sharing here is this, a description of how a child may struggle to put on her coat (or perhaps, any other item of clothing) all by herself, in a kindergarten setting:

Occupational therapists use a concept called motor planning to describe the steps required to plan and carry out a series of movement. Putting a coat involves more than just sticking your arms through two sleeves. From the moment a young child is instructed to put on her coat, she has to think about how to move her body from one place to another, without bumping into her peers or knocking over their block tower. Then she has to position her body so she can grab the coat without pulling her backpack off the hook or pushing her boots to the floor. Then she has to find a big enough space to put her coat on without taking up other people’s space and think about  how she can get her right arm into what only appears to be the left sleeve and the left arm into what appears to be the right sleeve. This of course assumes she can see which part of the coat is the front and which is the back and transpose that visual image to her own body. And forget about zippers and buttons and snow pants and wet gloves that have turned inside out. There are probably dozens of motor planning steps required just to get outside.

If you are still not overwhelmed by that description, imagine instead having to fumble in a spacesuit in zero gravity with a wrench the size of a pair of tweezers and being asked to repair a two-hundred-million-dollar telescope on the international space station before being blown off -structure by satellite debris, like Sandra Bullock in the movie Gravity.

Just yesterday we were arguing over his refusal to take shower. I told him showering is easy and simple: take of your pants and shirt, step into the shower, pee, brush your teeth, use the shower gel, rinse, dry your body, put on your fresh clothes, and voila, you are ready to play again. To that he screamed: No, showering is difficult and a long process!

After reading the above passage, I could not help but feeling a little more emphatic.

Sure, if I list it down like that the process seems trivial to me, we adults can do these mindlessly with our eyes close. But to a 4-year-old child who has just mastered putting on and taking off clothes by himself in less than a few months, it indeed involves hard work, if from a child’s eyes the steps to take are as challenging as the author described.

Luckily, my husband has a little more empathy than I do – and seems to understand well how the brain of a child works: you will see how he lists down all the moves needed for my son to pee and clean himself, how to jump, how to turn an inside-out shirt to its right side. I could see how this approach eases the process for our son, but pheww, the waiting you have to endure for the process to finish, when you have a lot of other things to do will make any trace of empathy fly out the window. That methodic approach of the husband gives birth to another methodical person in my household (it is not something I truly dislike, but I am more carefree and now I have two persons commenting on how I do works).

But then again, that’s what a parent does. We do what is right, which is to be patient, and not what is convenient for us.

And surely, the saying ‘practice makes perfect’ is now applicable to both of us.

It is obvious that…

It is obvious that…

  1. …staying in love requires work. A lot of works. There is nothing called ‘going with the flow’, because there are other forces trying to separate you and your partner.
  2. …children imitate. This is a precaution to be aware of what you are doing as a parent, and also as a reminder that whatever a child does or says, it may not be a good judge of their actual capability or intelligence or maturity. He or she may just, for instance, imitate and replicate what you say to them.
  3. …regardless of how much you learn and gain in knowledge (in religion for example) it doesn’t matter and perhaps useless if the most basic and fundamental things e.g. being kind to your spouse, parents, children and establishing solah are still so-so.
  4. …people change, so there’s no point in lamenting or wondering about that. New experiences, challenges, life situation and stress can change even the most rock-solid thing about that person. Take yourself: who you are half a year ago may not be the same with who you are now. Something that happened along the way might have change, and consequently change some parts of your view of the world and hence your resulting actions.
  5. … with a technology comes the inevitable change of culture. Life without (internet) connectivity and social media specifically is nearly forgotten: I myself could not remember how my day went about without these things, and it was only less than 12 years ago that Friendster became an in thing. How was life without consistently telling people where we go, what we eat, what we wear, what we just bought, which toilet we take selfie in, or in general, just what do we do on a daily basis?
  6. …each phase of life throws different challenges to you. In responding to that, you should either understand that for certain things, you just have to start now – no postponing or it just won’t happen, OR you just have to take things easy. I think in general for my observation, when it comes to performing religious duty of spiritual improvement, the first one is applicable, while the latter suits worldly affairs better.

Some random thoughts these are, in response to today’s prompt🙂

Thoughts about Learning

Yesterday I came across a photo made viral on the Facebook (in Malaysia),  of an elderly lady working with a laptop.  The caption told me that the photo was posted by her grandson,  and the photo was of his grandmother working on her master’s thesis.

Although the phrase ‘inspiration’  is overused and overrated these days,  I have to say the sight is indeed inspirational. Just as inspirational as reading the story of a 82-year-old grandmother finishing her memorisation of Quran.

My heart warms to these tales of courage and insatiable thirst for knowledge, more than to those instagram photos of branded handbags or pretty dresses or exotic holiday destinations. It is the stories of the lifelong pursuit of self-improvement with the end of seeking His pleasure that often make me look at myself and introspect and get me to move.

In my days as a corporate slave years ago, I have come across people who, after a dealing or two, were obviously stuck in their ways. Refusing to progress, and worse, refusing to learn and have little drive whatsoever to know other things apart from what they do. I’ve worked with a colleague whose language skills were so bad even our boss asked him to take English classes because his inability and refusal to work to improve have caused much pain to us his team members. I’ve once asked an intern to take the minute of our departmental meeting, with me- not an uberly important meeting hence a good opportunity to learn – only to listen to her whining about not knowing what to write or how to do it.

It is fair to say that I’ve seen my ideals and have also seen the opposite. And now that I am a mother, I intend to cultivate and nurture such love for learning in my children. Fortunately, I came to know that children are just hardwired to learn, I don’t have to do anything but cautiously watch myself to see if any of my actions will kill such the inborn curiosity and thirst.

That is a task that sounds so easy, yet it doesn’t come easy without deliberate actions. How many times have we stopped children from exploring just because we don’t want them to get messy? How many times have we refused to entertain their endless daydreaming just because suddenly as an adult we become too much of a realist or have so many other ‘important’ things to attend to?

Hence, for the sake of their learning, I am learning too.

I think that’s a good deal.

*This post is written in response to the daily prompt here.

Fifty Words I Live By

Be thankful, and you will receive more. Please God, not human. Love means commitment. Slow down, enjoy the moment. Today might be my last day. Keep calm and ignore. Every second counts. Kids will be kids. Keep learning. Just do it. Be kind or stay silent. Take a deep breath.

There, my first attempt to use the WordPress daily prompt to get back to writing consistently. A short and sweet post for a start🙂

 

“Nak main dengan mommy!”

Ignore the mess in the background, the children were having fun!

Ignore the mess in the background, the children were having fun!

Soalan pertama aku kepada Isa setiap kali dia terjaga dari tidur adalah “Abang Long nak buat apa hari ni?” dan jawapannya selalu konsisten : “ Abang Long nak main dengan mommy.”

‘Main dengan mommy’ bermaksud aku berada di sampingnya, berinteraksi dengannya (Isa rajin bercerita, lebih-lebih lagi sejak imaginative play sudah berkembang) walaupun kadang-kadang Isa tak kisah jika aku cuma duduk di sofa dan minum kopi sambil melayannya bermain dan bercerita.

But I have to tell you a secret: after a year and half being at home, I concede that I couldn’t stay focused at playing with him for more than 15 minutes. 15 minit. It’s a shame. Sometimes I feel terribly sleepy, sometimes I have to fight the urge to pick up my phone, or I just need to get up and do some chores. Their dad i.e. my husband has always been the fun one, not me.

Aku selalu terfikir: kalaulah ini yang didefinisikan sebagai meluangkan masa berkualiti, then I am really suck at it.

Aku rasa bersalah. Aku rasa bersalah sehinggalah akumendapat jawapan kenapa sukar sungguh untuk akududuk diam dan menemankan anak bermain tanpa multi-tasking, apabila membaca buku ‘You are Your Child’s First Teacher: Encouraging  Your Child’s Natural Development from Birth to Age Six’ tulisan Rahima Baldwin Dancy.

Kata Baldwin-Dancy dalam bab kedua bukunya di bawah subtopik  ‘Why Is It So Difficult to Be Home with Children Today?’ beliau menyedari ramai ibu bapa tidak menyangka bahawa kehidupan stay-at-home bersama anak-anak di rumah rupanya sangat mencabar.

Beliau percaya salah-satu faktor yang menyebabkan hal ini berlaku adalah struktur masyarakat dan gaya hidup yang berubah, di mana keluarga nuklear (dan subnuklear) hidup dalam berjauhan daripada keluarga besar masing-masing. Berdasarkan pengalaman Baldwin-Dancy, ibu (dan bapa) berpendidikan tinggi (university-educated) memang tidak mungkin boleh hidup terpencil dengan anak kecil tanpa interaksi dan bantuan daripada ahli keluarga besar. Ini ditambah lagi dengan kurangnya pengiktirafan dan penghargaan daripada masyarakat sekeliling secara umumnya tentang peranan ibu atau bapa stay-at-home.

It takes a village to raise a child – sebab itulah cadang Baldwin-Dancy kepada ibu bapa: carilah keluarga lain dan juga generasi yang lebih tua sebagai pengganti keluarga kembangan (extended family) jika tiada, yang sebenarnya turut berkongsi peranan membesarkan anak-anak.

Baldwin-Dancy turut menceritakan bagaimana sahabatnya, ketika berada di sebuah kampung di Mexico. Sahabatnya ini pengamal kaedah attachment parenting yang menggalakkan bayi dikendong i.e. babywearing. Selama Sembilan bulan sahabatnya itu mengamalkan babywearing, yang akhirnya menyaksikan dia hampir terbang semangat dek kepenatan hilir mudik dengan bayinya. Memang bayi di kampung itu semuanya dikendong sepanjang masa tetapi bukan semestinya oleh ibunya! Kadang-kadang bayi itu ada bersama neneknya, kadang-kala dikendong oleh kakaknya, dan ada ketikanya dengan makciknya. Pokoknya, seorang bayi di kampung itu tidak diasuh secara bersendirian oleh ibu bapanya sahaja.

Faktor kedua, kata Baldwin-Dancy, yang menyebabkan tinggal di rumah bersama anak-anak begitu sukar adalah kefahaman ibu bapa bahawa mereka harus fokus 100% kepada anak-anak i.e. anak-anak adalah prioriti utama. Kata penulis lagi, kefahaman ini tidak tepat  kerana membiarkan anak-anak memerhatikan ibu bapa melakukan kerja-kerja harian di rumah i.e. merupakan satu keperluan. Senang cerita, ada nilainya apabila mereka melihat pergerakan kita melipat baju, mambancuh teh, mengemop lantai dan sebagainya. Oleh sebab keperluan ini tidak dipenuhilah, kata Baldwin-Dancy, anak-anak mula menunjukkan tantrum, yang sering disalah tafsirkan oleh ibu bapa sebagai kesan kekurangan perhatian.

Malangnya, kehidupan moden yang sudah diringkaskan dan dipermudah oleh sekian banyak gajet dan makanan segera menyebabkan kerja-kerja seharian seperti memasak, menyapu lantai, dan lain-lain kerja fizikal berkurangan. Sudahnya, tiada apa lagi yang menarik untuk diperhatikan oleh anak-anak sedangkan itulah yang membantu mereka belajar dan membesar. Kata Jean Liedloff (pengasas konsep attachment parenting), kanak-kanak perlu menjadi pemerhati kerja-kerja seharian kita, bukan menjadi fokus utama ibu bapa sepanjang masa. Kita yang dewasa ini pun, kalau diperhatikan 24 jam sehari boleh jadi ‘sakit jiwa’.

Aku turunkan petikan daripada buku tersebut yang kufikir menarik:

“In her book she recommends keeping babies in physical contact all day night until they crawl, as is done in the Yequana culture, where the parent or caregiver may occasionally play with the child, but most of the time pays attentiton to something else, not the baby. Sge says in her article, “Being played with, talked to, or admired all day deprives the babe of this in-arms spectator phase that would feel right to him. Unable to say what he needs, he will act out his discontentment. This is the attention-getting behaviour parents interpret as needing more attention when in reality, the child just wants parent to take charge of adult life, because the child needs to see a life in order to imitate it!”

***

Aku boleh menerima penjelasan penulis buku ini bukan kerana ia membebaskan aku daripada rasa bersalah. Bukan juga kerana sekarang aku ada alasan lebih kukuh untuk membiarkan anak bermain sendiri (bermain sendiri pun ada cabarannya sekarang, lebih-lebih lagi dengan wujudnya gajet yang bagi-terus-diam sebagai alternatif). Tetapi penjelasan ini membolehkan aku untuk lebih fokus dan memahami prioriti dalam memenuhi keperluan anak-anak, bukan escapisme.

Isa dan Khadijah masih perlukan aku untuk bermain di samping mereka pada masa-masa tertentu. Kajian menunjukkan permainan anak-anak menjadi lebih sofistikated dan kompleks bila ada sedikit ‘bantuan’ daripada orang dewasa, dan itu bagus untuk mereka. Tetapi lebih penting daripada itu aku mengajar diri aku untuk slow down. Perlu vakum lantai? Tak perlu cepat-cepat. Ambil masa, dan jika mereka mahu menolong, berikan peluang. They need movement, and here’s a chance. Tak payah tergesa-gesa mahu siapkan semua kerja dalam to-do list. Perlu jemur baju? Biarkan mereka ikut serta, bukan halang mereka dengan alasan ‘Mommy nak cepat ni, ada banyak kerja lain!’. Memang susah nak amalkan, tapi kalau aku boleh  tinggalkan banyak perkara lain untuk berada di rumah 24/7 dengan mereka, maka ini perkara wajib aku lakukan dan dahulukan.

Contact times, pada aku, perlu bukan sahaja untuk hal-hal sedemikian. Lebih lama contact time, lebih banyak teachable moments  yang merupakan peluang untuk kita mendemonstrasikan nilai-nilai penting dalam kehidupan. Kalau tak duduk lama dengan anak, macam mana mereka nak Nampak cara-cara melayan tetamu? Cara selesaikan masalah e.g. bila air tumpah? Cara mengawal emosi bila marah? Anak-anak mengambil contoh tauladan daripada orang yang paling rapat dengan mereka i.e. ibu bapa. We are their universe and they look up to us, so take some responsibilities and start behaving yourselves.

Lebih daripada itu, aku kena belajar untuk menerima dan meminta bantuan. Belajar untuk percaya bahawa anak-anak akan belajar banyak perkara daripada ahli keluarga selain aku dan ayahnya. It helps me to keep myself sane too, and learn to trust others. Anak-anak memerlukan aku, but I’m not going to be at their disposal all the time – and that’s okay. It’s still healthy and maybe even crucial for their development.

Bi iznillah.

The Mystery of ‘Nothing’

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My son Isa grew up, for the best part of the last one and half years, before my eyes. I saw his intelligence developed, and most often than not, I could trace back the source of his newfound knowledge: it could be me, his father, other family members, or the TV. Where did he learn about tooth fairy he’s been talking about? Oh, it could be the Little Charmers series he’s been watching. Whom did he imitate when he said ‘I don’t like this, it is too yellow’? It must be the book we’ve been reading to him the other day. Or where did he learn that if he’s angry he can scream his lung out? That must be mommy – guilty as charged!

The perks of being a stay-at-home mother in this regard is the pool of influencing sources is rather limited and somehow I can control it,  ones. Bad behaviour coming from any of us parents? We can definitely rectify it. The family members? Tell them rather subtly that it is not good and demonstrate a better way. If it is the TV, I normally can figure out which programme (after all he watches only Nick Jr channel from HyppTV), try to understand the context and explain to Isa why it is wrong and how to do it right.

But despite all this ability to trace back all the roots of corruption (haha), I am still perplexed by this one belief Isa has, that if Mommy (yes, specifically me, one who looks after him 24/7) asks ‘What are you doing?’ he MUST answer it with ‘Emm..nothing!’.

Like, he’s so convinced that this is really the correct response he even advises his father to do the same, reminding him that ‘if Mommy asks you what are you doing, you must say ‘Nothing!’, okay?’, to which, of course, my husband laughed his heart out – jokingly defending himself by saying that it’s not from him that my son learnt such gesture.

When I asked him why he answered my question that way, he just reiterated, in a matter-of-factly manner that ‘if Mommy asks you what are you doing, you must say ‘Nothing!’, as if it is just a common sense; nothing impolite about that.

At one time it feels like I’m a having a very moody and secretive teenager around instead of a preschooler – too soon, too early.Of course I have told him to answer nicely and truthfully if that question is asked, that if you’re playing with the blocks, just say so, and still am correcting him from time to time.

Nevertheless, it is still a mystery where he learnt that from to this day.

Or maybe I just need to stop being too nosy.

 

A Note on Your Fourth Birthday

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Today is Isa’s fourth birthday.

Four years have passed, and though not every second was filled with laughter (we’ve had our share of anger, frustration and a lot more less-than-positive emotions), my firstborn Wan Isa is still a joy to be with and a very interesting individual to get to know.

And every person that enters your life is meant to teach you a lesson or two. With him, I learned (and am still learning) a lot more than just one or two.

I have witnessed how forgiving a child could be. Despite how badly I fail him, I am still being rewarded with ‘I love you, mommy’ which I know is unconditional, and I am inspired to be as forgiving.

I have learned that to live with a child means that I need to learn to savour every moment and slow down; because by now I have started to wonder when was the last time he falls asleep on my tummy, something he has not done so for quite some time.

I have realised that the kind of love that comes with the birth of a child is one that can bring me down on my knees prostrating before God in ultimate desperation and humbleness, begging for his safety and wellbeing.

I have also learned that through his innocent yet consistent musings of wanting to ask Allah for a shoehouse in Jannah and all other things he wants to do there, I am being reminded that this life is temporary and I need to be good so I could be reunited with him in a place where no one knows any sadness.

In short, my son brings out the best in me.

Alhamdulillah. Haza min fadhli rabbi.
To many more years of learning and growing together insya-Allah.

 

Letting Go

“. . . I would have let him go one finger at a time, until, without his realizing, he’d be floating without me. And then I thought, perhaps that is what it means to be a [parent] – to teach your child to live without you.” – Nicole Krauss

Isa came to me this evening with a piece of paper on which he drew a plan of our house, one he called a ‘treasure map’. It is official, he can draw plans. It is something I don’t expect from a child of mine who is barely 4.

Khadijah, as she always does these days, dragged a book too big for her to carry from the living room to my bedroom for the third time today, a book of animal pictures she begins to love. She has grown to love books and being read to, and it is something I don’t expect from a child of mine who is barely 14 months old.

16 months of being 24/7 with them indeed feels like a blink of an eye.

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Langkawi 2016

 

 

 

A Year of Recalibration

Calibrate: to plan or devise (something) carefully so as to have a precise use,application, appeal, etc.

It is difficult to resist writing. I planned for a hiatus on writing and learn confined my thoughts to myself, but it proves to be a difficult thing to do. It is not as much as the craving for an audience as the need to structure my thought process – writing things down does not seem practical when I live with an infant who keeps eating papers. I am back at writing, for this purpose.

Though I truly am glad if you are reading this.

***

Courtesy https://www.pinterest.com/pin/115897390386624491/

I turned 31 years old a few days ago. All praise be to Allah.

When I really think about it, being 31 is honestly very scary.

A research shows that women are most beautiful at that age, and although I certainly do feel (more) at ease with my physical self compared to my younger years, that is not my major concern at this point in time, though it gives me a slight joy.

It is scary once I realise that the female life expectancy in Malaysia is averaged at 76.3 years and for myself half of it has nearly passed by and I am still this being who is nowhere near the kind of person I thought I would be when I was 15 – spiritually, or all other aspects being accounted for.

Nevertheless, I am just glad the past year has given me the space to think, rethink, plan, and above all, recalibrate my life compass.

Being a full time homemaker, I am in a phase of life where I am least exposed to interaction with people outside my immediate family – and without me intending for it to happen, the introspection and epiphany come easier in this phase. Days may pass by without me speaking to any other adult except my husband, and living with my children for most part of the day, I learn that I am free from being judged and consequently free to be my true self. And as they say, that is when your true colours and akhlaq show.

It sounds like common sense – solitary times surely allow for better self-reflection – but I refuse to take it for granted.  Such a phase doesn’t come often I figure. I was enrolled to a primary school when I was 7. And since then, it has been a non-stop thing – I had to be somewhere at a certain time of the day, for a certain hours, for a specific purpose, subject to interaction with people I like and didn’t like – until I quit my day job a year ago. In short, I was attached to institutions over institutions outside my family for the past 23 years  which without me realising it left me with very limited time to reflect, introspect, and become more attuned to my inner thoughts. Such a regimented life left me too occupied to examine and understand myself; why I do things the way I did, good and bad.

Not that such attachment is wholly unwelcomed.

It is just that for someone like me – a type A person – such preoccupation with being liked to a certain extent for instance, and filling the the need to do something to achieve something (each institutions – schools, university, work – give me something to accomplish and work for) and shamefully to prove something to some parties other than God.

But being at home things are different. Cut off from any social affiliation (by choice nevertheless), my view is somehow, gratefully recalibrated. It  doesn’t matter anymore whether I am assertive, or a good team worker, or  if I dress right for the occasion, or making any impression whatsoever. What matters now is what matters in the eyes of God, and I am left with only myself to answer to. I have no external system to blame for my shortcomings – everything comes down to myself, and how I regulate it.

Of course, by hierarchy I am answerable to my husband but in this thing, as he often allows me to grow in my own time – he’s there more like a teammate who offers some kind of check-and-balance when I feel like I need it and when he feels like I need it.

And what matters to God now, is what should have been my priority all this while: being my best person when I am around my family. After all, Islam is sent down to perfect our akhlaq, our ethics, our manners, our morality. And the prophet (saw) taught us that the best of people are those with the most excellent character and those who are best to their family. When the most productive part of the day with people who actually don’t matter much consumed my energy – what would be left for the most important people in my life?

Only when I am not tied to any social convention on how to act and behave that I finally am reminded on the important things in life beyond the usual ‘family first’ mantra.

I appreciate this phase as it is – knowing that it could be temporary. I have been taught better than forever secluding myself –  The best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind. And thus my role in this life is never limited to my home life only. Regardless of the beautiful things this semi-solitary life offers me, I still do feel the inherent need to acquaint myself and interact with others. While solitude makes me learn more things about myself, the scholars have provided us with tips on becoming a better person: befriend good people, and sit with the learned ones. More often that not what I learned from a book or a lecture is seen through someone else’s akhlaq and action – and this real-life example is what often inspires me instead of the words I’ve read and listened to. It tells me that it is doable – not just some out-of-the-world anecdotes that seem impossible to emulate.

But above all, I am truly thankful of the past year and the decision that made the year possible (at a huge material cost nevertheless). A recalibration is indeed a much needed exercise – in this world of turbulence and confused priorities.

Alhamdulillah.

Of Being Remembered

I watched ‘The Fault in our Stars’ again two days ago, and this time around I managed to continue where I left it many many months ago and finally got to watch it until the end.

It was a tear-jerking film alright, but there is one scene which stuck in my mind.

[Hazel takes Gus to Funky Bones for a picnic in his wheelchair, they sit on a picnic blanket and Hazel opens up a bottle of champagne as Gus sits quietly looking sad]
Hazel: What are you thinking about?
Gus: Oblivion. I know it’s…it’s kid’s stuff or whatever, but…I always thought I would be a hero. I always thought I’d have a grand story to tell, you know? Something they’d publish in all the papers, and…I mean, I was supposed to be special.
Hazel: You are special, Augustus.
Gus: Yeah, I know. But you know what I mean.
Hazel: I do know what you mean, I just don’t agree with you. You know this obsession you have with being remembered?
Gus: Don’t get mad.
Hazel: I am mad. I’m mad because I think you’re special, and is that not enough? You think that the only way to lead a meaningful life is for everyone to remember you, for everyone to love you. Guess what, Gus. This is your life, okay? This is all you get. You get me, and you get your family, and you get this world, and that’s it. And if that’s not enough for you, then I’m sorry, but it’s not nothing. Because I love you, and I’m gonna remember you.
Gus: I’m sorry. You’re right.
Hazel: I just wish you’d be happy with that.

The obsession with being remembered. The belief that oneself is supposed to be special, to be a hero, to have a grand story to tell.

I am not ashamed to tell you that it strikes a chord – it resonates with me. I have come (nearly) to be at peace with the differences between things I wish I could do and achieve and things I currently have in hand – but it was a long mental journey to arrive at this point.

Einstein once said, in Albany, New York in 1936:

Desire for approval and recognition is a healthy motive, but the desire to be acknowledged as better, stronger, or more intelligent than a fellow being or fellow scholar easily leads to an excessively egoistic psychological adjustment, which may become injurious for the individual and for the community.

 I think he is right.
And I leave you with that.