Family Life

“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.

Amphigory Number 1

I am restarting.

***

I have a deadline tomorrow. I also have a deadline next Tuesday. And the next Thursday. And I have at least three more essays waiting to be written.

I feel like I have no time to breathe.

And always, always at times like this I begin questioning the whole purpose of me putting myself in this position, when I could easily walk on a calmer path.  Why bother thinking and thinking and trying to find solutions to the neverending stream of problems in this world, when I could easily confine myself to thinking no further than my little life?

Why bother with preparing for a presentation, structuring and re-structuring my essays, reading articles over articles, squeezing whatever left of my brain juices when there is always a way out while making sure the children are all showered, clean, and fed? I could, at these moments, I told myself , settle with laughing with my children, truly enjoying them without suffering even the tiniest speck of worry, wait for my husband to come home and enjoy his company over a film or two?

After all, my doors to His Jannah are opened when I perfect the Prayers I offer, fast in Ramadhan, protect my chastity and faithfully obey my husband.

But then again, my other side of refuses to agree.

And that part keeps reminding me of a time – just a few months back – when I had nothing on my plate other than looking after my two kids and devoting myself to the family life. I remember feeling like I was losing my mind that I could not wait for September to come so I could begin again working on my degree. I could not imagine going through what I did during that period day by day, week by week, year by year and stay sane. I could not.

I resolve at that point that it is down to my nearly primal need  for movement. I need movements. Movement of some sorts. Perhaps of any sort in which I could see myself progressing. Achieving milestones that I set. Just something. Something of my own.

If my sanity of any importance at all to the family, I should keep doing this. I should not surrender to this temporary slump – this I need to be telling myself more often than I do now.

I do not know what exactly causes my restlessness when it comes to the idea of focusing solely on homemaking. Certainly not because I see it as a worthless or undervalued enterprise.

Possibly because it doesn’t satisfy me intellectually. At the end of the day, I always find myself exhausted of any physical energy, but upon lying down my brain can’t stop working and thinking – that’s when I knew that part of me has not been satisfied.

Maybe because it offers me less possibility of meeting new people – those who would inspire, those who would challenge me (not that my husband doesn’t) to move out of my comfort zone. Perhaps it is the thought that some parts of me will be left underutilised should I focus all my energy only for that trade. Maybe, just maybe.

I don’t know, really. I am yet to discover the root of my uneasiness, which appears whenever I toy with the idea of doing ‘nothing’ after completing my Master’s degree.

But I am certainly lucky that my husband needs no further convincing on this. Very, very lucky in fact. He has his own ideas on what a woman, or maybe, his woman should and should not be, and I am just happy that up to now our views are still parallel.

This is me, mentally vomiting. Till then.

 

 

 

 

5 Things I Learnt About Going to Grad School as a Mom

#thingsthathappenwhenmommystudies

#thingsthathappenwhenmommystudies

Someone fell asleep while waiting for mommy to be home

Someone fell asleep while waiting for mommy to be home

When we took this path, where one of us is working full time, and the other one stays at home with two little children under 3, while both are enrolled in some sorts of graduate programmes, we may have thought that we have it all figured out. After all, we have gone through one semester with both of us working full time and both were attending classes – and taking out one responsibility off the shoulder of one us, it could only get better…

…Or so I thought.

In reality, it is another round of juggling responsibilities and finding balance.

Now, two months into my second semester I have made some conclusions, and learnt some important points.

If you are a stay-at-home mom and a student, you may agree with some of my points here:

  1. Keep the priority right : I think this takes precedent over every rules I am listing here. It is fundamental to come back to this. Some of us take the road of grad school for as a license to advance in their careers. My purpose is different: I do this for the love of knowledge and the potential benefits it will give me to myself as an individual, my family, and hopefully the society. And right now, this agenda comes after (not directly after, though) spending time with the children – which is the major reason why I quit my job. This is a side thing I am doing – so if my husband just couldn’t get away from his office on time for me to go the my classes- which rarely happens – I won’t fuss over it. If the kids keeps tugging me begging for my attention, surely they will come first. I don’t mind this whole thing taking the backseat, really. Because Allah says  ‘Be Mindful of Allaah and Allaah will protect you’, and just by fulfilling my responsibility at home as required by Him, I know Allah will take care of my studies.
  2. Days are for the kids, and nights are for the books : Multi-tasking is not doing me any good. In fact, research shows that it doesn’t do any good to anyone. There is no benefit in me worrying about the books/journal articles/notes I am yet to cross out from my reading list during the day, when my children are crying for my attention. I push those worries aside and focus on them (or trying hard to do so) during the day. I have attempted going the other way, and it only made me more impatient and more frustrated when my reading is interrupted. I do make some exceptions with this though, especially when I have deadlines to meet where I’d resort to Nick Jr 😛
  3. Focus, focus and focus : I try to make my studying less of an interference to my family life, despite acknowledging its benefits. When I was single, and was an undergraduate efficiency may not be as crucial as it is now – after all I had only myself to take care of, and if I slack now, sooner or later I’d be the only paying the price of having to stay up late etc. Now that both of us are parents, and both need to allocate some quiet times studying, we take turns: when one is studying somewhere else, the other one will be with the children. And the time slots are not that long, more often limited to 1-2 hours. And in this one or two hours I am forced to make the best of it – because if I am not, someone else is also paying the price.
  4. Keep everything else simple : Being at home, moreover with two little children is consuming, and it doesn’t help that we have this constant ‘mommy war’ out there. It is imperative that I always review my KPI  whenever I see myself having the tendency to be overwhelmed by all the chores and things I thought I need to do. I am not here to become a domestic goddess or another Martha Stewart. I chose to be home so I could be with my children first and foremost, and that doesn’t entail slaving myself in the kitchen. I keep a generally less-than-strict cleanliness standard and try (very hard) to live with that (or maybe I should attempt to emulate the Japanese style ), and cook whenever I can whatever I could. What this constant reminding makes me is nothing more than a happy, content mother and wife, and one who has lots of extra energy for the late night revision.
  5. Family support is crucial : Other than my ever supportive husband, I have to give credits to my other family members who contribute to make this full-time-housewife-part-time-student venture a bearable one, if not joyful. My younger sister often lends her hands, so did our both sets of parents. My parents are planning to come over and help look after Isa and Khadijah during the January 2016 exam week, just the way my in-laws did last time. In all honesty, I think extended family support is crucial, whether you are a housewife, or in the same shoes as mine, or working full time. It is unfortunate that in this day and age child-raising involves only the parents of the nucleus family (which,  other than sparing no time off for the parents, also deprives the children from beneficial experiences) , and we are not living closely to our extended relatives.

When my mother insisted long before, that if we girls we to study or further study, it is better that we do it while we were single, I didn’t think much about it. Now I know that it is not to say that doing otherwise is making it totally impossible, but the changes you do impact more than just one soul; more than yours only. There are responsibilities you just can’t delegate (who else can breastfeed Khadijah, for instance), and there are just too much collateral damages should things go south.

But again, a lot of people have gone through this situation and aced it, so I say – bring it on!

Eid 2015

 

Eid means differently as I grow up, I realised.

I could not remember any better thing related to Eid when I was a child other than the happiness it brought when my family got to ‘balik kampung‘, or going back to my grandparents’ places. Those days when my father was stationed some 500-700 km away from my grandparents, we could only afford to go back twice a year at most. As a child I love my maternal grandparents’ side more, particularly because my then favourite cousin cum best buddy stayed with them, and we got to do a lot of activities together.

Ramadhan and consequently Eid became more spiritual as I grow up, but less related to family kind of happiness during the four years of me living abroad.

Now that I am married and leading a separate life from my parents (and in-laws for that matter), Eid, apart from its spiritual meaning turns to be more and more about making the folks happy.

This Eid we spent it at my in-laws, which luckily is only 30 minutes away from our place. What that means is no traffic jam! Yeay for that!

We didn’t do a lot of visiting as most of our relatives live in the East Coast. Apart from Isa going the the mosque with his father (I could not because the mosque has limited spaces for the ladies), extra special meals my mother-in-law cooked for the family, and the usual photo session, our Eid celebration may not be as happening as others’, but looking at how happy our parents are at the sight of their grandchildren, I could not be anymore delighted.

Isa may not understand the spiritual meaning of Eid yet, but if anything, for him to equate Eid with togetherness is a good enough thought to instill in him.

p.s. To my readers, if there is still any, Eid Mubarak to you. May you have a blessed celebration, and I am wishing you blessings throughout the year.

Isa’s Third Birthday

I once read a general guide on organising a child’s birthday party: Invite as many guests as your child age.

Isa turned three nearly two months ago, and though we tried not to make it a tradition of having a celebration Isa wanted to blow some candles, so we obliged. It won’t hurt. A cake perhaps, and a few candles to blow (three is definitely not enough) – that was all Isa has been looking forward to.

And to me, his birthday is also a good reason to have him doing so crafts, finally!

My observation tells me that Isa did not find it pleasurable to do this kind of activities, so unless we have a good motivation he would not want to put some effort. Luckily he has seen scenes at birthday parties in the books he reads, so I got him to make some party hats and paper chains garland to get in the celebration mood.

My husband agreed to get some cupcakes instead of a whole cake (which he thinks is a bit too much for just three of us) from Bisou nearby his office – six of them costs nearly as much as a small cake nevertheless after GST which I stupidly forgot about…. But Bisou cakes are delicious. What can I say?

 

I made the exception this time and served Isa’s favourite – fried chicken drummets (tonnes of them), and my sister who happened to be there helping me running some errands in the morning brought home extra side dishes so we already had a lot on our table.

Of course, what excited Isa most was blowing of the candles… and the drummets! The first thing he asked after he was done with the candles was the chicken. Haha.

 

Anyway, I guess Isa had a great time being surrounded by his loved ones – we didn’t plan for my sister and brother to be there, but surely they added some fun to the occasion. Birthday celebration is still NOT a must in our family, and we don’t intend to make it into one, so we don’t really want to make it too huge. The most important is to make memories – pleasant ones.

So in total it cost us less than RM80: RM3 for the cute candles, RM37 for the cupcakes, and RM 30 for the food. All the party decors were made of whatever lying around the house so no damage done to our pockets.

Hooray for simplicity!

p.s. Khadijah was fast asleep (after being vaccinated earlier that day) so she didn’t appear in any of the pics. Such as a shame though.

Eid-ul Adha 2014

 

This Eidul Adha we spent it at my in-law’s place, and Isa had a great time having every uncles and aunt’s attention. We brought him along to the mosque for the Eid prayer, and my husband reported that he behaved well (by the way, we arrived just in time before the prayer started), and got to see the cows and goats that were to be sacrificed.

And I have to say, Isa looked so adorable (I mean, which mom would not think her child NOT adorable) in that ‘jubah’ my mom bought him 😀

Eid Mubarak my readers, may the year bring you blessings and happiness!

Happiness is Contagious

Living with a toddler gives you amazement and amusement, both on daily basis.

 The other day I learnt, again

  • that a child happiness is very much affected by his parents’ happiness
  • That a child has a possibly inherent protectiveness towards his loved ones

 Case 1

My husband and I were teasing each other, albeit harshly during our car ride home. Isa was at the back witnessing what seems like his father slapping me. We were surprised to see him screaming at us for that – he was clearly upset with what he saw – and one question popped out: Why? Is it the protectiveness towards me as his mom, or what?

So we told him we were just teasing each other , and let him see both us ‘making up’. When he smiled, we knew he’s happy with what he saw.

Case 2

Sometimes when Isa started to throw tantrum, the only thing we could do to distract him from crying and screaming is, weirdly, hugging and cuddling each other. He will normally want to join the company.

 At certain times, when it goes to the extreme, where hugging and cuddling don’t work, I’ll jump on my husband’s back and let him carry me around. Isa will almost immediately start laughing at that sight of me being carried on his favourite person’s back, and follow us around.

 My suspicion is that he loves to see us happy, that he will ignore whatever that upset him earlier.

Happiness is indeed contagious.