Motherhood

The Greatest Joy

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Into the Woods. January 2017.

The coming of January marks the beginning of my third year being home; being out of the workforce and becoming essentially, as they call the profession these days, a full time homemaker and a stay-at-home mom.

I have been on both sides of the fence. So I may be able to say this with some degrees of authority that this is a life which I would not trade for anything else. Yet. For the time being. You just need to be aware of the disclaimer: just for this period in time.

Of course, while nearing the two years mark, I had at certain times, lost sight. I doubted my self-worth and purpose somewhere along that way for various reasons. It was not until that mild depression was shaken by the sudden opportunity of going back to work that I found the critical factor that makes me want to stay on the path for a little while.

So the story is I went through an episode of what seemed like a mild depression a while back. I knew at that time I was not at my best. My husband noticed that too: I was angry and frustrated most of the time. I had a hard time getting up in the morning and would stay in bed until 9 or 10. When my husband raised that point (no anger from his side or anything, he was just merely telling me his observation), I gave him some excuses which I knew were not convincing at all. But as I was soon able to see clearly what was going on with myself, I was transported back to my second year at university, to the winter of 2006. It was when I had a similar disconcerting period – I had a terrible time at school, and felt gloomy most of the time. I did get help eventually, Alhamdulillah and raised above it, but then I realised that staying in bed as long as I can was my way of escaping the real world, a sign of depressive period.

During this recent period of confusion which lasted around a month or two, I applied for several positions of full time jobs thinking that it home life is not for me. My line of work is quite niche in Malaysia, so while vacancies do not pop up frequently, if they do even with my limited experience I’d still get some attention. I went one interview (invited after several hours of applying online), noticeably impressed the interviewers, and received the job offer immediately. I negotiated for a better job position and for the salary I wanted and got them. On top of that, the HR let me decide when I could start working. They went through three rounds of advertisement throughout the year to fill in five posts and only manage to find two so far.

I was the third one. They chose me. I felt needed, wanted, and precious.

But only in the face of such opportunity of another chapter and another adventure, I began to dig deeply on the value of staying at home. When I quit working, my intention was to raise my children and become the parent I thought I want to be. I longed to cook healthy and hearty meals for them – I was tired of takeaways by that time. I wanted to read to my children as much as I want to – I still remember nearly bursting into tears due to my incapacity to do so when a former boss who knew me since my single days asked of my life as a parent. I wanted the time to enjoy the house we own, and build a home out of it – our house then felt like another hotel, we went home to sleep, and rose only to rush to work again.

But after two years, my views changed, albeit slightly. I know I am privileged financially to be able to choose this life. I know too, that food on the table is food on the table – it is for nourishment primarily. The value of food in a family life is in how they provide a platform to unite family members: people sit together and talk and share at dinner time. Home-cooked or otherwise do not matter, if they are a complete and healthy meal and served and presented well – halal and tayyib. And this value is achievable whether I stay at home or work full-time, with a bit of effort.

And the house, there is an infinite timeline on making it a home. My house is already fully functioning physically. Home-decorating is the only activity that could never stop. Once you are in the wagon, you can hardly pull the brake. The more you get inspired, the more changes you want to make, the more useless things you’ll buy as eye candies with the hope of turning the house magazine-like.

But I turned down the job offer, in the end, at the possibility of not being able to read to my children. It is a vision I could not let go.

I had been through it once that constraint in time. Hence I have known with a certainty that I would never go near such thing again. I have forgotten that as I immersed myself in self-pity. The pain; the pain of inability was too much and could never be soothed by the idea of ‘quality time’.

Of course it is not reading per se.

It is the idea that I will be losing my role as the children’s first authority, their first teacher that hurts me most. It was at that moment, I realised that that is the greatest joy in parenting and in being a stay-at-home, sort-of-homeschooling mother for me. I live for the joy of watching how my children’s eyes twinkled at the new revelation and enlightenment I present to them.

I still remember the moment my then really young son, realised the transition of day and night, and the silent he gave me once he realised that phenomenon. He was barely two I think, but I could then sense the wonder. I take pride of being the one who first introduce him to God, his Works and Attributes. I am happy to be the one who tells him that we are just a small part of the universe when he begins his obsessive phase on Solar System and all other celestial beings. I am glad to be the one who tells him that his job is to serve people, one day, by solving problems. I am delighted and humbled to be the one to make known to him the reality of this mortal life; that there is another life, an eternal one that we should all be striving for. I derived my happiness from being able to impart the knowledge I accumulated to my children, to be the one who plays an active role in their learning. I lit up just by being the witness of their epiphanies and bewilderment from the newfound facts of life.

I could not be content with passing the baton to someone else yet.

So I stay.

I am still staying away from the alternative life which would have given me for adult interaction and human contact. I am still shying away from that 9-5 routine that would have seen me with more money at my disposal, that lets me make full use of my professional expertise (Which I didn’t know I have until that nearly-three-hour interview), that will give me the satisfaction that I am actually doing something ‘real’ in the world. I am not going to step into the world of paid employment again just yet. Bye bye Jobstreet.

Someday in the future, I know I may find myself again in the pit of misery and low self-worth.  But I know too, that once I dwell enough on the doubt, I have the capacity to rise again.

It doesn’t matter if that this staying-at-home business is a thankless job. I don’t hang on to the oft-said words that the pay for this unappreciated job is the love from my children. If it’s the job that give me the greatest sense of joy, I’d stick with it.

I am selfish like that.

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.

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

 

 

 

Khadijah: the Eighth Month

My daughter Khadijah turns eight month old a week ago. Looking at how I missed recording her monthly development here on this blog, I reckon it is time for me to put some effort to do so.

In all honesty, eight month passed very quickly with Khadijah. I don’t remember feeling so overwhelmed by Isa’s development last time; even when I only spent half of my waking hours with him on average. But with Khadijah, days moved a bit too quickly to my liking despite me being around her nearly 24/7. Days turn weeks and weeks to months, and now there she is attempting for the umpteenth time today to stand unsupported – a skill she’s been trying to master since the last two weeks.

Khadijah often surprises me. Physical developmental-wise, I have learnt to be extra vigilance with her. Just after two weeks of her reaching the milestone of creeping, she begun the attempt to crawl, and before I knew it she started pulling up. And just as she mastered moving around while holding on to things, she has built the confidence to let herself stand unsupported – which means more hit, more falling down and all things that could make a mom begs for heaven’s protection.

She adores her brother immensely, and you can tell by how she looks at Isa each morning. Isa adores her too, and he loves seeing her all dressed up in a gown, glad that her sister turns into a ‘princess’ (but insists that he is a king instead of a prince -_-‘ ). I find it funny that neither of them can stand being awake alone for too long, and would do whatever they could to wake the other one up – despite the well-known fact that they actually can get more of my attention, and can play alone uninterrupted without the other one around.

I often wonder if their relationship would be that close if I were still working. They would still have been sent to the same creche, but with less contact time due to the different age group would they be, as Isa terms it, ‘best friends’? Is this another plus point I could add to the ‘list of things I or (we) gain from being at home’?

Khadijah’s strong character is observably growing each day. I have a thing for strong women, and aspire to be one of them – and I am thankful that she has  at least some traits of it – with the downside of having to witness both my son and daughter roughing up each other (no kidding about this!) and withhold my urge to stop them because they are clearly having fun. As my friend puts it – I need to stop being the party pooper!

It is important to record here that Khadijah is being extra nice to mommy being refusing milk from bottle and can remain happy with 3-4 hours between feedings – a mercy to me since that exempts me from having to express milk (and all the hassle that comes with it) in order to leave her for my thrice-a-week classes. Well, of course at some points her crankiness will appear but so far my husband can still handle it well…or so I think. Funny that she would happily snatch her brother’s bottle at any given opportunity but refuses to drink from hers. I should retrain her, really, but I am more tempted to leaving it as it is, partly because we have started solid food, and well, having to NOT pump milk and worried about the stock is mind-freeing.

Of course, at eight month the separation anxiety – the inevitable phase in a child’s life I assume – still strikes. For half of the day she’d be happy to play together with her brother without me within sight, but the other half would be spent tugging me, and holding on to my legs (now how am I suppose to cook, or eat, or even poop happily that way?) and crying and screaming her lungs out, if she’s not stuck on my chest. But this too shall pass, shan’t it?

My little Khadijah has indeed been a blessing (who screams), but I am just happy I get to enjoy her (and her screams).

Alhamdulillah.

I Don’t Sacrifice Anything

Sacrifice : the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone

It has definitely been a while.

I have tonnes of thing I’d really like to write about, mentally vomiting all my thoughts, or if you please, cataloging them all.

I am back to being a student, 9 hours a week I will be away for what I call my me-time, the time I could call myself anything but a mother. Not that I hate being one, but motherhood, as people have always cautioned us against, is consuming. Without the awareness of its tendency to occupy my mind endlessly with mom-related worries, I’ll cease from being myself. And there is nothing healthy about it.

But some people call it sacrifice. A sacrifice a woman will do (and sometimes expected to) once she is endowed with offspring.

I hate the word sacrifice. It is a word most often associated with a noble connotation, but I have never allowed myself to use it. It is self-defeating, full of self-pity, and to a certain extent grandiosity and self-glorification –  at least that is what it sounds to me. I have taught myself to call it ‘investment’. We human are doing things out of self-interest, and there is nothing wrong about hoping and aiming for a return of our ‘investment’.

The things you let go in the hope of something else.

A delayed gratification.

Even God Himself terms it as a ‘trade’. It is a business, a bargain.

“Those who read the Book of Allah, establish regular prayer, and spend in the way of Allah secretly and openly out of what we have provided for them. They hope for a commerce that will never fail.” (Qur’an, 35:29)

“Verily God has purchased from the believers their persons and their property that Paradise might be theirs.” (Qur’an, 9:111)

And the return I hope for is nothing but His pleasure, and hopefully meeting Him in Jannah someday.