How do you compete with that? I’m there for them constantly and when I am told “But Momma does it better”, what do you do? I do their hair, I put their clothes out, I make their food, I’m at parent conferences, I cut the berries into pieces (vertical not horizontal). But there you go, “Momma does it better” and my heart breaks.
My lovely wonderful wife travels. Far too much for my liking. And I curse every time that awful bright pink Samsonite comes out (courtesy of my oldest choice because life is all about everything pink) and she starts pulling out her packing list for whatever trip it is (which she packs so much stuff I keep thinking she is going for weeks but its only days). But she travels and the girls put in their ‘travel tokens’ (their bits and pieces of whatever so that she remembers them) and she goes.
I usually sit on the couch for a minute and contemplate my existence for the next several days and what the plan is and how I will handle these 2 girls that are sucking the life out of me (that’s my thought at that moment only – unless it involves vomiting – then yes, it’s a longer thought). Then, the routine comes together.
One thing I learned from being married to an American (and I’m sure all Western are like this), is scheduling is key to everything. Wake up, do this, do that, go to sleep. Now, I improvise a bit and put my own twist to it but the routine thing is something that I figured out is just about the best thing for kids (don’t forget to add the twist though). Kids need structure, routine but also need the time to play, experience and live.
But routine rules. So at 6p.m., after all of the play outside with her friends we spend time working on her Arabic and English homework (which is always funny because of my lack of grammar skills and using the capital letters when you are not suppose to which she informs me about constantly). We put together her dinner (which is always a group effort because half of it is eaten while in the process of doing that and making school lunches for the next day – this makes it much more efficient actually). We chat about life and who said what but always with an element of mystery because as she says “Momma knows about this Baba, not you”.
My little one, trying to corral her into a space for just enough time to work on homework with her oldest sister is always a challenge. We go from an Ipad for 2 minutes, then to playing with “Ota” (Cat in Arabic) and then rolling on the floor for no reason and anything else to get attention. In the meantime, Saffiya is saying “Khallas. Yalla! Yalla! Come up here! “to her sister. Then the wee one wants “Mil” which is ‘milk’ in her language. I pull her up and she has her ‘Mil’ for about 2 minutes and just enough to get through more spelling test words and then it’s time for a Body Slam from her little sister.
Showers and brushing of the hair. Oh, this brushing of the hair. This dramatic tragedy that takes place when I brush my oldest hair.
This time is normally allocated to her momma. This time is when they have their ‘time’. They talk about everything and nothing. They talk about things that I had no idea would be of any interest. I still work on that as a Baba. How is talking about the colour of her friends’ hairband be of significance in life? How is life being understood at that moment when they talk about why her teacher didn’t listen to her when she was confused about a word? How is her world being changed when she brushes her hair with only the appropriate amount of detangler sprayed for her curls and the wide tooth brush she uses?
I can finally get them to sleep and it’s me. It’s just me. Alone. Cleaning up the drama of our house that was once clean a few hours ago and the same stuff is still strewn back over the floor (how do kids seem to find the exact same things to throw everywhere?). But, at last, I sit and do whatever it is I do (half the time is watching the rest of a show that I’ve recorded for a week and haven’t gotten through with the exception of 10 minute intervals or talking to my mom about all of the above).
My oldest is tough. She has her momma’s way of doing things. And her close bond with her momma is something I can’t compete with. But I always wonder, when I look at her, when I talk with her and I have those small conversations that mean the world to me, is she going to think that I did something right? Am I going to hold some memory for her that I was the one that did something right? Or, is it going to be the way I brushed her hair and it always pulled too much or those conversations like she has with her momma wouldn’t happen?
Her mom can discipline her. Her mom can set things straight. But, I’m the one that gets played around with. I’m the Baba that is constantly trying to keep the same consistency in our parenting in place. But, I’m also the Baba that looks at her as my oldest and first child – who would change the world with every power of my being just to make sure she was safe and secure and could venture out into this existence with love and guidance and compassion. But, her momma is the one that seems to be able to understand her.
I am really interested to understand how different the bonds are between a mother and father and a child. I am interested to hear how parents that are able to divide the parenting and still keep things consistent. Do kids just naturally know who they can ‘play’? Do kids just know who they bond with and only have those conversations?
In the meantime, I have to be the one that ends up pulling the hair too tightly, that has to juggle the 2 kids at homework time, that doesn’t sing the ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ song quite right or never knows the words to “Chicken of the Sea” (the latter is a long story).
But I do know that if she has those conversations with her momma about the colour of the hairband or how she felt about what her teacher said, then I know that 50 percent of the time, she is feeling ok on that side and is able to deal with whatever life throws at her for that moment in her ‘kid bubble’. On the other 50 percent, I can only hope that the memories that I create with her will also be something that comes up at some time and it will be “Because that’s how Baba does it”.