I have this friend —- So you don’t have a ‘job’ so you obviously don’t contribute anything.

easter

No, really.  I really had this friend.

This is a shout to not just the Baba’s out there but to the mom’s (or the aunt or uncle or grandmother who is taking care of a child at home).

I was going through some of my stories today and I came across something about a good friend of mine who I had known for a long time.  Our oldest was now about 2 years old and I was full head-on into stay-at-home-baba mode.  My wife had a lot going on and I was really putting in the time trying to still figure things out with the change in traditional roles that had taken over this ArabBaba.  She had started nursery and even when she wasn’t with me, I was still running errands, scheduling stuff, getting the car serviced, fixing stuff around the apartment, you name it (or I should say, whatever the wife named it).

So, yes, I had a good friend.  And, he gave me a call and invited me for lunch and it was the one day that schedules and stars seemed to align and I could actually hang out until nursery pickup.

We met up at this amazing little Lebanese restaurant in Doha that I hadn’t been to in far too long and played a game of catchup as he had just had his third kid and wanted to chat.

My first and foremost question was, “3 kids! How do you handle this?!” (here I am having panic attacks with just one).  He then goes on to tell me a very sad tale and one that I will not forget.

“How do I do it? I don’t. I’m at the breaking point. I’m tired. I’m exhausted.  I need a break. Khallas (Arabic for ‘enough’ ‘ finished’)!”

He starts telling me that he and his wife have really been fighting a lot the last few months.  She needs to get a job. He can’t continue to handle being the only one contributing to the family (exact words). He’s tired all of the time.  He doesn’t get to see his friends anymore.  He doesn’t have money to do much of anything like he used to and he feels like he’s aged 20 years and everything hurts.  His wife doesn’t understand what he is going through during the day and the stress of the job and how worried he is about everything.  The kids get sick and then he can’t get any sleep.  The car is in a mess all of the time.  The kids are always running around the house making noise when he wants to take a nap.  And, his oldest isn’t getting his homework done on time so now he has to take off of work that afternoon to take his wife to visit the teacher.

He then tells me “She needs to get a job.  All of this is killing me and we need the money to get a tutor or put him in a better school. Because everytime that I help help him with his maths, he does great.  What is she doing? How difficult is it to help him with his maths?”

I had to sit back.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  I felt like I had been hit by a bus.  I felt like I wanted to hit him with a bus. I felt like he had boarded some bus somewhere with no idea where he was going and it clearly was not on the same bus his family was on.

I told him that it really must suck.  Wow.  Tough stuff to deal with.  So I asked what she does if the kids are sick during the day or if they are at school and get sick (since he is working all day and obviously has the car and she doesn’t drive).

“That happened last week. She had to pick up one of them from school taking a taxi and then take the kid to the doctor.  She was there for 4 hours. My sister had to come and watch the baby and oldest until she came home because I had too much going on at work.  And by the time I came home, she wasn’t home yet, everything was a mess, everyone was hungry and there is no food. It’s frustrating! I need a holiday.”

He proceeds to tell me that she doesn’t work, she’s at home all day and what does she expect?  He just needs to come home and relax after what is going on at work.  She isn’t understanding any of this and he doesn’t know what else to do.

“What time does she wake up in the morning?” I ask

“5a.m. because of the kids lunches and getting the kids ready” he says

“What about you?”

“7a.m. and it’s tough because the kids are fighting in the bathroom. She tries to keep them quiet but man, its so early”

So we talk about what she is doing at 5 a.m.  Breakfast for the kids, wake up the kids, do the lunches, put in laundry (which is really loud, apparently), do the girls hair, get the uniforms on and gets them walked out to the bus to wait for it to arrive.  And now, I’m pushing this conversation really hard because I want to see if he is even hearing himself talk.

“Then I wake up at 7, have coffee a shower and she sends me off with breakfast (she does a good breakfast though) and I leave”.

“So what else is she doing during the day then?”  I am holding myself back from kicking him quite severely under the table as I realise what I’m getting myself into with this conversation.

“I don’t know. Clean I guess, laundry, get stuff ready for dinner.  With the baby she and and the baby walk to the shop and get some food stuff and come back and go about their day, I guess. Why?” shrugging his shoulders.

“What about the kids homework and stuff in the afternoon?” I ask

He tells me she waits for them at the bus and brings them in, changes them, gives them something to eat and they start on homework.  With the baby starting to be more active its getting harder and that is where he thinks the oldest is suffering in his maths is because she can’t spend the time with him.   And, by the time he comes home, he really needs to have a quick nap for an hour or two until dinner and then spend a bit of time with the kids, eat and then start all over.

“What is your wife doing?”

“She eats, feeds the baby, cleans up.  She’s cool about it all. She likes doing it and when her mom is here, it’s amazing because she gets so much more done and fixes stuff up, does nice food and spends time with the kids.   By the time I go to bed she finishes ironing the kids uniforms for the next day and gets to bed after I’m asleep and it just keeps going over and over again.   I’m exhausted, man, I need a holiday or I don’t know what will happen with this family.  And, if she doesn’t get a job – ” I stop him.

“Doesn’t get a job? First off, if she gets a job who is going to do all of this stuff you just said?  Secondly, You work 9 hours right?  She’s up at 5a.m. and goes to bed at 11.  That’s 18 hours!”

“Look I understand that.  But she’s at home. She can relax when she wants” he continues as I start boiling.

I start going in on him about the fact that she’s got a little baby to take care of.  IF she is lucky and the baby sleeps, she can clean.  She is taking a taxi to get a sick child and wait at the doctor and take a taxi back.  She is walking, on the road with a stroller and baby to the shop down the street to get food.  She is doing laundry and folding and ironing clothes for everyone.  She’s trying to help  2 kids with homework and a baby.  Where is he in helping with the maths?  Where is he in helping with dinner or cleaning up?  He doesn’t need a nap – she needs a nap in the evening.  The fact he is going to the school to meet the teacher is because of HIM – not her and then I punch in that he’s an Accountant for his company so maths should not even be part of this discussion.

I tell him that I also know her and she never once complains and always is happy (atleast on the outside) and here he is talking about what she ISN’T doing.  What about all of the stuff she gets done to make things all nice and happy for him?

I left him with one thing “Friend, she has a job, she has 2 full time jobs right now – she is contributing more to your family than you do. Man up and take responsibility for your kids and family and work as a team.”

I got up and left.  And, unfortunately, I haven’t talked to this guy in 4 years.  Not because I didn’t want to and I did try but because I put out there what I had been feeling at times too and that what I was doing and what she was doing was just as important as anything else.  And if something is failing, it’s because we need help and can’t do it on our own.  Clearly those things were not what he wanted to hear and felt like that was not how he was raised as an Arab man.  Well, I wasn’t raised that way either, entirely, but I became a parent and it’s a 50/50 thing.  My wife and I overcame a lot to get to the point where we realized we needed each other to make it work and give our daughter that fighting chance to be the best and it certainly wasn’t about hierarchy.

We get one shot at this – that’s it.  There is no do-overs.  When you commit to raising a family you commit to doing it together and part of that means sacrifices in a lot of areas but atleast you can look at each other, exhausted, frustrated but under a clear understanding that you both did the best to help each other and your family in the only ways that you can and you did it as a team.

There is absolutely no parent better or more privileged than the other.  There is no parent out there that is not walking through their own battles.  There is no parent out there that hasn’t wondered how they will survive another day, wish their partner did something differently to help, where their partner even was or wondered why their kid couldn’t be in the genius class. And there is certainly no parent out there that doesn’t wish their partner would just spend time together as a family and not head out for shisha for 3 hours or hanging out in some majlis at some buddy’s house (Yes, Arab men, I’m talking to you).

It’s one shot to communicate and understand that no matter how tired we are, it’s a different tired than the other parent.  It’s a different frustrating day that we had than the other parent.  And, we have very different emotions at the end of the day.

All of those things represent who we are to our kids.  They represent what defines us, in their eyes, as parents and who they will, undoubtedly, become when they have kids.

Don’t walk in the door tonight and think that the other parent has a great life of lounging around eating juicy mangoes all day and watching Al Khabir.  Take a second to look around and understand what they have overcome that day to get where they are – you don’t know what kind of war they fought today.  Then, share yours together for a bit and focus on dividing and conquering the night ahead.

Because at one time, I ‘had’ a friend and that was never, never, ever going to happen to my life.

Shout out to all of the ‘contributors’ out there – no matter what way you are contributing – it matters!

Cleanup or Tech-Timeout!

Cleanup Cleanup

That song from Barney “Clean up Clean up – everybody everywhere” rings in my head many times a day. Unless you are a toddler or a 5 year old for that matter where that song might be fun – but usually falls on deaf ears.

My wife had posted awhile ago on Facebook about “There is no cleaner floor than one that houses a toddler”.  This, although I would include ‘house’, is very true.

A toddler is able to find the smallest little speck of something on the floor – an ant, crumb, seed, toy, whatever.  And where does it go?  Straight in their mouth.  So, from the day that Kinzy started to sit or crawl on the floor, it became Saffiya’s ‘job’ to pickup ‘small things’.  With Saffiya, as a crawler, it was fine because it was just us and could ‘tidy up’ relatively independently.  But, with Kinzy, it was Saffiya that was usually the contributor to ‘small things’ – Barbie shoes, small plastic dinnerware from her Barbie Dreamhouse, marker caps, buttons, everything and all things ‘chokable’.  But, now, she would walk around like a diligent american government food inspector in one of those back alley Thai restaurants (in the back alleys of Thailand) – magnifying glass, hands and knees, identifying the smallest of small things.   You would not find one speck of anything on our floor.   And, oh the day, if there was something that was identified, it was alarm bells and shouting at the infamous find and then the blame – oh the blame – “Baba, how could you!” “Momma, do you know what this could do to MY sister?” (note how she emphasizes MY when most of the time she has decided she wants to return her to wherever she came from). She was our diligent ‘small thing’ picker-upper.

But, we managed to keep our littlest away from small things (atleast, what we didn’t see ingested and coming out the other end).  And now, the little one runs around and doubles the amount of small things that can trespass on our floor above and beyond her sisters capabilities.   However, this one is pretty good – if she sees something (which she does eventually), she has seen us panic far too many times when she puts something in her mouth, so now she just simply brings the small speck of dust and hands it over to for us to do whatever must be done with the offending speck.

I read awhile ago that when your kids, at a young age, see you cleaning, they want to do the same.  And, they grow up with an understanding that it takes the family to keep the house organized.

I’m wondering where that article is because I really want to find out when that ‘age’ happens where they realize they want to do it.  Currently, as I am using the small hand held vacuum to pickup crumbs (from the last 2 hours since I used it in the exact same place), and my oldest casually lifts up both legs so that I may pass by (while her focus remains, without missing anything, on Minecraft).   And, behind me, my youngest is toddling after me with a biscuit (oh good, more crumbs) joining in the vacuum game.

My once obsessed-with-clean oldest- who used to organize her room like a demon several times a day and had to have everything in its perfect place (even if that perfect place meant that her school sock must not touch, in any way,  her school shirt on the hook for the next day) has become what I can only assume is about as close to being a teenager as possible – not interested in cleaning.

I will admit that we do have a maid that comes in for a few hours 3 times per week.  She does the big cleaning stuff (floor, windows, changes linens, bathrooms and ironing).  However, within about 13.5 minutes of her departure, it’s like a wind has just blown through the house and dropped various articles in all kinds of places.   School socks dropped on the stairs, Shopkins strewn across the entry way (which I have now stepped on), a Barbie torso (don’t ask) and many many more ‘small things’ that the cat has now joined in the chaos and is happily playing football with them throughout the livingroom.

But, the rest of the upkeep is normally up to this Baba and the wife (in the evenings).  This can be difficult because I’m not as crazy as my lovely wife is when it comes to everything in the proper place OR not leaving food particles in the kitchen sink.  However, I can atleast avoid any cockroach (Soosar in Arabic) infestations in the near future. And, I am a madman with some Windex and a Dettol spray bottle.

When it comes to my oldest, no matter the amount of conversation we have with her about keeping about ‘clean up clean up’ and the reasoning we attempt:

“Dont you like it when you can go into your drawer and find your favourite zebra pajamas?”

“Yes, Baba”

“What if we didn’t put these away or even wash them?”

“Then I would ask the maid to do it”

Sigh.

We threaten tech time-outs (which work with a lot of huffing and puffing).  We use actual time outs (which she unfortunately likes because she just sits there and has conversations with herself and after the buzzer times up she just continues to sit there).  We send her to bed (no problem – she likes her room).

She is by no means lazy but she definitely is stubborn (I tell you right now, that is NOT from Baba) and following her own little path.  But, this girl needs to ‘get on the bus’ (wife-term again) with the rest of the family. And, when it comes to it, she will clean up (especially if she is in a good mood).   We did the ‘chore jar’ for which she gets paid a bit for each chore (works and doesn’t work).   She does, however, like a bit of creativity when it comes to these tasks so I’m always looking at different things to get her going.  Unlike my little one who finds it wonderful to help out and ‘clean’ (I need to enjoy this while I can – infact, I will take videos to show her later on when she turns into the child who will start taking out petitions on not cleaning or create some mutiny with other kids in the compound where we live).

As of now, this is my mission – finding a way to get this consistent in her brain.   I’ve Googled myself crazy trying to find new and innovative ways.   I’m always up for suggestions so please email me/Twitter me / Facebook me / Pinterest me / Tumblr me – whatever me.

But, one thing I’m very happy about is the fact that those ‘small things’ are no longer an object of our family obsession.  Yes, its still a clean floor but atleast that ‘stage’ has moved on.

Clean up Clean up – Everybody everywhere – Now to figure out how to get everyone to do their share.

I know I can – I think I can – ok, maybe not?

The Arab world has very clear and defined lines when it comes to roles within any traditional family.

Part of these lines are an understanding that the husband/father is responsible for the financial upkeep and safety of the family, the decision maker and mediator in any and all family disputes (even outside of his own immediate family).

The wife/mother is responsible for the behind the scenes stuff – having, raising and caring for children.  Ensuring their well being, emotional needs and educational requirements are met.  She is also the one that helps in educating the children in their roles in society which differs considerably between the son or the daughter and how life works for boys and how it works for girls.

I’m not saying that these lines are drawn in concrete and unchanging – they are – and I know people who have changed those lines, just as I have.   But, thousands of years of tradition is very difficult to uproot and replant.

I come from a very traditional Egyptian background.  Those roles were defined but I also had two parents who did, whenever possible, try to ensure we maintained our independence (sister and brother) and chose the life that worked for us in the best way that they could.  Regardless, the uprooting and replanting can be difficult.

When my wife and I decided that the best option was for me to take on the Stay-At-Home-Baba role, I didn’t think that much about it because it seemed, at the time, that this was a temporary thing – just until our little addition was old enough.

I admit, I wasn’t always honest with my family and only a few friends actually knew what was going on – especially in the beginning.

Why?  Because in the Arab culture (well, actually in most societies), when a person does something ‘different’, that creates a big talking point.  My wife compares it to a game of Gossip they played as children – kids sit in a circle, a person whispers something to the person next to them, that person has to tell the person next to them and then when it gets back to the original person – everyone laughs because it was so twisted and contorted that there was nothing close to what the original statement was.   This is such a great comparison because that’s exactly what this was – daily.

In fact, I actually heard back from a distant family member that they had heard I was going through chemotherapy and dying of cancer and wanted to spend my ‘last days’ with my daughter because my wife was leaving me which is why I went to part-time at night and stayed home during the day.  Well, that was a good one because yes, my last days I would want with my kids and my wife certainly wasn’t leaving me because I’m just too wonderful and cute and that could never happen 🙂

This was a game that is constantly played and the stories were different every time.  Plus, my friends and family even went to lengths of an ‘intervention’ type of thing – gathering together to tell me that staying home and not working to provide for the family entirely was not something was going to be looked at as a positive thing and I must admit it and change.

I ended up starting my parenting life with my mantra “I know I can”.  The world was my oyster.  My daughter and I were going to conquer it all.

Gradually, it then started to move to “I think I can” and then a bit more time and it was being cut down to “Ok, maybe not”.

The looks that I continued to get in the mall holding this 3kg bundle of happiness (and the 8kg pink flowered diaper bag) continued as she grew.  And, as nice as it was in getting the bit of attention and trying to channel it positively – as she grew –  so did my anxiety.

“Get a nanny and get back to work” so I tell them “What if the nanny isn’t good for my kids?” – the response “Get another nanny!”.   What?  Who says that?  Are the kids like a training ground for whoever comes along and you don’t know what they are capable of with your own small children – especially ones that can’t talk yet?  Do people do that?  Well, yes, I would come to find out.  And I would further hear the nightmares from friends who’s children were kidnapped, molested and harmed in ways that you couldn’t imagine.  Big Note:  This is most certainly not the majority so if you have a nanny, don’t take it wrong – there are so many out there that are amazing.

“This is not the right thing.”, “What are our neighbors going to say?”, “I am telling our family and friends that you are work at xyz company – not staying home!”, “You marry a westerner and you change who you are?”, “You shouldnt be changing pampers”, “What do you do if she gets sick!” “What do you do if your wife gets sick and you aren’t working”,  “You have girls – not boys – This is not your job!”  “Be a man!” (that one killed me).

Then, I had the very quiet and subtle hints from people.  It was whispers at the nursery class and nods to each other toward me when there were functions and I was the only dad.  All of these mom’s were gathered in the corner talking about me and not bothering to make it quiet.  I just sat in my chair or stood off to the side holding my daughter or watching her while everyone else seemed to part of some exclusive clique that I would never hold any membership in.  Note to mom’s – we feel this way and it’s really demotivating when we have to feel like the only kid not picked for a team and we are all adults.  It’s kind of nice if you reach out and say hi – we need it.

I was trying to be a man.  I was trying to take care of my daughter. I was trying to be her baba.  I didn’t need the looks that I was getting.

Then there was the other gender-side of the coin.  I most certainly didn’t need another Arab man looking at me with his friends and laughing as I was pulling the stroller out of the car and tucking in my little one all buckled up with a blanket and toy. What was I doing wrong?  How many more knife-like stares can I throw back at them and hold up my hands and say “Aywa?!” (Arabic for a loosely termed ‘yes, what?!’ in this case).

I really started to doubt everything after the first couple of years.  I doubted my capabilities and I was really to the point of thinking “Ok, maybe not. Maybe I can’t do this”.  My family has lied about what I’m doing.  My friends, atleast the ones that I kept, still poke jabs at me periodically.  When  my wife and I met new people, when I told them what I do, it was like I had some contagious disease.  It made it difficult for us to make and keep friends because automatically we were different.   And, even to this day, we meet people and everything is great until they find out I’m an at-home-baba.  No call back after that – although it’s usually because I simply can’t offer any benefit to them ( ‘wasta’) so why bother.

Even the people in our compounds where we have lived – I was an anomaly.  I was this freak of nature (atleast that’s how I felt).

When my wife and I went to the US, I didn’t feel this way in respect to being with the kids (I did in other ways but  more on that at a different time).  There were dads with their kids in arms reach everywhere.   There were changing tables in the mens’ bathroom.  There were dads sitting at the play place with other dads watching their kids.  I thought this was all too weird but really comforting.  But, I also knew that we would have to go back home at some point too and I would have to go back to my reality.

It’s difficult as a dad in the Arab world to find a place that fits.

I’m really not complaining and I’m most certainly not ungrateful.  I live in a beautiful, evolving and culturally rich part of the world. I’m grateful everyday that I get to be with my girls.  I get a chance to be part of their day.  I get to be the one they share their thoughts with (atleast until their mom comes home and makes her dramatic entrance into their lives and our family is once again, complete).  I get to hear, first hand, how they are doing at school and deal with any potential terrifying moments that may result if my wife tries to reorganize the entire Middle Eastern educational system if she doesn’t get her way when it comes to something she doesn’t agree with in our child’s nursery curriculum.

I’m also the one with the big shoulders that they prefer to fall asleep on.  I’m the one that knows which fever medicine works best for which kid and which doctor I like and which doctor I don’t.  I know which t-shirts make Mackenzie itch and how much bubble bath capfulls are needed of the pink one and not the purple one (2 and 3 if you are asking).

I’ve been going through the ups, downs, sideways, pain, joy, sacrifice, humour and love the last 6 years.  I don’t regret any of it (again, the vomiting thing really has got to be the one thing that should be taken off of the parent list).

I am still battling everyday with trying to find my place.  I still get those looks and the mommy-groups are still the same.  And, the Arab guys that like to snicker at me when you are all together and watch me struggling to pull out the stroller- well, seriously, you need drop your friends and go and get your kids and take THEM out instead – you might have a much more enriching experience.

But on the other side, I also get those wonderful smiles that come from some moms.  And, occasionally, I see a dad dropping their kid off looking about as lost as I used to (and still do) and I run over and give him a quick hint and move on.  And bless some educators out there that actually find humour in my situation and take extra time to help me with things, understand situations or sometimes just introduce me to others (Gems Wellington Primary – GWPS – Big shout out to you and 1G because you guys are hero’s!)

We all have the same fears as parents.  As dad’s – yes, tradition can sometimes speak much louder than words but can also sometimes do the most damage when we aren’t willing to attempt a change.   And, it’s sometimes more convenient not to change and let ‘tradition’ be what it is – especially for me – it works in our favour, right?   But, is this what I want the next generation to continue with?  Is this how we are going to educate our children to become more tolerant and accepting of others?  Because in our part of the world, it isn’t exactly going so well.  Maybe teaching our kids something different may shift the earths plates a bit.

This ArabBaba is doing his best to go back to the mantra 6 years ago – I know I can, I know I can.  Because I will.  I made it this far and I’m not stopping (atleast until they become teenagers – then I seriously may rethink boarding school options in a far away land 🙂   ).

I can do it Baba. I’m big enough

Im big enough

Dubai is unique.  We have little shops just about everywhere that sells just about everything.  My wife calls them ‘MomPop Shops’ (I dont know what that means).  Most of them are no bigger than the size of a small bedroom but they carry everything from paint, to bubblegum to toilet seats.  And then the next shop is the dry cleaner or the hardware store – beep the horn and out they march with whatever you need (more on that in another post).  My wife can’t stand the latter – says it creates such a lazy environment and why should these poor guys have to leave the cool of their shops to service us and what will our kids think of us?  Well, ok, she is right – but it is fun to get Karak (tea/chai) and they just bring it out to you in the little cup (and Saffiya gets her french fries).  We just don’t do it when the wife is in the car. 🙂

On a note, with any of these shops, don’t plan on walking in these shops throwing out your American Express card.  These are good old, hard earned cash shops where the money is thrown underneath the counter and half of the time if you dont have the exact change, he just tells you “Next time! Next time!” – and you give it to him next time.  And, if you are like me, I will bargain down for a discount for 20 minutes just because.  That’s how it works. Again, wife on the other hand, can’t bear to watch me do it so she walks around the shop pretending she doesn’t know me and then I tell her we saved 50dhs, I get swatted on the butt (nice job, babe!) but no, she would definitely never do it.  What our girls will end up doing when they get older?  Who knows but I’m sure there will be some confusion going on when it comes to bartering.

My oldest has grown up with this her entire life (the massive span of almost 6 whole years!).  In fact, when we travelled to the US, she was asking where the little shops were and could she please have a sweet?  That ‘sweet’ isn’t exactly in a shop 100 feet away – it’s an actual drive – and its not a shop, its a gas station that surely has all of the same things – paint, toilet seats, bubble gum, sandwiches, fruit, vegi and whatever else you can think of.  And yes, they take that AMEX card!

So today begins the last week of summer before ‘real school’ starts (they have been in summer camp all summer long, a few days a week, for various reasons – in no particular order – One being I need an hour of peace periodically, Two being they need some type of physical activity other than destroying the house, Three being that it keeps them on the same time timing so we aren’t fighting to get their internal sleeping clocks back to normal when school starts).

My oldest starts a new school and my youngest, bless her little 18 month old self, is going to nursery.  On that note, this nursery reminds me more of a boarding/military school than a nursery.  It’s really a great place but everything is straight to the point/no delays/no flexibility.  However, in saying that, my wife keeps telling me “Atleast she isn’t playing in mud in some villa all day – she’s actually learning something with other kids – like Mary Poppins”.  Ah yes, my lovely wife is right (however, I’m still looking for the nursery police to come after me if I don’t sign my name properly when I pick her up and I’ve seen Mary Poppins and I’m certainly not at peace with sliding down the stairs, flying umbrellas and dancing penguins!).

So, since neither had camp today, off we went to go to the little shop down the road (no, we didn’t need a toilet seat). Car seat buckled, raisin box in hand (its ‘raisin week’ for Kinzy – raisins – all day, every day, all week – last week it was cucumbers – you can’t imagine the diaper contents), one shoe off and one shoe on (that was just the 2 meters from the door to the car), lock door, wait, oldest needs the toilet again and the whole circle of life begins.  I sit and listen to Kinzy’s rendition of the Lion King (Hakuna Matata) and laughing – “hana tata. na ni na ni na na” – all in beat – I find myself tapping along.

We are now ready to go.  And, on the way, Saffiya asks for a sweet from the shop.  Ofcourse she does.  She also knows that it’s not something that we often allow but I can surely find every excuse to give into her whims. As you know, kids love their sweets and there is nothing better than that temporary happiness they get from whatever strange and unhealthy concoction they decide upon (the more colours – the better – and if princesses or Minions are involved – well there is no stopping).

She tells me, “I can do it, Baba.  I’m big enough”.  “No way. We will go together”  “Please Baba, you are right here.  And you need a vacation and can sit here with Kinzy.  I will be fast” (whatever that meant).

This was one of those really painful decisions that you make for a lot of reasons.  One of them being my wife will probably come at me with a big utensil for putting our child in danger (no, she really wouldn’t but it would take a minute of her thinking twice).  Another being that surely she needs to have me there and what if she gets scared or worried?  The last one being that she really needs to have me there because I will be the one that is scared and worried.

I gave her the money, told her how much and what to do and gave her the rules not to talk to anyone (remember the size of this shop and the fact that I can see her every move from the window no matter where she wanders) and to take the money and sweet to the cashier. I told her she should ask how much and give him the money.  I could see the guy smiling at her and and talking with her and she was smiling and waved back at me.

My little girl walked out of that shop with her little bag like she was 25 years old and full of the world.  She had just found this form of independance that she knew she had, that she decided upon when she was ready and something that I was not prepared to see, just yet.

I told her how proud I was of her while my heart was breaking inside (while Kinzy was strategically making a grab for this new found purchase that would now become a yelling point between them for the next 10 minutes).

She told me she couldn’t wait to tell mom (as I was preparing a flow chart to explain the exact steps and time frame to the second of each move she and I had planned in order to present a unified argument to mom).   She wanted to go back tomorrow and do the same thing.  But for now, it wasn’t because of the sweet.  She told me “I can go and do all of the shopping and you can stay in the car, I’m big enough” (maybe tomorrow we will need that toilet seat).

My heart was breaking.  I know her better than she knows herself.  Her gradual move towards independence in almost every form has been frightening for my wife and I because we know that this is our girls pulling further and further away from needing us.  It’s something so simple and we all remember going to the small shops (or big shops or any shops) when we were kids and seeing all of these big people but we also knew the feeling of accomplishment – of feeling more ‘grown up’.

I know her independence but I also know that we have to let her make decisions, no matter how much it terrorizes us, because she knows when she is ready to take on new things- she carefully thinks and understands consequence.   She’s stubborn and difficult (definitely her mother) but is very methodical and systematic (still her mother) and with the most amazing heart full of love (very much her mother).  She does have my eyes though. 🙂

I guess it’s a lot like my wife with her first son.  He’s in his 20’s and when she talks to him she still calls him his baby name ‘Smugs’ (atleast she spared him any animal names).  She still sees her children, just as I do, like they are little.  We don’t want to see them go through any unnecessary discomfort but we also know it’s part of life.  We need to let them venture into areas of the unknown and congratulate them on their success and be there for them to run to in challenging times.  And, we sometimes have to just sit back and watch them through that shop window.

Insecure but Proud

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Today I was reading through some of my stories of my girls.  Specifically when my oldest was just tiny and I was a jumbling bundle of nerves.  Those stories became my own personal journal of how I felt and what I was dreaming of for her, at the time.  I’m so glad that I kept them because when I read them, it brings a feeling that just wells up inside, a lot like when you see those baby pictures and remember where you were, what they were doing and oh how terribly cute and innocent they were (and then they turn five and think they are the Queen – which she claims to hold title to – and try to enforce new and unique rules daily in her kingdom).

Saffi had just turned 3 months old.  This tiny little thing and I finally had to get up the nerve to venture out into the real world.  We couldn’t be locked up forever.  The wife went back to work after with ‘real people’ (only to find it wasn’t as cool and empowering as she thought being away from her little girl) and left me with “It #1”.  I called her It.  Not in a bad way, but because every time I passed her around (language thing), “Can you take this?”, “Where is It?” (meaning her).  Wife endlessly gave me a hard time about this and even with our second one, the same thing. Completely affectionate, I assure you.

So here we go off to the mall (because there was nothing else to do in Qatar anyway at that time – and come to think of it, there still isn’t when we left).  She’s happily tucked into her properly positioned, rear facing car seat, in a car with side, front, rear, ceiling, floor airbags (again, wife’s clear placing of pillows all over the car did not put confidence in my driving capabilities).  And, she is sleeping.  Off we go.  Radio on, bit of rap music and whatever else and I thought “I can do this.  Its so easy!”.   Driving down the road, the immediate whimpering starts.  She’s hungry.  Oh no, why didn’t someone tell me to feed her before I left?  Ok, bottle in hand, stretching my arm back (while driving) and feeding her (now I understand my wifes’ insecurities about my driving because this was so not safe).  Oh she’s happy and I’m driving one handed down the road (not going a minute over 30 km an hour – in an 80).   Oh good, asleep.   Not 10 minutes later, a smell, a smell I’ve never thought possible filled the car.  Can’t roll down he windows because its around 30 degrees -c- (winter time) and I’m afraid she will get cold.  Right!   I hope and pray she won’t start crying until we get to the mall.

We arrive and rush into the mall. Head to the bathroom. What?  Where do I change her?  What is this?  Wife said the bathrooms have diaper changing things that fold out from the wall (note to wife: yes, they do.  In the WOMENS’ bathroom!).  So, I’m changing her on the counter as guys walk in and out looking at me with clear confusion and even a bit of disgust (well, of course, with that smell).   This was unfair.  I must tell the wife to write a letter to the mall management (she likes doing that stuff and making people mad about the injustices of the world).

Now, this is about an hour after we have left and I know there is a nap time involved at some point.  So I wing it because I didn’t  bring the stroller in so she was stuck with me.

I’m a bit of a big guy (the gym thing) so thats no problem.  I can handle hauling around this 4kg bundle and diaper bag (it was pink – really pink!).

Here we are, my little girl and I, walking through the mall and just moving along.  It finally hits me that everyone, absolutely everyone, stares at me as they walk past.  I kept thinking my zip was down or I had grown an extra limb.  I wanted to meet up with a couple of friends and I ask them if there is something wrong with me (they look confused).  So, the 3 of us and this little thing walk around the mall to find the coffee place.  Now, the looks went over the top – western, arabic, men, women, whatever – they just stared and commented to each other. A few of these people even outright laughed.   I’m getting irritated.

We sit down and have coffee.  Little one is happily sleeping on the shoulder of my closest friend and I go up and order coffee.  A british woman comes up to me in the line and she said “Can I ask you something?”  I nod and she says “I really think its great what you are doing”. Again, look of confusion comes across my face.   She smiles and pats me on the arm. “Seeing you, as a big guy and who is Arabic and walking with these 2 other gentlemen and this tiny little baby and that pink nappie bag, its just something you don’t see everyday.  And I really think its great”.  We started the conversation about how my wife and I didn’t trust getting a nanny and felt we should raise her ourselves because she is ours.  She smiled so big and asked where I was from (Egypt) and where my wife was from (US) and she just said “Wow.  You are a good guy”.  She took her coffee and left.

That moment, it was like a lightbulb just exploded above my head.  It was one of those moments where reality just opened up and everything I had always known and what I was taught and what was ‘traditional’ in my culture (and most in the world) had just been thrown out the window.  I honestly felt lost and worried I’d done something wrong.

These people simply weren’t used to seeing a guy like me with this little baby – let alone without a mom in tow.

I suddenly felt insecure but empowered and even embarrassed.   A year ago, I was a guy that wore the latest watches, had the cool new phones, nice jeans and it took me about 6 minutes to get anywhere in the country.  Now, I’ve got stains on virtually everything, watches don’t get worn because I’m afraid they might scratch her tender little skin and my phone, well, it’s been dropped and lost far too many times to even mention.  I miss that guy, I miss the spontaneity.   But, now I’m the guy that walks around the mall with a tiny baby and who is upset because I have nowhere to change my little angel.   I have my 2 friends (who I spent that 6 minutes on the road all of the time to hang with them) cuddling her in their chairs, feeding her and kissing her head.

It was that moment, among all of that confusion that I felt, that I realized that I actually liked what I was becoming.  I liked that I looked at little strange to people and that they wondered what was up.

It was from that moment on, that I developed my own little plan (feed before going, get the stroller – as a diaper changer if those mens bathrooms don’t have – have those diapers and wipes handy at all times) and that I walked proudly, down the mall, store, or anywhere else I went, with my little girl in my arms (before she became the Queen of this kingdom) and just smiled at everyone that looked at me a bit odd.

I am the ArabBaba. I’m still insecure (but atleast I have a well thought out plan now – well thought out, but not always executed that way).  I’m still irritated at mens bathrooms and very thankful that Dubai has the family bathrooms (and has the forward thinking enough to realise dad’s are people too!).

And, I still get to hold it over my wife periodically when I need some sympathy (that I had to go out all on my own with a baby and there was so much going on and so worried, etc.).

We have the opportunity to share moments and stories with our kids, and others.  We have the chance to offer up our insecurities as just part of being human and being a parent.   And I love every second of it because that tiny little thing has grown up far too fast and it was just like yesterday when it seemed like I found myself at that moment.

Express Baby, OCD and its not a boy????

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Our youngest, Kinzy, is what we call the Express Baby.  She was the surprise.  She was the one who just decided to make herself known when she was ready.

Story is, my wife, without getting into all of the physical woman stuff and also because I value my life so if I divulge more than would be appropriate for the internet world this could very well be my last writing (CSI, take note of this!), did not realise she was pregnant until around 18 weeks.  Aside from all of the stuff that didn’t happen that is suppose to and all of the other tell-tale signs, she didn’t know (I swear on whatever book I need to).  She said she was sitting at her office one day and said she felt these bubble things and swore it was gas. To hear my wife tell it, is much more vivid – but again, internet world.

She comes home and says “Ya know, maybe you should just pop through and get a pregnancy test just for the laugh of it”.  I, of course, go into full panic mode.  We decided on 1 kid.  We figured it just wasn’t happening for us anymore (aside from the fact that my wife wasn’t exactly getting any younger – Again, I quote the ‘mature skin’ cream she bought – not me).

I do think that the drive to the pharmacy was probably the longest drive of my life.  All I kept thinking was how expensive it was for kids, how was our oldest going to handle this and how was I ever going to have a life again if we had 2?

Well, she walks out of the bathroom looking like a sheet of white.  She just sat down and we just dropped our jaws on the floor and said “What do we do now?”.   Seriously, what on this earth are we suppose to do now?

She stands up “I knew it! I knew it! And I know I’m a couple months along and we haven’t prepared for anything and haven’t a thing (from the first week we were pregnant with Saffiya we began buying pampers and formula each and every week and our home quickly began to look like ToysRus – we even had aisles!  But, we also gave much of that away a couple of years after Saffi).  But now, at this moment, this is what SHE was thinking of?   Hey, I was having a moment here.  There is going to be another ‘it’.  I’m the one that is going to be with 2 ‘its’.  How are we going to handle that?  What about schooling and nursery and how do you handle 2 kids in the car at the same time?  And here SHE is starting about not being prepared for anything and we haven’t started getting ‘stuff’?

Now, you must understand my wife.  She is completely compulsive when it comes to organization, lists, everything in its place – and most of all, preparation.  Everything is a lot of preparation!  I realized a long time ago, that marrying an American was the highlight because we were never never never out of anything in the house, everything was labeled, organised and in its proper place.  She knew what we needed to do tomorrow, next week, year and 10 years from now – she colour codes everything (see image) AND she had an app for just about everything.

Well, now any romantic evening for us is shot (and probably for the next while).  She calls her doctor to get a booking for the weekend.

That weekend, we go in, looking like we haven’t slept (because we haven’t) and the poor child isn’t even born yet.  Our oldest is clearly confused as to what is going on as she trails in behind us testing out every available hanging gadget she can get her hands on.  We get in with another doctor because her other one was booked and this little old Egyptian lady walks in after the little confirmation test they did, and says “Mabrook Habibty” (Arabic for Congrats sweetie).  She asks how far along she is and we don’t know.

As she starts to do the ultrasound, my wife says, “I think maybe 2 months”.  The doctor starts laughing, “Habibty, you are 19 weeks! You didn’t know you were pregnant?”  She is laughing hysterically.  My wife starts to cry “Momma, why are you crying?”  and I just about fell over.  This was not happening.  I had to sit down.  Saffiya is asking what is on the screen and the doctor starts talking to her in Arabic and explaining.  Saffi’s eyes become as big as a cup and her smile became the only thing that stopped my wife’s tears.   The doctor then stops and says “Do you want to know what you are having?”

In the Arab world, there is a great deal of mixed customs and ideas about what gender is preferred.  I’m Arabic and even with pressure from my family and friends “You need a boy.  You need to carry on the family name”, I enjoyed having a daughter.  I always saw women as strong.  My mother and my sisters were all strong and independent women and I respected that very much.  And I saw how our oldest was growing up to be such an amazing creature that I thought it would be nice for her to have a sister, too.  But, again, I never thought it was in the plan.

“You are having a girl!”  My wife started laughing and telling Saffiya she would have a little sister (she is now beside herself).  I felt like I had just about everything in the world right then.

The doctor again asked how she didn’t know she was pregnant and we went through the whole story.

The next few days were a blur so they could schedule a different scan to accurately know how far along she was.  And this time, the doctor says she is now 21 weeks.  Are you joking?  1 week ago we weren’t pregnant. 4 days ago we were 19 weeks and now we are 21 weeks?!  My wife now has refused to see the doctor anymore because she thinks the next time she goes in, they will say the baby is happening.

Everything was thrown out the window for planning.  The lists started, the coffee runs stopped, the packs of pampers started piling up (we were now on double time).  And, all the while, the little one, just kept cooking along, not bothering anyone just as she had the first 5 months.

The conversations with bosses, family, friends, Saffiya just took to the fast track.  The books on ‘being a big sister’ were being read every single day.  Wife pulls out the “What to expect when you’re expecting” and just opened it halfway through the book and then ends up tossing it “I give up – expecting is not part of this now”.

We were happy, scared, thrilled, worried, stressed, shocked and watching Saffiya talk endlessly to everyone she saw about her little sister coming soon.

Kinzy (which is Arabic for Treasure) was what I really wanted to call her.   My wife informs me that there is no way we are going to name our daughter after something that sounded like a Powder Puff Girl.  “How do you expect her to put a ‘fafi’ name like Kinzy on a name plate on a company when she owns it?!?!  She needs a strong name!”  But, I was determined.  I was putting my Arabic foot down on this.  My wife, put her swollen, water retention foot on top of it.  I knew I was stuck.

She did agree that she would look to something that would incorporate Kinzy.  That would work as a compromise but there was no way. So, she starts on Google, buys a name book, consults the stars (or whatever she as doing at that hormonal point).  She found “Mackenzie”.  And there we went.

Did the lists work?   Yes, as usual, she was right on this.  Did we get organised?  Yes, very quickly.  Were we ready?  Not at all.  Did I figure out how to handle 2 kids in a car?  No.  I am still working on that (but I do have a ready supply of just about everything ever needed in a vehicle in the event of a baby/toddler meltdown, projectile vomiting, headache, fever or Armegeddon).   Did we figure out schools?  Yes, thanks to a pretty great system in Dubai that actually ‘wants’ to work with parents instead of just tossing their hands up and throwing you on a non-existing waiting list to watch you squirm.

I have 2 beautiful, healthy girls.  Did I want a boy?  No.  I wasn’t looking for either one with the 2nd.  But she found us.  I have, however, come to rely heavily on my wife’s lists.  She’s even got it to auto-remind on MY phone (isn’t that just so great of her?!?!).  And, it just seems that no matter how prepared you think you are, life is going to throw some very interesting curves your way just to keep you on your toes.  And somehow, things just seem to work.  They work differently, but they work.

We all have our lives planned out when we are young.  Everything down to the moment.  Even if we don’t know where we are going, we know we are going and we point ourselves in the direction.  We should never feel like that curve that gets thrown our way is anything other than a new opportunity.   I say that now because I’m not fainting looking at an ultrasound machine and because there is no way another baby is happening.  But, I can say that it taught me a valuable lesson – the curves are thrown at a daily basis and I’m catching them.  The moment you don’t, things start dropping.

Now if I can just find a way to get rid of those damn apps on my wife’s phone!

Pizza and Post-its

Pizza and Post-its

Today is Pizza Thursday.

It’s Pizza Thursday because this is the start of the Middle East weekend (Fridays and Saturdays).

It took some time for my wife to get used because it seemed completely out of sorts to actually work on a Sunday.  For me, when we visit the US, it feels completely alien to me that not everything is bustling and crazy on a Sunday.

Anyway, it’s Pizza Thursday.  It’s exciting because the girls (Saffiya specifically) knows its the end of the school (or atleast summer camp) week and mom’s work week.   Everyone pops in the door and kicks off the shoes in about 100 directions (my lovely wife as well – I pity anyone that dares haul out her heels until Sunday – or as she calls it ‘Smunday’ – Sunday/Monday – for the beginning of the work week – unless its an 18 month old teetering around in her shoes), sweatpants and pajamas and whatever comfy clothes make the mark that day are happily put on (or as in Kinzy’s case tonight, a half unbuttoned onesie so that she can continually monitor the status of her belly button).

There are no lunches to make.  My wife is the most awesome ‘lunch maker’ in the world.  She has making lunches for a 5 year old (soon to be 6 as I’m reminded of daily) and an 18 month old down to a science.  This woman is in the throes of Pinterest for new ideas, ready Good Housekeeping and Mother & Baby and our fridge looks like a modge-podge of pictures of ‘stuff to make’.  The sandwiches are cut in hearts, the cucumbers are precisely cut in sticks, the berry bin (the Binto Box berry container that she clearly worships) has all of the proper berries in their places – never mix blackberries with blueberries because apparently, they had an argument last week and the rasberries are the current mediators in the berry bin.  She packs those lunches, places the well thought out post-it in each of their lunches (something her mom did for her and if she forgets to do it, I’ve seen her get up at 3a.m. and go down and put the post-it in their lunch) and off she goes to prep her lunch, have a conference call or 2 (or 3 depending on the day and how long these people seem to want to hear their own voices) and get the coffee cups ready in the morning.  But those post-it notes better be in their strategically placed locations for the kids (one reads and one doesn’t but those post-its go on there!).   And, absolutely, do not forget the post-it!  The drama associated to not putting the post-it in her lunch will carry on for days.  This happened on my wife’s last trip to India.  She did 5 days of post-its and I always know to grab one and put it in the lunch so Saffi has a bit of her mom with her each day.  One day, it didn’t happen.  Well, that Skype conversation that night with her mother was beyond drama.  She was promptly instructed to never let it happen again, her friends asked where her post-it was and, in her words, “It was embarrassing, Mom”.  She’s 5 – there is plenty more embarrassment coming.  But, my wife, bless her, agreed and said it wouldn’t happen again and she will ensure that there are 2 post-its the next morning (she always knows the right thing to say – mom’s have that skill!).

Because there are no lunches – there is no schedule/routine to keep that night.  No laundry, phone calls, social stuff, whatever.  It’s our one night as a family where nothing else matters except the 4 of us (and 3 felines that are the bane of my existence most of the time).

Pizza Thursday (if you have ever tried Freedom Pizza – try it!) was celebrated with a big supreme pizza (my girls love their veggie’s – don’t ask me where that came from) and one of those cookie pizza things (I know where they got that from).

We settle like complete slouches – no dishes, the couch and a movie (today – thankfully – was not Frozen – but Cinderella).

The little one is walking around ‘half-onesied’ with half a pizza piece dropping olives as far as the eye can see (while obnoxious cats think they are little black toys).  The other is devouring her 3rd piece of pizza.  Now, my daughter is a ‘skinny mini’ (the wife) – the metabolism, bless her, just doesn’t stop.  We are cautiously warning her on the effects.  But no, those slices go down and so does a slice of cookie pizza.

Full and content, wife gets her up to bed and settled in.

Not 20 minutes later she comes down the stairs moaning and groaning.  Her stomach hurts and she can’t sleep (I don’t think many people could at that point).

Wife is content with the wee one happily sleeping on her shoulder and I take her up to tuck her in and get her to sleep.

The funny thing is that here she is, turning 6 and I remember when she was tiny, even Kinzy’s age and before, tucking her in and holding her to sleep.  She’s big now.  She grew up too fast.  And here I am tucking her in because she still needs me.   Is this the last time it will happen?  Is she going to be 15 before I know it and then she will be slamming the door and not listening to anything?   My wife and I were now tucking in the little one.  And I realized that I still need to take that time to tuck her in.  And, I found myself doing this so much with Kinzy.  But with Saffi, this could probably gradually go away – when she doesn’t need me anymore or just deals with her own upset stomach.

I feel like they are both changing so fast.  I want to be the one that she calls with a stomach ache.  I don’t, of course, want her to have one.  But, I do want to make sure that I am taking those times to listen to her growing pains more and spend the time putting her to sleep. And looking at her and watching her as her beautiful brown eyes close and she looks like a peaceful angel tucked into her pink princess, pepto-bismol room, I can’t help but laugh that think about the fact that we have survived these ‘almost’ 6 years together.   And that I can still put her to sleep and she still needs me – stomach ache or not.

The opportunities that we have to make a difference in however many years we live can dwindle if we don’t look for every chance to make a difference.  For her, if I’m that face she sees before she sleeps and I know it will be a peaceful and pleasant sleep for her, I would give anything to be sure that happens.  For my wife, if those post-its are going to make the kind of memories for her that are important in whatever way that is, she will go to the end of the earth to make sure there is never any shortage of post-its.

This is what we do for our kids.  So Pizza Thursday may not have been the most pleasant for my oldest tonight, but I know that us laughing and joking as we do each Thursday makes that stomach-ache a distant memory.

Buying toys, spoiling children for no reason, guilt sweets, whatever it is (that is so prominent in the arab world sometimes), we often fail to realise that it isn’t about those things – the memories stay with them long after the Shopkins have been lost or the Minions have gone far out of style.  My wife calls the memories, RAK (Random Acts of Kindness).  But, for parents, those Pizza Thursdays and Post-its are simply our way of good parenting and holding onto those bits of time that seem so short.

Have an amazing Pizza Thursday, everyone.

What is Happiness?

what is happiness

What is happiness?
The dictionary defines ‘Happiness’ as 1) The quality of state of being happy 2) Good fortune, pleasure, contentment, joy. Is that what we think of when we hear the word ‘happiness’?

I was at a parenting event today talking about creating happiness and it really had me thinking about ‘happiness’.  Did I have enough of it?  Do my daughters have enough happiness?  Is my wife happy?  Is my mother and family happy? Are my friends happy with me?  Am I happy with them?  Do I create happiness around other people? I learned a long time ago that I had to be happy with my situation and my current ‘state’ – whether that was happiness, anger, sadness or frustration.  And, as a baba, I experience all of those on a daily basis.  But, does it make me less of a happy person if I have these feelings?  And, the pressure to make all of these people ‘happy’ is overwhelming. Am I failing at being a parent when I use the word ‘no’ about 300 times a day (my oldest, I’m sure, thinks her name is Saffiya but her nick-name is ‘No’)? Are we too determined to trying to create this happiness bubble around us 24/7 because apparently, according to a post I read awhile ago, being happy is the only emotion to create a positive world?

I asked Saffiya (a.k.a. Ms. No) today what made her happy.  She said “Snuggling”.  I smiled and she walked away casually booting the cat on her way down the hall (I really hope that wasn’t her state of happiness doing that).

It came down to one thing.  Happiness is a ‘moment’.  It’s a moment that you experience what the dictionary defines it as.  The length of that moment doesn’t define you as a person and it shouldn’t make you feel less of a human being or a parent.  Or, that you are failing to create a ‘positive world’ when you curse (hopefully in your head) at the guy in front of you on Sheikh Zayed Road that just started weaving through the lanes talking on his cell phone with his kids hanging out the back car windows with no seatbelt at 160km/h. It’s a moment – just like any other emotion that you have.  Then, when you have it, its like your brain does a diagnostic on that moment (if you pay enough attention to it) and assesses you on your feeling.  You then determine if you like it or not, your reaction and what you do with it.

When I look at my girls or I think about them as I write this, I feel love, sure.  But, I feel happiness for a moment at the thought of them making each other crazy in their room over who is cooking on the ‘stove’ (no, its not a real stove).  I pick my daughter up from nursery and the second I open the door, everything washes away from the previous hours because I know whats coming.  Her big brown eyes look up from the teachers lap, the most massive smile breaks out and she runs to me with her arms stretched farther than she could possibly realise.  Her moment of happiness and my moment of happiness collide into one big bear hug as she pats me on the shoulder and nuzzles her face into my arm.  My oldest takes her hand and walks her down the school hallway. We venture out into the heat, get in the  car and head home as my oldest informs me that she wants to see her friend Daisy right now. I explain we can’t today, she throws a fit for no particular reason other than the fact she’s just spent 5 hours at sports camp and is exhausted, yells at her little sister who yells straight back at her and the moment has disappeared into something else (and its not a happy one).

When you have children, it changes you.  Everything about what made you happy before has changed.  Those moments you had have completely gone off the end into something so different.  You look at them both (or however many you have) and you just sit in awe at how incredibly different these 2 kids are.  They came from the same parents, raised the same way, doing the same things.  But, as my wife says, ‘they are chalk and cheese’.  My oldest is only comforted by her momma when she needs to talk (and my wife has a weird way of pulling things out of her when she knows something is up – probably because the 2 of them are virtually twins in their personalities).  My youngest, she is a little me.   Her desire is to make us happy and most of all to make us laugh.  She’s hilarious.   And her performance of ‘Let it go’ (with no words – only a lot of arms, stomping on the ground and facial expressions) rivals any viral video that ever surfaced when Frozen came out.  You have 1 and then another and the experiences are so different but so much the same.  And you just want to hold onto every second (again, not the vomit ones, but the other stuff, definitely).  Watching them creates moments of happiness.

You want to put them in a box and never let them out into the real world knowing whats out there. You want them to keep those moments pure and happy (even with the yelling).

But still, I get jealous of my wife at times because she gets to be out there and networking and conversing with ‘real people’.  But then I think about that moment (after the diagnostic thing kicks in) and realise that I’m a big part of raising them to become ‘real people’.  I get to be the one that laughs with them, helps create happy moments with that snuggle or colouring a picture together or being the reason those arms are outstretched.  I’m the one that gets that most of the time.  I get only a certain amount of time to give them their own moments of happiness and I choose this.

To point out, I completely understand the need for 2 parents working.  And, I also know that many parents out there would give their arm to be able to be home with their kids but are unable to.  I’m blessed in this respect.  But, what I can say is that happiness isn’t the 24/7 thing or even staying at home with your kids.  Happiness can be 2 minutes of time – talking over dinner, cleaning up, doing the laundry, playing a quick game, tucking into bed, drawing a picture, writing a post-it for their lunch, creating your own song together that you sing every day – just the 2 of you.

What can we do for 2 minutes to make a difference?  I may be a stay-at-home baba but I still want to find those 2 minutes extra that I could make a difference.  Because it never seems enough but I want to keep finding those opportunities to create happiness.

When I see them with their moment of happiness, my moment is there too, and they collide.  Whether they remember it or not, I want them to have as many moments as possible.  And, we are all capable of helping create a moment for someone else – especially these little ones we want to raise into ‘real people’.  I think THAT is what is going to make a positive world.

It all started with a little Ms. Monkey

4 sept 09 b

I remember the day that my oldest and first daughter was born.

We were at the hospital and after far too many hours in labour, we finally get sent down to the delivery room.  Now  mind you, this was in Qatar and we were at a hospital that basically resembles a 5-star hotel (and priced like it as well)… we are talking bell boys to take your bags, any little thing you could possible want, you can book a 2-3 room suite or whatever your heart desires.  However, I don’t think there was much thought at this moment because all my wife could say is “This chicken is cooked!”.

When it finally looked like this might happen, well, it was Ramadan.  And, it was a Friday (2 very special times for a Muslim) and we were looking forward to our little one coming into the world.

I want to start off with 2 things.  I have no idea what it feels like for a woman to be pregnant.  I have complete admiration for a woman going through 9 months of all of that ‘stuff’ they go through.  It felt surreal for me.  She would feel the baby moving and grab my hand “See!  Feel that?!?!”  Ok, ofcourse I felt it… it was cool.  But all I wanted was to see this baby.  At this point, it was a little alien that was consuming everything about my wife and I really wanted to make sure that something was really in there.  As a ‘pending dad’, you can’t really understand it  because you are outside this little bubble.  i just wanted to see this baby!

Secondly, its very uncommon for the Arab father to be in the delivery room for the birth.  Normally, we would just wait outside and wait for the news and light the proverbial cigar. But no, I was going to be in there.  The doctors and nurses were a bit unsure of the situation right then and asked if I wanted to wait out.  Not quite sure if I knew why but the wife simply said “You will be in there!” (don’t argue with a woman who’s chicken is cooked!).  Her little birth plan took a small detour with the cord wrapped around our daughters neck and the doctor watching the monitors intently because she so desperately wanted a normal birth.  I had no idea what to expect, what to do, how to sit, who to talk to, where to direct myself if I faint (from all of these needles and things), etc.

The time came where it was the breaking of the fast and the call to prayer.  I wanted to have that moment of prayer before our little one came into the world.  My wife is Christian and I am Muslim.  And, I dont think that regardless of what religion she was, she most certainly wasn’t going to be left alone in that delivery room while I went and had a moment with God.  After some well said profanities (I leave that to the mounting pain she was in with an epidural that didnt work on half of he side), she told me to be fast (for the sake of this site, that was the best way to put it) and she wasn’t having this baby without me (Awww!).

I come back into the room and “Let the games begin”.  All of the gowns and masks and equipment and legs all over the place.  I’ve  never been more stressed  and nervous in my life.

Saffiya comes out and the first thing she said to me (my wife, not Saffiya) was “Is she ok?”, “Does she have 10 figures and 10 toes?”… before she could even look at her. I tell her everything is ok and Saffiya starts to cry and I’m still nervous and stressed and I certainly don’t know what to do now.  I felt scared to hold her.  I thought she would break in my hands.  I was shaking.  All 2.9 kg of her and I was the one that was scared.

I’m a father.  I certainly didn’t even know how to feel.  Little did I know that my future was starting in the form of this little baby girl….  our Ms. Monkey

We really didn’t listen to our parents. Dumb Move!

Listening to our parents?
Listening to our parents?

“You are never going to appreciate us until you have kids of your own”  Those are the words that my dad was always telling me.

God rest his soul as he passed more than 2 years ago. But, wow, was he ever wrong.  But, he was really right.

I appreciated my parents.  I grew up with a special needs younger brother and 2 sisters.  We lived in a village about 80km from Cairo. My dad worked nights and mother during the day.  He got up with us after working a long night and made sure we had breakfast and was booted off to school so he could sleep for a few hours.  We didnt have nanny’s or the latest tv (my wife still uses some weird phrase about walking up a snowy hill both ways or something to get home).  But, we saw a lot of love between our parents.  We got smacked and whatever else they could come up with.  But back then, we did appreciate them (atleast I did – not sure about the rest of my crazy family).

I appreciated my dad sneaking me out and getting me a sweet or having a day together walking around to his friends or listening him talk about religion or politics or involving me in conversations sometimes.   I appreciated my mom because when she wasn’t around, I always remember really missing her as I was growing up – even just for a few hours.  I did appreciate them, and I still do.

Now comes that lightbulb over the head thing.  I had kids.  I think that at that moment (well, atleast with the first it took that 6 months I talked about), I probably appreciated my parents in about a 1000 more ways than I ever thought possible.   I took a turn from appreciating what they did for ME and my own comfort in life growing up into realizing that what they sacrificed for me from behind the scenes and how much pain, worry and fear they carried with them as I just wandered around thinking I was invincible.

I didn’t know until many years later that my mother and father took only a few bites of food in the early years to make sure we ate plenty.  That those little sweets my dad would buy for me was without my mom knowing and using the little bit of taxi money he had reserved for the next day to offer me something and see me smile.  Those times he was seeing his friends, it was to pay back money he owed them.   Thankfully, that wasn’t the situation any longer as we grew up and things improved and we all went on our own ways – becoming educated and moving on with our lives.   But, when I started checking on my daughters every night, several times a night to make sure they were breathing, having vivid nightmares of the things that could happen (robbery, fire, earthquake, nuclear disaster, Tom Cruise trying to stop an asteroid from hitting the earth, etc.).  How will I protect them?  What about those nasty bad people out there?  What about the terrible nannies that are out there (more on why we decided against nannies early on in a later post) and the things they do to children.  I started not caring about what I was going to buy but thinking about what could we do to have fun, what new clothes did they need or lets spend the extra money on buying organic instead of the cheap rasberries. I wanted to simply put that child back in and go back to my life where everything was normal and I worried about which jeans to wear the next day.

The other night, I listened to my littlest coughing.  She’s always struggled a bit with anything slightly respiratory.  I know every single little cough and what sound means one and continuing to check on her to make sure she is ok and hasn’t vomited (yes, this is the projectile thing I was talking about – she has taken it to an art form!)

This is painful!  This is horrendous having to worry about some other little person.  This isn’t about next week or putting things off to tomorrow.  This is about right now, this second, at 3:22 a.m. when you just watch her breathe and the house is quiet and you sit in their room feeling like there is a blizzard of fuzziness in your head.  You worry if you locked the door.  You go and check.  You hear a cough, you go back. You sit and watch.   At that time, my heart is probably the heaviest but also ready to take flight.  This painful thing that weighs on every single decision that you make every second of every day is so overwhelming.

Do they appreciate me (or us, I have to say that or the wife might take serious action)?  Yes, I think they do.  They appreciate what I DO for them right  now.  What I appreciate is everything my parents did behind the scenes that has brought me to this point of being able to say “Thank you” and really meaning it.

My girls are going to appreciate me every step of the way – even when they hate me when they are teenagers.  But that appreciation is going to be in phases just like we have been going through those same phases growing up and figuring out that maybe we actually should have listened to our parents.

And even when they are 50 and I’m still calling them my babies or my girls (my wife calls them different animal names – and I really hope that she doesn’t use those words when they are 50),

I want them to know that while they are still working on their ‘phases of appreciation’, I am appreciating them for what they have been able to give to me.   They have been able to let me turn around to my parents (both here on earth and in spirit) and truthfully say “Thanks, you were right”.