Saturday, November 15, 2014

Her Story Repeats Itself

The mountains are not meant for me. At least, I think that’s what baba's expression signified. He looked coldly disapproving when I rushed in this morning, pigtails flying, face wildly red. My expression fixed itself in a minute, my delight soured. His downturned mouth seemed to say to me that the pleasure of nature's bounties belonged to higher entities than myself. That is why I checked myself immediately, unwilling to let him know how much pleasure I took in that arduous morning hike up the mountainside, even with that hefty matka of water balanced on my hip. If I had told him, he might have assigned the task to someone else simply to spare me the enjoyment.
He doesn't treat Ayaan the same way. It isn't that he loves my brother more than he loves me (I do not believe baba capable of that emotion at all), it is simply that Ayaan's existence makes more sense to him than mine. How useless a being I must seem to him, a mere woman with nothing to contribute to the future. My only usefulness to him lies in my playing nurse to my romping little brother. That he considers my duty, rather, my sole purpose in life. Thankfully, so it is one pleasure he will not try to deprive me of.
She was standing in a doorway atop a grand curving staircase, her hand clasped by a bride-groom she did not know very well, surrounded by strangers who were now family. It was a daunting aspect. Wolfish grinning faces accosted her from every angle. It was uncomfortable, but she was prepared for it. She was prepared to be welcomed as an object of fascination for the next few months until she became just another face in the household. She was prepared to be meek, submissive, and generally likeable until they actually began to like her for who she was. She was prepared to wholeheartedly take up her duties in the house even if that meant ironing other people's clothes until late into the night and cooking food for more people than just her husband. In short, she was quite prepared to do all it would take to fit in. How could she be faulted then, if despite all her resolutions they were determined to be unwelcoming?
"This is her jahaiz?" Those words remained unspoken but were heard nonetheless, in all their contempt by all who were gathered. They were uttered in the single derogatory glance cast by those hardened eyes on the gift before them.
They were all still parked in the doorway, the bride still carrying the weight of her magnificently embroidered dress, her mind numbed by the sheer weight of the jewels in her hair and on her neck. Ordinarily, this would be no strange occurrence. It was practice in many households to extort money from the groom by barring the doorway, relying on his desperation to be alone with his bride. But this was not about the groom’s money. This was about the single drop-like diamond that lay on its neat chain inside the small velvet box. This was about the gift the girl’s family had made to the mother-in-law. This small egg of diamond was considered insufficient. What was required was many ounces of gold, extravagantly glimmering and dangling. The bride had become an embarrassment to her in-laws even before she had set foot into their house.
“Send it back.” These words were spoken. The bride’s eyes widened and her heart
clenched. Then the moment passed, relief washed over her as she realized the words
referred not to her but to the diamonds. The relief that flooded her brain blinded her to the whisperings and the snarky looks as she was grudgingly accepted into the household. She felt exhausted.
I hate him. I never minded his behaviour for my own sake, honestly, I didn't. But when I see Zarmeen's eyes welling with tears at his dismissive attitude I feel a fire inside me. He does not even deign to speak to her! Only his curt finger instructs her to take the baby away. I can see her hastily wipe her own tears, cast one last glance at him and then rush from the room, baby in her arms. I really wish she wouldn't display such weakness. It's not that he secretly derives malicious pleasure from tormenting her like this (if it were so there may have been hope yet!). It is his utter lack of emotion. He is like a block of stone, nothing she will say or do will move him. He really and truly believes that our only worth is as maids to his son. I get up and silently follow Zarmeen out of the room. I must calm her and improve her mood, something I cannot expect mother to do. The pathetic creature! In any case, I refuse to let that man murder my spirit. Try as he might to make my world oppressively small, I will take pleasure in the little things and make every moment great.
She had been busy the whole day. Too busy to notice anything or anyone. Her fingers and her feet had been flying as she cooked and cleaned. When she finally sat down to the dinner table her cheeks were flushed red. She was pleased in the way only a beautifully busy day can give pleasure. It was only when her mind slowed down enough to pick up a fork and take a calm breath that she noticed the pregnant silence at the table. They were watching her, but when she looked up, they would look away. How odd. She looked down at her plate and then looked quickly up again, hoping to catch their eyes. But they merely exchanged glances and she could see small smirks around the corners of their mouth as they enjoyed her discomfiture. None of them ate much.
"Amma, you really should eat," Her husband addressed his mother. He was the only one wolfing down food.
His mother gave a lopsided smile, her eyes downcast, "This isn't really how I like it. You know my teeth can't stand such meat."
"Well, you should have told Zoya..." he began.
"Of course I did, I told her! I don't think she listens." His mother replied firmly.
Zoya felt her heart catch in her throat. No. No. She could not bear for him to be angry with her when he had only just stepped into the house! Her mouth opened and words tumbled out,
"No! I swear no one told me! Of course, if I had known I never would have spent the whole day cooking something no one would eat! I kept asking everyone, but nobody would say..."
Everyone at the table was silent as she trailed off. She felt she had spoken politely but it was obvious that they thought her attitude extremely defensive. Her mother-in-law's face spoke of triumph. Her husband looked stern. He gave his mother one look and her expression seemed to say,
'How can anyone talk to her when this is how she reacts?'
He pushed his chair up from the table and walked away, pausing only to look down at her with two heart-breaking words,
"I'm disappointed."
Her flushed cheeks had acquired an unnatural pallor. Her appetite was gone.
Zoya leaned on the parapet. A beautiful breeze was blowing. It had the effect of calming her tumultuous mind. At first, she had felt like running away. Running away from these people, who were determined to punish her simply because they could not recognize the worth of a diamond. If they wanted gaudy gold, she wished her parents had thrust it at them. Her husband's words to her echoed in her mind: 'I'm disappointed'. No, she was disappointed in him! How could he pretend to know anything of what went on in the house when he was away the entire day! And then, to not even give her the benefit of the doubt. His mistrust made her heart ache. That is why her first impulse had been to leave. She did not need to bother with these people.
But even as one part of her mind made a list of things she would take, the other part spoke: Where would she go? To her parents, old and in need of care themselves? Her parents, who could not get along with each other, let alone with society? And if she did run away, who would support her? She had no means to do this herself, never having earned any degrees. Her chest tightened. Her hands were tied. Neither nature nor society would allow her to endure if she left. The only course that lay open to her was to defy them. She would not allow their hostility to break her. She would build her life with little joys: a morning fresh with dewdrops, a pleasant evening walk, a day of honest toil. She would build her life on a bed of good memories to block out the evil ones.
I feel broken. I feel so angry! I feel helpless. How dare he raise his hand toward me? I blame mother. Her pathetic cowardice makes him brave. Brave enough to pretend he owns the world. My tears are ruining this paper. They are hot, angry tears. My heart is bursting with rage but I can do nothing. I stood up to him today, no longer able to bear his coldness in the face of Zarmeen's meekness. In my mind's eye, my pert answer opened his eyes and awakened his admiration for me. Unfortunately, it did not play out that way in real life. In real life, my bravado earned me a brutal slap. A slap that stings even as I write this, hours later. A slap that makes my cheek burn red in actuality and in shame.
My world is falling apart. Two days ago, I would have claimed I was the protector of my siblings: shielding Zarmeen and nurturing Ayaan, teaching them to be unlike our parents. But I feel my strength and resolve wavering. It seems my dear father has finally figured out exactly how to teach me my place. It began with beatings. The insult of his belt against my face, my back, my arms, made me hate him. The mental abasement of watching the bruises grow purple, day after day, made me despise myself. Now he seeks to destroy my little pleasures. My favorite meal (simple as it was) is no longer served at our table. The washing maid, my only friend, has mysteriously resigned. I find myself locked in a metaphorical tower. He does all this, not with the malicious pleasure of a cat dangling a mouse, but with the matter of fact practicality of a man breaking in a horse. Oh mother, I feel I finally understand how you have become the meek and mindless vegetable you are!
Zoya was finding it hard to keep her resolution. She had tried to treasure the little moments: a warm smile, a pleasant evening walk. Now, as she lay on this hard metal bed under a lazily revolving fan she felt mad with bitterness and anger. At least HE could have come. But there was no one here. Upon the birth of her baby daughter, a daughter who had been her strength and hope for the past nine months, she was all alone. She felt a change overwhelm her mind and heart like a wave. An anger unleashed itself within her. She wanted to throw things, to beat upon her own head, to scream. She felt vengeful, and embittered by the knowledge that her vengeance could only be petty. She had no power and the only punishment she could inflict was in flinging at others the small miseries of life.
Had they driven her mad? She wondered. Or had her madness only been unleashed? Had she always been thus, so that they were correct in their assessment and treatment of her? Or had their malicious behavior, like a thousand pricking pins, directed her into this vortex of mad thoughts? A timid knock sounded at the door. There was a mere, fleeting moment of hope but alas, it was only their crazy old neighbor come good naturedly to hold the baby, to give the mother a chance to catch her breath. Zoya gave a harsh laugh. Perhaps madness was virulent! In any case, she surrendered her baby without a moment's thought. She no longer cared.
I am a married woman now. I have been, these past four years! I stumbled across this diary some days ago. How faithfully I used to write in that life I've left behind! It seems only correct for me to update it to my current situation. Let me see, I have four children now, the youngest still a mere babe. My husband and I are trying to build ourselves a new house. It is our heart's desire and the one thing in which we truly have a deep understanding. On other things I fear, I cannot make him out. I am a woman of simple tastes but he loves showering me with presents. He buys me glimmering shawls, but when I dutifully fold them and put them away, he seems displeased. I wonder what it is that displeases him. He loves to travel and wants me to accompany him but I do not think it my place to do so. I try to tell him that there is no need for such extravagance, that the pennies he saves on my tickets can be used so much more worthily if we purchase tiles for the bathroom or to pay the construction workers their wages. He simply shakes his head and strokes mine. He seems bemused by me. And I must admit, he puzzles me a great deal too!
I think I begin to understand him. It was on a particularly starless night that he took me to the now complete rooftop of our new house. He took my hand in his and stared into my eyes and explained himself to me. Oh how I love him now that I understand him! I always thought he did not know the place of a woman but it seems it was I, who did not know a woman's worth!
Zoya had been in that house many years now, playing the role of the quiet and submissive maid. No unnecessary words escaped her mouth so that none could be misconstrued into defensiveness, rudeness or impertinence. The only time she became herself, when she truly came alive, was in those precious moments that she was alone with her two children. They were her pride and strength and for them she would have borne anything with a smile. On this day that we speak of, she had been cleaning an old metal cupboard that stood in one of the unused rooms. It held a quantity of odds and ends, as well as some very beautiful, sparkling shawls. As she pulled out the soft cloth, something tumbled into her lap. It was a very old and small leather diary.
'... My life is over. I shall never write again. I shall never feel again. I thought father had killed my heart, made it stone cold, but it is only now that I realize what it really feels like to have a dead heart. They told me about his accident in the morning today. They did not even let me see his body for it had been mangled terribly before lying at the morgue unidentified for several hours. Just like that, I will never see him again. Oh how I wish I had decked myself in jewels and shawls and traversed the world with him... but it is useless to regret.'
She realized she had been reading for several hours, thoroughly engrossed. She turned the page but there were no more words. She did not need to ask who the owner of the diary was; her father-in-law had died at the age of 45. Perhaps she should have felt sympathy now for the bitterness she had seen in her mother-in-law's face for the last sixteen years. Perhaps she should have, but she did not. She felt curiously emotionless other than a faint malicious pleasure at the beatings and an even fainter tinge of envy at the thought that at least her mother-in-law had truly loved her husband. Zoya could not even boast of that; every attempt at building an understanding with her husband had been thwarted by his own family, to the point that she no longer cared to try.
She had chosen the girl herself. Her son had had no say in the matter. Why was it then that the girl's very expression seemed to irritate her to the core? Zoya could not account for it, but the girl’s every smile and every meek demur seemed a manipulative attempt to snatch her son away from her. She could not, would not let this girl overwhelm her.
Fouzia had made up her mind. She could tell from the beginning that her mother-in-law was not an easy or friendly person but she had not bargained for the complete and utter dislike this woman, who only months ago had been wooing her, now displayed towards her. Every action done, every word spoken could and would be used against her. At first, she would retreat to her room in tears but as days turned into weeks, she pulled herself together. If only she could build a good understanding with her husband, all else would be bearable, she told herself.
It was far easier said than done. Fouzia could not fathom why a woman would want to sabotage her own son’s marriage! Did she not want her son to be happy? It seemed as though Zoya wanted to encourage her son to grow indifferent to his wife. Try as she might, Fouzia could not understand her motives. Try as she might, she could not break Zoya’s hold over her husband. Dutifulness, submissiveness, stubbornness, logic and even tears, all failed in a relationship that lacked trust. And trust between Fouzia and her husband was what Zoya seemed to strive every minute to wreck.
So today, as she stood blankly in the middle of her lavish room, all alone because her husband frequented it so less, she felt a bitter anger worm its way into her mouth. An urge to violently set all these people right overtook her. She paced up and down, her feet pressing into the carpet. It took a few moments but she managed to swallow the feelings that had invaded her, that did not belong to her nature and she told herself, like so many had before her:
"I won't let them break me. I won't."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Let's Play School!

Based on one of her favorite Barney episodes Manahil and I recreated Baby Bop's school, for pre-preschoolers. Just like Baby Bop we started by teaching our make-believe students the "Itsy-bitsy spider" with a toy spider, then we learnt the alphabet on Manahil's magnetic board, learnt about shapes and colors, read red riding hood aloud (the book contains audio and read itself since Manahil can't read) and for lunch everyone gorged on Baby Bop's favorite, mac and cheese! There was also the bonus gym class where everyone indulged in Baby Bop's favorite exercise, hopping. I think that was Manahil's favorite part by far. To top it all off, since Manahil has a pretty lame mom who can't help but learn kiddie movie songs by heart, we sang all the songs that come in the Barney episode!

To try this at home you will need:
- some poems to sing
- some books to read
- a make-shift chalk board (the magnetic board in our case)
- some shapes and colors to play with
- some home made mac and cheese
- a bunch of stuffed animal students
- one teacher baby
- at least one disgruntled and unwilling student baby (a.k.a Rayyan)

I think Manahil and I will play this again tomorrow!


Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Moment All Mommies Wait For

The moment comes quite suddenly. One minute all you can hear is a chorus of wails and the next, you have two little angels asleep on your arms.

I feel a little shaky even as I write this. About half a minute ago all hell had broken loose in my tiny apartment. Manahil was overtired which meant that she neither wanted to sleep nor stay awake (no, I don't know how she was expecting to accomplish that either). Rayyan was extremely sleepy but had already fallen asleep and jerked awake several times so now he was ready to be disturbed at the slightest sound (and let me assure you, Manahil's wail goes way over and above a slight sound). So, there I was, in utter confusion, singing lullabies, playing good cop, playing bad cop, essentially trying everything under the sun to get Manahil to calm down long enough for Rayyan to fall asleep but fate had something worse in store.

As I struggled to feed Rayyan and get Manahil to lie down at the same time, Manahil stumbled and hit her head on the side of the bed! There was tons more wailing as I left Rayyan to his devices to cuddle my poor little baby. Three and half minutes later Rayyan was snoring soundly and so was Manahil.

How does it go from complete chaos to complete peace in the space of a few minutes? It baffles me. I guess it's a teensy reminder of armageddon; from our peaceful lives we'll be jerked into complete chaos. Ok, enough philosophizing. Mommies out there, I beseech you, please tell me this has happened to you before and help me overcome this massive guilt.

But anyway, let's end this on a happy note. We made a family trip to Jarir bookstore today and here is the haul!

-Cardboard books for manahil (so that Rayyan can't chew them up in her absence) especially red riding hood because Barney reads that one out loud
-canvas. Lots and lots of canvas. *big grin*
-gorgeous moist water paints courtesy of Fatima Hassan (you give the best presents ever!)
-chart paper and double sided sticky paper for my next activity with Manahil
-blue spray paint that I accidentally bought, thinking it was fixer *face palm* (never mind, I'll think of a way to use it)

Can't wait to get cracking!


Friday, August 29, 2014

The Impromptu Game of Dance-tag

Let me introduce everyone to: The Impromptu Game of Dance-Tag. This is the kind of game that comes in real handy when you are sleep-deprived, with two vaccinated babies on your hands (who cannot seem to forget that their thighs are sore) and artwork has been suspended indefinitely *big sigh*.

It involves turning on any random song, (in our case this was old mcdonald on Manahils counting train), then everyone can just pick up a freestyle dance and occasionally hold hands and go round in a circle till they're dizzy. And when the dance starts to get old or the song finishes you just chase each other up and down the house, climbing over beds and hiding behind doors till you're thoroughly exhausted with laughing and everyone has completely forgotten that an hour ago, they felt they were unable to move their legs.

To try this at home you will need:
-one repetitive song
-one baby to dance and scream "karo! Karo!" If you, god forbid, pause for breath
-one spectator baby to watch and be entertained

Have fun! 

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party

So today, Manahil hosted a tea party for all her friends. And did she love being the bossy host! Needless to say, Rayyan was not overjoyed. But, it kept them entertained for long enough for me to sneak off and get some top-secret work done.

Don't worry, if I'm successful I'll let ya'll know what I'm up to. Pray for me and wish me luck!!

PS: To hold a successful tea party you need:
- a teapot, teacups and some plastic treats
-a bunch of funny looking toys
-a makeshift home (like a playpen)
-1 bossy baby
And if you're very lucky,
-1 baby willing to be bossed.
Good luck!


Monday, August 25, 2014

An Activity a Day Keeps the Mommy Sane

Keeping an 18month old entertained is a tricky business. They're not old enough to completely entertain themselves and yet not young enough to be entertained by a bouncy ball or reptitive toy (both of which my 6 month old loves). So, if you ignore them they'll simply wail down the house till you give in and hand them your phone, equipped with youtube, and watch helplessly as they make phone calls to random strangers.

Not to mention the fact, they're at the in-between age where they can gobble up oodles of learning and yet are too little to be shipped off to a preschool for several hours. 

Faced with this reality, day after day, I was forced to think of things to do. And today, I realized that we mothers need a repertoire of activities to refer to on those days when we simply cant think of anything! So here we go: I am going to  share some of the things I found quite useful when dealing with my 18 month old. On top of that, Manahil and I are going to do an activity a day, to keep her busy during the daytime, and I'll share the details of that with you as well.

Generally to keep her busy in the mornings I encourage her to help me clean, feed her baby (random stuffed toy) while I feed Rayyan cerelac, give one of her stuffed toys a long (and I mean really long. Long enough to let me type this blogpost) bath with a nearly empty baby shampoo bottle, do some painting or coloring... And the list goes on. In the evenings I take her to the park or swimming to up her activity. But the hardest part is that chunk of the afternoon when it's too hot to go outside, and being inside the whole morning has pushed her to the limit. Hence, an activity a day. 

Today, manahil and I constructed a den. Constructing a den is simple: merely take two chairs facing outwards and drape a large blanky over them, ta-da! Then we filled it with some of her toys and books and wow, was she excited. Everytime I had to speak with her I would have to knock on the chair and then she would regally give me permission to enter. To be honest, I had quite a bit of fun too. We even ended up playing some hide and seek with the den! 

Stay tuned for the next activity!


Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Truth

I feel tempted. I really do. I feel tempted to lie and say that there is no feeling of restlessness gnawing away at me, day after day. Because this is something that is hard for me to confess, even to myself: I am not content. Don't get me wrong; my life and people who surround me make me immensely happy and I would not want things any other way. It's just this feeling that, even when I am cradling a baby in one arm and spoon feeding another, I am simply not doing enough. My mind is perpetually racing. 

Why do I feel this way? 
A couple of days ago I had almost given up, consumed by ennui. If my 18 month old asked me to draw her something, I would simply shoo her away. I was almost on the brink of tears because I couldn't believe that this was all my life currently contained: juggling babies and hoping to get the chance to check facebook about once a day. Then I saw this: 

"Take benefit of five before five: [1] your youth before your old age, [2] your health before your sickness, [3] your wealth before your poverty, [4]your free-time before your preoccupation, and [5] your life before your death.” -Hadith

And in a flash, I realized what the problem was. I had wasted free time. And now, the value of the time I had wasted was whacking me in the face. When I was expecting my daughter I had just graduated from my bachelors, I lived with my in laws and essentially I had nothing to do all day. At that time, I told myself I deserved a break and thoroughly enjoyed a pampered pregnancy. It was like a summer vacation from all intellectual exercises! But I had forgotten that there always comes a time when you wish you could just go back to school. 

So what did I decide? After two days of crying over spilt milk (literally and figuratively!) I came to another realization. When you are young, time and energy abound. So right now, I could feed babies, cook, clean, do the groceries and the necessary socializing despite sleepless nights and I would still have the energy to pick up a paintbrush. I had a chance to make the most of my health and my youth and I could not waste another one of these precious things. 

So what will I do? I have a dream. And, I have an action plan. The dream, like all dreams, is vast and murky and utopic. The action plan is a more realistic route to achieving that dream. And this blog? This blog will be my motivation. Here  I will pen my journey. The depressing times and the blissful moments. The times when I feel on top of the world, in control, and the times I feel like giving up. The thankful times and the times I feel that every choice I ever made was a mistake. The everythings and the nothings. 

So as I embark on this almost-quest, I confess that a little support would be really welcome. If you would be at all interested in the meanderings of an accidental mommy follow me, and I will keep you updated.