I’m not the kind of mother who knows every single vital statistic about you. We sorta know your height when we put you against the wall, where you stood impatiently by the wall while we tried to measure you. You lasted a whole two seconds.
We kinda know your weight. What we do is your dad would pick you up and weigh you and then he would weigh himself. We were so excited when we thought you gained a lot of weight. Turns out it was your father who gained all that weight and he moped for the rest of the evening.
The only way I really know that you are growing is through your pajamas. Of everything you wear, it is your pajamas that is most precious to me. Every time your Abah buys new pyjamas, I would say that there is no way you could fit into them. They’re too big! You can’t possibly be that big.
But you do. And you are. Every single time.
You have a hobby. Your hobby is crumbling things. You take Hup Seng biscuits and in between feeding yourself, you would crumble them. Sometimes you just play with the crumbs on your carpet. Sometimes you would sprinkle it on your hair and sometimes would rub it all over your body and we joke that you’re exfoliating.
I wrote once about how I am in awe of how everything sparks wonder for you. You once sat down for an hour with a huge chunk of ice, until your hands were almost as cold as ice. There was one time your grandmother asked me to move you away from the direct sunlight because it would be hot for you.
But the sunlight illuminated the books in ways you never saw before. You were mesmerized. Every little thing mesmerizes you – crumbs, feeding cats biscuits, the way the sunlight falls on your Busy Duck books.
Life is messier with you. But it’s okay. You let me see the world in ways that I have forgotten. And I can always vacuum. And when you’re old enough, you can vacuum.
Your great-grandfather is 95 years old this year. As I write right now, your Nyang is in hospital from a viral fever.
I wish you knew him as I knew him growing up – so much more lucid, so much sharper. He was witty and sarcastic, in a way that most Malay men would not be. Once, we were watching telly and the host of a tv show asked, “If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you like to take with you?” I half-expected him to answer your great-grandmother of course. He said “My cat, obviously” to the horror of a seven year old who did not understand why someone would opt for a cat over their wife.
He does not remember much these days. These days he asks for your Aunty Hani who is in Australia. He asks almost every day what she did. He can’t remember that your Uncle Jan has left for Sydney. He just wonders why Uncle Jan does not visit.
But he remembers you clearly. He calls you “Chan”
A long time ago, I attended a lecture by the brilliant Professor Andrew Oswald in Warwick. He was an economics professor and he specialized in measuring happiness. He said that it surprised him that having children does not add more happiness to someone’s life. But he highly recommended it anyway despite his research because he said it brought him a huge amount of joy.
Life is not easy right now. But you bring so much joy and happiness to everyone around you. Perhaps the difficulties of raising a child sort of negates the joys of having children but the joy your father and I experience, just being around you makes all these difficult things worth it.
I am scared sometimes, Hassan. At the age of 32, I am starting to realize that the world is so much more difficult and complicated than I thought it would be. And that in this world that sometimes, there is no happy ending. The heroes don’t always win, the good guy don’t always get the girl.
I have spent this year, in a bit of desperation, hoping a hero would come and rescue me. That a man in a blue box would come and get rid of whatever mess I have gotten myself into. I know it is silly but there are days, I still hope for that.
What you don’t know is that this year is possibly the most difficult year of my entire life. The range of emotions I feel go from an all time high to an all time low. I would say that I’m almost bipolar but your Aunty Hani would not be amused with me abusing terms like that.
The thing is, I am not alone going through this. Your dad is in this. So are your grandparents. More so your grandparents who are still supporting their daughter as she tries to achieve her dreams – whatever that may be.
I am so scared that I am messing everything up. It is only natural – I am human. But my parents, your grandparents… they never seem to be scared – they are so strong. I snap at them, I lash out. I don’t even think about it. Sometimes they take it in a stride. Most of the times they get mad, they are Asian after all. But they keep going, they keep doing. They have faced and are facing unimaginable obstacles and they never seem to give up, they have inside them a strength that I cannot imagine and it is always them I still turn to when I am on my knees.
Because they keep going, because of their grit, even in my darkest days, I get up, dust myself and go on. Even if I have no idea how it is going to work out.
I know I cannot give you everything that I feel that you deserve. What I pray for though, is that as your mother, I have that strength to support you as you go through life, to be the pillar of strength the way my parents are for me. The world maybe a scary place and I know that as you grow older, I cannot protect you from the difficult choices and circumstances that will undoubtedly befall you. But I want you to be able to look over your shoulder and feel that everything will be alright because Umi went on. Because Umi got up every time she fell, because Umi worked harder than she had ever done so in her entire life and she soldiered on.
Doing the Right thing
A few months back, I took you for your first professional haircut. All this while, I have been cutting your hair, by cutting, your uncle Jan said, I tended to mangle your hair with a pair of scissors.
This hairdresser was amazing. It had seats shapped like cars and horses. They played Finding Nemo on it was like a party all year round.
You hated it. You absolutely hated it. You screamed and screamed. And by scream I mean, it sounded like the US Government was actually waterboarding you as opposed to actually having a haircut on a seat that looks like a truck with Finding Nemo on your Ipad. The hairdresser was nonplussed. My cheeks burned as I struggled to be okay despite how you were reacting to the haircut. I told the hairdresser that this is why I give you mangled haircuts at home as opposed to taking you to a hairdresser.
“Don’t do that,” she said.
“Don’t not take him for a haircut. People can stare. Your son will scream. That’s okay. Let him get used to it. He will get used to it eventually.”
Doing the right thing by you, can mean doing things that are uncomfortable. For me, for us and for you and even for people around you. People will judge and say things to your face. But I have to remember that if I am embarrassed and I worry about what people say, I will not be doing what is right by you.
Life is going to be like this Hassan. Life is going to be filled with choices and circumstances where people will *tut tut* in the corner. You will have to make choices that are uncomfortable, that people will disapprove and say things. But I hope you will have the courage to do what is right by you, right by your values even if it makes you uncomfortable.
Right decisions are seldom easy to make. But we make them because it is the right thing to do.
Happy Birthday My Son
Today you stacked all the laundry baskets on our bed. Each time you stacked it differently, you would announce “I did this!” and expect us to clap. Your father and I heartily clapped, not because you asked us to, but because even stacked laundry baskets made us ridiculously proud.
You did so many variations of these stacked laundry baskets – some of them rather precarious arrangements and your father had to catch them as they fell off and nearly knocked you down. But you carried them up and stacked them anyway, as heavy as it may be for your small arms.
I asked you if you needed any help.
You paused. And then with a big smile you said, “Nah”.