Letter to My Son Aged 2

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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.

Exfoliate! Exfoliate!

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.

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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.

Joy

Your great-grandfather is 95 years old this year. As I write right now, your Nyang is in hospital from a viral fever.

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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.

Courage

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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.

“Do what?”

“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

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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”.

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Clean All the Things!

As it happens after a very long weekend in Malaysia, the first day of work would be completely unproductive. And since I had a very productive weekend, I suppose I did not feel too bad that I somewhat collapsed in the afternoon. One minute I was watching a bit of Cooking for Real, and the next minute, Giada was on TV.

This happens quite a lot to me lately, one minute I would be awake and the next I could have sworn that I had only been out for a minute but an hour or two had past. It’s disorienting but most of all, it is deeply unsatisfying. I love my sleep – I want to savour it. Deep sleep, even though it may be good for my body, does not feel like sleep. I like the feeling of unable to wake up, the eyes being unable to open and the lethargy that sets in your bones before feeling sprightly and properly awake later on.

Eizwan reckons it happens to me more often since I am rather busy lately. I am quite. Work is incredibly busy and as it is, I’m usually running around. Free time involves me jotting down bits of writing and then, my new ‘I-Need-A-New-Hobby’ hobby is….*drumroll* cleaning.

Yes, Adlina, the one who refuses to be domestic has suddenly found cleaning, her new hobby. But here me out before you delete my phone number from your Iphones. The thing is, cleaning can be kinda fun in a cheapskate, ‘look-at-me-getting-fitter-without-going-to-the-gym’ and mad scientist ‘look-at-me-combining-household-items-into-a-cleaner,-wait-what-is-that-smell,-wait-did-I-just-make-something-toxic’ kinda of way.

Great cleaning recipe by the way: 1 part vinegar, 2 part water and a squidge of dish soap in a spray bottle gives you a great all-purpose cleaner. 

And I justify my sudden attachment to homeliness by saying that if 3M, one of the most innovative companies in the world (next to Apple) can spend time making funky products for cleaning your house (favourite items, the rayon mop), clearly they are onto something. Angry Birds watch out, the future is in scrubbing your grout clean.

I kid. Sort of. But there is something deeply satisfying when the little house we rented have started turning into a home. It makes me excited. And a little sad because that it’s not really my home, and I can’t do super fun things like renovating the kitchen, the bathroom, or pulling the half the kitchen down to make a proper garden, and getting rid of some of the wasted space.

My landlady is quite relaxed about doing things like painting and installing hooks, minor cosmetic changes, nothing involving breaking down the hideous tiles in the kitchen before reinstalling them myself – so I have suggested to Eizwan that the least we could you know, sand down the kitchen cabinets and paint it over. I just love DIY.

At this point, he usually hugs me and tells me that to go to sleep and that tomorrow is a new day. And that tomorrow, he tells me, I’ll find another obsession, hopefully one that does not involving sanding down the kitchen.

Seeing the World in Different Hues

In all honesty, it feels very odd to be home. I hate to say that the one month in England was a life changing experience, certainly it is too presumptuous and most tellingly, too early to say if anything was a life changing experience unless we look back at the event years and years in the future – but well, I’m going to say it. That one month course certainly changed me in ways I did not expect it too.

And so I come back seeing everything a little differently.

I see the world in vivid colours and I know my mood influences how I actually physically see the world. If I am in a fantastic mood, the colours of the world tend to be brighter, more saturated with higer contrast. I see the world in different tones and hues, depending on how I feel at the moment.

It’s the same with the way I write. A tutor asked me how I wrote and I explained to her, and I don’t think she quite understood me – in hues and colours. I would see a scene in my mind, and I would see a colour to that scene and that colour would influence the mood, the tone, the language of what I will write. The world builds from that scene and colour.

When I came home, Malaysia was simultaneously in familiar and yet unfamiliar to me. I realized only recently that hues and tones that I associate home with has changed. I view the world differently. I can’t quite describe the new tone I’m seeing. The world is not as vivid but it certainly was not as grey as I last remembered it…

Of course, I could be romanticizing the entire fallacy. It really could just be that I need glasses OR that Malaysia is less hazy than I remember it to be.

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Eizwan and I came back from Hong Kong, really, really, really craving Chinese food. I came back home dreaming of dim sum, chicken with cashew nuts and kailans. Lots and lots of kailan.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Chinese food in Hong Kong, I’m sure they are excellent. It’s just that well, being Muslim and all, we’re limited to the halal stuff which brings it down to just three places in the whole of Hong Kong. The two Halal places that we did go, the Islamic Centre Canteen and Wai Kee at Bowringdon Market – is just not enough! Plus, I found the Islamic Centre Canteen just alright, certainly it does not compare to the dim sum that you get in Malaysia but the roast duck at Wai Kee was excellent! I drool just thinking about it.

I had plenty of good food in HK, just not enough good Chinese food. The irony that I have to come home to Malaysia to hunt them.

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The lovely thing about being a traveller for the past 1 month is that I can pretend that I err…don’t have responsibilities. Which unfortunately, smacked me right in the face when I came home. It’s not that the husband has not been doing a good job, the poor boy worked very hard while I was away so that I would come back to a clean and comfortable home.

But there are all those things. Little things that he could not cope up with, little things that just take two. Things like garden maintenance (ah well, problem solved there though – all the plants died) and well cooking. The fridge is rather bare save for lots of chocolates and chocolate biscuits and my pantry looks rather dismal. Are those eggs more than a month old?

Being a foodie means I should abhor an empty kitchen. And I do. But I’ve been away for more than 5 weeks enjoying my lack of responsibility that the thought of being a motherfucking adult is just tiring.

Which is why I’m sort of justifying The Wire marathon I’ve just started. Am just sayin’.