The challenges of motherhood are never ending - a field offering only on-job training course! And this comes directly from a mother who has managed to pull through the sleepless-nights and eternally-crying baby stages and is now working through the pre-teen and teenage dilemmas. No matter how much you read up on the subject or take tips from other parents, you have to struggle, sweat and stumble your way through each stage, while all the time trying to preserve that oh-so-elusive thing called sanity.
Sigh! Early Monday morning...and the kids are home today. Yeah, it's another one of those local holidays that come only too often, if you ask me . Time for my adorable brood to rise and shine... so here I go pulling the curtains aside and turning on the lights.
"Aww...Mum!" the girls scream in unison.
"Good morning to you, too." I reply sweetly, ignoring their protests. What mother would survive otherwise?
"Out of bed, darlings!" I go on without batting an eyelid, "Get changed, put your room in order, finish your home works...and may be I'll take you out to ...err...Pizza Hut?"
I end on a cheerful note because one, I know they need a break after a hectic week of tests at school, and two, they love pizza! They sit up quickly, rubbing their eyes. Ah, my obedient little girls!
"Try me." I reply sweetly, breezing out of their room and off to the next one to wake up the young one I'm so proud of - my son.
As I turn on the light, he wails, "It's a holiday, Mum."
"Yes dear, all the more reason to start early and have more time to enjoy yourself." He scowls. I close the door quietly behind me.
After breakfast, Ahmed asks me to help him with his English homework. As he struggles with spelling and expression, my pre-teen princess comes along...
"What a silly story," she declares while bending over Ahmed's head inspecting his handiwork.
"Go away, Maha..." screams Ahmed.
I look up sharply, "Lower your voice!" I admonish.
"Get out of here!" Ahmed shouts, completely ignoring me.
"STOP SCREAMING IN MY EAR," I lose my temper.
"Mum, will you puh-leese keep your voice down? I'm trying to study here," Sania calls from her room. I roll my eyes, raise my hands in exasperation and take refuge in the kitchen!
"We're done." An hour later, I turn to find the three of them standing in the kitchen door, all groomed and glowing. I'm impressed.
"Well, then... I'll go and change." I turn off the burner. Sania hands me a list that's titled 'Things I desperately need'. No surprise, the teen-aged desperations...err...anti-split-ends serum, hair-straightening cream, French-manicure kit, CDs of some vegetarian bands - at least I think they must be: Red-hot Chilli Peppers, Greenday... what else?
"Sweetheart," I put on my sweetest smiles, "I pay for necessities and you have your allowance to cover for luxuries!"
"But these are all necessities," wails the teenager.
I remember reading somewhere: "There's nothing wrong with teenagers that reasoning with them won't aggravate." Hmmm...wise words, I'm already walking out of the room.
"Are you going to wear the blue dress again, Mum?" She calls out.
Surprised, I stop in mid-step, "Yeah...I was thinking about that."
"Haven't you got anything a little 'in'?"
"And please don't put on that brown lipstick you always wear. What if one of my friends is there?"
"I beg your pardon?" I raise my eyebrows.
"I'd be eternally embarrassed." She declares matter-of-factly.
I open my mouth. "Hurry, Mummy," scream the other two and I reluctantly turn away, biting my tongue to suppress the retort that I know she positively deserves.
I'm still fuming as I get ready. They sure know how to flatter me. I don't have any sense of style left just because it doesn't meet the teenage approval? And just the other day I was putting up a picture of mine in a photo frame when my Number two breezed in and gushed excitedly, "Mum...you look so beautiful," as I opened my mouth to thank her for the compliment, she added, "...and so young." My smile froze. Now, I will concede the picture was many years old, but apart from a few lines under the eyes, I really haven't changed much. After all, age is but a state of mind...right, folks?
Anyway, we are finally on our way...yes, in my blue dress and brown lipstick. As we turn the street corner, we see a white cat with black patches on it, three kittens in tow, crossing the road. Two of them were just like the mother - white with black patches - but the third had a mix of orange too.
"That one's probably not her own," remarks Maha thoughtfully. Before I can offer a suitable explanation, Ahmed replies with all the seriousness an eight-year old can muster, "It's adopted, Maha."
I smile, while Sania bursts into laughter. "How silly can you get?" she manages between giggles.
Ahmed pulls on a long face, "I'm your brother, what do you expect?"
"Do you want to hear the truth?" she narrows her eyes.
"Do you want a knuckle-sandwich?" he challenges.
"Okay, okay, now... do you want to eat first or buy some books?" I quickly change the subject to avoid the war of words developing into a fist-fight. Yeah...mothers know all about that.
Books it is...at least they are in agreement on something. As we pass through rows of shelves lined with books at the popular bookshop, I notice the small number of actual buyers. Most of the people are leafing through the pages to pass the time. It's no surprise really, as I very well know every time I foot the bill for the books selected by my children.
Japan, I'm told, is a nation of book lovers. My cousin, who has recently returned from there, told tales of how her toddler embarrassed her - with the typical screaming, tantrum-throwing two-year-old persistence we know so well - whenever she visited the doctor's office while the Japanese toddlers sat serenely in waiting rooms, leafing through books and magazines, staring at pictures of more docile, well-behaved creatures like themselves and making perfect sounds of contentment while their mothers had their ailments cared for.
I'm reminded of what another friend of mine, who is often dropping pearls of wisdom my way, remarked the other day, "If I had my way, all children would be born 18 years old, perfectly groomed and ready to take on the burden of life, including earning a living." Sigh...wouldn't that be nice?
Books and pizza done at last, we head back...and no, we didn't see any of Sania's friends anywhere - must be my lucky day...or hers. As I dodge through traffic, my mind's running through solutions to various other problems waiting to be settled...yeah, mothers learn to excel at the art of multi-tasking as a matter of survival.
Ahmed had told me about the bullying in the school bus yesterday, and I have to get that sorted out. "Stand up to him, dear." I had told him. "Bullies are just scared little boys at heart!" I had laughed, trying to make light of the situation. He had frowned pointing out their age difference. He was right. I made a mental note to call the management of the bus service tomorrow, while brooding over the dimensions of the growing culture of bullying and abuse, and whether I was part of just a small minority advocating good manners and the tolerant 'live and let live' approach. Unsettling thoughts.
Finally, as I fall into my bed late, exhausted after a hectic day, and looking forward to an uninterrupted night of rest, there is a knock on the door.
"Yes?" I muster some strength that all mothers keep in reserve for an emergency.
Three heads peek through the half-open door. "Hey, Mum..." wide smiles saying it all, "thanks for a lovely day!"
My eyes become glossy as I open my arms. They jump into bed and fall all over me, hugging and squealing. I silently thank God for these adorable beings that warm a tired mother's heart...and make the woes of motherhood look pale in comparison to its blessings!
published May, 09; You magazine, The News.