My Little Boy Turns Five

I received my last age-based email from BabyCentre today. The site congratulated me and Robert on reaching this great milestone. The implication was that the parenting journey is still long but it can now be enjoyed at leisure, as the years rush by and the little boy slowly evolves into the man he is destined to become. Robert was just a tiny bean when I registered to receive weekly updates, describing in breathtaking detail every development my tiny yet unnamed baby has achieved, deep within the warm darkness of my womb. I would read them with a sense of wonder, grateful at my ability to procreate and nurture, after years of hardly daring to picture myself as a mother.

Shortly after Robert woke up today his father called from South Africa. Lest I confuse myself endlessly with this unexpected generosity, he was quick to explain that he was calling from an office internet phone. He pointed out that he can hardly believe it has been five years. Reminisced about the first time he saw Robert, just before he gave his first cry.  “I remember the doctor saying, what a serious little guy”, he said, “Do you remember that?”. I had to make him repeat this over the static of the line, and then told him honestly that I never heard that, immobile from the waist down as I was, with my head at the opposite end of the table. Robert turned out to be quite a funny little fellow, he cannot resist using daily objects as comic props. Walking along one day on 2nd avenue he picked up the handle of a public phone and mimicked lathering himself in a shower. He cannot stop clowning around at school, but deep down he remains a serious little guy. After posting yet another picture of him on Facebook, a distant friend commented, “does he ever smile?”. Only then did I realize that his smiles on camera are very rare.

If I take a snapshot back at this last year I am amazed at the progress my little boy has made. Only a year ago he was a little more than a baby, who cried almost every morning when I left him at school. Today he walks in happily, starts immediately working or interacting with his friends, and cheerfully waves me goodbye.

A week before his fifth birthday I took him for a playdate with his friends at the Victorian Gardens, a small amusement park for kids exactly his age. Initially I thought that I would have to force him on one or two of the more docile rides, and steeled myself for having to go along with him. To my surprise he ran along with his friends and went on all but very few rides, we left when the last of his friends had to go home.  A year ago this was not possible.

He is still shy with strangers he meets for the first time, but he quickly warms up to people, and I watched him make friends easily with peers and some adults.  I have no worries about him socially as the day of starting in the big new school approaches. He would have some difficulties though in a team environment. He can be sometimes very stubborn, and that could prove detrimental in any group setting. I believe that this fierce individuality cost him a Kindergarten spot at the only private school I applied for.  But I also think that he will be better served in the Gifted and Talented class, amongst equally bright kids. I also have plan for enrolling him in sport, and other creative team activities on the island. The first step is soccer practice, then perhaps creative drama for kids. I think he is a natural performer, I used to be like that as a kid too, but shyness got the better of me.

I know I am starting to sound like an ultra-competitive North American mother, but I will never push him into anything he doesn’t want. This is a time for exploration and experimentation to discover his aptitudes, and his talents. I will be happy when a few years from now, when he would start to tell me what he wants, even if he concentrates on one or two activities he really enjoys, or is very good at. I just hope to help him develop to his full potential, and I am optimistic that I am at the right time and place to do so.

Not For Me

Twice in as many days I have been told that I should be open to change in my life and look for a mate. One well-meaning friend and her mother spoke again about getting me to color my prematurely grey hair. And my supervisor at work told me that I should not let the child rule my life. Sometimes, like today for example, I feel they are right.  My child who turns five tomorrow is a tyrant in the making, he figures he owns me.  When I went on a long-deferred bike ride with him this afternoon, I could not even ride in a circle of twenty meters around him, and he did not want to ride next to me complaining it is too hard. In fact, I can hardly call my outings with him exercise because I normally ride so slow, that I always feel a breath away from toppling over. Not fun at all.

Yesterday I started thinking about relationships again. After breaking up the only dating experience I had since my divorce, I have come to the conclusion that I do not have it in me anymore to invest emotionally in a new relationship, with all the insecurities it brings. If I were ten or even six years younger maybe I would have had no other choice than to go through the endless questioning of am I beautiful enough, tall enough slim enough, or hot enough to be marketable with men.

Today, I do not want to market myself as a commodity or promote my female assets and attractive appearance. Yes, I may be open to love again, but it is a different type of love that I am looking for. When I was still brand new on the marriage market I settled for a second-hand candidate, who is much older but far less mature, so I got duped twice.  Had I married the boy next door from back home, I would have had the wonderful comfort of being with someone I have known all my life, growing with him and through him. I gave this transformation process my best shot with my ex, and I changed dramatically to adapt to him, but even that hasn’t helped keep my marriage together.  Today I feel I have neither the time nor the energy to learn about someone and adapt my personality to suit him, least of all a man who has never gone through the journey of a marriage.

When my supervisor raised the subject, and she is perhaps the nosiest woman this side of the Atlantic (a quality that comes naturally to almost all women of a certain age, from a certain are in the middle east), I brushed off her suggestion of having a boyfriend by saying that it is hard for me to shake off my conservative Arab identity and adopt a free attitude to casual relationships; I only wanted to protect myself from her nosiness. However, I feel that my excuse is not that far from the truth. Middle Eastern culture is one that expects a woman to mold herself to the wishes of her partner, so a traditional relationship is not entirely a 50-50 partnership, the woman does two-thirds of the work while a man, a good one that is, can get away with one-third.  For a long time, women have resorted to various dubious methods to overcome this particular mindset, and they usually get their way by rejecting their men in bed, or denying certain privileges. These soft-power devices can only be used in traditional settings, and are thus becoming less prominent in the modern world. Nevertheless, the traditional role of women in a marriage will take longer to evolve into an equal partnership. Men still expect women to meet them more than halfway on most issues, and what is worse, is that mothers raise their daughters to lower their expectations in regards to partnership in marriage, thus repeating the cycle endlessly.

My parents have a traditional marriage. The role of my mother was mostly confined to raising the children and looking after the home. Thus, I was raised with these lowered expectations and carried them into my marriage. It took me almost seven years to realize that when things went wrong in my marriage, it was not because I could not cook, or did not keep the house up to the standards of my husband. After years of desperately trying, I understood that my marriage was a disaster, not because of my failure to meet the golden criteria of my ex. It just shattered because I was with a man who expected me to change completely to please him, while he was never ready to do so. The lesson was tough, and it took me too long to learn. That is why I am forever afraid to fall into the same trap. And that is why I am afraid of this traditional Arab identity to surface if I ever let my guard down and entered into a partnership where I felt the tiniest bit inferior.

This is perhaps what killed my relationship project. It came down to a woman in the middle of her life, and a younger man who is still starting his first test-run. I feared that at some point I will have to change too much, or sacrifice too much to make it work. I feared that I would be obliged to make myself look younger, maybe try for another child at the eleventh hour, or change too many of my ways to be accepted as a possible partner.

My friend’s mom already flashed the warning signal in my face. No matter how much men tell you they like you the way you are, they always love you in younger or prettier versions. This was true in my experience, and unfortunately it doesn’t even stop at the color of the hair, it went beyond to influence, taste, friendships, and private activities. Even how long you stay awake every night after husband falls asleep.

If my life was a Hollywood movie, I will meet tomorrow a single father, a blameless victim who is trying to rebuild a family for his kid,  or stumble upon a long-lost male friend, who has finally found the courage too look for me after he became free himself. But, eish, as we say in South Africa, Hollywood this isn’t. It is just the drudgery of everyday life, and no matter how I wish for it, It is impossible to have an already broken-in husband, without first going through the pain and blisters of trying to fit a boyfriend. If I really wanted a mate, I will have to go to square one, and look amongst the junk, the flotsam of broken marriages, or the ones nobody bothered to pick in the first place. Try to sift the one genuine gem from mountains of fakes, and go through all the idiocy of dating, pretending, and trying to please. No sorry, not for me. I am particularly proud of who I am now, and where I am. I did not arrive here without pain or sacrifice, and I am comfortable and happy in my own skin. My gray head of hair suits me fine. My boy is my buddy and my companion and I enjoy being around him, most of the time. When the time comes for him to spread his wings and leave me  for his own set of friends I will resort to my work or the activities I normally never have time for. I will not be different from many of my single childless friends, I will still be happy. I will not change to catch a man, I will not change to please or keep a man. I will only change to please the woman who looks at me from the mirror every morning, because she is the only person who is guaranteed to stay with me for the rest of my life.


A Yearning…

I want to slip into a fold of time, and steal away a man from my past. I want to come back to this moment, to having him beside me, and the children we could have had. I want him to tell me that he lives through their smiles, and without them his life, is not a life that he wants. I want to raise our kids. I want to grow old with him, a man that I knew for more than half my life.

I want to be where desperate questions have become a certainty. Where I know that he is with me because we are, because we belong. Not because of fear, or lack of options.

I want to fast-forward the groping, the learning, the exploring, the desperate tug of war for boundaries. I want to know and be known to him like the palm of his open hand.

I want to be young again, and choose the right man, and still retain, the place where I now am.