By Amal Ghazali
I’ve never really thought of myself as someone ‘maternal’. I define this term through the traditional context of someone raised in this society; someone who is maternal would be extremely attentive, feminine, generous with hugs, cuddles and nursery rhymes, with a natural instinct of exactly what to do when caring for an infant. I do not feel like I possess any of these skills at all. Instead, I rate myself as someone who has the full potential of being the ‘fun aunt’, the one who lets you do things your mother wouldn’t, the one who is much cooler than your parents, but also the one you wouldn’t leave alone with a child unattended for more than 3 days.
But this was exactly what happened. As fate would have it, my sister was due to give birth to her second child, and her firstborn, my 3 year-old nephew, had chicken pox, which meant that he had to be separated from her for the duration of a typical quarantine for fear of the risk of transferring the virus to the newborn baby. The stars unaligned themselves, and there was nobody, absolutely nobody else left to care for him except for me, a full grown adult with no other commitments and hindrance.
Now, as much as my sister loved me, she also knew exactly what I am capable (or not capable) of, and naturally she was concerned. Alas, there were no other options as it was all very last minute, and as he was dropped off in my care, I was left wondering what I had gotten myself into.
The Tribulations and Triumphs
Of course I had babysat my nephew before, although usually these occasions were only for a few hours. In these past experiences, a lot of ‘accidents’ had taken place, a further testament as to why I was not exactly the best person for the job. Once, when he was 1.5 years old, I gave him a steaming cup of hot chocolate when he was clearly not at the age suitable for cups yet. He ended up pouring all of it onto his face. There was the incident when I dropped him into a pool. I was also known to always forget to change him and he would toddle around for the entire day with a diaper so soggy it almost dropped to his knees.
But it was not until we had to spend that entire week together that I had a full grasp of what it is like to be a mother to a toddler. For starters, it really is a full time job. He usually woke up before I did in the mornings. From then on, it is an entire day of constant attention, from feeding to showering to drawing the same picture of a cat for 57 times, and let’s not forget the endless need to keep an eye out in case they try something that might get themselves killed. And they are always trying to do something completely hazardous.
Despite the challenges, I did get the privilege of spending time with my nephew, which is a rare treat. I got to see how innocent his perceptions were on things happening around him, we had a good time playing ball in the park every evening, I taught him how to play simple video games, and we read books together at bed time. A child’s joy is simple, and these are the things I’ll always cherish and remember.
It Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect
I had always known how hard parenting is. Most of my friends are parents, and they often describe it as a battle between too much work and not enough sleep. Adding to the mix is the constant feeling of not doing a good enough job, and yet never having time for themselves. But I suppose I never truly understood it until I had a little taste of the experience myself. I thought I was doing quite well until I got distracted for just a few minutes and caught my nephew eating toothpaste in the bathroom. Sometimes, for absolutely no reason, he would throw a tantrum loud enough to cause a migraine. Did you know that they wake up in the middle of the night to ask for milk? Why they couldn’t just wait until the morning, I have no idea.
Like most things in life, I don’t think that there is a direct manual of how to care for a tiny person. You try your best, and you cut yourself some slack over the things that you may lack. There are always good qualities we have within ourselves that can be used to nurture another human being, and luckily in this day and age, there are plenty of aids to help us with them. I will always think of myself as a better candidate for ‘cool aunt’ rather than ‘very responsible parent’, but in either case, it is a splendid opportunity and wonderful responsibility to take part in directly helping to facilitate a brand new life, and contribute to shape the next generation.