x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

It’s a challenge, during busy times, not to shoo Baby A away or let out a frustrated sigh when she attempts to climb on my lap as I work.

I’m suffering from mama-withdrawal. My mother is on a trip and not always accessible on the phone, which means I have had to forego my daily morning call complaining to her about how Baby A kept me up all night. I’ve also had to do without the daily afternoon call, asking her to reassure me that I didn’t make a terrible mistake in choosing to leave a full-time job to work from home and cater to Her Dictatorship’s every need.

It has been an especially hard week because I have been weaning Baby A and questioning my decision at every turn. Every time Baby A asks – no, begs – to nurse, and I have to gently dissuade her, I’m also struggling to swallow a hiccup of a sob, and aching for my mother. I’ve always been cocooned in the knowledge that dialling her number, whatever time of day, is a desire I should never question: she’s never too busy to take my call, never fed up with discussing the same topic over and over again, never desperate to hog the conversation or one up me when we’re deciding who had the worse day.

It’s a great boost to the ego, knowing that whenever you call or see this one specific person, she will always express real delight. Even when I’m regaling her with something undeniably boring (“I’m trying out quinoa for dinner tonight”, “I couldn’t find parking today”, “The weather is really getting better”), she always shows interest in hearing every detail.

And here’s the thing: I’m a 32-year-old who still finds it immensely reassuring to have someone who is always so reliably happy about the fact that I exist.

If it means so much to me, there can be no denying that it’s just as important for Baby A. Learning from my mom, now that I have a daughter of my own, I try to never forget to show Baby A how happy I am to see her, to have her.

At times, I am buried in front of a screen, zombie-like while scrolling through my phone, or in deep concentration as I write an article. It’s a challenge, when a deadline is looming, not to let out a frustrated sigh when Baby A attempts to climb on my lap. And it’s a daily exercise in self-control not to shout out a stream of expletives when she pounds on the laptop and disrupts a piece of writing.

But I try. I try never to hide my happiness that she exists. I try to keep my smile at the ready and my eyes honest and twinkling when she calls out for “mama”.

When I walk in the door to a little girl who trips over her own feet as she rushes into my arms, I want her to know that she’s the reason I’m always happy to come home.

When I’m sick, or stressed, or rushed and busy, I want Baby A to always know that I’m 100 per cent glad she’s there and that she’s always my number one priority.

The author Toni Morrison shared a moving sentiment on Oprah years ago: “When my children used to walk in the room, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or if their socks were up. You think your affection and your deep love is on display because you’re caring for them. It’s not. When they see you, they see the critical face.” Does your face light up when your child comes into the room, she asked. Because they notice.

Baby A, I think, has definitely begun to notice. She sometimes hides for a second then reappears so I’ll make a big production of seeing her, hugging her, showering her with kisses. She believes she is worthy of such fanfare. To me, she is.

Hala Khalaf is a freelance writer living in Abu Dhabi