x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Married life: To be humble, fearless and strong – that's what I wish for my baby

Her stumbles never put her off. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself. She lets a little frustration show, but she never allows herself to give up.

I can already see a time, not so far from now, when it wouldn’t be right to call Baby A a “baby” any longer. It’s not just because she’s already three weeks shy of her first birthday, nor because her weight in my arms has become such a solid presence compared to the mere whisper of a thought it used to be in the very beginning. When before Mr T and I used to marvel at the fact that a tiny human almost fit entirely in her doting daddy’s palm, now we moan about the slight ache that is left in taut muscles trying to keep her cocooned and cuddled, when all she wants to do is find a way out of our hold and straight into unabashed freedom.

On the day Baby A turned 11 months old – we, of course, celebrate every monthly milestone like the starry-eyed, first-time parents that we are – Her Dictatorship took one look at the Minnie Mouse balloon taunting her just out of arm’s reach and decided to do something about the situation. That independent streak we’ve glimpsed time and again flared with a gusto, and my baby, who has instilled a strength in me I didn’t know could ever exist by relying on me for her very survival for so long, decided to take her first steps and walk over to her balloon and reach for it herself, no prompting required.

She’s on the verge of toddlerhood, and I wish she’d slow down. I’ve said it before, I know, but I can’t quite wrap my head around how quickly this is all going. I’m still discovering what it means to be a mother, to be her mother, and she’s already asserting her opinions – she has some very strong views regarding her aversion to bananas and her love of Hippo, the stuffed blue hippopotamus that is not allowed to disappear off into the washing machine. She’s ready to stride headfirst into the waiting world and she doesn’t always reach back to grab my hand.

Now, Baby A is officially walking – more like wobbling forward with arms extended in a perfect zombie imitation, but it still counts – and I rue all those afternoons her father and I cheered her on and encouraged her to take one more step, because we never realised that those steps would lead her straight to the kitchen and to the cabinet housing all those toxic cleaning supplies. We can’t keep up with those tiny little legs – how funny, that we can’t wait for our babies to take those first steps, and once they’re running, we wish we could go back to the days when crawling was the norm.

Those days, however, are long gone. With every passing day, Baby A’s steps grow in confidence and assurance. She catapults herself from couch to dining chair, from wall to the open, waiting arms always ready to welcome her, big brown eyes sparkling with the wonder of it all. She is determined, fearless, focused on getting it right, getting better and faster and just getting to wherever it is she’s planning to go. And when she falls, landing on her padded bottom with a thud or sprawled in a heap with limbs tangled, the surprised look on her face is quickly replaced with a smile.

Her stumbles, and they occur often, never put her off. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself. She lets a little frustration show, but she never allows herself to give up. If she doesn’t find something nearby to lean on and use as a crutch to help her up again, she looks to us for aid, beseeching us to put out a hand and help. And then she starts again, ready to give it her all.

I hope – I so hope – that she continues to approach her whole life this way and never gives up on her dreams. I hope she always knows when to ask for help, and that we’ll always be there to extend a hand should she need it. I hope she’ll come to us when life gets a little too rough around the edges and know we’ll be there to cushion her falls. I hope she will be both humble and strong, fearless and careful. It is an attitude that will take her far in life, and with a bit of luck, by the end of the week, it will probably take her across the kitchen.

Hala Khalaf is the deputy Arts&Life editor at The National


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