x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Making happy memories for our baby to cherish

Looking back on my own childhood and its happy memories, I wonder whether we can give Baby A a similar store to draw from.

There are memories of my childhood that are so vivid, I sometimes feel I can reach out and touch the images flickering in Technicolor on the ­periphery of my mind. The memories are like a well-loved book, with pages that are worn and dog-eared. Every ­moment of remembrance is always accompanied by a reliable soundtrack.

Like that memory I have of sitting in the back seat of a car, held in place by a seat belt, staring at my mother’s long, elegant fingers, her nails painted fire-engine red. Always, Fairouz is singing of lost homelands and tardy lovers and stalled cars and brown eyes, her distinct voice as present in the car as my mother’s fingers as they drum an accompanying rhythm on the steering wheel.

Or the memory of Friday mornings, with my father preparing a variation of three different breakfasts: either a fava bean, tomato, onion and garlic salad drenched in olive oil and cumin that we call foul medames; or hot cheese manakeesh pastries from the bakery; or a spread of thyme, labneh, halawa, makdous and whatever other Arab staples we had in the pantry. As an accompaniment, a tape of the Quran would be playing on our stereo, the solid backbone of our Fridays. Later, with the advent of Arab satellite channels, we chose the TV over the stereo and set it on the Saudi channel with its live images of pilgrims circling the Holy House in Mecca.

Then there’s that solid memory of my parents settling on the couch every afternoon after lunch. Armed with either a cup of coffee or a mug of tea, they would read the newspaper, front to back, alternating between a shared silence and a comment thrown here and there, depending on whether or not the news merited sharing. My favourite memory: Umm Kalthoum crooning in black and white on late-night television, with my mother asleep on the couch.

These memories set the pace of our childhood, guiding our tastes and orchestrating the soundtrack of our youth.

I want so much for Baby A to share these memories and yet it is a struggle to adopt these habits of my parents and let go of my more juvenile pursuits. It’s too easy to watch a movie or a couple more episodes of the TV show Mr T and I are currently obsessed with during her naps (OK, sometimes when she’s awake, too), rather than bother with the newspaper. We rarely have any breakfast food in the house – too lazy to bother. I grew up on home-cooked meals; takeout was maybe once a month if we were lucky. Now Mr T and I can conveniently have breakfast in the cafe at the base of our building, lunch at whichever mall we happen to be at and dinner home-delivered after we’ve put Baby A to bed.

Fairouz and Umm Kalthoum? They’re great if they happen to be on the radio and I stumble across them by accident, but usually, it’s whatever new Rihanna or Katy Perry song that’s on the airwaves.

We haven’t grown up completely yet and I’m not sure if we ever will. We may be parents, in our thirties, paying bills and worrying about retirement plans and budgeting for groceries and sewing lost buttons on to old shirts (is that not the most grown up thing ever?) – but that doesn’t mean we make the responsible choice every time we’re faced with a decision, however small it may be.

Sometimes, I fear we’re still living like we expect life to go back to the carefree normality of the pre-Baby A days.

Hala Khalaf is a freelance writer based in Abu Dhabi