x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Married Life: My birthday present - realisation

With age - and with parenthood - comes a whole new understanding of responsiblity.

I've just had a birthday come and go. The once familiar weight of dread that descends on my mental state in the weeks leading up to the day was conspicuous in its absence this year. Maybe it's because Baby A has the delightful knack of being such a legitimate distraction that I never got the chance to mourn the fact I'm a year older.

When it comes to the passage of time, I'm a spineless coward. I'm terrified of running out of the time allocated to me on Earth to do everything and see everything that this world has to offer; so much more than can ever fit in one lifetime. I have too many dreams I want to see come true, too many hotels I want to order room service at, too many nooks and crannies I want to see materialise in a dream house designed and built by my imagination. And these desires? They are certainly not unique to me; time is the adventurer's enemy, age the weak link between dreams and reality.

And yet this year, I didn't spend the day fighting tears because another year has passed and I'm no closer to my dreams. I didn't shun a mirror in anger at the sight of unsightly wrinkles, lines and grooves that have no business settling in on the face of a girl who still resides somewhere in her mid-twenties, at least in her head. I didn't mope and sulk, dwelling on all those uncrossed items on that neverending list rather than celebrating the items I've ticked off.

Instead, my 32nd birthday left me feeling simultaneously younger than I have in years, as well as more of a grown up. I don't know whether it's my new status as a mother, or my acceptance of the role of wife, or the comfort that comes with loving my job and the progression of my career, or simply a change in my mental and emotional awareness towards life.

See, this baby that wakes me up three times a night and scolds me when I dare to step out of her line of vision and showers me with a fountain of mush when her palate does not approve of the day's breakfast and whimpers as if betrayed when I put her down for a second to give my arms a break - this exhausting, demanding, incredibly easy to love creature that has turned me into a mother also manages to make me feel like I've time travelled back to the innocence and wide-eyed wonder that came with being 22.

And with this renewed feeling of youth comes an incredibly humbling sense of responsibility that is so much deeper, so much more intense than whatever my old understanding of responsibility used to encompass. Being responsible, before, meant making those car payments on time, cooking those vegetables before they rotted in the fridge, learning how to manage finances wisely with Mr T and foregoing a coveted holiday because career development and professional ambition take precedence.

But then I woke up one day and became a grown up. One with the very real, almost tangible responsibility of raising a child. And grown-up me can see how this type of responsibility is so different. It's about imparting values. It's about teaching confidence that is tempered with modesty. It's about showing a tiny little human being how to navigate life in a way that will deposit her safely on the other end with pride and no regrets. It's about meeting needs that are not yet communicated, translating religious beliefs so that my baby can understand them, and protecting my relationship with my husband so my child grows up in a home filled with love.

I do not doubt that the weight of these responsibilities is heavy and even cumbersome. But, the truth is, I've never felt lighter.


Hala Khalaf is deputy Arts&Life editor at The National