x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

My child will know the beauty of a mixed heritage

How much of a role do Mr T and I play in Baby A's understanding of who she is, and where she's from?

Ihave been trying to make more of an effort to meet other mothers with children of a similar age to Baby A, especially now that there is no denying my daughter’s fascination with babies and toddlers. Do other nine-month-old babies squeal with delight when they see miniature-sized humans who also happen to communicate in babble? I ask because there’s no distracting Baby A when she notices another child in the vicinity. Her entire focus is on getting that child to notice her back and interact, and both Mr T and I are flabbergasted by the idea that not only is Baby A aware of her peers as separate entities from the adults that inhabit her world, but that she’s also aware of the fun to be had when in the company of children.

And so, here I am, embarking on a whole new world, one where my daughter’s social calendar puts mine to shame, what with all those scheduled “play dates” she gets invited to.

“Play dates”, for those not in the know, are ruled by the whims of the babies, who are always the ones in charge, no questions asked. The accompanying mothers are mere accessories, relegated to the edge of the play rug – and there’s always a play rug. The mothers can converse among themselves, always about their children, of course, but their main job is to make sure no pushing, shoving, biting or hair pulling gets too out of hand, and no snacks are shared without prior permission.

On one such play date, where I was the newbie of the day, a mother asked where my daughter was from. It was the first time that anyone had asked me about my daughter’s origins, and for a brief moment, I was at a loss, fumbling with the convoluted explanation that got lodged in my throat and refused to budge.

I had grown up with an identity crisis of sorts. I was born in Kuwait to a Palestinian father and Syrian mother. I hold two passports: Canadian and Jordanian, and both countries are home. My husband was born and raised in the UAE, to a Pakistani father and a Lebanese mother. He speaks English, Arabic and Turkish; he holds a Pakistani passport yet neither speaks the language nor wears the dress. This past weekend, I asked him why we had never tried Pakistani food after almost four years of marriage and insisted we head to Al Ibrahimi on Electra Street to try the haleem and the nihari I have been told so much about by fans of the cuisine. He blanched and reminded me that neither of us can stomach spicy food.

So where, exactly, is Baby A from, and how, exactly, do I answer this unassuming mother?

And later, when Baby A can answer these questions for herself, will she be brief, and say “Canada”, the country of her birth? Or will she take the time to explain her heritage and all the different pieces that make up her nationality? Will she take pride in the cosmopolitan nature of her identity, or yearn for the simplicity of knowing exactly where she’s from? And how much of a role do Mr T and I play in her understanding of who she is and where she’s from?

For now, it doesn’t matter, says Mr T. We’ll answer for her, and say “Canada” to those looking for the short answer. And for those willing to listen, we’ll get to describe how beautifully varied our little girl is, how she has merged the histories and identities of two people who happened to meet in the land of opportunity that is the UAE and how the result, really, will be a future of her own. Until then, onward in navigating the minefield that is a play date.

Hala Khalaf is deputy editor  of The National’s Arts&Life


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