July 29, 2012
Aunties are like extra arms, eyes, minds and hearts when I need them. By aunties, I don’t mean my mom or dad’s sisters, I mean the women who became aunties to Ziya when I became her mother. Those who became what anthropologists call ‘fictive kin’, a term that recognises that vital, necessary and historically significant Caribbean tradition of forming connections across different races, classes, nationalities and sexualities. This is the same tradition that gave enslaved Africans the solidarities needed to sustain themselves and their resistance. It’s the same tradition that created boat brothers or jahaji bhai. These women, these aunties, are like jahaji bahen, they’ve become ‘like family’ through the relations we have formed at this juncture in our crossings.
Aunties accompany you on errands to Gopaul Lands in Marabella even though they live in Maraval. They put their pots on the floor for your baby to play with when she comes over. They make it their business to enable you to make it to the beach, because this is the one thing you really love and the one thing you want your child to have the chance to love too. Aunties help you wash dishes when they come over even if they don’t have to. They check in with you daily just to make sure that you are still sane, standing and surviving. They look forward to spending time with your baby, implicitly knowing that you want others to see, as you do, how wonderful she is. Aunties are there for you, by phone, with pancakes, taking pictures, filling in with energy you don’t have, sometimes to enable you to just be yourself and sometimes to enable you to be a good mother. Aunties drive you through the heights of Paramin, just so your baby could dance to parang and give her dollar to Blue Devils who magically appeared even though it’s July.
Aunties help you grow and become a better person simply by making the effort to be there. They are not perfect. They bring both joys and challenges to your life as they grow too. Aunties, friends who are like family, women without whom you could not be the woman and mother you want to be, sistren who make you laugh and insist you need a night out. I feel like I could hardly manage the weekend that follows a manic week without them.
Weekends have become much more important to me than they used to be. Before Ziya, I’d often work on my writing or answer emails on a weekend, but whatever the costs to my career, I’ve decided that weekends are now Ziya’s time. Aunties enable me to make that happen. They are official and unofficial godmothers, able to work miracles like fairy godmothers, but with love instead of wands. They make long car rides about the experience and the journey, they make Maracas in the rain become fun and their extra attention makes all kinds of dangerous household moments safe. They enable a hard-working, chronically tired mom to get out of the house, get some tea, get a sea-bath and get a break. Aunties, thank Goddess for you and thank you.
July 24, 2012
Like most mothers, the other morning I was getting ready for work while keeping one eye on Ziya. Of course, she’s climbing up the cupboard to pull down shoes. She’s running up and down shouting, ‘foody mummy foody!’ (although these days, she’s also shouting, ‘tootoo mummy potty!’) while also trying to get as desperately near the iron as possible even while going, ‘Hot! Ssss! Danger!’ and making the face she does for hot things. Meanwhile, I am trying to bathe, match clothes, comb my hair and find earrings through all this while keeping her quiet so that she doesn’t wake her sleeping dad.
Of course, therefore, I began to script a documentary about this in my head while getting dressed. In my mind, there are two narratives, the one shot from my perspective where she’s everywhere at once and in everything at once. The camera itself could stay in place at various points in the story while nonetheless trying to shoot the entire room in both medium and close range simultaneously.
Meanwhile, there is her camera which occupies no location for more than any one second. That camera is noticing all the interesting things in the room: the bedside drawer where I accidently left the child proof lock off and where all manner of interesting things simply beg to be pulled out, explored, and scattered all over or hidden in various unlikely locations; the cupboard doors which, because they swing, must be swung; the iron whose reputation for being dangerously hot compels confirmation; the baby wipes which are wonderously never ending – once you pull out one, they all string along out too; the folded clothes which are clearly best refolded by 20 month old hands; and so on.
Then, in the documentary, the two cameras’ footage would be cut and spliced together to show the dizzying mania of a normal, unexceptional morning of a mummy trying to get changed, fed and out of the house. In my mind, I imagined the audience so drawn into this micro world and the mother’s management of it that just her getting out the door dressed and on-time with the baby in tow would evoke standing ovations and applause – because surely that’s how some mothers must feel when they finally get into their car or a taxi in the mornings and the mania has been ordered as if the hand of God herself came down to smooth things out.
I would never have shared these distracted musings with anybody, except when I got into work I heard the story of another mother trying to get her young son to camp and herself to work. It was exactly as I had pictured. My fantasy documentary suddenly didn’t seem like me being dramatic. It was about validating that unnoticed, hectic moment when mummies turn the explosion of life in a house into dressed children, packed lunchboxes and ironed clothes. The same mummy related today how she was so proud that she had gotten up early to pack and organize everything beforehand, only to forget her son’s lunch on the table. What could she do but sigh, get it fixed and aim to get it all right tomorrow. I thought she deserved my applause anyway.
July 15, 2012
I was having the sweetest time putting Zi to sleep last night. She’s supposed to go to sleep in her crib, but when bedtime comes she likes to cry, “Lie down! Lie down!” and when you say, “okay, let’s put you in the crib”, she adds, “Bed! Bed! Mummy bed! Daddy bed!” like she thinks that occupying every part of the bed in all directions every night is her born right. Usually, she’s put in her crib anyway, but last night she was going to bed early and we had some time to hug up so I put her in our bed. Well, that was happiness self. There we were loving up, giving kisses, chatting about the beach and pancakes and how somebody was the world champion of staying awake. I was telling her that I loved her toes and her nose, and so on. She pipes up, “I love daddy!” Now, she says “I love you” if you ask, but this was the first time I heard her declare love like this, just so. And, of course, who would she have to declare it to? Her daddy. Steups.
I was one of those daughters so I know there’s a long road ahead of me now. My daddy could do no wrong and despite my mother being a super person on all fronts, I’m sure and I know she felt sure that I loved my daddy more. There’s lots of us just like that. It doesn’t matter if your mom is the rock of the family, the comforter, the muffin baker, the embroiderer and the one to spoil you. You are still going to love your daddy more. I have no idea why. If your dad disappoints you, that effusive adoration has cooled off by the time you are a late teenager and, even if you are still rebelliously staking out your own ground, you’ve come to appreciate how your mother has survived hell while trying to protect you from its fires. If your dad remains the guy who sets the standard you compare others to, as I know Stone will be for Ziya, well he’ll be the love of your life for life. Mummy will be everything, but you’ll be daddy’s girl.
And there it was: “I love daddy!” I then asked, “what about mummy?” “I love mummy!” she answered. But, it was too late, I had already seen the flashing sign, as impossible to miss or mistake as the screen on top of KFC on Independence Square, even if you are standing on Lady Chancellor Hill and the distance makes the whole thing seem far away. Steups. This wasn’t the first sign. When I show Ziya pictures of animal mummies and babies, she’ll sometimes insist that some of them are daddies. She knows the difference between the mummy and daddy lion, but that doesn’t matter, if she decides the mummy lion hugging up her cubs makes her feel warm and fuzzy about daddy, then she’ll point and say daddy. I’ll say, “no, that’s a mummy lion” and she’ll say, “daddy”.
Stone says she’s mummy-struck and that’s definitely true, although anyone who’s seen her insist on “boobs” night and day would probably say that she’s really breast-struck, but I know she’s the first to hear the car when I drive in from work so I’ll take the bligh. She’s equally daddy-struck though and its clear she doesn’t like to let Stone out of her sight. I guess what it is, is that I finally understand how this was such a big deal to my mother. Even if I rush home from work just to feed her and put her to bed, even if I haven’t slept in 20 months because she’s lying across my chest and attached to me while I have these hallucinatory dreams from oxygen deprivation in between the moments when she wakes up to cry and collapse on me again, even if I put all holds on life to prioritize her in my free time and take her to the beach, bush, river or for ice cream, even I spend weeks reading children’s book reviews on amazon just so I could hand pick her vast book collection to include science, space, art, dinosaurs, stories from around the world, and stories with strong and non-white girl characters. Even if, even if…it doesn’t matter. I know it already. She’s going to be Stone’s own daddy’s girl. She’ll be a pebble. She’ll love me, but idolize him.
I’m not bitter about it or anything. I’m blessed she’ll have a daddy worthy of such love. I know these things are personal and shaped by the individuals involved. I also know they are systemic. We take women and what they do for granted, we are harder on them for things we excuse men for, we make women work harder for praise and love, and set the standard for them in the care economy higher, we participate in the invisibility of their work and sometimes their feelings, we expect them to be there no matter what, for more hours on more days. So, perhaps we give less or we love mothers differently even if that love is fierce.
Maybe the future will unfold differently, but I’ve been that little girl and now I’m that mom. What makes me stop and write are moments like these when I see myself in both my daughter and my mother, and it’s still a place full of such new realisations to be.
July 11, 2012
The amazing thing about watching Ziya blossom is seeing the family features that she has inherited appear and disappear on her face. Some days, her eyebrows look exactly like my grandmother’s, some days a side-look makes her a little replica of her dad’s mother when she was younger. Her eyes sometimes seem to be like my moms and, at other times, like mine, which look like my dad’s. There’s more. Even in the womb, she had her dad’s profile, his chin, lips and nose and yet sometimes her lips seem astonishingly like mine for a girl that looks almost nothing like me. She’s got my great-grandmother’s ears and, when they stand next to each other, she looks exactly like a tiny version of Stone’s sister. In some lights, her skin colour blends seamlessly with mine and, in others, she’s a shade that exactly mimics that same aunt. One little body looking today like one family group and tomorrow like another, whose genes would locate them many thousands of miles from each other. Such a complex legacy, interwoven with the inheritance of more than three continents, reflected in one tiny face.
Afganistan, Africa, India, Europe and who knows where else are all hers to call her own. Her ancestors crossed a multitude of waters, from all kinds of positions of power, and in a country like Trinidad and Tobago, she doesn’t have to choose. My great-grandfather, Abdul Aziz came from Afganistan in 1883. Stone has African as well as European bloods brought together through the conflicts and consummations that were part of colonisation in the Caribbean. The rest of my family came, through indentureship, from India and it’s in Trinidad that they came to identify as Indian, with all its contemporary, local and politicised meanings. My family has long been Muslim, Stone’s Christian and I have a feeling that Zi is going to be an inventor of her own traditions.
She has neither of our names. She has both. I wanted anyone anywhere to know she’s from someplace where the currents of many dark oceans cross – and her mom was a feminist and her dad supported an idea he knew was important. Stone thought that Hosein-Livingstone was too long for your typical form, but Ziya’s ancestors all travelled on long, long voyages. Those seventeen letters and that hypen are hardly enough stepping-stones to trace back the paths that led to who she is today. If forms don’t provide enough space, well, she’ll just have to continue writing her story in the spaces outside of the boxes and in the margins of the page.
Because I spend the majority of the days of the week at work, I come home in the evenings and sometimes think that Zi’s face has completely changed. I notice the little shifts like seeing a seedling sprout in stop motion. Recently, I visited Zi’s great-grandmother for her 89th birthday, and for the first time the four generations were together. I wished then I could connect her tendrils to the twisting vines of every one of her ancestors, just so she could trace the stories, experiences, knowledge and selves that spring to life as she grows into a unique embodiment of our world.