We have long suspected that our Beti looked a little too frequently at her own nose and when we took her to a paediatric ophthalmologist, it turns out we were absolutely right! Some corrective eye surgery was in order. At our first post-op visit, the doctor grinned at us, “Well, everything’s fine now but she’ll never be a pilot!” Hums and I laughed along with him, thankful and relieved with the results.
Later in the evening, like a petulant child, I felt an irrational pang over my ten-month-old daughter’s lost dream, sighing, “She would’ve made a great pilot.”
A few weeks earlier, when Michael Phelps won his 21st medal and became the most decorated Olympian of all time, he had sparked a conversation in my home that I remembered the night I spent mournfully musing over the career trajectories of pilots. It is the same conversation Hums and I have when we watch any one around us achieve greatness in any of the multitude of interests and passions that people pursue in this wonderful world: What do we want for our children?
Did you, as you held your newborn baby, feel the awe of an unknown future? Did you whisper to your child: “Are you destined for great things? Are you going to be a champion swimmer, a renowned painter, a spiritual leader?”
As parents, we believe it’s our duty to give our children dreams of their infinite possibilities and capabilities. Carpe the heck out of every diem! You can do and be anything you want if only you believe.
I firmly believe in possibilities and hard work and I want my children to aim for the stars; but sometimes I wonder at the wisdom of that frame of mind. Does it make us ungrateful or unhappy with what we do end up doing? How can I, as a parent, help my kids balance dreaming big with living small and being happy? How to be content with things as they are, yet at the same time, not allow contentment of spirit to morph into laziness, lethargy or an indolent, passionless lifestyle?
I had always thought that by this age, I would be an established writer and the head of my own school. But there is no school and there is no manuscript filled with great works of staggering genius. Happily, there is also no regret. Every day I talk to my parents, give time to Beta and Beti, share a cup of tea with Hums, and read something. I pretend to do yoga, prepare food and try to keep up with the laundry, my skincare regimen and the news. If it doesn’t sound very grand, it’s because it isn’t.
I watch as all my peers discover that this will be their life. The women, putting their duties as wives and mothers first, and everything else second. The men, weighed down with the need to provide, trying to fathom how to pay the tuition fees for universities abroad, too busy getting by to remember their own dreams. Even those men and women with a great and desired career are still plagued with long hours of work, the banality of routine, the return home to a tired spouse and the dawning realisation that you may only do one or two things in your life that outlast you.
I would seriously love to spare my kids the mini-midlife crisis that comes from realising they probably won’t be the subject of an amazing biography, that their lives will likely be a series of little achievements than any one big bang. If I let echo in their hearts that they can do anything, one night they may sigh and think ‘Is this all there is?’ Will I have done my due diligence in preparing them for this world? Is there anything I can do to spare them that sigh?
How about I refuse to tell them that they can Be Anything they want to and instead tell them that they can Be Happy in any situation they choose? So that Hums and I give them a lifelong affection for life as it is — the exquisite privilege of some decades to fill? Because it’s in the extraordinary ordinariness of life that you catch glimpses of magic. In the divine opportunities to sit in the rain on a gorgeous September afternoon, to laugh so hard your sides hurt, to eat chaat with friends, to watch your mother play with your eye patch wali pirate daughter. To love and be loved, to build a marriage, to make a home, to raise a family, to live nobly and justly. To breathe in the body that was given to you, to use it well, and surrender it in the end. At which point, it won’t even matter that you didn’t become a pilot, even though, in a fit of contrariness, your crazy drama of a Mama suddenly really wanted you to.
Hiba Masood is a stay-at-home mother to 3-year-old Beta and 7-month-old Beti. Writing about parenting affords her time away from actually doing it.
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, September 16th, 2012.
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