Today I was reading through some of my stories of my girls. Specifically when my oldest was just tiny and I was a jumbling bundle of nerves. Those stories became my own personal journal of how I felt and what I was dreaming of for her, at the time. I’m so glad that I kept them because when I read them, it brings a feeling that just wells up inside, a lot like when you see those baby pictures and remember where you were, what they were doing and oh how terribly cute and innocent they were (and then they turn five and think they are the Queen – which she claims to hold title to – and try to enforce new and unique rules daily in her kingdom).
Saffi had just turned 3 months old. This tiny little thing and I finally had to get up the nerve to venture out into the real world. We couldn’t be locked up forever. The wife went back to work after with ‘real people’ (only to find it wasn’t as cool and empowering as she thought being away from her little girl) and left me with “It #1”. I called her It. Not in a bad way, but because every time I passed her around (language thing), “Can you take this?”, “Where is It?” (meaning her). Wife endlessly gave me a hard time about this and even with our second one, the same thing. Completely affectionate, I assure you.
So here we go off to the mall (because there was nothing else to do in Qatar anyway at that time – and come to think of it, there still isn’t when we left). She’s happily tucked into her properly positioned, rear facing car seat, in a car with side, front, rear, ceiling, floor airbags (again, wife’s clear placing of pillows all over the car did not put confidence in my driving capabilities). And, she is sleeping. Off we go. Radio on, bit of rap music and whatever else and I thought “I can do this. Its so easy!”. Driving down the road, the immediate whimpering starts. She’s hungry. Oh no, why didn’t someone tell me to feed her before I left? Ok, bottle in hand, stretching my arm back (while driving) and feeding her (now I understand my wifes’ insecurities about my driving because this was so not safe). Oh she’s happy and I’m driving one handed down the road (not going a minute over 30 km an hour – in an 80). Oh good, asleep. Not 10 minutes later, a smell, a smell I’ve never thought possible filled the car. Can’t roll down he windows because its around 30 degrees -c- (winter time) and I’m afraid she will get cold. Right! I hope and pray she won’t start crying until we get to the mall.
We arrive and rush into the mall. Head to the bathroom. What? Where do I change her? What is this? Wife said the bathrooms have diaper changing things that fold out from the wall (note to wife: yes, they do. In the WOMENS’ bathroom!). So, I’m changing her on the counter as guys walk in and out looking at me with clear confusion and even a bit of disgust (well, of course, with that smell). This was unfair. I must tell the wife to write a letter to the mall management (she likes doing that stuff and making people mad about the injustices of the world).
Now, this is about an hour after we have left and I know there is a nap time involved at some point. So I wing it because I didn’t bring the stroller in so she was stuck with me.
I’m a bit of a big guy (the gym thing) so thats no problem. I can handle hauling around this 4kg bundle and diaper bag (it was pink – really pink!).
Here we are, my little girl and I, walking through the mall and just moving along. It finally hits me that everyone, absolutely everyone, stares at me as they walk past. I kept thinking my zip was down or I had grown an extra limb. I wanted to meet up with a couple of friends and I ask them if there is something wrong with me (they look confused). So, the 3 of us and this little thing walk around the mall to find the coffee place. Now, the looks went over the top – western, arabic, men, women, whatever – they just stared and commented to each other. A few of these people even outright laughed. I’m getting irritated.
We sit down and have coffee. Little one is happily sleeping on the shoulder of my closest friend and I go up and order coffee. A british woman comes up to me in the line and she said “Can I ask you something?” I nod and she says “I really think its great what you are doing”. Again, look of confusion comes across my face. She smiles and pats me on the arm. “Seeing you, as a big guy and who is Arabic and walking with these 2 other gentlemen and this tiny little baby and that pink nappie bag, its just something you don’t see everyday. And I really think its great”. We started the conversation about how my wife and I didn’t trust getting a nanny and felt we should raise her ourselves because she is ours. She smiled so big and asked where I was from (Egypt) and where my wife was from (US) and she just said “Wow. You are a good guy”. She took her coffee and left.
That moment, it was like a lightbulb just exploded above my head. It was one of those moments where reality just opened up and everything I had always known and what I was taught and what was ‘traditional’ in my culture (and most in the world) had just been thrown out the window. I honestly felt lost and worried I’d done something wrong.
These people simply weren’t used to seeing a guy like me with this little baby – let alone without a mom in tow.
I suddenly felt insecure but empowered and even embarrassed. A year ago, I was a guy that wore the latest watches, had the cool new phones, nice jeans and it took me about 6 minutes to get anywhere in the country. Now, I’ve got stains on virtually everything, watches don’t get worn because I’m afraid they might scratch her tender little skin and my phone, well, it’s been dropped and lost far too many times to even mention. I miss that guy, I miss the spontaneity. But, now I’m the guy that walks around the mall with a tiny baby and who is upset because I have nowhere to change my little angel. I have my 2 friends (who I spent that 6 minutes on the road all of the time to hang with them) cuddling her in their chairs, feeding her and kissing her head.
It was that moment, among all of that confusion that I felt, that I realized that I actually liked what I was becoming. I liked that I looked at little strange to people and that they wondered what was up.
It was from that moment on, that I developed my own little plan (feed before going, get the stroller – as a diaper changer if those mens bathrooms don’t have – have those diapers and wipes handy at all times) and that I walked proudly, down the mall, store, or anywhere else I went, with my little girl in my arms (before she became the Queen of this kingdom) and just smiled at everyone that looked at me a bit odd.
I am the ArabBaba. I’m still insecure (but atleast I have a well thought out plan now – well thought out, but not always executed that way). I’m still irritated at mens bathrooms and very thankful that Dubai has the family bathrooms (and has the forward thinking enough to realise dad’s are people too!).
And, I still get to hold it over my wife periodically when I need some sympathy (that I had to go out all on my own with a baby and there was so much going on and so worried, etc.).
We have the opportunity to share moments and stories with our kids, and others. We have the chance to offer up our insecurities as just part of being human and being a parent. And I love every second of it because that tiny little thing has grown up far too fast and it was just like yesterday when it seemed like I found myself at that moment.