If your child asks you this question, what answer would you give him? From my experience as a child growing up in a Malay kampung with hardly any electricity, no street lights and where ghosts and vampires reside in every bush and dark corners, the most likely answers parents would give their children at that time would be; because it’s getting dark and there are ghosts outside, or because the police will catch you, or because I’m going to tell your father or I’m going to hit you if you don’t listen! This is not always the given order, mind you. In fact, for many a frustrated mum, the spanking might even come before anything else. Those were the days of poverty when education belonged only to the elites, so hence such an attitude or approach is something understandable.
I wonder if you did notice the similarity of this title to Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’. According to Fatimah, my number six, Gerald meant the ‘other animals’ to be his own family while he accords filial relationship to his animals. I would definitely never call my children ‘other animals’ even in jest. They are my dearest offsprings whom I so carefully raise in the hope of benefitting me in my grave. However, I couldn’t resist coining this title. It seems to capture the young Ashworths’ passion for animals and the myriads of misadventures they had with them, growing up in our ever busy home. Continue reading
When I was training as a pre-primary teacher, one strategy we were taught in teaching children to read was called a shared-book experience (at least that’s what I remember it being called, I might be wrong mind you). Simply put, it’s a process of writing down your shared experience, with every child contributing his sentence. So, for example, if you’ve taken the children to the zoo, then while you talk about the trip, you simply record everyone’s chat in turns. Children feel really proud that their sentence gets inscribed and becomes an important part of the written ‘Zoo Story’. So naturally, the Zoo Story would be everyone’s favourite and you’d find each child going to the wall chart to read his sentence (even if he actually can’t read yet). Over time, they can all read the story because they would have learnt to read the other sentences from each other.
Inspired by this, I embarked on writing some stories with my own children from the time they were very little. Apart from the desire to encourage their reading skills, I found it to be yet another enjoyable avenue for bonding with your children. Most of my stories were actually based on our family outings or even sometimes what happens at the breakfast table. In the 1990s, there weren’t many English books that I considered halal or suitable for my children, so I decided to write stories for them based on them. And it goes without saying that their own stories were their favourite.
One of the greatest challenges of bringing up children is to keep them busy. This is something I continually repeat to anyone who asks for advice on parenting,” Keep them busy or they’ll keep you busy!” Of course by this I don’t mean keep them busy with the TV (20th century parenting) or phones and iPads (the 21st century version). That’s simply called keeping them glued, happy and quiet while you get on with your own thing. I’m not denying how this makes life so much easier for everyone, yourselves and the kids, but the harmful consequences are deep and long-lasting.
I watch children who are addicted to these devices with a deep-felt sorrow. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to sound infallible or righteous but I sincerely can’t help feeling sad whenever I see a child who could potentially be an asset to the ummah being lost to the cause from such an early age. Children’s programmes on TV are great as they keep them entertained, but have you ever wondered what they do to your children? Peppa pig is a sweet cartoon character (I discovered it only recently) But think… your Muslim children will not even notice it is a pig! She is part of a sweet family with good values. While we under estimate the potency of cartoons in influencing our children’s mindset, we may also be guilty of over estimating the vulnerability of our children’s innocence. They will eventually fall prey to whatever they watch.
What is it about children that they unfailingly do what you don’t want them to do, or don’t do what you want them to do? And worse still, in all these dos and don’ts, they actually remind you of yourself at their age! The likeness of actions and decisions they make, to your own when you were in that same stage in life, is almost bizarre. Never mind if you’re a different parent to them than your own parents had been to you, never mind if you raised them in a different land, sent them to a different kind of school and even speak to them in a language different to your mother tongue, somehow they seem to turn out like mini yous.
Forgive the rambling. I guess it’s my way of unravelling the striking similarities between my eldest and myself in our lives. Yesterday, Khadijah left our house with her husband and her two children, to live in another land. It was a very sad day in my life. It was a replay of events in so many ways. When I left Singapore to study in England so many, many years ago, we all cried. My mum cried very hard and so did I. The first letter I received from home said, “Mum is very, very sad. There were silent tears on her face all the time and the house felt as if someone had died.” Now I know how my mum (may Allah forgive her) must have felt then. Yesterday, I waved goodbye not just to my own daughter, but also to my two grandchildren, Uthman and Aalia. I didn’t cry at the airport, but my tears came pouring out later. My heart aches so much at the thought of not being able to see them every day or every week. But Allah knows Khadijah has good intentions, and in spite of my grief, I love her for her courage and patience in doing what she has to do.
SubhanAllah, how time flies. The academic year came and went and I didn’t find the time to write. So many things have happened in the last ten months. If I go by the number of things that have changed, the number of events that have touched and shaped my life, the myriads of deep conversations I’ve had with my loved ones, then I certainly won’t know where to begin writing, and almost certainly, there will be no end. Alas, parenting doesn’t get easier as the children get older. Whoever said that must have a different formula, one that I neither know of nor am willing to apply. It gets tougher on your heart and the doas you make for them get longer. It’s no longer a case of just watching whether they’re not going to fall off their bikes and make it to the end of the lane. Every other day, it seems one of us is at a cross road, wondering which way to go; shall I take the job, shall I apply to this university, shall I say yes to this person about marriage, which country do I need to move to… and the list goes on. In the midst of all these, a second grandchild was born. Allahu Akbar. We named her Aalia and she is as beautiful as her name, mashaAllah tabarakAllah.
Eid al Adha is just over and so is the long almost four-month summer holiday. Whether it was good to get such a long holiday is debatable but for me alhamdulillah it was a great blessing to have the time to do all the things I won’t have the time for otherwise. Umrah, spending Eid al Fitr with my sister in Yanbu, visiting my dear daughter Maryam and friends in England and visiting my dad and family in Singapore were some of my summer highlights. I had the pleasure of seeing my sister Ita three times in this long holiday. We both have eight children mashaAllah and the girls are about similar in ages. We spent many wonderful holidays together when we used to visit her in Malaysia and now we’re both in Saudi. Yanbu is miles away, so holiday is the perfect time to see each other; to talk about where we are in life, in parenting and as an older sister, I feel somewhat useful in sharing my experience with her.