‘Would you like a new baby?’
‘Let’s go and get one!’
It was 1986 Iran. My father and, recently turned three year old, me had made the walk to the hospital together many times. Mama had a high risk pregnancy second time around and was often admitted for bed rest. There had been talk of a new baby. An aunty saying something to mama about eating for two and of course there was my mama’s growing round belly, which for some reason I can not picture in anything except this red v-neck sweater she used to wear.
I was excited … And it seemed so logical. Need some groceries? Go get some from the shop. Need a baby? Go get one from the hospital.
My dad held me up to look through a huge glass window and there like cereal in a supermarket aisle were what looked to me then like hundreds and hundreds of babies!
“Let’s choose one” my dad said.
I looked around me and pointed ‘This one?’
My dad made a pretense of being ‘picky’ and taking time to ‘choose’ the ‘right’ one till he landed on my sister –“THIS one!” He exclaimed, and I was happy to agree. This was my special baby sister who I remember loving all the way from her head to her toes – one of my earliest memories is lifting up the pink meshy mosquito net she would be lying under and kissing each one of her tiny pink toes. I was three so my memories of those times are not exactly extensive or accurate, still, I don’t ever remember being jealous of the new baby,( at least till girlhood set in and were were hitting each other over the head with telephone receivers!)
It was quite a while before I realised the funny trick Papa had played on me and by that time it just used to make me smile to think of it!
I know from discussions on motherhood groups on facebook, the ‘explanations’ for a new baby range from the complete honest truth, no frills added, to actually telling a child that ‘mummy is eating too much food and getting fat’ to just not telling the child anything at all and one day suddenly presenting them with a new baby brother or sister!
Even when parents are straight forward about it all a child can extrapolate the most hilarious meaning! As Aiysha recalled to me when her mama, during part of the explanation said “…the egg from the mama gets fertilized from the abu…” and for a long time she thought that ‘…fathers just went and bought fertilizer from the garden centre and sprinkled it around” (!)
Almost three and a half years ago we were in the position of explaining the impending arrival of a new sibling to our first born. I had just confirmed my pregnancy and was contemplating the best way to tell him. I wanted to be truthful but he was only 2.5 years old and I also wanted it to be uncomplicated! He used to (and still does) love hearing his own birth story, in which I always started off by telling him Mama asked Allah for a really special gift and that he, Ismail, was the most wonderful Gift that Allah could have ever given me.
From Big gifts to the smallest of things (I have lost my truck, I got hurt on my knee…) I tried to instill in him this idea that we should always ask Allah and turn to Him for anything ( for help finding the toy, for making us feel better).
So one day after I had finished praying my salah, Ismail, being the only child at that time, playing on the floor near my prayer mat, saw me still sitting and crept into my lap. I asked him then as my dad had asked me so many years ago…
‘Would you like a baby?’
His smile and nodding head was the confirmation I needed to go on with my plan…
‘What should we do when we want something? Anything?‘ ….
‘Ask Allah!’ came the reply.
So shall we ask Allah to gift us one? ‘
Yes! Yes!’ That apple cheeked smile was now tinged with excitement at the thought. So right there and then, even though I ‘knew’ I didn’t tell him, instead I let him cup those tiny hands into prayer and ask Allah for a baby. A baby sister no less (and this part, I was months from confirming!) I made a silent prayer myself right there, with the two of us on the prayer mat, that ~ ‘Oh Allah keep his sweet faith intact.’
I had one more question for him, just out of my own curiosity and in order to plant the seed of preparation. I asked where he thought Allah would put the baby if He decided to give us one. He thought for just a few seconds and phrased his answer in the most american of ways -as a question – ‘In your tummy?’
You might think that quite precocious for an almost two and half year old, but really why wouldn’t he have realised that, from the many books we had read about ‘new babies’ to a close friend of ours whom he had seen with a ‘balloon growing in her tummy’ (no sweetie that’s the baby growing slowly slowly).
Over the months as he noticed my waist expanding, he would ask to ‘see’ the baby. we told him the baby would be ‘ready’ to meet him and be born when the leaves outside start changing colour and falling all around us. This helped so much to give him some perspective of the time involved.
Ismail did get his baby sister, and now Mashallah that same little sister is about to become a ‘Big Sister’ herself. This time the children, along with waiting for the first snowfall, will be waiting for the arrival of the new baby too!
Somehow having an older sibling already, changes the dynamic of a new baby entering the family (he often shares his 5 year old ‘wisdom’ with her). We ask her ‘Ayeesh – would you like to have a new baby?’
‘No’ is the short answer we get! ‘I am the baby’ is the long answer! It seems the girl was born to be the middle child!
Do you remember the funny things grown ups told you about where babies come from? Alhamdullilah I am again in this blessed position but with a completely different child asking different questions! What are the kind of things you tell your children? Any tips appreciated!
Photo of my sisters and I circa 1989. I think it was Eid hence the ‘outfits’! (The youngest Teli sister was yet to be born!)