The One ‘First’ I Experienced ‘Last’
Being the eldest of four sisters, I suppose I mostly experienced all the firsts …well… First. I was the first to go to school, drive, move out of home, go to university, graduate, get married, first to have kids. The Sisters followed suit of course, but as is the bane of every eldest child, I had the challenge of going through many firsts with my parents learning beside me too! (The first to buy teen magazines and have them banned from the house, the first to not be allowed on sleepovers – so the Sisters knew never to even bother asking).
But there is this one ‘first’ I could only experience after all three of them. The one ‘life event’ they all experienced before me. That of being a Khala, meaning ‘Aunt’, or more specifically Khala means ‘Maternal Aunt – your mother’s sister’.
Exactly three weeks ago one of my sisters became a first time Mama and along with that her beautiful baby made me a first time Khala!
Throughout her pregnancy, I was secretly worried about having a Nephew or Niece. I have kids already and a third one on the way. Will I love her baby the way she loves both my kids? Will I see the baby’s photo and just see another baby or like my sisters will I see a child I will never tire of hearing each and every detail about?
Now when it comes to being ‘Aunts’ my sisters are are hard act to follow. They are the quintessential Fairy Godmothers of Aunthood. In the Kashmiri language we say ‘M’aas’ a word connoting ‘like a mother’ and indeed there is a saying of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) :
‘A mother’s sister is equivalent to a (real) mother (in status)’.
For my kids – YES! Younger, more fun versions of their mother. Forever ready to listen to them, feed them jelly sweets in secret, buy them the coolest gifts, send them the best postcards from travels around the world. They are Readers of the best stories and Writers of the best letters (complete with hand drawn illustrations).
And in my earliest Mothering days it was the Sisters who travelled across the Atlantic to be with me in the final weeks of pregnancy. One of them held my hands through labour. When she couldn’t make it for the birth of my second baby another one made sure she would be there. They gave me respite by whisking the kids off to sleep or to adventures I was just too tired for – to a circus, a fire-station even to meals out with their friends. My then 4 year old would feel so special being taken by a Khala to a grown up restaurant with her grown up friends.
So when my sister was calling me from across the Atlantic, asking advice about contractions and such … and in the midst of labour and dua’s and waiting … Came the news of the birth and a photo! This gorgeous perfect precious child. Who made my baby sister into a Mama and who as soon as I saw, wasn’t just ‘her’ baby anymore. She felt like mine already. All the khala hormones kicked in. It’s actually quite inexplicable … it’s just … like another of my sisters described so perfectly: SUCH HEART SQUEEZING PYAAR* AT HER LITTLE FACE
If I wasn’t in the third trimester of my own third pregnancy, I would be there right next to my sister as she was with me when I gave birth to my first child.
A few days after she was born, feeling jealous of the fact that there were all there in the same country being able to hold our new niece, squeeze her cheeks, share baby kisses. I messaged my sisters on our group chat asking them if they had sent me ‘…every single photo you have of her on your phone?’
‘Ah! So You do know how we feel!’ came the reply.
Now I am officially part of the Aunt club. And now I just ‘get it’. All you ladies who can’t help but show everyone photos of your nephews and neices – I hear you!
I am so excited and happy to be your Khala little one! I don’t think I could ever be one as fun and cool as your mama but her example is one of the most amazing and I only needed your existence to teach me that it was all there. All the love. Already there already loving you like my own.
Photo of my daughter with one of her Khalas
*PYAAR means ‘Love’ in Urdu/Hindi