When Lavender was tiny, Mr. Mostafa had a very important role in her toileting. The actual diaper changes were primarily my domain, but whenever I changed her diaper and he was home, he would be standing over her, making silly faces or singing songs or dancing (or all of the above) in order to entertain her, because she has always hated diaper changes.
Once, as we went through our diaper changing process and Lavender giggled at her baba’s antics, he smiled and said, “This is how we all start out. Think about it. It’s so funny. We can’t even wipe our own butts or find our own food; someone has to do it all for us. We all think we’re so big and important. But we all start out just like this.”
As Lavender grows and I find myself doing little things for her that conventional parenting wisdom never seems to acknowledge but are important nevertheless, it seems like I’m always having flashbacks to that moment. A few days ago, it happened as Lavender and I were sharing popcorn. Of course, popcorn is generally regarded as a no-no for children of Lavender’s age, because it’s a choking hazard. But she had a tiny part of a piece a few months ago, and she’s been hooked ever since. So I crumble the popcorn into smaller pieces, and I only let her have the fluffy, chewy parts. Regular pieces of popcorn are still out of her league, but she can have it this way.
So as I sorted her popcorn pieces and handed them to her one by one, I thought, “These will always be the moments I remember. These are the moments that shape how I think about her for the rest of my life. How am I ever going to let her go to college? How am I ever going to let her drive by herself? How am I ever going to let her spend the night at a friend’s house? How am I ever going to let her grow up, knowing that she once needed me to sort the safe popcorn pieces for her?”
It’s a question that bestowed a sudden, startling clarity on my relationship with my own mother.
A few days ago, my mom and I were discussing my itinerary for my journey to the States at the end of this month. After much discussion, Mr. Mostafa and I had decided that instead of taking our usual week-long vacation to a nearby locale, we would take our annual America visit early this year. There were multiple reasons for this, one of the big ones being that my mom and I want to take a trip to California to visit my grandmother, who has yet to meet Lavender. We figured that this would best be done sooner rather than later. So Lavender and I are flying into Missouri at the end of the month, and Mr. Mostafa will join us at the end of April. We will return to Riyadh toward the end of May.
One of the stops that Lavender and I will make on the way to Missouri is in London. We have a five-hour layover in Heathrow. I’m super excited about this, because I’ve never been to London, and I’m thrilled to have a chance to be there, even if it is just walking around the airport.
My mom, however, is less thrilled about the prospect of Lavender and I spending five hours bopping around an unfamiliar airport in a foreign country where we don’t know anyone. “Please be careful,” she begged. “Please try to get wi-fi in the airport so you can WhatsApp me or FaceTime with me. I need to know you’re okay. Please.”
“Mom, we’ll be fine,” I said, rolling my eyes. “It’s just an airport. In England. Which means everyone speaks English.”
“Don’t laugh at me,” she said. “I’m a mom!”
As I sorted and fed Lavender only the fluffy bits of popcorn one by one, I suddenly imagined her as an adult, alone in an airport in a foreign country, and my heart constricted in fear. How will she ever be able to take care of herself? She can’t even eat popcorn by herself! She can’t even use the potty on her own! I agonize about the possibility of her falling out of the bed, or pulling a lamp off a nightstand onto her little head. Everything is a choking hazard. I worry that the plastics in her sippy cups are toxic. My mind is filled with daymares and nightmares of child abusers, kidnappers, sexual predators, serial killers. And she wants me to let her walk around an airport by herself?
All my life, my mother has worried about me in just this way. And now, I get it. How is she supposed to think of me as a capable adult when she once had to wipe my butt because I couldn’t do it myself? This is how I met her, as a pink, squawking, helpless infant. They say first impressions are everything, and so I now understand that to my mother, on some level, I will always be that squawking, helpless infant.
When Lavender goes off to college, I will sit by my phone, worrying that she is seconds away from choking on the popcorn she is snacking on as she studies chemistry equations that I will never understand. I will be beside myself with worry as I watch her walk away from me to catch a flight in King Khaled Airport here in Riyadh, even though I will know that she speaks and understands Arabic and Saudi culture in ways I will never be able to comprehend. By the time she reaches the age of legal adulthood, she will be exponentially more worldly than I could ever hope to be in my lifetime.
She is a marvel.
But when she is grown and gone, off making her way in the world, I’m still going to worry. I’m still going to be scared for her. I’m still going to think about those moments of crushing popcorn and choosing the resulting pieces that are safe for her to eat. I’m still going to see her as a toddler who wakes up in the morning and crawls to the end of the bed and calls for me to come get her. I’m still going to think about those mornings spent sitting on the bathroom floor as she sits perched on the toilet by way of a Hello Kitty potty seat as we read Once Upon a Potty and wait for bathroom business to happen.
She is already so big and so important, and she will only become more so. But she started out just like me, and just like every other person in the world. And I will always think of her in these little moments where she needed me, and whether intentional or not, I helped shape her into the self-sufficient person she will become. And I will pray that I didn’t let her down somewhere along the way.