An (un)birthday party

It was my youngest daughter’s second birthday earlier this month and usually birthdays around here are small affairs where only the family gather for dinner and a cake, and presents.

This year I decided to do a little something different and throw a “birthday party” for Z mainly because she is about to become middle child in a few weeks, and I wanted to do something special to make her feel well, special.

As I planned the birthday I realised that I wanted it to be more about enjoying the company of our nearest and dearest, and for it to be an enjoyable day for the children.

Also, I really didn’t want to do the ‘typical’ birthday things.

For example, I didn’t want presents.

Exhibit A:

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My lovely friends and family still did gift the girls presents, which I wasn’t going to be annoying about. And I say ‘girls’ because they were gifts that both the girls could enjoy and use. We gift things to people because we love them, and this is a beautiful trait. My logic behind requesting no gifts was because I didn’t want the girls to expect present after present, which they would begin to not appreciate. I also didn’t want this day to be about an exchange of gifts, I wanted it to be a day to enjoy each other’s company…

I also did not want party bags. You know the ones filled with junk food, lollies and cheap plastic toys. Instead I decided to organise some arts and crafts so that the kids could:

  1. Be entertained, rather than go crazy with all the toys that we had (which happened anyway.)
  2. They’d have something to take home in lieu of party bags.
  3. It would get their creative juices flowing (but I think it was the adults who got more creativity out of this than the kids lol).

I also really did not want to do the whole ‘dessert table’/’grazing table’ that is trending at parties these days. I didn’t want the big floral backdrop to take photos with. I just wanted to bring out the sweets when the time came, and have a moment to bring out the cake, candles lit and everyone singing ‘happy birthday’ like we did in the good old ’90s.

My reasons for not doing a dessert table/grazing table:

  1. I didn’t want my children’s eyes to become accustomed to a table overflowing with lolly jars, cakes, towers of sweets and so on. I felt that this would simply promote greediness and extravagance from a young age.
  2. My aim for this party was to keep it simple and a table with a backdrop seems over the top and unnecessary for a two year old.
  3. I didn’t want a backdrop to take photos with, because it’s actually kind of weird to have people lining up to take photos in front of it. I didn’t want the children to see and engage in this form of ‘selfie’ (ahem, narcissistic behaviour). If we were taking photos, it would simply be a natural part of the day.
  4. What the hell is with the ‘grazing table’ anyway? Are we field animals that simply ‘graze’ lazily on food? Again, it’s just too extravagant and sends the wrong message to our children about what is acceptable eating behaviour.

I still wanted it to be beautiful, because it is a way of honouring our guests. So I bought some flowers (stock) from the local farmer’s market, and we trimmed down some foliage hanging over my back fence and hung it around. I also couldn’t resist buying these plates from Lark Store because they are just gorgeous.

The day before, my eldest daughter J, and I had some fun making some desserts. We made blueberry and cream and strawberry and cream popsicles, and butter cookies dipped in chocolate decorated with some sprinkles.

Here are the recipes we used:

Blueberry and Cream Popsicles (just replace the blueberries with strawberries)

Butter Cookies (we simply melted some chocolate, dipped the cookies in it once they were cooked and cooled, then sprinkled them with some pink sprinkles).

As for the crafts, we made wands and pipe cleaner crowns. For the wands, I cut out some star shapes the day before and got the kids to collect some sticks from the park with their father. The children simply painted the stars with glitter paint, attached ribbons to the sticks then stuck the stars on.

For the pipe cleaner crowns, we used this tutorial, and got creative with some fake wire flowers and ribbon.

All in all, it was a lovely day, reconnecting with friends and family and having the children to reconnect with each other as well. When I asked my eldest what she loved most about her day, she said, “playing with my friends, making the wands and eating the popsicles…” In that order lol.

Here are  a few more pics from the day…

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Pictures by my sister Subhi Bora.

Easy chicken tray bake

Recently I’ve been developing go-to recipes that I can throw together with things I’m guaranteed to have at home, that are quick and easy, with results that the kids are guaranteed to love.

To be honest, since I got married I’ve really struggled with the whole cooking dinner thing and keeping my pantry and fridge stocked with the right ingredients to throw a meal together.

I really think it is a skill that you need to be taught.

Or you just learn as you go, you learn what works for you and your family.

I’ll go into what I’ve learnt about keeping one’s pantry and fridge stocked another day. For now, here is my recipe for an easy chicken tray bake. And when I say easy, I mean literally chop it all up and throw it all together then shove it in the oven and forget about it, and I promise it will taste great.

So, here goes…

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You will need:

Chicken thigh fillet, or chicken breast, or wings, or basically whatever chicken you have in your freezer. (In saying this, I will specify that I only buy organic chicken, not because I think I’m some posh hipster, but because eating organic matters.)

Potatoes

Pumpkin

Onions are optional based on how picky your kids are. Mine don’t like it so I don’t use it.

Lemon

Olive oil

Tomato paste

Turkish red pepper paste (you can find it an Coles in the ‘international foods’ aisle)

Chicken seasoning

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How to cook it:

  1. Peel and chop the veggies. With the lemon I only use a few finely sliced wedges.
  2. Throw them in a casserole dish.
  3. Chop chicken. Throw that in there as well.
  4. Put chicken seasoning and olive oil over it. Be liberal with the seasoning, don’t be afraid to use a fair bit. If you don’t use enough, the flavour won’t come through.
  5. Take a tablespoon of red pepper paste and tomato paste, put it in a medium sized mug with water and stir until both are diluted. Pour over the veggies and chicken mix.
  6. Cover with foil (this is also optional).
  7. Put it in the oven on 200degrees for around 30 minutes-40 minutes, depending on your oven etc.
  8. Stir it every now and then (you don’t really have to) and adjust seasoning. Sometimes I add ground cumin and a bit of extra salt.
  9. It’s done. You now have a meal that is healthy and nutritious and tastes great.

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You can cook any sides you and your children like as an accompaniment to this meal. I usually cook rice, or if I really can’t be bothered I just serve it with bread. For extra veggies I’ll cook some corn or broccoli in boiling water. Also, a trick I use to get the kids to eat the pumpkin without them realising is to mash it into the rice. The pumpkin cooks beautifully in this meal and is so soft that you can just mix it into the rice. They never even realise that they are gobbling down pumpkin. #MumWin

That’s it.

Easy.

Newborn essentials-things that you will actually need, Part 2

 

  1. Rest: Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to get straight back into work (if you can of course), or cleaning for God’s sake, or even cooking. And yes I’ll throw in the disclaimer that every mother is different and different things work for them. But I’m talking about a mother (first-time or not) who has just been through hours of the most physically painful task that she will ever endure in her life (or undergone a major operation i.e. a caesarean), and is now expected to keep a human being alive by feeding it. So I say to you, just rest. Don’t try to be a superhero and do everything on your own. Trust me, there will be PLENTY of time later when doing EVERYTHING will fall on you. For now, just be easy on yourself and give yourself and your body time to heal, to adjust, to reset. For all those hormones to do their thing, for your uterus to shrink, for your tears to heal, for your stitches to heal, for your aching and full breasts to adjust to the milk, for every muscle in your body to fall back into their place. Just, rest.
  2. Support: In saying that, a crucial prerequisite for a mother with a newborn to rest is having support from family/friends/community. Obviously she cannot simply rest if there is nobody around to take care of the older children, or the housework, or even cooking food to feed herself and her family. The state of post-natal care in this country is already miserable, and what doesn’t help is the increasing distance between family members and friends, the lack of sincere concern, the unwillingness to sacrifice one’s own time to help someone in need because we place ourselves, and our work, first. So if you know someone who has just given birth, swing by their house once a week and drop off food, or clean their house, or play with the other kids, or just keep this woman company. Trust me, she needs it.
  3. Wisdom and Tact: To add to this, a VERY important prerequisite to supporting a new mother and being there for her, is to do it with wisdom and tact. If you are going to be there everyday judging her every move, or being insensitive to her struggle with her child, or feel the need to offer your “advice” on how to rear children, or you constantly throw out your observations on how skinny the baby looks, or you KISS THE BABY ON THE FACE, or don’t give the baby back to mum WHEN SHE ASKS FOR HER CHILD who is CRYING, it’s best that you just stay away. Just don’t visit. It will do her much more harm than good. I will say here though that as mothers, we really need to learn to be more relaxed and not so hyper-sensitive about everything. We also need to stop acting like we know everything the second we give birth just because we’ve read an article on the internet about how to (or how not to) put your baby to sleep etc. etc. We should be wise enough and dignified enough to take on the sage advice of our own mothers, or more experienced mum friends/family, and not offend them by constantly asserting our ‘knowledge’. That we got from the internet. What needs to be simultaneously happening though is that the support network (grandparents, aunts, friends etc.) need to take a step back and allow the mother to just be a mother. To give her space to consolidate her new role as a mother, to figure out her relationship with her baby, and even to just figure out the baby. Like I said above, wisdom and tact is necessary on behalf of the support system.
  4. The Father: The husband really needs to suck it up and pull his weight more than usual. The early phase (and when I say early, I really mean the first 6 months at least) is a turbulent time. Your wife IS going to change. And if you think it’s wrong or weird that she is different, well I really only have this to say to you…DUHHHH. Your wife has literally just been a conduit for life and you expect her to be the same girl she was when you married her? Not happening. And you shouldn’t expect her to be. You should expect her to change, to grow, to mould into a different self. One that will be defined wholly (initially) by motherhood. More than this though, there will be difficult moments when your wife is irrational, moody, hypersensitive, and so on, because she is so focused on keeping this creature alive. And whilst I’ve already given my warning to mothers about being hypersensitive, what I would say needs to happen on the part of the husband is to simply muster your patience and let. It. Go. Don’t try to nitpick her every moody moment every single time. Know that she is trying to negotiate a very tough phase, and hey, she is literally keeping YOUR progeny alive. Give her a break. Later (like, MONTHS later), you can tell her how mother-lion-y she was. And you can laugh about it. Maybe. I think a crucial point to keep in the forefront of your mind for both mother and father at this time is that you are in it together, and you should both be helping each other to navigate through it. I am emphasising the father’s role more heavily here though because evidently, it is the mother who experiences the most upheaval during this time, and is the one who needs more support, care and attention.
  5. Perseverance: This one is mainly for mum and dad, but can be for everyone involved in supporting and raising baby. Those early days are tough, and unless you have been blessed with some angel baby who feeds well and sleeps through the night, let me tell you, you are going to have to steel yourself and utilise some perseverance. When we brought home our first child, we had NO idea what we were doing, nobody told us anything really, and our baby would not sleep for more than 20 MINUTES AT A TIME. At night. And we were already on barely any sleep what with the labour lasting all night and so on. I’m telling you, sleep deprivation is literally a torture method and by the end of the first week, my husband and I were insane and questioning every decision we’d ever made that led to having this baby, including marrying each other. For reals. Throw into this the fact that for me, breastfeeding was pure torture. The only thing I can say to our credit about how we handled this time, was that we persevered. Through every sleepless night, and every painful feed, we pushed ourselves to keep going. And eventually, as the weeks passed, things got easier. We learnt our baby. So my advice, particularly for first time parents, is that the labour is one hurdle, but bringing that baby home is quite another, drawn out hurdle. Prepare yourself by steeling your nerves and endurance. And know that things WILL get easier. I promise.
  6. Thankfulness: Lastly, but certainly not least, a crucial part of surviving this tender phase is ensuring that we have shukr, or thankfulness and gratitude for the baby that you have been blessed with. It can be very easy to get caught up in the difficulties, the struggles, the lack of sleep, the complete change in our lifestyles and even our bodies and throw into this mix the crazy things happening with your hormones. One thing that I have learnt in retrospect, after having two children, is that there will never be a time like the newborn period. Your baby will only for around 6 months of their entire lives be a being of pure light and sweetness, of overwhelming fragility, of tiny toes and hands and heavenly newborn smell. So take a moment or two to just be thankful, to marvel over this perfect creature that you helped bring into the world. The struggles will still be there, but it will allow you to capture the magic of this time, to soak it all in, and therefore to give you the resilience to get through the difficulties.

Featured image is of me (editor Saltanat) with my first born in her newborn phase. Tough times. Don’t be fooled by the cute pic.

Newborn Essentials- things that you will actually need

Anybody who has had a baby will know that the sheer amount of products out there for baby are mind-blowing and plain confusing. A newborn human shouldn’t need that much right? Wrong. Walk into any baby store and you’ll see what I mean.

Having done this twice already and expecting my third (in just 7 weeks!!), I’ve whittled down what a baby would really need to the following. They are tried and tested by myself and I genuinely love these products. I try to choose organic and ethically made products where I can.

See below image for more details and links… If you hover over image the corresponding numbers will show.

  1. BABU Organic cotton hooded towels, face washers and wash cloths.
  2. Baby Bjorn Balance bouncer– this has been sitting in my living for 5 years in the same spot and will probably be there for another 2 years. It is very practical, and isn’t a scary, battery operated bouncer with toys hanging off it. It moves with the natural movements of baby, aiding in muscle development.
  3. Wilson & Frenchy growsuits. Get the zip kind, not the one with a thousand buttons because nappy change time is hard enough already.
  4. Gaia baby massage oil. Makes bath times much more fun.
  5. Tooshies by TOM nappies. They only launched these recently and I’m using them for Z (my two-year old) and I LOVE them because they are made using organic materials, are made well, fit around baby’s waist snugly and don’t leak. What more could you want in a nappy?
  6. Gaia hair & body wash. See number 4.
  7. Bubba blue organic four piece gift set. A cute print with all the essential accessories: beanie, mittens, bib and socks.
  8. Manduca baby carrier. I have used my fair share of baby carriers and this one is by far my favourite. It’s easy to use and supports your back well, whilst keeping baby snug and close.
  9. Bassinet. My bassinet is very similar to this style. I like that I can see baby through the see-through mesh, I can roll it around the house and I also like its simple aesthetic.
  10. Lifefactory glass bottles. In one word; brilliant. They also fit onto a Medela pump which is a huge thumbs up.
  11. Muslin Wrap. Both my babies liked to be wrapped and muslin wraps are perfect for both winter and summer babies. Get one in organic cotton.
  12. Valco Snap 4 stroller. So with my first baby, I bought the Valco Rebel Q pram, which was awesome, except that it was one of those prams that had to be separated into two to fold and fit in your boot. When I first tried it out at the baby store I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I was totally wrong. I eventually grew tired of separating the seat and folding the huge base…and it literally took up all my boot space. So, I passed that onto a family member who needed a pram, and this time round swore that I’d buy something that folds in one swift motion. Enter Valco Snap 4 stroller. It was very well priced (just over $300, unlike other strollers that retail for an incredulous $900 upwards), it is easy to handle, it’s light and folds in ONE SWIFT MOTION. I was totally sold.
  13. Tooshies by TOM wipes. Best. Wipes. Ever. And the cute packaging is a total bonus.
  14. Purebaby singlets. Lovely organic cotton singlets. Need I say more?
  15. Eco.baby nappy oil. Again, made of organic ingredients, this is the only nappy oil that has actually worked consistently. The moment I see a bit of redness or the beginnings of nappy rash, I apply this oil generously and by the next nappy change, it’s cleared up.

Featured image source.

A momentary connection

When I woke up I knew it was going to be one of those days. I felt unsettled. On edge. In fact I’d been struggling with these feelings for a few days. I was feeling that constant niggling frustration that comes from being a stay-at-home mum, by dealing with two highly illogical mini-humans with strong opinions about everything, and a house that was ALWAYS ALWAYS messy and the cycle of cleaning, cooking, and trying to do things separate from the children to supposedly be a constructive member of society, but at the end of it all, feeling like everything was half-done. Half-baked. Nothing really achieved.

It was a Wednesday, and my eldest has swimming at 9:45 am, at a swim-school around 20 minutes away from home. Trying to get two kids under 4 out of the house by at least 9:15am is no easy task.

On top of that, there were still the remnants of the destruction wreaked on the house by the kids from the day before. Plus dinner dishes not done because well, life.

So I dragged myself out of bed, the kids in tow and proceeded to get them dressed, fight about whether it was “dress day” or “pants day” ( a rule I instituted with my eldest- let’s call her J- because, left to her, she’d wear dresses every. Single. Day), wrestle my 18month old- let’s call her Z- out of her nappy into a new one, and out of her pyjamas into clothes and so on and so forth.

I quickly settled the kids onto the table with some breakfast of Weetbix with blueberries, honey water and nuts, while I frantically tried to restore some semblance of cleanliness to my house. Of course what ended up happening was that breakfast was abandoned by the kids for a staring/giggling competition.

This happens A LOT. And most days, I can cope. I can come up with some creative way to get the breakfast into them. Such as read a book, or sing a song, or do handstands or whatever. You know, anything that works.

Today, I was at the end of my rope. I started stern, threatening them with the ‘thinking chair’ (more on this another day) and I ended with yelling and table banging, which just left my palms stinging in pain.

By 8:30 I was sitting on the couch crying into the phone to my husband about how “I JUST CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!” with my kids hanging uncertainly around me, wondering why mum was acting so strange.

Somehow we made it to swimming on time. And Z sat in the pram for the whole lesson (she never sits in the pram. In fact she hates sitting in general. She’s more of a walker/adventurer/curiouser and curiouser) eating breadstick after breadstick.

After the lesson I just couldn’t bear to go home, so we went to a park down the road.

When we got to the playground the girls went straight for the swings. As I pushed them, an older man strolled over with his granddaughter and sat her in the remaining swing. After a minute or so he looked up at me and said,

“Assalamu Alaikum! How are you?”

I was surprised of course, because I didn’t know that he was Muslim. I wear a hijab so, yeh, it’s obvious that I’m one.

“I’m good. How are you?” I responded. I wasn’t really in the mood for talking.

“Alhamdulillah!” was his cheery response.

Out of politeness and respect  for his seniority, I asked about how many grandchildren he had.

Not only did he answer my simple question, but with sincere concern in his voice, he went onto share with me his worries about raising children in this day and age, the prevalence of mothers who went back to work so soon after having children, the lack of connection to a community or to each other, the isolated state that everyone was living in, and also lamenting the state of our hearts in relation to its connectedness (or lack thereof) to Allah (swt) and Islam.

I simply listened.

I observed his remarkably white hair and neatly trimmed beard.

I watched his gestures, and looked at his beautiful granddaughter observing me with shy curiosity.

When talking about his grandchildren, he said, “mothers should look after and care for their children. Their husbands should provide everything for them.”

Indeed. I myself struggle with being a stay-at-home mother or the need to go out and “contribute to society”, which is, you know, more of an achievement than raising children.

At one point, he put his hand over his heart and he said emphatically,

“I love Allah swt. I love learning about Islam and spirituality. We must all try our best to do good to others.”

He then made a series of duas (prayers) for me and my children, and left.

I turned to my children, overwhelmed. When I turned back to see where he’d gone, they’d disappeared.

I literally sank to the ground and cried.

In the middle of a playground that was suddenly empty.

It was so simple. Things that we had been taught over and over again.

But on that day, in that moment, it was exactly what I needed to hear. And I was crying because I knew that Allah swt had just given me what I needed most.

A reminder. A reminder that:

  1. Your role as a mother is the most important role that you can fulfil. You shouldn’t feel guilty about not doing more, or contributing more, or running a business on the side (which are all great things to do IF you can manage it with two young kids). That your responsibility to your children trumps EVERYTHING else. That through your struggle to raise righteous children, your reward lies with Allah swt.
  2. STOP overthinking! Keep it simple! And all it really takes, is to learn. To gain knowledge.
  3. Love with your heart. To start with the heart. The heart of all things, all actions, all endeavours, all successes and all paths.

I walked away from that park less burdened by the anxieties that plagued me just a few short hours ago.

I acknowledged that yes, it was damn difficult to be on the merry-go-round that is being a stay-at-home mum, but also to be thankful for being entrusted with two beings of sheer purity and light. For being entrusted with the responsibility to aid in moulding them, in nurturing them and in teaching them to know and love their Creator.