An open letter to all stay-at-home women

Published: January 18, 2017
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I was married, had a child, had a career many envied, had domestic help. I had it all figured out. PHOTO: TWITTER.

I always thought women who stayed home were mediocre – that they were either too scared to come out of their comfort zones and face the real world or too lazy to give up on their sleep-TV-eat-sleep routine. I took pride in starting my career at the early age of 19 – I am 29 as I write this. I never took a career break, for my wedding or my first pregnancy, because I thought it was what weak women did; and I was anything but those women.

I went to work till the day I sat for my ‘mayun’ and submitted assignments via email the night before I was hospitalised for my caesarean section. I re-joined work just five weeks after I gave birth. I took my son with me to work and breastfed him when I didn’t have a meeting or an assignment I had to travel for. On other days, I left him with my mother, often without changing his diaper or feeding him in the morning. At that time, my husband was running his own business from home so he used to take the night shift with the baby. When my son turned six months old, I also got help for him. I was married, had a child, had a career many envied, had domestic help. I had it all figured out. That is, until recently.

Five months ago, my doctor advised me to take complete bed-rest for a fortnight, due to a health complication. I thought it would be over soon, but I was wrong. One thing led to another and my health worsened. I spent three months on bed-rest. My domestic help ran away and I had physical exertion constraints due to my medical condition. It meant no work, no stairs, no gym, no travel – to me, it meant no life. Having communicated the same at work, I was taken off assignments so that I could rest well and regain my fitness and energy. During this time, I cried and sulked because for the first time in a decade, I was a stay-at-home mom. How I hated the title. I loathed it.

My routine now involved:

1. Getting up in the morning frying two eggs (one for me and one for my one and a half-year-old son), toasting four slices of bread and making two cups of tea – everyday.
2. Watching Hungry Henry on Baby TV followed by Grandpa’s Gallery and Dora.
3. Colouring the already coloured Tom and Jerry pages – with a blue crayon every single time, because that’s the only one my son gives me.
4. Putting my son to sleep for nap time.
5. Cleaning up his nursery.
6. Feeding him a home-made meal.
7. Building blocks and sorting shapes with him.
8. Dinner.
9. Putting him to bed, rather going to bed because I am too exhausted to do anything else.
10. Repeat.

For the first few days, I hated doing all these things. I was frustrated and there were times I would just have a sudden outburst and yell at my child. But then things started to change.

I was making the usual breakfast one morning when my son came running to the kitchen, pulled me by my pyjamas and took me to his room. He had put crayon marks on his freshly painted white cot. He was pointing at those marks and clapping with joy and looking at me, perhaps expecting appreciation. He had discovered that crayons work on other things besides paper. How could I not be a part of that celebration of discovery? How could I not clap and laugh with him? So we clapped together, laughed and put more marks with other coloured crayons too.

When I got really exhausted I’d put on nursery rhymes on my laptop and make my son sit and watch them. I did the same a few days ago when he began saying, “Mama! Mama!” I was so annoyed because I was having a season binge. I went to him and he asked me to sit beside him on the floor. ‘The wheels on the bus go round and round’ was playing. He looked at me and started to spin his hands, like that of a wheel. I started to spin my hands too. We put the rhyme on repeat and did this for twenty minutes. We do this every day now.

One thing I dreaded the most was bathing my toddler. It was a lot of work. Making sure the water’s temperature was right. All his diaper changing accessories and clothes were in place. Being careful that water didn’t go in his ears while bathing. Drying him properly to avoid chest congestion and the list went on and on. And then last week, I found a solution. I’d just put him in an inflated rubber tub and pour water on him hurrying my way to scrub him with the baby head-to-toe wash. We were doing the ritual day before yesterday when he just refused to come out of the tub. When I tried to lift him with his arms, he splashed water on me. I was furious and was on the verge of losing it. But he giggled; and continued giggling. He splashed more water on me and I giggled too. Now we take toys with us so that we can both splash water on them and have fun.

Today, I write this because I owe an apology to all women who stay at home to make their homes a warmer place; whom I thought were mediocre and lazy. I never understood until now that they, like me, enjoy the same ten things they do every single day. I still don’t know whether I will go back to office or take a career break but one thing I am sure of is that I have found spontaneity in my monotony.

Saman Zehra Ali

Saman Zehra Ali

The author is a qualified chartered certified accountant, a former banker, now an OD consultant and funcilitator. Mother to an angel and a foodie.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.