Juggling the demands of motherhood and a challenging career would be a whole lot easier with eight arms, declares Afia R Fitriati.
I first came across the term ‘octopus mum’ in a newspaper interview with Jana Parengkuan, the wife of famous Indonesian presenter Erwin Parengkuan. In the interview, she mentioned that her friends affectionately called her by this nickname for her ability to take care of four kids without any outside help except her husband. On top of caring for her children, she also maintained a career as a model and had recently started up a cake shop.
I guess I’m still a rookie ‘octopus mum’ compared to Jana. My journey started some months ago, when my son’s nanny cum our housemaid of four years decided that it was time for her to start a family of her own. I had seen it coming for some time, but still I wasn’t prepared. I had largely depended on her to keep our house in order and look after my two-year-old when I went out into the world, lecturing and managing a small consultancy business that my husband and I founded. Now she was leaving the home team captain alone to handle everything. Finding her replacement, someone who could be trusted, would not be an easy task considering the high crime rates in Jakarta.
I broke the news to my husband that evening. He took a deep, heavy breath and asked me, ‘Can we do this?’
‘This’ referred to taking care of our bouncy toddler, keeping up with the demands of our jobs and putting up with the never-ending list of household chores, including the laundry. ‘We’ meant that approximately 70 percent of ‘this’ would be my responsibility.
I paused a moment to consider his question. After five years of marriage, we’ve been through a miscarriage, the ups and downs of building a small business, the hardship of hitting financial bottom and much more. One more challenge would probably be just another day in paradise.
‘Insha’allah, we’ll find a way,’ I answered, singing the Arabic word out to the tune of Maher Zain’s song of the same title.
So we made a few compromises and developed new routines. My husband let me work from home, and he took on the responsibility of doing the dishes and cleaning the house once a week. Yet the implementation has not always been that straightforward. As soon as I switch on my laptop, my son climbs onto my lap, asking to see Barney on YouTube. My extremely busy husband often comes home late, leaving a weary mum with a pile of dirty pots and dishes. I soon find myself more and more behind in my work, both in and outside the kitchen, torn between self-actualisation and a hill of unfinished laundry. Growing three more pairs of arms started to seem like a very appealing idea.
I’ve learnt that no matter how overworked, sleep-deprived or stressed out I am, the remembrance of God has helped me to regain focus and be grateful for the blessings in my life
Yet so far, somehow, I’ve been able to survive. And I’ve even learnt a few precious lessons along the way. My time management skills have improved dramatically. It still amazes me that I can get dressed, prepare breakfast and take the garbage out within five minutes. I’ve learnt to use the odd hours of the day and evening to catch up on my work, and cope with the effects of sleep deprivation that ensue. I’ve also learnt to rely on my smartphone, coffee and quick-cooking spaghetti. If my smartphone were a woman, she’d be fulfilled knowing that I use her to her full capabilities.
Of course, there are moments every now and then when I am so exhausted that I can barely move a finger. In those moments, I remind myself of a hadith in which Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet (peace be upon him), went to her father to ask whether he could provide her with a servant to help her with household duties. The Prophet (pbuh) answered his beloved daughter, ‘Shall I not teach you something better than what you asked for? When you go to your bed, magnify Allah thirty-four times, glorify Him thirty-three times and praise Him thirty-three times. That is better for you than a servant.’
This hadith resonates with me. I’ve learnt that no matter how overworked, sleep-deprived or stressed out I am, the remembrance of God has helped me to regain focus and be grateful for the blessings in my life: a loving and supportive husband; a beautiful, healthy child; food on the table; a roof to sleep under; ample time to watch my baby grow and shape his worldview – the list goes on and on. And I’m fully aware that for every challenge I face in my daily life, there is always someone out there who would be more than willing to trade his or her miseries with mine.
So my journey as a multitasking mum continues. It’s not easy, but I am part of the most glorious profession ever known to mankind – motherhood. For that I am deeply grateful. Even if it entails frazzled nerves and growing six more arms.