Saturday, December 27, 2008

Good to Be Back

It's been a long time since the last post here! My husband and I went for Hajj alhamdulillah and we left the girls with our families. We're now recovering from the exhaustion, the long sequence of plane rides, bus rides, and walking from place to place, and the inevitable Hajjitis--an assortment of super-resistant viral bugs and infections (part of the Hajj package) that have since spread to our kids. There is also wistfulness-once you have experienced being the guest of the Most Merciful, living with no obligations and no appointments except with Him, nothing to fill your hours but prostration, praise, and circling His House, I think you will always ache to return to those few dreamlike days.

Our next big life transition is due with Allah's permission in mid-March. I have plenty of time until then to act pregnant, sore, and hungry after sucking it up and subsisting on apples, processed cheese, and bread for several days at a time. Meanwhile, I have so much to write about, including the sequel to the I Am Flying post for friends awaiting a secret formula to a clean, organized home (more or less). As for Hajj reflections, I think those will come slowly, unworldly memories surfacing now and then. The hajj experience is too enormous to be captured in a few words, a half-hour conversation, or a single essay.

I hope all dear friends and their families are in the best state of health, faith, and happiness. I tried to make dua for many of you by name, and all of you in spirit.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I'm FLYing

My life is transformed. I dare not breathe too much lest it prove to be just one of my ups, a phase, or some weird hormonal surge. But I’ve been going steady for three weeks, so I can allow some of my exhilaration to escape.

My house is CLEAN! I am getting ORGANIZED! I have a ROUTINE! Alhamdulillah!

Housework has always been this horrible, dreaded noose around my neck, the bane of my marriage and motherhood. It is a mindset--something in my mind feels humiliated and frustrated to have a job description of such menial, boring, and never-ending tasks. My house has been so dirty at times that I won’t even attempt to describe it out of embarrassment. Let’s just say if you dropped by for an unexpected visit, I might have put a plastic bag over your head before walked in. The guilt, depression, and listlessness that a messy, out-of-control home can create puts a damper on everything, including the quality of time you spend with your kids.

On Friday, when I reach the 28 day mark, I will share this journey with you. I am not exaggerating one bit the impact that this process has had on my home atmosphere, mothering abilities, moods, family, and personal peace of mind.

I called a friend (who is my role model in cleanliness, among many other things) about two weeks into the program to gush my excitement at having a house that is staying clean and getting cleaner by the day. I confided I was worried that maybe I had an overactive thyroid that was cleaning my house instead of me.

I hope my friends who are disorganized, lazy, sloppy perfectionists like me can get some hope out of my experience. A well-oiled, consistently and comfortably clean household (but not spotless) can be ours by following a program that dismantles perfectionist and internal negative attitudes towards housework and helps you build small habits and routines over the course of several weeks. It’s no big effort—between 20 minutes to 90 minutes a day is all it takes.

And I will stop here because I am now sounding like an advertisement.

I pray to Allah that He helps me to maintain my gains, continues to provide my family with a clean, warm, comfortable home, and grants me the sincerity to make all of my actions and habits for His sake. All thanks is to Him.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

How to Get Your Kid to Stop Nagging You for Sweets

Moona and Buru know there is a bowl filled with Skittles and Smarties on top of the refrigerator, leftover candy from yesterday in case our neighbors' children came to our door. Today, there is incessant nagging, searching, trying out different stools and chairs to see if they are high enough, and racing to the kitchen, falling over each other, every time they hear the crinkle of a wrapper (and a mom secretly getting her sugar fix).

I need to get these dye-filled, chemically spiked, artificially flavored sugar cubes out of our house somehow. In the meantime, I gave Moona an illuminating lesson on what candy will do to her teeth and her gums if she eats too much of it. She learns well through experience and demonstration, and often becomes a more fervent and disciplined believer than I after a revelation.

"Come, Moona, let's look at what too much candy does to little kid's teeth."

We went on google and searched for images of decaying teeth. Ewwww, I could barely look, and squinted through one eye. Moona was transfixed.

"More, Umee, I want to see more."

So we looked at a few more pictures and talked about how we should only eat a little bit of sugar, and always brush our teeth very well. Moona jumped off my lap and ran to the bathroom. I heard the faucet turn on, and then rigorous brushing.

She came back and asked, "Is there any black on my teeth?"

"No, very white."

"Umee, make sure Buru doesn't eat any candy. You too. No candy for you too."

Score for Healthy, Crunchy Momma-side. Hopefully, Moona's policing will help keep the Junk-Food, Indulgent, Craving side of me in check.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Good Ol' Fashioned Tea Party
































There is a lot to be said for simple, old-fashioned play and games. I try, as best as I can, to resist the overwhelming tide (see my post on climbing trees). So many children today are overstimulated in one sense and understimulated in another. A trip to the toy store is like walking through a blaring video arcade. Do you know there is an aisle in Target for virtual pets? Brrrr, shiver.

Anyway, about our tea party. I boiled some peppermint tea and waited for it to cool, trying in the meantime to teach a three-year-old and one-year-old in pajamas how to set the table for a tea party. A tea party is totally Moona's piece of cake; I could tell because the whole time she had this strange, dreamy, kind-of-dopey smile on her lips. Buru, on the other hand, saw it as an opportunity to make a mess and eat sugar with a spoon.

They sipped and stirred, poured and served each other, and I wisely held my tongue when the tea overflowed onto the tablecloth and the sugar spilled on the carpet. The peace lasted maybe seven minutes. Unfortunately, a catfight over the sugar bowl escalated and half of the dishes were swept off the table in a good, ol' fashioned temper tamprum, so all the guests had to go to their rooms to cool down.

But I will definitely be inviting them again soon.

Gotta Get to the Playground

As the weather cools and my children get antsy indoors, we spend more and more time at the playground. It’s usually a pressure-cooker effect—I have things to do around the house and the morning starts out OK, but as the day draws on, the kitchen table gets coated with its third layer of grime, the screams grow louder, bodies fly off the walls, the veins in my legs start throbbing and aching, and suddenly, the steam bursts forth and I bellow out to the universe, “Let’s go to the PLAYGROUND!”

The atmosphere suddenly quiet and purposeful, the girls scurry like little oompa-loompas to put on their crocs, the one-year-old chanting incessantly, “Heya? Heya? Heya? Heya?...” (“Let’s go? Let’s go? Let’s go?”)

Because the trip to the playground is as much a treat for me as for them, we are always in search of playgrounds on lakes or in forests, places where I can close my eyes, take off my shoes, stretch my feet out on the grass, and feel the breeze on my face. I ignore pleas to push swings or help climb or hold hands (“if it’s for big kids, then try something else!”). I try not to feel self-conscious when other mothers shadow their children, sometimes older than my own, and cheer for them at every ladder and slide. I need this time for myself, to be a better mother and a better person.

My kids come up to me after 20 minutes, bored or hungry. I pull out some rice cakes or apple slices and tell them, “Go, do something, run, throw leaves in the lake, this is Umee’s time.” Sometimes they sit beside me, but I close my eyes in meditative silence and do not respond to questions or whining.

In that peaceful hour, I reflect. I don’t call anyone on my cell phone. I recite some Quran, remember Allah, contemplate, read a light book, plan out my week, and think about my personal development. Disconnected from computers and telephones and dirty sinks, listening to the children play and the leaves rustling, I thank Allah for my life. For my children. For being able to sit out here in nature and remember Him.

Before we leave, I get up to help the kids on the swings. They giggle and laugh and throw their heads back in drunken delight. Now, refreshed, I can share their exuberance and be in the moment, watching their reactions and loving it. After the playground, my head is clearer, our home is calmer, and the steam is gone.

Of course, a great end to the day is when two oompa-loompas fall asleep on the ride home.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

To Watch in Peace

I am sometimes surprised at how Arabic touches me in ways that English doesn't, but it also goes the other way. Even though I speak classical Arabic now at home with my kids, the language I spoke as a child--English--still strikes the deepest chords inside me. This simple music video of the 99 Names of Allah always makes my eyes brim with tears. Even though I know the meaning of a name of Allah, and read it and hear it over and over in the Quran, seeing it expressed in simple, contemplated English words almost brings me to my knees.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Am I Unmuted?

It used to be my greatest fear on conference calls: being caught unmuted. We used to laugh about it nervously—the three moms on the call out of seven team members.

“What if they hear me scream my head off at my kids?”

“Did seven people just hear a toilet flush?” (It wasn’t me, I promise! I was taking my kid to the bathroom)

I could never quite relax while on mute during conference calls. So I would (and still do) conduct compulsive safety checks six or seven times an hour: *6 This line is now unmuted *6 This line is now muted. All quiet on my front.

Every so often, one of us forgot to mute after making a comment, and the others tried to alert the unsuspecting dragon-lady before she breathed fire or blurted out something totally irrelevant to meeting agendas and event publicity. One time I was all sing-songy at the dinner table trying to get two kids to eat up. At least I was in a good mood.

After a silence that is not so unusual on our calls and some vague comments on a lot of background noise, one brother gently dropped the hint.

“I think… the person who I had the pleasure of visiting ... and whom I ate a delicious meal at her house …”

*6!!!

The one time a mom scolded her kids loudly on the call, she dropped off the call and sent a frantic email to the other moms kicking herself and asking how bad it was. Um, not so bad? Beware of the two-edged-sword that is the mute button, conference-call moms. Yeah, we shouldn’t be shouting at our kids in the first place, but it can be pretty rough juggling a bunch of kids during an hour and a half conference call. Don't sing any lullabies either, you know, just in case.

I cuddle with my attention-craving girls on the couch, storybook in one hand and phone in the other. Trying to follow the gist of a conversation on fundraising strategy, I slowly read a story about farm animals waking up early in the morning. Mid-sentence, I freeze.

*6*6

Whew! I did not just mooooo on a conference call.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Journey of the Heart

For all my friends with small kids, here is a reflection told to me by a friend. There is only one day left... no, maybe only a few moments ... but I hope maybe someone who reads this will be inspired as I was to take a journey with their heart.

With our children and homes and meal preparation, the diapers that need changing and the babies that need nursing, the meat that needs cooking, the teasing and fighting and the ever-present messes to clean up, it can seem almost hopeless that we will ever be able to sit down for a stretch of time, as we once used to, and read some Quran with deep contemplation and inner peace. Prayers are cut short by brawling children--and forget about the extra nawafil! After the kids' bedtime, it takes every last ounce of strength to stay up to worship in the quiet of the night.

When I compare what I am doing these last ten days to what I used to do in college or before I had kids, I feel discouraged. I always envisioned my life as an upwards curve, increasing in worship and discipline and understanding as I grew older. Instead, my spirituality had a head-on collision with motherhood and is entangled now with distraction, nerves, and a trace of mental incoherence.

But I was encouraged by a friend and mentor to try as hard as I could, while keeping in my mind that it is the journey of the heart that counts, not the number of prayers or the long hours spent reading Quran. While the physical acts are required and essential--they are the legs upon which our heart walks and without them we are paralyzed--in the end it will not be the large quantity of good deeds alone that will get us where we need to be.

If we can let our heart flee, fly, reach to be with Allah, even if our mental and physical state is outwardly pathetic, then maybe, in His Mercy and Generosity, we will be excused and allowed to catch up with the righteous ones.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Holding Myself to Account

Motherhood must be the most complicated form of worship on earth.

There is no room for reflection, no time outs, no lunch breaks, no helpers. It requires such stamina and draws upon every reserve of strength in the soul. Constantly on duty, watching, protecting, nurturing, holding, feeding, staying awake--I can make all of this a lifelong act of worship to the One Great Creator. Or, I can be oblivious, go through the very same moments of sweat and tears and joys, and end up with no reward in the end. It is my choice.

To make motherhood worship requires a tremendous exertion of mindfulness and watchfulness. That mental and spiritual state requires such courage and necessitates so many changes to my habits that I resist and fall into habit. It is so much easier to go with the flow, react instead of initiate, live second by second and just wait for bedtime.

But, in this time of reflection and preparation for Ramadan, I am trying to think of ways to improve that aspect of my life; ways to increase my watchfulness, dedication, and self-awareness as a mother.

I can't let all of this to go to waste.

Friday, August 8, 2008

What happens?

I was reminded by my sister-in-law of this poem. One of my favorites.


Dream Deferred

by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Please, Poppa, Come Home

This morning, Moona marched into the kitchen, opened the dishwasher, pulled out a soup spoon and a ceramic bowl, and marched out. I was on the phone but was cut off by some terrible clanging from the front at the house.

I ran to the dishwasher, pulled out a small frying pan, and replaced the bowl with a more suitable, less breakable clanging item. Moona commented as I walked away,

"I am helping Abee. I need to help abee." She had opened the blinds in the living room at the front of the house and was looking expectantly out of the window. BANG. CLASH. WHACK. CLASH. SMASH.

Still on the phone with my mother, I did not try to make sense of this and moved away from the clammering.

It continued interspersed throughout the day. In between dancing, reading stories, dumping the bathroom wastebaskets, lathering little sisters' dry hair with conditioner, and baking bread, Moona every so often told me she had to help abee. And she picked up the frying pan and spoon, walked to the front of the house, and started clanging.

"I have to help abee. So abee comes home."

And then the seemingly meaningless activity dawned upon me and became the cutest little gesture I had seen in a long time. Two weeks ago, at my parents' home, we watched a very clean, nice movie Love Comes Softly about a family living on the prairie. In one of the scenes, the father has to go out in a blinding snowstorm to find his wife. He gives his daughter a gun and tells her to shoot it in the air if he doesn't appear in ten minutes (so that he can find his way back to the cabin through sound). The daughter waits ten minutes, then opens the door and shoots the gun into the air until there are no more bullets. Panicked, the girl runs into the house, grabs a frying pan and the spoon and starts frantically banging into the wall of snow outside her door. The father, carrying his unconscious wife, appears a few moments later.

I started chuckling, called my mother to tell her the story, and we had a good laugh. Then I pulled Moona to me and explained to her that Abee knew how to find his way home.

I was surprised that she understood the meaning of the girl's actions in the movie, and that two weeks later it was so pressing in her mind.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Aqeeda and the Bird

We found a dead mourning dove on the other side of the glass door. I remembered hearing a thud earlier at the front door but didn’t bother to see what had caused it. Moona was saddened and fascinated at the same time. She knew the word “die” but did not understand the concept.

“Poor bird. It died. Poor bird is dead. When will it wake up?”

I explained to her that it wouldn’t wake up, that it was now somewhere in the mercy of Allah. Only its body was left but its soul went up into the sky. All animals—lions and tigers and birds and dogs and cats—live for a while on this earth and then they die and return to Allah. (I don’t think she’s old enough to learn that human beings are temporal too)

“Can we give it some honey so that it feels better? When is Allah coming to take the bird away?”

We got in the car and my mind was preoccupied with how to talk to a three-year-old about life and death. I finally noticed Moona, in a soft, high-pitched plaintive voice, making dua.

“Ya Allah, ishfi al-usfoora. Ya Allah, limadha? Limadha matat al asfoora? Ya Allah, a’ti al-usfoora asal kay tarja’ ila baytiha…ila ushiha. Limadha Allah? Ya Allah, ishfi al-usfoora.”

O Allah, cure the bird. Oh Allah, why? Why did the bird die? O Allah, give the bird some honey so that it goes back to its house...its nest. Why Allah? Oh Allah, cure the bird.

That night, Moona and her father buried the bird in our garden. I think it gave her some closure. Two days later, riding in our car, I heard her making dua again in the same high-pitched, soft, sing-song voice,

O Allah, cure the butterfly when it dies. O Allah, cure the lion when it dies. O Allah, cure the … other birds when they die. O Allah, cure the …rhinoceros when it dies.

And then, a few minutes later, she started repeating some dua we had taught her, adding her own touch,

Ya Allah, let us into jannah. Ya Allah, let my mother and father and grandparents into jannah. Ya Allah, let us into jannah so I can ride a white horse in jannah…and a brown small one for Buru.

O Allah, please make all of our children those who call upon You, with love and reverence, and humble themselves before You.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Stranger in a Familiar Land

Outside of California, it’s a big, bad world out there. I am getting tired of dealing with it—tired of being watched, objectified, oriental-ized, and foreign-ized because I cover my hair. I don’t know whom I dread running into most: rich female Republicans, rednecks, or "cultured" elderly, white women who discuss pressing social issues such as burqas and female circumcision at their needlepoint associations.


I dread being asked where I am from, because I know the answer will spark such discomfort. I respond, very truthfully, that I am American. I ascribe to no other culture, my mother is from New York, one glance from an Egyptian and one word out of my mouth will dismiss me as certainly not Egyptian, and I have known no other place as home. Often, I am greeted with a look of repulsion, as though I were a criminal trying to unsuccessfully to blend in with good, law-abiding people. One woman asked why I wouldn’t admit where I was from and why I was ashamed of it. Another actually snorted.


When someone drives by and shouts "Go home!", I find it kind of defensive to shout back the standard, "I am home." Maybe I should mock them, "Oh, how cliché." Unfortunately, in my current state of mind, I would rather throw a rock at their windshield.

I find some people hate me even more for being the mother of two lovely, happy little girls, thanks to Allah. To have “oppressed, evil, terrorist” and “smiling, children, or American” in the same equation results in some kind of mental dysfunction for some ignorant, intolerant people. I was recently in Macy’s, and was gently disciplining my daughter for wiping clothes off the racks as she walked by them. I was on my knees, holding her shoulders, maintaining eye contact, and firmly talking to her in a low voice. I notice a tall, middle-aged white woman, talking on her cell phone, walking towards me.


“Don’t you yell at her,” she spat. “Don’t you lay a finger on her.”


I gave her a disgusted look, told her to shut up, and faced my daughter.


“Don’t you yell at her you stupid b****. Go back to your hell of a country.”


I did not flinch and continued to address my child, although my voice was borderline-shaky and my eyes stung. A few minutes later, I was dashing through the store, looking for that woman so I could give her a piece of my mind. I never found her but I prayed that one day she would deeply regret what she had dared to say, because it struck me so deeply and it was many days before I didn’t glare at every random cashier and passerby daring them to look at me the wrong way.


A white woman would get looks of good-humored sympathy when her kids act out in public, but I get looks of icy disapproval. Once I was in Hancock Fabrics picking out colors for a quilt and my daughter started sauntering towards the door. I had my eye on her and when she got close enough to the door I walked after her. A woman passing us by muttered that she’d love to see me lose her.


After this incident, I received some coaching from the queen-of-hijab-self-esteem. Hold yourself up high, don’t look so meek, look people in the eye, stay collected. She recommended that I shout out for everyone in the store to hear, “Excuse me? DID YOU JUST SAY YOU WISHED I WOULD LOSE MY CHILD? WHAT A DISGUSTING THING TO SAY!” I imagined the lady retreating ashamed between the bolts of fabric, embarrassed by the stares of surprised onlookers.


Next time, insha'allah, next time I will pull it off and do more than stutter. Oh, I have soooo many comebacks now. Often, we only have those fantasies of perfectly timed responses and the assailant’s speechlessness to comfort us. In reality, I’m the one who’s rendered speechless.


Long, gentle responses never work and I’ve completely given up on them. People will not change their prejudices after a few words in an elevator. A woman, who had been eyeing me for a long time in a Safeway, maybe even stalking me, finally walked up and asked, when my children grew long hair, and got older, and wanted to take swimming lessons, or go to the beach, if I would make them cover. I tried the patient-education approach, and we even walked out into the parking lot together. This woman was so entrenched in hatred which revealed itself progressively throughout our conversation. Let's just say I wish I had never wasted my breath.


Tired of it all, and only days after the Macy’s event, I had no energy to respond when a Pakistani cashier at Whole Foods told me that za woman in hees country stopped vearing za scarf because zey vanted freedom.


“Hmmmmm,” I answered disinterestedly, and took my change and walked away.


Once in a while, the insults are completely innocent. This was my one and only negative incident in California in five years. I sat once in the very ritzy Stanford Mall just minutes away from our student apartment, a sleeping baby at my side in her stroller, drinking a latte and writing a press release on my laptop. An elderly, wealthy woman gave me a charitable smile and said, perfectly well-meaning, how beautiful my baby was and how ironic it was to see a woman in a burqa working on a laptop.


“It’s a very interesting picture,” she said. “Good for you.”


The wheels in my head turned in ruminative silence for several minutes. I then closed my laptop, tossed my latte , and walked up to the woman at a nearby table and proceeded to lecture her in front of her friends, very calmly, on how offensive her well-meaning comment was. I listed my accomplishments, how Islam had empowered me to achieve them, and how my dress signified my submission to God and not my imprisonment.


That was one—long ago and very rare—point for me.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Colorful Quote

"Awww MAAAAN!"
"Ta'akharna ala ashams. We were late for the sun."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Great Communicator

Buru is a late-talker, considering that she is eighteen months and hasn't said a word, but she communicates very well. Today, she walked up to me as I was wiping down the countertops and handed me the diaper rash cream.

She lifted up her dress, pointed to her diaper, and nodded with a quick grunt. Then she scurried to her bedroom, lay down on the quilt I use for diaper changes, and waited patiently for me to get the message.

Poor baby was dry but had a terrible rash.

Woodworking















Monday night I got out the toolbox and tried to repair the dishwasher. Moona is inexplicably drawn to screwdivers, plyers, and hammers. We first noticed this fascination a year ago when we had just moved to a new apartment and were putting together a desk.

In order to keep her out of the dishwasher, I assigned her the task of unscrewing the knobs on the cupboards. Surprisingly, that enchanted her although they were too tight for her to succeed. The dishwasher repair session failed too unsurprisingly, but I realized I needed to encourage Moona's interest before it fizzled away. Several months ago I spent $30 on a high-quality wooden toy toolbox, complete with wooden screws and washers, but she took one sniff and turned away in disgust.

So we went to the hardware store and picked out a variety of knobs, knockers, and latches; two 80-cent screwdrivers; and a wood panel. I drilled holes in the wood for her and she spent the afternoon screwing the knobs and latches in, all by herself. Even Buru took an interest. It is very, very rare to see this peaceful self-occupation in my home.

Today, she unscrewed the knobs, removed the screws, and is putting them all back in again. Hmm, I wish I could say our days were filled with creative projects like these. I try.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Spilling Over

The Prophet (saw) narrated the story of the Pharoah's hairdresser who was combing the hair of Pharoah's daughter and dropped her comb on the ground.

"Bismillah, in the name of God," she blurted as she bent down to pick it up.

She and her four children were burnt to death because of this slip of tongue and then her refusal to deny her belief in Allah. Her baby was one of the few who spoke in infancy, reassuring her in remaining steadfast, before she was killed.

I heard a beautiful reflection by Amr Khaled about this story. The heart is like a container filled with liquid--thoughts, feelings, whatever it is that we focus on and fill our lives with. Sometimes when we let our guard down or act subconsciously, that liquid spills over, and we glimpse what our heart contained. The hairdresser's heart spilled over when she dropped the comb. She forgot herself and the secrecy, and the purity overflowed.

"Bismillah."

When the Prophet (saw) ascended to the heavens in israa and miraj, he smelled an unworldly, beautiful scent. The angels informed him that it was the smell of the hairdresser and her children--Allah replaced the smell of their burning flesh with a glorious scent that could still be detected centuries later.

I wonder what my heart holds and how much it has been polluted by waste. What spills over when I am not paying attention, when I am struck with fear, when I am on my deathbed, when I lose my patience?

I must be careful--oh so careful--what I pour into my heart's container.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Odd One Out

Buru: “Thfffbtthffbth.”

Moona: “Tee hee hee.”

Buru: “Heh heh. FFFTHFFFTBT!”

Lots of whispered, clandestine giggling.

(Buru's impersonation of me shushing them at naptime.)

* * * * *

Moona just learned that flowers die when we pick them and plants die if we don't water them. Recently, she was combing her hair for a good 20 minutes in front of the various mirrors around the house.

"Ahtaju an asrah sha'ri kay la tamoot." I have to comb my hair so it doesn't die.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Translation Please!

Buru's only sounds consist of the many variations of the words "eh" "meh" "mehmeh" (that's me!) and "nyaaaa." Apparently, her sophisticated language is much too advanced for me to understand.

Screaming, whining, squirming in her high chair, I chalked it off to fussiness. Buru had a bowl of warmed-up spaghetti in front of her, usually enough for bliss.

"What's wrong?"

"Nyaaaa!" she whined, pointing to her sister, who was slurping her spaghetti and quietly observing the scene.

"Do you want water? Do you need a change?" I sniffed her bottom. She must be teething.

I waved her sippy cup in front of her. "Nyaaaaa!"

Fussy, fussy baby. Standing at the sink and attempting to ignore, I heard this matter-of-fact revelation from the three-year-old kitchen table sage.

"Sigh. She wants a fork."

"What was that?"

"Tureedu shoka. So she can be big like Moona."

I went to the drawer and pulled out a fork. The whining instantly stopped and was replaced by a toothy smile and a vigorous nod.

Be My Mirror

I'm reading a fine book, recommended to me by my mother who told me I had to read this parenting gem. I hope to share some more reflections about Your Child’s Self-Esteem, written by Dorothy Briggs in 1970, but this week I'm mulling over the quotation that Briggs selected for the opening pages of her book.

Man wishes to be confirmed in his being
By man, and wishes to have a presence
In the being of the other…secretly and
Bashfully he watches for a Yes which
Allows him to be and which can come to
Him only from one human person to another.

–Martin Buber

Trying to understand how this quotation, which strikes a chord, would fit in with Islamic teachings has been like staring at a cloud drifting under the moon and waiting for the moonlight to shine through. The first time I read this, red lights flashed in my head. Alhamdulillah, I’ve come a long way from viewing things as black and white, true and false, and I often manually override those red lights and take time to think and listen before reaching conclusions.

There are principles in our faith that we know are true and overarching, such as sincerity and living solely for the sake of serving Allah, and there can be other truths that exist simultaneously, reinforcing, adding depth, complexity, and wisdom, and never contradicting. These multiple perspectives do not dilute or weaken or confuse those principles, but rather they illustrate the profound depth, flexibility, and humanity of Islam. We have only scratched the surface in appreciating this and have a long way to go in opening our minds to this wisdom.

Allah, who created us, designed our minds and bodies, and breathed into Adam’s soul, also designed for us a way of life that would complete us as individuals and as a community. In Islam, we find core teachings of brotherhood, trust, deep love and selflessness, and mutual advice and support. The Prophet (saw) said, “The believer is the mirror of his brother.”

I’m just reflecting and pondering, not trying to explain. You are a mirror for me? What does that mean? This hadith has always been explained as, and assumed to mean, that our brother or sister reflects back to us our faults, like a mirror, offering advice and helping us to improve. Buber’s quote however made me wonder if there is a deeper significance to this mirror.

A human mirror, another soul worshipping God, where we can see ourselves reflected, draw encouragement in our mutual journey, where our emotions and our feelings can be protected, heard, and validated. A human mirror would give empathy—not pity. A mirror would gently reflect back to us our weaknesses but also reflect back our strengths. My sister, my brother in Islam, is a fellow human I can go to, pour out the entangled feelings, thoughts, and internal struggles, and through listening, empathy, and gentleness, he or she acts as my mirror, helping me to see what is going on inside me, understand it, and sort myself out so that I can continue in life.

Maybe Allah swt, who knows the innermost depths of our souls, knows of our need for validation and confirmation in others around us, and so made it an obligation on us to grow closer to each other, to draw support from each other, and to be reflections of our brother and sister. This mutual empathy and reflection of each other makes us stronger, not weaker, and may make us all the better to worship and serve Him.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mother Privileges

I stared long and hard at the box of Fla-Vor-Ice freezer pops in the store. Why not?

Somehow, an aura of wrongness surrounded the 100-count box. What was it? They are fat-free, dirt cheap, and it’s hot outside. Why had it never occurred to me before to buy a whole box just for me? I love those artificial chemical-filled flavored ice pops—the last vestiges of a surrendered junk food addiction—and when I visit the rare friend who has them I take just one but can’t help staring longingly at their freezer. Maybe I feel guilty because being that happy can’t be right. Maybe the guilt is residue from my childhood (if my mom got a box of 100 chemical pops, we would never give her a moment of peace until we had wolfed down every last one within 24 hours—so the answer was always no).

Why not? I just never thought about it before. Looking at my two kids, I decided I still had a year or two to sneak a big box of freezer pops into the house just for me and get away with it.

It is past midnight and I’m working on a program guide and wolfing down freezer pops in peace. I’ve lost count how many I’ve had, and I’m eating all of the red and blue ones first.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

City of Orange Lights

My family and I enjoyed a visit back to our home of four years, the San Francisco Bay Area (home of seven years for my husband). I have never been so attached to a piece of earth. I tried throughout my visit not to pause and think for too long, or else I might have gotten all teary and depressed.

The brisk air, the people, all things healthy, hippie, and green, the looming skylines of the green Santa Cruz mountains to the West and the San Jose mountains to the east, cradling the Silicon Valley and all of the rolling foothills in between. The wonderful, dear group of sisters whose friendships insha’allah will continue for the rest of our lives. Watching our children growing and playing—with occasional hair-pulling—and loving each other. The rugged, breathtaking Pacific coast that, for four years, I visited whenever I wished. Driving down highway 17 again, the 45-minute windy, scenic mountain route to Santa Cruz I drove for every single one of my prenatal appointments. I think it was California that made me love America.

The night we arrived I noticed the yellow-orange street lights illuminating the empty, midnight streets. I knew about them before, but the orangeness really stood out after having been away for a while. They radiated miles out from the highway into every neighborhood and shopping plaza. Back in the eighties, San Jose switched all of their street lights to a low-energy alternative, largely to minimize interference with the Lick Observatory high up in the surrounding mountains. That’s San Jose; putting up with sickly orange lights in order to be able to see the stars.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Meditation

A few months ago, I heard Imam Ahmed ElKhaldy from Iowa make a reference to meditation in a talk. I thought it was interesting, because he was talking about khushoo’, concentration in prayer, but he kept referring to it as meditation. He asked the audience to take off their watches, turn off their cell phones, and throw them on the floor in front of them. Time seemed to stop. A fellow MAS Youth Connect Mentor—formerly called an usra leader—in the Bay Area also assigned her group regular meditation sessions (or so I heard from her fascinated audience). I was very intrigued and added to my to-do list ‘learn and study meditation.

I picked up a couple of books from the library and started learning. I really enjoy yoga (what I learned in yoga, with Allah’s help first, walked me through two long, drug-free labors) and there is a similar foundation.

I used to get a kick out of the disclaimer “Yoga is not a religion” that was always posted at the end of the flyer for yoga classes at the Bay Area MCA. It is funny because actually arts of yoga and meditation have so much overlap with the Islamic concepts of self-awareness, concentration, contemplation. In fact, I think we have lost the art of concentration and meditation in modern society and meditation can actually restore a deeper understanding of the how-to for a lot of Islamic acts of worship that our minds are not trained to engage in: how to concentrate in prayer, how to contemplate creation, how to ponder the Quran. Our minds stream with constant thoughts and chatter, even during prayer, and we don't know how to free ourselves and focus on worshipping God. The best advice we can give people struggling with this is keep trying.

What meditation does is it teaches and trains the human mind to release all negative feelings, extraneous thoughts, and material distractions. Then, according to the books I read, you connect yourself with creation, look deep into yourself, and concentrate on being. But, what if, we can modify this meditation to become what is exactly meant by khushu', focus and concentration:

Gradually, you build up to a point where your thoughts stop buzzing around in your head and your mind and heart are quiet and clear. Free of all distractions, you look into yourself and focus on who you are in the real scheme of things. A soul enclosed in a body vessel, a soul that has no appearance, no possessions, no companions, a soul created solely for the worship of One God. You listen to your breathing and realize that it is Allah who enables every breath, every beat of your heart: total, absolute reliance and dependence on His sustenance.

Your awareness pierces the limited landscape of the visible world and you are cognizant of dimensions that you cannot see. Over them all is One Supreme God, The Bestower of Peace, The Almighty, The Originator, King of Judgment Day, The Most Kind. Your forehead rests in His hands.

Mind, heart, soul are flooded with something unreal, a sensation that cannot be described. Awe. Peace. Fear. Love. All the dwellings of your mind, the complications of life, the to-do lists and the he-said she-said wash away. Clarity and perspective, even if only lasting a few, fleeting moments.

Insha’allah I will write more posts about meditation as I learn.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Wonder GIRL

Another everyday Moona story:

We were in Target, or rather trying somehow to get out of Target. I push the stroller holding Buru daintily picking raisins out of a tiny box, nested amongst the assorted shopping bags, purse, and diaper bag hanging from the handles (we had walked a half-mile, stopping at different stores, me trying to get my exercise and shopping done all at once, with a single stroller instead of the double. Poor, foolish umee.)

I trek to the children's sock section, our last stop, which seems ever so far away because every fifteen seconds I must stop and coax Wonder Girl to keep up. She stops at every mirror and corner to do a heel click, sweep some shirts off a rack, or stroke a mannequin's hand. With all the times I threaten to leave her, my dear child could have abandonment issues when she grows up (mental note: STOP threatening to leave her in the store). For the time being, however, she seems to care less.

I always leave grocery stores and libraries thinking one thing, "Why? Why? WHY DID I COME HERE?"

The guilt at trying to yell out of my eyes and threaten her with no more milk kicked in as we were looking for a checkout lane, and I started thinking of something nice to do for her--or was it for me? I remembered the promised hairband.

Moona has been wearing what used to be a pink beaded hairband, a rediscovered gift from Khala Geena, but she peeled the ribbon off, lost the beads, and it became a murky piece of grey plastic with globs of dried yellow glue stuck to it. She wore it everyday for two weeks, and even slept with it. Then she left it at someone’s house a couple days ago.

“TOKA!” she gasped, jolting in her carseat, twenty minutes after we left the house. I promised to get her another one sometime, thankful the cherished plastic scrap was gone.

So we run together quickly to the hair accessories aisle, Wonder Girl suddenly complacent and cooperative, focused on our quest. We find a set of five pastel headbands and, yes, one of them is pink.

$2.50 buys me a happy kid and a guilt suppressant with good-mommy feelings, all perishable of course.

In the parking lot, Wonder Girl skips at my side; the breeze blows through her hair and makes her dress balloon out. She suddenly exclaims, “Umee, Ana bint! Umee, I am a girl!”

I am used to these random, dawning realizations. “Yes, you are!”

But I don't quite realize what she is thinking until we are in the car. She tears the plastic off of the headbands, unwraps the five, puts three on her head, one after the other. She sits back in her carseat, three hairbands on her head, looks out the window, and declares contentedly,

Alaaan asbahtu bintan.” “Now, I am a girl.”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

CAM Hiatus

After two weeks of running around like a madwoman, and if I wasn't running around, of feeling like I should be, CAM (the Central Annual Meeting of MAS Youth Workers) is over.

So now I have to figure out what to do with myself. Back to blogging, and hmmmmm ... I feel a new creative project looming. Stay tuned for details.

There is one small update. I am now a mom. Literally.

"Mom!" my sponge-brained child shouts. "Moooommmmm!" She hollers it like a fourth-grade boy.

Where did she pick that up? CAM. A couple hours in babysitting, and all of a sudden she decides I'm really "Mom." Not "Mama" or "Umee" or "Umeeni" or "Mamatuna" or "hilwa" or any of the cute little names she's composed for me over the last few months. Mom. Splat. Plain. Old. Mom.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Proper Care of Snails

A halzoona* lived with us for five days this week. We found it on a rosebush, put it in a bug container with some lettuce and a cucumber slice. Moona, chin on her hands, observed our new mollusk friend for a few minutes then asked, "How does the snail eat?"

This was a question after my own heart. We packed up, grabbed some pretzels and raisin boxes to keep the baby quiet, loaded ourselves into the minivan and headed to the library. For the first time, I didn't have to threaten and coddle and bribe while I located a book. Moona watched intently as I searched for books on snails. When I pointed to the right one, she pulled it out and her face lit up. "A snail!" she exclaimed.

Kiddo, you don't know how long I have been waiting for you to have an attention span.

We sat amidst a pile of snail books until Buru finished her raisins and pretzel sticks and of course started whining. We picked a few out and came home. The snail stayed with us for a few days until it stopped moving and I was afraid it was dead from a cucumber binge. So we let it go. Moona, narrates the story in her own words, with lots of thoughtful pauses in which she asks me what comes next, then answers her own question:

"Al-halzoona jalasat ma'na fi baytina. Thumma man? Akala khas wa khiyar thumma nam. Thumma man? Thumma qulna lil halzoona: la, hadha laysa baytuk. Baytuka fil hadeeqa ma ummuk. Thumma man? Hadha baytuna, wa baytuka fil hadeeqa. 'Salam 'laykum halzoona. Salam 'laykum fi baytik."

"The snail stayed with us in our house. Then what? It ate lettuce and cucumber then it slept. Then what? Then we said to the snail: no, this is not your house. Your house is in the garden with your mother. Then what? .... This is our house, and your house is in the garden. Salam 'laykum snail. Salam 'laykum in your house."

*Halzoona is fus-ha Arabic for snail. I think. Maybe. At least it means snail in our house.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A New Look, A New Name

Insha'allah I will be renaming the blog and redesigning the page. The renaming is because it sounds like there is a Mommy in the middle of the blog address. My children call me many things, but I draw the line at Mommy.

I also want to keep my kids names anonymous on the world wide web, just in case. The revamped blog will be at:
moonaburu.blogspot.com

And why the redesign? Because there is this pesty artist inside me that is forbidden to see the light of day, because I'm getting old and there is no time. But we've agreed she can come out on the blog from time to time (did that just sound like I have Multiple Personality Disorder?)

May Allah reward you all for your loving support.

What is Moonaburu?

I renamed this blog Moonaburu mostly because it sounds better than Muslimmommyworker, a name I picked quickly because I just wanted to try out the blogging thing. It was meant to be "MuslimMom & MYWorker,"—the MY stands for MAS Youth, but maybe that wasn't so clear. My children call me many things but I draw the line at Mommy.

Moonaburu is a euphemism for two insatiable, wall-coloring, energy-draining, barefoot little girls in one-and-a-half diapers, desperately in need of a good scrubbing. Kind of, but really, no. It's named after the blog's two main characters:

Moona
Moona is almost three years old. She is bouncy, giggly, and ready for an adventure all the time alhamdulillah. Her black curly hair cannot be combed and the only way I know to untangle it is with a haircut. She only wears cotton knit—no sweats, corduroy, polyester, or brushed cotton please. Moona is addicted to attention—she will do anything for it and does nothing the entire day except sit at my feet and wait for me to look at her. She has mountains of toys but hasn't the slightest clue what to do with them.

If Moona was a cartoon character, she would be Dora the Explorer. Her favorite food is blueberries. Her dream come true is to sit down and read stories about little girls. And that's it, because, man, she already gets way too much attention for her size.

Buru
Buru is one year old. She is nicknamed after the Nyumburu Multicultural Center at Univ. of Md, where I was an undergrad—huh? What can I say? It stuck.

Buru is our cuddlebug—she nuzzles and snuggles against your shoulder and makes you feel all warm inside. When I can't hold her, she makes do with holding onto the hem of my skirt or resting her cheek on top of my feet. When we sit down to play, and her sister is bouncing off the wall with excitement at the prospect of my undivided attention, Buru would rather put her head on my lap, look into my eyes, and suck her thumb. Buru is also a gifted whiner, and her whining in my opinion poses one of the formidable challenges in my experience as a mother —Nyaaaaaaaaaa!

She can say a few words: Iman, Umee, food, and water. They sound like, "Imaa? Emaa? Maaaaaaaa? and Ma`?" Buru hates bathtime and shrieks and yowls like a feline. She has a mischievous streak, we can tell, because her eyes twinkle when she pulls her sister's hair.

Buru could be the Downy Teddy Bear, but with shrieking capabilities. Her favorite food is bananas. She can down a whole banana in less than a minute. Her dream come true is to lie in my arms and eat bananas.

Umee & Abee (That's me and my husband)
Our family lives in Texas and we are working to create a family home that is warm, encouraging, healthy, creative, and rabbani­—entirely devoted to God. We sorely miss our previous home and friends in California, but are doing our best to make do in Texas.

We are members of the Muslim American Society, and as you can guess from my postings, it is a huge part of our life. I believe it is the best way to bring about positive change in American society and the straightest way for me as an individual to earn Allah's pleasure. There are several chapters in Texas, as in almost every state, so we're covered.

You will also notice that we speak to our children only in Quranic Arabic, a form of the language that is only used in formal settings, literature, and the Quran. So, yeah, our kids are going to sound like Arabian Shakespeares. We made the decision so that our kids would be able to connect on a deep level with the Quran, and also because I grew up speaking only English and the formal, academic dialect is easier for me.

I would like to consider myself a writer. Although I include other topics, especially related to Islamic activism, self-improvement, and parenting, I love to write about my kids. The doting might be tiresome for some readers I suppose. I hope my kids don't grow up and feel embarrassed that I wrote about the ins and outs of our family life, their thumb-sucking, and tantrums. Instead, I hope one day I can compile these writings, place the pages in their hands, and say:

"This is what I was thinking, feeling, learning, and doing while I was raising you. I made many, many, many mistakes. But you—and your father—were my treasures, my loves, the blessings of my life every single day. You shaped me in so many ways, and my hope is that through you I gain Allah's pleasure."

Friday, March 7, 2008

Ueland's If You Want to Write

At some point, I will have been writing in this blog for long enough that I will forget about a post I wrote, be too lazy to check the archives, and go ahead and publish a post with a twinge of a feeling that I’ve written about this before. It's bound to happen--have I written about my favorite writing book yet? The hazelnut coffee is brewing.

If You Want to Write, A Book about Art, Independence, and Spirit by Brenda Ueland. This is one of the books on my bookshelf since middle school, but I was too young to appreciate. Written in 1938, it is a poetic, short, inspiring work that moves you to pour your creative energy into what you love to do or make, whether it is writing, art, cooking, or building. It’s the kind of book that is so deep that you need to come back to it a few times.

Her main premise, which I believe about everyone else but sometimes forget about myself, is that everyone can write and everyone has something original to say. Once you tap into your core, your true self, thoughts and raw feelings, what you write is beautiful, freeing, and original. Ueland remarks early in the book that the two most vital writing principles are: only write when you want to and only write what is absolutely true. By sticking to these, she says, we can crawl out of a shell of artificiality and stunted expression and write originally.

The book is punctuated with chapter headings such as, “Be careless, reckless! Be a lion, be a pirate, when you write,” “Why women who do too much housework should neglect it for their writing,” and “Keep a slovenly, headlong, impulsive, honest diary.” I truly hope some of my friends and family who might read this will be encouraged to write freely.

Some favorite passages from If You Want to Write:

“There is that American pastime known as “kidding,”—with the result that everyone is ashamed and hang-dog about showing the slightest enthusiasm or passion or sincere feeling about anything.”

“Yes, I hate orthodox criticism. I don’t mean great criticism, like that of Mathew Arnold and others, but the usual small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, and results only in putting them in strait-jackets of hesitancy and self-consciousness, and weazening all vision and bravery.

I hate it not so much on my own account, for I have learned at last not to let it balk me. But I hate it because of the potentially shining, gentle, gifted people of all ages that it snuffs out every year. It is a murderer of talent. And because the most modest and sensitive people are the most talented, having the most imagination and sympathy, these are the very first ones to get killed off. It is the brutal egotists that survive.”

“…All people who try to write (and all people long to, which is natural and right) become anxious, timid, contracted, become perfectionists, so terribly afraid that they may put something down that is not as good as Shakespeare.

And so no wonder you don’t write and put it off month after month, decade after decade. For when you write, if it is to be any good at all, you must feel free,--free and not anxious. The only good teachers for you are those friends who love you, who think you are interesting, or very important, or wonderfully funny…”

“When a child is taken somewhere by his parents he is not thinking nervously: are they late or early? Is the furnace running at home? He is at rest and looks out the window and sees and thinks. He lives in the present. That is why children enjoy looking and listening so much. Why they are such wonderful mimics of grown-ups. They have tremendous concentration because they have no other concern than to be interested in things. Later they are trained to force concentration and become as imaginatively muddy and uneasy as the rest of us.”

“And so now I have established reasons why you should work from now on until you die, with real love and imagination and intelligence, at your writing or whatever work it is that you care about. If you do that, out of the mountains that you write some mole hills will be published. Or you may make a fortune and win the Nobel Prize. But if nothing is ever published at all and you never make a cent, just the same it will be good that you have worked.”

“This quiet looking and thinking is the imagination; it is letting in ideas. Willing is doing something you know already, something you have been told by somebody else; there is no new imaginative understanding in it. And presently your soul gets frightfully sterile and dry because you are so quick, snappy and efficient about doing one thing after another that you have not time for your own ideas to come in and develop and gently shine.”

Monday, March 3, 2008

When Momma Cracks

I’m singing to her, the cereal is coming!

“Nyaaaaaaa.”

Yummy-yummy-oatmeal, cooked-on-the-stove--

“Nyaaaaaaa!”

I’m cool. I’m in charge. Yeah. YEAH.

"NYAAAAAAA!"

This is the freaking calm before the storm.

Whining is the bane of motherhood. It really rubs moms the wrong way, pulls at this string in us and we end up doing things we never would have done before kids. Mothers don't get whining, a pointless, utterly annoying, entirely dispensable form of last-resort protest. There is the background whining “Awwwww. Mmmmmm. Wehhhhh.” Then there is “Mooommmmmyyyyyyyy.” And finally, “NYYAAAAAA!”

Ten, maybe twenty, minutes of whining that graduates to something more like shrieking can bring any mom to her knees. My youngest daughter, bless her, is a gifted whiner. Her sister throws her arms around her and tells her she loves her, and “nyaaaaaa!” The moment she finishes the carrots on her tray, she doesn’t give me a second, doesn’t skip a beat: “nyaaaaaa!” I take a little too long unstrapping her from her carseat--

“NYAAAAAAAAA!”

Almost done, almost done. A steaming pot of oatmeal sits in front of her on the table. I’m pouring cool water on it, fanning it frantically with a pot holder, trying to make it cool down as fast as possible.

Nyaaaa! Nyaaaa! Nyaaaaaaaaaaaa! Nyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa--It’s coming, it’s coming. Mmmmmm, look--Nyyaaaaaaaa!--Hungry for--NYYYAAAAAAAAAAAA! NYAAAAAAAAAAA! NYAAAAAAAAAA!

And then, the storm. “HUSH! HUSH! HUSH!” I bang the table with every word, completely cracking.

She stops and puts her little hand over her eyes, the pathetic gesture I know too well whenever her feelings are hurt. It’s my defeat, not hers. I try to ignore the guilt. In a few seconds, clumps of fresh steaming oatmeal are on her tray table. She attacks them and stuffs her mouth, the sensitivity melting away. I retire to the living room to breathe. It's only 10 a.m.

My not-yet-three-year-old, who watched the scene quietly, follows me, waits for me to settle, then says softly,

“Umee, Noor sagheera. Hiya la tafham.” Umee, Noor is little. She doesn’t understand.

“What did you say?” I couldn’t have heard right. She says it again, gently, with sympathy, like a parent.

From the mouths of babes. I want to scream, hit my head against the wall, laugh deliriously, and pull my hair. Instead, I kiss her forehead and thank her.

It's tarbiyah, every day, from the most unlikely little people.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Magic Words

These days it’s impossible to be in a bad mood around our house. Moona keeps chirping that she loves us.

“Umee, I love you,” she gushes while I’m putting her shoes on.

“Uhibbuki Umeeeeeeee,” she sings to me while I’m standing at the stove cooking.

“Hibbuki!” she blurts out in the middle of a conversation with my husband.

And, “I LUB you!” as I toss a loaf of bread into the shopping cart.

Maybe she’s just found the perfect words to get my immediate attention, to put me in a good mood, and to get me to beam at her lovingly. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing or how distracted I am, those words I can’t ignore. She wields her new power with her father too, and it has the same melting effect on him.

She's not manipulating. Children aren’t purposely insidious and what appears to us as manipulation is actually much more innocent when you dig deeper. She’s found a way to draw out loving looks and attention—to access the part of us that she loves most.

And I’m thankful to her for bringing that part of me out a little more often.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Aha! Moment: Two-Way Risk

We have lots of Aha! Moments in MAS Youth. And they’re happening all across the nation at different rates and different points in time. So a map of the MAS Youth nation could look like this:


(Okaaayyyy. I have a little too much time on my hands)

Aha! Moments happen when something that seemed scary, obscure, or impossible suddenly becomes a crystal-clear matter of course. Consensus is built, people converge. Sometimes, these moments come on suddenly. It’s a thrilling experience, washed in relief, excitement, and new-found confidence. You have a conversation with another youth worker, he or she makes you think really hard, and …CLICK! Other times, it is the tipping point of a cumulative mass of information, exchanges, observations, and drilled-in messages.

I caught a recent Aha! Moment at the MAS Youth Directors’ Meeting in Detroit in January. Dr. Souheil Ghannouchi, the president of MAS, spent many hours talking with attendees and clarifying the national vision. I learned to think in terms of two-way risk, and Aha! I spent the entire trip home wondering why I hadn’t seen it this way before.

We usually think of risk in one direction. When we approach new directions in MAS and MAS Youth, we become fixated on the risks. We weigh the risks of the new approach with a hypothetical risk-free scenario. We worry that we will dilute the understanding, compromise on development, spread ourselves thin, or give the wrong message. We worry about what people will say or think. These risks, formidable and sobering to every single worker, often make us settle back into the status quo.

Risk, however, is a two-way street. There is a risk of moving forward, but there is often a greater risk of staying where we are. The risk of not doing something should be scaled and measured with equal apprehension. We become desensitized and blind to the greater risk of remaining in our current situation, only because we are used to it. The risks of staying still and confining ourselves to a comfort zone are actually enormous—falling short of our mission, not conveying Islam to everyone we could, losing momentum because we are unable to replace ourselves, and ultimately not earning the pleasure of Allah. When I see risk as a two-way street, it is better to move forward and deal with the risks, working to minimize them in every way and take precautions, than turn away from them all together succumbing to uncertainty and hesitation.

Concert tours, MAS on campus, attracting non-practicing crowds, taking our message to gang members or inviting a drug addict to a MAS Youth usra, trying new methods and pushing new leaders forward—yes, there are risks! But there are even greater risks of turning away from those opportunities in order to protect a perceived 'safe' situation. By doing so, we are only driving in the other direction, towards another set of risks just as daunting and perhaps of greater consequence.

This Aha! Moment was inspiring and empowering for me. Instead of working to avoid risk, we should move forward in the direction that has the greatest potential, holding in our hearts the highest, greatest, sincerest intentions we can muster. And all the while, we anticipate the risks and design creative solutions to the new problems that will undoubtedly arise. I pray that Allah swt guides us to what is right and makes us always aware and humbled at how deeply we are in need of His guidance. Our eyes must always be open to new alternatives and better solutions, but meanwhile we have to make sure we are heading in the right direction on a two-way street.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ammu Toot

6:18 p.m.
“Ammu Toot! Umee, Ammu Toot!”

I switch to my new-word-detective mode. Say who? Uncle Berry? A nickname for someone? Some memory involving a brother and blueberries? She is jumping frantically up and down.

"AMMU TOOT!”

I follow her around the corner to the bathroom and she points to a little speck on the floor.

Aaaaaah. Of course. A spider.

Ammu Toot. Ankabut.


6:25 p.m.
I try to adjust her pronunciation a bit. An-ka-boot. An. Ka. Boot. Some progress. Anpatoot. Antaboot.

6:32 p.m.
"Umee! Ayna 'A la patoot'?"

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Hilarious?

Ever think something was so hilarious and you laugh so hard the tears roll down your cheeks, but no one else is quite as tickled as you? It happens a lot to little kids. The nice part is, they don’t care who in the world laughs with them. It is FUN-NY.

Today Moona laughed and hooted and choked because I walked away from the sewing table and out of the room with a spool of thread trailing from my skirt. When she saw my tail of green thread, she pointed and squealed and started giggling like crazy.

When I turned around and said, “Oh!” that was the end of it. Shrieks of sidesplitting laughter. I laughed with her, surprised at her exaggerated response and belly laughs.

Tears in her dancing eyes, she was crestfallen when I picked up the spool and put it back on the table. Ah well.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Family Life

Driving through downtown, whizzing by a million sights and sounds in our silver minivan. The finger points, and then the question.

“Marhadha?” “Whatsthat?”

I try to follow her gaze, see where her finger is pointing, as the car sails across an overpass so high I don't look down. Billboards, parking lots, dilapidated buildings, glitzy blinking signs, towering overpasses, crisscrosses of telephone wires and poles, gaping highways. All of the unplanned miscellanea that make Houston so unsightly and distracting.

“Skyscrapers? That’s the city. Look at all of those tall buildings.”

“Whatsthat?”

“What? Where?”

“Whatsthat? Therethat. WHATSTHAAAAAT?”

Turning around, I only see her gazing intently at something. “Buildings. They are buildings.”

“Whatsthat?”

“I’m not sure what you…buildings.”

I don’t want to frustrate her attempts to discover more about the world, to ask questions, articulate her observations in a jumbled, mispronounced vocabulary. I hope she is never afraid to ask and never feels discouraged that we don’t understand her.

But sometimes I really don’t understand and can’t figure out what her little head is thinking. I try to hide it.

* * * *

Plastic cups with water for the girls, warm tea for me. Blankets. Moona makes sure everyone has a pillow, fetching them one by one from the different rooms in the house.

"Can you close the door, Moona?"

"This door closes by itself." She pauses, mesmerized, as the open door slowly, eerily, drifts closed. The only door in the house with a loose hinge, and she knows it.

Curling up in bed with the whole family. There used to be a time when Moona would watch the show in silence. Taking it all in, occasionally making an observation.

“Camel?” “Mountain?” “Bear wants her mama?”

Our peaceful Planet Earth sessions are done for good, however. Buru, delighted that we are all smooshed together in one place in a dim room, squeals, pulls Moona’s hair, sticks her fingers into our noses, nosedives into our laps and screams when she can’t wiggle out. And Moona asks questions.

“Marhadha? Ew. Marhadha?”

A glowworm excretes drops of mucus onto a thread of silk that dangles to catch insects hypnotized by the light on the worm’s tail.

“Uhhh.” I grope for the right words in Arabic. “It’s a worm. He’s hanging the string to …”

Blink. Glowworm is gone.

“Marhadha? Marhadha, Umee? Marhadha? MARHADHA?”

Now it’s a swarm of bats and a mountain of cockroaches eating... you don’t want to know. Gross. Why am I watching this? Oh right, family time. I look at my husband. He’s lost in action, snoring, and Buru is reaching for his eyeglasses.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Riding Airplane with Abooni

“Ana arkab at-ta’irah ma’aki wa ma’… Abooni?”
[a funny pronounciation of the generic “my father”]

It is well-known among toddlers and babies that the best time to fall asleep on an airplane trip is just as the airplane is touching down. If you fall asleep before, you miss the opportunity to spill your apple juice and kick the seat in front of you, play peek-a-boo with other passengers, grind up Fritos, and totally wipe out your parents.

If you know how to ask questions, ask them constantly. Ask about the airplane wings, ask about the seatbelts, ask about the airport, ask about the escalators. Ask in a way that minimizes verbalizing, so you can produce the maximum amount of questioning power to outlast your parents’ energy reserves.

“Whatsthat? Whatsthat? Whatsthat? Whatsthat? Whatsthat? Whatsthat? Whatsthat? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?”

Don’t worry that other passengers snicker or comment on what a little chatterbox you are. Don’t worry that the airplane or bus is silently waiting to unboard and the only sound is your piping, overly amplified voice. Be absolutely confident in your cuteness.

When your voice starts to give, you become tired, or you don’t know how to ask questions in the first place, just whine.

If you ever have trouble understanding what’s going on around you, just put it in mommy-daddy context, since it is a framework that can be applied to most situations.

"At-Ta’irah tanzil ila al-matar…tureedu umaha?"
[The airplane is landing because it wants its mommy?]

“Al-Hafilah Abu Sayaratuna?”
[Is this bus the father of our car?]

Finally, when you hear the landing gear coming down and the airplane roars into its final descent, you may at last curl up and go to sleep. Resist all attempts to wake you up, and make Abooni carry you off the airplane.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Empty Dumpty

Umee, Umee, what do you see?
I see two babies looking at me
…Wait, help! I can’t see anything else.

Writing fits perfectly with a stay-at-home mom’s routine, and it’s the one craft that actually got more fun after kids. Writing is my therapy, escape, morning cup of coffee, contribution to human consciousness. When I really want to enjoy myself, I buy an inspirational writing book from the bookstore, because those repetitive little mantras make me so excited about clothbound notebooks, textured paper, and ballpoint pens. I start to dream in yellowed pages and pretty, stately fonts.

Almost every book on writing starts out with beating writer’s block, getting over the self-doubt and perfectionism that hinders writers from sitting down to perform their painful magic. But I confess—I rarely have writer’s block. I don’t resist writing or put it off. Revved up and ready, when I have a topic in mind I can’t wait to sit down and scribble away, no matter how disjointed it comes out. I have fun doing it because I know writing is a process and I have to go through many, many rewrites before I will ever produce something winning.

But it’s not all good. My head is a quarter-of-a-century-old piggy bank with a couple of dimes rattling around inside. Experience, adventure, in-depth knowledge have been very sparse with their allowances, and I struggle to find the rich, colorful words and objects and emotions to weave into my work. I might like to write, but my life is too shallow for the words to live there.

So, when I sit at the computer all psyched, this is what happens:

Hm, let’s see. (hee hee, I’m so excited!)
.....
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

I end up writing about green popsicles. Or about a telemarketer for Wyndham Resorts who wouldn’t let up even though my kids were screaming in the background—do you really like whiny little kids at your luxury resorts? Sometimes I write about my own circular thinking traps, or about the hunky-dory life of a lonely housewife, or try on a writing style that isn’t my own--trust me, no one wants to hear those threads. The only promising vein of imagery in my head is along this line: leather-soled baby shoes, dimpled toes; sippy cups of every material and shape; felt squares, sequins, and Elmer’s Glue; The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Blueberries for Sal.

I love writing about my kids, but I doubt my friends enjoy hearing about them constantly. You would think, given my resume (oh YEEAAH, haha, remember those?), that I would have a lot more junk sitting around in my mind. But I can’t seem to dig it out. I’m not the well-rounded hip mama who will chit chat and smartly put pop culture in then out of diapers.

When I get a rare non-child-inspired writing moment, I will keep it on life support as long as I can. Until then, I'm afraid the only nourishment here for your mind are smooshed fries and fish crackers.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

One Bosico, Two Bosico

My eldest daughter is not yet three years old, but she is already mastering her negotiating skills. We make rules, and she does not like it.

“You can have one popsicle, and then that’s it. OK?” Silence.

“One popsicle.”

“Ithnan.” [two] She holds up two fingers, concentrating hard to keep the other fingers down and the two staying up.

“No, one. Do you want red or green?”

“Ithnan bosico. Wahid ahmaw, wahid akdaw.” [Two bosicos. One red, one green.]

I sigh. We go through this routine a dozen times a day, naptime, pottytime, mealtime, bedtime. When she wants something to drink, she attempts to negotiate the best option between what she would most prefer and what she would least. Milk in sippy cup-juice in sippy cup-milk with a straw-juice with a straw-just milk-just juice.

And finally, after tears and me turning to walk out, surrender comes. Ma bil shafata…. MAAAAA. Ureedu MAAAAAA FATTAT!

So with the popsicles, I wanted her to see that just one was a treat. Two was a long shot. And I’m very good at sticking to limits.

"One only."

"OK." Whatever.

She relished her red bosico. “Mmmmmmmmmmmm,” she said with the exaggerated animation of a kid on a cereal commercial. Grinning, red juice running down her chin, dripping onto her shirt which would now have to be pretreated with Shout. Smaller, smaller, smaller, then the last piece of red ice slipped off the wooden stick into her open mouth.

Mouth still full with popsicle, she says expectantly, “Ukhwa.” [Another.]

Green is the color of grass, the flavor of limes. These popsicles are just 100% fruit juice, and I need 10 servings of fruit a day. Wouldn’t you like another serving of peace and quiet? I’m sure she would have said all of this if she could.

Instead, she begged in her two-year-old vocabulary and pleaded seriously with her juice-stained cheeks. When that failed, she resorted to wailing the virtues of green popsicles for the next three minutes, when she promptly found herself in time out.

Like I said, I have no problem sticking to limits with our world-class negotiator.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Book Review on the Quran

The New York Times printed a book review on the Quran on Sunday. Beautiful.
It was written by Dr. Tariq Ramadan, one of my favorite English-speaking writers and Islamic thinkers.
I hope anyone who reads the article, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, will race to discover the Quran or return to it.