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.