Monday, November 23, 2009

Force of Nature

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I am in love with this quote, which I found in a dear friend's signature:
"This is the true joy in life - being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."
-George Bernard Shaw
In the incessant balancing act of motherhood, between validating the difficulties of motherhood and being selfless and uncomplaining, between finding time for myself and being who my children need me to be, between being a mother and a community activist, and between needing to nurture myself so I may give more and going for long days without a break I mustn't forget that ultimately I am not seeking a place of bliss and happiness. Not in this dimension of life.

We may find peaceful places along our journeys, rejuvenating moments, friendships, deep wells of tranquility and contentment, our child's head on our lap, the coolness of prayer. But we were created to move on to another life and this one will not last. Those moments will pass, time will never be still, and we will be moving forward, working with our head down, onward to meet our Lord. If we understand well, we will be making something of the time we've been given here on earth, in the ways that Allah has opened for us. On that journey, we may find a deep sense of peace and realize our potential, but we mustn't linger too long or spend too much time soaking in the sunlight. Or else we may become distracted and never want to leave.

If I could meet my Creator truly worn out, exhausted, spent to every last breath ... yes, I think that is how I would like to meet Him.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Lemon Tree

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The quiet lemon tree in our backyard burst into yellow glory a few days ago, branches weighed down with fruit that touched the grass. We brought our largest bucket, a hose, and lots of citronella for the mosquitoes, and I sat in the grass with my camera and soaked in the colors and sounds of picking lemons on a warm autumn day. Picking, tugging, falling over backwards, tossing, laughing, washing, splashing, *accidentally* falling in the kiddie pool.

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Baby crawled in and out of my lap the whole time, trying to figure out which she preferred--snuggling in the lap of a mother so rarely still or tasting the grass and licking the skin of lemons.

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Picking lemons and making lemonade has been the perfect activity for the girls. They can do it all, almost, from beginning to end. While I sat, took pictures, and gave words of encouragement, they picked, washed, carried, took out the seeds, (no, they don't really need to do that step, since there is a strainer in the hand juicer, but it's fun to poke at lemons with forks), squeezed, added the water and sugar syrup, stirred, tasted, added some more water, stirred again, tasted, and then proudly poured a glass of warm lemonade for their dad.

We have so many lemons now we don't know what to do with them. Masha'allah, the shy, little tree has suddenly produced so much fruit that it has filled our kitchen and our stomachs, quenched our thirst again and again, and there's many more still left on the tree. We've made lemon shakes and lemonade. We have overflowing bucketfuls, and many more where those came from. Insha'allah we'll be making lemonade for all of our friends.

Mint lemonade, Strawberry lemonade. Brazilian lemonade. Any other requests? Squeeze. Squeeze. Squeeze. Squeeze. Squeeze. Stir. Sip. More sugar. Squeeze. Squeeze.

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When life gives you lemons... *sigh* I was just finding some calmness in my life.

Now I have a pool of lemons.

Alhamdulillah, for the blessings we have.

If I'm going to be swamped, it might as well be lemons.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Answerer

When I was single and a student, I would gobble up books and audio series, taking vigorous notes and racing through them so I could go on to the next. Today as a homeschooling mom and homemaker with little time to listen or read and less time to take notes, I listen while I'm exercising or read a few carefully selected pages here and there. And then let it swim around in my head and eventually settle.

Every once in a while, I come across a thought or a paragraph that gives me a new lens to view the world with. Everything is sharper, cleaner, softer, or brighter. Lately, I've been living with Allah's names, letting them unfold in my awareness and give new meaning to every prayer and moment.

One of the names of Allah (swt) is Al-Mujeeb, The Answerer. How fortunate and blessed we are to be servants of The One who called Himself Al-Mujeeb. Imagine if, in order for our supplications to be heard, we had to do certain rituals, climb high on a mountain, make wudu, or go through an intercessor. Instead, we only have to let out the innermost whisper and we are heard by Al-Mujeeb. Allah chose that attribute for Himself.

Not only that, but He also made it one of the highest acts of worship to ask for what we need! We are commanded to ask, every day, for the little, insignificant things and the seemingly impossible. "Ask me, and I will answer..." (40:60)

Radeetu billahi rabban! Truly, I am pleased with Allah as a Lord!

And then I heard this, and my relationship with supplication suddenly bloomed as it never had before. Allah would never inspire us to utter a supplication unless He will answer it in the most perfect and satisfying way. Because He is al-Mujeeb, The Answerer. It would never, ever do for a servant to raise her hands in supplication and for Al-Mujeeb to not answer. So, from the very first moment that we are inspired to make dua, we can know with utter certainty that it will be answered.

Sometimes, the answer comes in a form we didn't expect but with time we realize it is the perfect answer. Sometimes, the answer will be beyond what we had ever hoped. Sometimes, it will be saved for a day when we would despair of salvation and would trade ANYTHING for one more deed, and then Al-Mujeeb will finally answer our supplication that had gone unanswered in this life. And sometimes, the answer is delayed, just so that we can continue growing closer to Our Creator a little longer, needing Him, crying to Him, calling upon Him, finding solace in knowing that He is listening and will most surely answer.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Blurred Memories

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It's only been four years, and I can't remember when Moona got her first teeth, or whether she could crawl as fast as Meem can now. I watch her videos, snapshots of four years ago, and wonder how the dimpled, grinning baby became the cheerful, perceptive little girl that she is now. It has been only a few years, and already I feel those early memories swirling into a blur.

Mothers with children grown remind me to record these details, to write them down, take pictures, anything to preserve this crazy, joyous, boisterous, sloppy, sweet part of our lives. A large part of this blog has been just recording the mundane details in our daughters' lives, so insha'allah we can come back two, five, or twenty years from now and reflect upon Allah's miracles in our lives.

On a sillier note, in the last few weeks, from the mouths of my babes:

Buru: Flathatha Fulolo (thalatha-three, farawla-strawberry--yes, I prompted her to say that)

Super-sensitive Moona: It makes me sad when you look at me like that... and later: It makes me sad when you wag your finger at me like that ... later: It makes me sad when you make that face ....

For a long time, every single one of these words has been simply "Ngha" to Buru: Assalam alaikum, alhamdulillah, bismillah, masha'allah, Quran, dua, Subhanalladhi sakhara lana..., Salla allahu alaihi wa sallam. Simply "Ngha". Considering that she speaks Fusha Arabic anyway and it's all basically the same language, we were amazed at her ability to distinguish between what is derived from the Islamic shariah and what was just bid'ah. :)

Moona: (standing at the door before entering the bathroom, speaking in a loud voice to make sure the devil will hear, adding her own flourishes to the dua) Allahuma. Bismillah. Audhu billahi min ash-shaitan ar-rajeem. Ya rabbi. Audhu bika min al-khubuthi wal khaba'ith... Ij'al ash-shaitan ba'eeeeeeeeed jiddan. (My Lord. Bismillah. I seek refuge from the shaitan. O Lord. I seek refuge from the unclean spirits. Keep the shaitaan faaaaaaaar away.)

Moona: Yoopsies. ('whoops')

And my favorite, Buru's totally original nickname for her baby sister: Toota Lallah. I think that's a keeper!

Slow Days

Lake at Brazos Bend SP

I have so much to write, so much to say. But until I can:

1. Clean my house
2. Get into a peaceful homeschooling rhythm
3. Put a dent in some of the looming MAS projects hanging over my head
4. Help keep growmama.com alive and breathing

I will have to keep my little sparrow blog, the final frontier of freedom and creativity in my life, on the back burner. *sniff* Every time I post something, put a comment up on facebook, or send a casual reflection out on a MAS list, I get at least three people emailing or calling me, "How's it going with project x?" Translation: What are you doing writing/facebooking/contemplating when you're supposed to be working, SLAVE?

Actually, my masters are really very kind. And I work because I want to and I'm in a life stage that is by nature unavoidably chaotic. But I know one thing about myself, I NEED an outlet to thrive and give more of myself. Why do I feel guilty about it, then? Why does writing here feel like sneaking a Heath Bar when I'm supposed to be dieting?

"Stand back, you hear! I HAVE A BLOG AND I'M NOT AFRAID TO USE IT!"

Otherwise, I may just decide to hide under the bedcovers and avoid all phones, emails, facebooks, public appearances, and online pizza orders: anything that would be a sign of my existence. So they don't come after me.

In the meantime, until things are a little more in order, I will post pictures and a few words here and there, to keep my few and beloved readers coming back occasionally. Just nothing deep for a while, assuming anything here was ever deep.

P.S. I just spent 15 minutes trying to get rid of the border on my picture and failed. When I could have been ironing or editing. Whaddya say to that?!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Evening Sun

Our hot, muggy mosquito-infested summer is turning into cool breezes and evening sunlight. We have been so patient.

I took a picture of the girls swinging in the backyard one evening. This is how autumn makes me feel.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I Can Stand

Baby Meem is standing long before her sisters did. She stands on her wobbly legs, gives a few chuckles of pride, and then conks her nose on the wall or table edge.

standing

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Eid Mubarak

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Oh Allah accept our fasting,
our prayers, our pleading,
grant us leave from this month
with a pure heart and cleansed soul.

Let the warmth of its worship
keep us fervent year long,
and may we be around
for one more Ramadan.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Blessed with the blessed month

... and in dire need of Allah's mercy.

I never said I was normal

Just one of the occasional TMI posts on this blog, and then I will get to something much more serious. I need to get this out of my head so I can stop imagining concentric circles growing on my skin. Last night, I felt I was going insane. I mean, I was irritable, my hands were shaking, and I lay in bed, tortured by images in my head.

My husband asked me if there was something I needed to talk about.

“Yes-the fungus growing on the mulch outside the kitchen window.”

Do you know what I’m talking about? That random something that you can’t stand the thought of. Seeing it, hearing it, touching it, makes you feel like someone sliding a straight pin under your fingernails, scratching a chalkboard, or a million ants crawling up your spine. We all squirm at the thought of snakes and spiders, but what about perfectly ordinary things? I used to have a silk scarf when I was a girl with tiny, little circles all over it, pin-head sized white circles and inside, tiny black circles. It reminded me of eyes, snails, some kind of invasive growth. I would close my eyes and shove it out of sight anytime I encountered it.

Yesterday, I happened to glance out the kitchen window and an irregular pattern caught my eye. WAIT-THERE SHOULDN’T BE A PATTERN ON MULCH! My evening was ruined. I felt compelled to look out the window every few minutes, squinting so I wouldn’t really see the pattern of circles—just a little bit. I lay awake last night relishing the thought of running out in the darkness in my nightgown with a rake, scraping off and pulverizing everyone of those ghastly, little circles.

I asked my husband to remove them in the morning, and he forgot. When I went out to take pictures of the offensive growth, I half-expected the circles to suddenly start multiplying until they reached my feet, growing in between my toes and on my tongue, finally encasing me in a crust of tiny barnacles.

Doesn’t that completely freak you out? *shudder* ... No? Hmmmmm …

FUNGUS-MOLD-SPORES-ALGAE-PARASITE-BARNACLE-MILDEW-MUSHROOM!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Everyone has a breaking point

I poured Moona and Buru two glasses of cold milk and ovaltine a few days ago. The conversation went something like this:

Moona: Shukran Mama.
Buru: (after a short pause) Mama mine.
Moona: She's my mother too.
Buru: Mama. Mine.
Moona: (calmly) No. She's your mother and she's my mother.
Buru: Mama mine!
Moona: (patient sigh) No. No-she's both of our mothers.
Buru: Mama MINE!
Moona: No! She's my mother too!
Buru: MAMA MINE!
Moona: She's not your mother only!
Buru: MAMAMINE!

Moona runs out of the kitchen wailing, and Buru smirks.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sentimentality

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Things are different with baby Meem. I'm not so anxious that she grows up quickly so she can walk, talk, and turn the world upside down. I'm not as eager to teach her things as I am to have her head resting on my chest, cherish the feeling of her breathing on me.

The little things she does, the toes in the mouth, the wide-eyed look of utter wonderment when she finds a scrap of paper on the carpet, the soft grunts of contentment after she is full--I want to remember them. All of a sudden, I've gone all sentimental. I don't know if this will be my last baby, but there's probably not going to be too many more (if Allah wills).

So when I'm not completely overwhelmed, I am savoring this one, drinking her up.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What are you going to do this year?

So the question has been asked, many, many times. What are we going to do with Moona this year? Buru? They're the age that we need to think about schooling options.

I usually don't want to get into long discussions, so I tell them that Moona is only four, and that she'll be home for another year. But the truth is, I think I'm going to homeschool my kids, but am so unsure of that decision that I really don't want to discuss it with people yet!

I am really convinced that for me and my kids, homeschooling is one of the best options we have. Yes, I am scared that I won't have the discipline to teach them well. Yes, I am scared that my kids won't be socialized enough. Yes, I am scared that they won't be comfortable in their own homeland. Yes, I am scared that they won't become the du'aat -callers to Allah- that I so hope they become. Yes, I am scared that I will do it all wrong and mess up their brains. Yes, I know about all of the things that can go wrong-they keep me awake at night. But there are a lot of things that insha'allah, if Allah helps me, can go so right.

So after lots of dua and istikhara and consultation with my husband, I think it is the best road for us. So here is announcing to the world, "My kids are not going to school. I'm going to try to facilitate the best iman- and quran-based education I can at home."

And now that I've said it, I better get my act together.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Dreaming of Photography


Since college, I have planned on getting into photography. One day. Some day. When I had the money. Or the time. Or the courage.

This blog is about to get a lot more visual as I record my photographic dabblings here. Oh, and I'm going to be moving, again. No! Not in person, we're stuck in the hot, humid south for a while. Online I mean. Moonaburu, now with baby Meem, doesn't seem fair anymore, y'know? I can't just keep adding my kids' pseudonyms: Moonaburumeem.

(No, that's not it really. I'm undependable this way, it's like rearranging furniture. I get bored of the same thing. But I'll be sure to let you know where I go.)

So Blessed

I am so often overwhelmed by Allah's mercy. All of the blessings that He has granted me. So overwhelmed that my eyes brim with tears and my heart fills my throat, and I have to rush to do something tiny, insignificant, anything ... to show thanks to Him.

I am painfully aware that I cannot just sit back and enjoy those blessings until the end of my days. They are not for me, they are for me to thank Him and serve Him. For all of the blessings I have, for all of the joys and sweetness that fill my life, I should be at the forefront of those who are trading their time, their pleasure, their energy for Allah's cause. I am so scared that I will fall short.

Actually, I will most definitely fall short. And for that, I have to beg for forgiveness.

"Work, sons of David, with thanks," Allah (swt) says in Surah Saba'. I know I've written about this before here, but it is such a recurring theme in my life. Thanks is not something to be felt and spoken only--it has to be performed through action.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Optimism

I’ve been feeling optimistic about America lately. So used to the conspiracy-theory, all-going-down, corruption-everywhere thinking, it has been refreshing to feel some mainstream hope.

Obama is part of it—but more so it’s that a majority of voters chose someone like him. The fact that there is a black man leading America is grounds for rejoicing in itself. I am happy for minorities in this country, for Muslims, for Hispanics, for Blacks, for everyone. It is so revitalizing to hear someone talk and make an iota of sense, especially after hearing Bush for the last eight years. I agree with a lot of people that there is only so much one man can do, especially in a political system filled with landmines, but I like to think of Gladwell’s The Tipping Point at times like this.

Maybe Obama will not be the one to create the change, but he will create enough hope and excitement that Americans will know that principled stands and peace are within our reach. The hope will become mainstream. And there will be more indignation the next time someone like Bush or Cheney walks center stage. More anti-war activists. A movement starts.

One man would not be able to create a climate of hope and optimism unless there was a groundswell that came from the bottom up. Witnessing that surge is what makes me dare to hope.

Cynicism is so entrenched in the Muslim community, and I don’t blame us. We’re used to being under fire, accused, tried, vilified. The alienation is worsened when we see ourselves as a self-contained subset of America, neither part of it nor outside. But that cynicism and isolation actually give us an easy break. When we see nothing but a massive, sinking ship, it gives us an excuse to be paralyzed and contain our Islamic work to serve just the closest circles within the Muslim community.

Optimism, I think, may help change that. When we see good struggling to break free in front of our eyes, how is it that we can we just watch?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mental Block

It happened again this morning, a week later! She is subconsciously blocking the "snake" and using, well, fuzzier replacements.

So, what happened when Allah swt commanded Musa to throw down his stick? What did it turn into?
Moona (without missing a beat): A caterpillar.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Headed for the Trash

I found what I thought was a great bargain on craigslist. A vintage, child-size play refrigerator for $35. It's big, almost taller than Moona, painted white, metal handles and real wire racks and bins on the inside of the door. Something that realistic would cost over $150 new. The girls loved it and it made their kitchen so much more interesting, opening and shutting the door and arranging cans and food boxes on the shelves.

They had it for about three weeks. The paint was peeling in a couple places, so I went to the hardware store to pick up a lead testing kit just in case. It turned bright red--heavy lead content! I just dragged the refrigerator into the garage to be thrown away with the trash and am sitting, a little shaken, and alhamdulillah thanking Allah (swt) that I actually went out and got the test. Lead poisoning is a very scary thing, especially on a toy refrigerator (the girls would likely put play food in their mouths, etc.).

Now I have to figure out what to say to them when they wake up in the morning and notice immediately that their fridge is gone.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Role Playing

I am trying to guide Moona and Buru into saying “Please” and “Thank you”, not only when we are in the home but outside as well. Moona struggles with saying anything to strangers, and I wanted to help her work through some of that anxiety.

So I walked out of the bedroom one day with a scarf draped over my shoulders and some cards in my hand and trilled, “Hello! I’m Miss Teresa!”

Miss Teresa is the librarian who tells the stories at the library’s preschool storytime.

The girls froze mid-action, a little confused at hearing the name. A smile started to twitch at their mouths as they watched me take a seat at the play table with much flurried animation and exaggeration.

“I wonder who’s going to come today to ask for a ticket for the storytime. I hope they remember to say please and thank you!”

And so we went through all the motions, the girls’ giggling and excited as they asked for a ticket, please, thanked the librarian, went in the kitchen and sang the storytime song. Moona got a little lost somewhere between reality and make believe, and started chatting Miss Teresa—aka me in disguise—away in English, telling her about her baby sister and that she doesn’t want mommy to cut her hair ever.

Then we switched, and Moona and Buru took turns wearing the shawl and being Miss Teresa. Buru, who hardly says ten words, dropped her guard and pronounced, “Hel-lo!” and “Ok-kay!” with serious perfection.

Over and over and over again, we went through the motions about a dozen times. Finally, I couldn’t restrain myself and, after they took the tickets and sat primly for the song, I came roaring in with the scarf over my head, “GIVE ME BACK MY TICKETS!”

The shock on their faces was priceless, and the game disintegrated into a game of shriek-tag-and-tickle, which these kinds of things often do.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lumpy Sugar

There's this kid's song, "You're my honey bunch, sugar plum, pumpy-umpy umpkin..." It's really cute and the girls like to hear me sing it to them. You can listen to it here.

Here is Moona's version of the song that she was singing today while getting dressed:
"You're my lump, lump, lumpy sugar, lumpy, lumpy, lumpy sugar..."

Blank

I was seated at the computer when Moona softly tiptoed out of her room. She was supposed to be asleep, but I was used to the half-hour or so of coaxing it takes.

“فقط أسألك شيئا “ “I just want to ask you something.”

“Mm hmm, go ahead.”

She will pull anything out of her brain, just to prolong the moments before going back to bed. Maybe she will retell part of a story we read earlier, tell me exactly what color she wants for her hairpiece next Eid, or remind me that we need to call her grandmother later. Sometimes she will ask me how big Allah is, or if she can hold her baby sister when she wakes up. You never know what random question she will think up when she is dodging sleep.

“Yes, habeebati?”

She took a deep breath … and held it. And held it. And held it. She stared at me, eyes wide, mouth half-open. I watched her frozen face and realized that her mind completely blanked on her. The seconds ticked by…

“Moona, go to sleep.”

Her breath whooshed out.

“Okay.”

Saturday, May 9, 2009

What They're Saying

و لكن يدي صغيرتان لا أستطيع أن أنظف
"But my hands are too small ... so I can't clean up!"


Me: Prophet Musa had a stick. What did he use it for?

Moona: ! كان يهش بها على الغنم
(He used it to guide his sheep)

Me: Yes! And then Allah swt commanded him to throw it down to the ground. What did it turn into?

Moona: ! تحولت إلى دودة
(It turned into a worm!)
-Moona, 4

The Difference a Preposition can Make

I’m reading ScreamFree Parenting—the title is self-explanatory. There are a few interesting points in the book, and some strange concepts as well (such as giving your kid “space”). But the first chapter gave me a leap-off-the-couch-and-shout-for-joy “aha!” moment.

I am not responsible for my children. I am responsible to Allah swt for how I give and behave towards my children. This tiny word substitution created a totally different mentality in my mind. On one hand, it relieves the stress-inducing pressure of getting my children to behave a certain way, often because social norms say they should do so, and instead trusting in Allah swt to guide them. On the other, it allows me to focus on the one variable that I can control, and that is how I behave towards them. If you think about it, this approach should create much better results in the long run, because it helps a mother be calmer, more controlled, and focused on the one factor that will have the deepest impact on her children-her behavior.

Think of any scenario with the kids—it’s 11 p.m. and we’re still struggling to get Moona to sleep. Normally, I would focus on my child’s behavior and try to change it at almost any cost. It would start gently but possibly end in arguing, bribing, yelling, or a time-out. However, if I remember that I am responsible to my children, not for them, I will stop focusing on the behavior and instead focus on the “tarbiyah” and guidance I am giving them. So, in this case, it’s not so important that she be in bed at a certain time or that she listen to me as remaining calm and patient with her, in the teaching and tarbiyah mode. This doesn’t preclude being firm and disciplining, so long as the disciplining is based on clear, calm thinking and not panic or anger.

I am struggling in trying to help Moona understand how to count. I ask her to give me five pom-poms, and she gives me six, counting "One, two, seven, eight, four, five!" Sometimes, I panic a little and think, "She's four and still can't count?!" Because I'm in a result-oriented mindset, she senses the pressure and resists my efforts at teaching. In this case, I need to shift my thinking: I'm not responsible for teaching Moona her numbers, but I am responsible to Allah swt for interacting with her in the most patient, empowering manner. Similarly, I can make my child memorize Quran, but if she doesn't enjoy it, then I may be getting one set of results but I'm missing out on something possibly more important and need to revisit my approach.

I am responsible for the words I say, the methods I use to teach and parent, my tone, my voice, my words, my perceptions. Instead of becoming fixated on getting my children to do something or stop a behavior by yelling, threatening, or offering rewards and punishments, I need to focus on myself. I must learn how to be deeply aware of the moves I make in the thick of loud, stressful tantrums and messes. In many ways, the core of this idea is connected to the Islamic concept of tarbiyah and responsibility before Allah. I am responsible for my behavior alone, and I will be held responsible before Allah for how I tried to guide my kids into being pious, self-directed adults, not ultimately how they turned out.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hajj Vignettes #2

We left home at about 8:30 a.m. Friday morning. More than 30 sleepless hours later, we were sitting, clueless and bleary-eyed, in the Jeddah Airport, waiting for our passports to come back.

A random airport guy comes back instead. He looks as though he’s been electrocuted, hair standing up, frenzied eyes, compulsively drinking a cup of something. He talks with the men in our group who are trying to understand where our group leader is, when we can be on our way, and where our passports went. A few minutes later, the airport guy is shrieking and throwing up his hands. The group manages to stay calm as the man with our passports breaks out into a primal panic before our eyes. Egyptian, of course.

38 hours later. 50 tired people are sitting on a bus parked outside of Jeddah airport, waiting for one person to sort out an issue with his hajj fees. The bus is eerily quiet, amidst the honking of migrating buses and shouting, stressed-out, non-Saudi drivers around us. Our driver steps inside every half hour to count us… seven, eight, nine. No one is allowed in or out of the bus.

39 hours later and 3 a.m. Sunday morning. Thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five… My father-in-law mutters quietly, “No one left the bus. How many times are you going to count us?” The driver’s head practically shoots off his body and hits the bus ceiling. He raves like a madman for two minutes. Then he spats, “And now you made me forget where I was!” He begins counting again. Egyptian, of course.

My husband, next to me, is gasping for air, laughing uncontrollably, exhausted. I join him when I find he is still laughing hysterically, several minutes later.

40 hours later. We’re finally on the road to Makkah, normally a one-hour drive, but I have a feeling it won’t be that short. Paperwork, checkpoints, inspections, plastic bracelets, funny, little rules that you better not mess with. We stop every twenty minutes it seems. We’re stuck in traffic. My stomach growls loudly with hunger.

44 hours later. The bus stops at a “Welcome Station for Pilgrims.” I try to sleep, but can’t. I need to lie flat. I can barely smile at the awkward, sign translations: “The Ministry of Salutations is Joyful for Your Coming and Serving You.” A uniformed worker who looks like someone who works at Wendy’s steps onto the bus with boxes filled with colorful packages. FOOD! Oh yes, oh yes! I’m getting tired of our pasty power bars. We are all handed a confection-like rose, wrapped in cellophane, stuck onto a green straw. That’s all.

In the dark, I stare at the rose in my hands. I look at the other people on the bus to see what they will do. It looks like candy. Maybe a little too perfect. What are we supposed to do with it? I quell my urge to eat the rose—it’s foam; just a cheap little souvenir.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watch an exhausted gentleman sniff, take a furtive nip, then quickly lay it down before anyone saw him trying to take a bit out of a pink foam rose. A hysterical laugh rises like a lump in my throat. My eyes tear up and the corners of my mouth ache as I try not to snort.

A few seconds later, my hungry husband nibbles the rose. Exhuasted but oh-so-tickled, I break out into that uncontrollable, suffocating laughter that only happens when you have reached the limits of human endurance. Muhammad laughs along with me, if only that he doesn’t get what was so funny and is wondering why my eyes are streaming and I’m laughing so hard I can no longer breathe.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hajj Vignettes #1

I wondered several times during Hajj if I would ever write about my feelings and experience. Maybe I would write poems. Poetry would provide just enough elusiveness that a reader would realize there was so much beyond what was written. Writing about hajj fills me with sorrow and longing—sorrow that the intensity of those days has faded, and longing to be one of those people who still have a visit with Allah (swt) waiting sometime ahead in their lives.

It never crossed my mind to bring a camera to Hajj, but everyone was snapping photos right and left. We stood at the top of the jamarat before Maghrib, watching the millions of people flocking from every corner of Mina to throw stones. I wish I had a picture to show my kids and friends what a magnificent sight that was.

This hajj was the first occasion in three years that I was completely kid-free. While my mind often drifted to my children, wondering if they were safe and how they were feeling, the peace and freedom of responsibility allowed me to withdraw completely into myself. No matter what the surroundings were—the crowds, the hot tents, the rattling, steamy buses—I could be quiet, look ahead, my body relaxed, my mind and heart somewhere else. Unlike many people around me, I tried not to worry about where we were going, when we would get there, whether my bags were lost, how clean the bathrooms were, or how many people I’d be rooming with. I did worry a little about the little person inside me—I was six months pregnant and my second priority, after fulfilling the rituals of Hajj, was taking care of myself.

Here is my hajj experience in short, descriptive paragraphs now and then, whenever I am feeling reflective or want to record a memory.

##

A useful piece of advice someone gave my husband was: stay away from people who complain. Many times, I felt like I walked into a “Who is more miserable?” game show. Go for Hajj prepared for the worst. Then, when you meet it, smile and remember that it is part of the package whether you paid $4,000 or $9,000.

You will have endless cause to complain. You will wait at least eight hours in the airport for nothing in particular, you will have to go through senseless bureaucracy everywhere you go, you will be often haggard, lost, and confused and no one will tell you what’s going on or why you are in one bus and your husband was assigned to another, your group leader will stay in a hotel room while you and twelve other people share a bathroom in a stuffy two-room apartment, you will be counted and stamped and ordered around, it will be hot, you will sweat, your bus will break down a few miles from the hotel after a 20-hour bus ride, your bags will be misplaced and maybe your passport will be lost. Your group will turn off the AC and keep the windows shut, so you will sleep on the floor in the hallway. Plus, you might be pregnant with swollen feet.

Close your eyes, breathe, relax. Refuse to let anything bother you. Be like water, praising Allah, flowing peacefully through whatever gulley or jagged rock stands in your way. Smile, say “Alhamdulillah,” make dhikr, and when the complaining around you doesn’t stop, find the first polite excuse to walk away.

##

Tawaf--rhythmic, blissful worship. Circling the kabah, peacefully, whispering remembrance, in a sea of people moving like waves. Smells like musk, black sky, white clothes, fresh breeze cooling our sweat, doves circling overhead. Ears filled with voices of praise, prayers, and pleas. The words drift from every direction, “O Allah, accept …. All praise…. wronged myself … Lord of the worlds… Merciful … I’ve come to You… Creator … Only you.” Glancing to kabah on the left, tears in the eyes, heart is full, mind drifts to the sky, up, up, above our heads, where angels are glorifying in parallel, circling the kabah of the heavens.

I am here, Allah, I am here.

##

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Four Weeks Later

For three weeks after M was born, we enjoyed the company and help of my mom. The girls were entertained and got to do exotic, creative things like play with the garden hose and sort pom poms. I sat all day in the rocking chair and nursed.

Now, we are on our own, and I sometimes imagine what it would be like to look down at this mom-of-three?

M is crying, squirming, arching her back, the beginnings of colic? Moona is waiting on the toilet, "Umee, I'm DONE! ... I'm DONE!... I'm DONE!" Buru is out to poke M in the eye or yank her out of my arms, cooing "Bebeez" behind gritted teeth. When I put M out of reach, Buru reaches for a plate on the breakfast bar and a bagel with cream cheese lands on her hair and the plate shatters on the already sticky kitchen floor. It takes every ounce of restraint not to scream at the scheming toddler.

"Umee, I'm DONE!"

I shout at Moona, "You're going to have to wait. We have a baby now." I grab a kicking and screaming Buru and toss her into her crib for a few crisis-free minutes. I sit on the couch and think about what to do next. In my arms, M continues screaming.

I really hope this baby isn't colicky.

Remembering

Maryam on 3/11

There is a culture of sharing birth stories among women that I think is fascinating. I smile, because a pre-child me would have winced at the thought of talking freely—no, writing online—about mucus plugs and placentas and amniotic fluid. Now, I love hearing and reading other women’s birth stories and love telling my own—but only if you’re willing to listen to the long version (as opposed to the polite, 30-second synopsis). Sharing stories and creating a vocabulary around childbirth is a way of celebrating motherhood and recognizing our bodies’ reserves of strength and endurance—miracles that Allah swt blessed women with. Maybe I'm sounding like a hippie, or a feminist, but then again, I’m happy to be a little bit of both.

I started writing a post called “Birth”, but I hit a dead end before I even started writing. Can’t seem to find the arrangement of words that would capture the exhaustion, thrill, intense pressure, and emotional freefall. Writing out a birth story creates a sort of anticlimax for me, much as I love reading other women’s birth stories—telling it, it can always be retold, but writing it is too final. In the midst of contractions, I wished with all of my being that it was over—didn’t care about the baby, just wanted it out. And afterwards, the further back into my life the memory slips, giving birth becomes this explosive, out-of-body experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

The high of those few peaceful hours immediately after birth is indescribable. A new, baby wheezing, hiccupping, wet against my chest, eyes closed tight, fists curled. Nurses quietly bustle about the room, cleaning up, bringing pillows and warm blankets. All I have to do in the world is rest my head back on the pillow, soak up the baby in my arms, and thank Allah (swt) for His blessings and mercy.

Closest thing to heaven.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Planting Wheatgrass

This was a fun activity, but I spoiled it at the end because I was so uptight. After running around to Walmart and PetSmart (for the wheatgrass seeds), laying out the supplies in little containers, explaining the instructions as clearly as possible, the girls finally got to work planting the seeds in the jars, layering sand, soil, and then the seeds. With their little spoons they scooped the sand into the jars and I gave them tweezers to insert the seeds on top of the potting soil.

Then the wind started blowing and the sky turned dark and we needed to hurry because it looked like a storm was coming. Moona asked to carry the jars into the house, so I said OK, but be careful, don't drop or shake them.

I picked up all of the odds and ends of supplies left outside and came in to find Moona smiling and jumping up and down, rattling the jars unkowingly.

"I TOLD YOU NOT TO SHAKE THE JARS NOW THEY ARE ALL MESSED UP AND THE SEEDS WON'T GROW WHY CAN'T YOU LISTEN TO WHAT I SAID LOOK THE SAND IS AT THE TOP AND THE SEEDS ARE UNDERNEATH IT'S RUINED NOW--"

*Sigh.* I wish I had the presence of mind and patience not to blow up at my child for a harmless, innocent slip. So what if the jars were messed up? Nothing was worth seeing the downcast face after my short-tempered explosion. My daughter didn't "mess up" the activity, I did.

I don't have any "after" pictures, but here are the "befores":




Insha'allah, Chapter 2 of this activity, when the wheatgrass sprouts (if it does), will be more enjoyable for all of us.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Entertaining

The only time we do formal entertaining is when we invite my husband’s colleagues from work or school. By formal, I mean getting out the good dishes and setting the table. I’m usually the paper-plates, eat-on-the-floor, serve-yourself type.

I discovered last night, however, that any vestige of formality and dignified hospitality that may have existed in our home is long gone, thanks to a runny-nosed, curly-haired, squealing posse.

Sitting across them at the table, I watched miserably as they put up their greasy hands to show off how messy they could be, as they tossed their half-eaten drumsticks back on the chicken platter, as they munched noisily on puff pastry with open mouths, and as they scraped the tops of their pastries clean with their teeth and reached across the table to hand me the crust. Any attempt at conversation had to compete with requests and complaints by Moona and loud, wordless intonations by Buru.

“JUICE!”
“Ooos!”
“Look, I finished my rice!”
“AAAAAH?”
“Baba? Baba? Baba. Baba. Bab—“
“Can I have cake when I finish?”
“AA haa AA haaa? Aaaa aaaah.”
“Look what Buru did!”
“More cake!”
“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

We ate cheesecake and honeydew melon on a table scattered with rice and dirty dishes because I didn’t have the energy to clear it. I figured it was a little pointless by then anyway.

But in lieu of a civilized hospitality, Moona and Buru devised their own. The girls screamed in excitement when the doorbell rang, very audible to anyone outside the house. They stared unabashedly for the first half-hour, but soon decided their father's co-worker was interesting enough and wondered why he didn’t speak Arabic. Buru asked him a very important question, using one of the only words, English or Arabic, she knew how to say,

“Cuyus Geoge?” The answer sent her scurrying promptly to the bookshelf.


After dinner, our guest was treated to a tiny, warm body curled up in his lap as he read “Curious George Goes to the Aquarium” and “Ten Little Ladybugs.” Moona watched over his shoulder, remarking sulkily after several books, “I don’t understand English.” And when it was time to leave, Buru clung to his pant leg and put on her shoes, ready to walk out the door with him. Moona watched the attachment with growing anxiety, moaning fearfully, convinced she was losing her sister forever.

Two lifted arms, outstretched, asking to be picked up and taken home—what a compliment!

Buru threw herself on the coffee table and sobbed, then stood at the window as our guest drove away. I watched as Moona put her arm on her sister’s shoulder.

“You can’t go with him,” said Moona. “He’s not your father, you know.”

It’s not perfect, but as long as their messy table manners still qualify as ‘cute’, I think their sense of hospitality beats mine.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dua from the Depths of the Heart

Sitting today with a dear sister, I understood a little more the power of our dua for the people in Gaza and people suffering all over the world.

Our supplications may not stop the conflict, or end the terror—this will not happen except when Allah swt wills it or sends His soldiers and victory. So where are our sincere dua going? The tears, the night prayers, the fasting?

Maybe to places we don't see or realize, but if we only knew we would never stop the fervor by we call upon Allah to help those who are suffering. Maybe to a mother who has lost her child but feels the inner calm and tranquility that can only come from Allah. To a man who is proud as he looks upon the face of his martyred brother. To the family who cannot imagine how they will survive on what they have, but find that it keeps them going. To a people who are systematically tortured, terrorized, and massacred but are still able to smile at one another, hold the hand of someone suffering, share the food they have, and praise Allah the Almighty who chose them to walk earth perfumed by innocent blood, the frontlines of His mercy and forgiveness.

There are dimensions of relief and peace we do not know of that may be descending on the people of Gaza because of your dua. Maybe your dua tonight will make someone stay strong in his or her faith, stay brave, find peace in knowing Allah is by her side amidst all of the darkness.

A small suggestion is to make qunut an-nazilah a special supplication in times of need every day until the crisis has passed. It is performed in the regular obligatory prayers in the last rakah before going down for the prostration. Here is a description from islamonline.net of how it is done.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Song for Gaza



This touching, piercing song for Gaza is going around on Facebook and Youtube. Very fitting.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Cleaning Routine

FlyLady will give you a lot of tips and good ideas (see last post), but it’s basically about building a simple morning and evening routine that will keep your house reasonably clean and then having 15-minutes of decluttering and deep-cleaning a day that will allow your house to progress from terribly messy to organized and comfortably clean over the course of several weeks or months.

Here is what my morning and evening routines have looked like for the last two months, to give you an idea:

Morning Cleaning Routine
1. Wake up and make my bed as soon as my feet touch the floor
2. Wash, dress for the day, put on shoes
3. Swish and wipe the master bathroom in under 60-seconds (Keep a sponge and small spray bottles of vinegar and water—because they’re kid-safe—in every bathroom and a toilet brush next to every toilet. While you are brushing your teeth, spritz the counters, wipe the sinks, and swish the toilet. This will be enough to keep your bathroom disinfected and pretty clean in between monthly or biweekly deep-cleanings. If there is a spot or some fingerprints you miss in those 60 seconds, you’ll get it tomorrow)
4. Get the girls out of bed, change diaper, dress them, and put a load of laundry in the washer
5. Put a Quran cd in the computer and play it throughout the morning
6. Empty the dishwasher while preparing breakfast
7. 5-minute hotspot (every house has a hotspot, an area that if not given daily attention will quickly get out of control and spread throughout the whole house—mine is the kitchen floor)
8. Eat breakfast, drink water and vitamins
9. Figure out what’s for dinner
10. 15-minutes of decluttering


For the decluttering, I basically choose an area of the house that needs organizing work (a closet, my sewing table, the kitchen pantry, a drawer) and only work on that for fifteen minutes. Only take out as much as I can do in 15-minutes, set the timer, and work furiously for those 15 minutes. Once the timer goes off, I’m done for the day and walk away. It may not seem like much, but two months of 15-minute decluttering sessions have completely organized and sorted my master bedroom closet, the bathroom cabinets, the girls’ dresser, the girls’ toy bins, the kitchen pantry, the laundry room, our file cabinet, and the hallway closet.

The whole morning routine, including the 15-minutes of decluttering, takes about a half-hour. If I have an early morning appointment, I occasionally skip the decluttering and just pick up the next day.

During the day, I am free to do whatever I want, my only housework assignments are:

1. Fold and put away the morning laundry
2. Keep the sink empty and shiny, all dirty dishes go straight into the dishwasher that I emptied in the morning
3. 15-minutes of deep-cleaning. I find that often I am feeling so good about the house and myself that I actually want to do a little extra cleaning, organizing, or decorating (really, seriously!) so I indulge. FlyLady has assignments and zones, but that is only after your morning and evening routines are down pat.
4. Exercise! (not cleaning, so it really shouldn't go here, but oh such a chore!)


My evening cleaning routine looks like this. It is very simple and short, takes no more than ten minutes, because by the end of the day I am exhausted.

Before Bed Cleaning Routine
1. Wipe the kitchen table
2. Shine sink
3. Run the dishwasher
4. 5-minutes of tidying before bed—I make the girls do this with me.
5. Swish and wipe girls’ bathroom while brushing their teeth


All in all, I spend about an hour total on my routines and housework a day. I have my routines posted on my refrigerator, but now many of the items have become ingrained habits that I do automatically: very cool.

Now to apply what I learned here to other areas of self-improvement... like memorizing and reviewing Quran, maybe? I hope I can work other aspects of spirituality and self-development into these routines and build those gradually too until they become habits.

The FlyLady Method

I think my post about two months ago on FlyLady was adequate introduction on how much I love this method. It is a home cleaning and management method (online and free at flylady.net) that really goes deep in attacking the paralyzing mindset of the perfectionist slob.

You might not know whether you are a perfectionist slob, but you’ll pretty much have the same behavior patterns I did:
  • Only clean if you have a good two to four hours ahead of you
  • Let the dishes pile up and don’t bother wiping the countertops because tomorrow you’re going to deep-clean the whole kitchen (right)
  • Do all of your laundry in one day. You planned to do all of the folding and putting away too, but you were distracted and so the big, daunting pile of dirty laundry in your laundry room becomes a big, daunting pile of clean laundry in your bedroom
  • Spend one day (a week or a month) cleaning, scrubbing, and mopping for hours at a time, and then collapse on the couch at the end of the day, freaking out when your child empties a bin of blocks in the middle of your living room
  • After mega-cleaning day, the house stays clean for about four or five days, and then the kitchen floor crumbs appear, the blob of snot in the bathroom sink, and the never-ending trail of toys and instead of doing the little habits that will keep the house clean, you feel so demoralized because you think you have to go through another grueling, exhausting six hours of cleaning sometime soon
  • Dream that one day, you will get your house so clean and organized, that cleaning will be much less of a chore
For a lot of people who had cleaning habits ingrained in them while growing up or just are naturally organized, a lot of this is going to seem like totally common sense. Since I was pregnant with my second child, I struggled desperately with managing the housework. I had tried FlyLady on and off a couple of times, but always skipped ahead and went straight to scrubbing the kitchen floor—who needs baby steps? I wanted my house clean and my problems fixed now! What I didn’t realize is that the approach is not about getting your house clean, but about building small habits into your everyday routine that will make cleaning light and effortless, and—oh yes,—even enjoyable.

Today, my house is definitely not spotless (this is about beating perfectionism, not reinforcing it, remember?). There are areas that will always need work, but I feel in control, I know what to do everyday in order to keep my home well-managed, and the whole family is more comfortable and happy in a pleasantly clean and organized home.

I won’t summarize FlyLady, since you can go on her expansive website and read for hours, but I will break down what I benefited the most from her:
  1. In the beginning, your house will not get clean overnight. Take small baby steps, stop when you are done, and pat yourself on the back each step of the way.
  2. Housework worth doing is worth doing haphazardly or incompletely. What you don’t get today, you will get tomorrow.
  3. Small, 2-minute habits are extremely powerful
  4. Housework is a form of loving your family
  5. A simple morning and evening routine can change your life
If you’re interested in doing the FlyLady method, I’d recommend reading the Welcome Letter (it’s about ten pages long) and then starting off very devoutly with the baby steps, one a day, no jumping ahead. If you mess up or miss a few days, don’t play catch up, just jump back into your morning and evening routines which you will build gradually over the course of four weeks.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Shattered Thoughts on Gaza

You have to hold your kids closer, smell their scent for a few seconds longer, let your fingers linger in their hair. Thinking of a place where life is cheap and frail souls are extinguished every minute. Thinking of what it must be like for everyone there, but especially the mothers.

To see your child suffer while you watch hands at your sides, powerless to relieve their pain or hunger, is something most of us have never experienced. I go about my comfortable life knowing out there in the expanse of human consciousness are people, mothers, children crying out in terrified agony on amidst the bombing, trembling earth, and stray bullets. These soul-shaking cries call out everyday, and in many places of the world, but I am more aware of it today. The silence of my living room echoes with their voices.

I try to patch the ripped consciousness of my lazy day, to look away, to forget. The humiliation of having nothing to give them is too much. Shame. Weakness. I cannot bear to watch the dehumanization of a people but I also must not look away.

I can think of only feeble gestures to help—donating to relief organizations that give aid indirectly for fear of being branded terrorists, standing at demonstrations that no one sees or hears, appealing to representatives who do not care, writing to a media that propagates a language that does not recognize innocent casualties, talking to people with a collective memory so short that they are like babies spoon-fed poisoned information. It feels better to do nothing than to do something, satan whispers in my heart. He soothes the disgrace with indifference and gives me a counterfeit license to feel good again.

Although we grapple with the indifference, the shame, the powerlessness, we cannot allow every last battle to be lost, even the ones in our hearts. Edmund Burke said, “Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little.” And we know that even if our efforts counted for nothing in the scope of world events, Allah is the witness and allows no deed to go uncounted.

If anything, I must continue to work and fight for Gaza to save my own soul, to forbid myself from being comfortable with apathy and to keep my heart tender before Allah. I’ll stand in the rain at those sparse, Houston demonstrations in front of an empty consulate. I will write a letter that I know will never be read. In every prayer, raise my hands for a few seconds before the last sujood in supplication to ease the pain and end the suffering of Gaza. Maybe if every Muslim takes those sad, small, useless steps, Allah will raise our ranks, cleanse our sins, and open for us the door to more.

After all, whoever said victory would come at our hands? Our job is to get to work in the best way we can muster. Relief will come only from the skies.