It's an honor being Mama

Dear God, please give me patience. And, patience. And, wait – more patience.

Talking death

Since the Islamic new year just started with the month of Moharram, FZ always has questions regarding the story of Karbala and Imam Hussain.

I try to give her small doses of the events of that time without overdosing her with too many tangents. I talk to her in simple terms about simple issues that she can relate with. And when she asks about something too philosophical, I just say, “We will talk about that when you are older.” There is only so much young kids can chew on, and you don’t want them glazing over with information overload.

A big concern she has these days is death, and why people have to die, especially those we love.

“I am really sad for Nano, because she doesn’t have a Mama or a Baba anymore.”

And, this: “I don’t want you or Baba to die. I would be really sad.”

Sigh. I know, kid. It’s a tough one.

I’ve read to just approach death matter-of-factly without too many details. So when she gets sad, I just tell her she doesn’t have to worry about that right now.

But it does hit me straight in the heart.

And I think about Imam Hussain and the Battle of Karbala, and his 4-year-old daughter weeping over the death of her father, uncle and brothers.

And I think what is that beautiful love for God that would make Qasim ibne Hasan call death “sweeter than honey”?

Do you hear the cries of Hussain?
Do you hear him calling you?

When he brings his family to face hardships in the lonely desert,
Feeling their hunger and pain
He is calling you toward sacrifice

When he embraces the dust mixed with the blood of his kin,
Prostrating to God for the last time
He is calling you toward prayer

When he offers a second chance to his enemies,
Knowing they are ready to slaughter him mercilessly
He is calling you toward kindness

And when he stands alone -
Fighting for truth over falsehood,
Fighting for justice over oppression,
Fighting for humanity -
He is calling you toward Allah

Are you ready to say Labbaik ya Hussain (I am here Hussain)?
Are you ready to live with honor?
Are you ready to die with dignity?

If you are ready, then the Imam is waiting -
Labbaik ya Hussain, we are ready
Labbaik ya Mahdi, we are here

-S.B. Zaidi

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So, so hard

Some days seem so hard. You know those days when you pound the dough just a little bit harder and mutter more under your breath.

But it’s because you don’t want to lose your cool. Because as a mother there is nothing worse than letting out a barrage of anger-filled words only to regret it later.

Does that mean that a good mother never gets angry? I doubt it. I doubt that mother exists. Just like the mother who never lets her kid watch TV doesn’t exist.

Sure we get angry. We get frustrated. We lash out. And then we cry. Well, I do anyway.

I wonder when it will get easier. I wonder when M will get potty trained. I wonder when Moose will stop throwing things at my head. And I know those of you with older kids will all tell me – “Oh but it will get easier! Don’t worry!”

But you see, right now I just see the hard things. Not the easy things. And this, I know, must change.

I must see beyond the toy throwing and see my boy with two hands.

I must see beyond the relentless questions and see the girl who is able to communicate.

I must see beyond the potty accidents and see the toddler who can put on her own pants and shoes.

Then I no longer see problems, but instead I see the many beautiful faces of my children. Their soft smiles, the way they share, and the way they call on me.

Once I see past the hard stuff, I become grateful for the many blessings I do have, and this makes it easier.


Overcoming stage fright

It was hard picturing Fatima Zahra stand up on the stage at her school program. For one, I was worried she would forget the verses of the Surah (Qur’anic chapter) she was reading. But not because of me. FZ is a perfectionist. And if she stumbled over her words, she would be in a bad mood and dwell on it the rest of the day. And maybe even the next day.

But my heart was full of pride as I saw my first born chatting excitedly with her school friends when we arrived at the school. It was a Quran program at school and FZ had been chosen to recite a surah at the program. She would be reciting Surah Ghashiya, a 26-verse surah she had memorized. I couldn’t be prouder of her. She even practiced the lines before time, and the day of the program, when I asked her if she wanted to go over the lines again, just in case, she was adamant that she knew all the words. Alright, alright, I said.

I had been surprised that the fact she would be reciting a surah from memory in front of people didn’t bother her. That was, until, a day before the program. She came up to me and was nervous.

“Mama, I’m going to be scared reading in front of all those people.”

“I know it seems difficult, but just relax and try your hardest. Inshallah you’ll do great.”

When we got to the school, FZ was cool and calm. I was happy that maybe her jitters had disappeared. Soon the girls were called by the teacher to line up and get ready for the program.

Now I could see worry on FZ’s face. She wouldn’t even look at me. One by one girls came up to recite and they did really well. The parents clapped loudly after every recitation. Then the teacher called up FZ and I beamed as I saw her get up and go on the stage.

She grabbed the mic and quietly started reading. In fact she was so quiet, the teacher had to turn up the volume on the microphone. But she kept on reciting. I noticed her right foot tapping the stage, and I couldn’t help but smile. But she kept on reciting. I was recording her reading and as soon as she was done I went back to my seat. FZ climbed off the stage and ran to me, giving me a great big hug. I fought back tears as I held my now big girl and told her how proud I was. She read the whole thing and didn’t forget a word.

Parents are wired with this innate desire to see their kids succeed at everything. That’s why some parents are guilty of actually doing everything for their kids so they don’t have to fail. Ironically this behavior is just setting them up for failure. When kids struggle at certain tasks, they value the outcome more. They learn the value of perseverance. They get a huge boost in their self-confidence and self-esteem.

I would’ve been proud of my daughter no matter how she performed at the program. The fact that she got up on stage, faced total strangers and recited something from memory, is success for me. It means she has confidence and guts. It means I did something right, and that is humbling.

I am so grateful to God for these milestones that are slowly uncovering the young girl with so much potential. To my beautiful, charming, intelligent Fatima Zahra – I love you and am very proud of the strength you have. I pray God gives you success in your life, every step of the way. And when He does, I’ll be right here cheering you along from the sidelines.

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Failure is not an option

Imagine a hamster on his wheel. But with no option to stop. This is a life of a mom. Unless it’s nap time, of course. Then if your stars are aligned correctly, you get a few moments of rest.

I’m not complaining. But this is how it is.

I find it hilarious when some new parents talk about how they won’t let their kids “change their lives.”

“They have to know that I am the boss. They can’t change me.”

Yeah. Right. Come 3 a.m. when Junior wakes up screaming and you have NO IDEA what’s wrong, let me know how that works out for you. Kids are supposed to change you. Now wait, before you start the hate mail, let me explain. Kids aren’t supposed to change who you are, but they do change how you are.

I won’t lie, I have a short temper. When FZ was born, I let simple situations get the best of me. Blame it on the “new parent” syndrome. The one where you read everything, believe everything and yet nothing works. But we waded through the waters and ended up (so far) with a well-adjusted, bright and sweet girl. But fortunately for me FZ, by her nature, was a relatively calm and easy child. She listened and was a good follower. If I told her she was in trouble, she would quietly obey.

When my M came along, the world shifted. I’m not kidding. Here was a girl who made me rethink my whole parenting philosophy. She was sweet and good, but aggressive. We had a short hitting/biting phase when she was 1.5. She had horrible tantrums – screaming, fighting, kicking, with no end in sight. All in all, she threw us a curveball. At times I felt like just giving in and giving up. But I knew with my kids, failure is not an option. The moment they would see that I am not on my game, they would make a break and run for it. Because of M’s sensitive nature, I couldn’t be sarcastic. I couldn’t be mean. I had to be “nice” all the time. Even when disciplining. If she even notices a tinge of sarcasm in my voice, she crosses her arms and tells me not to be mean. “I’m really, really angy. Don’t yell at me,” she says. Hmph. OK, OK, I am sorry. I think this is God’s way of telling me to change my temper and ease up. Duly noted, God.

In my opinion, kids are like those tall towers made of blocks. They go up, and often come back down, and go back up, etc. But the best towers are built with the best blocks. You are going to go up and down with your kids. You are going to sound like a broken record. You are going to sound like a broken record. You are going to…. ahh, you get it. But that’s not the problem. The problem is letting go completely. The problem is thinking that you don’t have to care about sleeping, discipline, feeding, etc. Sure I have learned to let go of a lot of things – but I still have control. You have got to be the best for your kids. My kids know that Mama is the boss and in return, I offer my services completely to them. They are not devoid of my attention, love and care. Even when I lived close to my mother, I never abused her availability to care for them. They knew Mama and Baba were their official caretakers and Nano was an awesome distraction from my evil ways. FZ often begged to go to Nano’s house; heck if she could she would live there. Heck if I could I would leave her there. But I had to teach her that we are first, and that was the order.

Kids are a gift from God, and we can’t play with them or treat them as decoration pieces. They require, and rightfully deserve, our full attention and the best of us. Does that mean we pretend? No. We are human after all. But that does mean that we need to make ourselves the best we can so our kids have good role models. It’s not easy task – but then again having kids isn’t easy. And once you’ve jumped in this ocean of parenthood, would you consider drowning an option?

Here, grab a floatie and hold on. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.

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A letter to my son

My dear son,

I see you crying for me, as if you can’t live without me. My brain tells me you can so I hurriedly rush to the bathroom. But my heart tells me you can’t, so I hurriedly rush back to sweep you up in my arms and cuddle you.

I see you watching me take care of housework, waiting for the moment when my eye catches yours and you’ll give me that smile that melts my heart.

I see you getting excited when I walk towards you to pick you up. You grin and move your arms up and down quickly as I get nearer. Seeing you reach out for me is a wonderful feeling. I know you need me, but this means you want me.

As I watch you sleep, I think about the day when you will want another woman. When there will be another woman you cannot live without. Another woman who will fall in love with your kind heart, beautiful eyes and sweet dimples. I can’t lie – I know it’ll hurt a little, but I will reason with my heart to let you go. My heart will understand.

Some days it’s hard for me to struggle with this tug of war going on with my emotions in my head. I want you to need me, but I also want you to be independent and strong. Some days I pray you will just quietly play while I take care of my work, but some days I secretly pray that you cry for me, so I know I’m still needed.

One day you might read this and laugh. Oh Mama. Why did you worry about all this? I was bound to grow up, didn’t you know?

Oh, I knew. But you see, my son, being a mother is a different kind of thing. You’re strong and smart and resilient. But you’re also gentle and delicate and sensitive. We have to be perfect in both sets of qualities to raise good kids. My strength enables you to gain confidence, and my gentleness allows you to understand kindness and compassion.

With our brains we raise you to eat good things, and say good things and behave like good kids. And with our hearts we teach you faith, show you how to love one another and how to care for others.

But don’t you worry about me, my son. I knew from the moment I felt you in my womb that I wanted to raise you to be a soldier. That when you stared in the face of good and evil, you would choose good, without even so much as a blink.

God blessed me with you after giving me two beautiful girls. And I often hear that you will grow to be a “Mama’s boy” or be spoiled, having come after your sisters. But I tell myself that I won’t let this happen. I want to raise all of you the same way. But I know I can raise my daughters to be good mothers. I have to raise you to be a good father and to choose a good mother.

And so I tell you now, my son, that when you will choose another woman, remember to look for strength in matters of the brain, and gentleness in matters of the heart. Remember to choose a woman who will aim to raise good children. Remember to choose a woman who will be ok when she is forced to let go.

And remember to love her more for these things, because you will never understand how a mother feels and how she has to battle between her heart and brain for the sake of her kids.

But you just might get a glimpse of that when you see her one day fingering a small baby blanket or unfolding an old baby outfit, and pressing it against her face. The faint smell of fabric softener still lingers along with the smell of being a new mom.

Then maybe, just maybe, you’ll give her one of those beautiful, warm smiles that light up my heart and soul. And because of our special bond, I’ll feel it too.


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What kind of parent are you?

Lately lots of women I know have had their first kids, and it’s been interesting to see how they manage with them, especially in this age of information overload.
You see the cloth diapering moms, the no TV moms, the organic food moms, the pumping/nursing/working moms, etc….
In no way do I claim to know everything about parenting. Hell, I have three and I admit I’m still learning. Plus my three wonderful kids never fail to surprise me!
But yes, I’ve been through weaning. I’ve potty trained. I’ve had a kid who bites and hits. I’ve had a c-section, and a VBAC.
And I haven’t seen it all. I thank God my kids are healthy and normal. Kids are hard, and I feel for those parents who have been dealt a tough hand of kids with special needs.
I think back to my days of when I had FZ, almost 6 years ago. I was working full time, but I loved my job as an editor at a newspaper. I knew what I wanted for my daughter. She would be breastfed, a good sleeper, a good eater, etc. I got all the books, and signed up for all the newsletters.
But, oh boy, was I in for a surprise. And I think, most new parents usually are. When I had my second and third kids, I found I relatively eased up. I still expect them to be well-behaved and I am a stickler for how they eat and sleep, but raising them is not a scientific formula. It’s more like a puzzle for which you have no exact picture to refer to. You try to do the best you can using common sense. You turn the piece this way and that way. Sometimes it ends up fitting with another. Sometimes it’s not right at all, so you toss it and try another one.
These days I am struggling with my son. He’s exhibiting all kinds of different issues that I never had to worry about with my girls. So I ask other moms if they’ve had similar issues. More often than not, new moms tell me “well you’d know better you have three.” Yes, but they are definitely not carbon copies of each other.
And I’m trying out new styles of parenting. My eldest is testing my patience, but when it comes down to punishment, we’re talking feelings instead of just screaming. It’s hard, but I think it’s working. In fact I plan on incorporating some new concepts I learned about to help authoritarian moms, like myself, get their point across without creating a disconnect.
Each day is a blessing. I take it as a new beginning to help me become a better parent. I worry a lot about how my actions will end up transferring to my kids. Sure we’re human, and we are allowed bad days and good days. The problem comes when we don’t take the time to realize that our little ones deserve the best of us.
And if we want good kids then we need to make sure we are at the top of our game. I speak to myself first because I know I need to change many things in my approach. Parenting shouldn’t be taken lightly, it’s a big responsibility, and we should support each other in raising a generation of caring, well-mannered, awesome kids.

Good little half-lies never hurt anyone

As a parent you get used to leaving out details when discussing important things with your kids. I call them half-lies.

Like gumballs, for instance. I never told FZ that they actually were made of gum. I just told her they were balls. One day my half-lie was about to unravel when FZ held the ball tightly in her hand and some color came off. She licked her hand and wondered where the sweet taste came from. I was just as confused as she was.

Or when FZ refused to brush her teeth. So I told her fine, but if she saw bugs in the morning, not to come crying to me. I just conveniently left out the part that these bugs are actually microscopic. And who likes bugs in their teeth?

And I don’t know any parent who hasn’t told half-lies about food. If you eat your chicken you’re going to be so strong because it has protein! Spinach has iron and iron is so good for your brain. You want to be smart, don’t you?

Even when it comes to safety, I never really disclose all the horrible, scary things that happen in this world. I have to keep it simple and show I’m confident, even though I might really be worried. Don’t ever wander off in public places without telling me or your father because you can get lost and that would make us sad. I don’t have to explain all the horrific things that go through my brain when I think about my kids and if they ever went missing.

Since having kids I swore that I would never lie to my kids. It breaks their confidence and shatters their trust in us if we lie to them. So far I’ve been pretty good. If I didn’t want FZ to have something, like soda, I never lied and said it was ‘medicine’ or that it tasted bad. I simply said that she couldn’t have it. She’s going on 5 years now and she’s smart, well-adjusted and doesn’t even bat an eye if she sees soda or anyone having soda.

It’s all because I respected her intelligence enough to tell her the truth.

I know one day FZ and her siblings will grow up and realize gumballs are sweet and fun, but at least they won’t come to me blowing bubbles accusing me of lying to them.

And so I raise this glass of fresh juice to parents everywhere and all the wonderful maneuvering we have to do to ensure our kids grow up healthy and safe!

Carrot juice anyone? You know carrots are sooo good for your eyes….

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Potty training hell

It’s hell on earth. For the past 2 months I’ve been on a timer set for every 15, 25 and 30 minutes. For the past 2 months I’ve been mumbling the potty training mantra nonstop — Potty is for pee pee; no pee pee in the panty. See dry panty? Niiiice. Repeat. Ugh. It’s been horrible. Stinky. Messy.

But it’s been humbling. I’ve turned from psycho, raging Mama to patient, calm Mama. Some days it takes every fiber in my being to just control myself from screaming — “Pee pee in the potty!! Pee pee in the potty!! — but nothing a short break can’t help. I’ve enlisted the help of simple techniques, such as counting, breathing deeply and sitting down.

It’s still frustrating, but what can a mother do when their child just isn’t getting the whole potty drill? You can’t beat it into them. Your screaming doesn’t help. Might as well do it with a smile. At least your throat won’t hurt and you won’t feel guilty afterwards. And mind you, I only started potty training M because she showed interest, was dry after naps, and could control her bladder. After taking the plunge I figure it’s just useless to go back to diapers and I thought I’ll just wait this out.

Dear God, for the sake of my sanity, I pray it’s not much longer.


It’s been way too long…

Dear world, I’m being held hostage.

They won’t let me eat. Or sleep. Or even use the bathroom in peace. They won’t take my money. They don’t even ask for anything, except chips and candy.

Every time I try to use the phone it’s as if they synchronize their clocks to all start screaming/fighting/whining at once.

My captors aren’t very strong. Heck, they’re not even that smart. They are easily distracted by a small piece of chocolate. But I still dance at their every whim.

The older one asks too many questions. What kind of torture is this? Do I look like I know everything? Then she tells me how to take care of the little ones. Really? I thought I was the one who gave birth to you. Patiently, I oblige.

The middle one can’t tell when something is running down her legs. It’s been weeks. I’m forced to clean up the dirty  mess. And, with a smile, no less.

The little one seems to be in on the plan, even though he is much too young. I know they’re all in this together.

I’m told I must not scream at them, or they will scream back. I’m told I should not spank them, or they will learn spanking as a form of response. I’m told I shouldn’t always say “no.”

So here I am at their disposal.

When I manage to get a few moments of relative freedom, it is quickly shattered by a loud noise or a cough, which wakes up one, who wakes up the other, etc.

Of course, some days there is no freedom. It’s just 24 hour go time.

Since there seems no way of escape, I try to use the TV or other technological devices to “escape.” But even those I’m not allowed. It’s always their shows I have to watch. Or it’s their turn on the iPad or iPhone. Don’t tell them, but I secretly check my email in the bathroom. Or in the dark when they’re sleeping. Ha!

Others tell me to be patient and that I’m doing a worthwhile job. Some days I don’t feel it. My patience is always tested. I understand my freedom will come and then there are those moments of glory, for which I am grateful.

To those of you who will see this letter, I ask you all to pray for me. Pray that God gives me more patience. Pray for my sanity.

And to those of you who are going through the same ordeal, don’t laugh. I know you’re laughing at me. In fact, I bet you’re in on this, too.


I’m back, and with a new story to tell…

So it’s been a while. A long while, actually. Sorry for being out of the loop, but I do have a good story to share about my absence from the blogosphere.

Around November of last year we moved across the Atlantic Ocean over to Qom. Yup, that’s Qom, Iran. My husband has joined the religious seminary (or Howza, as it is called) and we have now made a home in the IRI.

It has been an interesting adjustment, to say the least. Learning a new language, a new culture, and getting used to being far from family – which is never easy.

Currently I am back in the states visiting family, but these past few months have given me a new perspective on life. Iranian culture, although a little different from my own, is quite welcoming. Our neighbors are amazing and very hospitable, and even the locals I meet always have a smile. Naturally you run into those who are more busy trying to find a way onto the road than take a look and see if they’ve run over someone’s toes, or those who don’t bother to take a second look after they’ve shoved you in a busy market, but hey, you have to look at the bright side.

The biggest benefit of living in Qom is the incorporation of religion in everyday life. FZ loves her new school. She loves learning the Qur’an, and her school is very organized. When you go to the water fill-up stations (because regular water is salty, not sweet, so you have to get water that is suitable for drinking and cooking separately), the screen of the station says “As salamo alaika Ya Aba Abdillah Hussain.” (For my non-Muslim friends, this is a reference to Prophet Mohammad’s grandson who was killed in a battle while thirsty after being denied water by the enemy forces.)

And it’s not as “evil” as we see on TV. In fact it is easier for women to live and function than it is in Saudi Arabia. Couples walk the streets holding hands, women drive freely, wear what they want (although bodies and heads must be covered) and they work everywhere. Yet Iran is a “threat” and Saudi Arabia is a “friend.”

This is not a permanent move, but I think given the state of the culture in the U.S. I am happy my daughters can spend some time growing without caring if they have the latest toy. I feel safe sending them to school and they enjoy life playing with the neighbor kids. They eat fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables and are not bombarded by sugary cereals or candies.

All in all it has been a good adjustment for our family and although I miss my family dearly, I know this is better for my children. In the end, that’s all that matters to me.

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