A letter to my daughter

Dear Fatima Zahra – 

Just a few days ago you turned 9 years old (according to the Islamic calendar). While you were excited planning your big birthday party, I would secretly wipe tears away. 

She’s going to be 9, I kept thinking to myself. According to Islamic law, you would now be considered old enough to carry out religious obligations, like praying, fasting, hijab, etc. 

At first I kept hoping time would slow down. I still remember those days when our biggest worry was you sleeping through the night. Or giving up the paci. Or potty training.

Now when I see you washing dishes before I even get to the kitchen, or helping your siblings get juice, my heart beams with pride. How lucky we are to have you! What a beautiful blessing from Allah! We are so very proud of you. 

Sure, we have our rough days, those days we don’t agree, and your Baba and I are still trying to get a hang of it. You are, after all, our first baby. We told each other that not only did you start a new chapter  in your life on your 9th birthday, but so did we. We are grateful to Allah to have you in our lives, and we rely on Him to guide us as we raise you and your siblings the best way possible. 

I pray everyday for your success and happiness. I love your enthusiasm and eagerness to learn new things. You make me want to be a better mom. 

One day when you’re older and surfing the internet, you might come across this letter. Who knows where I’ll be and where you’ll be. But I pray you’ll be happy, fighting Shaitan and holding tight to Allah. 

My sweet child, always remember there is no power greater than Allah. He is always near to you. Remember Him in good times and bad, and be grateful to Him. There is nothing you can’t do with Him by your side. 

May you always aim to follow the footsteps of your namesake, Fatima Zahra (sa). And may the Almighty bless you with all the best of this world, and the next.

With love, 

Mama 

Breastfeeding is best, but formula is not poison

Parenthood needs flexibility. There needs to be room for error. And room to grow. There is no way to know everything about parenting. Ever.

Yes, you might get a good grasp of certain things. Especially after you have more than 1 kid. Essentially the more you have, the more your view of parenting will be expanded. (And, really, can you ever have enough kids? *crickets*) Parents will tell you that no two kids are exactly the same. But you still can’t know everything about raising kids.

Recently I came across this article that has been making its way around social media. You have probably already read the tragic story of a woman whose little boy died five years ago from hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, or brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation, cardiac arrest, and hypernatremic dehydration. Landon was solely breastfed at birth, had a great latch, yet never seemed satisfied, according to mom, Jillian.

She had given birth in a “baby friendly” hospital – a hospital aimed at promoting a good bond between mothers and baby, and encouraging exclusive breastfeeding.

According to Jillian, at that time a first-time mom, whenever she raised an issue about why her son was always crying and why he was losing weight, she would just be told to keep on nursing.

Now experienced moms who have breastfed will tell you how it is that first time. Oh, the questions! Oh, the pain! Oh, the frustration of latching! Now, add into the mix – a c-section, or a previous medical issue, like a hormone disorder. And it might get harder.

Andy Bernstein, spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said most pediatricians agree it is acceptable for newborns to lose up to 10 percent of their birth weight during this transition. But, he added, physicians must also consider any factors that could put mothers and babies at risk, such as being a first-time mother; having a long, complicated delivery or a C-section; or suffering from certain health issues, including some hormone disorders.

I remember my first time becoming a mom. I had an emergency c-section. FZ was born blue and had trouble taking her first breath. I hardly just glanced at my firstborn and she was whisked away. I didn’t see my daughter until a good 6-7 hours after being cut open. I was miserable, in pain and tired. I wanted a normal delivery. You know, the one we dream about and write in our birth plan. And I was really set on nursing her right away. But FZ was given formula.

When I finally saw her, I didn’t know what to do. But I had really good nurses helping me. I also have a really great supportive husband and family, who encouraged me and guided me.

Sure there is a push from hospitals to formula feed – I got the free bottles, coupons and diaper bag, too. But there is a similar push from pro-breastfeeders to not even glance at formula. While no one can deny that breastfeeding is best – heck, even the formula companies themselves say it – formula is not a poison. It’s OK to supplement. It’s OK to reach out during those trying days. I remember my nurse telling me – “You’re doing really well, and just remember to make her latch on first, but if you need formula, it’s OK.”

Those are really magical words to a first-time mom getting used to nursing.

Maybe if we reached out more to moms about the benefits of breastfeeding and the options they do have, like topping off or supplementation, instead of just scaring them from formula, more moms wouldn’t quit nursing so easily. Nursing isn’t easy. It takes willpower, practice and stamina. It’s like exercising – that first day of working out is hard, but you keep doing it, and it gets easier. And like exercise, it is so rewarding.

I remember one mom telling a friend who was about to have a baby – “Once your baby takes one sip of formula, they will NEVER nurse.”

Good grief. Scary, much? I personally supplemented with formula, and then within 2 weeks of progressively decreasing formula intake, my firstborn was solely nursing. Disaster averted.

Let’s help moms instead of hurting them. They already have so much on their plate, do they really need this fear factor, too? And it’s not just with breastfeeding. We cut a lot of parenting into black and white spheres – pacifiers? cloth diapers? crying it out?

If we all agree that as parents, all we really want are happy, healthy children who have good moral values, then why can’t we help each other reach that goal together? Don’t forget happy, healthy kids are raised by happy, healthy parents. Let’s reach out to each other and stop being each other’s worst enemies.

My baby is turning 9

It’s come up way too fast. God willing in just a couple months, my eldest will be 9 years old.

Where did the time go? I still remember those funny conversations and fears of balloons popping. But when I open my eyes, I see a beautiful girl who loves to read, who always wants to help me in the kitchen and asks thoughtful questions.

With the coming of age, comes responsibilities. In Islam at the age of 9, a girl becomes baligh, or capable to undertake religious duties, like praying and fasting. We have been preparing FZ for this day for a while now. Slowly we started her praying once a day, and fasting for a half a day. While it was hard at the beginning, now she has approached these responsibilities with maturity and grace.

My husband and I are keen on communicating the importance of these obligations first and foremost. Instead of talking about all the “rules,” we talk about why and what these duties mean to us as Muslims. Sure there are times I just don’t have the answer, but I am grateful to God for helping us ease our way through this transition. I have found that if I keep it real, instead of dodging the question, my kids understand.

I am proud of being Muslim and while many things in life are difficult, I try to show my daughter that there is a certain beauty to working hard for God’s pleasure. Because our existence is owed to Him, these acts of worship bring us closer to Him, especially when we undertake these obligations purely for Him.

We are looking forward to celebrating this big day with our daughter, and we will definitely be doing it up big. When you take time to care about the things that matter, then your child will also give it priority above everything else.

Watching our children grow up is hard. With growth comes independence, and for parents, that means learning to let go. Learning to let our children make their own decisions and mistakes. It means standing on the sidelines and secretly cheering them on, and if they fall, it means lovingly giving them guidance to continue on. But through it all, we must stand firm and communicate with love and understanding. Sometimes tough love is necessary for helping mold our children into successful adults. But if we don’t keep the doors of communication open, we only stand to create barriers between ourselves.

Here’s to a new milestone, and praying for many more wonderful memories, under God’s protection and mercy.

My dear daughter, it has been a pleasure watching you blossom into a beautiful, mature young woman. May He protect you always, and guide you.

Slow down and smell your kids

Every milestone, every change in a child’s life forces a mother to sit back and see a whole life flash before her eyes. 

“But it seemed like just last week she was crawling…”

Yeah, they grow up so fast, don’t they? And you’re left just grabbing pieces of them as they fly past you.

FZ had a ceremony in school marking the kids’ completion of learning how to read and write Farsi. She was so proud of all she was able to read and now write. Often I’ll find her curled up with a book, either in English or Farsi.

Where does the time go? I always want to just curl up with her and read – I love reading. I used to read by nightlight and wouldn’t stop until I heard my parents’ yelling full of fears of me losing my eyesight. 

But I can’t just sit with her. Because I’ve got other kids who crave my attention. Other household duties that need tending to. I hate this feeling, really. Because I turn around and they’re another year older and I’m another year full of more regrets. 

As they get older, I’m constantly finding myself just wishing time would stop so I could soak it all in for a little bit longer.

I’ve started to slow down and be more attentive of my kids’ individual needs. Too often as a parent you’re surrounded by the common needs – food, baths, potty, that you forget to slow down and be in the moment. 
Slow down and smell your kids! Slow down and let them get dirty! Slow down and let them make a mess! Let them tell you their fears, share their excitement, repeat their jokes…

I’m praying to get better at this, and I hope God gives me more of these beautiful moments that make me want to try harder to be a better parent.

The power of prayer

Sometimes you forget as a parent that there are many things out of your control. You just kind of get used to being the one feeding, cleaning and comforting, that when other issues come up and you can’t solve them, it just breaks you.

I thought I would have the handle on parenting now. I mean I have three, so it should just come naturally, no?

My last two have a 2-year gap between them – exactly two years. And they have been a handful, to say the least. My eldest always wanted to please and had an easygoing nature. Meanwhile, my second daughter is sassy and stubborn, and my son is clingy and well, a boy.

At one point I was dealing with changing two in diapers, two having tantrums, two wanting to be fed, two who needed naps, etc. Sigh. I was exhausted and always losing my temper. (Well I still lose my temper, but I am working on it.)

And when the going got tough, when I felt like just hanging it up and calling it a day, I never thought about God. I consider myself a person of faith, but I am sad to say that at times I lost hope. Sometimes we really underestimate the power of prayer. My husband would see me during these trials of mommyhood and say, “Why don’t you pray?” And I would respond, “I’ve tried. It’s not working.” But that was because I wasn’t really praying. I was complaining.

So then I prayed. I prayed like my life depended on it. I prayed not for potty training success, but rather, patience during potty training. I prayed not for an easy weaning, but for calm in my heart during the difficult days/nights ahead.

It worked. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I know God has power over all things, but I just couldn’t stop thanking Him. In two weeks I potty trained my stubborn daughter and weaned my clingy son. Sure, there were accidents and rough nights, but the monster within had disappeared. It’s as if God knew my weaknesses and therefore made the process somewhat easier so that I wouldn’t lose my patience or be as frustrated.

Thank you God. Thanks for helping me up when I felt like a lousy mom. Thanks for giving me those little wonderful moments to remind me that mothering isn’t all about discipline, dirty diapers, and tantrums. Most of all, thanks for giving me hope that things will get easier if I just be patient and calm.

Now, excuse me while I break up a fight with a smile.

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.

Pre-k update: Being late in the car rider lane, faking illnesses, and missing my kid

Being a product of public school, I thought I would be a pro when it came to FZ starting school. But I was wrong. With the first week of pre-K down, I have learned new things on a whole new level.

First: Never be late when picking up your kid. I always rode the bus, and so did my siblings, so I never got a taste for a) waiting for my Mom or, b) waiting in my car. FZ is in the PM shift, so they let out the pre-K kids 15 minutes earlier than the K-5 kids. However, if you come late, you have to wait in line with the rest of the world. So, lucky for me I was only a minute late and they forgave me, since it was still the first week. But when I drove up, I saw FZ sitting by her lonesome on the floor. And I felt AWFUL. Lesson learned.

Second: Kids’ stomachs will hurt “every morning” but it’s just anxiety. After the first three days, FZ came down with a bout of “not feeling well.” I took it seriously, until I realized everything else was normal and it was just separation anxiety. (I thought we already passed that when she was 6 months old?!) I even made chicken soup so she would feel better. And surprisingly, she did feel better.

Third: No matter how much our kids make us wish we were sucked into another dimension, they are a part of us and we miss them when they are not with us. Watching my little girl take those first steps into a new place all by herself, made my heart ache. And I think I was more excited to see FZ at pick-up time than she was to see me.

It’s true what they say about parents always learning. It’s because our kids are always growing. Once you take that step into parenthood, there really is no going back. Even when your kids will have kids of their own, your lives are intwined. Forever. (For some reason I want to insert an evil cackle here.)

But it is a beautiful feeling isn’t it? Watching a product of your upbringing emerge from their safe cocoon and turn into a lively, independent butterfly, ready to take on the world.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.