random thoughts of a tired mind…

I’m tired.

Well, not now, as in now as I speak, or I should say, as I write. I’m just a tired sort of person sometimes. I have a new sort of beast to contend with thanks to MS and that is fatigue. Apparently it’s one of the main symptoms of the disease. I’d guess that if you pulled a random person off the street and said: “Multiple Sclerosis”, the first thing that would pop into their mind is “wheelchair.” But while not most people with MS are (or ever will be) in wheelchairs, most people with MS get TIRED.

MS fatigue is a funny sort of thing. And the odd thing is that I sit writing this late and night and you’d think: “Isn’t she tired?” but no, MS fatigue is unpredictable and comes when you don’t want it to. So yeah, I’d love to be drop dead tired enough and fatigued enough at bedtime to be able to hit the pillow and snooze, but NOOOOO, the MS brain buggers have decided that my fatigue only comes at the peak times of the day like mid-day, or early evening when it’s too freaking early to turn in for the night. So at night, I end up taking half or a third of a sleeping pill in order to sleep because I have insomnia!

I thought of fatigue today because I read a study that looked at how mothers with chronic illness deal with fatigue. Apparently the MS moms tended to deal pretty well with it the study found. I found out from the report that other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (that also predominantly strikes women) cause similar fatigue.

So my mind wanders to a wonderful lady with grown up children who has lived with rheumatoid arthritis most of her adult life. She raised three kids as a stay-at-home mother and battled a horrible horrible disease that leaves her in unbelievable pain. I only know this from looking at how the disease has ravaged her hands and feet–I don’t know this from her because guess what? She never, ever complains about her health. I have sat with her on several occasions and she is the most uncomplaining, patient person I have seen. The only hint that I got of how much she deals with on a daily basis was when I asked how her recovery was from a surgery, and she said, “Thank Allah. I would never wish this disease on my worst enemy.”

I imagine sometimes what bountiful rewards such beautiful people have waiting for them in the next life. There is a wisdom in Allah’s decree. Things go wrong–way wrong, and we are left in the dark, with a seeming blight upon our life. Yet the character of a person can take that test and emerge shining with the noor (light) of patience, forbearance, and humility. I feel ashamed when I look at that sister and think of the times I complained or wept over silly, foolishly small afflictions. So yeah, being tired is not so bad of a thing after all, methinks.

wondering about children and racism

It was Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and I was pulling out of the driveway with NPR on. They were playing King’s famous speech, and it occurred to me that this would be a good teaching moment for Abdullah. He didn’t hear too much of the speech, but what he did hear was that memorable, rolling, booming voice that we have all heard before. After less than a minute after pulling out,┬á I switched off the speech, we said our du’aas for travel, and I asked him, “Would you like me to explain what he was giving a speech about?”

I hesitated a minute before I began, because this was the first time my son’s attention had really been drawn to people’s skin color, and I wondered if it was a can of worms that should be opened at this time (he is only 3 after all). I opted to give a general discussion about skin colors, and not go into the details about how whites were discriminating against blacks per se. I simply said that at the time that King was speaking, there were a lot of “bad people” who thought that some people were not good simply because they had different colored skin. I said that what makes a person good or bad is what they do, not what they looked like.

We recently learned Surah at-Teen where Allah says in the Qur’an: Laqad khalaqnal insaana fee ahsani taqweem: “We have certainly created man in the best form.” Everyone is Allah’s creation, I told him, whether their skin is light or dark, whether their hair is yellow, brown, black, or red. And everyone is beautiful because Allah, the Creator (al-Khaaliq), and the Fashioner (al-Musawwir) is the one who made all.

I don’t know at what age it would be good to move beyond this general discussion into the historical discussion of racism of light skinned people against dark skinned. I almost feel hesitant to broach the issue, because it taps into such a deep human evil that I am loath to expose my son to before he needs to be. And yet I know that my decision to hold off for now, and only give a limited view of this issue is affected by my own background. I have never felt the evils of being judged by the color of my skin, my family never lived under Jim Crow laws, my ancestors never felt the yoke of slavery, so one could say that I am coming from a position of privilege, which certainly influences how I portray this subject to my son.

Even so, our own Indo-Pak culture has its own subtle racism that our children will inevitably have to confront, when they hear talk of people being identified as “fair” and “dark” (usually with some judgment behind it, as if fair=beautiful). It’s an inherently racist choice of words itself, because “fair” means “beautiful” and that is the term used commonly to refer to light colored skin (don’t even get me started on the “Fair and Lovely” cream that is an obsession in India and Pakistan).

My aunt told me a story about some children in the preschool she works at. A boy was trying to point out a black friend of his to his mom, and he was saying, “Look, he’s the one in the green shirt–he’s holding a lunchbox.” He used no color-related words to describe him. After Black History Month, when a similar situation came up, he described by skin color instead. Children are inherently color-blind to a certain degree, and yet the reality of the world is that it is not, and the reality of our creation is that we are all different. At what point do we pay attention to these differences, which are, in the scheme of things, insignificant, even if visibly dramatic?

The coming years will give us further opportunity, God willing, to delve into these issues, so I still have time to wonder and reflect on how to approach it.

The funny bit is that after giving Abdullah that whole spiel on how Allah created all people beautiful and that deeds determines who is better, his mind was still focused on those dramatic words of Martin Luther King. After all that, he said, “But Mama, so what was his dream about, then?”

Gotta love kids. ­čśë

One.

One year has come and gone as in an instant.

It seemed like a few months ago, when, after a day of what seemed like false-alarm random labor pain that I would go to the hospital’s birthing center “just in case” and have Z in the shower half an hour after arriving.

It seems like just yesterday that I realized with a start that she was born on a Saturday, just like her brother, and three days after her 37th week, just like her brother.

It seems like mere seconds ago that I caught her, saw my husband’s teary, exited face saying, “we have a daughter, we have a daughter…” and then walked myself over to lay down with her, never letting her go for a second, Siraj by my side, as we just looked at her, the nurse still laughing that we two had “delivered” this baby before the midwife could even arrive.

Those after-birth moments are pure magic–even the nurse was so exited and congratulatory that my wishes were fulfilled, set long before the birth, that I catch her, keep her close, and attached to the cord as long as we wished.

Z.M.S.

She is named after her father’s paternal grandmother, a woman I wish I could have met, whom I know my husband loved so dearly, and she him, that I could say nothing but “yes, of course” when he proposed we name our first daughter after her.

She–the fact that she was a girl–made the horribly long, nauseating, and sometimes bedrest-bound┬ádays of her pregnancy┬áso much more worth it.

Her birthday and my life with MS share the same timeframe, because I first started having symptoms shortly after her birth. I feel sorry for her that her early months were clouded by my own health issues, but it led to her having such a strong relationship with her father. Every time I climbed into an MRI tube or went to physical therapy, there she would be, playing with her baba. Even though she wouldn’t take a bottle and so he could not feed her, they bonded so closely and so well. A blessing in disguise from the lemons of life, indeed!

She was my comfort baby, along with her brother of course. When I would feel┬ádiscouraged at my own health and well-being, when I would wonder what on earth was happening to me, I would just look at her, look at her brother and think–ah, but I have this!

IMG_7134She gives me strength, even as I will count my years with this disease by her years, it is a reminder of why I fight it every day. My mental battle is won when I look at her, look at her brother, and think, “I will be well for you two.”

I love the fact that as her early months passed, she became crazy over her brother. I love that spark of connection that exists between them two alone, and pray that it lasts like that forever.

I love that she has the best father a child could ask for, and the best brother a sister could ask for.

I love, I love, I love, and I thank Allah for the love we have, for it is what makes us human–“Whoever does not show mercy, shall not be shown mercy” (hadith).

I pray that we are blessed with a long life together, as a family, and that Allah brings us all closer to Him, and reunites us in Jannah, Aameen.

back to blogging…for now

I’ve been MIA from this place for so long. I now am no longer only “Abdullah’s mama” any more, I am the proud and grateful mama to Zaynab as well. The kids are now close to 3 and 1 year old, and our lives are still on the move as Siraj finds his niche as a new J.D., and I attempt to stay focused on my studies online with the AlHuda Institute.

My latest mama-project is providing brain-food for Abdullah by way of focusing on Qur’an memorization (and understanding!), learning Allah’s names, reading and loving learning. He’d love to go to school, but we have yet to settle down somewhere and we’re still trying to figure out how that will fit in with his Qur’an memorization.

Since Zaynab’s birth I have been battling an array of bizarre neurological symptoms which, after about 7 months of baffling everyone was finally diagnosed as Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS for short). This new beast is sort of like my third child (the black sheep of the family as it were)–always there, reminding me of its presence at the most inopportune times. Minus the love and cuddles of course (insert wan smile here). Fortunately I am doing rather well with it right now and have suffered only negligible residual damage from the attacks over the last few months. Al-Hamdulillah. I mention it because it’s become a massive part of my life, shaping my identity itself. How ironic too that my MS places me further down on the “road less traveled”, away from those fortunate enough to consider themselves “normal.” And yet… it seems that every where we turn, chronic disease afflicts so many that illness has become the new healthy, abnormal the new normal.

I don’t make any point of hiding my MS or pretending it doesn’t exist, and so I know it will come up here and there in these pages (makes a nice thing to vent about, ya know). So rather than blanching with terror if my disease comes up in petty conversation, I rather enjoy making a bit of dark humor out of it. Like if I forget something I’ll joke that perhaps a few neurons just died off or something… When I was first diagnosed I was like, okay now, I gotta go to a support group and learn the secret handshake! As sucky of a disease that MS is, it fortunately doesn’t suck too bad for me (yet!) so I am thankful for that. And I get enjoyment, actually, by keeping up with all the latest MS news and research (I’m a geek through and through, in sickness and in health!).

So–that’s basically in a nutshell, what occupies my time these days–Abdullah, Zaynab, AlHuda classes, MS… in that order I suppose ­čÖé Once we settle down I hope to get back to teaching part time from home, which I had been doing until Siraj graduated.

We’ll see how much time these kids give me for my writing, but for now I thought I’d come back to this little nook of mine and spruce it up!

Turn your losses into gains

From the book “Don’t Be Sad” by Aaidh al-Qarni:

Do not despair if your feet stumble and you fall into a big hole. You will come out of it stronger than before. And Allah, the Almighty, is with those who are patient.

Do not grieve if you receive a fatal arrow from one of those who are closest to your heart, for you will find someone to pull out the arrow, treat the wound, bring you back to life and smile.

Do not stand for too long looking at the ruins, especially if they are inhabited by bats, and ghosts have found their way to them. Rather, look for the sound of a birdsong hearalding the coming of a new dawn.

Do not look at papers whose colour has changed and whose writing has faded, whose lines wander between pain and loneliness. You will find that these lines are not the best things that you have written and these papers are not the last thing you will ever write. You should differentiate between one who will read these lines and one who will throw them to the wind, for they are not merely beautiful words; they are the feelings of a heart that has lived these lines, letter by letter, the pulse of one who took them as a dream and felt the pain of their fire. Do not be like the heron, which sings its most beautiful song when it is bleeding. Nothing in this world deserves even one drop of your blood.

“He who sows the wind, reaps the storm.”

once upon a story

There is something simply wonderful and magical about storytelling. If you want to see something truly beautiful, one of life’s simple pleasures, tell a child a story and see the wonder in her eyes. See the shine of her mind’s eye painting scene upon scene, hearing the voices and sensing the twists and turns of the story. And if you want to see something even more wonderful, ask the child to tell you a story. Then sit back and listen. Listen closely, sit close to the child, look deep into his eyes. Think to when was the last time you connected this closely to one so young. Then let the wonders of imagination and language work as the child spins his tale.

I was blessed to sit with two beautiful children the other day–my husband’s cousins, 4 and 8 years old–as we all three wove stories together. I first told a story, one I read in a story book by Rukhsana Khan. It was about a boy and Fajr prayer and as stories go, the Islamic moral or lesson was fairly obvious. I was afraid the eight-year-old would roll his eyes at such a didactic story, but he actually went along with it and when it was his turn, told his own story about generosity and sharing that was rather morally centered as well. The four year old girl told a typical fairy tale of dragons and the fight between good and evil, and I was amused to hear words such as “sneakily” and “visible” worked into her tale.

My mother used to read and tell us stories before going to bed, and it is one of the most memorable aspects of our family life. Her trademark stories about a family of rascally monkey children that coincidentally paralleled her five children have become a family legend, a source of inside jokes, and something to reminisce about long after the stories have ceased to be told. The tradition of story telling brings us together somehow, knitting our minds and hearts together as we turn language into a toy, teasing it out into enjoyable adventures and tales. It really touches me when my husband’s small cousin comes up to me and says, “Tell me a story!” and I wonder if my own son will do the same one day.

Storytelling has a way of getting to the heart in a way that mere telling doesn’t. The Qur’an is replete with stories of the people of old, “that ye may reflect” or “that ye may remember” as Allah tells us. The Prophet Muhammad would gather his companions and tell them of the prophets of the past, of righteous or ignoble people of the past and their fate. His companions would sit spellbound, absorb the lessons from those stories into their hearts, and use them to build their character.

I hope that I can build storytelling into my own family traditions. I would love to revive this oral culture and tradition and use it as a tool for living and learning……..“Tell me a story, mama…”

post Eid random thoughts

As have finished the days of Eid I’m thinking about all of the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings on the virtues of the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah and how good deeds are multiplied in those days. I’m sad, as those days passed all too quickly with not enough of an effort on my part to do better. It’s a usual feeling, not unlike the post-Ramadan letdown.

But what bothered me was how preoccupied we get in these days in Eid preparations that I’m not so sure are necessary, like shopping for food and gifts. Don’t we realize how precious these blessed days are, rather than spending them traipsing around shopping malls? I’m talking to myself 100% here as I realized on the evening of the Day of Arafah that the whole day was basically shot being out and about. Meanwhile our brethren at Hajj were spending that whole day in intense ‘ibaadah. Ideally we are supposed to try and achieve some semblance of the “spiritual high” that the hujaaj feel in Makkah, but it’s impossible to do that if you are enmeshed in dunyawi stuff like shopping.

Mental note to self: do shopping before hand and make the day of Arafah a special, family oriented day of worship.