The Rahma Diaries

Thank Allah for small mercies...

Author: UmmRahma

Why Are You Crying, Mama?

I glance in the rear-view mirror and see your face.  “Why are you crying, Mama?”  You look to me for an answer to what you perceive is a perfectly sensible question; one that requires an answer straight away.  An answer that fits with your world-view.  I sigh and choke back a sob, trying not to look at you while you peer at me, searchingly.

I’m crying because I’m so mind-achingly exhausted.  You haven’t slept before nine or ten o’clock at night for such a long time that I feel like I’ve never been without you.  I do all the right things: take you up early, do an established routine, do everything I’m supposed to.  Nothing.  I can’t put you to sleep.  That’s why I’m crying.  I’m crying because I hear about friends and their children, the same age as you, sleeping through the night, from seven until seven the next morning, in their own rooms, while their mothers enjoy child-free time in the living room, their bedroom, everywhere.  I’m not crying because I’m jealous; I’m crying because, when I hear about them, I feel lacking and inadequate, like I’ve done something wrong to make you this way.  You came to me as a tabula rasa, someone to teach and I can’t teach you how to sleep; how to stay in your own bed; how to stay asleep all night. I can’t.

I’m crying because I’m wracked with guilt all the time.  I feel guilty for wanting time apart from you; for not wanting to play with you; for wondering why you can’t sometimes just leave me alone.  There are women, aching for children, and here I am complaining that you want me to read to you, again and again.  It’s selfish and ungrateful.  I’ve been given a gift that, if I’m honest, I sometimes want to return.  Just writing this, just thinking this sends waves of guilt washing over me and I double over.  But it’s true.  I’m just not fit enough to be your mother.  Emotionally or physically.

I’m crying because I’m in pain all the time.  My legs, my back, my hip all ache.  No matter what I do.  No matter who I talk to or turn to for help.  No one can help me.  It feels like it’ll always be like this.  Throwing painkillers at it barely masks the problem, it doesn’t treat the root cause.  But no one wants to treat the root cause.  There isn’t the time or the money or the resources.  I shouldn’t be complaining.  People are waiting patiently for cancer treatment, and I’m complaining about a bit of pain.  Perspective.  But I can’t sit on the floor and play with you.  Or run after you in the park.  Or do other active things with you.  You sense this.  You know this.  And that’s why you want books all the time.  Relentlessly want books.

Why am I crying?  I’m crying because the house is always a mess.  I am never on top of anything.  Endless piles of bags, boxes and stuff just accumulate everywhere.  I never put things away, never have enough space to put it in, no matter how much I get rid of.  There is always something somewhere.  I know it makes sense to sell larger items, I just don’t have the patience to do it and want to throw everything away.  Even then I know the house will never look like other houses, and I just don’t know why.  I visit other mothers with immaculate rooms and wonder how they do it.  Three, four, five children and their living rooms are spotless.  I’m not crying because I’m jealous, but because I will never be as good as them.  I will never measure up.  I don’t work, so why is our house always such a dirty, cluttered mess?  We went on holiday in December and a number of months later, my hand luggage is still not unpacked.  If I’m honest, I still haven’t unpacked fully from our trip to Pakistan in November.  A bag still sits there; accusing and awkward, reminding me of my inadequacies.

I’m crying because I should be using the time you nap to work on my Masters dissertation, but I don’t.  I can’t concentrate and, using lack of sleep as my excuse, a blanket with which to shroud the body of my sins, I look at websites.  I’ll never finish this Masters I started in 2011 and the feeling of failure sends fresh tears to stain my already tear-stained face.  I swipe up and down on the screen, barely acknowledging what I’m looking at until everything becomes a blur.  Maybe you need some new clothes?  Perhaps I should buy you some?

I’m crying because I’m so bad with money.  I have no idea where it goes.  I try to save, but I always fail.  So I’m forever transferring money from my savings to cover the wretchedness of my over-spending.  Sometimes it’s nice to buy something.  But that’s just shallow and materialistic and then I feel guilty.  For not teaching you responsibility, for extravagance, for self-indulgence.  There are people scraping together every penny they have and I’m contemplating which organic, handmade vest to buy you next.  I’m crying because I should just donate that money to a more worthy cause.  I did that last week; this week I want to buy something.  But that’s selfish isn’t it?

I’m crying because there will never be enough of me.  I’ll never be able to do enough for you because you always want more.  Today you wanted to walk to the car in your socks, though it had rained.  I didn’t have the energy to argue so I let you.  Your socks got wet and I didn’t have anymore.  I hadn’t planned ahead and brought you some when we left the house.  I see people with two, three, four, five children, holding it together, houses immaculate, routines in place, able to love their children and then I see me: falling apart at every hurdle and wondering if there was another one of you would I be able to divide myself emotionally and physically to care for both of you?

I’m crying because I have nothing else to give.  I am spent up and used up.  I’m crying because I can’t wait for your Dad to come home and take over so I don’t have to hold it together anymore.  I’m crying because we went out today, and the sheer effort of holding myself together and pretending in front of others has exploded inside me and spilled out over the top of me.  I’m crying because I should have held it together until you napped, but I didn’t.  Instead I cried in front of you and your tiny face saw my tears; reflected back in your eyes, I saw myself: pathetic, broken, whimpering – an example of everything I don’t want you to be.

I don’t want you to be anything like me; the thought of it wracks my body with waves of emotion. I want you to be strong and resilient and calm.  I want you to be able to face the world without hesitation, not stumbling through life and always thinking: I’ll be better later.  Not like me.  I’m crying because I ache for you to be different.  To be everything I’m not.  But I don’t know how to teach you something I can’t live myself.

As I write this, I’m crying because I know you’ve had an hour’s nap and I should wake you up, but I don’t, because I’m selfish and I haven’t drunk my tea yet.  I’m crying because I realise, I didn’t have the foresight to use the comforting blanket of anonymity: everyone knows this is me, your mother.  Putting this out there means I’m vulnerable, exposed and open. I’m torn: I want to be honest, yet I don’t want to give people ammunition to use.  And believe me, darling, they will use it – you’ll see soon enough.  I’m crying because I’m not strong, not strong enough to defend myself against people who would use my vulnerabilities to hurt me, not strong enough to ever be enough for you and your Dad.   I’m crying because there is always something to do and I can’t face doing it. I’m crying because I want to be so much more.  But I’m not.

But it isn’t fair to tell you all this.  You wouldn’t understand.  Why should you have to deal with it?  You’re only two-years-old, nearly three.  You’ve had to be so emotionally mature and wise beyond your years because you’ve ended up being born to me.  But you shouldn’t have to deal with this; it is not your fault you ended up with this mother: damaged, emotionally unstable, ungrateful. 

So instead, when you ask me, “Why are you crying, Mama?”  I say, “Because I don’t feel well, darling.  I just don’t feel…well.”

A Rucksack and Spider-man Sandals

“She’s lost weight.” 

Inwardly, I sighed.  Outwardly I nodded, affirming her untruth, not wanting to be difficult.  In reality, the Small One hadn’t lost any weight, she was just looking a little slender, possibly because she was taller, but I agreed anyway.  I agreed because it was easier than disagreeing; I agreed because disagreeing would have meant I’d have had to enter into a conversation about it, a conversation I didn’t really want to have.  It was easier to agree and shut down the possibility of any debate.  Looking back, perhaps it was not the best example for the Small One: if she sees me backing down, placidly, will she always do the same? 

Before I even address that, perhaps a little context.  Asian women are nosy. Inquisitive, intrusive, rude, meddling and just downright nosy.  Perhaps it’s a sub-continent thing, perhaps it’s something we breed into our families, perhaps it’s something that’s never been challenged and therefore just continues.  Born to Pakistani parents, raised in England, everything quintessentially British had somehow escaped this Auntie: that too-polite-apologeticness and refusal to meddle and ask awkward questions, that avoidance of being intrusive, politely making small talk instead.  Despite spending the majority of her life here, Auntie – let’s call her Auntie No.4 – made it her business to be in your business.  The swathes of material she wore and that face veil, both symbols of religiosity, did not deter her from her meddlesome holy quest of gleaning over shiny nugget of information, until you were bled dry and had nothing else left to give.  I remember a number of years ago, being grilled as to why I wasn’t pregnant and when I was going to have some babies, as though my empty womb had deliberately expelled my last pregnancy to spite her and her kin, like I was withholding that which they all desired to be disagreeable and difficult.  Conversations like that shut me down, I can’t defend myself against the onslaught so I just curl up and wait for the storm to pass.  Sometimes it does, other times it doesn’t; it just rages on around me while I will myself elsewhere.  

That is why yesterday, I took the path of least resistance: it was just easier.  What I should have said was, “She’s probably just got taller and therefore looks slender.  In reality, she weighs exactly the same.  Having said all that, I don’t understand why her weight has any bearing on her as a person.  It seems you are only mentioning it because she is a girl.  I’ve never heard you or any others comment on the weight gain or loss of a male child, it’s just not the done thing.  But a girl’s weight is bandied about a discussed like it is the only thing of importance.  No wonder eating disorders are on the rise.  In fact, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention my daughter’s weight or size in front of her again.  I don’t want your comments to have a psychological effect on her.”  Had I not shied away from a fight, that’s what I should have said.  But that’s the story of my life when it comes to Auntie No. 4, I just back down because it’s easier.  

It’s easier to shut down the debate than to invite it, especially since it would have meant I’d have had to continue conversing with her.  She maybe would have pulled out the “Elder” Card that they rely on so heavily: we’re your elders and you shouldn’t speak back to us like that. And therein lies the problem; elders doesn not always mean ‘betters’, but that’s how it’s used in this context.  It’s a stick to beat you with and a justification for bullying you.  You can’t answer your elders back because it’s disrespectful; it matters not how rude they are to you, how they bully you, how they question your every move; to retaliate is to disrespect, to disrespect is to show you’ve not been raised right and we all know what that means.  Her mother didn’t teach her how to speak to elders.  A colossal slap in the face.  It’s the “Your Mum” of insults from Asian elders and it’s usually the one that stops us from ever retaliating.  

It’s a culture of bullying we proudly uphold though; respecting your elders by not telling them to mind their own business is one thing, but allowing them to bully you is another.  Take this example from the same day.  Auntie No. 1 saw me with my new fabulous bag viagra original achat.  It’s a small 13 litre rucksack that I bought recently as regular ladies handbags are designed to cause all sorts of back problems and this way my hands are free to chase after and hold the Small One.  It’s lovely and comfortable and I love it.  It helpfully has a flower motif on it to show it’s for ladies.  Auntie No. 1 thought it important to point out that I wasn’t going camping when she saw me with it.  I was well aware I wasn’t going camping, what kind of idiot goes camping with only a 13 litre pack? I tried to justify why I had it: my hands are free this way, it’s comfortable, I can look after the Small One better if I don’t have to worry about holding my bag.  Also, I had my kindle in there so I could sit and read and not talk to anyone.  

This carried on through the evening every time someone spied my bag in this gathering.  Asian women can’t help themselves, they have to comment on everything.  And if someone is just that little bit different, they stand out, like me with my 13 litre hiking handbag.  Or perhaps it is just these women? Why have you got a backpack on? Are you going hiking? You’re wearing a rucksack! Yes, I really am! It was like I’d walked in wearing nipple tassels and a sparkly thong, twirling my tassels provocatively in their faces.  Until I bought one, I never knew a small rucksack could cause so much controversy at a family gathering.  

If it wasn’t the rucksack it would have been something else.  Had I removed my headscarf to reveal my sparkly headpiece, I’d have had to listen to taunts about how I looked like a hippy, how that was different, and how my hair looked…nice? I know this because I had worn this particular headpiece at a family wedding and had to endure the comments then; having forgotten, or just repressed the memory, I stupidly wore it again.  So when I remembered, I decided not to remove my headscarf, despite it being a segregated gathering.  And that’s what this elder meddling does to you: you plan your whole outfit to make it as non-controversial as possible, as drab as possible, remember not to stand out so you don’t get commented at or remembered.  At last that’s what I did when I hung up the shalwar kameez I had ironed to wear and instead opted for plainer, darker clothes in a bid to remain inconspicuous.  

The Small One however, has not been bullied by them for long enough to know any better.  She wanted to wear her sparkly shalwar kameez, gold and cream with the shiny sequins and embroidery.  And on her feet she wanted her Spider-man sandals.  Because she’s two-years-old and that’s what she wanted to wear.  Fair enough, yes?  No.  She was asked repeatedly why she was wearing those shoes with that lovely dress.  Didn’t she want some pretty shoes like [insert female name here] who was wearing sparkly pink shoes that matched her dress? Didn’t she want to look pretty? My toddler didn’t respond, but I could see her face and the small cogs whirring in her brain.  Get lost, I AM pretty. And why does being pretty matter so much anyway? Why haven’t you asked about the prettiness of any of the male children present? Is it because you are promulgating the sexist stereotype that girls are defined by their attractiveness and therefore their self-worth is based on their looks? I’m more than just my looks; I’m more than just pretty.  

I really hope that’s what the look on her downcast face said and not, Why did I wear these shoes? I had better not wear them again.  Please leave me alone. A veteran to Asian auntie taunts, I am now re-thinking my daughter’s wardrobe, especially since she always looks different and stands out.  I don’t  want her to become an object of ridicule like her mum; I just want her to be left alone so she can be herself.  I know that’s ironic, but I don’t want her to end up like me: a doormat for her elders’ bullying, so they can wipe their feet, fluff up their feathers and strut about, crushing her personality into a passive nothingness.  

You Will Need To Fight 

You’ll never be accepted, dear daughter. Your name, the name we were so proud of; the name we bestowed on you because we wanted you to be gentle, merciful and a beautiful soul, your name will always betray you. It’ll rise up against you every time you utter it. We named you Rahma because you were a mercy to us; we named you Rahma because we wanted you to be a Rahma to everyone around you in name and character, but your name, though you can never have another, is not suited to this world. People will mispronounce it, but you won’t mind, but when they say it, sneering, nose turned up at the foreignness of it, you will mind. It’ll hurt you. It will cut you deeply because you’ll be abnormal and abhorrent. That peaceful name we gave you? You may come to loathe it. It makes you too different.
Even if you change that beautiful name, you’ll never be accepted, always irregular. Your skin is just too different. It’s light, but it’s not light enough. That tan on your face and body, it didn’t come from a bottle or from a week in Benidorm and it won’t fade in the winter leaving you pasty and white. You’ll always be that golden colour; it I’ll never wash off. You’ll sit in rooms filled with people and always stand out, never able to blend in. Always be alien. You’ll walk into places and turn heads, because you look different, and always will. To me, you’re beautiful, you’ll always be beautiful, but I won’t always be around to tell you this.  

I won’t be around when you realise that your mild and gentle nature won’t help you in a hostile world: a world desperate to rid itself of you. I look at you sleeping and realise that right now, everyone thinks you’re cute. That little smile and mild manner melts hearts every where it goes. But you’ll grow up. And those who once cooed over your mannerisms and adorable phrases will hate and vilify you. They’ll stamp on that gentle nature and leave you broken and bereft, wondering what you did wrong. You’ll take their jobs with your brown face so they’ll hate you and want you gone. Back to where you came from.  

At the moment, you dislike boisterousness and lack confidence in groups. You retreat to the corner of a playroom quietly when someone shoves you. Your meekness will be an enemy to you, my love. Your retreat will only make you weaker. Now I realise, I need to raise you to be stronger, to be fearless, to be ferocious, if you are to survive. You’ll have to fight for the right to access the same jobs, the same education, the same life as your lighter skinned counterparts. Your alien name will have to compete against more acceptable names, less foreign, less alien, less unconventional than yours. I’ll have to raise you to fight and keep on fighting, because that’s ultimately going to be your life. You’ll never be accepted, not really. People may pretend, but deep down, they’d rather John got the job, after all, his name, his skin, his clothing is all more acceptable than yours. It always will be. 

We could move. We could leave and try to raise you somewhere else, where we think you might be accepted prix viagra andorre. But what then? Leaving one displaced life for another? Running from our own? No. As I write this, tears running down my cheeks, I realise something: we brought you into a world that will never accept you, so we have to equip you to survive it. Because survive you must, my love, there is no other choice. You’ll fall, but you’ll learn to get back up, I promise. You’ll be trodden on, but you’ll dust yourself off. You’ll be vilified, but you’ll smile in the face of hatred. You’ll be proud, you’ll be strong and you’ll be fierce. You didn’t choose this, I know. But you will need to fight. I’m sorry, but you will need to fight.  

I Wasn’t A Very Good Mother

Today I wasn’t a good mother. I know I wasn’t. Just like last night when you got up for the fourth time and wanted to breastfeed. Again. From both sides. Again. Even after you were in our bed. Again. It felt like you were using your teeth and the feeling of your sandpaper teeth on my exhausted body was just too much. So I told you. I told you I couldn’t do it anymore, didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t want to be your mum. But I fed you again anyway. Because I felt bad. I felt bad for shouting at you and for wanting you to just go to sleep without me. But I fed you again anyway. Because I didn’t know what else to do. But I shouted at you first. I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to do this anymore. Leave me alone. I’m sorry.

I wasn’t a good mother in the morning either. You wanted to play, but I wanted to cook. I needed you to play by yourself for a while so I could get things done. Coming into the kitchen again and again with you toys, like a two-legged puppy, you annoyed me and I wasn’t a good mum. I told you to take your things and go back to the living room, I needed to get things done. Instead, you gathered up your toys and came closer, stifling me, surrounding me with your possssions until I couldn’t take it anymore and I moved you myself.  The walls were closing in.  I needed the space so I took all your toys and dumped them unlovingly on the floor of the living room. There, I said. Play there. Gazing up at me with those big, brown eyes, you pulled one of your hair bobbles off. An act of defiance. I love Daddy. I know you do, because he plays with you and doesn’t have to cook, but I’m busy. If I don’t cook now, we can’t go out. We will have no home-cooked dinner and will have to have takeaway and that’s unhealthy. Can’t you see? I’m doing it for you? So you don’t grow up fat and unhealthy like the rest of us. I’m trying to be a good mother, but I can’t be if you’re stopping me all the time.

I wasn’t a good mother. When the cooking was done, you wanted to do something messy. Play dough, paint, play with water, use crayons. I didn’t have the energy to police the activity so I tried to distract you with food, the lure of outside, the pull of an exciting shopping trip. Anything so I didn’t have to parent properly. I didn’t have the energy for painting, but I had the energy to pack you into the car with snacks and drive to some shops. I know, painting and staying inside would have been better for you, more stimulating, creative, educational. But I just couldn’t. So I drove to the shops to avoid having to spend quality time with you. I wasn’t a good mother.

When we got back, I wasn’t a good mother: you were ready for more play and a story, but by then I was tired and it was time to heat up dinner. Your daddy will do it. He’ll read to you, Mama’s tired. You learnt that phrase very early on and sometimes use it, unprompted,when I flop on the sofa after spending the morning in the kitchen. Mama’s tired. Give Mama massage. I love Mama. I know you do. And that’s why I feel guilty, because you love me and I can’t love you back as much as you need me to, because I’m tired. Because I’m busy, because of everything that needs the done. Because of me. It’s not your fault. I’m not a good mother.

I spend the evening trying to make you go to sleep, but you won’t. In my head I’m forever concocting stories of toddlers who sleep completely unaided, with such little input from their parents. They don’t need as much from their parents as you need from us. People tell me how good their kids are at night and I feel jealous when I compare. But I know it’s my fault, I encouraged you because I couldn’t leave you to cry in a room by yourself and now I’m paying for it. Now, because you know I won’t leave you alone when you’re crying, you won’t sleep without me. And everyone I speak to smirks when I reveal you sleep in our bed the first time you wake up in the night; the shock on their faces when they hear I still breastfeed you at night. I’m night weaning her, really I am. I apologise and simper, muttering about how I’d like to stop breastfeeding, how if I could force you I would. I let people make me feel bad about not letting you cry in a room so you could learn to sleep by yourself. I did this to you, you’re totally dependent on me because I’m not a very good mother.

I’m not a good mother because I don’t defend you when I should; I don’t stand up for what a intelligent, amazing young lady you are, even at two-years-old. I don’t tell people how articulate, brave and wise you’re becoming, because I need to explain and apologise that you’re not in a ‘good routine’ at night. It doesn’t matter what you do during the day, no one cares about that. All they care about is you sleeping through the night, because sleeping through the night is the benchmark of what a good mother is. I’m not a very good mother because you don’t sleep through the night. It’s my fault because I never taught you that; I tried but you’re just not learning it fast enough. If you did, I’d be a better mother. At least that’s how they make me feel.  Does she have a good routine? Does she have her own room?  Does she sleep through the night?   I’d be a good mother if you slept through the night and didn’t get up to breastfeed viagra 100 mg posologie.   I’d be an even better mother if I cleared out the other room and moved you into there, especially at your age.

Like I said, I wasn’t a very good mother today, because even at night, when you were drifting off, selfishly, all I could think about was getting to the comfort of my sofa so I could knit, watch some television or maybe read a book. But even thinking about that, I was resentful because I knew I wouldn’t have enough energy for anything. I’d probably watch some television, you’d probably wake up and demand that I come up and sleep with you and that would be the end of the evening. Lost in my disgustingly unmotherly thoughts, I didn’t even kiss you goodnight before I tiptoed out of the room. Even when you slept I was unnurturing and unloving: I wasn’t a good mother.

I can’t tell you how much I love you, because I’m not a good mother. I just can’t articulate it. I’ve never been an affectionate person- I’d like to be, but I can’t. It’s difficult and awkward for me. So I avoid it, hoping you will realise it in your own time. Hopefully you will. And then you’ll grow up to be a better mother than me: more loving, more nurturing, more attentive. Don’t be like me: be better than me.  I always pray you’re nothing like me when you’re older.  Be the opposite to me. Please.

I hope to be a better mother tomorrow; more patient, more loving, more nurturing, more present. I hope tomorrow I don’t get annoyed or shout like I did today. I pray that tomorrow, I’m a good mother, a better mother; but today, I wasn’t a very good mother.

Festival Envy 

Let’s just be honest: Christmas is brilliant.  I don’t celebrate it but I can see how enticing it is.  It seems even more amazing now that I have my own child and I can see it through baby eyes all over again.  The bright lights, the tree, the presents,  the songs, the shiny, shiny things.  Shops crack out tinsel, bunting and all manners of glitter; there are so many Christmas traditions that people often mash a few of them together to cover all bases: leave a stocking filled with cookies and mince pies out for Santa; put a wreath on the door and the tree; stick lights on the tree inside the house and all the trees outside too, just for good measure; wear a Christmas jumper and cover it in gingerbread. Everyone is rocking around the Christmas tree with a number of people dressed as Santa just in case someone forgets what he looks like.  From September onwards (at least in the UK) everywhere you look, Christmas hits you in the face from every angle.   I think I’m over-stimulated already and it’s only April.

Even people are nicer Christmas: everyone gets that festive cheer – unless they’re shopping of course, and then everyone’s miserable – as they wind down at work, ready for the Yuletide festivities.  I found when I was teaching, the half term from October to December was more bearable as colleagues were just nicer, especially those who were rotten to begin with.  Even teaching in a comprehensive secondary school with a Muslim majority, bizarrely, there was that festive feeling.

Add to that all the Christmas chocolate in the shops, the special food and the insane offers on anything and everything and you’ve got yourself a winning combination.  I mean, you can even buy Christmas nappies for your kids so they can poo in a festively-wrapped bum.  Amazing.  And I don’t need to tell you about the rise of the Pinterest Mother Brigade; that there is a phenomenon worthy of academic study – and an entire blog post all on its own.

And it is this I feel I need to compete with when it comes to Eid.  Yes, we have two Eids and Islam is amazing, but is Eid just as good as Christmas? Controversially, I don’t think it is.  Now I’m expecting the fatwas commanding people to kill me to come flooding in at some point, but I hope it’s not quite so soon, and not about this blog post.  It’d be better to write a novel and have it published first, so hold on before you go running to random Islamic clerics; I’ll get to the point, honest.

What we do at Eid is essentially this: wake up, eat something sweet, put on lovely new clothes, perhaps open presents, pray in the masjid, come home, eat, visit relatives, more eating, more relative-visiting, more eating.  Minus the masjid and praying, it’s probably not much different to Christmas Day I’m told.  But no, it’s different.

The major difference is the build up; the anticipation, the suspense, the ticking clock, the traditions; all these things make Christmas the more desirable holiday.  Millions of children across the globe go to sleep on Christmas Eve, excited that a fat man in a red suit is going to break into their houses, violate their willing Mummy and leave them presents.  Weeks and months of preparation goes into this: the Christmas lists, the decorations, the pre-Christmas dinner, the actual Christmas dinner.  I’m exhausted just writing about it.

At this point, I expect some Muslims (who just don’t get it) to stop reading, shake their fist at the screen, maybe even mutter “Astaghfirullah ” (I ask Allah for forgiveness) under their breaths and remind themselves to pray for my soul.  But deep down, they know that what they’re reading is true: we can’t compete with Christmas.  Christmas is a multi-million pound business, run by glamorously-coiffed strangers in expensive business suits in conglomerates and mergers across the world, and Eid is, well it’s a corner shop, run by Mr. Patel and his family.

And that’s how it will appear to children in comparison with Christmas – however you raise them – they will still see the major difference between their festival and Christmas.  Their friends at school will start talking about it as soon as October; teachers will set Christmas-themed projects, cards will be made, music will be played.  I don’t need to tell people how unnaturally memorable Christmas songs are: Muslims reading this will nod, but never admit that they do like to “jingle all the way” to the shops during the festive season.  You’re singing it right now, don’t pretend.   Bizarrely, decorations will spring up in Muslim-majority countries like the UAE and Qatar, cementing the fact that they wish they celebrated Christmas too.  And who wouldn’t?  All the bright lights and glitter (and not just the decorative kind) are so entrancing; a smooth, inviting bare thigh on a curvaceous, sensual woman; the promise of pleasure, pure pleasure, no matter what the cost.

There’s the crux of it: the cost.  Commercialism, materialism, consumerism.  There is nothing wrong with spending money on festivals or celebrations – if you can afford to. But many can’t.  But we’re told we’re must.  “Shiny thing” must be acquired if Christmas is to be saved.  That’s the message advertising sells us, and that’s what draws me in.  Every single year.  “Shiny Thing” could be anything from a bit of tinsel to a huge Christmas-themed party on the front lawn, complete with elves serving eggnog (I still have no clue what that stuff is – egg yes, but “nog?”) and fireworks at the stroke of midnight – I’m not joking, fireworks at Christmas. Every year, even Christmas competes with Christmas.

It’s not the spending I object to, not the parties, not the presents; I don’t say “Bah humbug” to the Gatsby glamour and spirit of it all, but I take umbridge at being told what to do by the black box in the corner: buy our stuff, consume, acquire our stuff or you won’t be happy.  We love you, you love your family, we love your family.  Show them how much.  Buy.  Spend. Acquire.  Consume.  Be satiated. 

I won’t lie.  I feel pressured to turn Eid into a “halal” Christmas: put up decorations, buy presents, make things magical.  Why?  Because I’m conscious of the Small Person looking up at me, looking at Islam, looking at Christmas and then looking at Eid.  But what if Mr. Patel and his corner shop was where I stopped with Eid?  Because let’s face it, we can’t compete with a multi-million pound global conglomerate.  Mr. Patel is safe, him and his corner shop.  You know what you’re getting with Mr. Patel don’t you?  He always has milk and bread, the staples; he always gives you what you need and you leave with a smile don’t you?  You’re not pressured into buying anything extra from Mr. Patel are you?  He never slides a few extra items across the counter and tells you to get them if you love your family, does he?  Sometimes he might have special offers on and you’re invited to take a look, but you never have to.  You never leave empty-handed from Mr. Patel.  Because he’s reliable and has everything you need.  He might put up a few decorations and make things nice, but it’s never too much.

I’ll probably always have festival envy when it comes to the all-encompassing phenomenon that is Christmas – it’s far from just a religious holiday, everyone stopped pretending that a long time ago – but the thought of giving up on old Mr. Patel and his corner shop makes me feel a little guilty.  What if we left him for the bright lights of the local mall, up-sized a little bit, all the while knowing we can’t compete with Christmas?  But what if when we got there, the plastic, the lights, the cacophony of sound is all too much?  What if it drowns out what we always did with Mr. Patel?  What if we forget about Mr. Patel entirely?  Would it really be Eid without Mr. Patel and our roots in his shop?   I don’t think it would.

But I feel I should do something; I can’t keep looking to Christmas and wishing I was there, because the black box in the corner knows how to push my materialistic buttons.  Don’t pretend, it pushes your buttons too; it knows what you want, it tells you how to get it and you want it allemagne viagra.  You really want it.  You know you do.    There has to be something we can do. Maybe we can find a way to bypass all the materialism and make things magical, without money? Maybe we can side-step the lure of commercialism and create something of our own? Maybe we don’t need to compete with Christmas; maybe we just need to give Mr. Patel and his family a helping hand in their trusty little corner shop.

Busy Being Mediocre

When waiting for inspiration to strike, the best thing to do is just write.  Even if it’s mediocre.  Just write.  Write now.  That’s been your mantra for a while now, but it’s getting old and worn.  Like tired old boots.  You just dragged out another cliché, while your pen bled from the pain of doing what it hates so much: being mediocre.

Having a child and becoming a mother, leaving behind a job for a different life does strange things to a person.  At first, you see the world through an idealistic lens: everything will be beautiful now that this small person is here to share the world with me.  And it is.  You see everything through their eyes; everything anew.

Then you see yourself fading, an old photograph left in the sun too long so you try to cling to things: a new hobby, buy some new things, throw yourself at a new project weekly, only to find the following week you’ve lost momentum, interest, time or all three.  It’s during this stage you try everything: addicted to something online, addicted to acquiring, addicted to following something or someone.  You’ll find hundreds of other women obsessing over the same things as you do, joining social media groups to fuel their obsession, reading voraciously about some spurious thing like latest releases for a new brand of clothing, a woven wrap to carry their baby, the latest everything for everyone.

Then comes the next stage: realisation.  The realisation that you left your job, thinking it would give you the time, the inspiration, the talent to write.  But you never did.  You are still mediocre and your pen despises you for it.  It cannot bear to look at you so you force it across the page.  Changing your life didn’t change your writing.  You didn’t get that freelance dream that you were hoping for.  You changed your life hoping it would change you; idealistically hoping it would make you better at doing what you loved.  You changed your life hoping you’d have the time to do things that would give you pleasure. And you do those things.  Sometimes.  Just most of the time, like those hundreds of other women, you’re busy, obsessing over online fads and new releases, salivating at the disgusting fountain of consumerism, waiting your turn to lick the tender young flesh of a fresh kill.

Look at you: even when you’ve realised, you do nothing.  You’re still busy being unexceptional, churning out your middling metaphors, throwing out your talentless writing aimlessly into the world, hoping one day it’ll be better than mediocre.  Maybe it will.  But right now, you’re busy being mediocre.

We Do Not Negotiate With Toddlers

We do not negotiate with toddlers. Except we do.

The Bearded One and I have always favoured the gentle parenting approach where smacking is frowned upon and locking them in a cupboard is definitely not an option. We’ve always found it easier to listen then explain things to her rather than ignore or distract her from her needs.  Now that the Small One has tentatively stepped through the door of toddlerhood, we are experiencing something we have never experienced before: our once pliable, amiable and easily-subdued child is now wanting to make decisions. It all sounds completely fine and a natural part of her growing up, and it is. Except it isn’t. It isn’t fine. It’s far from fine.

When you’re raising a two-foot tall bipolar dictator it really isn’t fine that she wants to make decisions. Sometimes those decisions are just completely mental. The other day we were driving to pick the Bearded One up from work and we passed some road works.
“What’s that Mama?”
“That’s a digger.”

All very well and good. But no. It wasn’t enough to see the digger from the car, as we were driving, the digger needed to be seen from all angles, again and again. While cries of “See digger, see digger, see digger,” rang out from the back seat, I had to circle the same roundabout three times to ensure the digger was seen enough times so the toddler was satiated. When she had drunk her fill of yellow metal and soil, we headed to our destination. It all sounds like I’m being a bit melodramatic, doesn’t it? Why is it such a big deal that she had to see the digger? Just let her see the digger and don’t make a song and dance about it. Yes.

But this could happen anywhere; toddlers don’t care that you’re on the toilet or in the shower, if something is wanted, it is wanted immediately.
“What doing Mama?”
“I’m on the toilet darling.”
“Read Quran Mama.”
“We don’t read Quran on the toilet, or in the bathroom. I’m in the bathroom.”
“It’s a big poo Mama…see Mama. See big poo Mama.” It was a statement rather than a question. She never questions. “Read Quran Mama.”
“Later, I’ll read Quran later.”
“Read Quran. Read Quran Mama. Read Quran.” It’s all looking dangerously close to tears and the cry-dance that all toddlers do is about to ensue. “Read now.”
“Ok, go and get me a Quran and I’ll read it.” I know she can’t reach the Quran and she will be gone long enough for me to finish with whatever little dignity I have left and get out of there.

She can’t reach the Quran, but she can get my Arabic language textbooks from the bottom shelf, and looking at the script, she decides it’s close enough to the Quran so carries it to the bathroom to force me to read it. Not content to let me finishing washing, the book is thrust between me and the lota (a jug-shaped pot we wash ourselves with after engaging in toilet antics) and I have to read Quran.  Except this toddler can recognise the difference between spoken Arabic and Quranic Arabic.  Cue crying.  So now I’m trousers round my ankles, legs akimbo, holding a lota full of water and an Arabic language textbook, trying to placate my tiny, bipolar dictator, all the while wondering if this is really what I signed up for.  You know what they say though: families that poo together, stay together. This is obviously a good sign.

There have been many random negotiations ever since my boddler (a phrase I stole from Sarah Ockwell-Smith) became a toddler; and, after visiting various playgroups and play centres, I can say with confidence, mine is definitely not the worst child I have seen (mashaAllah). I sometimes just go to playgroups to remind myself how bad other people’s children are in comparison to my own, and that makes me feel a whole lot better. Other peoples’ kids seem like such a nightmare that mine seems like walking through a garden of roses, albeit prickly, thorny ones.  I do often remind myself during toddler negotiation, “At least she’s not like demon-child you saw yesterday/last week/last month,” and I feel much better.  Other peoples’ misery is great like that.

I guess because the Small One spoke in sentences before she walked, negotiations can sometimes be more entertaining, though she does still employ the general toddler weapon of choice: repetition.  If I ask for something over and over again, parent will give in. Like a serial killer, attacking again and again with the same weapon, a trademark chainsaw, axe, rope or good old-fashioned knives, toddlers will batter you with their truncheon of repetition until you can take no more.  “Have that Mama. Have that Mama. Have that Mama. Have that mama have that mama havethatmamahavethatmama.”  For the love of nappies and wipes, have it, have it all.

I must say, my favourite negotiation to date has been to agree to flash myself for her in public places.  Yes, I’m a Muslim and yes, I cover. So there is an art to this next one, a talent if you will.  I’m still breastfeeding her, but not in public anymore; the on-demand element of of our breastfeeding journey has come to an end and feeds are for sleep and nap times only. So she makes do with sometimes touching or looking at the containers.  Usually, she’s content to do most of this bizarrely-loving behaviour at home, behind closed doors, but sometimes, the over-whelming urge to look and touch is just too great to resist and thus begins more toddler negotiation.

“Dudu Mama.” (In colloquial Punjaabi/Urdu terms, this translates as “milky”. In this sense it can be used to refer to milk itself or the container in which it comes).

“You know we don’t have Dudu when we’re out.”

“See Dudu Mama.”

“No, not in public, we’re outside, you can’t see Dudu here.”

“See Dudu Mama. I see Dudu. Rahma see Dudu. Bite Dudu. See Dudu.” To The Small One, it’s a proper noun.

She’s starting to draw attention to us in the cafe and I was hoping to come back to this place at some point.

“Ok, wait a second then.”

“Touch Dudu.” Just in case I didn’t hear her the first five hundred times.

If I just adjust my clothes and pull up my scarf, she can get her head under my scarf and have a little peek.  Yes, this top isn’t breastfeeding-friendly; I thought I’d wear a nice dress instead of my frumpy maternity clothes, what was I thinking? Ok, I think I’m ready.  She ducks under, has a rummage, but she can’t see or touch anything. Ok, change of plan.  Crouch down on the floor, put her down, lean forward and show her the goods. There.  She saw them. And no one else did.

I feel a tremendous sense of achievement, euphoria, if you will, like I’ve conquered Everest and left a flag up there, making history.  Smug and satisfied, I realise I’m winning at this toddler negotiation business.  I stand and adjust my clothes. And stop. I see no negotiation happening here.  She’s clearly just getting what she wants in crazily-creative ways.  That’s not negotiation, that’s just brute force viagra sur le net.  She’s been playing me this whole time.

Looking back at all the times I thought I was “negotiating” I was actually just giving her what she wanted – within reason of course.  I’d have probably drawn a line somewhere, especially if she asked for something unreasonable or dangerous; if she’d asked to jump out of a moving car or drink some bleach, I’d like to think I’d stop her.  But here’s what I’ve learnt: toddlers are cleverer than we give them credit for: not only did she get what she wanted, she made me believe we were negotiating. Genius.  I’ve also learnt something much more valuable: choosing when to say “No” is really important.  Was it such a big deal to let her see the digger one more time? Is it going to ruin my day if we read the same book over and over, until I want to murder the very hungry caterpillar with his gross over-eating that would clearly turn anyone else morbidly obese, not into a butterfly like the book would have you believe? Was it so bad that I secretly, but publically flashed myself for her edification? That last one required skills, skills I didn’t know I had; she’s really helped me develop as a person since she was born.

What I’m saying is, I’m still the parent.  I’m still in control, aren’t I?  She understands that, doesn’t she? I don’t need to be a dictator about it, do I? Especially since we already have one in the house.  But we both know who is in charge; like I said earlier we do not negotiate with toddlers.

Miss Read

I’ve started post after post and left them unfinished recently. I’ve not published anything since December and this lack of output has only been exacerbated by recent events. It turns out a completely innocuous letter to my cousin who died of cancer can be scoured for perceived ‘dirt’ and used to spread malicious gossip. Here’s what happened: someone in my husband’s family read my last post, a letter to my cousin who recently died of cancer in Kashmir, took a partial sentence that alluded to my past and turned it into something it really wasn’t. Now upon reading about a death like this, most people would offer condolences, or contact me, or even not say anything at all. Instead, rather than come to me with her questions, this person took her “concerns” to my in laws. And the concerns had nothing to do with the premature demise of my cousin.

Initially I was angry and upset. It’s really easy to contact me; I have a strong online presence, and yes I’m not a great Twitter user, and I have no idea how Instagram works, but there are multiple platforms I can be contacted on if people want to contact me. I was ridiculously upset that this had happened, that I could write something so emotional about the death of my cousin and it could be turned into something that could be used against me. I was up in arms; I wanted to act. Armed with sayings of the Prophet Muhammed and righteous indignation, I wanted to do something about it. I rolled up my sleeves and was ready to get stuck in. But I didn’t. Just like I have done in the past, I let it go. I felt weak and impotent, knowing there was more harm to be done to me than I could ever do to them, knowing they were untouchable and I wasn’t. Resigned to mutter to myself and rant at the Bearded One about how unfair it all was, I retreated.

A few weeks have passed since then, and looking back, I can honestly say I had no reason to be angry. I wrote something and sent it out into the world and someone took it and used it to their own ends. I have nothing to be angry about.
Firstly, I should be flattered: people are reading my stuff, that means I must be doing something right. I’ve always just written for myself and no one else, but since my site is public, it’s flattering that people are reading.

Secondly, if you write something, it’s always going to be open to interpretation – even if you don’t leave room for such interpretation; when people don’t have the same grasp of the English language as the writer, or the same relationship with words, mis-readings will occur. And I say this with no arrogance about my own abilities – which are to say the least, limited – I say it because, as someone who has worked as an English, Literature and Media teacher, it’s true. Not everyone can read something and understand it, just like not everyone can paint a good likeness of a vase of flowers, or write good poetry, or carve intricate designs into a piece of wood. And as a Literature teacher, I’m no stranger to multiple readings of the same text. Was Hamlet caught in the middle of a Fruedian Oedipal complex since his behaviour suggests unnatural love for his mother, hence his desire to kill his step-father? Or was he just a misogynist as feminist readings of the play would suggest? Or as one of my students once put it, was Shakespeare just high on crack? Probably. You know what these writer types are like.

Finally, I have no reason to be angry because someone’s interpretation of something says more about the person and their agenda than it does about me. We bring ourselves to a text when we read it: just like psychoanalytical readings of a text concentrate on hidden desires and dark, sexual secrets and feminist readings focus on the depiction of women and womankind, we bring our own experiences to a text. We cannot divorce ourselves from who we are. Thus, I actually have no right to be angry at someone’s interpretation of my work. It’s taken me a while to realise this and even writing this now, I’ve suddenly had an epiphany: this incident means I’m a proper writer. I’m a writer; and just like all writers, everything I write and make public is open to criticism and interpretation. And that’s good. It means I’m doing something right. It means I’m a real writer.

And what people say about me? That shouldn’t concern me. It’s no business of mine how people choose to read my work. It’s no business of mine what people choose to do with information they “find” (interpret) about me. It’s no business of mine what tiny nugget people choose to focus on in my writing. It doesn’t concern me. (I am really tempted however, to disclose loads of information in blog posts, some of it fabricated, just to see what happens. Purely as a social experiment: who is going to read it, interpret it, spread it? It could actually be really fascinating to see what I could make up and how far it would go. Not to mention how much fun I could have).

Recently I read a quote from the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) that said, “Part of the perfection of a person’s Islam is leaving alone that which does not concern him.” So that’s what I’ll do. Leave it alone. Because it’s my job to write, it’s not my job to police someone’s reaction to my writing; I have no right to be angry that someone’s reading of my work is coloured by their personality and their own experiences- after all, it’s an integral and inevitable part of the reading process. I’ve written, I’ve sent it out into the world, my job is done.

So, if in being read, I’m destined to be mis-read, then so be it; at least I’m being read. It’s better to be Miss Read than not read at all. Isn’t it?

A Letter to My Cousin

Dear Wajeeha, (I always knew you as Jia)

You were always such a happy baby.  I remember when I was fifteen, seeing you for seven months of your life.  Loud and shrill, your voice would ring through the house as you sat in front of your Mum’s mirror, pretending to put lotions on your face, gesticulating, pointing, all the while a shrill monologue spilling joy from your tiny mouth, filling your chubby cheeks with happiness. You were always so vocal as a child: in the house, in your Dad’s hospital, in reception with the nurses, your Urdu would ring out like a bell, loud and deliberately babyish, as though you knew it was cuter to say it wrong, but not quite wrong enough so you weren’t understood.   

Fast-forward a number of years and suddenly you were a young teen and we had come to yours for another wedding and to escape the blessed failure of mine.  Struck by your maturity, I spent much of my time chatting to you in my own Urdu, offensively broken with English words; I was awkward and quiet, the black mark of shame hanging over my head.  But you never mentioned it, unlike the others, you never asked.  And that’s what drew me to you that day in your kitchen; you still lived in your old house and were making roti, though your Mum was discouraging you; the dough rolled itself as you chatted, oblivious to the black mark, so I thought you might not have known.  But you did. You must have.  You just drew no attention to it because in that moment, in that kitchen, I was your best friend.  My broken Urdu didn’t phase you and you never once smirked that I scattered English words throughout my sentences; instead you chattered on like we had never spent a single year apart. In that moment, I was your best friend.

And now, at thirty-three, I sit here, hoping for redemption, writing to a young woman I hadn’t met for around eight years.  A young woman I was hoping my daughter would one day come to know. Looking at pictures of you, I still see the same kindness, the same maturity. You lived like your name: noble, prestigious, honourable; and that’s what I see in your pictures. I see what others say of you and I see that girl, in the kitchen, letting the roti make itself, the effortless effort of chatting to a subdued cousin floating in the humid air around us.  

In my head, you weren’t supposed to die.  Your parents weren’t supposed to outlive you. Our grandmother wasn’t supposed to outlive you. I wasn’t supposed to outlive you.  You were over ten years younger than me, teetering on the cusp of life, ready to jump in and get started.  Except you fell off, you fell off far too soon.  It wasn’t an accident that got you; it wasn’t a short, sharp shock, it was something much more sinister: it crept upon you and into you when no one was looking, when no one suspected.  A stealthy demon, it buried in and hurt you from the inside, so no one saw. 

I didn’t even bother to find out which cancer it was.  “Blood cancer,” my parents told me when you were first diagnosed.  But there were so many types.  I should have asked you, I should have spoken to you.  But I didn’t.  I kept meaning to send you something; I even bought you a card for the first time you went into hospital; I put together a pack of toiletries that I thought would be useful, but I never got around to getting your address in Mirpur to send them to you.  And that’s my excuse: you were too far away.  Three thousand miles and a telephone call away.  I saw some cute pens and notebooks you might have liked to write in, but I never bought them, and asking for your address and sorting international postage was too much effort. That’s why I failed you: I was lazy and you were too far away.  

Three thousand miles a telephone call and a click of a few buttons.  That’s how far you were.  I knew you had an account on Facebook as I saw your profile come up a number of times; I thought about contacting you, but I never did.  What would I say? Wouldn’t it be awkward?  Hadn’t it been too long? I could always send a message tomorrow, couldn’t I? But I never did. And tomorrow never came and now I can’t send you any messages. I can’t even click on your profile to assuage my guilt: like you, it’s just not there anymore. Instead I sit here writing you a letter, a letter you will never read, as though it will atone for my failure to you as a cousin.  

If you were reading this, you’d make an excuse for me, tell me it was alright that I didn’t contact you; you’d tell me that it was you who should have contacted me.  But your imagined thousand kind words won’t erase my three thousand failures as a cousin.  You were suffering, changing and learning about pain and I should have contacted you.  But I didn’t.  I know it wouldn’t have changed a thing; I know what was written for you would have come to pass; I know it was all part of God’s plan to take you, but at least you would have known: I had not forgotten. Seven months I stayed with you as a baby and I didn’t forget; seven months I knew about your illness and I could have been there, even from three thousand miles away.  But I wasn’t there.  I wasn’t there and I failed. 

You galloped through life and were thrown from the horse, caught by God and taken away.  One day, I’ll fall from the same horse, hoping I won’t hit the ground, hoping I’ll be caught like you. And that will be my chance.  That will be my chance to reach for redemption.  

Daddy’s Girl

In the wake of the decision taken in parliament to bomb Syria, this was written by my talented husband for Rahma.  Originally published as a Facebook post, I felt it deserved more publicity. Why? Read it and you’ll understand ou acheter du viagra sans ordonnance.  

Daddy’s Girl

Daddy loves to hug his girl and cuddle her each night
And Daddy loves to know that she is safe and hold her tight
And Daddy sees another daddy with a girl as little as you
And Daddy sees that daddy try to do the same thing we do.

But Daddy knows his girl is safe because so long ago
Daddy’s daddy was invited here to help this country grow
But the daddy that Daddy sees has come at the wrong time
And that daddy is stopped from crossing imaginary lines.

That daddy with bloodied, weary limbs and his girl gripped tight
Has travelled without rest or hope for far too many nights.
When that daddy with the girl as little as you tried to keep her safe
A bomb fell down – or two or three – and blasted them from that place.

So that daddy with the girl as little as you took all he had
And left behind the dangerous place that made all in it mad
And set off on a journey without knowing where it would end
And saw his money dwindle as he had to spend and spend.

That daddy with the girl as little as you paid another man
To take them across imaginary lines to another land
To take them to a place where his little girl wouldn’t cry
And hug her daddy tight from fear when she heard planes in the sky.

But too many other daddies (and mummies and children too)
Had already gone to that land because there was nothing else to do
And the people there began to hate them, called them dirty and poor:
“We’ve two million of you here already, we can’t take any more.”

So that daddy with the girl as little as you set off again
And paid another man to smuggle him on board a rickety train.
That daddy hugged his little girl, tried to cuddle away her fears
Because the rumbling sounds she heard were like gunfire to her ears.

And after countless cramped nights with nothing but rats to eat
That daddy with the little girl stumbled to his bloodied feet
And followed others like him in a giant human train
That made its miserable way through wind and snow and rain.

Till at last they came to water and another man said:
“There is freedom on the other side, and homes and work and bread.
But first you must give me what you have, come now don’t be stingy.”
And that daddy paid all he had left for two places on a dinghy.

But the dinghy didn’t make it and they drowned with all the rest
The daddy with the girl as little as you clutched to his chest.

And men from the freedom lands (with homes and work and bread)
Got sick of all the dead bodies: “Go fight for your land instead!
That’s what we would do, if we lived where you did.
There’s too many here already. Kick ‘em out. Get rid.”

And the men in charge of the freedom lands started to plot and plan
Claiming they could make it stop if they bombed the dangerous land
The decision quickly made by a few hundred hungry for power
Saw planes set off and drop their bombs within that fateful hour.

And down on the ground another daddy with a girl as little as you
Never made it to safety.
He was too poor.
And that’s what bombs will do.

Umair Meer (December 2015)

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