The Rahma Diaries

Thank Allah for small mercies...

Category: Parenting

Schooled in Disparity

Audio to follow.  For now, the audio file is on the Facebook page. Click here.

Written when the recent Disparty Report was published (2017), coinciding with our search for a primary school, I wrote this spoken word poem to reflect all my frustration at how, despite being British-born, third-generation, my child still faces systemic prejudice, discrimination and reduced life chances. It is a system based on structural racism at every level; something that is starkly apparent to us since applying for schools.

Note: The audio references the Macpherson Report as 1996, when it is in fact 1999.  Corrected in the text below. 

Schooled in Disparity

Don’t tell me you’ve only just heard
About what’s in this report of Disparity
Because to me that really is a travesty.
A massive divide between the rich and the poor
but that’s not all,
it’s the Black and Asian minorities who are victims of this barbarity.
Yes, it’s true, but this really isn’t news.
We’ve known it for decades in this nation,
we’ve been in this situation from before 1968,
The Joseph Rowntree foundation
to the Runnymede Trust and everything beyond and everything in between.
Highlighting disadvantage,
Held back in the workplace said Ruby McGregor-Smith.
The Macpherson Report of ‘99 still sticks.
Your racism is institutionalised,
Race and Work Survey 2015, racial harassment of ethnic minorities.
It’s institutionalised say the facts,
David Lammy and the over-representation of the BME;
the injustice system full of us ethnic minorities;
not something you can white-wash, paint over the cracks,
start facing the facts: we’ve been in this situation many times as a nation.
Listen up friends, the red, white and blue doesn’t leave much space for me or for you.

 

Don’t tell me that my child will thrive and survive in any school that we’re looking,
because my husband said something that got my blood pumping;
in my ears, in my brain, it drove me insane,
I tried to deny it but it came back all the same;
Over and over like an offensive refrain.

He said: Our child’s not white.

It hit me like a bus, that even today we needed to make a fuss about race,
like nothing’s changed.
It’s not the ‘60s, the ‘70s or even the ‘80s.
But he’s right.
Our child’s not white.
Don’t tell me that school’s are all the same, whatever their names because they’re not.
These days I’ve heard it a lot.
They’re not the same to us, because our child’s not white.
Don’t tell me that schools in my area are good enough for us,
because what you’re saying is we shouldn’t aspire for her to be the best.
That she should be like all the rest.
Don’t tell me our child can thrive anywhere
no matter what the colour of her skin and her hair.
Because it’s not true.
Your report says it’s so, even though this knowledge is not new.
You’ve sat on it a while, in your usual style,
pretending you care, when really, if you passed us in the street all we’d get is a suspicious stare.
Don’t tell me it’s a postcode lottery for everyone, I know.
But for us, we can’t move and not because of poverty,
but because your system doesn’t fit with our reality.
So don’t tell me that the Joneses moved for a school for their children,
that was a luxury their skin and their jobs afforded them.
White flight so now their future’s looking bright.
What’s that you say? Keep up with the Joneses?
Save up your pay. Take it to the bank, but wait! That job’s not for you, no thank you,
Your beard’s too long, too much fabric covering your hair, you say it’s not fair.
We won’t say it out loud but we all know it’s true:
Apply for 74 per cent more jobs before an interview,
then we might consider even touching you.

 

Now we finally got the job, we got the occupation,
now we’re part of the same situation.
Nine to five, or working around the clock,
we’re taking home the pay cheque and things are looking up.
The covert prejudice that says work harder, smarter for our satisfaction,
prove yourself because your melanin’s a distraction.
You see white colleagues lauded, applauded for doing the same as you,
but you can’t speak up because if you do
It’s a race card, conveniently your race card, in our face card.
Just work harder.
We’re not saying she’s better, but she’s definitely smarter.
I got straight As, a brilliant degree from an upstanding university.
I taught all my classes as well as I could, was told by OFSTED I was outstanding as could be.
I knew this teacher, she was an NQT, she needed help and so she came to me.
I planned her lessons, gave her all my stuff, but in the end it wasn’t enough.
Outsider, always an outsider, a minority;
Clearly more acceptable, whiter than me.
Acceptable, respectable, not matter what she said, no matter what she did.
My story’s not unique, my story’s not new, it’s a national reality for me and for you.
It’s not news, your report says it’s so; work so much harder for less recognition,
Just because we’re not Caucasian.

 

Is that a race card you see? No it’s reality, for her, her and her and for him and for me.
It’s not a brick through the window, it’s more stealthy;
unconscious bias, a prejudice or three.
For us stop and search more likely.
Don’t tell me a school can be anywhere, give her a book and it’s all fair and square.
Because our child’s not white.
Maths, English, Science and a healthy dose of Islamophobia;
Maybe under PREVENT she might be reported for drawing a cucumber.
And all before she hits double digits, and the concern that if she sits there and fidgets
Berated over and over because she’s under-stimulated
Another of the country’s brown misfits,
Not considered to be English though she’s as British as tea and biscuits.

 

Don’t tell me that we’re in this together, and she’ll be treated the same,
Because white privilege is to blame.
You shift uncomfortably, but I’ll say it again: white privilege is to blame.
Don’t tell me that I don’t care about the plight of the white working classes
and I just talk about the brown masses.
I rhyme what I know, my own reality, because if I don’t who else will speak for me?
Don’t tell me that it’s alright, because I’m seen as middle class,
with my middle-class diction and my middle-class books
and my middle-class house but not my middle-class looks.
Don’t tell me that this report is all new and my words don’t ring true.
Don’t tell me it’s the same for me and for you.
Don’t tell me when you’re sitting in your meetings, reading your papers,
That you really care, that something will change, that you’ll make it all fair.
“Burning injustices” of inequality, for all us browns and all the in-betweens.
You say it’s not about race,
O, serpent heart, hid with a flow’ring face!
Fake contrition, deceitful remorse, you’ll make it your mission, but we know it’s all false.

 

So, don’t tell me not to worry, don’t tell me not to fret,
About schools and education because she’s young yet.
Because our child’s not white.
We’re being conscientious, because we have to be,
We don’t have the luxury
Of sitting back, no plan of attack, because our child’s not white.
Don’t tell me it’s just primary, for most that’s not the key,
Because our child’s not white.
We’ve got start young, we’ve got to get it right.
Because our child’s not white.
Lay a strong foundation, teach her how to fight, not with her fists, but with other might.
Because our child’s not white.

 

Do I sound angry? Well, maybe I am.
Do I sound vexed because we have to plan?
I shouldn’t have to do this, I shouldn’t have to fight, it really isn’t right.
But our child’s not white.
She won’t have the same chances, the same opportunities.
We have to do it ourselves, rewriting our histories.
Don’t tell me what to think, don’t tell me what to feel,
Don’t tell me how to act, your concern isn’t real.
We want to be the same as our white counterparts:
We want to be represented in movies and the arts.
And not just as terrorists and downtrodden wives,
but as complete human beings with regular lives.
Because until we’re all the same and until it’s all fair,
There’ll be someone like me to rant and to shout,
There’ll be someone like me, calling you out.
Don’t cry fake news and try to turn the tides;
I never used to worry about race, or class or social divides;
I used to tell my parents it wasn’t true,
until I became a parent and saw it all anew with fresh eyes.
I saw the injustice, the inequality.
I didn’t need a report like yours to open up my eyes and to make me see.
All it took was one little child, with her big brown eyes and her beautiful smile.
I looked at her face and I realised, I would stop at nothing, so I planned and devised,
to get her the best of every experience;
but when it came to schools, I was told:
you deserve a substandard one because of your postcode.
So, it comes true the gulf of disparity, the racial divide because of where we live,
A self-fulfilling prophesy, keep us subjugated throughout history.
The past and the present has become one and the same
It’s not a brick through the window but nothing much has changed.
It’s not a brick through the window but nothing much has changed.
It’s a pig’s heads now, he’s the Lord of the Flies –
What’s the matter? You look a bit surprised, surprised that I’d know that,
surprised that I’m clever, surprised that I’m cerebral? Well, I never!

 

Is my offense rank? Does it stink to high heaven?
But even knowing Hamlet won’t make me less foreign.
To you I’m still the same, but you don’t realise
I’ve covered up my hair, but not covered my brain.
My opinion is offensive, maybe to you,
people online defensive: these Muslims, these immigrants, these…cockroaches.
I’m flying while Muslim, and in these times,
thrown off a plane for risky Arabic lines.
As Salaamu Alaykum. InshaAllah. Allahu Akbar.
Don’t tell me I don’t have to care and she can go to school anywhere
And she’ll have the same chance, because that’s not right.
You won’t listen to our plight
Because our child’s not white.
You’ve got your own agenda, not the same as ours;
sitting in your suits, you exercise your powers,
feeling vindicated in your ivory towers.
Women worse off, always the women, always the girls,
Why do we suffer when you tighten up the purse?
Don’t tell me we’re the same, because your make up rubs off, revealing who you are.
Your make up rubs off, when my melanin does not.
I do have to care and I do have to shout,
Because unlike you and the privileged few,
Our child’s not white.

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.  Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Stupid Things People Say To New Mothers

After Rahma was born, we had visitors, not as many as I thought we would have, but obviously people wanted to see the new bundle.  That time was fraught with stress about breastfeeding, latching and supply, anxiety about what people would think/say about me feeding her and her wanting to feed; and above all it was filled with thick clouds of stupidity from well-meaning but annoying people who felt compelled to say helpfully unhelpful things.  I collected some of the highlights below:  Continue reading

Batteries Not Included

Before Rahma was born, we decided not to give her screen time until she was over two years old and even then it would be very limited.  We also decided we were not going to encourage her to hold, handle or use our phones or other hand-held electronic devices.  After she was born, I extended that to include a “no battery-operated toys” rule (that’s the catchiest thing I could come up with) as electronic toys with flashing lights do absolutely nothing for a baby’s cognitive development.  No, I’m not Amish and yes, I’ve done plenty of research. Continue reading

Indiana Jones and the Last Resort 

It’s been a long time coming, but we booked and prepared for our first holiday abroad with the Small One and left in early October.  The idea was to base the holiday around the needs of the Small One, with the option to do other things if she was up to it.  Neither of us had experienced the delights of a resort holiday, so we decided, after much research,  that Lara Beach in Antalya was the place of choice: the promise of sandy beaches, cooling pools, a spa for me, and all-inclusive food and drinks lured us in, and after much review-perusing, we booked it, packed up, flew off. Continue reading

We Were Soldiers

We braved soft play today.  Our regular Friday morning playgroup was cancelled so I thought I’d bundle the Small One into the car seat and go to a soft play centre. I’d been twice before to this same place with friends and thought, how bad could it be? It was small compared with other soft play centres; it’d be fine wouldn’t it?

From the outset, everything was screaming, save yourself, turn back now, but I paid no heed.  I paid no heed to the fact that the Small One protested while I put her in the car seat; I paid no heed to the fact that I couldn’t find my purse – belligerently I looked for it anyway; I paid no heed to the acres of cars snaking down the ring road, hissing at me, urging me to turn around and head home, head anywhere, anywhere but there.  I paid no heed to all the signs; determined to do something aimed at the small person, I soldiered on.

Even when we got there, the car park was full.  This should have set alarm bells off in my head, and I guess it may have done, but I was ignoring negativity and was determined to do this.  I parked in a spot marked for the disabled (yes, I know, it was the wrong thing to do, but I was desperate to give the Small One an experience aimed at her.  I’m sorry), grabbed the child and my bag and headed for the entrance. Pushing open the inviting white door, I noticed something odd: it was surprisingly full of other people’s children.  I didn’t remember it being that full the last time I went.  But I was there, and I was committed, there was no turning back.

My non-walker was admitted at a reduced rate and after ordering toast and tea, we settled at a spotty table, high chair and water bottle at the ready.  Since the Small One isn’t walking, I had to put her in the baby area.  The problem was all the toys were aimed at children younger than her and she kept pointing to the maze of softness at the other side of the room.  For those unfamiliar with the concept of soft play, it is basically a warehouse on an industrial estate where a brightly-coloured soft structure with nets, a ball pool and soft slides are installed, after being blessed by Satan, and where people take their children to unleash hell in a controlled environment,while they sit on their smartphones, ignoring their offspring, drinking tea and eating toast. There is nothing ‘soft’ about soft play; it’s a hardcore battleground and to survive it you have to be a warrior, a soldier, a fighter.  Soft play, it’s not for babies. Soft play: Hell in a Room.

Eventually, I conceded and let her come out of the tiny enclosure but only because the walking toddlers were not respecting the sanctity of the baby area and kept climbing in, or in one child’s case, throwing himself in head-first.  The danger was far too great, and the small one bum-shuffles far too slowly to get out of the way of diving toddlers. I know I will be accused of all manner of things: you’re too careful with her, you’re a helicopter parent, always buzzing around her, you can’t protect her from everything.  I know I can’t.  But if you stopped your Small Hyperactive Infant Terror throwing himself into the baby area like some kind of vertically-challenged action hero, I wouldn’t have to remove my child would I?

The Small One was removed, placed in the high chair to eat her toast while I drank my tea; she was bored anyway.  Breathe.  We looked around; we both like to watch people; we’re not nosy, we’re just curious.  To the right of us, a small boy, on the floor, snot dripping into his mouth, stuffed toast into his cavernous foodhole, sometimes dipping the crust into the wetness oozing out of his nostrils. Above him, the table was full of women, presumably women who knew him; women who had probably come together.  I don’t blame them, it’s tough looking after kids on your own, and the only way to survive is to socialise.  Except they weren’t socialising, not with each other anyway.  All four of these women were sat together, transfixed by the phones glued to their hands.  Occasionally one would take a sip of tea, a bite of toast, glancing at another, making quick eye contact, smiling, but then quickly looking at her hands again, as if the key to the universe and all its treasures were contained in the small black box and to look away would mean losing some riches, giving up some treasure.

Behind me, a Dad, with his tablet computer, tried to work while his toddler ran around and kept coming back to demand to have her socks taken off.  He was clearly outnumbered this morning and I felt a bit sorry for him.  He smiled at me when his little girl came over for the third time trying to remove the socks that were so offensive to her.  I understood his aversion to letting her play barefoot in Hell’s Pit: it was probably crawling with germs, lice, rabies and anything else that children bring with them in their snot and saliva.  “No darling, leaving your socks on, you have to leave them on in here, it’s in the rules. And they match your dress, they’re both stripy.” Both dress and socks inspected, the toddler conceded and wandered off staring at her feet.  He sighed and looked at me, “You can tell I didn’t get her dressed this morning.”  He sat back, breathed in deeply and exhaled.  I gave him what I thought was a supportive smile which hopefully said, I know, it’s hard, I find it hard too. Except because it’s me, it probably said, I like to stare at people and probably want to make a living out of it. Give me your soul. 

By now the Small One was impatient to get out of the high chair and determined to shuffle to the pit of Satan’s minions – the soft play area.  She had spied the ball pool and wanted a taste of some of the action. I didn’t want to be the parent who wrapped her child in cotton wool and refused to let her take risks so I let her go and off she went, on her bum, hair bouncing up and down with every shuffle. I did keep one eye on her while I watched what was happening behind the nets: one Small Hyperactive Infant Terror, arms full of balls from the seventh circle of hell where he had left his soul, hurled them at another child’s head.  The bullied child cowered while the onslaught of plastic balls rained down on her, delivering their judgment.

Over at the slide, more Small Hyperactive Infant Terrors gathered, waiting to partake in the joys of hurtling themselves down an incline at a relatively high speed.  Whilst waiting, a few of the Small Hyperactive Infant Terrors entertained themselves by pushing a smaller child into the nets to see if he would bounce back.  He did.  So they pushed him again.  They kept pushing until he wailed, opening his lungs and piercing through the laughter and squeals of delight, prompting his mother to enter the fiery pit of hell and rescue him.

I had to tear myself away from my disapproval as my Small One was trying to climb a tiny set of soft steps to reach a incline.  She looked determined and ready to pull herself onto the second step and I silently cheered her on from my vantage point, not wanting to interfere, letting her get over this hurdle on her own.  But she was thwarted: another Small Hyperactive Infant Terror had decided the stairs were not for her, and she must be held back, with his foot.  At first he put his foot on the Small One’s shoulder, pushing her belly-first down the steps; then he decided he wasn’t content to just get her off the second step, she had to leave the steps entirely, he had to push her head, with his foot; his foot that had probably been trained by Satan himself.

That was it. I couldn’t just sit by sipping tea and allow that as the Small One wasn’t defending herself, she was being beaten and trodden on; she was Palestine, he was Israel.  Her face looked pained as Israel drove his foot into her head. I rose, but I knew I was too far away to stop him so I opened my mouth and out came this sound.  It was a sound I hadn’t used in a few years: my teacher sound.  It consisted of a raised voice and an “Errrrrrm,” drawn out to the length it was needed. He met my gaze, knowing that I was displeased, but before I could get over and stop him, he drove his Satan foot into my Small One’s shoulder, deliberately, slowly, not breaking eye-contact with me the whole time.  This 18-month old Small Hyperactive Infant Terror knew what he was doing; he had done it before, he was a veteran of the Great War. I got to my child, picked her up and fixed him with a glare so angry and potent, I think he may have wet his already-poo-filled nappy.  I didn’t want to tell him off verbally; I didn’t want to be that mother: you know the one everyone tuts at because she can’t tolerate other peoples’ children misbehaving? The one who tells children off in public.  I didn’t want to be the teacher in the room, but I was.  He ran to his mother, not crying, but demanding a cuddle; my glare had terrified him.  Good.   Supervise your Small Hyperactive Infant Terrors, people, is what I said in my head, afraid that if I opened my mouth I’d unleash a tirade of judgement about how parenting wasn’t just pushing them out of your vagina and letting them free-range while you read a magazine, oblivious to their crimes.

I let the Small One carry on bum-shuffling into the pit of Satan; she wanted to experience some of it, and I wanted to let her. I couldn’t keep her safe from every danger and she had to know what was out there: this world was a battleground and she had to know how to survive in the stupidly-psychedelic jungle of pain.  She made it down one netted corridor before she was stood on again, but this time she waited until all the Small Hyperactive Infant Terrors had moved before she shuffled her way back out, painfully slowly, careful not to touch anyone on her way out.  She was learning.  I was so proud.

Mission Soft Play accomplished, we had to leave.  It was the longest hour of my life, but I did it.  We did it.  My soldier and I, we had conquered not-so-soft play and survived to tell the tale. We could add it to the list of experiences we had to have,but never want to have again soon. Like vaccinations, a smear test or haemarroids, soft play had to be experienced so we could move on, so we could say: we were there.  We were warriors; we were soldiers.

Toddler Terror

I don’t know if I can call my non-walking, bum-shuffling 15-month old a toddler yet; I always envisage toddlers as Emotionally unstable tiny dictators, running around very fast, ordering other people around.  She’s all of this, but there is no running around (thankfully!). Everyone is so hung up on the fact that she’s not walking yet they’re missing all the crucial stuff she’s doing: mainly talking, mimicking and learning new gestures and developing trademark mannerisms.  She stores up all the words she learns and spends her days (and nights) chattering away. Alhamdullilah. 

Her latest obsession is the phrase ‘a spy’, or ‘I spy,’ something she picked up from my nephew who said she was shuffling into the kitchen to find me, like a spy. She’s also been spending a lot of time with the book “Each Peach Pear Plum”; if you’re not familiar with it, get acquainted, it’s an excellent read.  She heard my nephew say the phrase seven days ago and even now she will randomly say it, sometimes in the dead of the night when we’re asleep.  She shatters the silence with, “A spy!” I think she may be part of MI5, the toddler unit, licensed to spill.  I think she may be spying on us looking for extremist behaviour. I think there may be merit in my suspicions.

Equally, she may be an extremist herself.  There are so many signs and you never know who is these days.  According to the government’s PREVENT Strategy, it could be anyone, it could even be your toddler.  So I’ve been watching her. We should all be watching each other, all the time, every day.  You never know who could be an extremist.  I’m watching you too.  Paranoid? No, I’m just Muslim.  And you can’t be too careful these days. I think I should be more careful.  I think I should be watching her closely.   I think there may be merit in my suspicions. 

I few weeks ago I wrote a Facebook status update outlining why I thought my bum-shuffler needed to be under the radar.  Here is a more comprehensive, updated version of that. I added some details as the bum-shuffling terrorist has developed at an alarming, you might even say, radical rate. If I wasn’t so lazy, I’d send it to the Prime Minister and insist he reply…

Dear Mr. Cameron, 

I think my toddler is becoming radicalised. I understand that I need to report this, so below are all the reasons why I think Rahma might be becoming radicalised. Please advise me about what I can do to stop her. Perhaps she would benefit from an enrolment in the anti-extremism programme you set up specifically for toddlers? 

– She prays more than 5 times a day. If she doesn’t see me praying she’ll immediately put her head to the ground, repeatedly and then sit up and move her finger up and down rapidly. She’ll do this up to ten times a day. She’s obviously praying more than the average Muslim.  She even prays in the bathroom whilst I use the toilet; as if to remind me that, like her, if I was devout, I would be praying too. Praying this much must be a sign of radicalisation. 

– She refers to any books that I read as “Qur’an”. In fact what she says is “Qu-qan”, over and over, as if repeating it will change the copies of my “infidel novels” to the most sacred text of Islam. She has recently started to refer to the iPad as Qu-qan because she heard the melodious tones of my favourite reciter emanating from it whilst she played on the floor one day.  Since then she insists I put it on all the time.  She seems obsessed with listening to it. Should I be worried? 

– She screams and protests when anyone, including her dad, tries to touch me. Currently my husband is not allowed to hug or touch me in her presence. Any attempt to do so is met with shouting and moaning. She obviously wants to preserve my honour. Too late love. But I think she is also trying to segregate the sexes too, keeping men and women apart. If this isn’t a sign of radicalisation, I don’t know what is. 

– She will only settle in the car if I play Qur’an recitation to her. Silence is just not good enough. And she won’t tolerate Radio 4.  Any attempt to drive in silence results in a low, rumbling moan until I give in and put her favourite chapter of the Qur’an on – the one she listened to when in the womb every day I drove to and from work.  Did I inadvertently radicalise my baby?!

– When she sees the cleavage of other women in the street and when we go swimming, she points and says “Dudu” (the Pakistani slang word for milk) I can only assume she’s trying to shame them into covering up and obey Shariah Law. Shariah law in England.  

– She can’t say the word “Pig”. Now she’s 15 months old and this wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but she says more than 40 other words and parrots everything we say, but she’s never actually said this word, although we do recite “This little Piggy went to market” as we fear we’ll be targeted under the PREVENT strategy if we don’t. But I think she’s deliberately avoiding saying it. 

– She’s showing very little interest in walking and is content to shuffle on her bum. Obviously she realises that, as a woman, she has no need to walk when she can get married and have a man control her life and bring her things. It’s quite obvious she believes women should be covered and stay in the house. She’s clearly gearing up towards a forced arranged marriage that she anticipates we’ll provide.  (Since first starting this letter, she has made half-hearted attempts to pull herself up to a standing position, but she’s never quite succeeded.  I think she’s trying to throw us off her scent because she realises we are onto her.)

– She sits in her high chair, and on the floor, waving her arms around and shouting  and gesticulating in the manner of extreme, radicalised Islamic clerics. Yes, at the moment it’s just babbling with some real words thrown in, but who knows what she might be saying soon? Who knows what she could be inciting other toddlers to when we go to Stay and Play at the local Children’s Centre? 

– she corrects Arabic pronunciation.  We are of Azad Kashmiri and Pakistani descent, so there are some Arabic words that family pronounce using the Urdu/Punjabi accent.  My mum said “wuzu” the other day and my toddler immediately corrected her to say “Wudhu” and kept repeating it, as if to hammer the point home.    I can only imagine she doesn’t want the beautiful language of Heaven tainted with incorrect pronunciation.  A radical view don’t you think?  

– I recently bought some child-friendly Arabic cards to display around the home.  I thought it would be a colourful way to teach her what to say when we eat, go out, sleep, get dressed.  I thought I’d casually introduce things to her, not being prescriptive and doing it all the time since she’s only 15 months.  But she now won’t let me walk past the bathroom without insisting I recite the supplication for going to the toilet on the way past; no matter that we are only going to the study, we must read the reminder for going into the toilet. When we go out, she points at the card for going out and smiles at me, waiting patiently for me to read it.   We come back in and she reminds me to read the card for coming back home.  I have to read both the morning and evening supplications over and over again when she points at the cards.  She does all of this patiently and in her own humble little way.    In making me read these cards at the appropriate times I think she may be trying to radicalise me too.  She smiles a lot when I do this, like she’s extremely happy – you might even say her happiness was extreme, maybe even radical. 

– she has started trying to cover her head.  I’ve told her it’s too early for hijab, but she won’t pass up an opportunity to put clothing on her head and make eyes at herself in the mirror; mujaahidah eyes.  Socks, my pyjamas, her own pyjamas, bras, cardigans, anything; it all ends up on her head and she watches herself in the mirror, willing herself into the burqa, delighting in her own radicalisation, a radicalisation of ‘Talibanesque’ proportions. 

Mr. Cameron, there are many more signs of radicalisation in my toddler but I have outlined the most prominent. I do hope you and Theresa May will aid me in helping to combat these signs before Rahma attends nursery: we can’t have her radicalising other babies and inciting them to terrorism.  

I anticipate your response, 

Yours etc.

What Is Left Unsaid

I wrote this in two stages, in the hospital and a few months later. It’s completely unedited and there is much I would change, so much I would re-write, but I’ve forced myself to publish it in this raw form, rough and unpolished, like I was at the time of writing. So if it reads badly, if it’s disjointed and the prose style a confused mess, it’s gone some way to neatly capturing those first few months.

25th April 2014 on my phone.

Apparently I lost a lot of blood. I don’t think it’s measured in acres, but it feels like I lost acres of blood. It’s made me dizzy and lightheaded. I keep looking over at her in her plastic cot and marvelling at what came out of me. I still can’t make the connection between my body and hers. The after-effects of the epidural have numbed me and I feel nothing.

1st June 2014

You can’t really imagine how hard it is until it’s thrust upon you. Reading the books does nothing to prepare you. Watching others goes some way towards depicting reality, but ultimately, until the mantle is thrust upon you after that last push, you don’t realise how earth-shatteringly difficult it all is.

It’s a blessing, a rahma, a mercy from Allah. It’s a mercy that we’re fortunate enough to taste, but with this great mercy comes a massive test. You’re thrown in and all of a sudden, the nine months of preparation are not enough. Especially if you’re a first-time mother. There will be other posts counting and recounting the blessings of motherhood, and never will I dispute that we’re the lucky ones, forever blessed. However, there are things you never get told. Perhaps so that you’re not dissuaded from having children, or perhaps the rosy glow of motherhood makes people forget, perhaps people want to say something but the taboo surrounding any negative thoughts about having children silences them; nevertheless, there are things that should be said. Things that need to be voiced. If not, they’ll be pushed to the recesses, gather up dust and rear their ugly heads once more.

The shock. It hits you in the face either immediately after having the baby, or if like me, you had the joys of medical intervention, much later on. It’s that feeling that one second the life was inside you, writhing, kicking, clamouring for space, and the next it was out, shouting, demanding. If you’re one of the lucky ones to not experience this shock, then fantastic. If you felt no bewilderment upon seeing the baby in your arms, breathing in your air, then brilliant. But many women feel this shock and are just too stunned or just too tired to say anything. Often it’s awe: Did I just do that? The tiniest, most important part of myself. However, sometimes it can be genuine confusion and fear. It’s out, it’s crying, she’s not going away, it’s here forever. Forever.

The guilt. As women, we are programmed by our lifestyles, our religion and our sense of self-worth to want to have children. To not want children, especially being Muslim women, is something alien. It’s not a feeling we’re supposed to have. We are conditioned to believe that we will love whatever comes out of us. Immediately. Straight away. No questions asked. Forever. So when the realisation of your shock and fear hits you, you feel guilty. It can creep up upon you that first night, left alone with the tiny bundle. In hospital or at home.

The numbness. Like I said, not all women fall immediately in love with their baby. You may not love her straight away. Get used to that. It happens. It’s no good feeling guilty and beating yourself up about it. Keep it to yourself though. Other people won’t understand it and nor will they be able to try. But just know this, you are not alone. Hundreds of other women have gone through this. If, like me, your birth wasn’t all you’d planned it to be, this will probably be worse for you. Something in your brain detaches you from the situation, possibly so that you can cope with the trauma, but that something also turns off the switch which makes you immediately fall in love. That is not to say you don’t love your child, you do. You love your child more than anyone else in the room gushing over her. You love her more than her grandparents who are currently jostling her up and down in an attempt to wake her; you love her more than her aunts, uncles and cousins. I would even go as far as to say you love her more than her father loves her. You just don’t know it yet. It’ll happen. It will click. But right now, your mind and body is focussed on surviving. So survive.

Panic. You’ll spend a fleeting minute, an hour, a day even wanting things to go back to the way they were. Especially if you’re a first timer like me. This is also perfectly normal. The realisation that everything it going to change now will hit you and you’ll cave. But, don’t make the mistake I did and share this feeling with anyone; however close you are to your partner, you’ll never make them understand that it’s not regret, it’s sheer panic. He gets to go home at the end of the hospital visit, leaving you with the baby and your thoughts. He can’t possibly understand. It’s not that you’re ungrateful or you don’t want your child, it’s just sheer, blind panic. Things will never be the same. Just let that wash over you for a second. Because all the books you read, all the preparation you did, all the research, it’ll all disappear in that split second of panic. Let yourself panic.

The struggle. That Jihaad. That first week. If like us, you spend the first 6 days in the hospital, it’ll be even harder. But for everyone, that first week is hard. Your baby has no idea it’s night time and you need to sleep. She’ll wake up and make such an irritating noise that you’ll be forced to pick her up to make her be quiet. You’ll feel guilty for thinking it, but you’ll just want her to be quiet. This too shall pass. She’ll either get better at sleeping, or you’ll get used to it. For us, we slowly got used to it. When we got over the shell shock of sleep deprivation, it became more bearable. Notice how I didn’t say easier. It will never be easy. You’ll just cope with it better. I promise. Don’t let anyone tell you what she should be doing in terms of sleep, she’s doing everything properly. I promise you that too. (Sleep is a separate blog post yet to come).

Breastfeeding is also difficult, sometimes impossible. Too often we are lead to believe that it’s just going happen for us; it’s natural so why wouldn’t it? The reality for many, like me, is very different. I can’t do it justice here, but know one thing: it’s hard, no one tells you it’s hard, but it is. You’re not going mad, you’re not doing it wrong, it is just hard.

The Others. Other people become more irritating. If like me, you want to feed on demand and attend to the needs of your baby straight away, other people will become even more irritating. After having a baby, your whole world view shifts in a matter of minutes. So it’s not surprising then that it’s harder to tolerate people telling you what you should and should not be doing with your baby. It’s also harder to tolerate people who expect you not to feed your baby because they want to hold her/have to be somewhere/can’t wait any longer. I found it very difficult to be firm with people in the early days and I suffered terribly for it. I felt so guilty that my baby didn’t like other people to hold her (they didn’t smell right to her) so she would fake feeding cues so she could come back to me. I felt guilty that I had to take her upstairs to feed her as her latch was so bad I couldn’t use a cover initially. And I know comments were made by family members. What made it worse was I couldn’t express my feelings over it. Families are a minefield without a baby involved; add a baby into the mix and people just look for reasons to be offended. I was lucky. My husband was very supportive of me looking after the baby and putting her needs first. I’d like to say I’ve gotten over the guilt, but I haven’t.

Since the baby came out of you, you’d think you knew what was best for her. Nope. Apparently it’s completely alright to sit a newborn baby up, back bent, on a dining table so you can look at her face. This is how you want to hold her. Regardless of how many polite comments are made about how this position is not only bad for her spine, it makes her reflux worse. This was really difficult for me. Watching other people do whatever they wanted with my baby and not being able to grab her off them. There were times I bit my tongue so hard it bled. Like the time I was told by my husband’s aunt that she didn’t ‘look hungry’ and she was ‘going to hold her now.’ There were times I sat on my hands to avoid taking her off people. Had I gone right ahead and done it, it would have still been talked about to this day. Like I said, families are a minefield.

However, don’t let yourself be duped into thinking you can’t stand up for your baby. You can. If people make irritating comments like, “Oh if you keep her awake now, she’ll sleep better at night,” just be gentle and tell them that sleep breeds sleep. Tell them you’ve read countless number of books about it. That’s what I did. If someone in the family says, “Well she’s related to us, and I used to put my children to bed with a bottle at 11 and they’d sleep through. She will probably be doing this since she’s part of our family,” just remind them that your baby is different, sleep is not genetic, she is not going to inherit sleep patterns, they’re learned. Above all, be gentle. People quickly forget what they’ve said, but they’ll never forget what you’ve said. Especially if it was rude. (This needs more and is worthy of a blog post in itself).

The broken derrière. Your bum will be sore. I make no apology for the slightly-graphic description here. You know how when you’re really constipated and it hurts a lot? You might even have a haemorrhoid? That feeling. Well take that feeling and multiply it by about 100 and that’s how much your bum will hurt. The crack of your bottom might even be sore; steroid cream with some local anaesthetic is great for that by the way; as are salt baths, tea tree oil bathing and that beautiful washing pot we Muslims keep in our bathrooms, the humble lota.

The baby didn’t come out of your bum, no it didn’t. That’s why this is surprising. But that’s what it’ll feel like; especially if you suffered any kind of tear or episiotomy. Just be assured that your broken bum will fix itself. It might take 6 months, but it’ll be fixed. In the meantime, just nurse that broken bum and don’t forget to look after it just as you’re looking after the baby. Bathe it, cherish it, love it.

Why did I tell you all this? To put you off? To make having a baby seem awful? No. Because having a baby is one of the best things to ever happen to me. I told you this because people like to make their baby experiences look and sound the most tranquil, beautiful things ever known to man and this sets many women up for disappointment. After having read countless magazines, spoken to countless friends with babies, some women are disappointed they didn’t get their fairytale birth, fall instantly in love and live happily ever after.

What needs to be realised is, you had the perfect birth for you. It was supposed to happen this way. Your experience is unique. It may not be perfect. But it’s yours. Like that broken bum, if your birth experience was equally broken, still, bathe it, cherish it, love it. It’s yours.

Another Piece of Flesh

Breastfeeding.

This has been on my mind lately. It would seem it’s always flavour of the month. Breast milk. Mmm. Rahma loves it. I remember when she was about 5 months old, she used to come off the nipple during let down and cascade the white stuff over her tiny face, just because. Then she’d lick her lips, sated but not full. It’s her version of a halal fine wine I suppose. I imagine it’s delectable. There’s no need for me to imagine, I tasted it. My own. Alas, the nectar was wasted on me, my palate not as refined as Rahma’s, the wet nothingness trickled, empty and tasteless.

Anyway, I was sitting in my local yarn store with Rahma, knitting away, breastfeeding, knitting. A lady sat down and started quizzing me about how long I was going to breastfeed, blond hair cascading down her shoulders, rolls of flesh folding themselves into the sofa. I told her probably the first two years of my baby’s life if I could manage it. She was shocked; it was like I’d said I was going to keep going until she was married and had her own children; like I was going to be present at my daughter’s wedding night, on stand-by in case she needed a drink or a comfort suck.

The thing that struck me most was the forthright way in which this woman asked; it was her right to know and I must answer. She asked, she waited, expectantly, double chins quivering, knitting, and staring into my face, demanding and blonde. I didn’t care what she thought, but I still, found myself answering:

“According to Islamic guidelines, the breastfeeding period recommended is two years. Also the WHO organisation recommends that nutritionally, breastmilk is best for the first two years.”

This is what my lips said. My brain was screaming at my face to shut up. But I couldn’t. I felt the need to justify something that was no business of hers. It was a knee-jerk reaction and it wasn’t just reserved for breastfeeding questions. As mothers, we are constantly called on by members of the public to justify what we’re doing with our babies. We’re interrogated, inadequate and inferior, compared to a time that once was. An unspoken rule dictates that we must answer, we must lay bare everything we do behind closed and open doors for all to judge and pick through the seedy excrement of our parenting.

Why? Why should you know when I plan to stop breastfeeding? Why should you know about my daughter’s sleeping and eating habits? Socially conditioned to answer such questions, ignoring the putrid violation and flesh-tearing intrusion, we do so with a smile, immediately and happily. It seems like the right thing to do, after all, they’re only asking because babies bring out the best in everyone, right?

It’s a judgement; a comment; a comparison. You’re being weighed and measured against their standards, according to what they did with their tiny people, according to what they think should be done. No one says it out-loud, everyone is too polite, but you’ve been weighed, you’ve been measured and you’ve been found wanting. That piece of flesh I tore from you to reveal your inadequacies, it’s not what I thought it should be. Even those who don’t have children of their own do it: What’s she like at night? (This right there is a blog post of its own. Sleep.) How often does she feed? Shouldn’t you be giving her that Gripe Water diluted?

I hear your brain; your thoughts are too loud: I’m guilty of this and it was just curiosity, it was me feigning interest in your tiny bundle when really all I wanted to do was hold and give it back before it cried, threw up or excreted. True, many people, especially people without children, ask out of a feigned curiosity, but it’s no less intrusive than what Blonde Quiver Chins did to me the other day. A result of social conditioning and expectation, you’re just falling into line and asking what it supposed to be asked. I understand. But it needs to change. Too often mothers are made to feel inadequate through this social nicety; too often we’re left questioning ourselves and what we’re doing with our Rahmas as a result of this well-meaning cross-examination. The blinding light of the interrogator illuminates everything we hate about ourselves, our parenting and sometimes our baby. We resent them if they don’t fall in line, if they’re not doing what society dictates they should do; if they’re waking too often at night, especially since you’ve had to explain apologetically to four different people how you’re breastfeeding on demand and she’s going to get up as she’s so small.

Mothers do it to other mothers. This is the most wretched thing of all: we compare everything; it makes us feel better about our own situation, but it also demonstrates how social convention has cruelly shaped us all. Often we ask in solidarity, so we can sympathise: yes, my baby is a biter too; the sleepless nights? So hard aren’t they? Do you get a chance to shower? Lovely. But sometimes, we slip into dangerous territory where our questioning is designed not as a show of solidarity but as a show of might; a David and Goliath of parenting; secretly we compare what we’re doing so we can feel better about ourselves, tearing off a piece of flesh to cover the historic scars left from previous questionings. After the interrogative battering we take from others, some validation would be nice. So we wrestle it from each other in the form of responses, each one clawing back the dignity and privacy lost during previous inhuman probing.

The cycle continues. And with every clamouring bundle of flesh that stumbles into the world, there is a cacophony of sound, endless queries, quizzes and questions, fluctuating around us, bumping us, prodding, poking pushing. And so we push back, into ourselves, into each other. Tear off another piece of flesh and start again.

I’d like to break the cycle. Shatter down the frivolous social convention that dictates mothers must always answer with a smile. Just once I’d like to reply with a pithy comment or snide remark, metaphorically slapping the face of the intruder with my wit and repartee. Just once I’d like to say, it’s none of your business; after all the secret life of Rahma is exactly that, a secret.

But I’ll just answer. Tearing off another piece of myself. Offering it to you on a platter. Dine. Be sated.

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