Having A Large Family

Muslim Mummy

While Muslim Mummy is away, I wrote a not-so-little guest blog post musing on having a whole bunch of kids:

It surprises me how many Muslims respond negatively at my having a large family. Worse is when they nearly reprimand me, demanding to know if I am “done” at six kids. I thought we all knew this one:

Wealth and children are an adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one’s] hope. (Surah Al Kahf: 46)

I’m not into name brands. Having kids is mything. Well, I have a few dunya-ey things that I really like to do, but raising my pack of kids is my main thing and not only do I give it a lot of my time and consideration, I do it pretty well and get a fair amount of satisfaction from it. Alhumdulillah. Over the years I have found that there are a lot of benefits (not just for me) to having a big family. Here are just a few:

  • Learning to labor

Parenting begins with birth, and if you are birthing your own kids you may not realize what a crisis modern birthing practices are going through in the US (and just about everywhere) until you are actually in labor…

Please shoot over to Muslim Mummies to read the rest. And then get all wrapped up and inspired in her Project 365 posts.

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Gold And Cold Season – A Brookolie Newsletter

I'm convinced this stuff will keep you warmer all winter. #gold #workinprogress #Brookolie #goldfill #vermeil

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I’ve been wanting to do one of these newsletters for awhile, but really had no idea what to tell folks about my Brookolie jewelry.  Recently fellow writer Sa’diyya Nesar of the SISTERS Disability Feature Column and I had a brief chat about the bursts of creative energy and emotional maturity that often occur after a fever or other illness. Lo and stuff, it seems all I needed was to be knocked down with a bronchitis flare up for several days and now I have plenty to tell you! Firstly, I think this connection between illness and growth is a really interesting one worth exploring for most of us. We usually view sickenss as a horrid impedance, and sure it can be, but there is also a method to the erm hackiness.

As someone with congenital muscular weaknesses, Sa’diyya has experienced this cycle many times in her life. Sa’diyya was born with weak muscles, (congenital myopathy), making her vulnerable to get pneumonia easily. I have experienced this cycle frequently as well with reoccurring bouts of bronchitis, pneumonia and sinusitis in my youth. The first place I ever read about and had confirmation about the post illness bloom was in a homeopathic book I bought back in my days in Portland(ia) to learn how to care for my children, who I have since witnessed experience this phenomena many times. My daughter Zaynab, then 7 years old, was once in bed with a fever for two days when she suddenly popped up and had to “work on a shirt”. She had recently commandeered her older brother’s fabric pens and had been dabbling with them, but on this post feverish day she spent a couple of hours doubled over her shirt creating an elaborate and pretty awesome henna-esque design covering about 3/4s of it. Then she went back to be for another day and a half.

About a month before my current knock down I had finally received a long awaited order of 14 Goldfill and 22K Vermeil jewelry supplies. I hadn’t had the time to do anything with it, but while I was sick I dozed on and off in bed, visions of stringing gold rolo chain with sky blue Amazonite, frosty green Fluorite and vermeil connectors danced through my head. As soon as I could sit up I had several designs in mind which I had to crank out. And here they are…

Which leads me to… many people ask me where do I get my supplies?

I incorporate Moroccan-made elements in most of my designs, but the majority of my gemstones, pearls and even metal bits cannot be found in Morocco. I have been selling my gemstone and precious metal jewelry for a decade and brought a fairly nice stash of supplies with me to Morocco. One winter in Alaska, I worked in a lovely boutique bead store while the owner went on her annual shopping trip to Hong Kong, India and Thailand. I owed her a lot of money when she got back, but I am still using gemstones from those many, many strands I acquired that winter.

Nowadays replenishing my beads is much more complicated than running down to the Bead Shack to pick up a string of Carnelian rondelles or a few Chalcedony briolettes. Not only do I need to plan appropriately to have all my ‘findings,’ staple gemstone, and pearl beads in my favorite colors and cuts, as well as exciting and interesting new finds, but I also have to have someone bring them to me as shipping several hundred dollars worth of supplies through the post is both costly (they are rocks ya know and do weigh as such), and would be a business-stopping loss if they were ‘lost’. So I order all my supplies from sellers in the US, Hong Kong and Thailand, and have them shipped to friends in family who are coming to Morocco from all over the place.

Frankly it has been nerve wracking for some of my friends and family to bring supplies to me. When they see the value of the stones on the shipping receipts they freak out a little bit about the responsibility. This is where I lose all business sense and my (desperate) artist sensibility takes over. “Don’t worry,” I appease my friends and family. “If anything happens I understand, it’s a risk I am taking. Don’t worry. Please, just bring them!” And so far this has worked, though not easily, which is ultimately good. This is one of the good things about being an expat – I have to find new ways of doing things that makes me more resourceful, a little more organized and Ya Rubb (Oh Lord) more appreciative!

Local fair-trade-ish stuffs

I do try to acquire as much of my supplies locally as possible. I am very fortunate that Ibrahim, the man my mother-in-law has been going to for jewelry repairs, exchanges and purchases for nearly thirty years has not only an excellent selection, but he is also very prolific in buying back old (vintage and antique!) jewelry from so many long term customers like my mil and he is a very skilled silversmith who can make the sterling silver wire I use in nearly every piece of silver jewelry I make. Not only does he make fresh wire for me in several gauges, he also recycles all the cut off ends and bits of sterling I send him- pretty awesome, enit?

Gold and Cold 3

Gold and Cold 1

Ibrahim also keeps an eye out for things he knows I need, like the occasional Thai fine silver pieces that may show up around town, strands of ‘potato’ or ‘rice’ pearls (often used in Moroccan wedding jewelry), these particularly awesome little locally made sterling spacers that occasionally become available and any especially interesting old Berber silver rings- I can’t make rings (yet) but I like to have them available in my shop for a more complete feel. Okay, I LOVE vintage and antique Moroccan jewelry, so it helps me to not hoard items if I can admire them in my stock for a bit before they tumble along to their new homes, I can only own so many rings.

Some of the vintage Moroccan rings heading into the #Brookolie shop this weekend. #silver #amazigh #silver #tuareg

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Here is a peek at Ibrahim’s inventory:

Gold and Cold 5

Of course, any chance I get I also go digging around in other jewelry shops for exciting odds and ends to hoard, I mean eventually work into my jewelry. This is a stash I collected in Essaouira, where I did get a little carried away and had to borrow a bunch of dirhams from my ten year old… I paid him back!

Especially if you made it all the way down to this portion of my newsletter, thanks so much for reading my ramblings! Please ‘like’ my Facebook page for updates and special discounts – ok, on my Brookolie Facebook page there is a not-too-hidden coupon code for % off, but for you non-facebookers, it is FANDF (that’s Friends AND Family). Just enter FANDF at check out to get the discount okay?

Increasing Numbers of Muslim Homeschoolers in Muslim Lands

The call of the athan, plentiful halal foods, people who know about Allah (SWT) similar to how you do, easier access to Islamic or Arabic resources for the entire family, and of course sending your kids to schools with Muslim teachers and peers are all among the perks of repatriating or making hijrah to The Lands of The Muslims. Scratch out that last bit for me and the growing handful of families who choose to homeschool even over here.

For many Muslim families who homeschool in the West, they expect to discontinue doing so once they move abroad as if all the reasons they chose to homeschool in the first place will be left behind. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that all the reasons are present in the ‘East’ too, where the Western model of education is mostly replicated and this is exactly why so many expats and locals are continuing or starting to homeschool.

Growing Pains?
When freshly relocated expats complain about the conditions they find in the schools locally available to them, whether the curriculum, the general ethics or particulars of the staff, often more experienced expats will appease these complaints with something like, “You’ll find a fit. You just have to keep looking.” By ‘fit’ I think they may mean another sort of compromise, such as with more drive time or maybe that’s just code for ‘You’ll get used to it’ as so many seemed to do. For former homeschoolers like Charlene Gray, who homeschooled in Australia but initially enrolled her daughter in schools in Morocco, she knew that there was no reason to compromise her daughter’s education when she found the school environments to be lacking in demonstrating Islamic principles as well as below her own standards of academics. Now Charlene’s daughter is back to flourishing as we know homeschoolers usually do.

Corporal Punishment? No Thanks
Another common thread of discussion I see among expats is about their kids being abused or bullied in school. This is something nearly every expat family I know of in my region has experienced. They have absolutely experienced it as far as other children bullying, throwing rocks at and fighting with each other, which I agree is a part of childhood that is unavoidable. I regularly deal with these kinds of problems outside of school hours, so would hate to think that my children were experiencing more while in school, but they would, and worse is that it even happens at the hands of the adults.

Just as discrimination is illegal in the states but still regularly happens, corporal punishment within schools is illegal in the region I live in but happens very regularly. Many parents deal with this by confronting their children’s teachers, often more than once and sometimes resulting in physical altercations. One such fistfight with her child’s (male!) principal is what led an expat friend of mine to return to homeschooling even though she obviously had thought she could quit once she made hijrah. This may sound like a worst of scenario, but unfortunately it is frequent when the parents choose to confront their children’s educators. Even if you step in and your child is no longer being abused by the teacher, they are still sitting among other students who are being emotionally and/or physically abused. While I want for your child what I want for my own, currently the best I can do with these circumstances is to home-educate and encourage the same for you.

What About Socilaization? Blah, Blah, Blah…
Daily incidents of bullying was just one paradigm shift motivator for unschooler and prolific writer Sadaf Farooqi who admits on her blog that sometimes her child (when younger) was even on the offensive side of bullying. While many non-homeschoolers cite concerns about lack of socialization as a reason not to homeschool, Sadaf, saw that her schooled child’s socialization was being adversely affected as her pre-primary daughter “…had more problems than improvement in her social ‘interactions’ (fights and conflicts) with peers…” as socialization in institutionalized school settings has multiple problems. As Sadaf has explained in the comments of her blog, “I personally think it’s debatable whether school improves social interaction. I think at the pre-primary and primary level, school actually curbs confidence, because such small kids rarely get to ‘socialize’ with each other freely only before first class, during break and in the short time after school before they are picked up. The rest of the time, any endeavor to ‘socialize’ innocently is strictly curbed by supervising teachers, and if continued, even results in that child being labelled as ‘naughty’ and ‘disobedient’.”

Sadaf discovered the concept of homeschooling through several teachers who, like many pioneers of the homeschooling movement in the US, chose to homeschool their own children instead of forcing them to sit through years of substandard and even abusive ‘educational’ environments, or they became ardent advocates for others to homeschool. Sadaf has become a semi-reluctant key figure in the steadily growing homeschool community in her native Pakistan, be sure to check out her blog for lots of good insight both on general unschooling and specifically homeschooling in Pakistan.

It’s A Muslim Thing
Another homeschooling and writer friend, Maria Zain, began her homeschooling journey in Malaysia and now continues in the UK. Maria perfectly sums up many of my own reasons for home-educating, even in the Lands of the Muslims, “After 6 years of homeschooling, I’ve had time to put in much thought as to why I have chosen it, and I believe, first and foremost, it’s because I believe that it falls upon the responsibility of parents to be the primary educators of their children, not the state’s or the institution. I think parents have lost a lot of their parenting skills, due to pawning off their children to schools at too young an age, for too long a period of their waking time, that both parents and children have lost the true value of education, which encompasses so much more than textbook – classroom learning. Our religion puts so much honour in parents – children have to be THE BEST to their parents up until old age, but I would like to question many adults (including myself), have we done enough to deserve this type of honour and respect from our own offspring? A “parent” is not just a noun, it’s also a verb, and adults need to honour this by being cohesively involved and understanding of their children’s growth and development.

Secondly, another belief – Islam champions the great diversity of the ummah. In fact, the strength of the ummah lies in the diverse heritage of its people. While other religions struggle with supremacy of certain races and caste systems, Islam has zero tolerance for discrimination against race, nor against genders (men and women are spiritually equal), nor age, nor upbringing. The same should be taught for the diversity of talents, interests, specialisations (all within Shari’ah of course). Homeschooling provides the platform for children to develop at their own pace and pursue their interests without prejudice or judgement. When children are encouraged to do things that they love and are given the time and space to explore, they flourish a lot more as compared to learning under stress and timelines.”

Ultimately my Best Reason to Homeschool While Living in the Lands of the Muslims is this: I like homeschooling. I enjoy encouraging my children’s diverse interests and talents, I believe in my role to be their primary educator (along with my husband) and know that there is plenty of support available to us to do it, so I do.

Yes of course homeschooling is exhausting and I have plenty of days in which I fantasize about the relief I may feel if I just put my kids in school. Ultimately this is one area of my life where I can delay gratification, insha Allah my relief will come later, but there is already plenty joy and gratitude in the right now. Plus my kids say they “won’t get on the yellow bus” so I’m stuck with it.

The Hijrah Diaries: Reflections on the Lands of Plenty

Fuzzy sunrise at the top by Eldest Child
Fuzzy sunrise at the top by Eldest Child

A forced lightening of our carbon footprints has been one of the benefits of relocating my family of eight to a rural village in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. My neighbours are nearly all self-sustaining farmers with limited supplemental incomes. What is available to buy and acquire locally for food, housewares, clothes and so on is hauled up here for people with very low incomes. My family’s daily food choices, which were hacked down considerably when we moved to Morocco from the US several years ago, have been further whittled down to about a dozen various seasonal vegetables to choose from, shelf-stable processed cheese, four kinds of dry bean, homemade breads, chicken or goat for meat and milk. Luxury items that are sometimes locally available include jam, spaghetti, rice, additive-laden yogurts, poor-quality cookies and chips – a meager selection of those processed foods city folks are commonly trying to avoid these days.

While food has been one of the biggest preoccupations of our adjustment to “simple living”, there are other challenges, such as not having electricity to run our space heaters on some of the coldest nights of the year. Since our water pump is electric we sometimes also run out of water. We can’t locally buy shoes that won’t be quickly ripped apart by the rocky hillsides – actually, most of the products available here are poor quality and need replacing sooner rather than later. I am familiar with the concept of ‘planned obsolescence‘ back home where electronics, fashions and other goods are designed specifically to need replacing well before they are worn out, but in Morocco I was surprised to find everyday goods made of such poor quality that they break very quickly, especially household items made of thin plastics.

When my mom came to visit Morocco for the first time last year I was eager to spend several days with her in Marrakech – land of supermarkets and malls – but I was also nervous about how material obsessed my whole family was with the pending visit to the city. We made lists of the foods we wanted to eat and all the things we needed or wanted to buy while in the city, including better quality homewares found in some supermarches. While I think it’s natural to want to do some shopping and have some fun, I was also worried that we would be making up for a year’s worth of waste reduction and light-living in just ten days.

The thing is our carbon footprint has been so greatly reduced by living, well, away from temptation and excess. If and when my family ever comes down the mountain for good, I don’t know how I am going to keep from sinking right back into gross over-consumption habits. Walking the walk is hard to do on streets overflowing with tempting offers. Not only do I enjoy eating out (something impossible to do here where there are no restaurants), but I am a working mum and some of those excessively packaged ‘convenience’ foods are a necessity. Here in the hills, with all the labour needed to process direct-from-the-ground foods, my family was struggling to get regular hot meals before we hired someone to cook for us. This solution may not be viable if we were living in a city though, where convenience foods have already exploited low paid labour and are more convenient than paying a fair wage to a cook.

I expected to learn plenty of things about life anew when we moved to a village in the countryside, but I fear that many of these lessons will not stick with me once I come down the mountain for good. Wastefulness is truly a middle and upper-class problem. We are the ones who gobble up the supplies, even when there is no true demand.

Reflections on our lighter living
Utilities
You have never seen a city girl conserve electricity until she has only a few kilowatts left on her prepay electricity card that could not be refilled until the next day or so. When our electricity has nearly run out, the entire family – even the children – unplug appliances, hang out in one lit room together, turn down the fridge and do anything we can to make that precious electricity last just a little bit longer. Once that card is refilled, forget about it. It’s back to everyone doing their tasks alone under one burning light bulb each, PS3 games ‘saved’ indefinitely with the screen and game box on, heaters more readily turned on and so on.

I wish I could say that my family is more conservative with water, that, like the Prophet (SAW) we each only use a mudd of it to make wudhu, but we are not. It seems that as long as these things are within easy reach, our nature is to thoughtlessly grab at them. I am sure that my neighbours who still haul their water from wells and streams use far less water than my supposedly khalifa-conscious family.

While my husband uses public transport to come in and out of the valley every couple of weeks, this is still far less diesel use than when I had a car and used to think nothing of getting into it to pop across town for one specific item or a particular kind of eatery I was craving. Casablanca was the first city I have lived in for a long time and not owned a car. It was inconvenient to not be able to drag all the kids along to whatever outings I needed or wanted to do, but again my carbon footprint was forced to be lighter than the one I may have stepped if I had owned a car. My family talks about buying a car (or two) if we go back to suburbia and I can only hope I would be more frugal with my use of it.

Our trash pre-burning, post-treasure hunting
Our trash pre-burning, post-treasure hunting

Post-consumer waste
In my Hijrah Diary series for SISTERS Magazine I wrote a bit about the horrors of dealing with my family’s trash out here on the mountain. Not only is it an icky and toxic mess to drag the rubbish a distance from the house and burn it, but it is also extremely embarrassing how much trash my family produces compared to my neighbours. We are still using far more convenience foods than most semi-sustainable farmers and our bin reflects this with its packaging from milk containers, grains, margarine and yogurt tubs, treat wrappers and so on. Of course, much of this has to do with the fact that we are not farmers and don’t get our foods directly from the source, but that has been the big part of my awakening out here – recognising how far removed I am from natural cycles.

An awesome book, really.

Human waste
This here is going to be some real talk. Our own human waste has been considered extensively since we moved into this ram-packed earth house with its ‘squat toilet.’ Not only did some family members have to learn how to use this style of toilet, but as a curious homeschooling family ought we also gave much thought and some research to where this waste was going when our landlord expressed concerns about us overfilling ‘the pit’ with our more-excessive-than-any-neighbours’ water usage. We learned about how some folks both here and all around the world don’t have indoor plumbing and use traditional farming technique of recycling their own human waste right along with that of their cows and other livestock. In short, I have learned that disposing of human waste via water is an environmentally messy business and that once again convenience and the ability to afford such luxury as flushing away our waste is something the ‘haves’ are doing that is ruining things for everyone. As disturbing as it may be to any porcelain-toilet owners’ sensibilities, pooping among the cows is actually a much better way to do it. And if one doesn’t own cows, they could use a compost toilet like the sister on page 52 does. I don’t yet, but I have aspirations…
While I worry about many of my bad anti-eco habits resurfacing once I return to the lands of plenty, one thing I am optimistic about is creating a grey water system for my family, even if just continuing to collect dish water runoff and hopefully setting up at least one compost toilet in our home. It’s a privilege and luxury to have so many choices and I pray that if my choices broaden again I will have the strength to be able to choose in a more deen-conscious way, insha Allah.

Brooke Benoit is the World editor for SISTERS Magazine and a self-proclaimed eco-jihadi, among her other various hobbies.
This article appears in the May 2014 ‘Green’ issue of SISTERS magazine, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women.

Mothering Mondays II: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah Mumbling About Self-Care

Spring? Are ya coming? ~pic by Badier G.
Spring? Are ya coming? ~pic by Badier G.

I am newly in love with spring. Watching my neighbors shoveling the dung out of their barns and folding it into the fields in preparation for planting has surely been part of the fine tuning of my appreciation for the natural order and cycles of life. I have been a city folk most of my life and the advent of spring, to me, was hallmarked by things like St. Patrick’s Day decorations and the availability of Peeps- are they making them halal yet?!? I have always appreciated as much nature as I could get, but living in the countryside has really ahmazed me all anew. I used to be a fall kind of gal, you know plenty of layers to show off my vintage finds, especially retro leather and suede jackets. And colors that make my green eyes really pop. But nowadays it’s all about spring for me- promising dew, delicate sprouts, surprise findings of wild bulbs, blossoms, early strawberries, dirty-footed sockless children… oh right, these posts are supposed to be about mothering, so let me get to tying it all together: Breaking Bad Cycles and Motherhood or How I Am Learning To Do Self-Care.

I don’t know why self-care is so hard for many/most of us Mamas. For me I think it’s a combination of not having learned how to take care of myself (raised in a culture of reliance of medical authorities) and also conflating self-care with luxury. My mother had never outright said that spending on oneself was frivolous or similar, but as a single mom she definitely wasn’t able to take care of herself as well as one wants their mama to.*

I grew up regularly, like 3-4 times a year having respiratory and sinus infections. I didn’t learned how to manage these issues, other than to treat them or suffer through the sick periods, including having walking pneumonia. After my second child was born I was finally diagnosed as having bronchitis (a relief because I just thought I was a mess!) and learned how to better handle the flare ups, but I was really nowhere near to taking care of myself.

Self-care has been something I have been hearing about since my first pregnancy. And recently I realised that it is only when I am pregnant that I truly take great care of myself, of course for the baby’s sake. After the baby is out… ‘self-care’ was like a buzz word I ignored like holiday hype. I do think ‘self-care’ is on a sort of cusp of being marketed, but it wasn’t being sold to me then. I heard about the importance of being a well-rounded, healthy mother in parenting and homeschooling resources, I heard about it in nursing circles, among Muslims I heard about the obligation to care about my vessel as it is on loan from Allah, I heard about it in various recovery and self-help circles… but really the concept was unattainable to me until this year, this passing winter actually.

I think I can attribute the breakthrough to two things: one being fed up with suffering with a chronic condition that I had a vague idea that I could manage a little better if I invested a little time and money into it, and two having good friends with similar problems and ideals (I blame Sumayyah, Aaminah, Mai’a and Chasity . I remember last year a couple of friends swore on this tonic/remedy, so I tried it and found it effective for curtailing onsets. That was a good start for me. Then just before this winter my friends and I were discussing herbs, vitamins and similar, and I realized how I only take vitamins when I am pregnant even though I know I could use them regularly and similarly I drink oodles of beneficial teas during pregnancy, but not beyond… while we were discussing various things we would individually like to do to take care of ourselves, I decided to try to fight back this winter, the season I am always sick for at least 3-6 weeks, often twice. Let me see, I told myself, if I can avoid weeks of hacking, pain, and misery with just a little pre-emptive self-love.

I began by having a cup of herbal tea every day, infused with various beneficial herbs and spices, sweetened with honey (my medicinal honey that I do not readily share with greedy children!), often with wedges of lemon and fresh ginger in the bottom (lemons and ginger are not always locally available, but I have made an effort to get them up here to me), and with a fun-filled, fizzy vitamin-C dropped in for extra loving self-care. And it worked.

I have big plans to keep going with this self-care stuff and am beginning to understand how devaluing myself affects my life in a multitude of ways. For instance. I am really blessed to do a few different kinds of work (paid and not) that I love doing, however, I think that because I enjoy my work I devalue it- as if work should be pure drudgery and so my enjoyment should be as little as possible or something. In some ways (such as carving out work specific time or investing) this blocks me from advancing in my work.

For one of my many jobs over the decades, I worked in a bakery (several actually) while putting myself through college (the first time, sort of) and in that first bakery there was a handwritten sign posted over my manager’s desk. It said “We pay for the things we need to run this business.” My manager was a man who also enjoyed his work and taught me so much (thanks Scot!). I never asked what that sign was about and I can see several interpretations of it, but some sort of essence of it has stuck with me through the years, even if I didn’t always take the advice.

While I am in a me-me-me-forgetabout-the-children kind of mode, it is impossible not to recognize the trickledown/cyclical effects of self-care. Of course I strive to take optimal care of my kids, but I see now how I send a mixed-message to them, as well as having difficulties discerning luxury and necessity (therein is another post about materialism ;). But as persistent and cute as they may be, I’m still not sharing my tea with healthy little beans.

~~~

* When I was a teen I used to spend my money on fairly expensive shoes, over a hundred dollars a pair was like gold way back then, and ironically matched them with cheap Goodwill finds. My mom, in her discounted work pumps, did little more than roll her eyes at this extravagance. Well, this last fall my mom visited me up here in the hills, bringing with her some shoes I had ordered online and sent to her house. And amazingly, she was actually wearing shoes that cost more than mine! She even acknowledged that she will never go back to cheap shoes, and alhumdulillah she doesn’t have to nowadays. And I stole the green felted clogs she rode in on… what? I have issues.

These Monday posts are my contributions to the Motherhood Project. Check it out here.

Mothering Mondays: Starting In The Embers With The Motherhood Project

Lovely little tiny green things growing in a seemingly inhospitable space. Taken by my eldest child.
Lovely little tiny green things growing in a seemingly inhospitable space. Taken by my eldest child.

In an attempt to better understand what it is I am doing, I have been wanting to dedicate some time to writing about parenting, but you know… writing vs doing. Well, Ke’lona Hamilton, the force behind the awesomeness that is Creative Motivations, has dedicated a snippet of everyday in 2014 (insha Allah) to creating a personal reflection centered on mothering. Ke’lona has invited others to join her in the Motherhood Project, where participants can create any form of writing, media or art on their own feelings around the subject, and she has fleshed out some pretty worthy areas to delve into: the good and bad, step-mothering, thoughts about her own mother and so on. I think I am going to go ahead and try to do this project too, at least on Mondays (when I eat meat, cuz someone else is around to do the cooking). Click these linkies to read more about the project and Ke’lona’s posts to date.

Here’s my first Mothering Mondays post:

Feeling Burnt

I told Ke’lona that I don’t exactly have shiny-happy feelings to write about mothering right now and she said something like that’s great, because the project is supposed to cover it all. So. My current stage of mothering feels something like that guy on YouTube stuck on a treadmill that just keeps going faster and faster, but he’s determined not to be violently thrown from the thing so he keeps running and running. He hollers a lot too, which is something else we have in common.

I have six kids, the first one is firmly rooted in the chemically-challenged throws of teenhood and the last is a couple months shy of her two years worth of breastfeeding. In May, if we live, I will have completed twelve years of breastfeeding. Remind me to award myself something spectacular since no other family member is yet at any stage to appreciate my accomplishment. Although I will likely get a little tiny bit more sleep, I’m not looking forward to weaning my baby who I am hoping will remain The Baby. As one friend always (painfully) reminds me, “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.” And I sure am getting whiffs of that.

My kids are home-educated, which I would not trade for anything currently available on the market, and that means that I spend more than average time with them. Of course I know I am supposed to GET AWAY from them time to time, rejuvenate me and all that, but you know theory is one thing and escape capabilities are another. My working from home is a mixed blessing in that I am always here for my kids and I am always here for my kids. For the last year and a half my husband spends half his time with us here in the countryside and the other half in the city. There is no solution presenting itself to this… lifestyle we have carved out. It sucks. For me.

As I type this I think about all the great craft supplies we have that I don’t have time or energy to do with my kids, or the access to glorious hikes that I don’t have ti… and all the many, many parenting, mothering and pedagogy books, articles and resources I have imbibed yet find myself acting contrary to… And I know, I know that I have done so much for my children and blah, blah, blah… yet I am in that burnt out space that I hope is a sort of rocky bottom because I fear to think how this could get worse.

Sometimes I feel like I am being mocked. I thought that I was laying out a nice little plan and made adjustments when necessary, but right now I feel overextended, like I have adjusted too much and the gears can’t take the pressure.

Maybe next week I will feel shinier and share some of the solutions I am trying. Or maybe I’ll drag myself out for a walk and share a picture. At least my treadmill is… as wide as I can make it.

Thanks Ke’lona for inviting me along on the ride.

Link Self-Love: It Happened to Me at xoJane

IHTM xojane

For my three readers who don’t use Facebook- here is a link to a little something I recently wrote- ‘It Happened to Me: I moved out of the country with my five kids and didn’t tell my mom‘. There are a few too many comments to wade through on the original post, so if you would like to chat me up about anything other than Christmas trees, please comment here- k?

Before the mind and body-wracking trip of 24 continuous hours of flying with five children (including a two-month old), I spent months accumulating passports and various needed official documents for seven people; researching vaccinations and how to combat traveler’s tummy; browsing rental apartments online with the aid and frustration of using Google translate; trying to figure out what to do with my mail and how I would get a new driver’s license without a physical address in the US; sorting, packing and weighing clothes and other essential items aiming for exactly 840 pounds total; and even writing a 10,000 word feasibility report for university credits on moving my family of seven to Morocco.

While tending to this endless to-do list, I decided not to tell my mom that I, her only child, and her five grandchildren were splitting town and moving overseas, for good.
It’s not like she didn’t know that I would ex-pat at some point. Before marrying my Moroccan husband, I had agreed that it would be “cool” for my someday kids to be “exposed first hand” to half their heritage and “live for a while in Morocco,” which I had only recently looked up on a map. With two kids in tow, the husband and I finally visited his birth country and I realized that I would love to live there long term and returned home to prepare to do so….”
The rest of the article is available here.

 

 

My Horriblest Ramadan Ever

A few months before Ramadan this year, a couple of good friends confided in me that their Ramadans are always horrible. Always. One friend’s husband is a smoker and every Ramadan she has to deal with his nicotine withdrawal, which includes irrational-like grumpiness and downright cruelness with both his words and actions. She’s spends her Ramadans waiting for the moment when he inhales so she can exhale. The other friend spends the entire month attempting to please the high needs and demands of her in-laws and husband. She cooks, cleans and serves at a break-neck constant pace throughout the month, while receiving a constant stream of nit-picking and frequent reminders that her lack of a cheerful demeanor indicates that she is not happily providing servitude to her family for the sake of Allah. Of course friend #2 isn’t able to perform any of the special Ramadan acts of ibadah which most of us look forward to and she is belittled for her failings there as well.

Wow, I was truly shocked as I had never had a bad Ramadan. Sure, sure I get a little pre-Ramadan anxious about the food and not having access to the food at regular intervals, but while I still have those feelings every year, after my first few fasts I knew that the hunger and thirst were truly not that bad. It’s mostly the unusual scheduling that Ramadan brings that I have found most difficult and more difficult each year as I have more children, now in all stages. This past Ramadan I had six kids ranging from a (greedy) breastfeeding baby of 14 months to a 14.5 year old teen who has fasted full Ramadans for a few years. As our family grows and our home environments change, the last few years I have found it helpful to have family meetings about what we all anticipate to happen and want to be doing during Ramadan. In Ramadans past this has helped me to recognize the needs of and prepare for our different styles of Ramadan, such as the years my husband took the boys to community iftars every night (heavenly years where I opted out of the stuffy, windowless sisters’ room and stayed home enjoying the quiet!) and the years we lived with my sister-in-law who has a very rigid Ramadan schedule which she stuck to even with seven people added into her household.

This year I was to be alone with the kids for the first couple of weeks of Ramadan as my husband had planned to be gone, so I sat down with the kids to discuss their expectations. I had hoped to help the three fasting older boys to understand that the iftar spread does not magically appear on the table and to accept that if that’s what they wanted (who doesn’t want a little feast at mahgrib?), then they would have to help to get it together. I had also hoped to illicit some empathy out of them, to get them to understand that in addition to fasting along with them and doing the managerial work of the suhoors and iftars, I also have younger children who would be keeping more regular schedules and would need supervision throughout the days as well as to be fed. Their response: nada. One son offered that he wanted “cake every day” and being the sincere (and previously a retail baker) kind of mom I am, I jumped at that suggestion and did bake cakes very regularly during the month. But when it came to addressing schedules- who would do what and when- forget about. They gave me groans and want-you-dead stares.

Some people might chalk this mis/lack of communication to typical mannish ways, but in hindsight- after an unusually horrid month with them, I think there was something else at play there. I think that they were having their own Ramadan anxieties and rather than work with me, they opted to just opt out. They closed down. I did try a second and third time to get them to “visualize our Ramadan together”, but again I got nothing.

Mistake #1

Ever heard the saying that “Expectations are unrealized resentments”? I expected my sons to empathise with me about the increased workload that Ramadan brings, and I expected them to help. Ha! Now, maybe some of you have perfectly perky children who upon waking every morning, happily refer to their to-do list and then systematically work through it, checking off their tasks as they accomplish them before rewarding themselves with a gold star or a game of Angry Birds. For the rest of us, I’ll randomly estimate, billions of parents the world over and throughout the ages- we suffer what is known as The Chore Wars. Beating, bribing, begging- to each their own how they deal with it, but a week or so into Ramadan I sought support and commiseration from some of my sister-girlfriends and lo and behold our kids were worse during Ramadan! Many people’s otherwise delightful children metamorphosed into bitter, resentful, heel and palm dragging, tantrum throwing beasts. And of course we all noted with horror that if Shaytan is locked up during Ramadan, then our children…

Mistake #2

This Ramadan the typical adolescent cry of “You’re trying to control me!” finally made its way to our home. Well, no duh. But herein I feel that I really failed: we (as in the husband) chose to restrict electronics during Ramadan. This makes perfect sense to a logical adult who understands that they are fasting not only with their stomach, but also with their other senses. Why would you expose yourself to ibadah-time wasting and potentially even haram content-filled entertainment during Ramadan?! We went cold turkey off the electronics while fasting, and now in the well-fed light of day I see that there could have been a better way. A couple of my (very smart) friends actually invested in handheld devices specifically for Ramadan. They chose all the content – new and exciting!- and were able to use the devices to both control (bribing!) and further control (keep ‘em occupied!) the kids without the kids even minding too much. I have already started stockpiling new-to-them “quality entertainment” for next Ramadan. As we get closer to next Ramadan, insha Allah, I will let them pick out some edutainmenty things so as to attempt to reduce the complaints about us, the adults, controlling everything.

More Solutions

As a home-educating mother I have long @@ at mothers who “just do all the chores, because it’s easier.” Maybe in the short term it’s easier than these daily battles I dredge through, but it’s a great disservice to our kids and would likely literally kill me if I tried.  Deconstructing the worst (not all, just the worst) scrimmages of our just passed Ramadan, three particulars really stand out for me as needing resolutions for next year: The Dishes, The Milk Run and Iftar Help.

I let most of the chores slide (even for myself) during Ramadan as we all have less energy; less energy to do and less energy to nag, but those three chores had to be done daily and were battles every time. Well actually, the first day of Ramadan one of my sons cooked iftar before I even woke up! He cooked in a filthy kitchen that he was supposed to have cleaned the night before (the cooking was meant as a “surprise”), so when I got mad about the mess he further shut communications down, feeling that his actions weren’t appreciated and the only other few times he cooked during the month were done so after immense nagging on mine and his father’s part.

To me, another full grown adult with a lot to learn, this kitchen work stuffs seems logical; I like to cook in a clean kitchen, cleaning as I go along, serving the meal on plates that are clean and waiting, and then clean it all up again sometime after we eat, and then repeat the whole thing forever. OK, maybe I should omit “like” in there because a lot of times I loathe the entire process. And obviously that is just my preference because The Kid managed to cook a scrumptious meal with only four clean items: cutting board, knife, pot and spoon. Still, he does not see passed that cooking moment (let’s not even get into the mess he creates while cooking) to needing those dishes to serve on, as well the cooking and serving that needs to be done in between suhoor and iftar for the younger kids. Tons of work, right? And while I sympathetically added myself to the dish washing roster just for the blessed month (the three eldest rotate dish duty), I refuse to do all of the washing and cooking. I expected (there’s that word again!) the kids to help with our iftars, especially when I was doing some of their work.

And they did help and even fully prepared a few iftars, but with no rhyme or reason- reluctance being the only constant. Maybe without the burden of cleaning the kitchen (we do nearly all of our cooking from scratch, so there can be a lot of dishes involved) maybe the cooking would be easier to approach for all of us. I know some families turn to paper plates during Ramadan and though I am absolutely loathsome of this option (how we gonna skip a whole meal every day, but waste other resources!?) if we are not able to fulfil our mutually agreed upon dream of getting a dishwasher next year, I might seriously buy a stack or several of disposable plates. At least I won’t be using plastic utensils and Styrofoam cups, right?

The last thing that gave me a lot of problems this past Ramadan was The Milk Run. When we lived in urban Morocco this problem was The Bread Run: sending a child to pick up daily fresh bread for iftar. Here we buy fresh daily milk and the kids use a rotating schedule of whose-turn-is-it? throughout the year just like we do with the dishes. It’s about a ten minute walk to go get the milk- right before breaking the fast at mahgrib- a task that apparently few children cheerfully fulfil day after day. This year my non-fasting (and too young to normally go) daughter truly happily went to get the milk everyday with her friends who went that way to get fresh drinking water, but on the days she didn’t go- uff with the begging and bribing again! I really don’t know how we are going to get over this one next year if we are still in this same location, but it would certainly be nice to relieve this other headache.

Moving forward

With all the moaning and groaning (it was actually much louder than that) that went on around here during Ramadan, you can imagine how our acts of ibadah faired. The Boys finally got into the habit of going to tarawee for the final ten days, but on eid I gave the two worst offenders cards which basically said:

“I’m so sorry that we all had such difficult Ramadans and I hope that we can work out some of our problems before next year. I have put aside some money for you for eid, but since I noticed that you didn’t get to read much Quran this Ramadan I have decided that when you demonstrate that you have revised (insert name of long surah child has mostly memorized) then I ‘ll give it to you. I’ll even spend an equal amount towards an electronic device of your choice! I love you, Mama”

And you know what? They weren’t even mad! They knew they were horrible. And maybe I was too. Insha Allah we can begin now to be sure that this past Ramadan remains our most horriblest Ramadan ever.

~~~

If you have had some horrible Ramadans and have found solutions to make them the blessing-filled month we all aspire for, please leave me a comment here to contact you for an interview and I promise not to publish your comment.

*My family home-educates and although I look one, I am not a fulltime housewife.

Day Two: Failing to Live Below the Line

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I’m not a hater. I’m actually a bit of a natural-born cheerleader. But in this circumstance I am quite relieved to see other people ‘failing’ (yes, air quotes- it’s my blog) the Live Below the Line challenge to live on less than £1 ($1.50) worth of food daily.

I ended yesterday with

$0.29 Sauteed veggie sandwich with processed cheese and pickles

$0.15 Cup of tea with splash of milk and less sugar than I would prefer

$0.12 Two homemade lumps of chocolate-covered raisins and peanuts (thanks Hun, you knew I would be a much better spouse and parent with some chocolate in me!)

$0.12 Banana

$0.09 Four (or five?) Jelly candies

Total: $0.77

Daily Total: $1.50

I think my fail happened around an extra jelly penny candy or two and then… I added some couscous broth to the sauteed veggies. Yeah, plus I skipped lunch– which was a beautiful platter of couscous with chicken and raisins and… and I stole a couple spoons of the broth. And ate two or three too many jelly candies. Fail.

~~~

Please go here to help relieve extreme poverty. I’m off to prep a bunch of cheap veggies for lunch whilst drinking “all the tap water” I can.

Tight

We had a terse argument that ultimately got me to here. If he left work a few minutes early, we would lose a few dollars. But if I could leave home a few minutes early, I could pick up the food. The free food. But would it even be worth it?

Mmmm look at all those yummy preservatives and other added chemicals!

Sometimes the boxes are more generous with fresh produce and even some yogurt or cheese in them. Sometimes they are measly, full of processed, chemical-filled “food” items that I am ashamed to feed my children. We finally agreed that the risk was worth the few dollars we would lose. The few dollars wouldn’t buy any produce or any other foods beside a gallon of milk.

The warehouse had moved since my visit last month, but I didn’t know that until I arrived and read the posted flier with a map directing me to the new location. I was tempted to take the flier so I wouldn’t forget the address, but it was the only one posted. I got back in our car, his work truck. We own just this one vehicle, but it doesn’t seat our entire family. I drove a little faster. We lose on the other end if I am late.

From the bright, midday sunlight I step into the dark, unfamiliar space, looking hurriedly for the number tags. Should someone else get the next number, it could mean late or later for me. New people don’t know the process. They take a number, sit and wait with the rest of us, waiting for food. But when the number is called the new person is then told to fill out paperwork which they should have filled out before they took a number. This can make the wait unpredictably and painfully longer. Some days there isn’t a wait. Other days, it could take an hour’s worth of waiting just to finally walk over to the counter and exchange a number tag for a box of food. If my turn is not called soon enough, I may have to leave without my box.

The warehouse is so noisy. Just like the old location. There are several workers, a few administrators, dozens of people waiting ahead of me, the television is on and of course, several small children are in various states of playing or clinging. I find the number dispenser and move further into the warehouse looking for a place to sit. So many people standing. So much noise. I hate it that they watch me as I stand looking for a place to sit and wait for the food.

Then I see her and realize that the noise is mostly a moaning sound. A very tall and heavyset woman is lying on her side on the painted cement floor. She is writhing just slightly and making a constant moan. Many people are standing around watching her, ignoring the Wizard of Oz on the TV. A man is on the floor cradling her shoulders and head in his lap, telling her: “You’re okay baby. You’re okay.” A woman is asking no one in particular if the moaning woman is diabetic. The curious or concerned woman has a family member who is diabetic; she guesses that perhaps this is the moaning woman’s problem. She is epileptic. This is repeated throughout the crowd. “She is epileptic.”

A woman is asking the man on the floor questions, relaying the information into the phone. I hesitate. Should I take a seat? I step just outside the entrance. Back into the brightness. My number is 56. I see a couple in the parking lot, loading their food into two backpacks. I want to ask them what number they had. I am envious that they got their food before whatever is happening happened and they don’t have to wait. The woman on the phone is the one who should be calling the numbers. Another couple leaves and I want to ask them what their number was. I peek through the door at a man standing near the pick-up window. I try to see what number is in his hand. I feel so callous. That woman is sick on the cement floor. She may not get her food. She may not need it anymore. Maybe I should leave.

I move along the side of the building, further away from the door. An ambulance comes. I watch the entrance closely for anyone else coming out with their box. I don’t know what time it is. I can see most of the inside of the waiting room. I don’t see a clock. I remember during another visit at the old location that the place didn’t have a clock on the wall. Maybe it makes the waiters too anxious. The Wizard of Oz is a VHS tape and won’t even give a commercial break to hint at how long I have been waiting. Someone else comes out with a box of food. I go back in. The number 59 is still hanging on the wall. I press myself against the wall next to the number tags. I stare down towards my feet and notice how my nails are digging into my hands. I can see the wrapper of a hypodermic needle on the table next to me. I can see her feet. She is lying on her back now. Only one of my friends knows that I do this. A few days ago I told her that I only felt desperate during my first visit to the food bank. I feel desperate again today.

~~~

This story originally appeared in University of Alaska Anchorage’s ‘Understory.’

Go here for a list of Muslim operated (and sometimes halal carrying) foodbanks.