Supermarket Adventures

Over the summer I went back home, to the USA, to visit my family. I hadn’t been back in five years, and we all enjoyed ourselves so much, Alhamdulillah (Praise God). Before I share some of our adventures, let me just tell you about two things that I noticed during our visit, which I think are kind of significant.

First, no one seems to believe in cash anymore. Everyone pays with a credit card…for EVERYTHING. I even saw a woman at The Dollar Store put two dollars on her credit card to buy balloons. TWO DOLLARS!! I find it kind of weird, to be honest. I don’t understand anything about economy, but the fact that no one actually has any cold, hard cash can’t be good, right? And what about just logistically…I mean, what if you see the Girl Scouts and want to donate? There was a too-cute-for-words little girl whose curly black hair was tied up into two pom-poms on either side of her head standing outside of Dunkin’ Donuts collecting donations for her cheerleading squad. I think her little red tin can must have remained empty…forevever!

The second most significant difference was the increase in the Muslim population in and around my hometown. Whereas back in the day, it was just us and one other family in the area, now there are so many, that I never went out without spotting one or two families. Alhamdulillah. Praise God. Alhamdulillah that the new Muslim generations growing up there now won’t feel quite so isolated.

It was kind of funny to see how my kids reacted to that, actually. To them, normal is everyone around being Muslim. So when we were in the USA, although I was finding it ‘strange’ that there were so many women covered up, to them it was completely normal. But for some reason–and to this day I don’t really understand why–I felt like I stood out more this visit than I ever did before. There is no logical explanation for why I felt this way: I was born and raised in the USA, and I went through all of high school and college covered up. But for some reason, despite the increase in the Muslim population, I felt like I stood out, like I didn’t fit quite the way I had before. One trip to the supermarket just intensified this feeling….

We just needed a few items, so once we had grabbed them, I surveyed the cashier lanes. Although the lines weren’t super crowded, I decided to go through the self-check out. How hard could it be?

So I swiped the first couple of items,then decided I should just bag as I scan…that would save some time.

“No, mom. Don’t put it in the bag,” my eleven year old said to me.

“Why, not?”

“I don’t know. Just wait till you’re all done.”

“Why? I’ve already scanned it. I’m just gonna bag as I go.”

“It’s not a good idea, mom,” he gave me one final warning.

But, unfortunately, I didn’t listen. As soon as I put that first item into the bag, a loud electronic voice screamed out, “Unexpected item in bagging area.” And it was just down hill from there.

I followed the directions of the electric voice, and managed to clear up whatever mistake I’d made, but the problem was that it kept happening with EVERY SINGLE ITEM! And after the first few, it stopped letting me clear it…so the voice just kept screaming out, relentlessly, “Unexpected item in bagging area. Unexpected item in bagging area! UNEXPECTED ITEM IN BAGGING AREA!!” It might as well have been screaming, “Foreigners need help in lane 10! Someone please help out the foreigners in lane 10!” My son suggested we just take the things over to another self-check out, but I was fairly certain that would just make matters worse. I fully expected someone to come over and relieve me of the embarrassment, but they never did.

Now, this was the same supermarket that i worked at while I was in high school. And back then (ok, so a long time ago, but still!) the manager was always out front, waiting to head off issues, checking IDs for customers purchasing cigarettes, all that stuff. But that day this summer, there was no manager around.

So I went over to the nearest cashier and told her (as if she didn’t know!) that I was having some trouble at the self-check out and needed some help. She came over right away and cleared the issue so that I could continue where I had left off. And as soon as I thanked her and she walked back to her lane, off that voice rang again, “Unexpected item in bagging area! UNEXPECTED ITEM IN BAGGING AREA!”

I just wanted to leave everything and book it out of there as fast as I could. I looked up to see the light above the cash register, which had been flashing green at the start of our issues, was now flashing red. So now the “Unexpected item in bagging area” was code for “Foreigners trying to steal stuff in lane 10! Alert! Thief-Foreigners in lane 10! Alert! Alert!”

A different cashier came over and helped me out till we finished. I didn’t use the self-checkout for the rest of my stay, and I have no intention of doing so EVER!!!

What had my head spinning (besides the embarrassment, which sent me into a laughing fit, of course) was the fact that my son knew.

“How did you know? What made you tell me not to bag?”

“I saw aunt K use the self-check out and she bags at the end to avoid those issues.”

Okay, so two lessons here:

1. NEVER use the self-check out at the supermarket, especially if you look like you may be someone visiting from another country. (Which is a huge percentage of the American population, so people…just don’t do it!) The alerts you get will end up sounding like, “Someone come save this foreigner from the predicament she’s put herself into!” Not fun. (Definitely funny, now…but…not fun when it’s happening.)

and 2. When your kids give you advice, listen to it, even if you’re not quite sure why.

An Arabic Lesson

Recently I read a Facebook post of one of my non-Muslim friends who was celebrating a turn for the better in her son’s health. Many of the comments read, “Praise God.”

This made me pause. And re-read. And think. And after a bit, I understood why I had been confused.

You’re thinking, “Of course she should Praise God that her son’s health is improving.” And I say to you, OF COURSE. PRAISE GOD!!

So now you’re even more confused: why, then, did this phrase make me do a double take?

It made me do a double take because it is so rare that I hear non-Muslims use that term. So rare, in fact, that probably I’ve only heard it used in similar contexts, expressing gratefulness for a hardship that has eased or passed. But Muslims don’t limit their Praises of God to just passing of hardships. We say it in almost every occasion.

Alhamdulillah. Alhamdulillah is Arabic for Praise God. Someone asks you how you are, you say, “Praise God.” You’ve just been released from the hospital: Praise God. You’ve arrived safely after a long trip: “Alhamdulillah.” You’ve just been in an accident: “Alhamdulillah.” You’ve just received horrible news: “Alhamdulillah.” You were denied the promotion that you KNOW you deserve: “Alhamdulillah.”

We Praise God always…ALWAYS…because we believe that God rewards the patient. Accepting hardships with an Alhamdulillah gets us one step closer to Paradise.

I’m sure many non-Muslims do the same; the similarities between all of us who believe in One God are much more than our differences.

Another term you’ll hear Muslims say like it’s going out of style is ‘in sha’ Allah.’ ‘In sha’ Allah’ simply means ‘God willing.’ Why do we say it so often? Because it is one of the six pillars of faith to believe in destiny, that our lives are pre-ordained and nothing happens without God’s will.

Now, contrary to ‘Praise God,’ I don’t think I’ve ever heard a non-Muslim say ‘God willing.’ Actually, once. Once I heard it being said. In the USA, I used to worked with a young man who came from Haiti, and I was pleasantly surprised when he said to me one day, “Don’t you think it’s strange that people here always make plans but they never say, ‘God willing?’ In Haiti we ALWAYS say it.”

So when you hear the Muslims around you say ‘in sha’ Allah,’ they’re not saying anything strange; they’re just affirming their faith that nothing happens without God’s will.

Aren’t We Behind?

If you watched cartoons in the 80’s and 90’s, then chances are you know The Jetsons. The Jetsons were a futuristic family, living in a city that looked like this:

jetsonscityimages The cartoon was clean, family oriented. I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately, because I’m so sick of the traffic, and the overall population congestion, and the housework.  The Jetsons didn’t have crowded residential areas. They didn’t have traffic, either, because they drove around in hover cars. And they didn’t have a need to cook, because they had this machine that would pop out tablets that turned into full meals. What’s more, they had a robot maid (Rosie) who did all the necessary housework. Now that’s the life!

So I did a bit of research to find out when the Jetsons were based. Maybe 3024? No. What about 2500? Nope. They lived in 2062; that’s only 48 years away! Do we have time to build these high-rising cities? And perfect the manufacturing of hover-cars? Aren’t we behind???

At the very least…THE VERY LEAST…each home should be equipped with it’s very own Rosie!jetson maid That doesn’t seem like such an impossible feat! Come on, people, get moving!

And while my inventor friends are working on of that, I’ll leave you with this (it’s been stuck in my head for days…maybe if I pass it along it will leave me alone!):

eep op ork a- ah! Just remember that, and your day might be just a bit more cheery!

(For my beautiful friends who aren’t familiar with this song, leave a comment with your guess!)

Exiting Planes

For the past month or so, I’ve been planning out a trip to visit my parents. The kids are really exited because they haven’t seen their grandparents, uncle and aunt and cousins in years…and when they found out that a trampoline was involved, they literally started jumping up and down!

Then Number 4 asked a very innocent question: “How’re we going to get there? By car?”

“No, it’s too far to go by car. We’re going to go by plane.”

And as soon as I said that, she started bawling! Tears streamed down her face, she was screaming, “No! No! I don’t want to go on a plane!!”

Now, she’s never been on a plane. She’s never been to an airport. She’s never even seen an airplane fly overhead. I really couldn’t understand her reaction. I mean, she’s never even seen an airplane movie!

Or so I thought….

“What’s wrong, Number 4? Why don’t you want to go on an airplane?”

“I’m scared.”

I still didn’t get it. How could she be scared of something she knew absolutely nothing about?

“What are you scared of?”

“We’ll have to jump!”


“We’ll have to jump to get out of the plane!”

“Who told you that?! No, we won’t have to jump.”

“Yes, we will. Just like in Despicable Me!”

To be honest, I couldn’t stop laughing. Once I composed myself, I explained to her that airplanes actually land, then people step off. She didn’t get it at first. She didn’t understand that the scene in Despicable Me – where the girls jump off the aircraft as it’s flying in the air- was an abnormality; the film had ingrained in her little mind that that was the normal way to get off of a plane. It took some convincing, but now she finally believes me.

So, my friends, not only must you be aware of sex, violence, drugs and all the other monstrosities our children are exposed to through the media, but you must also be aware that the fictional, fantastical scenes which to you might seem harmless, may in fact be  catalysts to deep fears in our children. For that reason, I always take the fun out of everything. I always explain, “cartoons are just pictures…people have a way of making them look like they move.” “No, there is no such thing as spider-man; if a person tries to jump from a building, he will fall and die.” “No, animals do not speak to humans.” Yes, I take the fun out of everything…but I’d rather have them understand the difference between real and imagination than have them think that a person can shrink the moon and steal it!

Do You Know

Number 3 is in kindergarten. And, Praise God, despite the fact that he was born almost three months prematurely and experienced a significant amount of time where little oxygen was reaching his brain, he’s doing well in school. He comes home happy, excitedly opens his bag, pulls out his homework and just gets started. Unlike Numbers 1 and 2, he doesn’t even need me to tell him which pages to do; he figures out the pages he has to work on by flipping through the books and finding the last pages which his teacher has marked. I have hope that, God willing, he’ll be the one to NOT drive me crazy when it comes to school. I have hope that, God willing, he’ll keep up with getting done all he needs to get done, knowing that after that, he can just play.

He’s still learning the alphabet, letter by letter. They haven’t quite studied all of the letters yet. So the other day he says to me, “Mom, do YOU know all the letters?”

I’m still trying to figure out why he was SOOOOOO shocked when I said, “Yes.”  I felt like he was going to put his arm around my shoulder and say, “Now mom, I know you think you know all the letters, but maybe its time for a little review. Maybe you should come with me to school so that the Miss can teach you, too.”

No Such Thing As Discrete

I always like to have my kids’ uniforms and bags ready the night before. I make their lunches at night, for the following day, and it’s their responsibility to prepared their bags and make sure their uniforms are easily accessible (i.e. that they can actually find them). Number 3 is only six, so I do that stuff for him usually, but the two oldest take care of themselves. We simply do not have the time nor energy at 6:00 in the morning to be looking for pants under the bed, homework in the fridge and shoes in the shower…there’s just no time for that nonsense.

The other day, after Number 1 and Number 2 had already boarded the bus, I began to prepare Number 3’s bag. His clothes were out, jacket ready, and I still had about 15 minutes before he had to be up. But as I looked over at the area just by the front door, I realized that his shoes weren’t where they should be. I spent some time looking under the couches, under the beds, in the shoe rack. I looked in all three bedrooms, with no luck. Even though he still didn’t have to be up, I had no choice but to wake him up and ask him where they were, hoping that by some miracle he would know.

Of course, he did not. We continued to search together, all the while I’m thinking, “Am I really going to keep him home because I can’t find his shoes?” And I would answer myself, “But they’re the only shoes that fit him! He can’t very well go barefoot.” We continue to look, but with no luck. I tell him to go wash up and get dressed: at this point I decide I’ll send him in a pair of his older brother’s shoes, even if they are a bit too big.

While he’s getting ready, I say to myself, “Think outside the box! Where haven’t you looked, yet?” The balcony. No luck. I even look down at the street below, hoping NOT to discover that one of the monkeys had thrown them from the sixth floor. As I’m looking, I see something red. Sullied from being driven over, from being kicked with dirt…but red. “Is that their spiderman water shoe? Please, God, tell me that’s not the missing water shoe I’ve been looking for since yesterday.” But I can’t see well enough from this far; I’ll have to check it out later.

But I still hadn’t found Number 3’s shoes. “Think outside the box!” I repeat to myself. So I check the fridge. No luck. The freezer. And guess what?! Just kidding…no luck there either.

Now I’m thinking I’ve looked EVERYWHERE. I look around me. I have some end/coffee tables with these tiny drawers, barely big enough to fit a notebook, or some coasters. “But the shoes wouldn’t even fit in there!” I say to myself. But I was wrong! The last drawer I tug at won’t open. Something has it jammed. After some moments of my cursing and wrestling with the drawer, it finally opens, revealing the missing shoes! Someone explain to me why in the world someone would put a pair of shoes in the drawer of an end table!

Anyway…so we go down to wait for the bus. I’ve taken a plastic bag with me, in case that red item I spotted from the balcony does indeed turn out to be our missing spiderman shoe. We walk over to it, and sure enough!

I hold the bag open. “Number 3, just pick it up and put it in this bag.”

I’m trying to be as quiet as possible. I realize what this looks like: we look like we just saw something, some piece of trash, in the street, and we want it for un-explainable reasons. I know that’s what we look like, so I want to be quiet and quick. But no luck with that either!

“What, mom?! You want me to pick that up?!”

So now I have no choice but to raise my voice, too.

“Yes! That’s the shoe you threw from the balcony! Pick it up and put it in this bag!”

Someone tell me what’s so hard about that?!

He picks it up, and instead of just quickly and quietly placing it in the bag, he waves it all around, as though he’s saying, “Hey everyone, look what I just found in this trash pile on the ground!! Isn’t it cool! I’m going to take it and add it to my trash treasure!”


Yeah. So much for being discrete.


When Is It My Business??

When does it become your business to get involved?

Is it when you see her being hit, being beaten?

Is it when you see her being cursed at, being thrashed with words?

Is it when you see her being yelled at–not cursed, but embarrassed in public?

When??? When does it become your right to get involved in this stranger’s life?

Along my walk I saw this young couple, maybe engaged, but definitely not married. And they wanted to cross the street–the highway. And the stop light was about 50 yards away. So (I presume) she said something like, “Let’s just go cross at the light.” And he responded (again, I assume) with something like, “We’ll be fine. Everyone crosses. Just hold my hand.” And maybe she repeated her request. That’s when I heard him yell at her, “SO YOU’RE NOT GOING TO CROSS WITH ME?? YOU’RE NOT GOING TO CROSS WITH ME??”  She, of course, just remained quiet and allowed herself to be lead by him.

And I didn’t say anything, or do anything. But their image haunts me even days later. I should have told her that this form of disrespect will only increase with time. I should have told her that she deserves someone who will value her opinion and take it… not just brush it off because it may be different from his. I should have told her not to let anyone detract her from doing the right thing, no matter who they are, no matter how much you think you love them. I should have told HIM that manliness is not about raising your voice or flexing your muscles. I should have…but I didn’t.

God forgive me.