Brotherly Love

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When I was very young, maybe 6 or 7, my older brother (I’ll continue to refer to him as Genius) had a bad fall off his bike. He split his chin open and my dad had to take him to the hospital. I remember it as being night, but it’s very possible that my mind isn’t catching all the details accurately. My mom stayed home with me. My younger brother, Allah yirhamu (God rest his soul), must have been a toddler, but I don’t remember him being there. What I do remember is how concerned I was about Genius. I was so worried. What was going to happen to him? Would they be able to fix him? What if they couldn’t fix him; what then? I’m sure my mom tried to calm me, but I don’t really remember that. All I remember is the feeling: being petrified that something bad was going to happen to my older brother.

I felt like they were gone for hours. And during the whole time, I just kept praying he would be okay.

What felt like a lifetime later they finally walked in the door. And do you know what Genius had in his hand? Guess. Go on, guess. Nope, try again. Give up?

He had in his hand a McDonald’s bag. There I had been, worrying my ass off about this kid, and he’d been having a grand ol’ time at good ol’ Mickey D’s! And, to top it all off, he didn’t even bring me any chicken nuggets!

Ok, so I obviously don’t remember whether or not he brought me anything, but you get the picture.

At the time, I don’t actually think I cared whether or not he brought me any chicken nuggets; I was so incredibly relieved that he was home and, besides for the bandage on his chin, that he was fine. I was so incredibly relieved.

I recently got a glimpse of this same kind of sibling love between my own children. Generally speaking, my kids do get along, Alhamdulillah. They fight sometimes of course, but more often than not, they’re causing trouble as a posse. God bless them.

A couple of weeks ago, my 15 year old, M, woke up in the middle of the night in a choking fit. He couldn’t breathe. It was a terrifying experience for all of us, including my younger kids. When the fit subsided and his breathing went back to normal, the younger kids kept saying, “Is M ok?” “Mom, don’t send M to school today.”  As my youngest kissed me goodbye that morning she said to me, “Mom, take care of M.”

These moments of trouble, as horrible and distressing as they are, are also blessings from God, to let us see this beautiful love that may otherwise live masked for years. I hope the three younger kids all remember how they felt that morning, how anxious they were for M, how much they loved him. And I hope he remembers it as well.

That kind of brotherly love, that’s God’s gift, people. If you’re lucky enough to be blessed with it, cherish it. Cherish it in your youth, and return to it as you get older. And don’t let anything make you forget it, especially money, the demon known to pull families apart.

Oh, did I tell you about the time Genius borrowed a thousand bucks from me on an “inside tip”?

Well, that’s a story for another time.

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Keep Your Car Doors Locked

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I often take taxi services to run my errands. They are better kept, more reliable than, and typically the same price as a regular taxi. So today I had an errand to run, and I took all the usual steps to get a car. When I got the message that it had arrived, I immediately left my apartment and made my way to the entrance of my building.

I step out onto the sidewalk and look right and left, reading all the license plates. When I can’t find the appropriate one, I dial the driver’s number. Just then I see the plate I’m looking for. I hang up and go to the passenger’s side of the car and pull at the handle. Nothing. I try again. Again, nothing.

I’m thinking to myself, “Why does this guy have the doors locked?”

Just then I hear him say something to me through the window that’s open just a crack.

“It’s open??” I repeat.

So I try again. And again, nothing happens.

Then he says something else.

“What?”

He rolls down the window just a bit more and says, “I’m not a taxi service.”

At first I didn’t understand what he was saying. So I repeated it.

“You’re not a taxi service?”

“No,” he says.

And it finally dawns on me: I was totally trying to bust into a strange man’s car!

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!”

I apologized and walked back to the sidewalk.

Yeah, I almost got into a stranger’s car and demanded that he drive me to my destination!

When the words “I’m not a taxi service” finally registered in my mind, two distinct scenarios flashed before me. The first was that the car door had opened when I first yanked it, I got in and told the guy to hurry up because I didn’t want to be late. And for him to be like, “Lady, what the hell is wrong with you?! Get the F out of my car!” And me being like, “What the hell is wrong with me! What the hell is wrong with you?! Why be a driver for a taxi service if you’re going to tell your customers to get out of your car?” And he’d be like, “I’m not a driver you crazy woman! Get out!!”

Which would have been pretty unfortunate. Nonetheless, it would have been better than the second scenario: me getting into the car, him driving off, and me disappearing forever. Yeah…not good.

So the moral of the story folks: sometimes that crazy lady trying to bust into your car isn’t a killer or a maniac. Sometimes she’s just a frazzled mom (and probably an artist of sorts…most likely a writer) and she just messed up the license plate number. Do the decent thing: drive her where she needs to go!

Supermarket Comedy

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Scrolling through my older blog posts, I came across this one from three years ago. As I read it and relived the experience in my mind, I found myself laughing out loud. I’m postponing the post I had originally planned for today so you can read this one and have a laugh. Enjoy!

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.

 

(Thank you for reading and clicking ‘like’ on this post. Click here to read the first chapter of my novel Behind Picket Fences and to stay updated with deals and giveaways. For those of you in the USA or UK, click here for details on how to enter my latest giveaway.)

Fun With The Kids

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I haven’t written a blog post in almost two full months. Partly I’ve been working on my novel, but mostly it’s because I really want to post something light, funny maybe, and lately, with the distressing state of the world, I haven’t felt that way. But the other night, I had a great time with my kids…

We just subscribed to our free month of Netflix. I know, I know, Netflix is old and I’m so behind. But I wasn’t even sure how it would work here in Egypt, and quite frankly, I totally plan on cancelling before the free month is over. Anyway…so we watched our first movie the other day. We chose ‘The Prince of Egypt’ as our first pick. I was rather disappointed by it all. The makers did it a disservice to the film by removing almost all religious context from the story. Throughout the entire movie, I kept having to tell the kids, “Well, that’s not the real story; that’s not how it is in the Qur’an…and probably not how it is in the Bible.” Disappointing.

After that let down we needed something funny. Scrolling through, we found ‘Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.’ Now, most parents would not encourage their children to watch a movie about a young student who ditches school and goes all over Chicago having a grand-ol’ time. Most parents would not want their kids to get ideas about how to deceive their parents, how to trick their school administration, how to take their parent’s car without permission…and after all this, never get caught. Most parents are far too responsible to expose their children to all of that….

Well not me! As soon as I saw it on the list, I yelled out, “YOU GUYS HAVE TO SEE THAT! It’s such a good movie!”

Clearly, there is something lacking in my parenting skills…but whatever! Now’s not the time to dwell on that…

We had a blast watching Ferris as he played sick, fooling his parents and his friends (not his sister, though!). We loved watching him take the restaurant reservation for the ‘Sausage King of Chicago,’ then sneak out without his father seeing him. His rendition of ‘Twist and Shout’ on the parade float was well appreciated by all (although, the kids probably liked it just because I was making a fool of myself singing along!). They loved watching the beat-down Ed Rooney chase after his car as the tow-truck pulled it away! I wonder if they wished the same fate upon their own principal?

We laughed the whole movie through. It was a great time. And for that, I’m gonna go ahead and count it a parenting win. Not because it was a good choice (because who are we kidding?), but because we spent time together, laughed together, and hopefully, they’ll remember that more than any of the specifics of the movie. (I know, I know…not likely. But it could happen!)

Thank you for reading my post. Please give it a like. If you’d like to read some of my fiction, simply click here to read the character interviews for the women of my latest novel, Behind Picket Fences. The interviews were super fun to write and I think you’ll enjoy them. Again, thank you so much for your support. 

Help of a Three-Year-Old

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This year my sister-in-law, K, decided to homeschool some of her kids. It’s not the first year she’s homeschooled, but this school year was marked by a new addition to the family, a new bundle of hysterical outbursts…I mean, a new bundle of joy! And the new bundle has a three-year-old (ish) sister. Yeah, exactly. Craaaaziiiiness. God bless them all and keep them all health, happy and safe. But despite the craziness, I know that K is a rock; if she can deal with my brother, then dealing with a bunch of little punks is a breeze. (Ok, so not a breeze, exactly, but easy. Or…maybe…not easy, exactly, but doable. Yes, definitely doable.)

As you can imagine, K is always busy. Busy with the kids, busy with house stuff, busy with other stuff, busy, busy, busy. So sometimes, while the homeschoolers are in their designated areas doing their work, and she’s dealing with everything she needs to be dealing with, she invokes the assistance of the three-year-old.

“M, can you please go ask the boys if they need any help?”

And M, like the helpful little three-year-old that she is, climbs the stairs to the boys. And, as you can imagine, K begins to prepare herself for the ascent up the stairs. She perks her ears up, anticipating M’s call. But then the baby cries, and K nurses him, and burps him, and changes him…and forgets completely that she had employed M’s services.

Some time passes, a few moments of quiet descend upon the house, and K realizes her pint-sized assistant isn’t around.

“M,” she calls out, “where are you?”

And the answer cascades down the stairs, in the best adult, three-year-old voice you’ve ever heard: “I’m helping the boys with their school work!”

So, ladies and gentlemen, if you decide to homeschool your kids, no need to think that you must have all the answers. Not at all; all you need is the help of a three-year-old!

 

 

(Thank you for reading and liking this post. You may enjoy reading the four interviews for the women characters of my novel, Behind Picket Fences. The interviews were super fun to write, and I think you’ll find yourself wondering if they are characters from a book or real people. Click here for the interviews.)

 

For the Love of Books

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I have loved to read ever since I was a child. My parents were not in the habit of reading to us, and I don’t think they ever really encouraged us to read either. My dad has always been a math and science guy, so he stressed those subjects. Literature? Not so much. Growing up, neither of my brothers liked to read. And if he didn’t have a degree saying he’s an actual, real life dentist, I may even argue that my older brother doesn’t even KNOW how to read! Just kidding. He totally knows how to read…I saw a Dr. Seuss book on desk when I was there over the summer.

Anyway, in my case, I think it was the influence of my teachers that taught me the love of reading. I don’t remember vividly, because it was so long ago (and I have four kids, which means my brain cells are probably more fried than if I had been a druggie), but I do vaguely remember story time. I remember sitting in a circle with the rest of my classmates and listening to teachers read. My guess is, that’s how I learned to love reading.

But now, my kids don’t get story time at school. And only one of them is showing any interest in reading. I really want to nourish this love, but unfortunately, we don’t have public libraries here. And although I may be able to download books onto his tablet, I feel that digital books are just substandard, especially for kids. I don’t want him on a device, sucking up whatever kinds of waves they have and have not yet discovered being emitted from those things. I don’t want his reading time to be screen time. But the bigger problem is that I simply can’t afford to buy him a paperback book every few weeks. But I can’t afford to have him lose this interest either. I am torn.

So I’m trying to find free e-books, and I can read (at least partly) to them. My kids enjoy that; even my teenager enjoys it when I read to them. I do voice acting, which really keeps them engaged. The problem is it’s very easy to get out of the habit when our routine gets thrown off due to traveling or whatever, and it is very difficult to get back in the habit, mostly because it takes my kids FOREVER to get ready for bed.

But tonight, they did it. They got ready (relatively) early, and we had time to read together. We started The Wind in the Willows (because it was free!), and even though the language is a bit beyond them, and the digital version has no illustrations, they enjoyed it. And so did I.

Now we have a different problem altogether. I mean, do YOU know the difference between a mole, a badger and an otter? Google has already caught me looking up rifles and Dallas and trolls and recipes for cinnamon rolls (which turned out pretty good, actually) and folding furniture and all sorts of madness this week…guess we have to add furry creatures to the list now, too!

(Thank you for reading and liking this post. For a peek at some of my fiction writing, please click here and I’ll send you the four interviews I wrote for the women characters of my novel, Behind Picket Fences. The interviews were super fun to write, and I think you’ll find yourself wondering if they truly are characters from a book. Check it out.)

More ‘On Writing’

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I have now finished reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing,’ and as happens with any good book I read, I’m sad that it has ended. The subtitle of the book is ‘A Memoir of the Craft,’ but really, it is so much more. He takes us through his writing and publishing journey, but he also gives his readers a look into his personal life, the life which formed him into the writer he is. He tells us about how, when he showed his mother the first story he’d written, her face lit up. Then just as dramatically her face fell when he admitted that he’d only just copied it. She encouraged him to think of his own story, certain that he could write something at least as good. He tells us that he and his wife were barely getting by when his toddler daughter spiked an incredibly high fever; they didn’t have the money for her medicine. Then, his first check for a piece of writing appeared under their doorway. He describes how his writing got him into trouble in high school when he created a satirical newspaper, making fun of a few teachers. Each event was a lesson in life, but it was also a step on his way to becoming the famous writer he is today.

When he discusses the technicalities of writing, King often refers to The Elements of Style, highlighting many of its rules. Avoid adverbs at all costs, for example. The difference with King, however, is that he is more honest about it: he tells you the rule, then a few paragraphs later, he breaks it. He points out his transgression, assuring us that sometimes, you just need that adverb… and that’s okay, too. I have recently read The Elements of Style, and although I feel that some of the rules are a bit outdated, I do think it will prove a valuable reference throughout my writing and editing careers; I recommend it to all writers.

King’s humor is sprinkled all over the book. When he discusses checking spelling and grammar and all that fun stuff, he warns that you should only use dialect if you ‘have a good ear.’ If you don’t have a good ear, “Then fuhgeddaboutit.” I could almost hear him laughing as I read this. He uses the word just a few times throughout, but each time, I laughed out loud.

The best thing King says about writing fiction is something that I’ve never heard articulated before, although I think this is how I feel myself. He says the story you’re writing right now, it actually already exists. It’s already out there somewhere, and your job as the writer, is to excavate it and set it to paper. It is a fossil, he says, and your job is to unearth it as carefully as possible, so that you completely preserve its integrity. Perhaps that’s why sometimes we can see it so clearly, and the words write themselves. I wish he had made any mention of how he felt seeing his stories represented on screen. So many movies just don’t live up to the book (from a reader’s perspective); I wonder if writers feel the same watching the screen versions of their books? Or worse, even, because it is their creation that’s been altered? And if they do feel cheated by the movie versions, how do they cope with it? But he didn’t go into any of that.

Obviously, King discloses so much more of his writing knowledge in the book, but I’ve given you some examples of what you can expect. My next post will be my last on ‘On Writing.’ I’ll tell you how King managed to incorporate love into his memoir about writing, and my biggest qualm with it. Keep your eyes peeled!