Fleeting Childhood

childhood parenting

Most of the time, my kids don’t listen. And they’re messy. And gross (I mean, how hard is it to flush the toilet?!). And their insubordination makes me morph into a creature I despise. But every so often, they do something great, so I have to give credit where it is due.

Each year my kids begin asking me what I want for Mother’s Day a few days before the event. I always tell them to save their money, but come on, since when do they listen to me?

So on Mother’s Day (which was last week here in the Arab world), I received a couple of bottles of perfume and a bracelet, among some other smaller, meaningful but inexpensive trinkets (pens are, after all, one of my favorite things). But then, my kids took it one step further…

My oldest two insisted on taking me out to dinner, separately. I got two dinners (which really meant two days off of cooking which is one of the BEST gifts you can ever give a mom!) AND I got to spend some quality time with each of them. Without the noise (made mostly by myself) of ‘do your homework!’ and ‘clean up your room!’ and ‘hurry or you’ll miss the bus!’ I really enjoyed my time with each of them.

Although the gifts and dinner were great, what really struck me was that they put in the effort; they thought about what I might like, and they tried to make it happen. It means they’re growing up.

I know that down the line, I will look back and wish I had relished in their childhood more. I already do. I can’t believe my oldest is 15 and my youngest is 7. Where did that time go? There are so many moments I don’t recall. So many sleepless nights I’ve forgotten. So many milestones I’ve mixed up (‘did that happen with number 2 or number 3??’). And it makes me sad knowing I’ve spent so much of their lives wanting them to get over this annoying phase, wanting them to be more independent. Because the truth is, nothing moves faster than time. And soon, sooner than I realize, there will be no more fights about picking up their clothes or putting their toys away. There will be no more arguing over finishing their homework or studying for the test. And…there is nothing I can do about that.

All I can do, is pray I remember these moments. That I remember their morning goodbye kisses as they left for school, and that they cared enough to make me feel special on Mother’s Day.

May God protect, bless, and guide my kids and yours. And may we always remember all the moments of love shared with our children.

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Brotherly Love

parenting siblings family love

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.

Becoming Me

true-self inspirational writer

Our early and adolescent years are rife with growth and development. Many people believe that we continue to develop throughout our lives. What’s more, they attach to this development a heavy price, claiming that if we do not do so, then we’ve wasted precious time. But I don’t agree. I believe that it is possible to mature in years without altering the core of who we are, and for that to be a benediction. I believe that, with many of us, time simply helps us become more of ourselves.

Consider two young men. The first is about twenty and obsessed with sports. He goes to his classes, studies just barely enough to pass, shuns his family to spend time with friends or catch a game, and often lies to escape penalties or to get his way. This man, ten years later, teaches his children the gravity of lying, makes sure he and his family remain spiritually aware, sits around a dining room table, the TV off despite his favorite team playing, laughing with his family, truly enjoying their company. He clearly underwent significant change. If he hadn’t, he would’ve spent so much of his life concerned with things which would have never given meaning or true happiness to his life.

The second man in our scenario appreciated spending time with his family even when he was only twenty. He enjoyed sports, too, but it was extracurricular to him; life came first and he wouldn’t change plans he had with family or friends to accommodate for watching a game. He never lied and always considered prayer an important part of his life. Ten years later, he still prefers the company of his family to anyone else, and he still has the same values.

The second man hasn’t changed, although for sure he is wiser, more mature at thirty than he was at twenty. His core was not altered; he became cemented in who he already was. And because he had a strong foundation, this constancy isn’t a bad thing.

Throughout our lives we continue to learn and grow, to search for who it is we want to be, who it is we were meant to be. But if we were fortunate enough to have a foundation rich in values, and life experiences which taught us strength and perseverance, then our essence will form early on and won’t change significantly over the years.

Today, I am more of who was I was twenty years ago. I was then and continue to be someone who believes in putting God first, family second, and everything else third. I believed in and continue to believe in honesty and sincerity, being kind and doing good. Yes, I have gained knowledge over the years, and wisdom, and some of my opinions on various topics have undoubtedly changed. I used to be more positive, believed the world held more kindness than indifference. Now I see that we are surrounded by more war, more hatred, more crimes against humanity than ever before. I see the ugliness we live in and wonder ‘Is There Any Hope?’ But I remain, at my core, very much the same. I often wonder at the circumstances which formed me—the true essence of who I am—all those years ago. And I believe that, after God’s Grace and my parents’ love and care, a large part of it was due to growing up as a minority.

When you’re a brown Muslim kid in a school system where all the minorities combined make up a single digit percentage, you have two options: embrace your individuality, or fight it. I know people who fought it. I know people who were ashamed of their ancestral cultures, who wanted nothing more than to diffuse into that melting-pot. I also know people who walked tall in their differences, and brushed off those pesky belittlers with a certainty that self is a priceless asset which is appraised by so much more than just today’s experiences. Self—true self—takes into account how you came to be where you are, all the languages you use to communicate, the beliefs you’ll continue to hold even after the demise of time. I praise God that He made me strong enough to accept and be proud of my differences. That experience is only one of the great blessings of my life.

My children don’t get this particular blessing. They are being raised in place where all their schoolmates speak the same mother tongue, where they are all different shades of the same soil, and where most of them prostrate in worship in the same direction. For sure, this is another type of blessing. But it is a challenge for me as a parent…

When I was young and the other kids would do something which is forbidden in my religion or culture, I could always say, “I’m different from them. I don’t do that because of this difference.” I’m sure my parents taught us that at a young age. But now, when my kids see their classmates doing something that is against their religion or culture, I cannot use this logic. These kids all stem from the same roots. How do you point out these forbidden acts and not sound like you’re judging? How do you make your kids understand that it’s okay to be different when they have never seen anyone be different? How do you filter from their psyches all the habits they’ve picked up which, although popular or common, go against your values?

My children are still young and developing. I’ll keep advising them, hoping my words will somehow be more visible than the actions surrounding them. I pray God guides them to embrace their true selves early on, ones they will hold onto and treasure.

It’s great going through life knowing who you are. May you be graced with this blessing.

 

Keep Your Car Doors Locked

mom's funny taxi story

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!

Destroy Everything But The Books

parenting and writing

I haven’t written a blog post in about two weeks now. Partly I was in a slump about the recent rejections by literary agents for novel #3, but mostly I was in a slump because my kids were on their mid-year break…and apparently my brain doesn’t work when they’re home. But, they are back in school (hurray!) and my brain is back on (hurray again!). I do feel like something is missing when I don’t get the chance/brain space to write. I think that must be one of the qualities of most writers: we feel incomplete when we’re not writing. God bless my kids always, but writing while parenting is a tricky business. Actually, anything while parenting is a tricky business, even just keeping your home habitable…

While the kids were on vacation, I recognized something about myself which I haven’t quite decided how to take. I recognized that I don’t get attached to anything materialistic. It isn’t that I’m such a deep, spiritual person that I shun materialism. I’d love to say that’s the reason, but it isn’t. The real reason is that I have kids. And my kids can ruin anything. Annnnyyyything. Seriously. And they totally believe that if they can, they should. Well, they probably don’t actually believe that, but with how they act, that’s totally what you’d think.

So I’ve stopped getting upset when they break more pieces off the chandelier. Or when the glass on the entertainment system cabinet crashes…again. Or when they rip my rug. Or smash my once-favorite mug. Or stain the couch. If it can get ruined, it will…and I have learned to just accept it.

I have mixed feelings about my lack of anger at all the ruined things. On the one hand, being unattached to all things material is really the best way to live. I completely acknowledge that. On the other hand, isn’t it a bit sad that I find nothing material to be precious? I love that chandelier. It used to be beautiful. And the stain filled couch, it was the best couch ever. But now they remain in a dying state, still useable but quite clearly no longer in their prime. And I’m totally fine with it. Have no plans of refurbishing or re-upholstering or anything. They’ll stick around until they fall completely apart. And so what, no big deal. Everything has a limited lifetime; my kids were put here to make sure all the things in my home die an early, painful death.

The one thing I do still find precious is my books. By ‘my’ I mean all those that I possess as well as the ones that I myself have written. About a year ago my son made the tiniest mark on the inside cover of my only copy of Normal Calm. I totally flipped out. “Why don’t you respect anything?!” And I went on and on. Just thinking about it now makes me livid.

I’m not sure where the discrepancy comes from. Is it just that I’m a writer, so books are valuable in my eyes? Is it that I’m a reader, so the written word is special, sacred almost? Or is it simply that this is my weakness?

I think it’s probably all of the above. And I have no intention of changing my book-protective mentality. I will shrug off the stained couch, chipped walls (their doing), and broken door frame (also their doing), but I will beat their asses if they come near my books!

 

Are you a writer and a parent? Do you feel the same way? Would love to hear your thoughts.

The Trouble With Memoir

intertwined heart-1567215_640.jpg

This past November, I was fully planning on writing a memoir for NaNoWriMo. I changed my mind at the last minute because the perfect idea for my next novel dawned on me on the last evening of October. Well, that’s the lie I told myself anyway.

The truth is that yes, I did get a great idea for my next novel and I did spend November writing that story. But that isn’t really why I didn’t write a memoir. I didn’t write a memoir because I simply wasn’t ready to write it. And my discomfort had nothing to do with being open about things that are personal; my reservations were firmly grounded in how my audience would see some of the other characters in my story.

In my search about how to write about sensitive topics that could depict loved ones in a negative light, I listened to a TED talk given by world renowned author Anne Lamott. She said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” And while I do believe that we own our individual stories, I also believe that those stories are closely intertwined with the stories of those who share our lives, and we cannot always detangle our story from theirs.

So taking into consideration that entanglement, do we really have the right to tell only our side of the story? The fact of the matter is, we all make mistakes. We all say or do things at some point in our lives that we end up regretting. So if you write about the injustice that I did to you regardless of whether or not I have made amends, is that fair? Is that fair to my story? Is it fair to your story? Keep in mind that your reader will not love your loved ones as much as you, no matter how true-to-life you draw them. So while you may have accepted their apology and forgiven them, your readers won’t feel the same way. It is very possible that, for them, the poignant moment in the memoir will be the moment of betrayal not the moment of repentance. So forever in your readers’ minds, that father will be abusive, that child a druggie, or that wife a cheater. Is that how you want the world to see those people who mean(t) so much to you?

In Behind Picket Fences, one of my characters poses the question, “Don’t those we love… or loved… or those who have shared our lives, don’t they deserve to be forgiven for their mistakes?” And really, that is the main question I think a writer has to consider before writing about the bad behavior of people who are or were precious to her.

I tend to think that the answer to that question is, generally, yes. And I can’t very well claim to have forgiven someone if I’m still hashing out how they wronged me, no matter how true the story is. And if it’s not about a wrong done to me personally but a societally accepted wrong, what do I hope to gain by outing them? Perhaps that’s the main question.

A memoir can be about a great deal of things. It can be about sharing life experiences that teach valuable lessons. Or just about healing. Often, to do these things, we need to re-live those negative moments in our lives, re-live the process which brought about the hurt. And to do that, we need to be honest to the story.

Being honest, though, doesn’t mean the story needs to be published. The healing memoir can take the form of a personal journal, reserved for the eyes of only the author. Because I can’t very well claim to publish a memoir to heal if in doing so I will hurt others, especially if those others have been important to me.

I don’t know. I’m still torn. I know that one day I’ll write a memoir, but I also know that it won’t be the one I thought I would write. It will be about hurt and strength and compassion and forgiveness, and I hope to write in such a way that you, my readers, will love my loved ones as much as I do.

But I know I can’t count on that.

 

What do you think? Do you have the right to tell your story no matter how it affects others? Is it always your story to tell? Is there ever a time when it isn’t? Would love to hear your thoughts…

 

A Peek Behind the Pen

TP2

A couple of days ago, I posted on Facebook about my eldest turning 15. It was—by far—my most successful, most engaging post. The truth is, people don’t scroll through social media to learn new recipes or about happenings in the world; they can search for recipes on Google and they probably have news delivered right to their email. But people do scroll through social media in hopes of having some sort of connection, learning more about you, sharing in your life.

So, despite being a private person, this post is about me…in the hope of connecting with some of you. The questions were posed as an interview during my book blog tour for Behind Picket Fences earlier this year. (Oh, and that’s me in the picture above…nearly 18 years ago.)

 Where did you grow up? Siblings? Locale? Were you considered a “bookworm” or a jock? Married, single? Children?
I was born and raised in Attleboro, Massachusetts. I grew up the middle child between two brothers. I enjoyed swimming (still do) but after the first season of swim in high school, I began to wear hijab, so I opted out of the swim team in subsequent years. (The burkini had not yet found its fame. I was never fast enough to compete anyway, although I had ‘good form.’) I enjoyed being on the tennis team, but didn’t pursue it after high school. I attended Smith College, hated it my first couple of years then loved it. I graduated in 2000 with a degree in biology and a minor in religion (because a minor in chem was simply too much lab time!). I was enrolled in optometry school in Boston when my plans changed due to a sudden death in the family. I dropped out during the first week, then worked for a year as a chemist (go figure!) in a pharmaceutical lab on the outskirts of Boston. I worked for about a year, then I moved to Egypt (against my parent’s better judgment) to be with my now husband. We’ve been married for just shy of 16 years, and we have four kids ranging in age from 7 to 15. I’m the kind of person who acclimates easily to her environment, so moving here wasn’t too difficult, especially since the culture is the same that my parents raised us in. Nevertheless, there are some things I simply can’t adjust to (the crazy traffic is the first thing that comes to mind, followed closely by the atrocious educational system, just to name a couple).

Who are your favorite authors and favorite genres?
My favorite author is Khaled Hosseini. And while I enjoy many different genres (from paranormal to crime fiction to the classics), my favorite is probably contemporary fiction. I relate easily to the issues contemporary fiction explores as well as the emotions it challenges us with.

Do you have a favorite quote that sums up how you feel about life?
I don’t have a favorite quote, but I used to. It was ‘A baby’s being born,’ meaning that despite all the hurt or ugliness going on, right at this moment, a beautiful, innocent, pure soul is being brought into the world. That used to ease my heart, even temporarily. But now, that exact same quote increases my anxiety; the world is getting uglier by the day, and the children will be the ones who will (are already??) suffer the most. Unfortunately, I have become a bit of a cynic.

Where do you prefer to write? Do you need quiet, music, solitude? PC or laptop?
I definitely need quiet to write. Usually I sit at the dining room table in the morning, while the kids are at school. I prefer to handwrite into my notebook; yes, it takes much longer (because eventually everything must be transcribed onto the laptop), but I like the feel of the pen in my hand, I like not being tied down to the computer.

Are you a plotter or a panzer?
I am a pantser, but I have sticky notes all over my notebook and comments all over my documents that guide me. I find outlines stifle the creative process. I am planning on writing a memoir in the near future, and for that, I will probably prefer the organization of an outline.

Do you use real events or persons in your stories or as an inspiration for stories?
My characters are never replicas of real people, but they almost always have adopted characteristics from real people that I’ve met. For example, Morgan, one of the men in Behind Picket Fences, was modeled after someone I know and don’t particularly care for. With his inferiority complex and depreciating tendencies, you’ll find that readers won’t like him too much. Hassan, on the other hand, also adopted characteristics from real people. Despite his faults, readers will probably have increased compassion for him.

Do you set daily writing goals? Word count? Number of chapters? Do you get a chance to write every day?

My writing goal is to write for about two hours per day. Somedays that means quite a few pages, other days, it means staring at a blank page for an hour and a half and writing only one page.

What do you hope your writing brings to readers?

I hope that my books teach people a bit about forgiveness and love. I hope that my characters—the ones who seem at first glance to be irredeemable—will, thorough their humanity, arouse a sense of compassion from my readers. I also hope that my books will teach people that, despite our different colors and religions, we all yearn for the same things: love and compassion. I hope that my readers will learn a bit about what it means to be Arab American, and begin to feel that reading about Muslim characters is just as normal as reading about characters who are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, or anything else.

What long-term plans do you have for your career?

I’ve finished my third novel and hoping to find an agent for it. During November, I wrote the bulk of novel number four, and am currently finishing up the first draft. I hope to continue writing fiction, maybe with a memoir thrown in there somewhere along the way.
What advice would you give to unpublished authors?
OWN it! I don’t mean the pieces of writing that you produce, but your craft. Once you start calling yourself a writer, you start taking your writing career seriously; until you take it seriously, no one else will.

Share a fun fact readers wouldn’t know about you.

I hate my handwriting. Weird, right? I mean, you’d think a writer, and one who tends to write with pen and paper rather than on a computer, would have developed handwriting that she’s proud of. But no. I hate it.

Share something about you that would surprise or shock readers.

I tend to be a quiet person, preferring to listen than to talk. I’m not really a trouble maker, never was. But…when I was a senior at Smith, one of my friends and I TP-ed our hallway! My friend was even quieter, more soft-spoken, and even less likely to start trouble than myself! As you can see from the picture, we zigzagged the toilet paper, using tape to secure it all through the hallway. Our other housemates were surprised by the masterpiece that awaited them the following morning when they got up. We cleaned it all up, of course, but it was such fun creating it.

(Thank you for liking this blog post. If you’d like to keep up-to-date with my books and read the first chapter of Behind Picket Fences for free, please click here.)