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New site address

As if I haven’t made things complicated enough already…

I will be putting all new content under a new address. I’ve outgrown the cliched “road less traveled” concept, and need to refocus the purpose of this.

If you are an email or wordpress subscriber and wish to receive updates, please go over the new location and subscribe:

The Muslim Educator

 

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Bedtime drama

Zaynab. Oh, Zaynab. This child is my teacher.

She has a very specific bedtime ritual composed of a set of top-secret yes/no questions she asks me (out of respect for her, I can’t divulge the questions). If I’m not there, Siraj is an acceptable alternative.

This used to annoy me to no end. Eight questions back to back at the very time when my body has already shut down for the night. I would answer them curtly or irritably, and invariably she would get upset. Real mature of me, right? I decided to just tell her, “Zaynab, I just get so tired at this time; it’s hard for me to answer these questions.” She did not take it well.

 

Siraj had been observing me getting irritated over this for some time and he finally told me, “Look, you need to understand that these questions are very important to her, so you should respect that.” I was shocked into silence for a moment.

“Oh my God, Siraj. You sound like my therapist, Jerilyn.” He’s not the type to talk feelings, so I would have never expected this insight. Since that day, I have not once responded with irritation to her questions.

She knows that I’m not a big fan of the ritual, though. So there was one question in there that, due to changes in our house, became inapplicable. She would still ask me that one. I would sometimes try to get out of it, but she would persist with it every single day. She’s ornery like that. One night she said, “Do you know why I still ask you that question, and sometimes add others? It’s because I need to teach you patience. You need to learn to be more patient.”

Did I mention that she’s my greatest teacher?

zaynab

Her room door. If only I could be this cool.

 Recently,  Zaynab called me out again on my question/answer etiquette. In my haste to finish, sometimes I speed through by saying “Mmm hmm” or “Uhh uh” instead of “yes” or “no.”

She cornered me: “Why do you sometimes make those sounds instead of talking? When your friends are talking to you, do you just say ‘huh’ to them or do you actually talk? That’s not good, Mommy, that’s not good.”

It was one of those proverbial lightbulb moments. I finally understood her need behind the questions. She feels inattention and parental distraction and frustration quite keenly, and so she created this connection ritual each night as a reassurance to herself and a test for me. The questions sound silly and inconsequential, but what she’s really asking me with them is, “Do you love me unconditionally?”; “Are you always going to be there for me?”; “Can I count on you?” This was my chance at redemption and absolution at the end of each hectic, imperfect day. This was my chance to make things right, even when I’ve yelled and growled, been distracted or absent.

I finally understood. “Okay, Z, let’s do this one more time tonight. I think I understand.”

Before she even started in with the questions, she launched herself into my arms. “I love you sooo much!”

This time, instead of “mm hmms” and grunts, I said, “Yes, dear.” or “No, silly goose.” She grinned and engaged with me on a much deeper level than earlier when I was mentally checked out. It was her way of saying, “Yes, Mommy, you finally understood me.” At last, all was right in her world, and she could sleep with her heart at peace.

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I had pulled this down a while back, but I’m taking a tentative return from hibernation. I’ll stick my head out for a bit like an ostrich and see if I’d like to maintain the blog. It may be sporadic, so if you would like updates, please follow via email.

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The following notes are taken from a lecture by Sr. Iman Badawi on April 14, 2010. The following notes are her points, as noted down by me (so they are not a word-to-word transcription). Any extra explanatory notes, points, or opinions from myself are added in blue. (they are mostly opinions LOL 🙂 but this is my blog, that’s what it’s for!)

Bismillah-ir-Rahmaan-ir-Raheem

Tarbiyah Mistake #1: Choosing the Wrong Spouse–someone who differs from you in the fundamental issues of life and parenting

(In order to provide some background, there was a lecture prior to this where the sister addressed what tarbiyah is: it is character development. This is in contrast to ta’leem, which is mere instruction. She noted that tarbiyah is a process and it is relationship-based. It is not the mere transmission of information that occurs at set time intervals. Based on this background knowledge, then, the purpose of choosing a spouse is that one selects someone that will facilitate this blessed mission of tarbiyah.)

  • Sometimes we forget that one of the main purposes of marriage is to contribute to the growth of the Muslim ummah, and so we must put this goal in our mind when looking for a spouse
  • Even after marriage happens, we sometimes put this goal on the back burner because we wish to spend time getting to know and enjoy one another before having to worry about kids. That is fine as long as one remembers the long-term goal and strives towards it.
  • The first night of the marriage is sometimes referred to as Laylat-ul-Binaa’: the Night of Building. We need to make our marriages like this. Some men are not concerned with building so much as breaking down their wife, and this is not acceptable.
  • (missed some information)
  • What if the marriage has already happened and the husband and wife are not on the same page?
  • In all cases, but especially in this case, the husband and wife need a Family Mission Statement where they clearly define the goals of their family.
  • Note: this idea is taken from Steven Covey in the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families. The sister will be doing a program exclusively on this topic but if one would like to read more about family mission statements, this book would be the source.

Mistake #2: Consider Tarbiyah as Beginning At a Later Stage in Life

There is a story about a man who came to a shaykh seeking to learn about tarbiyah. The shaykh asked him: “How old is your child?” and the man responded “One year old.” The shaykh said, “You’re already too late–you’ve missed the boat!”

  • We have to view tarbiyah as something that begins at birth.
  • And this starts by the mother forming a healthy attachment with her baby
  • Breastfeeding is important because it is the way we have this first bond with the child
  • We must identify what our child needs from us and no one else– the importance of the mother figure in the early years of child development
  • Note: It is pretty standard in our Muslim community for us to be pro-breastfeeding for the most part (this is changing somewhat as the newer generations of Muslims who are raised here are more connected to American culture than the culture of their family of origin). For many people, the reason that they are not able to do this first critical form of tarbiyah is that they don’t receive the correct support and information to succeed at breastfeeding. We should make this a priority in our communities to support breastfeeding by encouraging Muslims to be involved in the La Leche League–there are a few fantastic Muslim LLL Leaders that I know of, but we need tons more. Too many women are not able to do what they desperately want to–i.e. breastfeed–because they are not supported in the hospital and at home afterwards and given the tools to succeed. This should be a community effort, wallahu A’lam.
  • When we think of tarbiyah of an infant, we erroneously assume that it means turning the child into a baby genius, and that perhaps we are serving our children well by training them to listen to mozart and do math.
  • In reality, when we consider IQ (intelligence quotient), it is less important than EQ (emotional quotient). Emotional development is what we need to be focusing on at this age via attachment.
  • When studies look at young children’s intellectual intelligence vs. emotional intelligence, the ones who were better students in high school were the ones who had a higher EQ vs. IQ.
  • Sometimes our own emotional development is lacking and so this reflects in how we treat our children: so when we interact with our children, we ourselves display infantile behavior, and what that reflects is that our own development was incomplete–i.e. in some areas of behavior, we don’t display development past a 4-year-old level.
  • Example (from one of the parenting books used as a source): a father, who is also a pediatrician, found that whenever his son would receive a toy, would display bizzare behaviors towards him–not letting him play with the toy, feeling jealous and spiteful, etc. Through long hours of therapy he realized that as a child he wasn’t allowed to play with toys, and he was taking out his feelings on his child.
  • (Even though this is an extreme example, the point is) that we often do similar things, and we don’t realize that what is going on is that we have our own emotional issues that we have to deal with.
  • My personal bias in this issue is that as a community we need to be more open minded about the importance of mental health and de-stigmatize seeking help via therapy and counseling. Think of how many people could be helped if they were to feel free and comfortable about seeking help. Again, like the breastfeeding issue, we have a lack of Muslim professionals in this area and so we need people to fill this void so that we can help people be better people and parents.

Mistake #3: Letting the Children Run the Family

  • This is not what you think it is, folks…
  • We have a tendency to engage in reactionary parenting. In other words, rather than the parents being the leaders of the family and deciding its direction, the children’s behavior becomes a trigger point for the parents’ behavior, and parenting becomes a mere chain of reactionary behaviors.
  • When we go out of control at our children, we claim that “they pushed our buttons.”
  • However, if you are already programmed right, no matter what buttons are pushed, the correct program will run.
  • We need to change ourselves from reactionary to visionary leaders: we need to embody Principle Centered Parenting.
  • Steven Covey terms it Principle Centered Leadership, however in this context, the important leadership we are discussing is parenting.

(coming up next… points 4-6…)

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I was having a bit of nostalgia about our life in Jordan (what triggered it is the subject of another post if I get to it)… and I was perusing the blog I kept when I was living there. In there are a few posts that contain suggestions for learning Arabic. Here they are for your benefit. Having written this 5 years ago (time flies!) I would probably like to add to what is here, but that will have to wait for another time.

May Allah keep our intentions pure and increase us in knowledge, aameen.

FYI…The blog is titled “Merium’s Notes From Kharabsheh” so I feel somewhat obligated to point out that we were studying only Arabic there and were not part of a certain group that happens to reside in the area. I only point this out because sometimes people read that and make assumptions about our religious leanings (and that is all I have to say on the issue 😉 ).

my beloved 'Ammu Hans 🙂

Arabic Suggestions 1: Why?

Arabic Suggestions 2: Listen! Or…Meet Shaikh Fulaan

Arabic Suggestions 3: Arabic Takes Time!

Arabic Suggestions 4: ‘Ammu Hans

Arabic Suggestions 5: Qur’an as Your Teacher

Arabic Advice from a Non Arab

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change, and…chai?

I’ve been out, taking breaks from the computer, working on my classes, my kids, my friendships, and so I have let my blog go to weed. Oh well. I just moved (AGAIN) and so there’s been a lot of change going on in my life. Which leads me to my first post out of my long break…on change.

Change sucks.

I mean the type of change that happens when you are “in the groove”, smooth sailing, and then bam! Smack! Out of nowhere you are forced to veer off course. You get to thinking, “Now, things were going so good, why this? Why now?”

But then you adapt, you accept that things always happen for the better and you deal.

Kids are cool like that. We are constantly traveling and so my father used to ask me after we took a long trip and then returned, “Does Abdullah miss everyone? Is he feeling sad?” and I’d realize that no, he could care less. Like water off of a duck’s back. If only we could be so resilient!

Change also got me to thinking about the old adage: It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.

The bitterness of abandoning the life you love, the people you love, the routines and habits you love, is made easier by the sweet memories that they came with. There are certain things that I just can’t do now. But I still get a kick out of thinking of the things I have done in the past, and look forward to the day when I get back into enough fitness and health to do those same things again. I think about the many places I visited and people I have met, and am left smiling at the thought of having known such wonderful people.

I once met a wonderful Palestinian woman in the last few months of my stay in Jordan. Overnight, we became close friends, laughing and talking, crying and venting late into the nights as our husbands vainly called us to break up our meetings so they could sleep. When it was time for us to return to America, I was so upset that we had met only weeks ago, and now we would likely never see each other again. It was a sad departure, but I still feel so fortunate that I had known her. I only benefited from her company and friendship and the memories will stay with me always, bi’idhnillah.

I have done about five or six long-distance moves in the past 7 years (since I have been married) and each place has its own charms, memories, and quirks. Perhaps I have just been destined until now to really live the “life of a traveler” as the hadith tells us (“Live in the world like a stranger, or a traveler.”) And stranger? Don’t get me started on that, I’m sure that I have been thought strange more times than I can count, but that’s another story…

In a way, I have liked my life. My husband and I have basically just relied on each other to be the rock in the storm. We move in, root, then uproot and move on, and nothing stays constant but each other. For six and a half years we haven’t given up our routine of post-dinner chai, and after almost six years of not finishing my mug, I’ve learned to just make us one cup and we share. Two children have been added to that routine, but even 3-year old Abdullah knows that you don’t mess with Mama and Baba’s tea time. So some things don’t change, thank God, and that’s what keeps the ship sailing well. We create our own stability through each other, and that means that we cannot just sink into our own separate lives and take each other for granted.

Even now, the way things are looking for us, we will be in our current location for a few months, then move to a neighboring community for at least a year or so, then back to where we are now. So I look forward to that chai-time to keep our family laughing, learning, and living together, no matter what comes and goes around us.

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I’m tired.

Well, not now, as in now as I speak, or I should say, as I write. I’m just a tired sort of person sometimes. I have a new sort of beast to contend with thanks to MS and that is fatigue. Apparently it’s one of the main symptoms of the disease. I’d guess that if you pulled a random person off the street and said: “Multiple Sclerosis”, the first thing that would pop into their mind is “wheelchair.” But while not most people with MS are (or ever will be) in wheelchairs, most people with MS get TIRED.

MS fatigue is a funny sort of thing. And the odd thing is that I sit writing this late and night and you’d think: “Isn’t she tired?” but no, MS fatigue is unpredictable and comes when you don’t want it to. So yeah, I’d love to be drop dead tired enough and fatigued enough at bedtime to be able to hit the pillow and snooze, but NOOOOO, the MS brain buggers have decided that my fatigue only comes at the peak times of the day like mid-day, or early evening when it’s too freaking early to turn in for the night. So at night, I end up taking half or a third of a sleeping pill in order to sleep because I have insomnia!

I thought of fatigue today because I read a study that looked at how mothers with chronic illness deal with fatigue. Apparently the MS moms tended to deal pretty well with it the study found. I found out from the report that other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (that also predominantly strikes women) cause similar fatigue.

So my mind wanders to a wonderful lady with grown up children who has lived with rheumatoid arthritis most of her adult life. She raised three kids as a stay-at-home mother and battled a horrible horrible disease that leaves her in unbelievable pain. I only know this from looking at how the disease has ravaged her hands and feet–I don’t know this from her because guess what? She never, ever complains about her health. I have sat with her on several occasions and she is the most uncomplaining, patient person I have seen. The only hint that I got of how much she deals with on a daily basis was when I asked how her recovery was from a surgery, and she said, “Thank Allah. I would never wish this disease on my worst enemy.”

I imagine sometimes what bountiful rewards such beautiful people have waiting for them in the next life. There is a wisdom in Allah’s decree. Things go wrong–way wrong, and we are left in the dark, with a seeming blight upon our life. Yet the character of a person can take that test and emerge shining with the noor (light) of patience, forbearance, and humility. I feel ashamed when I look at that sister and think of the times I complained or wept over silly, foolishly small afflictions. So yeah, being tired is not so bad of a thing after all, methinks.

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