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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

I want a ScreamFree life.

Funny that I was just thinking about that this weekend and today I came across this via facebook: Screamfree Muslims. In particular, the founder sr. Olivia is having a webinar course on screamFree parenting. I was just thinking to myself this weekend that me and the Man (aka Baba A to Z) need to work on cutting out the scream when it comes to the kids (sorry, Baba, I’m including you too!).

I’ll give myself some credit–I don’t justify screaming. I should say “emotional reactivity” instead, since that is the word that the ScreamFree program uses, and it’s a term that encompasses so much more than screaming. I know that it’s senseless to react, to blow up, and to say dumb and hurtful things in a moment of anger instead of logically handling a situation. But guess what…I do it anyway! I’m sure most parents do, it’s just a basic failing in human nature that we lose our temper. “Laa taghdab, laa taghdab, laa taghdab.” … “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry.” We’ve heard that hadith a million times.

And seriously? We know deep down that screaming.doesn’t.work. End of story. It just becomes a crutch–child doesn’t listen until screamed at, so parent screams all the time, leading to screaming not even working, and an escalating cycle of screaming between parenting and child. It takes a big leap, however to go from the acknowledgement that something is wrong, and actually learning and applying techniques on how to fix it.

I’m not sure I’ll spring for the webinar–it’s close to a hundred dollars, and I think I can check out some books and handouts and get the gist. For me, the issue is keeping my mind focused on the goal of mindful parenting, and reading books helps me to focus on that. When I found the book Raising Your Spirited Child, it really helped me improve my parenting while I was reading it because I was suddenly more aware of what my child was like and what he needed. The reminder benefits the believers–no matter what the subject is, deen or dunya (and this is akhlaaq-related so it’s definitely deeni improvement).

My current mental exercise is–why not scream? What are the harms of screaming to one’s child? (or student, I should add, for I am also guilty of that one)

  1. Raising one’s voice is explicitly condemned in the Qur’an via the words of Luqman al-Hakeem as he advises his son: “And be moderate in your walk and lower your voice. Indeed, the harshest of voices is the voice of the donkey” (Surah Luqman: 31:19). From now on, I will tell myself–“Mama, when you scream, you sound like an ass.” And it will be true, because Sadaqa-allahul-Adheem.
  2. “Emotional reactivity”, i.e. getting angry, is explicitly condemned in the Sunnah. “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry.”
  3. Getting angry is in direct contradiction to the very character of RasulAllah (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam.)
  4. You can’t impart something you don’t have yourself. The Arabic proverb goes: Faaqid-ush-Shay laa yu’teeh…the one devoid of something cannot give it. How do we teach good-manners if we are ill-mannered? I see my son scream at his little sister and know that my own screaming is what set the example. And God forbid that our children go on to scream at their spouses, destroying their marriages and family lives, simply because we set the wrong example from the beginning.
  5. Screaming tears apart relationships. Think about a time you have been screamed at. It doesn’t even take a full-blown scream to deeply wound a person. You know this when you are having a strained conversation with your spouse–it doesn’t take much of a raise in voice and tone from the other to feel hurt. We can only imagine the pain our own children feel. I remember reading a poignant thought by Alfie Kohn where he asked in reference to discipline–before we react to behavior that we perceive as bad, ask ourselves, “Is what we are saying/doing to our child in response worth the effect it is going to have on the relationship?”
  6. Screaming doesn’t even work in the long term. If we think of discipline as merely getting our children to do what we want in the here-and-now, then screaming occasionally works. However, if we think of discipline as raising our children to be morally upright individuals who have good character, then screaming definitely does no good towards that goal.

One of the criticisms leveled against this line of thinking is that somehow kids are different, so different standards should be applied to them, and that “you need to discipline.” ScreamFree parenting is not antithetical to discipline; in fact, it is harmonious with discipline because effective discipline does not occur in a scream-based relationship. Olivia has another great post describing this: DJ Empty Threat. We end up screaming empty threats and in the end no real discipline occurs.

So…this post has been somewhat of a personal pep-talk for myself–we’ll see how long I last sane and “ScreamFree.” And if you catch me slacking (yeah, you, Baba…) then just give me a sober look and say, “This is a ScreamFree zone, mama. Take it somewhere else, woman!”

Our local masjid recently hosted Imam Muhammad Magid to do a program on how to have a successful marriage. It was a beneficial seminar from an imam who truly is in the trenches as far as helping his community members heal their own marriages. There were quite a few gems of wisdom; I’ll share some of them below.

The Key to Forgiveness

This gem was absolutely brilliant and particularly memorable for me, because it is something that just clicked and made such complete sense. To introduce the idea he put forth, I’ll first give an example of a piece of marriage advice I once came across by Muhammad AlShareef (of alMaghrib Institute). He said that when things go wrong, just say sorry. Even if you may not have been in the wrong, or were also wronged yourself, you can never go wrong by saying “sorry.”

That’s a great piece of advice, except how many times have you been in a situation with anyone and felt, as the saying goes, “sorry doesn’t cut it”? How many times has that harmed friendships, partnerships, marriages–virtually any relationship? A person gives an apology, and yet the other party feels as if a mere apology was insufficient?

Cut to Imam Magid–he offered a wonderful explanation based on a keen understanding of human nature as well as using an example from seerah. His advice is that one must be ready to forgive one’s spouse, but in order for one to do that, the one who is apologizing must acknowledge their mistake verbally and explain what they did wrong. Why? This shows the other person that the one apologizing has acknowledged their trespass and it frees up the other person to open their heart and forgive.

How do we derive this principle? When Wahshi, the killer of Hamzah, came to repent to RasulAllah (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam), the Prophet asked him to describe to him how he killed Hamzah. He then told him to keep away from him (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam) for a few days. Even after the person has acknowledged their wrong, they should not expect instant forgiveness, for it is a process, not an instant reaction.

A Parable for the Marriage Relationship

Imam Magid described the husband-wife relationship with the following example–they are like the two wings on a bird flying to its creator, Allah subhana wa ta’aala. The bird cannot fly with only one wing, and the two wings must be flying in unison in order for the bird to stay on its correct path.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T…

Allah says in the Qur’an: “And among his signs is this: that He has created for you spouses from yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility among them…” (Ar-Rum: 21).

A fundamental principle of the marriage relationship is that it is founded on respect, and this draws back to an aspect of our creed itself. We believe that our spouses are creations of Allah, so we offer our spouses respect that a creation of the Lord deserves. How easy it becomes for us to become used to our spouses, take them for granted, and then not offer them basic courtesy and respect? Remember that first and foremost, ones spouse is a creation of Allah, and as such is deserving of basic human respect.

Practical Advice: Go the Extra Mile

A simple way to increase love between spouses? When one spouse requests something from the other, say, a glass of water–go the extra mile and see what more you can do. “Would you like ice with that? A snack?” Little things can make the difference in a relationship.

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.

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.

It was Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and I was pulling out of the driveway with NPR on. They were playing King’s famous speech, and it occurred to me that this would be a good teaching moment for Abdullah. He didn’t hear too much of the speech, but what he did hear was that memorable, rolling, booming voice that we have all heard before. After less than a minute after pulling out,  I switched off the speech, we said our du’aas for travel, and I asked him, “Would you like me to explain what he was giving a speech about?”

I hesitated a minute before I began, because this was the first time my son’s attention had really been drawn to people’s skin color, and I wondered if it was a can of worms that should be opened at this time (he is only 3 after all). I opted to give a general discussion about skin colors, and not go into the details about how whites were discriminating against blacks per se. I simply said that at the time that King was speaking, there were a lot of “bad people” who thought that some people were not good simply because they had different colored skin. I said that what makes a person good or bad is what they do, not what they looked like.

We recently learned Surah at-Teen where Allah says in the Qur’an: Laqad khalaqnal insaana fee ahsani taqweem: “We have certainly created man in the best form.” Everyone is Allah’s creation, I told him, whether their skin is light or dark, whether their hair is yellow, brown, black, or red. And everyone is beautiful because Allah, the Creator (al-Khaaliq), and the Fashioner (al-Musawwir) is the one who made all.

I don’t know at what age it would be good to move beyond this general discussion into the historical discussion of racism of light skinned people against dark skinned. I almost feel hesitant to broach the issue, because it taps into such a deep human evil that I am loath to expose my son to before he needs to be. And yet I know that my decision to hold off for now, and only give a limited view of this issue is affected by my own background. I have never felt the evils of being judged by the color of my skin, my family never lived under Jim Crow laws, my ancestors never felt the yoke of slavery, so one could say that I am coming from a position of privilege, which certainly influences how I portray this subject to my son.

Even so, our own Indo-Pak culture has its own subtle racism that our children will inevitably have to confront, when they hear talk of people being identified as “fair” and “dark” (usually with some judgment behind it, as if fair=beautiful). It’s an inherently racist choice of words itself, because “fair” means “beautiful” and that is the term used commonly to refer to light colored skin (don’t even get me started on the “Fair and Lovely” cream that is an obsession in India and Pakistan).

My aunt told me a story about some children in the preschool she works at. A boy was trying to point out a black friend of his to his mom, and he was saying, “Look, he’s the one in the green shirt–he’s holding a lunchbox.” He used no color-related words to describe him. After Black History Month, when a similar situation came up, he described by skin color instead. Children are inherently color-blind to a certain degree, and yet the reality of the world is that it is not, and the reality of our creation is that we are all different. At what point do we pay attention to these differences, which are, in the scheme of things, insignificant, even if visibly dramatic?

The coming years will give us further opportunity, God willing, to delve into these issues, so I still have time to wonder and reflect on how to approach it.

The funny bit is that after giving Abdullah that whole spiel on how Allah created all people beautiful and that deeds determines who is better, his mind was still focused on those dramatic words of Martin Luther King. After all that, he said, “But Mama, so what was his dream about, then?”

Gotta love kids. 😉

My “Spirited” Child

“The spirited horse, which will win the race of its own accord, will run even faster if encouraged.” –Ovid

“Spirit has fifty-times the strength and power of brawn and muscle.” –Mark Twain.

My son “A” is something else entirely. I have been utterly overwhelmed yet at the same time unbelievably impressed too many times to count. There are many words for my type of child–willful, defiant, stubborn, hypersensitive–but I prefer the term spirited. We parents of such children have known that our children are strong-willed, highly resistant to our efforts to coax them, but there is so much more to our children than such pejorative terms as “defiant.” No, our children do not only have iron wills, but they have highly intuitive and sharp minds–where does the word “defiant” capture that?

It was not until I read Raising Your Spirited Child that I realized the array of behaviors that my child was demonstrating was actually a common set of characteristics that tend to define what we can call “spirited children.” Intense, dramatic, hypersensitive, are only a few of the terms for such children. The author of the aforementioned book has a brilliant summary of the spirited child; anyone with such a child will immediately resonate with what she has to say:

The word that distinguishes spirited children from other children is more. They are normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive and uncomfortable with change than other children.

ALL children possess these characteristics, but spirited children possess them with a depth and range not available to other children. Spirited kids are the super ball in a room full of rubber balls. Other kids bounce three feet off the ground. Every bounce for a spirited child hits the ceiling.

It is difficult to describe what it is like to be the parent of a spirited child. The answer keeps changing; it depends on the day, even the moment. How does one describe the experience of sliding from joy to exasperation in seconds, ten times a day. How does one explain the “sense” at eight in the morning that this will be a good day or a dreadful one.

The good ones couldn’t be better. Profound statements roll from his mouth, much too mature and intellectual for a child of his age. He remembers experiences you have long since forgotten and drags you to the window to watch the raindrops, falling like diamonds from the sky. On the good days being the parent of a spirited child is astounding, dumbfounding, wonderful, funny, interesting, and interspersed with moment of brilliance.

The dreadful days are another story. On those days you’re not sure whether you can face another twenty four hours with him, It’s hard to feel good as a parent when you can’t even get his socks on, when every word you’ve said to him has been a reprimand, when the innocents act of serving up tuna casseroles instead of the expected tacos incites a riot, when you realise you’ve left more public places in a huff with your child in five years than most people do in a lifetime.

On the bad days being the parent of a spirited child is confusing, frustrating, taxing, challenging, and guilt inducing.

How I love this quote: “On the good days being the parent of a spirited child is astounding, dumbfounding, wonderful, funny, interesting, and interspersed with moment of brilliance.” Fortunately my spirited child has settled down quite a bit in the last few months, and so I have been seeing this positive side more often than the negative side. It also has helped that we live with family so his extroverted intensity has been nurtured by being around many people.

Here again are the five characteristics of spirited children in brief and in detail:

  • Intensity
  • Persistence
  • Sensitivity
  • Perceptiveness
  • Adaptability

How do these characteristics manifest in the spirited child?

1. Intensity: Some spirited children are extroverts–they derive their energy and intensity from being around people, where are some spirited children are deeply introverted: they derive their energy from solitude and reflection. The extroverted spirited children are easy to spot, but the introverts can be deeply intense in their desire to internally assess and strategize in every situation.

2. Persistence: I learned the lesson of my son’s persistence when I tried the time-tested advice of ignoring his toddler temper tantrums only to find that he could cry incessantly. Labelled as “stubborn” and “defiant” these children are, in more positive terms, tenacious and firm-willed. The challenge with them comes from channeling their single-minded persistence in positive directions.

3. Sensitivity: “Mama, my sock as a squirk in it.” Off came the shoe, and the tiny fold in the base of my son’s sock was carefully smoothed out before he would wear his shoe. “What is that smell?”…”This collar is scratching me”… “The potty is dirty.” Spirited children are sensitive to the slightest changes in sound, texture, touch, and smell. My son has a highly sensitive gag reflex and will gag and even vomit if the texture of the food is difficult for him to handle.

Spirited children are also easily over-stimulated. These children are also keenly sensitive to changes in other people’s moods and emotions. When my husband and I were having a heated discussion, at one point my son heard my husband’s raised voice and looked at me with alarm, saying, “Why is he talking to you like that?”

4. Perceptiveness: These children perceive the smallest details in things and are often distracted by their careful observations of the world around them. You end up feeling like every detail they hear and see is carefully put away in a processor to be mulled over and reflected on. Often times they are accused of not listening, when in reality they are often times listening all too well–or, their attention has been captivated strongly by something else.

5. Adaptability: Dealing with change is torturous for the parent or teacher of a spirited child. Leaving a playmate’s house, stopping one activity for another, or getting a food different than what was expected all trigger frustration in the spirited child. The struggle has become so expected that when it comes time to leave somewhere, we start our “leaving routine” a good five to ten minutes before we plan to leave, or even better, we prepare him for leaving before we even arrive at our destination!

After reading Kurcinka’s description of spirited children, I felt like half my battle was won because I suddenly understood my son’s temperament better. I could view his negative characteristics as ones that could be shifted towards the positive, and I suddenly had tools for handling his behavior and personality better. It’s also amazing how many children tend to share many of these same characteristics. When I get together with a friend who is also the parent of a “spirited child”  we see these characteristics jump out quickly in our kids and try to help each other with managing the more “spirited” moments. For anyone who can relate to the description of a “spirited child” in their own child(ren), I would highly recommend the book Raising Your Spirited Child.

“He that loses wealth loses much, he that loses friends, loses more; but he that loses his spirit, loses all.”
–Spanish Proverb.