Posted in Travel, Parenting, Lifestyle.

I Have Lived

When I finally lay my head down, I will have no regrets because I have lived. I lived, loved, lost, and lived some more. I just wished there was more time to sleep in between. There’s absolutely no purpose for this writing, today I was reminded of death. I don’t really forget about it. It’s coming, I know it. I wish I wouldn’t be caught by surprise. You know how there’s this prophetic sense some people have? I don’t have it. Recently I’ve been getting more and more real about this issue with my kids. I’ve been feeling like we create this vacuum when we avoid this topic, the discussion of death, pain and physical hurt in a real way.

My kids love watching Finding Nemo but they always make me forward the beginning when Nemo’s mother and siblings get killed. Today, I decided was the day. They might not have a shark eat their family but they will face death and they will not be able to fast forward the pain. It’s not reasonable to compare real life to a kid’s movie but I was having one of those days. Days where the kids’ say, ”mommy can you forward that scene please?” and you say, ”you know what babies, dying is a fact. Also, this scene is going to take place whether you watch it or not. It is sad, but it happens, you know that. It’s okay to feel it. They did, we watched it together. They were sad but they dealt with it.

Every-time they pretend-shoot each other or make a gun out of something (we’ve never bought them any toy weapons. If they’ve gotten any as gifts we’ve returned or given them away) they get a factual, age-appropriate lecture on how bullets damage a body and how painful it would be for any human or animal to deal with that kind of situation.

I’m seriously contemplating showing them visuals. Every-time I hear about people being killed I feel more of an urgency to explain to them how real this is, and how much these things are not to be toyed with.

Life is sacred. Death is inevitable. However, we need to be the protectors of life keeping in mind that death will eventually catch up to us. We don’t chase death. We don’t become those who cause people pain and suffering.

Life is sacred.

I want people to be able to take one safe breathe or at least imagine that they can when they see my boys. The kind of people who help others to find life while keeping their own lives in focus.

Death is inevitable. Life is sacred.

That is the whole lesson I want to teach them.

Posted in Travel, Parenting, Lifestyle.

The River

The tossing and turning of the waves, the unsettled rocks giving way to the water yearning to keep flowing. Keep on leaping. It desires something, the water. Everything in its path has to yield to whatever it wants. A little way away my kids playing next to me in calmer waters. Rocks under our feet still submitting to the demands of the water. I have always had a love/hate relationship with it. I have been in awe of seas, rivers, and lakes even. Now it’s just damaging, and it sweeps away what we want to keep. I realize that’s a childlike perspective but being an adult is really overrated when you’re standing over a roaring river and the guards are telling you to get your kids away from the water because it may not be deep but it is really fast. They slip once and no one can pull them back. ”They can’t be pulled back.” That’s what happened to him, to them. The water is not our friend. I keep my mouth shut and my brain even shutter, and sit far far away from where the boys are playing because I don’t want to hear these whispers. They have to go on living in this crazy world where the rivers are allowed to roam free. They can’t know about all the things that are not going to be their friend. Right now they need to make islands with stones, they don’t need to remember what the river took from them. I remember. That’s enough.

I can keep them from being swept up. After all, I’ve done it before. I kept him from being swept up for as long as I could. Everyone has to let go sometime. Water, land, the sky, it’s all a matter of time. I remember that day like today. The moment I got the news my youngest son was about to go under for a minor procedure. I had lost my nephew, and my son was about to be put under. No, I had to hold him down as they did. I told someone this, they said you should write this down. This is a class piece of writing. It really is, I thought.

Year’s later the river is still rolling, roaring, nothing did stand in its way. All I have accomplished is; I’m still here to write down our stories.

In memory of those, we will never forget.

In memory of those, we will always remember.

In memory of those that are, and always will be greater than any great wild…

In memory of shattered dreams and love that is unquestionably true.

In memory of us.

In memory of my sweet boys.

In memory of mine and yours.

Posted in Travel, Parenting, Lifestyle.

I know we have been hearing and reading the news.  All these killings, shootings, destroying lives. Hurt. People say where’s the heart? Why are the humans? Why are governments and our people heartless and lacking empathy? That may all be absolutely true. We can only speak from our hearts. Feels as though we only have our hearts left to give right now.

However, we’ve lost too much to not use our hearts. We’ve also lost too much to not be logical and calculated going ahead. We’ve just lost way too much. Every time something happens I surely some person with logic and a sane mind will see the tragedy and realize something needs to change. No one ever does.  We need understanding that taking away what people love does not make them complicit. Surely someone, somewhere understands this. Then boom! I realize people who should see it, don’t. I mean literally…boom.

I am not just writing about one place; I am writing about all of our homes. I don’t have to give you the exact location. How many people who look like you, think like you, believe like you are dead because of people who didn’t think they deserved to be where they were, because of people who still think you and I are not important enough.

I hear people say things like, “these governments, these tyrants are just like Hitler” They are using the same tactics and their end goal is the same. Genocide.” Don’t use his example so casually. We don’t know. I’m not saying it’s not true, I’m just saying we don’t know. I’ve known people amongst my people who were massacred for merely wanting to survive. Just like the Jews. We don’t quote history because we are angry, and it gives our anger some direction to make these comparisons. We learn from those awful parts of human existence and move in a completely different direction.  Everyone has a legacy; I want ours to be greater than just surviving.

Let me also say that when I say “my people” that definition is really wide. If there’s anything my friends and readers have learned about me, I hope it’s this. I am not just Muslim, Pakistani, American. I am also an immigrant (in more than one place), I also come from a long line of what people define as “terrorist” these days. I am brown. My descendants were forced to leave their homes, killed, burned and slaughtered for merely being all of that. I am all of us.   At times like these my identity, it seems to melt away into dust, and smoke. The one thing that has always been the most center-point of my core all of a sudden isn’t.

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I have been sitting on these thoughts for days. Haven’t uttered a word to anyone. Can you believe it?

I don’t like to have these discussions on my dinner table with acquaintances in a casual manner. I do however, like to avoid ignoring the issue as though it’s not my problem. It becomes my problem when the site of an armed guard at a mall has me instinctively pushing my kid behind me as though that would protect them from anything. My mental armor is always up as is for everyone around me, but the sad truth is that we all know we are exposed, we are already bleeding. We are gasping for every breath.

Our lives now are just about finding moments to escape the pain because we feel there’s nothing, we can do about the condition of the world we live in. All this hurts is so much that we want to imagine that it’s not happening if only for a moment. We can do that you see because no one is holding a gun to our head at this very moment. In this moment the nozzle is invisible, so we take advantage of it because the excruciating reality of what is to come is too unbearable. The helplessness is crippling.

I close my eyes and escape into whatever frivolous activity is nearest for that moment. Playing with my boys. Making forts under the blanket. Hiding under the covers with the kids and a sudden bang, and then a shake. I’m startle out of the state of comatose bliss. Was it just my kids dropping a toy? Was it something bigger? A bigger toy? A gun? A bomb? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Something definitely shook. I didn’t imagine that. There was a loud thud, I didn’t imagine that. I know I didn’t.

Whatever it is, it’s still invisible so I guess we’re safe. I hear it but I don’t see it. There has been so much that I have seen that’s pierced through me as has been the case for most of us on an individual level. I don’t think any of us is ready to accept it on a collective level for ourselves or for others. It’s here, right in front of me.

When I get out from under those covers will I be helpless? Will my kids be helpless to deal with whatever is waiting for them out there? Hopelessness is definitely crippling; however, I don’t think we are helpless. In fact, we are in the position to help. I know I have a responsibility to my children to not raise them to be blind to the truths of the world. Who am I if I don’t show them how to get out from in front of a bullet? What kind of a parent am I if I don’t teach them how to help a few people in the process?

There’s no revolution. No changing the world. There’s today, no one knows about tomorrow. Today, I don’t want to know  that people died, and I didn’t try. Today, I want my kids to be proud of themselves knowing that somewhere something good happened, no matter how small, because of them. They might not be ready to change the world today, who knows where tomorrow is taking us though.

Logic will prevail.

One day at a time.

All people at a time.

All kids at a time.

#myworldmyresponsibility #istandwithkashmir #stopgunviolence #bondedinbrotherhood #tomorrowbelongstothem

 

 

Posted in Travel, Parenting, Lifestyle.

#Metoo

Have you heard? The #metoo movement is over-done. At least according to some fancy female makeup artist here in Pakistan. She was asked this question out of the blue during questions about what is her favorite makeup product, and which actor she loves dolling up. The interviewer quickly went from “which celeb needs a better makeup artist” to “what do you think about the #metoo movement?” The switch was abrupt, and I’m pretty sure, not unintentional.

So, here I am completely damaged by my own thoughts right now. I’m not sure what is happening to our world that we have to stab each other in the back so brutally. There’s absolutely no room for doubt as to what happens at that moment. The decisions made during that interview, before that interview rather, we’re criminal. That being said I’m more concerned about the bigger questions that this raises in our country. How easy it is to dismiss a hurting soul. How easy it is to quiet a wave of pain, and suffering by calling the struggle overrated.

I grew up pretty independent, that was pretty much thanks to my big brother’s laziness. He was too spoiled to do anything so I just ended up taking care of stuff. I joke, but it’s true. It taught me a lot because he never treating me like I was not capable because of my gender. Anything he could do, it was just kind of understood that I could do it too. Love you, bro.

However, the world was not so easily accepting of a girl who liked to live life on her own terms. You’ve all heard the stories, mine isn’t unique or new. I’m sure you’ve also heard that when a female goes out in the world asking for her place there’s no way in hell she doesn’t experience a brush of a hand in places she doesn’t want. A touch here, a sentence there. An invitation shes not to keen on. I didn’t face anything more than that but how many did and didn’t say anything, I can’t even begin to imagine. My struggle began at a very young age. Every time someone touched me the wrong way I spoke up. I screamed, yelled and told anyone who would even look in my way because no one was really ready to listen. I always got in trouble for that.

I know I said I wasn’t going to go in detail but here we are. What I’m trying to say is that after nearly 30 years of, “just stop, that’s how things are. You screaming it all the time isn’t going to do any good.” Finally, someone made it okay to say something. It’s still not as okay as it should be but better than nothing. Here, where it’s hard. Women have to work hard. No. Harder. Women go through mansplaining of their own jobs by men who are a few levels below them because, what else? That’s the world right now and fighting it takes too much effort. Sometimes the only way to get my driver to actually follow my direction is to call my husband and tell him to call the driver and explain because he just doesn’t want to take directions from a woman, keeps telling me, “no ma’am, this is the way”, while we are completely lost. Moments like these I don’t have time to lecture him because I’m late. I just need to get where I need to go. So, we find ways. Oh, and if I did lecture him or get angry it would be me making a big deal about something tiny and “overreacting”. Again, most of us have been there.

Not all men but a lot of them are assholes. It turns out a lot of women are assholes too. Yes, I’m in that kind of mood right now.

In this extremely fragile country, where speaking the truth about sexual harassment for women is always met with doubt and blame the victim vibes, there are women who are sabotaging the cause.

My mind is blown. I can give you a rundown on why we do this to each other. I can try and understand the politics behind it and try to understand the psyche of these women. I can even present the case for how it benefits these big businesses and these women’s magazines are run by men so they gotta keep the status quo. But I don’t want to do any of that today.

I just want to say that if you are the kind of person who minimizes another person’s experience. If you’re the kind of person who chips away at someone’s truth for whatever reason; you’re a shit person.

I hope no one ever does that to you.

Posted in Travel, Parenting, Lifestyle.

Name

I got to talking about names the other day. I’m very particular about my name, spellings and all. I have my father’s last name. People are surprised to hear that. I had a chance to change it, but I didn’t. I know my husband thinks it’s some feminist agenda to prove something to the world. It really isn’t. The issue is much simpler and much more complicated than that.

Photo Credit: Jayson Hinrichsen

For the first 14 years of my life, I didn’t have a last name. Literally, none. Whenever I was asked to put down my last name, I would simply say I don’t have one. Questions like, “what’s your dad’s name?” or “what’s your mom’s name?” Would follow and I don’t know what they ended up writing most times because I really didn’t want to concern myself with it.

Why I didn’t have a last name? My mom didn’t want me to have my dad’s name. She didn’t give me hers either. I was just kind of left nameless in their struggle to gain control and power over each other.

Finally, at the age of 18, I added my paternal last name. Nobody understood why I would do that either. At that point, I had not seen my father in years, and it seemed like that’s how it was going to be for a long time to come. I couldn’t explain to people that having a name you probably are not completely comfortable with is better than not having one at all. It’s better than no one recognizing you or knowing where you come from. There are a lot of people on my father’s side I deeply care for and love. However, this was the most important reason. Everyone wants to belong, right? Where did I belong if not with my parents? My mom had a chance to share her name with me and she didn’t so obviously I only had one option. Maybe it’s not that deep, or just maybe for a child growing up without being able to proudly say I belong to one family or the other, it is that deep.

Back to today; my kids ask why they are all Mustafas but I’m not. You are our family too why isn’t your last name the same? I give them the simple answer, which is also true.

I tell them, even though they don’t share my last name there is no stronger bond.

The complicated answer? My Parents may not have been the one to give me the name, or maybe they were. I don’t know what my birth certificate says honestly. I understand though that this is where my identity and my legacy is found, and my kids will know that they have a family in my family.

So yeah, we are a family. We are the Mustafas, we’re also the Akhtars.

Photo Credit: Jake Thacker

My boys need to know that. They need to create relationships and loyalties to that family and that name too. It will not happen if one of their parents doesn’t say it all the time. So maybe, that’s why I kept the name? Or maybe I’m just lazy?

Posted in Travel, Parenting, Lifestyle.

B Is For Bossy

I’m the person that makes everything work. Yes. That’s me.

I’m also the person who, it seems is always, telling my family when they’ve done something wrong. I go soft and things fall apart. It’s a terrible job. Makes one the “no fun” member of the family for the most part BUT someone’s got to do it.

Everyone everywhere is telling moms to take it easy and enjoy themselves and, their families. In all honesty that is some solid advice. I would give that advice to friends and family myself if I didn’t live the life I live and, handle the things I handle everyday.

It’s not just about not doing the dishes or letting the house sit dirty, which is not something I can ever do if I’m telling you the truth. It’s not even about not enjoying our kids in that moment when they are doing something fun or not joining in, in playtime. People assume that all the tiredness and weariness comes just from working, cleaning and running after the kids. No, the tiredness comes from knowing that if we didn’t do all those things that we do, If we didn’t get tough on the family to keep up with everything they need to keep up with in order for us to keep running things smoothly, everything will break down into little shambles. No one will see the shambles but us, which means we are the ones who will end up cleaning up that mess.

At the end of the day people will tell us, “see? The world is still turning. You were freaking out for no reason”. However you alone will know that world has gotten this much harder to turn and you are the one who is turning it. No one else will see it but you.

So, when you’re screaming at your family to turn off the iPad or TV and get ready for bed and they keep saying, “five more minutes mom, just 10 more minutes.” You look to your husband for support and he gives you a look that says, “What’s the big deal he only asked for 10 minutes.”

You can either just give up or you can say, “no get up now”. Most days that is what I do. I give them an ultimatum, including my husband. They all have to scramble and start getting ready. I know what they are thinking. The evil lady who doesn’t know how to have fun can’t give us 5 minutes or 10 extra minutes. She needs to learn to chillax. Here’s what I am thinking that no one else can think of because it’s for my mind, my eyes and my physical body to handle only:

Ten minute means they will start moving in at least 15 minutes because I know my family. The kids will not get up to go brush their teeth without their father. He has to finish up his work and get ready for bed too so that another 15 minutes. So, we are already about 30 minutes past bedtime. We haven’t even gotten to the changing into PJs, read a story phase yet. “I need water.” “Now I need to go to the toilet again” dance that we all do every night. I’ll have to commend my husband for this one; he handles all of that way better than I do because I am in only one mode; which is, GO.THE.HELL.TO.SLEEP. I am not much fun at bedtime.

Late bedtime means sleepy, tired mornings. No one wants to get out of bed for school. I gaze at my husband while he wakes up, sometimes even earlier than us, but gets ready in peace and heads off to work. I barely ever get to say good-bye because, that’s right, I’m wrangling tired, sleepy children who are refusing to get out of bed. On the days they are tired the shirt is always wrong. The shoes don’t fit right or someone just wants to crash on the floor right before we are ready to head out refusing to get up.

All the while I am thinking about the lessons I haven’t prepared for my students. The test I have not gone through for the students that will be waiting for me in less than an hour. Or some other crap I need to do which I didn’t get done.

You would think this would be the end of it, right? Nope. They get home even more tired and cranky. They want to hurt everyone and destroy everything. They are sleepy but don’t want to nap. They are tired but they don’t want to sit in one place. To handle this chaotic day I have to make even more rules because everyone is hell-bent on shattering every single one of the ones I already have. Finally the day ends and someone asks for 10 extra minutes before bedtime.

Being tough brings much guilt with it. Even after ruining the entire house their little faces can be convincing enough to put you in a cycle of self guilt and terrible self judgment. Everyone around who is not running the house and just gossiping is not much help. However, me being a softy is short-lived. I have to put on my bossy pants (as Tina Fay would put it) and start firing around. Only then do things start to work properly.

It is always way more fun when the routine is in place. We can all duties then we can all relax and enjoy ourselves. With that said, I am not saying I don’t know how to have fun and relax every now and again but the bottom line is that when men make rules and enforce them they are called assertive when we do the same thing with our families we are called bitchy, mean or too wound up.

Problem is women can’t stop being the evil being that we are without the world crumbling around us because guess what? The world needs us to be exactly this way. We can’t change. We have to remain who we are. And the world doesn’t seem to want to change anytime soon.

I’m going to make the change within myself. I’m eliminating the guilt. I’m a bitch. I’m the person who makes sure people do their jobs right because if they don’t shit falls apart. Those people who give me guilt over it, are the ones who give me guilt over shit falling apart as well. So I do what I have to do to keep the world spinning. I do what I have to do to keep my kids alive. Let’s be honest, most days it means being bossy and assertive. The world is just going to have to have to get over it.