Sit Next To Me

I have a very strict rule about my kids not watching “grown-up TV”. Stuff that might seem harmless to others I seem to tear apart and analyze to a point of exhaustion even for me. That’s what writer, communication major type people tend to do I guess. As a general rule, the TV is never on in our house when the kids are around. We only watch it when the kids are sleeping or gone. Even if it seems like the most harmless little show. Sometimes I think it’s just words. Then I remember myself as a kid. There were so many times “just words” stuck with me. I want to wait until they are older and those words can be explained and understood. They are 5 and 6 so it might be a while before that happens. I know I’m one of the strict ones in this particular matter. I tend to do the opposite of what my parent(s) did. Always. Of course.

A bit ago I saw a news story about this white guy who didn’t want to sit next to a black old lady on the plane. He called her all sorts of names. Names we are not allowed to use these days. He said things we refuse to acknowledge even exist as a society amongst us. Oh, but how they do so exist.

That tiny video reminded me of a tiny little incident on a bus somewhere in a tiny town far away from us, and now. And here we are today. “What do I do?” I thought. This world. I live in it. I’m raising my children in it. Pretty soon they will not be little boys. Someone will not want to sit next to them because they look like those “terrorists” they keep mentioning everywhere. I want to turn back time. Nope. Move it forward? Isn’t that what Martine Luther King thought when he gave his “I have a dream” speech? I don’t want to stay in this time either. So how do I take control? My kid inched over to watch the video as he always does. This is the moment I usually turn off my phone. It was a split second decision to let him see the world, and let learn. This is how I take on the world. This is how I take control.

-“What are they fighting about?”

-“This man doesn’t want to sit next to this lady.”

-“Why?”

-“Because she looks different.”

-“That’s doesn’t make any sense.”

-“I know, that’s why it’s on the news.”

-“So he wants to be all alone?”

-“Wouldn’t life be boring if we didn’t have people who were different in our lives? His life must be so boring. It’s fun when you get to know different kinds of people from different places, who look different and act differently. Sometimes people from the exact same place can look different too. It makes the world colorful and fun, like art.”

-“Like me and Adam? And you and Daddy?”

My kids are fully aware that their dad and I are very different skin tones, and so are they. While all over the world it’s always been a difficult conversation in our house it’s always been pretty simple. Adam is very proud of his brown skin because that means he looks like his dad, and Dawud is very proud of his lighter color because that means he looks like his mom. There’s no denying what they look like. We have found pride in who they are just as we do in others people we meet and know.

Then we talked about all the interesting and fun things we have in our lives because we have visited all these places and met amazing people; everything that we would have never found out if we had never met those people. It was a casual conversation that made a 5-year-old realize that being mean to people just because they’re different “doesn’t make any sense”. The smart thing is to learn from them; to bring the good stuff forward so we can make the world a stronger place.

I can’t still guarantee that tomorrow when he’s all grown up someone will not refuse to sit next to him because of who he is or how he looks. I can guarantee you though, that I’m working as hard as I can to turn my boys into the kind of men who will recognize you for your culture, heritage, religion, color, and whatever else is important to you and then make a conscious choice to sit next to you.

Country Orphan

I just recently declared to my husband that I need to be myself. I need a haircut, color to get back to who I am. I need to feel like me again. Recent moving, taking care of the house, kids have me feeling like a robot. I look ahead and I see more of the same. A state of not being me. A robot wife/mother/caretaker who takes care of anyone or anything that’s broken. I have switches in my brain; kid throwing a tantrum take a deep breath, handle that crap move on. Guests coming over; wake up early even though I ’m tired, down two extra cups of coffee, handle that shit, move on. Husband panicking over something; un-panick him, handled, move on. I seriously wanted to be out of Saudia Arabia for reasons no one is a stranger to I’m sure. If you are, I can explain, just ask. However, I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into by moving here even though I have lived here before.

Pakistan is a place I know and love, but the problem is she doesn’t love me back with the same force. How I choose to dress and how I choose to carry myself is a bit too ”strange” for her. Sounds interesting coming from someone who lived on the ”strange” side of the tracks all her life in the US as well. Over there I was strange because I was too conservative. ”Those poor Muslim women. We need to free them from their religious and cultural prison”. Over here in Pakistan, I get looks that say, ”OMG, what is she wearing? ” It’s always inappropriate. I still have a scarf on my head and as far as I’m concerned everything on me is more conservative than it would have been if I was anywhere else in the world (excluding Saudi).

When I moved to Pakistan for the first time I was excited. I thought, man this is so cool, the days of being looked at as different and not good enough to fit in are over. As much as I knew I was going to miss home at least I could try and make a home here with people who were just like me. sounds awesome right? My perfect little world? Nope.

I got here and I was asked the same question I was asked in America, ”where are you from?” I gave the same answer I gave over there, ”I’m from RIGHT FREAKING HERE”. And I got the same response, ”no but really”.

Then we moved back for unrelated reasons and I was a bit relieved because it’s never easy for people like me, at least it was familiar and it was home. This time though, I thought I was older, wiser, so maybe I’ll handle it better. I’ll be less confused if nothing else. Turns out I’m neither. I’m not even confused. I’m something completely different from all of those things. I’m a Pakistani-American who has very strong opinions about her countries. I know where I want to be in my future. I know I don’t belong in one place. If someone asked me to pick just one country, or city for the rest of my life I would not be able to do that. My loyalties are many and I am very proud of that.

What makes me is all of those things combined. What is not me is being a robot. I’m not going to wear certain clothes because everyone is wearing them.

That is exactly why others opinion on my scarf doesn’t matter when I’m in the US. People who genuinely want to know can ask me or research. The rest can assume what they want. I am too busy being me usually.

Although, I’m not going to deny that it does hurt to know that the two places that I’ve called home have not truly embraced me. That everything I’ve ever known and loved and forgiven about these places just because I wanted to be accepted are sometimes the exact issues and dilemmas that stand between us. Generally, it is not my fault. It is not my fault that I have the wrong skin color for most people. It’s not my fault that my parents speak a different language.

Well, it is kind of my fault that I’m choosing my religion, but religious freedom, no? Why don’t I get that if I’m not infringing on anyone else’s rights?

It surely can’t be considered a fault that my fashion sense is unique. You can look twice, I’m okay with that but gosh don’t judge me for it.

It cannot be a flaw in my innate personality that because of my family background, religion and upbringing I act different and have different opinions. Just a different way of looking at the world. I’m not demanding you agree with me.

This whole list goes for every home I’ve had. I’ve experienced these on different levels everywhere. ”Too Americanized” or ”not American enough”, “too Pakistani”, “not Pakistani enough”. Those switches in my brain just keep turning off and on. All the while I’m trying not to get lost myself. I’m neither since neither place has claimed me.

So where do I feel at home? With myself. There’s no judgment here. I change my look often to keep it fresh, to keep reminding myself that I belong everywhere. No one can tell me to change: citizen of the world and all.

OR a country orphan. I’ll go with that it’s more dramatic. So, I’m off to change it up again, this country orphan feeling is strong right now.

The Ever Changing Me

Last couple of years plenty has changed. That’s what life does, it changes. We grow, and change. This was my kid’s assignment for school over the last few weeks. About how he has grown and changed over time. How he started from being a baby; not being able to talk, walk, feed himself to today where he’s fairly independent, and has emotions that he can express. He can express them better than most kids his age, I would say. I would say that because I’m his mom and most of his emotions are directed towards me. I would also say this because I’m his mom, and my child is smarter than yours. Always.

The purpose of telling you about Dawud’s homework was that the line about “growing and changing” was straight up plagiarism from a very competent kindergarten teacher. Sorry Sir! Next time I will give you full credit with name, and credentials.

Growing and changing has so so many different meanings to different people. To a 5 year old it simply means being able to grab things with one hand. Sounds simple and innocent. To me change and growth means being a 100 pounds lighter than 3 years ago. That kind of change is not just physical, it comes from the inside before it starts showing on the outside. I don’t much care about what people get to look at on the outside. I know everyone cares a little, I’m sure I do too but I’m not worried about people’s opinions. When people’s opinion counted I didn’t care about the weight. Of course, they wanted me to be prettier, who wants to look at something that’s not aesthetically pleasing? I started losing the weight when I decided it was the right thing for me. My health. I wanted to take charge before it was too late. I am my best friend, my best ally, gotta watch my back, right?

We weigh people’s worth by the pound. Every time I meet someone I haven’t seen in a while I realize how “different” I look. I’m forced to admit that I “feel” different too. Because, of course, weight loss comes with so many positive changes in one’s life. Haven’t you heard, you become famous. People love you more. Also when you talk, people stop and listen. Although, if you’re a woman it still might happen less often, however, it will happen. Life will change ”for the better”.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “so and so is getting fat”. “You need to talk to them”. This is especially true for women. We’re told It gets much harder to lose the weight later on. “Once you have kids it’s downhill from there. You lose your body completely”. I mean yeah, everyone loses a little bit of themselves as they get older and gain so much more. No one can say ten years later that they are the same person that they were ten years ago. Same goes for our bodies. Is that really a bad thing? The change is inevitable. It’s been 14 years I’ve been crying over my c-section scars. Guess what happened to them? Still there. In fact, more have been added. My weight has been up, it has been down. I have been pretty and I have been just okay. You know what? I’m still here. I’m not here because of my scarred or non scarred body or fat or non-fat body. No, I’m here because I decided to ignore all the chatter and stay. The ever-changing mind and body. The Me. The world can complain about thin people and fat people. I’m staying in my shape, however, it may get better over time.

I realize I wrote something like this just a while ago but this is different because this is about weight. This topic comes from a very different place. It doesn’t come from “sticking it to people” place. This comes from accepting the reality that the world is going to change around us and we are going to have to keep our feet on the ground solid. People are not going to approve of so many things we do, including the way we look. I’ve lost the weight now but now I’m too thin. I look ill. Yep, that’s a thing. My hair is too short and funky colors. That’s also a thing. There’s no pleasing the world.

I have also said this before, there’s only one change that matters: MAKING THOSE C-SECTION SCARS GO AWAY. That’s my inner monologue, ignore it.

There’s only one change that matters: that’s constant, inside you. You will learn, grow and change. The cycle is constant. When people say to me, “you would have never done that before, you have changed”, I say, “yes, yes I have”.

All We’ve got is…you know? Love

I don’t write much about relationships, or love. Even though, EVEN THOUGH you could say I’m somewhat of an expert on the subject. Actually, let’s not say that. There’s no rating on this and my kids might come across this some day. What I want to say is that I know enough. You could say that I could teach a class on this sort of stuff. Not because I have had so many, rather, the few meaningful relationships that I have had, have lasted so long and have been pretty trying. Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship of any kind will agree. It’s not a sign of a good or bad relationship. It just is what it is.

These days there’s a lot of talk of new relationships, marriage around me. Vacations, holidays, everyone’s showing off their new Love by signing those papers. Of course, when two people tie the knot, as they say, those are the things next in line. Although, I do wonder why they say that, families become entangled and knotted for life as well. And those are also relationships that need managing. Keep ups, maintenance, frequent checks, that sort of thing., It’s like a big rope all tangled and no one can find the ends.

I realize that what I just said may make you think that I’m not a romantic person. Not true. I’m a romantic realist (that’s not a real thing). I like romance as long it’s with a real person who is genuinely right in front of me. People can make claims that they love someone, whether it’s their mother, father, sibling, a lover, but actually loving someone and actually making real sacrifices to let yourself be loved, that’s a challenge that most people are not strong enough to handle.

Confused yet? I know, I have that effect on people.

Any guesses as to why I have decided to talk about love? I love being in love. But I hate talking about it because I don’t think anyone gets my thought process on this issue (pretty much like most issue).

Love is not about finding a soul mate. Love is not about finding people who you cannot live without. Every person is self-sufficient.

When you love someone your priorities change. You, YOURSELF don’t change but what you prefer to do when, and who with changes drastically. You might like the same food but the aroma might have a different significance, it might carry a special meaning.

Love is having deep care and respect for another. Did ya catch that? RESPECT! there’s no love without respect.

Love is when my sons put my shoes in front of me before I even step off the bed without being told because they know I don’t like to be without shoes.

Love is both my boys always going over to my desk and fixing the LionKing mug because they know it’s important to me. They know it has to be in a certain spot.

Love is also anticipating what your wife to be might enjoy on a random day and sending her a useless emoji pillow just to make her day a little bit brighter.

Love is these two. Cousins that grew up like sisters. They don’t even know what they mean to each other. You know what they say about twins? You pinch one and the other feels the pain? They have some freaky connection like that.

Love is a big brother taking a leap almost to his death to save his little brother. We say to our loved ones, “I’d give my life for you”. How many of us actually mean it? I don’t know if I know many people who would actually do something like this. However, that is what you do when love is at stake, jump in with open arms.

Love is my Doctor Who mug.

There are many examples of different kinds of relationships that I’m not mentioning. Some are actually really good: real solid.

I’m not putting them down here because those are the ones we expect when we talk about love. I want to have those marriages and friendships when I grow up but that’s what all people look at and say, ”yep that’s it”. While that’s true, we need to open up the box and start looking outside to see how much we’re spreading it around to others who matter. How much we are giving it to those who are here every day and we would like to keep them here. Because guess what people do? They leave. They don’t just get dead or get sick. No. They just walk out because we tell them with our actions that we are not around or that we are too busy to pay attention.

I’ve seen people walk out of my life for many reasons. It’s been death, its been because someone understood what they were worth more than me. What all of that has taught me is that I deserve to be loved and to be taken care of too. Yeah, not where you thought this was going. No…I was just checking if you were still paying attention.

In actuality, it is a two-way street. Do better get better. I’m out of cliches. I hope you’re feeling loved and respected.

Oh, I didn’t tell you why I’m writing about love and relationships. Well, you know sometimes you just gotta tell people that you love them. I feel that we have become a culture who relies too much on fake expressions. It’s not verbal and it is not action. It’s some third thing that’s somewhere in the atmosphere that we are all supposed to just understand. I write it down somewhere, and you see it along with thousands of people and now you know that I love you because I said it in front of so many people. That’s valid I’m sure. However, let’s start getting personal. Let’s start making it about those people only that we are claiming to love. Yeah?

Confusing crazy lady thanks you for your time and attention.

You Dont Have To Love Me Because I Do

I want to talk about myself today. But isn’t that what you do every day? you wonder. Yeah, I do. But this time I don’t want to hide behind my children or some other seemingly salient topic. “Me” I am important. Don’t you think? Well, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t think so, but if you knew me you might kind of agree, or not. A solid NO is a real possibility also. I don’t think I’m a terrible human being though. I was just sitting here not feeling so great about myself, and then I started contemplating…why? Why do I feel the way I do right now? What have I done that is so terrible? My kids hate me. They don’t always. But their words have started to sting. My strategy with it is to go the opposite direction to what my parents and other elders did when I broke, and said something mean to them as a child and young adult. It was lecture time for me, I got grounded a lot. A lot of weird punishments were given out that I don’t want to get into right now because I feel bad enough about myself as it is. I just smile, give them a hug, and say well I love you more than the sun, the stars, the moon, and everything in between. I’m, they’re going to be a unique kind of messed up.

I feel something is broken, and bleeding inside you, when you’re being mean to someone else. I want to teach them to love people when they are hurting. To know the difference between pain and anger inside them. I want them to know that it’s okay to hurt but it’s not okay to hurt others. But enough about them. As a tween or teen, however, lectures fell on deaf ears. I do remember them now. It’s like they got stored for later use.

Here I am decades later reminded of how unhinged, and purposeless adults in my life thought I was. I think and always thought I’m an awesome person. Somehow, somewhere that little prick in my heart stops my awesomeness from spilling out completely. My confidence, and that spring in my step is a tiny bit less springy because I remember someone always saying: ”you’re too old to get this excited about this trivial thing”. Somehow my laugh is a little quieter every time I find something funny because I remember being told again and again that I need to grow up. But hey the story is not all gloom and doom because grow up I did not, I still think Disney World is the best place on earth. I believe all the Marvel superheroes will come back to life, or my son is already working on ’another earth’ I bet everyone is alive in it, I’ll just move there.

Every time I hear I’m not responsible enough, I look at these two human beings that I have carried inside me that I am a 100 % responsible for educating, feeding, training into being functioning people all the while running a household, and working. I just moved countries, I am in the middle of setting up another household while keeping the children alive, well fed. I’m also in the middle of helping them through their emotional, and physical transition. They are about to start a new school, and I am fully aware that this is just the tip of the iceberg. To be fair I should say WE are moving because my husband is obviously a BIG part of this process. I’m definitely not alone in this. However, sometimes I am alone. He goes out of town for weeks, even months. That’s cool though. We have a system. It works.

Me and one of my many beautiful nieces.

What’s that system? I’m freakin’ responsible!

Do you want to know something even more interesting? When people want something done on time and correctly, they come to me. When people want the truth, they come to me. No games, it’s tried and tested.

Then why am I told again and again that I’m not responsible? Or that I need to grow up? And why I think twice about being proud of who I am? And who I have made of myself?

Because I don’t apologize for my weaknesses. Because I don’t shy away from that child inside me who wants to come out to play every now and again.

Because I’m not afraid to make mistakes.

Because I’m not afraid to speak my truth.

I am not perfect and that’s okay.

Because of the tasks I’m supposed to accomplish will not be perfect or up to other’s standards and that’s okay too.

This can be scary, but that’s okay too.

Everybody doesn’t have to like me, as long as I like me that’s good enough.

Basically: I am not perfect by any means. I am enough.

Also, can I tell you something that you may have not thought about in a while because not everyone is as self-absorbed as I am: you are enough too.

The Coin And The Wait Game

My son and I always fight about this coin. He’s obsessed with it, and I won’t let him have it. It’s a souvenir from Italy. It has meaning for me. He just wants it because he likes to collect coins and this one is unique. It’s big, and different. He keeps asking, ”why can’t I have this one? What’s special about this one?” I have explained to him why not. His answer is always the same. ”Give me this one, when we go next time you can get yourself another one just like it. You know I’ll keep it safe.”

He knows I know that. He will keep it safe. However, he is only 6. He doesn’t really understand that I can’t just hand him a souvenir.

MY souvenir. He has plenty of his own. We always buy them tiny tokens from places that we visit with them so they remember. They come back and decorate them on the highest shelves in their rooms so they or their friends can’t get to them. Those things are off limits. So I am sure he will keep it safe. But it won’t be mine anymore. He has a huge coin collection hidden somewhere in his room. I don’t know if this coin will have the honor of his shelf or his collection. Both I know it will be just as beloved to him.

Then I hear things like, ” you’re not giving it to me, that means you love the coin more than me. And I know you love me a lot. So exactly HOW MUCH do you love that coin?” Yup. You really have to give yourself a few seconds before answering these doozies.

This same boy who was questioning our love over a coin brought me some sticks from school one day because he knew I like sticks. The story goes that I bought some colored sticks on Etsy as decoration. They are still in my house in a vase. He asked a lot of questions about those. I told them how I think they were made. Just some branches broken off some trees and spray painted, I told him.

So one day he collected some tiny branches and brought home for me, “I got these for you.” Unsure of the purpose I said, “why?” He said “because you like sticks. I collected these from school.” They’ve been sitting in my nightstand drawer since that day. I’m not sure about liking sticks, but I certainly like those sticks.

Here we are fighting over this coin, though. He’s most likely not going to stop asking, he’s more stubborn than I am. At some point, I’ll give in because the boy did collect branches from some random location for me. They are worth more than the coin.

That day is not today. I’ll keep it until he realizes what this coin is for, and why it’s important. When history becomes a little bit more important to him. Right now he just wants it because it’s big, and catches the eye. He wants it even more because I won’t let him have it.

In the 6 years he’s been alive there aren’t many things he hasn’t gotten that he has wanted. Anyone who has said to me, teach your children the value of money and tell them what it means to be responsible for what they own because it’s important to know what it means to be the lucky few who have everything they want, my response? Of course, they know. I teach them. I make sure they understand. I don’t buy them expensive stuff. There are rules for going to the store. One toy. There’s a price range depending on what country we are in.

Yet, here we are.

He wants a souvenir he doesn’t understand, expensive, and almost priceless and I am not able to make him understand. My excuse? “This is a different case”.

Just like that case was different when I bought him the extra set of dinosaurs because he wanted to make a dinosaur land because that was a “learning project”.

And then that case was different because the younger one couldn’t make a whole farm with his Magna-tiles so I bought him another set. That’s a mind stimulate activity, right?

I don’t regret those decisions, I do regret being a hypocrite though. I know I’ll continue to say I teach them the value of a dollar because in a way I do. They don’t buy expensive toys or more than one toy at a time. Now if only I could learn it myself, and teach them by example as well.

The Only Place I couldn’t Drive Doesn’t Exist Anymore

**Disclaimer: This is not a judgment on the land itself. It is merely an account of a resident, an outsider, someone who wishes things were different. Better. **

Did y’all hear? Women in Saudia Arabia can drive now. Yeah, isn’t it the best? Did you also hear that we are moving out of here? People say, ”oh now that things are getting better you are leaving? What terrible timing.” Oh, but it’s not you see. There is no bad time to move out of a place that has just “given” women the “right” to drive. It’s 2018, things are changing. Everyone is so excited for the brave new world that is about to come our way as women living in Saudia Arabia. I’m sorry but I thought I was born with those “rights”.

I sort of understand the excitement over it and I sort of don’t. For all of us who had to wait for a big strong man to be free from his important works to come to our aid to take us to the pharmacy so we could buy our… You know…womanly things…because, how else?…or food to feed our children (also his children) because how else? Seriously. Because how else? This was meant to be sarcastic but in our good old Saudi, HOW. THE. HELL. ELSE? Unless you can afford a chauffeur, which is not practical for everyone.

So, yeah I get the excitement on some level. What I don’t get is getting on the bandwagon of ”woman empowerment” while taking away these powers in the name of religion/culture/custom what have you, and then giving it back in the name of the same religion and or culture.

Let me try to explain my crazy train of a thought process; When this ban was executed decades ago it was in the name of religion/custom/culture if you will. Maybe, even all of the above. That’s not the Muslim tradition. One cleric even went as far as to bring science into it by saying that ”driving could affect a woman’s fertility and ovaries”, just as recently as 2013.

Somehow I don’t feel like this one can be chalked up as a small victory. We didn’t achieve it, the powers that be around here decided it was time to grant us this privilege. Again, something that’s not a privilege at all but a basic human right, to be able to travel by any means available. Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?

Those same people that are granting these great permissions to do great things like getting behind the wheels of monstrous beasts still haven’t allowed us to do many things that in every other country are considered everyday business.

Women in Saudia Arabia need permission from their male guardians to work, study, and in some cases even travel, also start a business. The last one might be on its way to change but this kind of news travels slowly here so still working on confirmation on that one.

We can’t have our own bank accounts. We can have a joint account with a male guardian but not our account by ourselves.

I’m sure most of you are aware that there is a strict rule that women have to wear a long dress before leaving the house. Ideally, it should be black, but it’s a progressive country, they tolerate subtle color deviations. Men have no such restrictions. Here’s the deal; I’ll be completely transparent with you. I’m a Muslim. I live by certain rules. I follow a certain dress code myself. Also, not everyone is a Muslim. Not everyone should be forced to dress in the same way. Let me rephrase that. Not all women should be forced to dress in in the same way because men are not forced to dress the same, and rightly so. I know I have said this before, it’s important so I’ll say it again; I wouldn’t want anyone to force the scarf off my head, and I hate to see anything being forced on anyone by people who claim to be the keepers of my religion.

Let’s talk about shopping. We don’t get any fitting/dressing rooms. There’s one for men. There’s one for kids. None for females. Yes. Nowhere. Not in any stores, any malls.

And here’s the best one; women got the right to vote in 2015 in some places. It’s a monarchy, but they have municipal elections in some cities. Saudi women can vote in some of the areas, still not everywhere elections are held.

Here’s where my train is headed; this whole driving thing might be a step in the right direction but it’s not for the right reasons, and it’s not even a dent in Women’s rights or empowerment. It has nothing to do with religion or culture because the definition of that changes by the minute. The God I believe in doesn’t put chains on half of the creation ”as needed” to empower the other half.

Did I mention we’re moving?