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Tuesday
May202014

The Children Divorce My Brand and I Glimpse the Future

 

 

It’s a perfectly reasonable request, of course. I just wasn’t expecting this until much later. Four year old Yusuf cannot articulate why I must first seek his approval before posting. This indicates that he’s simply copying off of eight year old Nuha who is, in fact, being articulate about her objections. 

“You have a lot of friends on Facebook and Instagram. I should get to decide what photos of me they see.” Indeed, you should. 

You are a fully actualized human being, after all. You certainly have the right to decide how the world sees you and in which context the experiencing of you occurs. For eight years, you have existed online exclusively in the context of me. You have been my child here, and I must now formally and gracefully accept that you are ready to be perceived as more than that. Of course, you’ve always been more than my child — you’re a radiant light in the infinite energy of the universe and blah blah… The difference between right now and how it has always been, though, is that you now know that you are more than my child. 

That is seriously weirding me out because this is the beginning of many moments in which you will remind me that you do not belong to me. I welcome these moments, for they are as much my spiritual work as they are yours. I wonder if they will always elicit the same apologetic tone from me. Will I always go through the same pattern of experiencing regret over the fact that I didn’t preemptively give you that space followed immediately by the realization that your asking for the space is just as important as my giving it to you? Or is it going to be far less patterned and we’re just going to have to take this whole “I’m an actual person” thing one step at a time. 

I just realized with the Instagram/Facebook thing that this journey of my children’s discovery of their “self”is going to be a series of moments. Letting go isn’t going to be this one exam for which I’ll be awarded a passing or failing grade, but a collection of moments that I’ll most likely have to evaluate on a case by case basis as being somewhere between “reasonable” and “out of your damned mind.” It also occurs to me that there will be moments disguised as a genuine move towards freedom, but will, in fact, just be ill thought out grabs at the freedom to make really ridiculous choices with very serious consequences. 

Thursday
May152014

An Old Box of Photos #throwbackThursday

I have a box of old photos that goes back almost seventy years. They are all so intentionally… intentional. Today, the intention is to not look intentional.

Don’t want to look like I care too much about what you think. But want to look like I care. See me in a way that makes you feel like I’m not hiding anything from you, but do hide enough to be interesting. Feel like you know me, but don’t know me too well.

The dance of the twenty first century photo swims in the struggle to appear vulnerable without actually being too vulnerable.  For some, that’s also flavored with little specks of intention that seek to elicit envy, as well. Don't like the photo? Simply delete and snap again. Life is one big Mulligan in the digital photo age. 

I have a box of old photos that were taken without the knowledge of how they would turn out. Isn’t this the ultimate act of hope? Stand here! You over there! Click. Wait until the roll finishes. Drop off the film. Wait a week. Pay for the photos. Sit together as a family and look at them. Did it work? Are we believable? Do you think the world really thinks we’re the people we look like in this photo? Yes. The photo turned out nice. This is how we will remember who we are. 

I cannot bear to look at old photos anymore. Our story was not that story. The truth lived behind layers of grown up lies so complex that the grown ups didn’t know they were lies. In the sepia toned grains of the photo live subtle warnings to the children in the photos to never expose those lies. Don’t ruin the picture. All will be lost. These photos were the stories of people that stood where they were supposed to while someone clicked.

In the moments between the clicks and the moment in the living room when we all looked at them together lived the belief that we children would look at those photos years from now and forget those secrets. Didn't they know, though, that secrets are unforgettable because they are secrets. Secrets must be held close to the heart and this ensures their eternal life. As long as the heart beats, the secrets it holds will live. Illusions require the utmost attention and care to be maintained, too. You cannot forget a secret until it is revealed. You cannot recognize an illusion until you let it go.

Our secrets may not have been as dark as the secrets that others have kept, but they were secret enough to destroy the realization of any hopes that our illusions would prevail.

I have a box full of old photos.

Point. Click. Forget.

Faiqa, Age 6

 

Saturday
May102014

The Home Ownership Option

In August, we will have been living in this rented apartment for three years. Honestly, if we didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t consider a change necessary. I’m not a believer in home ownership. I believe in property ownership. I think people get confused about those two in terms of creating wealth, but let’s not talk about that — because boring, yo.

Anyway, we’re looking at houses. The last time we looked at houses, we were in Central Florida and it was 2001. Houses were sprouting out of the ground faster than kudzu on a new highway. We settled on a piece of property in a very nice part of Sanford and built a house from the ground up.

It was a beautiful house, but I’ll tell you something — our house lacked character.  It was a reflection of what others thought we should be and how we should live. I suppose that this was a reflection of who we were at twenty three years old, too. I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I never really liked that house. It was a symbol of the attempts of others to tell me and my husband who we should be. I don't think either of us really ever felt at ease in it. Something always needed to be done to it. Something always reminding us that we just weren't quite good enough, yet.

Moving to Memphis and renting an apartment was amazing for us. The apartment is in downtown, it's beautiful and has gorgeous views of the Mississippi and Front Street. We love it here. But, we're done with this. We know who we are and ready to commit that knowledge into the manifestation of a physical space. I'm ready to live in a place that is not the reflection intended to tell others about who this family is, but a place that represents our values and our sense of self with the purpose of comforting and reinforcing our sense of us.

We’re looking for a house for our family. I reject the idea that children “need” space. In fact, the misappropriation of this word “need” is one of the major reasons for the world’s anxieties these days, I think. Children need food, love, shelter… they do not need a yard.

And yet.

I will tell you something about the house I grew up in. It was small and old. I think it was built in 1934? It had two bedrooms and one bathroom. My parents had another bathroom installed. It was always in disrepair. I never once heard someone say, “What a pretty house you have” when I was growing up. 

I remember my parents friends constantly judging them for purchasing this house when they could’ve bought one that was bigger and newer and in a better neighborhood. My parents bought that particular house for its location. It was a residential property that was going to be zoned commercially in the next few years. It was a purely financial decision. That was a good reflection of their values, I think.

As an eight year old girl, I loved that house for completely different reasons, though. It was small, but it was on over an acre of undeveloped land. There were towering  trees, honesuckle and vines. It held places where children’s secrets blossomed into imagination and joy. It was my refuge from a world where parents didn’t act like they were supposed to and the world didn’t treat you in quite the way you felt you should. It was my first experience of how freedom and inspiration are inextricably connected to one another. 

The things I experienced in that yard have made the parts of me that are most beautiful.

My brother and me playing in a twenty foot high waterfall of elephant ear vines, gnarled honesuckle leaves and large oak trees while pretending that a spooky someone who lived in the trees was coming to get us. Holding our breath as we hid under a bush, looking into each other's eyes and waiting for someone to whisper, "Go!" so we could run so fast back to the house. The rush of the cool air when we fell down on our backs and sighed the sigh of relief that we had finally gotten away from that scary thing we couldn't name.

Ninety five degrees on a June afternoon. "No, climb to that branch," I'm directing my brother and his friend. "Okay, now, shake it -- not too hard." And the old crepe myrtle in the driveway softly sheds tiny white flowers all over me. I close my eyes and feel the flowers fall on my head and whisp past my nose. I pretend it's snowing like the day it did in Chicago when I was born and my parents were young and new to this country and full of hopes about their lives and each other.

I remember walking through the mud patties we made on the front sidewalk, now slightly hardened but still not set. The dirt and gravel clinging to the sides of my feet and sliding in between my toes. The cool, soft grass pressing on the soles of my feet.  My treading toward the house without the knowledge that the touch of my skin on the earth created a connection between me and all the other people who were touching the earth at that moment with their bare skin.

My children should have that. They should have the dirt, the escape, the connectedness, and, most importantly, the privacy of childhood. They don’t need it, I guess, but I think they should have it. 

Throughout our lives, we make statements about what is necessary and what is "optional." 

These pronouncements of necessary tend to diminish the value of optional. Once, I thought that the way to live your life was to fill the bucket with that which is necessary and only add the optional things when you had enough time and room.

Now, I know that there will never be room or time left over. Everything must be considered — that which is a need and that which is optional. The optional is not gratuitous and if we treat it as such, we may find at the end of all things that we have merely eked out an existence --  not a life.

Beauty, play, private moments in the life of a child, the earth beneath their bare feet.

We don’t need a house. 

We just want one.

Thursday
Apr102014

Explaining Date Night

Date night is this Saturday. I don't know about your household, but we're terrible about being consistent with date night. I'd like to say that this is because we just love our children SO much that we can't bear to be away from them, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that once the weekend starts -- I don't feel like getting out of my pajamas before Monday morning. 

This Saturday, though, we are doing this date night!! It is going to be FUN! I will change out of my pajamas!!

Unless... is there somewhere we can go that encourages the wearing of pajamas? I would like to go to that place.

I spent most of last week in Connecticut and Tariq is in Vegas (for *work*, people) this week. We haven't really seen each other. So, the siren call of a weekend in pajamas will have to be ignored. 

I informed the children just now that Ms. M, their favorite babysitter, will be watching them on Saturday because we are going out.

"Why?"

"What do you mean why? So we can spend time together."

"No, but what are you going to do?"

"Go to dinner, I guess."

"Well, why?"

All the why questions, by the way, are from Nuha. My elementary Montessori training has resigned me to the fact that I'm going to get asked this question ad nauseum. So, usually, I just pretend not to hear her about three whys in. Suddenly, Yusuf chimes in,"You can eat dinner at home. Why do you have to go somewhere? Home food is more healthy anyway -- outside food is junk food."

Oh, my evil genius -- using my own logic against me. You are a brilliant boy. You're mine, after all.

"Well," I say with as a sarcastic smirk that always precedes some hyperbolic statement that's meant to have the children forget all the questions and laugh at their mom, "so we can get all romantical and stuff and stare in each others eyes and say, 'I love you' and then Daddy will say, 'No, I love YOU" and then we'll stare in each others eyes more and just tell each other we love each other over and over again."

My daughter rolls her eyes.

Yusuf, on the other hand, does not laugh. He looks at me very seriously.

"That's inappropriate. You're going to do all that stuff around other people. That's supposed to be private."

Maybe I should send him to Vegas.

Otherwise, I might have a mullah on my hands in a few years. "I am a very appropriate Spiderman." Photo by L. Anderson

Thursday
Mar202014

A Child is not a Punchline

Life hack: it doesn't take a lot to be a great parent. More than praise, techniques, attention and all of those important things, the primary ingredient in being a great parent is simply wanting to be a great parent.

Today, at an undisclosed location and event, let's call it "shmockker shmractice," I sat with a group of parents and watched children do stuff. One of the children was mine because, hello, I love children but I don't sit around and watch kids all day.

Wait. I'm a teacher. Yes, I do, actually.

"Pfft, well, I guess we can write off the World Cup."

::snickers::

"I guess I should tell him the point is to actually kick the ball."

::more laughter::

First, let me admit.

Guilty as charged.

But also? Feeling guilty about being guilty.

Over the past year, I've made an effort to nix sarcastic remarks about my children. I rarely did it in earshot, but I'd do it when I thought they couldn't hear me.

You might say, Duh, that's funny. Everybody does it.

My children as a punchline, even if the joke is mine, is not an energy I'm ready to accept. So, I'm trying to stop. I'm making an effort to say nice things about my children whenever I can. Maybe people think that's stuck up.

Wrong.

It's called gratitude.

Everything that is wonderful about my children was already there the moment they were born. The only thing I did that sustains the awesome rests on not messing up the awesome. The compliments I spout about my children are not compliments about me. They are truly about them

I theorize that people make fun of their children to other parents because they see it as a form of self deprecation. Some of the best comedians today are masters of this. As an audience, we feel relief because we feel vulnerable most of the time and it terrifies us. Then, here's this guy or gal who's making fear into something funny, so, hey, this putting yourself out there, warts and all, is not so bad.

When it's done "right," self deprecation can inspire people to be braver and more open about who they are. Self deprecation when it's done "wrong," though, looks like this: I am going to say shitty things about myself because I feel bad about some aspect of myself. I will say these bad things because if I say them first, well, then, maybe you won't say them. If I say them in a funny way, then I can join in the laughter first instead of being laughed at. I'm afraid to be wrong. I'm afraid to feel foolish. I will hide that fear here in these jokes.

Oye. This is not healthy.

Furthermore, you are wrong. There is nothing worse or more shitty about you than there is about any of the rest of us. You are fine. Those bad things you're saying about yourself aren't even apparent to the rest of the world. Many times, we only notice them when you point them out.

Back to the children, though. Because it's always about the children. I think people say sarcastic things about their children's behavior or performance because they're accustomed to self deprecation as an expression of insecurity.

Most of us give a lot of lip service to the idea that we know our children are not extensions of ourselves. This most of us excludes my mother, who I recall said exactly, "you are an extension of me" to me at many points in my life. Yes. Seriously. They call Chinese American moms "Tiger Moms," but they don't realize that tigers are indigenous to the Asian subcontinent. Indo-Pak moms wrote the Tiger Mom manual. Chinese moms just stole that noise and mass produced it at a more affordable rate and had a better marketing plan. Like they tend to do. 

Cerebreally, we know that children are not extensions of us. They are their own beings with their own personalities, desires and dreams. On a gut level, though, we forget that. This forgetfulness is most apparent when our most vulnerable moments are relived.

Like watching the kid play organized team sports.

Or competing in a spelling bee.

Or being in a play.

Or swinging a golf club in front of an audience. 

Or anything that might have produced failure anxiety in us as children. 

In those moments, we become our children, and so we engage in this false self deprecation.

We make jokes about how they're never going to play in the World Cup (btw, who says you get to decide that based on one lousy practice, buddy?). Or how they definitely don't have a career in art based on some picture they brought home.

We say these things because we think, it's my kid.

But. Here's a thought: he or she is not your kid.

Oh, relax they're not the mailman's either.

That child is their own person. She belonged to herself from day one. You are responsible for her. That is not the same thing as ownership. If it were, there wouldn't be two separate definitions for these words in the dictionary.

Making fun of this child is not self deprecation. It is plain, old deprecation. And that is simply unkind.

You have the honor of helping children unfold into the human they are destined to be. They will grow into a being that is wonderful and amazing, and all you have to do to make that happen is to let it happen. Beleive that they are good, wise and wonderful from the onset. Stop worrying. Stop trying to control them. They're not lions that need to be tamed.

They are the epitome of human perfection. Children are ALREADY perfect. We erode this perfection when we neglect to acknowledge it. We slowly destroy it by imposing our own fears upon them and assuming that thier destinies hold for them what ours held for us.

Be kind to them. 

Kindness is tricky to implement. Sometimes, kind means buying them stuff, many times it means NOT buying them stuff. Sometimes, it means saying yes, other times it means saying, NO WAY. Sometimes it means acknowledging their disappointment, often it means helping them move on from it. 

All you have to do is not mess this perfect thing up by saying or doing too much.

The to dos are simple.

Say nice things about them both when they can hear you and when they can't hear you. Do it. All the time.

Frequently show gratitude for how capable and lovely your children are.

Don't give in to the easy bonding moments of tearing them down a little. A few bonding moments at shmocker shmractices might be lost here or there, but I think that's okay. I reject the notion of bonding over unhealthy expressions of vulnerability. When I look at my kids and I see them for who they are in all of their freaking majesty, and I am not even being hyperbolic there, there is no belly laugh born of sarcasm that can compare to giving in to that feeling.

As a mother, I want my chldren to see that feeling of recognizing their innate greatness when I look at them, and I can't get to that feeling if I'm too busy hiding my fears behind the quips that insinuate these children are one step above bumbling puppies.

I want my children to see their greatness reflected in my expression when I talk about them or look at them. As a teacher, I want your children to see this in your eyes, too: because I'm telling you the moment they see that, it will make all the difference in every way. For all of us.