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Entries in faith (2)


The Ambivalence of Vulnerability.

There are a thousand different ways to express this, and they feel weak, shameful and pseudo-catastrophic. A few years ago, I read all of Brene Brown’s books, and they changed my life. I learned about the power and courage of vulnerability. I learned vulnerability is a magic key that opens you up to abundance and love in the universe in a way that holding your flaws, fears and mistakes too close will never allow. I came to love the idea of vulnerability – the delicate balance it requires in personal relationships or the way it can inspire friendships and cooperation in phenomenal ways.

Today, I loathe vulnerability. I hate how vulnerable I feel when I watch a man talk about killing the family members of terrorists. Or closing borders. Or requiring ID badges. Or, basically, any time he opens his idiotic, stupid-headed mouth.

I hate the total loss of words I had tonight when my emotionally rock solid daughter asked, “What is going to happen if Donald Trump wins? Are we going to be okay? Is he going to make us leave?”

I do not know the answer to this question.

This vulnerability? It’s victimhood. It’s the haunting sting of being bullied by someone so much more powerful than I am. It’s that familiar feeling of watching people who can do something, sit back and do nothing.  It’s the vulnerability you feel when you hear someone give you the backstory, the rationale, the reason why your abuser is who he is. You don’t care what those reasons are because it does not stop them. I do not give a damn why we are here. Stop telling me why why are here.

We are here. And I am very afraid.

This vulnerability is the finality of knowing you can never count on the people you thought you could count on again. People who love you, they are supposed to stick up for you. They are supposed to say, "You cannot talk about my friend like that." They are supposed to stop people from talking about you like that. They are supposed to effing do something besides make jokes or lament the journey to this place.

When you lose faith in the people who love you, you beleive you will never get it back. You are left with the realization that having faith in people is a precarious proposition at best. Let me tell you, there are very few points that are lower than this one, emotionally speaking.

Disconnected. Alone. Vulnerable... I listen.

He says what he thinks, so, you know, take the abuse. Let’s keep this family together. Don't forget, you're lucky to even be here. You thought you were big enough to sit at the table? Listen. We will make you leave if we want. There is nothing you can do. We were great before you came here. We want to be great again. You made us un-great. We're just trying to go back to what we were before you showed up and screwed everything up.

Also? Jesus. Guns. Racism.

I gasp for air under the weight of this vulnerability that leaves me weak, sad and scared.  I had no strength to loan my child when she showed me her vulnerability.

 “I don’t know if will he make us leave. I don’t know. I know that no matter what has happened to me in my life, Allah has provided me with the best of things in the end. This is something I know to be true because I have lived it. I don't know what's going to happen, bete. Some things, we have to just let Him sort out.”

I can say what I think, too.


Back To School: A Prayer


I kept my head high, as I always do when I’m trying to stave off the itching feeling that I’m headed towards personal failure.  This is me.  The more ominous the feeling of failure, the higher my head.  As if looking more confident will prepare me, no, protect me from the heart crushing realization that I’ve messed up royally.

I glanced to the left of me and passed what seemed like countless classrooms.  Each one filled with happy children.  Happy to be there, well adjusted, not crying, not missing their mommies so bad that they couldn’t calm down long enough to even eat their snacks or lunch.

They had said that the crying usually stopped after the second week.  But, still, that morning when I dropped her off, she had cried.  A lot.  She had pleaded for me not to leave.  But I did.  Because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

You’re supposed to let them go, and let them cry until they figure out how to stop on their own.  They’re supposed to stop.  Even if they are the only one crying.  Even if you hear an aching loneliness in their wailing that is unlike any wail of loneliness you might have ever imagined.

On that first day of week three, I arrived home and logged into the school’s webcam with a hopeful spirit to see if she had stopped crying after I left.  Perhaps, I would see her happily coloring a picture of Strawberry Shortcake.  Perhaps she had come to accept that I would, in fact, be back, and that the place where I had left her wasn’t so bad after all.

The camera loaded and I gazed at the fuzzy pictures trying to make out where my daughter was.  I saw her, she looked happy.  She was listening intently to the guest teacher instructing the children how to count in Japanese.  My little girl seemed surprisingly content, and I let out a big sigh of relief as a smile involuntarily erupted on my face.


And then I noticed her feet, the shoes were red

My daughter wasn’t wearing red shoes when I dropped her off.

That happy, content little girl was not mine.  I looked harder and saw the teacher pass in front of the camera being closely tailed by a petite dark haired three year old who was clearly screaming her head off.

My heart sank.  That one is mine.

Her teacher had told me that almost every day for the past two weeks my baby had been following her around the classroom repeatedly saying “I want my mama” over and over again until I came to pick her up.

The teacher had also assured me that she’d had kids do this before, and I wasn’t to worry.  I noticed, though, that the teacher wasn’t looking at her right now.  She was ignoring my daughter.  Probably some well tested approach that was obviously not working on my child.  She was just walking around doing other stuff while my daughter painfully, tearfully begged for me.

My baby girl was alone.  Completely alone.  And in that moment, every moment of loneliness I had ever felt in my own life surged from my body and formed a big lump in my throat.  I put my head down on my desk and I wept.  Loudly.

After the ocean of tears became a light drizzle, I called my husband.  “I can’t take this anymore.  I’m going to get her.”

“Faiqa,” he said in a calm, reassuring tone, “turn off the webcam.  Go do something else until it’s time to pick her up.”

I wanted to scream at him, “This is all your fault, I told you she wasn’t ready, you made me put her in school, I know her best, you were all wrong...

But, I knew that was the pain speaking and that it just wasn’t true.  The truth was that I had been hypnotized by the promise of bi-weekly Mandarin and Japanese lessons, the possibility of elementary mathematics and the potential of her reading in full sentences by the time she was four.

I hadn’t even considered that maybe all she needed was a place where she could color, be messy, and laugh.

I choked out a barely comprehensible, “OK.”  And, then, in a voice so small and so vulnerable it could have been my own daughter’s, I said, “How long are we going to do this?”

“We’re giving it until the end of the week.  If she’s still crying the whole time by Friday, we’ll pull her out. OK?”  I could hear the sympathy mixed with awe in his voice.

He’s not used to me being like that.  I don’t ask people what I should do or ask for permission to do it.

I sighed and barely croaked out an inaudible, “OK” once more.

Friday came and I happily withdrew her from school.

I hadn’t looked at that stupid webcam all that week. Still, every time I went to pick her up, her teacher smiled and said, “She did alright.”  Then, she would pretend like she was looking at some papers, picking something up or tending to another child and say, “She still cried a lot, though.”

She still cried a lot, though.

Every time I think of those words, my eyes sting with tears caused by a pain that remains fresh and very real.  My heart drops.  Even now, one year later, after seeing my daughter blossom into a more adventurous, yet still markedly reserved four year old, I weep over what in my mind lives as a colossal parenting fail.

Because God knows, that experience wasn’t her failure.  It was mine.  I should have known that she wasn’t ready.  I should have known that this wasn’t the right school for her.  I realize now that her first school was a place where what was being learned was a little more important that who was learning.  I know that now.  I also know that most kids fit into that particular school just fine, but mine didn’t.  I can’t believe to this day that I didn’t realize that right away.

I was never disappointed in my daughter.  I think I will always be disappointed in and ashamed of myself over this.

My little girl starts a new preschool today.  The orientation was this past Thursday, and afterward I slowly approached her new teacher.  I wanted to tell her about last year, and how hard of a time N. had those three weeks.

“I wanted to let you know,” I said, “that we put her in preschool last year, and it was a bad experience, the school... she didn’t fit in...”  Tears started to form in my eyes.  I began to stutter.

If you know me well, you know that I never stutter.  I am never at a loss for words.  I seldom lose it in front of people I know very well, let alone those that I barely know.  I fought those tears back as hard as I could because I could see the discomfort in the other woman’s eyes.

She looked at me and said sympathetically, “Don’t worry, we are very loving and caring here.  We’ll make sure that she’s OK.”

I whispered, “I know, I can see that... I’m just am so worried...”  I tried to regain composure, “Uh, I have these forms...”

“Oh, yes, let me see...”  I could see the new task brought relief to her face and she scurried off as quickly as is humanly possible with those forms.

Tariq walked in and his face flew into a concerned look, “What happened?  Are you crying?” he whispered in surprise.

I looked at him, pleadingly.  Don’t make me talk about this right now. Don’t make me talk about this ever again.

He understood at once and put his arm around my shoulder.  “It’s going to be fine, I think she’ll do well this time.  Insh’Allah.”

As God wills.

God, please let it be your will to make this time easier for my daughter.  And for me.

God, please let it be your will that this new teacher understands my daughter in a way that the last one did not.

God, please let it be your will that this school helps her blossom into the person I know she can be.

God, please let it be your will that everyone else sees how magnificent, funny, voracious, smart and passionate she really is when she’s just being herself and not worrying about what people think.

God, please let it be your will that the pain of my disappointment in myself over this situation fades into a hazy memory instead of remaining fresh in my mind.

And God, please let it be your will that if things go the way they did last year that I will be more forgiving of myself than the last time.

Because, God, I don't think my heart can bear this pain in any more quantity than it's feeling at this moment.*

*I realize, yes, that she's only four, and that there will be many, many heartbreaks and many mistakes on my part (or hers) that will be more painful and more difficult than this time.  I also know that compared to the losses and pain that many of you may be dealing with or have dealt with, this post may seem trivial.  But, I'm living here in this moment... and this is the moment I feel and the reality that I'm living with.