Nuha’s friend’s mom texted me and asked if Nuha could see Maleficient with them this past Saturday. I didn’t respond right away. I wasn’t worried about the appropriateness of the movie. It was because of Yusuf. He couldn’t go. First, because Maleficient is too scary. Second? Because sending someone to the movies with Yusuf would be the equivalent of placing a severed horse head in their bed in the middle of the night.
I end up saying yes to the movie, so I soften the blow on Saturday morning by making an impromptu announcement that I will be taking Yusuf to Mud Island Park. It’s a scale model thing of the Mississippi River that the Army Corps of Engineers built in some year I can’t remember. Once we get there, we decide to walk from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. I think that’s about a mile. Maybe two?
This will be the most I have moved in several days. I’m battling things. Health things. My joints are messed up. My muscles are all spasming and being uncooperative in every way. The doctor doesn’t know what’s wrong with me. When I get home from work, it’s all I can do to help Tariq feed, bathe and put the children to bed.
You have no idea how hard that last sentence was for me to type out. You might not have even noticed the part that was hard for me.
“I … help Tariq with the kids…” This feels wrong to me. He should help me with the kids. As in, I’m supposed to be in charge of taking care of the kids. That’s my job. Not because I'm a woman, but because I am Faiqa. But. I just can’t be in charge of it right now, and I’m ashamed of this. I don’t know why my body isn’t cooperating, the doctor doesn’t know why, my family doesn’t know why and I have been angry, sad and lonely because of it.
In fact, when I announced the Mud Island excursion, Tariq cocked his head to the left and telepathically sent a message, “Are you sure?”
I think I said, “His sister got to go to a movie! He should get to go to Mud Island.” Which was weird because he didn’t actually ask the question and it made me look like I was talking to myself.
Once we’re there, though, we have fun! We make boats out of leaves, and every fifteen minutes or so, Yusuf places his leaf in a miniature lake. “Time to get another one,” he tells me, “that one is done.” As he walks away from the old leaf, he calls over his shoulder, “Thanks, Leaf, for letting us use you as a boat.”
I mean…WHAAAT? I didn’t teach him that. Whoever taught him that is a beautiful person. Maybe nobody taught him that. Maybe that’s who we all really are when we’re allowed to be who we are.
We’ve made it as far as the border of Louisiana on this scale model thing and a downpour of rain surprises us. We run to one of the many shade trees that line mini-Old Man River, and wait out the squall. The tree mists us and I look at my sweet boy. I realize that I’m really looking at him, right now. Not as a job, not as something that I haven’t been very good at, but as a human. What I see and feel in that moment is indescribable. It is joy, hope, love, longing… all of those things that I’ve been trying to feel for a while, but I just couldn’t quite touch.
The storm is a short one, but it’s not the last rain of the day. We concede a bit past northern Louisiana. Not bad, we almost made it. On the way out, he says in a serious voice, “I had fun, Mama. Thank you.” I’m struck again by this child’s casual relationship with gratitude. I should be more like this boy who thanks leaves for being boats and Mama for taking him out.
On the way out of the park, I hold up my phone and we take a selfie shot together. The rain has washed away my make up and frizzed my hair, and I look a hot mess in every photo. I look at them, though, and I have a revelation. I will always be beautiful to this boy the way my mother will always be beautiful to me.
There's also a good chance that, despite the fact that I don’t feel like I’m measuring up, he will count himself lucky to be loved by me. Maybe every flaw of ours is forgiven by the ones who truly love us when we decide to try being a good person. In this moment, I forgive myself for needing help, and, also, for being mad at myself about that in the first place.
Even now, I don’t know why those words, “I had fun” inspired me to shake off the fog. Stated so simply, with such seriousness, they seem benign, but, it's unmistakably true, I was changed. My son changed my mind about me on that rainy Saturday afternoon. Deep in the pit of who I am, I know that everything is going to be fine now.
Several months ago, I started singing “Beautiful Boy” by John Lennon to Yusuf at his bedtime. There’s this one line, “The monster’s gone / He’s on the run / And your Daddy’s here…” John Lennon was a genius for many reasons, and one of them is that he wrote that perfect lullaby for his son. Funny thing about John Lennon, though, he may have chased his son’s monsters away, but I think my son chases mine.