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Expired Love Letters

26 Sep

I write love letters on small squares of thin paper. Sometimes they return home to me, sauce-stained, ink letters bloated beneath water marks. Sometimes the words don’t come back at all. They cling, wet, around another child’s half-finished milk carton in the trash bin. They lie in landfills of coffee grinds and discarded diapers from squalling, rash-angst babies, who have suckled on the deflated breasts of yawning mothers.

I stand by my children’s sandwiches in the early morning, crust sliced clean off, thrown to the tail-wagging, salivating dog. He gobbles it in one leap and paces the floor while I twiddle my pen between middle and index fingers, thinking, softening, aching, even, a little.

No matter what I write, it won’t inject the tide of this…

‘I love you.’

And I don’t care where that message ends up as long as it travels first through their hearts today. I love you!

I write that and a few other words, less important, then tuck the paper swiftly into their lunches. I want my children to read the letters when we are not face-to-face. I don’t want to watch them actually reading it at this very moment. Though, before it has happened, I see my children silently grinning on the words in the noisy, echoing lunchroom, here, while they are just stretched out and pajama footed on the living room rug, picking up the lint – swollen and sleepy-eyed – asking me, what is for breakfast?

God, it hurts, it soothes – how much I feel this thin piece of paper.

It has been four days since I wrote one. Four school days of absence –only plump grapes and slippery carrot sticks. No love letter, because I do not write them every day. Only on some days.

The youngest child flashes high the last letter, like a ticket to the fair, then sweeps it down on the kitchen counter to rest.

“This one is expired,” he informs, with a straight, sober expression.

We walk to school. My daughter races off ahead to be in time for safety patrol duty. The one with the expired love letter tucks his hand beneath mine. We will walk like this under the wooded canopy all the way until the edge, on the top of the hill where other children can maybe see. Then, he will gently, but quickly let-go.

I stand there as a night owl, still and brooding. My eyes follow him until he is gone. And even after, I stay while the dog slaps my thigh with his pounding, impatient tail.

I turn to go back and my feet step over the soft, freshly mulched playground where the workers discuss how to dig out and replace a deeply entrenched border edging. I pass them, head nod, and push my tongue to the roof of my mouth to hold the tear quiet in the crease of my eye.

I imagine all of my children as grown and engaged in whatever purpose they must pursue someday. How many expired love-letters till then?


Mamahood is…

27 Mar

Mamahood is a lot of trial and flotsam error.

It is…


wild and weird

sober monotony with psychedelic pauses

crying in an awkward place because you didn’t have the luxury of doing it sooner.

Take, for example –

Last January on a sunny snow-day my kids declared that we never do anything fun! They wanted to go sledding. I grew up in pitiful warm Decembers, drooling over Charlie Brown Christmas Specials. It doesn’t take much to twist my arm.

The whole family loaded into our flashy mini-van and set out for the local community college on a high perch overlooking an ideal sledding hill. The perch is very wide, distinguished by a steep climb on the left which I call Frikin’ Scary, and the gentler, less steep face which I call the Charlie Brown.

I like the later – this is the section for toddlers in football helmets, swaddled by middle-aged over protective mothers. Meanwhile Frikin’ Scary is where you find college kids, open containers, and the occasional torn condom wrapper.

An adventure seekers cornucopia!

Two years ago I got the nerve to slide down Frikin’ Scary and realized that sledding can actually be painful – not at all like Charlie Brown. It felt like I had become our flashy mini-van, hitting every pothole, going sixty. So, when my 14-year old pleaded with me,

“Mama, PLEASE, go sledding with me over there!,”

I abruptly said,

“Heeeeck no!”

Unfortunately, he inherited my obnoxious ability to repeat a request until it starts to sound reasonable.

Now, before I go on, I should let you know that I’ve been on lots of guilt trips in my career. I know that most moms are frequent flyers. It starts with choosing the right brand of pre-natal vitamins and never really ends. Teenagers are expert at choosing the right moment to take us for a guilt flight. They zero in like a fox tracking a furry bunny rabbit and then WHAM, pounce.

“Mama,” he said putting a hand on my shoulder and looking softly into my eyes, “Please go with me. You never do anything fun with me.”


Pretty soon I was huddled on the top of Freakin’ Scary in an over-priced bright green, plastic saucer purchased at Sports Authority the day before a historic blizzard blew into our town. I scooted myself off the brink of no return. Half way down my plastic green Sputnik drifted into a snowboarding ramp, fashioned by an inebriated, thrill-seeking college kid who can afford to bust his tail because he doesn’t need to drive through the mommy-line five days a week. Neither does he need to lift a 60-pack flatbed of juice boxes from the Costco shelf while commandeering a double-wide cart stocked with more boxes of frozen salmon, Go-Gurts, Marvel underwear, a giant patio umbrella, and a lifetime supply of post-it notes!


I flew up into the air not like Wonder Women, and for the landing instinctively stretched out my right arm, which would have worked just fine if I was Elastigirl Mom from The Incredibles. But, no, I’m Ordinary Mom just flying on another guilt trip.

So, instead of SWOOSH, the impact went more like SWACK! I hit the hard-packed snow on my left side and slid down further on my face which bled and eventually scabbed, giving me the appearance of a battered Muslim woman. Oh dear.

When I stopped sliding, it occurred to me that I was hurt as indicated by the dizziness, nausea, and my arm felt like a cocktail of fire and apathy. It was a dangling exclamation mark.

It was a Charlie Brown Christmas Special meets Chainsaw Massacre.

Fast forward seven weeks later and I’ve got my hijab tucked under a shower cap about to be stabbed three times in the shoulder for a necessary procedure called Shoulder Arthroscopy.

The anesthesiologist tells me to sit back and relax. Yeah right! I’d rather be at home watching Charlie Brown with my kids. She puts a Top-Gun mask over my face. I’m about to fly. Yee-ay!

She tells me:

“I’m going to put something in your IV. Some people like this sensation. Some people don’t.”

Alright. This should be interesting.

I don’t like it at all. It makes the room spin. It makes me feel, OH MY LORD, like the time two years ago I was living in Morocco and nearly died from gas inhalation because I had come from the land of personal-injury attorneys and product-recall posters.

I thought I’d never see my kids again.


Next thing I know a sweet voice calls out to me,

“You are all finished.”

Her voice is like honeysuckle when it first wafers into the warm air. Not at all like the nurse in Morocco who sat for a half hour telling me every gory detail of every story she had known wherein the person doesn’t escape gas inhalation.

Then, I start to cry, cry, CRY.

Cry because I’m alive.

Cry because I’m going to see my kids again.

Cry because I know precisely what it feels like to brace for death and I can’t un-know that now. Ever.

It’s not even minutely about the bucket list. It’s about the kids. The plea to go on for them. The horror that they will go on alone. Their father’s sadness.

Cry for the guilt because I was helpless to protect my little boy who stayed behind with me. He jumped up and down hyper from the effects of the silent, scentless gas crying “Mama, Mama!” Then his eyes rolled back and he dropped unconscious and pale while I screamed. My own equilibrium slipped. I could not open the window. I could not find the key, then, I couldn’t manage to force it into the lock. The building was empty. Why wasn’t anyone coming? No one could hear me.  “Look at Mama! Look at me, dammit! Look!! Open your eyes!!” I eventually dragged him down three flights of stairs in my own stupor, begging God for another chance. He will die. Begging. Begging.”I’m sorry. I’m so sorry! Please look at me!!!”

Even under the haze of lingering anesthesia I am too ashamed to tell that part.


Cry like I should have cried for a few weeks when it happened.

Cry…cry….like I am not actually surrounded by a room full of strangers wearing a surgical shower cap and a pair of blue dog-print courtesy socks.

Now this man is highly skilled and exceedingly comforting as he patiently listens to my entire saga, but in all likelihood, he wants to go home to his wife and kids because it’s Friday and I’m his last case of the day.

I imagine him hollering: We got a crier on AISLE EIGHT!! Clean up!!!!

I try desperately to access my verbal filter and dust it off. It’s there, but I can’t seem to locate it in the haze of opioids. I berate myself and try to stop crying, but I just can’t. No filter whatsoever. I can’t stop.

Where is my husband? Why doesn’t he waltz in here, see me crying, and try to cure it with a ripped-off line from the “Lion King”?! Like the time I cried after nursing my last child, and after a deep pause, he said: “It’s the circle of life.” To which I replied, “What the $%$&!??!”

Now, my husband is the best guy –  very courteous to details if ever I fall sick, still, he has this fingernails-on-chalkboard habit of offering generic comfort,

which in turn ticks me off,

which in turn makes me forget why I was crying in the first place.

Later, at my follow-up appointment, this good-guy physician consoles me with a hilarious story about the time he woke up from anesthesia and grabbed his doctor from the collar because of the pain. A friend consoles me about the time she woke up and asked if her husband “had sold all the goats.” I had a good laugh, but none of their stories actually took the sting out of bearing my soul to a Friday afternoon surgical suite.

After several weeks of hindsight (and an hour-long stint hiding from my unsuspecting kids at home in the back row seat of our van, avoiding bodily contact with a newly discovered chewing gum wad, while desperately falling over the edge, into the ear of my long time friend –  telling all the untold), I thought to myself – it’s a good thing. 

It happened for a reason. I got a two-for-one! I really needed that cry. Why not in a surgical shower cap with a little spit running down my chin? The whole hilarious spin and re-telling of it started to take the sting out of that pain. The suffering out of the pit of my stomach. The guilt off my chest.

Mamahood is wild and weird…

….pleasure and pain.

…honeysuckle and sadness.


Reliving Moments I Never Lived: A Mama-Hood Journal

11 Dec

One of the oh-so-yummy parts about mama-hood is reliving some of the blissful moments of my childhood through creating memories for my own brood. And just as special is reliving the moments that I never even lived. Snow is a case in point. I grew up in Florida, in a place where you can be guaranteed to never have a white puffy flake land on your tongue from the SKY! I never plopped down into a cushion of snow until I became a grown woman and moved away.

Every year or so we went to visit my cousins who were raised in the Shenandoah Valley, and you know what? It never snowed while we were there for as far back as I can remember. A few times when we arrived, it had just snowed. There were only little piles of it pushed into road side gutters, quickly melting and sooty. Still, I would hustle over and scoop up a few ounces in my cupped hands like manna from heaven, and then of course, throw it at my sister. SNOWBALL FIGHT!

So, I am not one bit embarrassed to report that after I delivered my third child, and less than two months later moved to the Mid-Atlantic, on the occasion of a very faint snow spell in November, I sprinted out with my kids and attempted to make a snow angel in our front yard. I couldn’t understand why all the neighbors were not out doing whimsical snow fairy dances around their young’uns. Sigh. They obviously did not grow up in the ‘Sunshine State.’

And the stinkiest thing about growing up in perpetual sunshine is that I have no tolerance for the cold. Now that I live in an oasis of four seasons, I have to start layering in early October and I typically can’t completely shed a sweater until early June. Even so, I love to plaster my nose to the window and watch my babies frolic in shaved ice.

snow ball fightI love to make hot chocolate and piping hot casseroles and call them in for breaks, then shoo them back out, dutifully layered, as only a Florida mom can manage.

Salma covered

When I do venture out, I mange to pry my gloves off of my hands and fumble quickly for the shutter button, so as to memorialize all of it, even their bare heads exposed to the frost despite my consternation.

Laith 1

I muster up the courage to venture out with them to find the best hills around town.

Laith sledding with SalmaI follow them like a Florida golfer caddy, pushing the little roly poly ones along with their sleds up to the tippity-top of the highest hill we can find, then listen to them try to convince me to slide.

Zayd on hill

I send them off and hear their belly laughter float, down… down… down, as my ruddy nose turns numb, and I can only see them far in the distance. I jump up and down with my flailing arms crossed over my head: Look at Mama. Look up here!! They finally convince me to stumble down and I ricochet painfully all the way over the worn out path, but I still pop up smiling because they are so proud of me.

When snow first falls, it really is beautiful, and it evokes deep, marveling praise to God for rendering such an ever-changing creation. Where there were fallen acorns and multi-colored leaves just a few weeks ago, now there is only the simplicity and surrender to winter, and settling down for the gentle passage.

Tree These are moments that I never lived, yet through raising my children I live them nonetheless. I watch them shifting in their sleep. Their visions of tomorrow are ignited in their ruddy cheeks and I am more alive than ever because of all the hours we have shared, and in my longing and hope for the days that only exist in our imaginations.

Gratitude Custard

1 Dec

It was an Asian-inspired brown rice confetti from a fellow mom at our homeschool co-op. How did I get to be the lucky mom to sit next to her during lunch? I jotted down the recipe.

I decided, {one day} I’m going to make this, because {one day} I’m going to make everything, but most things just stay in my recipe files, and I keep making the same stuff over and over. After working all day [which is what homeschool is, after all], the last thing I want to do is make a fussy meal.

So, while dropping the older two off at Qur’an class, one of them gets the bright idea to ask me what I am going to cook for dinner. I absolutely do not like this question because I’d prefer not to think about dinner…I want to advance to the next part of my day which is driving {nearly} solo in the minivan with only the sound of the heater blowing after I say “good-bye!” Three-year old Dimples was in the back seat sleeping. I love when he does that.

“I’m going to cook lasagna,” I said, because that is the first thing that pops into my head.

“Oh, please, don’t cook lasagna!!,” they cry, while blocking the passenger door with their fannies, so that all the frigid air is laying siege on my bones. I want them to go away. Go away!! Go away!! Go away!! I chant in my mind..the place my kids have never really seen…God forbid! It is where, with impunity, I can say all kinds of wretched things they can’t imagine. All moms have one. It comes with the baby.

“Fine, I won’t make lasagna,” I say.

Then, I remind six-year old Nelly with my slanted eye and pursed-lip expression not to sass her teacher. She politely asks me {again} for the definition of sass; she is always very courteous when asking, so as never to be blamed for malintent. She promises to try real hard but she doesn’t know if she can because, of course, that’s like asking a mosquito not to bite.

Satisfied, Nelly, releases the door, crinkles her nose through the glass {it’s starting to turn red} and says what I love to hear anytime of the day, “I love you, Mama!”  Again and again, she says it as she delicately walks sideways all the way to the front of the door, so our eyes remain locked. She’s blowing kisses, but without puckering her lips because her smile is so wide…so precious to me.

I decide to pull out that recipe as soon as I get home and get straight to work not making lasagna.  I forget to use brown rice the key healthy ingredient, and start to boil white rice into a mushy, gunky mess. Not because I don’t know how to read the recipe; rather, due to the fact that I am interrupted by Dimples who wakes up hollering {every day like clockwork after his nap}. It’s always disorienting. I can’t wait for him to grow out of it.

“Shoot-a-roo!” I exclaim and then set about thinking how to use it anyway since the thought of tossing it would  render me a rotten excuse for a role model. I pull out eggs, milk, butter, sugar, raisins, nutmeg. Rice custard, anyone? 

Just when I’ve mixed and ladled it into a baking dish, unbeknownst, I set it down unleveled on the milk carton cap, and so it comes tumbling down on the floor, splattering my pants and oozing between my toes.

I run a finger over my pants legs and place a dot of the creamy goo on my tongue. Yummmmy….it would have been so good. But wait! There is a little bit left that wasn’t ladled yet. I tip-toe around the kitchen, like ‘Mission Impossible,’ reach for a small ceramic bowl, spoon and lift it into the oven to set.

It will take a long time to clean up as this is not just a mess, it is a splattered mess…on my hands and knees, moving things around, washing and re-washing. Thank God I have a machine and I don’t have to wash my clothes out by hand! And hot water from the sink to sanitize the floor. And a bath tub to clean my feet. And a dishwasher to put to work. And enough custard left to at least have a taste. And isn’t it better to have to clean up a kitchen floor covered in desert than, I dunno….a gas station bathroom in a red-light district? 

In the interim I’ve found the brown rice and try to improvise dinner. My husband comes home in the middle of it all. Thank you, God! He is so amused.

“My American wife,” he laughs, and hustles around the kitchen putting things back in place and helping me get the not lasagna dinner on the table. He always says, “My American wife,” and laughs when I’ve walked into a funk. I have no idea what he means by that – probably precisely what I mean by ‘my very Arab husband,’ ~a catchall for chaos.

So, I ask him, “What does that mean?”

He replies: “She made that, so you decided, I can do that too, and you did [but you didn’t].” My forehead wrinkles the way it does when he’s attempting humor [which is my job!], and I’m plainly confused. Should I try to set this straight? And then, Nah, I don’t care. I’m happily married 90% of the time and that’s purty darn good. I settle for asking him to pretend that he likes what I made.

The brown-rice confetti tastes nothing like the real deal, because I left out two key ingredients.  There is this little thing about directions….they require to be followed! Lesson learned for the 596th time.

My very Arab husband, sits down and very convincingly gobbles it all up so that at least two of the kids are convinced, and advance to the clean plate club. Nelly, no surprise, is not phased, and tosses her head on the table, weeping at the thought that she might be expected to eat mush for dinner.

“I can’t do it!! [big tears], please, I really can’t eat this!”  On and on she goes, like a battery-powered spinning top.

Lasagna would have been….so. much. better.

We strike a compromise. Then, what’s left of the rice custard gets eaten. I’ll have to eat this stuff all week because they aren’t going to amuse me any longer, but I don’t care. I’m just so grateful. I know I’m getting older, but I must be really getting older. I’m a Big Girl.

Some days it all goes wrong, but it feels so right.

{wide as the womb}

27 Nov

The night was young…

Two hot chocolates down and a vat of popcorn between us, we slipped into the second to last movie theatre row, shades flipped.

Instead, a commercial! Ggggrrrrr!

A shiny family appears on the screen {all smiles}. They are standing in front of their brand- new van. So content. The prepubescent daughter, arms folded, smirk-laden, and as defiant as a whiplashed bug on our 2001 [long been paid for] minivan, remarks: “Now, I don’t hate my parents anymore!” She cocks her little blonde head. 

Parents beam!

Parents. Beam.

Announcer tells us parents how to rock. You can do it. Walk on coals, feel the fire, don’t stop! This parody of family is too much {funny, that is}, the audience reels with laughter.

My son, 11 years old, mouth gaping, startled….looks like he just saw two pimps beat up an old lady and take off with her heirloom wedding band. He shakes his head. He wants to say words. The words won’t come. I’m also lost {to this world}. And then….

“My mom always rocked!,” he asserts, fist pumping, with the zealotry of a radical.

Big moon-smile erupts.

As wide as the womb that bore him.

The Principal Died

25 Nov

Recently, I spoke on the phone to a dear friend, an expat living in Morocco, whose children’s’ school principal died suddenly after complaining of chest pains. Earlier the same day, her daughter spoke to the principal about a problem with another classmate. After lunch, he never returned.

One moment here, the next moment…..

How do we speak to children about death? How do they do it in Morocco? I wondered.

Matter of factly, my friend, a former school nurse in the States explained. This isn’t America, she chuckled as if to let off some of the pressure. There isn’t a grievance counselor or special team to talk to the kids. Her children found out when fellow students came running up at school yelling, l’moodeer maat!!! {The principal died}.

Everyone went home. The next day the children filed down stairs to wait for the school bus. The driver came by on his rounds, reporting to the children {not their parents} that school was closed  – the principal died.

There were no notes sent home to parents, or phone calls made, or condolence messages posted on the website {what website?!}, or candle lighting ceremonies, news crews, or crisis hotlines. Within 24 hours He was buried, swiftly, without embalming, in the Islamic manner.

She spent time talking with her kids about their feelings. Then, they curled up under blankets on a grey, misty, Casablanca morning, and watched a movie to pass the time. She’s agonizing. Her third grade son, especially, loved the principal. They had built a deep attachment to one another over the past few years. What will happen now?

I prayed for my friend’s son and for her. I prayed for the principal’s family as well. He left a widow and minor children behind. I shivered, ruminating selfishly, what if that tragedy reigned down upon this house?  Another thought: Would this Moroccan principal have known that a Collard Green mama of three would be praying for his family upon his death? Would I have ever known? It’s strange how strangers connect after life.

Then, in the aftermath of the latest bombardment of Gaza, scanning the news, my eyes caught a photograph of a classroom – the young students sat in desks, two by twos.  A child looks up into the lens, a diluted smile on her face, eyes defiant and ruminating. The seat next to her is empty, in its place is a wide placard. In Arabic it reads: “The Student Martyr, Sarah Al-Dalou.”  The photo’s caption explains: Sarah and 10 of her family members were murdered …during the Israeli assault on Gaza strip. Out of 160 Palestinians killed and 1,000 injured, about one-third were children.”  I looked back at the classmate again. This child must feel her companion’s absence as heavily as she feels her own survival. I could not make out the expression of the girl before, but now I saw it clearly.

The news somehow made me flash-back to the ninth grade when a fellow classmate drowned over Labor Day weekend at the beach. For a week, our guidance counselor followed the boy’s schedule – he sat in all of his seats to fill the otherwise vacant space. I don’t remember exactly what he said, just that it seemed dainty and somber. He sounded like the preacher on the pulpit – only irreverent, because he didn’t mention grown-up Jesus, or even baby Jesus- not once.

What do you say when a child dies? He lived a good life? I do remember that the guidance counselor assured us that we should feel comfortable to come to him at any time to talk things out. The boy sat behind and to the left of me; he was soft-spoken and pale, sporting square glasses that dipped below his cheekbone, overshadowing his small features. I can’t remember ever exchanging a single word with him, yet when I found out he was erased from our world forever, I could remember the exact tincture of his sandy-blonde hair. The absence of his presence hung heavily for many days. In his desk, the guidance counselor looked over-grown and I thought, goofy, towering with his bulky forearms and clasped hands extending over its perch. The ceremony only punctuated the boy’s absence more, yet the absurd sight of that balding, middle-aged man, with the concerned eyes, sitting in the lost boy’s seat, made me feel like the earth might not be trembling after all.

I asked my very Arab husband who is from a small town in Morocco, how adults spoke to him about death. He told me that growing up when folks died, the funeral procession would have to take its course on foot over the hard-packed dirt paved alley in front of his home. As children, they’d peer from the second floor window perch, say a litany, and acknowledge, within themselves, that humans die, just as their farm animals do. They understood that one day they would die as well, along with their mothers, fathers and all their loved ones. Everyone is born and dies.

“Did anyone ever talk to you about this…topic?” I asked.

“Death?” He said effortlessly.

“Yes, death?” I repeated.

“What would they have said?” He asked earnestly.

{What would they have said?!} I could think of a dozen things! As a natural talker of all trades, I can always think of at least a dozen things. No one said any of them?!!

That didn’t cut it for me. I’d have to say at least three of these dozen things. I’d have to solicit my children’s’ responses and surgically analyze them in my private moments. It’s a heavy subject; it seemed that his people dealt with it…errrr….callously.

And, yet, I pondered it’s not a callous people by any stretch. People from my husband’s town, Oued-Zem, are some of the most sincere, hug you by the neck and never let go people. They are so affectionate with each other, you find two people walking in pairs engaged arm and arm, or attached to one another even if only by the thread of intertwined pinky fingers. Even alpha males will hold onto one another when they walk. Their display of outward affection, when compared to even Collard Green folks, known for their gregariousness, is more apparent and uninhibited. Children are less often seen fidgeting in strollers and more often slung on their mother’s backs or hoisted over their father’s shoulders, or that of their uncles, or maybe just the neighbor five doors down. If a child howls for as much as a piece of candy, it is not uncommon for a perfect stranger to assuage the wailing boy or girl.

Upon further reflection, I surmised that it’s not a matter of dealing with death unceremoniously or without deep reflection; rather, it is  because on the whole my husband’s people have a shared understanding of what happens upon death; they’ve conveyed that understanding from generation to generation, through recitation of the Qur’an. Muslims believe that the children of Adam and Eve die, and then they are questioned about whether they were obstinate disbelievers. They are shown their final end -whether heaven or hell. In preparation, they pray for the deceased feverishly during this time and repeat after his/her name- Allah yurhamuhoo(a) { Allah, have mercy on him (her)}.

The sorting out is not for the living who still have the opportunity to repent and seek the Mercy of God; the intense focus, rather, is concentrated on the deceased who cannot return to shed any remaining traces of what separated them from God – their ego’s excruciating pull, and with it, their ambivalence about the finite substance of life.

Muslims believe that the deceased are aware of everything happening around them until they are buried. So, they speak soft, loving words, and facilitate recitation of the Qur’an in beautiful, soothing voices. Not to prolong the deceased experience of this mourning period, and in accordance with Islamic law, they bury the body within 24-hours. They do not delay the proceedings for make-up sessions or to make flights for eulogizers.

Days after talking to my friend, I was at the mosque for Friday prayers with my children. My eldest son was on the men’s side alone because his father was attending prayers at a mosque closer to his office. After the sermon and prayer, the imaam announced that a member of the community had died the night before. “Please stand up,” he instructed us to pray the janaza (funeral) prayer. And so, it was…my son alone. He watched them bring the closed coffin out and set it down, and with the rest of the congregation he prayed.

Afterward we met in the atrium of the mosque before heading out into the parking lot. Of course, the first thing my son asked was: “Why did that man die? Who was it? How old was he?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?! Can you ask someone?,” he pleaded with me.

I looked around; it was a large congregation, people were flying by us left and right trying to make it back to work as they’d likely used their lunch break to attend Friday prayers. I didn’t see any familiar faces. By this time we were well into the path of swerving cars in the crammed parking lot. I clutched both of my smaller children by the hand.

“I can’t ask anyone, we have to go,” I said, as my son trailed beside us trying to keep up.

“Pray for him,” I said making my voice audible over the traffic and strepent voices. “Pray to Allah to forgive his sins!” I called out, weaving my way between two parked cars, into an opening to pass into another lane. “He’s dead. That was the appointed time for him and now his life is over.” My son heeled on my footsteps, while I pressed on. “He can’t go back. No one can be at peace but by Allah’s mercy and His name is All-Merciful.”

We snaked our foot-path between more cars, until finally emptying into the outer-bound hilly, grassy area where I parked. My son spotted two friends from his homeschool co-op. “Hey!,he called out smiling. Are you done with school for the day?!”

“Yeah,” his friend bragged. “I’m always done at 1:00. “But not him,” he chided, nudging his little brother, “He’ll drag it out until 5:00.”  The younger brother looked down and smiled sheepishly as if to convey that he was half annoyed and half pleased with himself.

Alright, see ya’ later,” the older brother tipped his hand

O.K. bro, bye,” my son replied, which is the pre-teen boy version of stately.

I haven’t made up my mind about how best to talk to our children about death when they face it head on. Like most things ‘child-rearing’ – I sigh and grovel at the thought that I’ll figure it all out in retrospect. At least the grandchildren will profit, if our brood ever warm up to the idea of me as sagely; and then, I’d also have to reckon with that notion myself.

All I know now is that the principal died.

Sara Al-Dalou, and 10 of her family members died.

The unknown man at the Friday prayer died.

One day I will die, my husband will die, and our children as well.

Knowing that scathes, and yet, mercifully refreshes the entire outlook for today.

‘The Livin’ Is Easy’

31 May

One of the first songs I taught my eldest son is the old jazzy tune, Summertime. I’d call up family and friends ‘one last time’ just for a good excuse to listen to him sing.

I love the sultry carelessness of summertime so much that on an overcast winter day I may be found in my kitchen, slaving over a pot of something warm, yet remembering and singing:

     Summertime and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high. O! your daddy’s rich and your mama’s good lookin,’ so hush little baby don’t cry.

I’m thinking of long, hot days nestled under the shade of an umbrella, good book in hand, watching my babies spread out in the sand.

There shall be sweet tea and boiled peanuts. There shall be warm, starry nights laying on our backs amidst the black-eyed susans and honeysuckle blooms. There shall be wispy moths frittering over campfire infernos, and slumber parties in pitched tents.

There shall be creeping, slithering things to make us hollar, run and laugh all in the span of twenty seconds.

There shall be sand in between our toes and in the hard to reach places in our van. There shall be long walks on both curvy mountain trails and endless coasts. There shall be fire engine-red tomatoes at farmer’s markets and 31 flavor sno-cone stands. There shall be sweet, sanguine watermelon juice dripping from little chins, and pooling into amber dark navels.

 Standing under the sun’s radiant canopy, there shall be just a few words spoken to try to express that feeling – how good it is, how grateful we are, to be here.

And if you would count the favors of Allah you will never be able to number them. Allah is Forgiving, Compassionate. Qur’an, Chapter An-Nahl (The Bee), Verse 18.

May your summertime be filled with easy livin.’

‘What Do You Do?’

13 Mar

It’s 8:00 a.m., Saturday morning, and I’m not in my big, blue robe.  I’m at the optometrist sitting in an examining chair- squinty eyed. I’ve dutifully removed my contact lenses; I can only make out forms, and assume that deep voice is coming from a male doctor. It’s either a male, or a woman whose been smoking unfiltered cigarettes since she was six. He asks me a string a questions about my overall health, which I beam, “Is fine.” While scribbling in my file he asks, “What do you do?”

What do I say?

I want him to re-phrase, to clarify the question. You mean, what do I do all day? What did I used to do? What will I be doing in ten years? What did I think I was going to be doing ten years ago? What do I want to be doing?

What. Do. I. Do? I don’t know how to answer. Why does my optometrist need to know what I do? Doesn’t everyone need 20/20 vision? Does it matter what I do?

“I’m a stay-at-home-mom,” I say. Meanwhile, my inner gaffe -radar is crying out: HALLELUJAH!! Did I just say that? It sounds like I’m headed straight to house arrest after this appointment. I’ll always be a mom, God willing, but I don’t envision staying home forever. Through my strained vision, I can make out that he is writing more notes in my file. Oh no! He’s recording it. “Stay At Home Mom.” Maybe he’s even writing the oft-sighted short hand form: SAHM. My mind races. My file?! I’m going to go down as: Stay-at-Home-Mom with Stigmatism,-5.50 Vision in Left Eye, Lady.

Aww, heck no!

“I’m an attorney,” I blurt out. He pauses. I can’t see his expression, but I imagine he’s contorting it and scratching his head. Are you a stay-at-home mom or an attorney? I feel like one of those traveling con-artist who carries a different business card, depending on the city, and the image he needs to procure. I scan the horizon for a way to rehabilitate my character. I feel like I’m in a courtroom on the stand. Why am I cross-examining myself?! This doctor is just doing his job. He wants a simple answer. Give it to him!

“I’ve put my profession aside right now to focus on my family,” I say. Now, I sound holier-than-thou, or a wee bit narrow-minded about what focus on family means- depending on who you ask. Gosh, this is getting worse. Why didn’t I just stick with the stay-at-home-mom gig? Why do I sound so insecure? I’m surely going home to call my long-time friend in Texas; we go back to undergrad days, before law school and before kids. She has four, I have three, and neither of us practices law anymore. I’ll re-hash all of these details and feelings. In her calm, reassuring voice, she’s going to take my anxiety back down to sanity levels, then tell me: “You should write about this.”

“O.K.,” he replies with a little jaunt, “You’ve got a couple of titles; let me write all of that down.” Oh please don’t, I say under my breath. I excuse “stay-at-home mom/attorney,” from the stand, having nothing more to extract from my witness. Her conflicting answers, voice inflections and awkward pauses have sufficed to incriminate. On the other hand, as the witness, I stash those cacophony feelings into my mental piggy bank to take out later and analyze. The eye exam can now resume.  I take my prescription for bottle caps from the receptionist, dodge the sales lady in the lobby, then fly out of there- leaving my file with its titles behind. 

Why didn’t I just say: “Mom of three, no other profession?”  Wouldn’t that be more accurate? I can’t, which gnaws at me. On a purely cerebral level, I realize that my life is made up of stages. For this stage, accepting all of the consequences, I’ve made the deliberate choice to have no other profession – to solely focus on raising my children. I desire to return to a profession, not necessarily in the capacity of an attorney, but using that skill-set to advance me in which ever field I pursue. If I know that, then why does it matter if my optometrist knows that? Why does it matter if anyone knows that? Why can’t I go down in any file as, mother of three – no other friggin’ profession? Who cares?!

When I surgically analyze these feelings, though it pains me to admit, I get the answer. I can’t say mother of three-no other profession, because that’s like dropping a keg of acid on my delicate ego. It makes me feel diminished in front of another professional. Society does not groom mothers, with no other profession, to feel part of an educated, professional and privileged class. Society was so considerate to my ego when I was a law student, and every day after that, until I became mother of three – no other profession.

I remember attending my freshman orientation as an aspiring law student, the summer before my first semester. I glibly sat down in a large auditorium surrounded by fellow classmates to the tune of the law school’s dean telling us how many students applied for our single seat, hence, how brilliant and accomplished we were already to be sitting there. The same was repeated in so many ways just a few years later at our graduation ceremony and sprinkled throughout our law school education. It wasn’t just the institution telling me that; everyone seemed to agree – my parents, my friends, strangers on the street, oddly even people who hated attorneys.

In law school we were constantly ranked according to how special we were. I graduated with a sparkly “cum laude” title, fancy for “with honors,” just to let me know, if I didn’t know already, that I was darn special. This was nice, but not quite so nice as those who graduated with the title, “magna cum laude,” fancy for very darn special.

After getting my, “Congratulations, smarty pants, for passing the bar exam,” letter in the mail, I landed my first attorney job. My employer did not waste any time telling me that fifty people applied for my job. There was my feel-good fix and I hadn’t even completed my first assignment! Whenever my work product was critiqued, if I submitted an exceptionally polished motion or legal analysis, it was likely followed by a concentrated dose of praise. All I had to do was get up in the morning and go to work to feel exceptional. My life had become of a series of work hard- eat cookie exchanges. This cycle of effort and reward was very predictable. Folks were petting my ego left and right; in fact, it was so ordinary, I did not even realize it was happening until it stopped. And, it did stop- suddenly and coldly. I got cut off from the drug as rapidly as the flash of light from a solar eclipse extinguishes itself from view behind the moon. It took me two years (a modest estimate) to get over that chill, and accustom myself to 24-hour cycles without the work hard-eat cookie fix.

Mother of three- no other profession, is nothing like attorney. If the attorney motto is: “Work hard, eat cookie,” the mother of three- no other profession motto is: “Work hard -clean up all the cookie crumbs.” If I accuse my husband of not telling me enough how special and important my role is, that is glass houses material. Honesty requires me to tell you that I’ve never greeted my husband at the door to tell him how much of a stud he is every day for working to provide for our family, and more. My husband and I don’t operate that way. We are of the “I’m OK, You’re OK,” species of couples. We value each other’s contributions to the family, but we would feel awkward, and downright scripted, to look into each other’s eyes and enumerate all the reasons for our gratitude. We show it by getting up every day and doing whatever it takes to make our house a home.

It is not much of an ego trip to be mother of three- no other profession. You’d have to veg out in the ‘Happy Birthday Mom’ section of a Hallmark store to get that effect. In fact, it doesn’t even spark interest. Invariably, in the past, when I told someone I was an attorney, the next question was always, “What kind of law do you practice?” followed by a further series of questions and answers. Juxtapose that to my current situation. If I tell people that I am a mother of three- no other profession, they usually just nod and smile.

I’m not bitter about this, and I don’t take it as a slight. It’s pretty obvious what moms do all day if they have no other profession. They model character, nurture, cook and clean, nurse and taxi, educate, coordinate and facilitate every aspect of their children’s activities. Of course, all moms do this, but mothers with no other profession, typically, don’t outsource any of it- they do it full time, even during lunch. Oh, and they budget, because one is always less than two, and that fact is especially punctuated when it comes to salaries. 

Moms with no other profession choose this route either because they think it is the most wholesome lifestyle they can give their children and/or they don’t want to miss out on a 40+ hour chunk of their children’s lives, and they don’t want their children to be absent from their mother’s embrace, if ever her baby should need it. I fall into the later camp. I’m willing; in fact, I needed to parachute out of the office to land here.

As much as I wince (wail) at the serious grunt work involved in mother of three- no other profession routine, at the same time, on a sunny day when my daughter spots a new word that I taught her, and I can remember the exact spot where we were sitting, and what she was wearing, and how she was twirling her brown locks, when I taught her that word, and there is no one for miles to tell me how great I am…in that moment, all is bliss. I do not care that I don’t have a profession that can be summed up in a word, or one which sparks any other conversation, except in my own head. I love that moment down to the scent of it, and hold it under my breath, then exhale, with more pleasure than I ever extracted from my previous profession, even with all of its fringe benefits.

I love it so much that I recoil upon the realization that it is not forever; my needs will change just as surely as my children’s needs will change. Life is movement; it only guarantees change. One day, I imagine, I will be ready to move into a profession that does not revolve exclusively around my children. But, for the time being, I push that thought as far from my mind as I can throw it because I do not want to be anywhere but here – in my home or at the park, or on a sun-glittered hiking trail, with my youngest, now squirming his fleshy rump into my arms, and telling me to: “hold me, Mama,” only it sounds more like “whole me, Mama.”

Then, I nestle my nose into the folds of his gritty, sweaty neck that smells like the earth, heated under his rapid pulse, in my make-shift cradle, and he giggles – his laugh drifts far and wide, and reverberates into the calm chambers of my heart. My daughter’s laugh, too, takes me to other worlds, behind veils- to unsoiled serenity and joy.

I am so relieved that I don’t have to be anywhere but here. This is what I do.

Mountain Climbing in Dollar Store Flip-Flops

9 Feb

 Mamahood can feel like climbing an icy mountain wearing dollar store flip-flops. On a recent weekday during a trip to a big box store, with two of my young’uns, I felt like I was wearing those flip-flops. I planned to buy just one simple rug. Before leaving the house, I went through the rigmarole: lunches, check, clean change of clothes, check, bathroom break (even for the one who claims he doesn’t need to go), check, money and cell phone, check, hairbow, check, matching socks, never mind!

Next comes the difficult part – the eternity it takes to get both of my kids strapped down into carseats. My daughter insists that I take off down the road with her door open, and let her shut it when we get to full-speed because, “Mama, I know what I’m doing,” and “Why don’t you ever trust me!” Meanwhile, I’m cold. It’s February. I just want to slip behind the wheel, and thaw out behind the heater vents, on my way to buy this rug. Why so complicated?!

We arrive at the store and I can’t find the rugs anywhere, which I’m sure is a scheme. I have to pass by every Euro-trashy trinket in primary colors, made in China. This store feels like a destination for the self-righteous consumer who balks at a Wal-Mart shopping experience- which is by the way, much closer to where I live. My kids are loving it. Suddenly, they need everything in the store and the prefix to my name becomes: oooooooohhhhhh, as in: “Oooooooohhhhhh Mama, can I have this?!”

Soon, they are bored with sitting in the cart. It is more fun to drive it into objects…and people! My youngest son gets a sharp jab after backing into one of the corner displays and begins to scream loudly. I have to somehow translate my inner-freak out into a sympathetic hug and medicinal kiss. Where are the rugs!? Thank God for my health-nut makeover; otherwise my low blood sugar would have driven me to the cafe for a sugary, refined, Euro- inspired pastry and coffee to go.  

I turn a corner and instead of arriving at a polyester blend, Persian knock-off, I run into something else. There is a box spring on a red-tag sale, it’s down from $100 to $50.00. I actually need two box springs for my kids. Heck ya! However, one problem- I don’t have a large enough vehicle to make the trip back home. I drove our four door sedan with room for five only. No problem, the store clerk assures me. That’s what “the man” is for downstairs. She explains that it is his job to load the merchandise (which can be placed on the top of my car) and rope it down for easy passage. Sweet! I was starting to like this store. They even have Rent-A-Daddies! She congratulates me on getting a good deal, because, “At these prices, they won’t last long.”

Not long before the inventory warehouse and exit, I spot the rugs and pick up not just one simple rug for my daughter, but two more….on sale, of course! Then, giddy, I make our way to the aisle where my box springs wait. An intercom recording informs shoppers that in order to keep the prices low, the company has the customer do their own work. Huh, I thought to myself, I thought it was because it outsourced all of its manufacturing labor overseas to countries without labor attorneys and lax safety standerds. On a flat bed cart I manage to load the beds and then steer both carts and kids to the check out line. Behind me are two strapping, store employees, talking up a storm; neither man offers to help with my loot. Never mind, I just have to make it past the check-out line, and there will be my Rent-A-Daddy, ready for the rescue. Maybe he’d even take the young’uns out for ice cream and give me a chance to catch my breath.

All check-out lanes are self-service, so after man-handling the scanner-gun from my kids I contort my body around the merchandise to find the bar codes. I am dutifully playing my part in this big-box scheme like a good customer. I had to call my kids back from every direction. They are like frantic bees in the late fall, knowing that soon they will be strapped back into car seats. Keeping an eye on them, as they peak to spend the last ounce of energy, makes it difficult for me to multi-task both scanning and entering my payment information. Finally, I yank my receipt from the feeder and head off to Rent-A-Daddy. In the distance I can see him, clad in a neon, sleeveless smock. Now, I’m picking up my pace, trailing the kids behind me. As I come closer I can see his form better. Huh? Is that him?! A scrawny, teenager (early twenties at best), and pale to boot. This isn’t Rent-A-Daddy! This is Baby’s Daddy. He comes, however, with an endearing Collard Green accent and explains that it is the store’s policy to only assist in loading merchandise, not to rope it down, “for liability reasons.”

“But, the lady upstairs told me ya’ll would rope the beds down,” I explain.

“What lady?,” he asks.

“I don’t remember,” I say, flustered, “One of the sale’s clerks.”

“I know,” he shrugs, “It happens all the time.”

In that case, I say, I’d like to put the merchandise on hold until my husband can arrange for it to be picked up. He lets me in on another one of the store’s policies which is that it does not hold paid-for merchandise, which makes me, in effect, stranded unless I want to pay the hefty transportation fee. Heck no! There’s a reason I just bought all these items on clearance in the first place. The fee for the transportation costs more than the total sales amount of my purchase.

Sensing my alarm and frustration, baby’s daddy drops his voice down low, while scanning the horizon, “I’ll tell you how to rope it, then I’ll come back and pull a rope from the hood of the car to the trunk of the car to keep it steady,” he assures me. “This never happened,” he warns. Turns out Baby’s Daddy is even better than Rent-A-Daddy, who would have been too frightened over the prospect of losing job benefits to plot an escape. I was a bit intimidated by doing the first part of the roping myself, but got my Big Girl courage up and set to work. It turns out to be very difficult because every time I make another loop my daughter opens that door just to say: “Hi mama!,” thereby loosening the loops I’m making. There’s a real able-boddied daddy parked next to my car. He never offers to help. I’m thinking that I need to move out of the North and head back to Collard Green country, where a real man would feel awkward just to idle there without offering assistance.

It was awhile before Baby’s Daddy comes back. Again, he scans the surroundings carefully then quickly sets down to work, sliding rope, like a master weaver, in and out of my front grill. He’s amused all the while: “My sister had a car just like this,” he recalls and smiles. I like this kid and think he’d do well in the real world where a cool head under pressure and a sure-footed gait, takes the cake. He obviously enjoyed the thrill of rule-breaking; meanwhile, I stood on the look-out – as scared as a schizophrenic squirrel.

Suddenly, a voice calls out from inside the car. “Mama, he’s voooooomiting! You better hurry up!” It’s my daughter’s voice. I rush to the rear passenger seat, and sure enough, my youngest is vomiting up his afternoon snack, in heaping chunks.

“Oh sweetie,” I start, “It’s o.k., calm down, you’re alright. Take a deep breath. Mama’s here. Drink some water.” You know the routine. I reach in to hold his head, clean him up, and ease off his top-layer sweater. Within ten minutes he’s fast asleep and reeking of stomach acids. In my quest to buy just one simple rug, I’d left his spare clothes at home.

Baby’s daddy was still fast at work- he doesn’t let the panic and putrid smells from the car deter him from this 007 task. Before long he’s done and standing near the hood to examine his handy work.

“Do you think this will hold?” I ask him.

“Yeah,” he says as he tests it by jerking the beds every which way to see if they will give, “It ain’t goin’ no where.”

I look around, and not seeing any other store employees in sight, reach into my purse and grab the wad of cash on hand, and hold it out. He hesitates, but I stay steady. After another quick scan of the premises, he says: “Well, I can take that.” Baby’s Daddy winks and swipes it without another word, then takes off like Spiderman. I imagine him springing to assist another stranded, jilted mom from the bedding section.

I set down in my car, relieved, tap down on the hazard lights and set off. Just before turning onto the highway a State Trooper pulls up behind me. My grip strains over the steering wheel. Then, apparently, slowed down by my speed, the officer jerks around and takes off. Whew!

On the highway I stay in the far right lane and try to keep my speed slow enough to be safe, but fast enough to beat the angry onslaught of rush hour traffic. My GPS takes me through a long underwater tunnel. At some point in the middle of the dark tunnel, the top box spring starts to slump forward over my front window. I start to panic for lack of a smarty-pants solution. This is not the way I’d come at all. My GPS was going off script, as if it had a personality to enjoy a good laugh at my expense. Finally out of the tunnel, I drive off on the margin of the highway, and look back at the kids. They are still asleep – at least I’ve got that going for me. I slip out of my car, pull myself onto the hood (no easy trick in a long skirt) and proceed to shove and shift the top box spring back in place. Here I am in a hijab and long skirt wrestling with box springs on the top of my car. That must have been a sight. I made du’a (prayer) and coaxed my inner soldier-girl the whole time.

After that, I decide to slow down which indeed brings me into rush hour traffic and under the wrath of all those drivers, who I sympathize with more than myself. I feel like that guy in Morocco, trolling on his mo-ped with a sheep carcass saddled over the ride- holding up all the smokier engines behind him. People are peering in and likely thinking, what is THAT?! 

Just as I turn the corner to my street, I tally the days humiliating events. I glance my sons’ sleeping face in the rear-view mirror. Hopefully, I’ll be able to inch into my driveway without getting heckled by any of the neighborhood kids. I say this because during the last mile the top bed had started to lung forward, again, making my loot look pathetically flotsam as if I’d just robbed the Bed Barn.

As I turn the corner, my elderly neighbors inch from the opposite direction. Just as my bed lunges, they lunge forward to see my car’s freakish top-hat. I want to slide down under my steering wheel, but instead I manage a hearty wave as if I was steering the premiere float in a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Once parked, I abandon the box springs on my car to wake my son up and ease him into a warm bath. All was well in the world. If anyone looked out from their window, they now question my sanity, and maybe wonder if I really did rob a Bed Barn. I certainly climbed to the icy peak in my flip-flops that day, and I either earned another resiliency badge or killed a few brain cells. Whichever, my box springs are not just any box springs. They tell a story and they make me laugh, whenever I want to- for no particular reason.

Post-Fast: Brand Spankin’ New

1 Feb

Its been five days since crossing the finish line on my ten-day juice fast. Since then, I’ve made radical dietary changes along with my family. Yes, it takes some bribing (and culinary tigress) to get my kids hooked on plates of green leafy vegetables, but like any seasoned mom I’ve got a doctorate in bribery and a gazillion continuing education hours in the art of negotiation. And of course, I go undercover; over the weekend I simply nodded when my daughter assumed that (“YUMMY!”) tofu was eggs. When my ten-year old asked about the seared, white chunky blocks on his salad I said (non-nonchalantly) that it was croutons, of course! From the corner of my eye I glimpsed him stealing his little brother’s “croutons.” A fourth grader sneaking tofu! Who would have thunk it?

How did I celebrate after the finish line? With friends, of course.

Nuriman, my fellow-faster, threw a girly-girl party complete with green-juice,

one of her famous salads,

and home baked kale chips. I whipped up a mango salsa for added fun.

Its been five days and I feel brand spankin’ new! Here comes the bragging part; brace yourselves! (My smarty pants are about to un-leash, ya’ll).

I wake up and instead of wishing that someone could hook me up to a sweet, smoky java-infused IV drip, I’m ready to start my day. I don’t have to commit to faux-joy in front of my dewy-eyed young’uns in the morning. Now, I’m  bright-eyed –  ready at the starting-gate, and yet unflinchingly calm. I enjoy my mornings like I did as a kid and I enjoy my kids in the morning for a change.

In the past, after my morning cup of coffee I was good to go until….until….my second cup of coffee. Now, instead of quivering, make-shift energy, I’m charting my days on natural energy! Even though I’m off the juice fast, I’m still juicing at least once a day, and mostly with carrots and green leafy vegetables. My symptoms of hypoglycemia (one of my principal motivations for going on the juice fast) have vanished. I am now able to perform supererogatory, religious fasting (no food or water from sun up to sun down), as I did last Monday, without getting the shakes, vomiting, and sharp headaches suffered in the past.

I’ve also switched to preparing meat for my family just one night a week and on those nights only chicken – no red meat or cheese. My husband is acting as a very good sport; which, if you are a modern-day Moroccan, or are married to a Moroccan, you can appreciate this switch-over even more. This is one of those moves that is making me fall in love with him all over again.

I’m off refined sugars and onto small amounts of raw honey, maple syrup and organic cane sugar for baking and sweetening my herbal tea. I’m off cartons of bargain-brand pasteurized milk and onto spoonfuls of homemade organic yogurt (with fresh berries).

I’m off flavoring my savory dishes with vats of salt and too much olive oil and onto finding creative ways to make a saneful (not sinful), whole-foods plant-based meal.

I assumed my diet was healthy. After all, I ate salads, preferably looming with salty cheeses and buried under a scattering of lip-smacking olives. I poured olive oil on anything that would stand still, plus served up lots of piping hot home cooked meals, saddled with plentiful helpings of white basmati rice. Whilst living in my insular fantasy of good health I was forgoing a lot of brightly-colored, robust fruits and vegetables.

I was lulling my sweet tooth to sleep on late-night dark chocolate bars flavored with sea salt, and anything as moist and dense as a warm brownie. I had a decadent diet that made me feel fatigued and tethered to a cycle of sugar, caffeine, and salt (my terrible trio), and I too-often confused fine eating with healthy eating. What can I say, I’m a product of a few too many Food Network shows in my college days when I was taking off my training wheels and learning to become a “good” home-cook.

Going cold turkey on that toxic trio was easily the best move of my mamahood career and a fabulous starting-gate for my Big Girl Life.

In fact, I haven’t had an ah-ha moment this sunny since my conversion to Islam the decade before last! The best part is that the solution was so self-managing and so darn easy. After the initial detox from the terrible trio, I was able to easily forego a store-bought sweet or an extra crunchy bag of potato chips. I’ve made peace and bid farewell to those fried mac n’ cheese balls at the Philly’s Reading Terminal Market, Cajun station over the Thanksgiving weekend. The Italian Market can keep her cheesesteak too (gasp!). A healthy dose of heresy  is very good for my arteries.

I simply don’t want those “treats,” anymore. In fact, I imagine them draining my energy reserves and zapping the vitamin contents of my new sun-drenched, wholesome good eats.

A little imagery and a hearty mantra go a long way to paving the way for sustainable lifestyle changes. The equation is simple – the more good you eat, the more good you want; the more crud you eat, the more crud you want. I’m following that guide and reaping the benefits.

My dear friend, Pauline, walked into my kitchen last Saturday and saw me stirring a pot of shaved soap – the makings of homemade laundry detergent. She gasped, then laughed, and cried: “I’m not sure if I like the new Danette! I liked the old Danette who used to eat fried chicken and not think twice about it.” “Don’t get too serious,” she cautioned me. I might mention – this girlfriend just got herself a brand-spankin’ new juicer to start her own juicing fast and was a special source of encouragement for me while I overcame my bad-food addiction. She watched her aunt make a stunning recovery from cancer, using as part of her alternative regime, juicing. She’s a bonafide friend, so she’s entitled to want to hold on to some relics of the old me.

Alright, Pauline, I shall try to temper my ye-haw! As for now, I’m a friggin’ zealot! I feel good and I don’t ever want to feel haggard again, if I can do something about it. I’m not burning my bra, but I am burning a TV star’s chili recipe (which involves Frito Lays and Cheddar Cheese).

That’s where I am folks. Thanks a billion for all of your support along the way. Pretty please keep your comments coming. I’m eager to hear about your own journeys, in your own ways, or ways that are similar to my ten-day, detox juice fast.

Much Love,