{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.

No Use Crying

11 Nov

Our friends left and I don’t suspect they’ll ever return. We have their teapot and their book which are lovely, but will never be as lovely as they were.

Our sons are best friends. Because I’m {that} kind of mama, when my son left his email open, of course, I read it! Their last words to each other before the flight:

May Allah always guide you to the right path! (My son).

May Allah accept all of your duaas (prayers)! (Her son).

I took my boy out for ice cream after they left, but it didn’t even taste sweet.

I picked up their book and read it to my children to pass the hour before bedtime.

‘Come, there’s no use in crying like that! …I advise you to leave off this minute.’ She [Alice in Wonderland] generally gave herself very good advice (though she seldom followed it).”

How I wish, this time, that I were not exactly like Alice. If only there were no rabbit holes for friends to slide down- to places we cannot reach. I wish there were no keys to open doors and magic potions to make friends shrink down well enough to walk through; so far that we cannot even see them in the distance. Gone, gone….

We took a long walk, but we did not find them. The berries we ate in summer and the greenery that surrounded us have vanished. Autumn hung by a thread, with only specks of color.

Seasons turn familiar ground into new territory. Change is the only constant, which doesn’t sullen the mood of some who know.

But not me and not him – not today, anyway.

These are the days of vexing thorns and longing for what can never be {again}.

Oh Lord! Oh Compassionate and Merciful. Oh Most Kind and All-Sufficient….suffice us.

Winter’s Thorn

9 Nov

Winter is creeping in. I don’t like her. O Lord, help me {because I sincerely do not like her} I know how dang-awful it is be of that mind-set. I have chirpy, yankee friends. They’ll preach to me of winter’s charm – the snow-covered hills, crystilline icicles, sledding, hot cocoa, fuzzy blankets, snow angels, anyone? All I can think about are skinny animals dyeing from starvation and the way snow looks two days after it falls – like a pile of dirty laundry on the side of the road.

Ya’ll, I’m a Southerner, from as far south as you can go before needing Spanish as a second language. I love sunshine, sweat, and aerifying myself with ‘funeral home fans.’ Really cruddy thoughts come to mind as winter approaches; the most gruesome of all: how am I gonna keep my brood occupied inside all the live long days?! 

Having said all that, however, I actually do have a soft spot for winter, because as a fitting allegory for life’s struggles, it provides teaching moments. When I am under winter’s spell, I think of the winter of the soul, and this warms my center considerably.

There are roads we take, others we are tossed on; sometimes we want to escape – still we march, tight-fisted, brazen and determined. Our surface looks depleted, yet within us new life is forming deep within the quiet darkness of our contemplative selves.

We turn the corner, nearly unrecognizable to passerby. Others underestimated us, but worst of all we underestimated ourselves. Until when…we bloomed- content to be still and perpetually at peace, not because the thorn had been removed, but because it lost that quality of vexation.

Pain is pleasure.

In the dead of winter, we shedded a few needs   – the need for comfort, assurances, safety, promises, perfection, power, position, appearances, validation, pay-backs, attachments, affiliations, perks, recognition, revenge.

We cry out, My Lord! I am well pleased; am I well pleasing? We crave no sustenance other than the answer.

May you and I be granted the winter of our imaginings and the spring of our aspirations.

Something about Ummah

2 Nov

I came upon the term ummah after delving into the study of Islam fourteen years ago.  It’s often translated tightly as community, but it’s so much better than that. So much on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t ever find the precise words for the feeling…like… the most sublime tremor of well-being just to be alive and connected.

No. That won’t do. Scratch that. It’s something else. Something I can’t tell you, just as you can’t tell me how un-done you felt to be in love when you finally realized what it was -with the fear, thrill, and anticipation that sent you laughing yourself to sleep that night.

O.K., you have a point. That’s not fair– to let you in on something, and then not tell you what {it} is!! I agree. Well then, I’ll try.

Ummah is a refined acknowledgment of connection that transcends all boundaries of tribalism and national borders for the purpose of seeking the pleasure of God Most High. It is an idea that breeds transcendence, so it is only natural that ummah will be more palpably felt between two people of different languages and tribes, which is commonplace, for one, in my neck of the woods. Lucky for me! I have so many ummah stories that I could share with you based on my experiences over the years…they are treasures which I pull out and dust off from time to time to rekindle.

Last week marked Eid ul-Adha, the world over – a day of commemorating the Prophet Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his own son, based on his literal interpretation of a vision from God. Prophet Abraham’s son willingly accepted to be sacrificed believing that it was God’s will;  however, God intervened through the Angel Gabriel, before the sacrifice could take place, and Prophet Abraham was commanded instead to sacrifice a sheep, a thing much less beloved and prized to him. Prophet Abraham had already demonstrated that seeking the pleasure of God reigned supreme in his heart, even when the logic was not apparent on the human, cognitive level. As Muslims, we reflect on his vision as a metaphor, to unhinge ourselves from the world- to give preference and space to love what is Everlasting over what is ephemeral. This story is one illustration by which we can get a sense of the incomprehensible rank that God bestowed on Prophet Abraham by deeming him His friend.

In the U.S. on Eid, Muslims raising young children often gather in public spaces such as parks during the afternoon period. The festivities eventually transport to cozy homes. It is typically a frenzy of idleness, with fired up grills, bags of candy, and throngs of children running as independent bands- coming to their parents only for more juice, or another cupcake. Eid is all about fun and not stopping until you lay, speechless, having said all there is to say, and exhausted on one’s bed – sighing and falling into a peaceful sleep born from doing nothing that isn’t pleasurable.

So, on this Eid, our family packed into the car, then took a detour to pick up the children of a friend who was ill. We piled out expecting to walk into a large crowd of Eid-goers only to discover no one around. There was a large gathering of Muslims in one gazebo, none of whom I recognized. Clearly Palestinian, I thought by surveying the collection of men who needed a BBQ grill so big they brought their own. The pithily one at the park would never do for the massive amounts of beef and chicken they were about to unleash. I understand. I’m Collard Green.

The other dead give-away were the men dressed in brightly colored shirts underneath snug, black polyester vests, coupled with fitted pants reaching to long, black and well-shined, square-toed shoes. Picture minions of Godfathers hovering around a grill next to a massive playground set. The grill master, a young guy, wore his dress sleeves rolled up, and extending from his left hand were five kabob poles extending three feet or more in the air; his other hand swiftly turned the sizzling kabobs still on the grill. The aroma was marinated, charred yumminess- a feast that only a zealous vegan could refuse with satisfaction. I wanted to ravage the place.

Impatient, I scanned the horizon. Where were all our people?  I spotted two familiar faces, likely as disappointed as me over the weak turn-out. We convened and made a few phone calls before realizing that folks were on their way; a phenomenon I’ve come to know as ‘Muslim Standard Time.’ Before long, a Nigerian friend showed up and soon her kids were running around the park; they disappeared into the haze of smoke. She leapt in to retrieve them, and no sooner than she could exit, they insisted that she : EAT! EAT! TAKE! SOME MORE! NO, THAT’S NOT ENOUGH! The men busied themselves with heaving generous portions of food on her plate.

She didn’t know any of them, yet because she walked into their midst for less than a minute, she was obliged to take something away. That’s ummah.

So, we huddled in our barren, yurt-like gazebo and ate the Palestinians’ food. It was so good. I could hardly complete a thought, but when my consciousness returned, I felt guilty to have left a sick friend with an empty stomach. My intention had been to bring  her some of our food, but not enough in our party had arrived to start grilling. Not having grown up in an ummah-centered culture, I was too shy to walk up to the Palestinians and ask for more food, even if for a sick woman. That’s what Collard Green people would call tacky. But, there’s no tacky in ummah which is what my Nigerian friend knows. She didn’t hesitate to return. With wide smiles, like greeting a long, lost friend, they encouraged her a second time. EAT! EAT! TAKE! SOME MORE! And this time they handed her an entire tray full of freshly grilled shrimp to go along with her over-flowing plate.

Eventually our party showed up; we were able to start our own festivities. Toward the end of the day, I navigated my way into the Palestinians’ enclave with a measly plate of fruit. Meandering around the men, I crept deep into the belly of the party where all of the women, from the Palestinian region of Gibran, languished. Their space was dim and hazy. The smoke from a shisha pipe rose – hovering like cumulus clouds over their lair. Their heads cocked back -mouths gasping for air because it was just so funn-y…I can’t speak..I can’t breathe…my love, habeebti!!!

In their colloquialism, I had no clue what they said. What caused them to laugh so convincingly? They looked the way life does…when it is living.

A thin, petite woman took my plate and winked, thank you, she said. I did not stay; in fact, I ejected myself swiftly, feeling like a school girl who’d slipped out of bed and tip-toed into her mother’s party, uninvited, but then stricken by being so far out of her element, scurries back to bed, only to wish she had stayed.

There was more goodwill to be had. The Palestinians made these fantastic high-end goodie bags and proceeded to throw them into the arms of any child within reach, including my own. To which one of my kids exclaimed: “They have really good stuff!”

Our parties had mingled so much, they would have been indistinguishable by passerby.  One of the Palestinian women made her way to our huddle and lamented that she had left her broom at home. “Do you have one?,” she asked. “I can’t just leave the place like this!” she lamented. Of course, how could she leave her first-come-first serve gazebo so un-kept?! Doesn’t everyone sweep up the concrete floor after a BBQ. How disappointed would the next party be?! “Sorry,” we replied, we are fresh out of brooms.

Later that night we ended up at our friend, Laila’s house for an all dessert pot-luck. Families with roots in Korea, Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia, Palestine, Turkey, Morocco, and my very own ‘Merica, amassed on the main floor with the men huddled in the basement. We had our own version of a smoke-filled room, without the smoke. Over-indulged on the qatayef, chocolate, and coffee, we remembered the Palestinians and felt joy.

Ummah is a thing that eschews mere politeness; it scoffs at minding your manners. It is a surging wave that thrust itself forth, covers the other, washes over and quenches the thirst of its members – both giver and receiver. It harbors no refuge for the ego; for to experience it you must peel off the coarse layers of yourself and meet with the tender heart of another. Like Prophet Abraham’s vision, it forces you to see beyond the ephemeral and dive into the timeless Source of all Pleasure.

I can’t tell you precisely what it is, but I pray that you will feel it on the tip of your tongue one day….so close, but never able to convey it precisely. Who can define love, after all?

All I Want for Ramadan

10 Aug

Ramadan, the special month of fasting, prayer, and contemplation, has already come and is almost gone. This year it was preceded by a series of unordinary encounters in my life – events that put me in touch with people I would otherwise never chance to meet.

In early June, while riding with my kids in the car on a two lane country road, my serpentine belt popped off, which I quickly discovered shuts down every important function in a car. All at once, the power steering quit, the engine light turned on and the car came within seconds of overheating. To make matters worse I was already straining to see the road because of a heavy downpour. With my husband many, many miles away, my first instinct was to freak out, but since my brood was watching, I had to act like a sane human being- not a freak-out mom. Slowly, over the period of an hour, I managed to inch the car into a gas station. My first question was to ask the attendant where I was and the next move was to call a mechanic. I knew I was in the middle of nowhere, I just didn’t know which nowhere. It was a farming town in north Maryland- a place of rolling hills, rich soil and old stone facades. Richly idyllic, unless your serpentine belt pops off, leaving you stranded with kids.

The rain stopped abruptly, mimicking the kind of weather I’m used to back in Florida -a quick flash of lightening and sharp rain, then poof, like it never happened. Even more spectacular, the sun was receding, revealing a horizon swathed in blushing hues, lending the imagery of a seamless, silk blanket rolled out above the earth.

I was disappointed to discover that the mechanic was miles away and not likely to be lulled from his pub on a Friday night to rescue the likes of me. A couple of men stood around and scratched their heads trying to figure out why my belt suddenly popped off yet remained in tact. If I could just find a mechanic to loop it back on, I’d be on my way. These swarming Yankee-Doodle-Dandies, however thoughtful, were proving themselves completely useless in the rescuing a damsel in distress category. A Collard Green man would have called me honey and popped that belt back on by now.

There were clearly no rent-a-husbands here. My own husband was scheduled to head out on a business trip early the next morning, so I held off calling him to drive several hours back and forth to come get us. Plus, that would have required leaving the car in the middle of nowhere. AAA was no help; we’d used up the service calls on a mechanical issue weeks ago. Surely, I could find a way to solve this problem. Then, poof, a petite woman, carrying a half gallon milk jug, came by and informed me that a mechanic lived behind the gas station. Really?! Perfect! Why didn’t anyone else mention this, I wondered.

After knocking on the fiberglass door of the trailer, a woman peeked out. We looked at each other for an awkward moment, but she didn’t say a word, just smiled. Realizing that there was a communication barrier I attempted to dust off the mental file containing all the Spanish I learned in college – it hurled from my tongue in a gnarled, grating  pattern like the hinge of an old screen door which hadn’t been oiled, and flew open in the wind. Despite the awkwardness, I managed to communicate my predicament, only to discover that the mechanic, her husband, was out working his dishwasher job until the wee hours. His two older sons, however, were available; they’d only been in the U.S. a couple of weeks- badly homesick and completely shell-shocked, they seemed eager to plunge into some project.

Fortunately, although my spoken Spanish is very bad, my comprehension is decent, so I was able to understand when the boys told me they had just crossed the border illegally on the famed La Bestia – a ghastly train service which by default carries many a eager man and woman, non gratis, for free a top its boxed cars from Central America. They managed to stay awake to avoid falling off and permanently maiming or losing a limb. Men, women and children fail prey to it regularly. If they are fortunate enough to ride all the way, then walk through the scorching heat undetected, with only a few drops of water, and a square meal a day – they have the pleasure of working a back breaking job in landscaping or at a greasy fast food joint, completely off the grid of health benefits and 401Ks.

While the brothers set off to work, and with the night sky fast approaching, my son and I had to perform the fourth prayer of the day known as the Maghrib prayer. I settled our straw mat on the grassy margin bordering a farm next to the gas station. The men followed me with their eyes, perplexed.

Not knowing the word for prayer in Spanish, I tried to announce my plans as best as I could.

“Yo voy a Dios”, meaning literally, “I go to God.”

“Si, Si,” they smiled, and motioned me with nods of their heads, like ushers, making shooing gestures with their palms down, “You go to God,” they affirmed. “We understand.”

And so I did and felt all the better for it – very relieved and soothed to be praying near my son under a blushing night sky, with fire flies twittering about and the murmur of cicadas beginning to erupt. After the prayer, I bought the gas station out of its crispy fried chicken, as an initial offering, and was invited to sit with the boys’ mother in her tiny cubicle of a kitchen- its floor of brittle, pale linoleum peeling up in the corners, showing its underbelly of plywood. She made homemade tortillas while my kids happily depleted their attention spans on a slew of cartoons via their bulky, tubular television set. At this point they weren’t sure if they could fix the problem without their father’s tools, so they invited us to spend the night, as eagerly as if they were inviting a member of the family. I called my husband and he said something to the effect of: “Woman, have you lost your mind!? Where are you? I’m coming!!” Where am I?  Err….in a very nice lady’s kitchen on a hill top, eating warm tortillas. Kids are watching Tom n’ Jerry re-runs and have red juice-staches. I’m not sure exactly where I am but I’ll call you very soon. Don’t worry! Love you. Bye now. Click.

While the brothers continued to work, the mother told me her story of immigration – how she escaped to the U.S. from the bandidas (bandits) who had gashed and broken her leg because she couldn’t pony up the cash to pay them protection dues for the hardware store she owned with her husband. “You see here,” she pointed to a thick mass of lightly pigmented scare tissue splayed out and contrasted against the rest of her thin, olive colored shin. Before her husband fled, the bandidas kidnapped and tortured him for a week for refusing to pay. The police, either in concert with the bandidas, or out of plain fear did nothing. The trouble was her husband simply had nothing left to give. They had already closed up the store, but the bandidas were unrelenting. They fortunately paid no mind to the four penniless children; after all, it was nothing personal, just business.

In progression, after the father arrived in the U.S., he got down to working odd jobs to earn the transport money for a coyote to bring them “safely” across the border. The mother followed on the illicit Bestia. She fell into the clutches of drunken co-passengers, who at knife point ordered her and all the women huddled to strip naked while they humiliated and molested them. After the ordeal, other riders threw them clothes from their own bags- merciful gestures, trying to restore them as if it never happened, but their kindness never erased it from her mind. Every time she hears the train whistle just beyond the perimeter of her trailer she twitches and wrings her hands – she’s haunted, she says, she can feel them touching her even though there is no one there. She was later captured by U.S. Border Patrol and spent several months in an Arizona prison before she managed to get out and make her way up North. She is currently working to be able to bring her two other children to the U.S.. They fend for themselves now, she sends them money enough to survive, and they wait.

Her American dream is to have all of her children in one home, and make a sky-high pile of homemade tortillas for them – to sit and talk with them and laugh, for no other silly reason than that it feels good. She wants to watch them breathing at night as they sleep unaware and kiss them on their foreheads, and never worry about another bandida at her door.

Within a few hours the brothers emerged and announced that they managed to loop the belt back on. I felt like hugging someone in a sigh of relief. I gratefully paid for the service, though they looked away, seeming shy to acknowledge a rightful wage. The next morning the mother called to ask if I had made it home safely.

I couldn’t stop thinking about them all day long, and the next day… and then the next. I hugged my children a little more, lingered longer at the breakfast table, and gazed at them with a deeper sense of gratitude in my heart, but tethered to an anchor of melancholy plunged into my stomach. It somehow doesn’t feel as good when you know that someone else is aching for the same morning, but can’t have it. The sun’s rays don’t illuminate with that particular lightness of being.

Two weeks later, I drove to Assateague Island to go camping with my kids among the wild horses.

My husband, again, could not come along because of work obligations, but I was determined to make the best and even better of it. Within less than an hour of arriving, while setting up camp, we met some campers about to have an all out Moroccan feast. I was pitching our tent when they came off of the beach. Seeing me alone with my children, and Muslim like them, it sparked their curiosity. The day was waning and high winds made the task of simultaneously holding down all four corners of my tent nearly impossible.  Every time my son and I would lay it down to figure out which side was which it would completely fold over and whip sand everywhere. One of the Moroccans enthusiastically jumped in to help. When I thanked him, he averted eye contact, and with that distinctly Arab gesture of hand on heart, simply replied: “bent bledi”, which means ‘daughter of my land.’

We gladly accepted their dinner invitation and sat down to this gorgeous tagine.

The spread was spectacular. I thought who else but a Moroccan would turn a camping trip into a foodie experience?! It was awesome down to the petite pot of mint tea brewing on the grill. Conversation dawdled on what each person did. The benefactor of the whole feast, co-operated a deli in downtown Washington D.C. with his brother. Another Moroccan in the group, originally from Rabat, was middle aged; she had settled into life as a nanny after the economy withered. The money isn’t bad, she explained; she genuinely loves the kids, but the parents are complete brats who never thank her beyond writing her pay check every two weeks. She wished she could get a little more recognition for kissing boo-boos, making oatmeal, reading books, and all the other things a stand-in mother must do. She never expresses these feelings to her employer. She needs the job. She wasn’t looking forward to rubbing elbows with upper class white women and their nannies during one of the hottest summers on record. I sympathized. She had tried to move back to Morocco at one point, but having been gone for so long, first in France and then in the U.S., she didn’t feel her place there anymore. Trouble is, she doesn’t feel her place anywhere; she has no partner or children of her own…she feels un-rooted and solemn most of the time.

The deli operator, when asked about Morocco, looked up to the sky, and smacked his lips over his right hand as if sending a greeting across the Atlantic.

“My country,” he says, “I miss my country,” he cries. “I never should have left,” he laments, looking about as one adrift, with deep set cavernous eyes, like a man who had heedlessly cheated on his one love, and can never return to hold her again.

I asked the obvious question: “Why don’t you return?”

“If it were that easy,” he shook his head.

“Why isn’t it?,” I ask bearing my plucky, American grin, with its over the rainbow all things are possible glitter.  He explained that he was an accountant with a solid job, enough money to spend and enough to save, but his big brother, aching for companionship of his own, had put visions in his head of streets lined in gold. He was itching for change because such is the condition of man – always convinced that just over the next bend, the next tier, is a whole new world, a better place waiting, and if he can just get there he will be happy ever after. Truly, man was created, very impatient (Qur’an, Al Ma’arij, 19).

Instead, of utopia he found a tasteless existence, with heaps of meat waiting to be sliced and served to the next lucky patron. He’s lonelier than he’s ever been in his life.  He sits in his deli serving lines of busy customers, all of them strangely eager to grab a swath of food and eat on the go -never stopping like back home to savor the sights and the smells; to sit, for no better reason than to eat, digest, and listen to their bones. He misses his home country but he can’t survive there anymore. His old job is gone, the economy has tanked, and frankly he’s scared to return with meager savings and no job prospects. There was a space of silence after he explained the reason. What more could I say?

Quixotically and impressively, he shook off his fermented sadness, breathed in the salt water air, and dug into his cooler to produce an elaborate, chilled fruit tray to share.

The next morning I brought breakfast to their camp and bid them farewell as they packed up for the day. I sat on the beach under an umbrella, digging my toes further and deeper into the sand until they reached the hard-packed, cool underbelly of the shore. The kids ran back and forth for sandwiches and juice. They spent several hours catching hermit crabs with their buckets, only to return them back to the ocean again and again- never tiring of the monotony. I thought of our hosts the night before. If only it were so easy to go back home.

The next day my camp stove malfunctioned and set fire – a big hazy fount of flames sprung up from the device while I said something to effect of: “Umm…someone…please HELP!” Fortunately, the father in the campsite next “door” sauntered over with a fire extinguisher and nonchalantly put the whole drama to rest. His profession had something to do with the fire department so he wasn’t too hyped up by our little emergency; his cool demeanor was contagious so that I was able to blow the whole thing off myself. Yeah, I almost burned down a national treasure, no biggie. That is not my modus operandi. I’m more likely to be seen jerking my body like I’m twirling an imaginary hoola hoop if ever a drama is in the works.

In my haste I’d forgotten a bag of Twizzlers by my car. One of the wild horses gratefully clip-clopped over, tore the bag open with his mouth and glutinously devoured its contents to the tune of my three year old howling in the background and pleading with me to call the cops to have the horse arrested. Fortunately, we didn’t go hungry. The family who put out the fire also generously offered their camp grill so that we could cook our dinner. Meanwhile, we shared a nice long talk about the primitive thrill of camping in the Adirondacks with bears- something I’ve determined from that conversation never to do. When the family left to take an evening drive, the horses came to their site and attempted to gobble up all of their left out groceries. My son and I swatted at them from a distance with long towels which herded them back toward the beach. I felt grateful for at least a small opportunity to repay their kindness.

The next morning just before dawn a storm blew in – a really, really big storm. I didn’t have have enough warning to break down my tent, so I had to throw my kids in the car and back it up against all of our camp gear to keep it from flying away. It worked, but the force of the wind snapped our tent poles in half. Our good Samaritan neighbors had their entire pop up canopy wrecked, which seemed entirely unfair given how downright nice they were. We spent the whole next day levitating like slothly castaways on the beach, weathered and grateful to have made it out relatively unscathed. I thought about all the kind people I’d met recently- contemplated on their generosity and also their personal tragedies. I felt grateful to carry their memories with me and made prayers for them along with myself and my family.

Now the month of Ramadan is upon us. Long days and nights of fasting, reading Qur’an and praying are this month’s focus- not getting myself into predicaments. I was feeling a bit depleted before Ramadan, plagued by the thought of so many people who want but have not. I could not reconcile the seemingly topsy turvy distribution of hardship and ease. My center was off, the place where you momentarily fail to glean the whole purpose of life. It is hard to grasp that notion, much less hold onto it indefinitely. I find I am always catching it and letting it go, berating myself, and catching it again.

Ramadan is here and all I want to do is be alone with it. This is the one time in the year, when honestly, I could detach from everyone for a month. That is completely impractical and impossible, of course. The days must go on and I must go with them, stretching to find that rhythm of spiritual balance, that place where you are in the world but the world is not in you. Life is full of tailspins and ending up for miles on other roads- some good, some bad, and what we at once perceived as lost, is in fact, exactly where we were meant to be.

Life is not always a happy ending- not always a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That is about the most honest, Big Girl thing I can say at this moment. It’s hard to admit. It almost feels unpatriotic. The truth is, needs and wants are so relative and sometimes hardship endures. One woman wants a swimming pool in her backyard and another woman just wants her children. One man wants to take that New Zealand trip to go skydiving this year, and another man just wants to go home. Life is certainly not “fair,” and it isn’t meant to be. There is no enduring happiness attached to any momentary pleasure in this world.

Is it not through the remembrance of God that hearts find tranquility? Quran 13:28.

God asks me this question and I’m intent on answering it for myself. Sometimes the answer is beyond my reach because I am not still enough to ponder the question. Now Ramadan is here and I’m very still, and very alert. I can discern now what was woolly.

Rememberance, tranquilty – the later is completely dependent on the former. The only one who truly loses in this world is the one who never discerns his true purpose; the one who continually forgets.

Indeed, life is full of tailspins and ending up for miles on other roads- some good, some bad.

Nothing in it endures. Everything passes as it should. Life is a bridge. I’m walking on it right now, but I cannot always perceive it – my senses are so often dulled. The only abiding peace is in the redeeming act of rememberance. If I remember God, Al-Wahid (The One), I remember eternity, and if I remember eternity I perceive my own mortality and the mortality of everyone around me. I perceive the temporal space around me and the mechanics of my body as a holding place, as something that was never designed to remain. The only part of me that will remain is the part of me that is capable of remembering, with deep attraction and longing, my Creator.

Ramadan is a month in which our purpose is to learn self-control, and in order to gain that control, as a prerequisite, we must know the purpose of the self. In Ramadan we feel that purpose acutely – we sober to reality, which we are enabled to do because we give up the trivialities of excess food, speech and sleep.

All I want for Ramadan is to deepen to the remembrance of God, then to let it hold me the rest of the year, like a torch lighting each step through the sunken passages and sudden turns on my journey. Through each encounter, with each new experience, I want to discern the reality of the inescapable passage of time and purpose of life.

Imaam ibn Al-Jawzee a scholar from Baghdad in the twelfth century, said: “Beware of every hour and how it passes, and only spend it in the best possible way, do not neglect yourself, but render it accustomed to the noblest and best of actions, and send to your grave that which will please you when you arrive to it.”

May we spend the rest of this month ‘in the best possible way.’ May we discern ourselves, remember God, and be at peace.

‘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,