Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Good Ol' Fashioned Tea Party

There is a lot to be said for simple, old-fashioned play and games. I try, as best as I can, to resist the overwhelming tide (see my post on climbing trees). So many children today are overstimulated in one sense and understimulated in another. A trip to the toy store is like walking through a blaring video arcade. Do you know there is an aisle in Target for virtual pets? Brrrr, shiver.

Anyway, about our tea party. I boiled some peppermint tea and waited for it to cool, trying in the meantime to teach a three-year-old and one-year-old in pajamas how to set the table for a tea party. A tea party is totally Moona's piece of cake; I could tell because the whole time she had this strange, dreamy, kind-of-dopey smile on her lips. Buru, on the other hand, saw it as an opportunity to make a mess and eat sugar with a spoon.

They sipped and stirred, poured and served each other, and I wisely held my tongue when the tea overflowed onto the tablecloth and the sugar spilled on the carpet. The peace lasted maybe seven minutes. Unfortunately, a catfight over the sugar bowl escalated and half of the dishes were swept off the table in a good, ol' fashioned temper tamprum, so all the guests had to go to their rooms to cool down.

But I will definitely be inviting them again soon.

Gotta Get to the Playground

As the weather cools and my children get antsy indoors, we spend more and more time at the playground. It’s usually a pressure-cooker effect—I have things to do around the house and the morning starts out OK, but as the day draws on, the kitchen table gets coated with its third layer of grime, the screams grow louder, bodies fly off the walls, the veins in my legs start throbbing and aching, and suddenly, the steam bursts forth and I bellow out to the universe, “Let’s go to the PLAYGROUND!”

The atmosphere suddenly quiet and purposeful, the girls scurry like little oompa-loompas to put on their crocs, the one-year-old chanting incessantly, “Heya? Heya? Heya? Heya?...” (“Let’s go? Let’s go? Let’s go?”)

Because the trip to the playground is as much a treat for me as for them, we are always in search of playgrounds on lakes or in forests, places where I can close my eyes, take off my shoes, stretch my feet out on the grass, and feel the breeze on my face. I ignore pleas to push swings or help climb or hold hands (“if it’s for big kids, then try something else!”). I try not to feel self-conscious when other mothers shadow their children, sometimes older than my own, and cheer for them at every ladder and slide. I need this time for myself, to be a better mother and a better person.

My kids come up to me after 20 minutes, bored or hungry. I pull out some rice cakes or apple slices and tell them, “Go, do something, run, throw leaves in the lake, this is Umee’s time.” Sometimes they sit beside me, but I close my eyes in meditative silence and do not respond to questions or whining.

In that peaceful hour, I reflect. I don’t call anyone on my cell phone. I recite some Quran, remember Allah, contemplate, read a light book, plan out my week, and think about my personal development. Disconnected from computers and telephones and dirty sinks, listening to the children play and the leaves rustling, I thank Allah for my life. For my children. For being able to sit out here in nature and remember Him.

Before we leave, I get up to help the kids on the swings. They giggle and laugh and throw their heads back in drunken delight. Now, refreshed, I can share their exuberance and be in the moment, watching their reactions and loving it. After the playground, my head is clearer, our home is calmer, and the steam is gone.

Of course, a great end to the day is when two oompa-loompas fall asleep on the ride home.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

To Watch in Peace

I am sometimes surprised at how Arabic touches me in ways that English doesn't, but it also goes the other way. Even though I speak classical Arabic now at home with my kids, the language I spoke as a child--English--still strikes the deepest chords inside me. This simple music video of the 99 Names of Allah always makes my eyes brim with tears. Even though I know the meaning of a name of Allah, and read it and hear it over and over in the Quran, seeing it expressed in simple, contemplated English words almost brings me to my knees.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Am I Unmuted?

It used to be my greatest fear on conference calls: being caught unmuted. We used to laugh about it nervously—the three moms on the call out of seven team members.

“What if they hear me scream my head off at my kids?”

“Did seven people just hear a toilet flush?” (It wasn’t me, I promise! I was taking my kid to the bathroom)

I could never quite relax while on mute during conference calls. So I would (and still do) conduct compulsive safety checks six or seven times an hour: *6 This line is now unmuted *6 This line is now muted. All quiet on my front.

Every so often, one of us forgot to mute after making a comment, and the others tried to alert the unsuspecting dragon-lady before she breathed fire or blurted out something totally irrelevant to meeting agendas and event publicity. One time I was all sing-songy at the dinner table trying to get two kids to eat up. At least I was in a good mood.

After a silence that is not so unusual on our calls and some vague comments on a lot of background noise, one brother gently dropped the hint.

“I think… the person who I had the pleasure of visiting ... and whom I ate a delicious meal at her house …”


The one time a mom scolded her kids loudly on the call, she dropped off the call and sent a frantic email to the other moms kicking herself and asking how bad it was. Um, not so bad? Beware of the two-edged-sword that is the mute button, conference-call moms. Yeah, we shouldn’t be shouting at our kids in the first place, but it can be pretty rough juggling a bunch of kids during an hour and a half conference call. Don't sing any lullabies either, you know, just in case.

I cuddle with my attention-craving girls on the couch, storybook in one hand and phone in the other. Trying to follow the gist of a conversation on fundraising strategy, I slowly read a story about farm animals waking up early in the morning. Mid-sentence, I freeze.


Whew! I did not just mooooo on a conference call.