Two Years of Nursing, One Week of Weaning

Photo Credit: Mericris Scott

Moulay is two years old now in both the lunar and solar calendar. His solar birthday found us here in New York with family. For his lunar birthday, we were still in Oman and that’s the day we started weaning our little man off of breastmilk. I had hoped that Moulay would end on his own before that point. He had been nursing exclusively at night for about nine months and never asked for milk at naptime or during the day. I assumed we could coast until he was ready to resign, but my side of the breastfeeding relationship was discontented. There was no shortage of milk or energy, just an instinctive feeling that we needed a reorientation in our relationship and that we would both benefit from uninterrupted night sleep.  I knew that Moulay’s diet was varied and robust enough to support him nutritionally without my milk and felt strongly that he was mature enough to be comforted in different ways.

Regardless of age or timing, Moulay’s attachment to night nursing was evidently strong, and I prepared myself to support him through the transition. Urbndervish tried putting Moulay to sleep on weekends but after a few weeks, our guy caught wind of our strategy and resisted. I thought of the dissuasion techniques I read about on mothering forums like applying aloe vera to the nipples or putting band-aids on them, but they seemed dishonest and I wasn’t that desperate–at least not yet. After a sleepless night of contemplation, research, and prayer, I rose the next day with a confident resolve that it was time and that I could love him through this loss.

The first night we changed rooms and I held, sang, and rocked Moulay until he slept. It was about an hour of fussing, whining and dozing until he finally succumbed to sleep. Naturally, I hated hearing him cry, but I heard frustration and disappointment in his voice more than fear or anger. I wasn’t leaving him alone or disappearing suddenly.  I was assuring and comforting him in every way I could. The next night was similar but shorter. The next night, even shorter but eventually, he stopped asking for or looking for milk. At around the seven-day mark, transitioning back into his bed next to his sister’s was a mild setback, possibly because of him associating the space with our nursing time. However, I knew we weren’t going back and so we pressed on.

I was torn about initiating weaning in Oman or during holiday, since I always notice new developmental leaps when we travel. However, for this delicate matter, I thought it best to not have the added pressure of other sleepers in the home and adjusting to time zone changes. This round of weaning wasn’t as easy as it was with Lil’ Z, but I’m learning to stop comparing the two and allow Moulay to shine and thrive in his own unique way.

Review: Sweet Child O’Mine in Tampa

 

Sweet Child

Earlier this month, I had my final postpartum visit. After six weeks of care both preceding and following the birth of Moulay, it was time to bid farewell. Even though prenatal care, birthing assistance, and postnatal care are services we paid for, I felt largely indebted to the staff of Sweet Child O’Mine. They supported our family through a delicate and beautiful time in our lives. They made us feel safe in their care and I felt like I owed them something. I thought of baking something or sending them flowers but settled on a thank you card and a picture of the new life they helped to deliver. My midwife reminded me that Moulay delivered himself but her team helped cultivate a safe landing place for him and me to emerge.

Birthing Suite

Birthing Suite

From my first visit at 34 weeks pregnant, I walked through the deep purple doors of a homelike abode. Diffused scents of lavender filled the air and complemented the floral décor. Each room was impeccably neat, tidy, and pleasing to the eyes. The birthing center felt as relaxed as a neighbor’s home but as professional as a doctor’s office. The lending library offered a thorough selection of books, cd’s and dvd’s for both experienced and novice mothers alike.  The two birthing suites were as cozy as a bed and breakfast with all medical tools thoughtfully removed out of view. The bathrooms are filled with all necessary amenities for personal hygiene and remain spotlessly clean without feeling uncomfortably sterile. The birthing tubs are sanitized after each use with birthing balls on hand for use.

Lending Library

Lending Library

The childbirth preparation classes were conveniently scheduled on both weekends and evenings, giving families great flexibility to ensure attendance. On a weekend class I attended, I was the only mother of color in attendance. But at an evening class, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the number of Black and Latina mothers who attended with their husbands, boyfriends, mothers and friends. I was encouraged to know that such great care was available to so many women.

Waiting Lobby

Waiting Lobby

Sweet Child O’Mine also succeeds at selecting personable staff who care about mothers, their births, and their babies. I was informed of care decisions and given room to ponder, accept, and decline at will. Everyone from the receptionist to the midwives were warm and friendly, while proficient in each of their duties. Though I assumed that they would forget my birth amongst the others, each staff member recalled my unique birth story and took joy in watching our son grow and develop in subsequent postpartum visits. Their inquiries regarding my wellbeing were heartfelt and sincere. I felt nurtured by their firm hugs and encouraging words.

Birthing Team

Birthing Team

While I will miss my visits to the birthing center, I assured them that I hope not to return too soon. They were excellent caretakers and I would love to give birth again in their care…a few years from now, in sha’ Allah (God willing).

you are my ramadan

Moulay at 5 weeks

sighting the moon as you suckle

cooing while i recite

nibbling suhoor* as you snuggle

changing diapers in the moonlight

 

my night vigil begins with your cry

your milky kisses break my day’s fast

your smiles are sweeter than dates

holding you is my i’etikaf**

 

comforting you is my remembrance

nursing you is my charity

thoughts of you are my prayers

tending to you is my hajj journey

 

selflessness is my sacrifice

God’s mercy is that which I seek

motherhood is a spiritual path

placing paradise beneath our feet***

 

*suhoor:  pre-fasting meal eaten before dawn

**i’etikaf:  spiritual retreat

***reference found here

 

Birth Story: Breathing Baby Out

Moulay at Two Weeks

“What to do when you’re five days overdue?” This was the question I asked myself on May 18 and the best answer was to pack up the family and go to the beach. Lil’ Z woke up too sniffly to attend her swimming lesson, and we thought the sand and sea would be much more therapeutic for her. It turned out that we all needed that day out in the sun together—to play, relax, and savor our last day as a family of three before expanding to accommodate our new addition. Much like many mornings previously spent on the beaches in Oman, we had fun splashing about and looking for something to discover on the shores around us.

Just before leaving the beach, I took a long walk alone thinking about labor and how it might unfold. We returned home sun-whipped and all crawled into bed for an afternoon nap. Arising first, as I usually do, I headed to the bathroom and felt a small gush of fluid I couldn’t control. I thought it was my water breaking, but in reality it was just the outer layer of my membranes rupturing, as my midwife assured me. She also prepared me for the possibility of labor beginning in the night.

As the day came to a close, I felt cramps on and off that evening and made sure my bags were packed and ready for a sudden departure. Urbndervish and I sat down with my mother-in-law to go over what we would need her to do following the birth. After midnight, I laid down to rest but found myself up and down, drifting between light sleep, then arising to monitor and time my contractions.   My labor pattern wasn’t gaining any momentum. Some sensations were strong and short, while others were less intense and spaced out. Even by the morning, there was still no consistency, so I called my midwife to inform her of the night’s happenings and she suggested that I bring my birthing bag to my appointment with her later that day.

By the time of my appointment, there was still no noticeable progress in my labor and my midwife assessed that our baby was in a posterior position. She demonstrated a Rebozo technique to encourage our baby into an anterior position to expedite labor. After about ten minutes of Rebozo, we were sent home to repeat the same every hour. Urbndervish and I did so for the following two hours and then I laid down for a nap. When I woke up, I felt strong sensations every five minutes and managed them in the same manner as I did the night before. My Hypnobirthing readings advised me to take long deep breaths to give my uterus as much room as possible to expand both upward and outward. The visualization was so strong for me that I found myself reaching up along the wall, stretching myself with every contraction. Elongating myself helped counter the knotting feeling deep within me. Knowing for sure that I was in active labor, I called my midwife again and she planned to meet me at the birthing center in a little over an hour.

As earlier, I packed myself into Urbndervish’s two-seater pick-up truck but this time it felt smaller. There was hardly room for the two of us, my bag of labor snacks, baby bag, and birthing bag. I tried my best to stretch diagonally in the confines of the packed Toyota Tacoma. I arrived at the same time as the birth preparation class students that I shared a classroom with just two weeks prior but I was heading to the birthing suite instead.

Birthing Suite

Arriving at around 6:30pm, the midwife checked me and I was 7cm dilated with the baby at a +2 station. I asked for a birthing ball and found comfort in Urbndervish’s counterpressure to my back but not for long. As the birthing tub filled, I hoped that it would offer relief to my core where the sensations were most intense. I changed my clothing and mounted the stepstool to climb into the tub and felt a balloon pop inside and fluid gush down my legs onto the floor. Stepping into the tub, the water felt too hot and I asked for the water to be cooled. But with the next contraction drawing close, I needed to do something so I just sat and it surprisingly felt much more comforting than I anticipated.

Settled into the birthing tub, there was nothing left to do but keep breathing and hold on for the ride. By 7:45pm, I was already 10 cm dilated and the baby was at a +3 station. The fact that I was progressing kept me sane and hopeful.  The midwife suggested some little pushes but I didn’t respond. I had already made up my mind not to push and just let the baby emerge in his or her own time. There was little that anyone could do to offer any relief, other than massage my right leg which seized with muscle cramps. The long, slow breathing that helped me manage the earlier contractions were no longer helping either. No amount of stretching or movement would help, so all I had left was my voice. Moaning and remembering my Lord were my only recourse. I imagined escaping the birthing tub and climbing out of the window for some relief but that wasn’t an option. I turned from one side of the tub to the other and sank my body into the water but there was only one way out of the tub—with the baby in tow.

Birthing Tub

In between contractions, Urbndervish put a cool washcloth on my forehead, the midwives monitored the baby and me, and I did my best to catch my breath and speak only as needed with very little small talk. I remember mentioning that they make birth look so easy on Youtube, telling my husband to take off his watch to avoid damaging the wristband, and asking for calcium magnesium tablets to relieve my Charlie horse cramp.  As I felt a contraction coming along, I took as deep a breath as I could and moaned on the exhale. When I felt my body pushing the baby down, I panted to slow everything down and resisted the urge to intentionally push. This continued for a little more than an hour until the baby’s head crowned. My moans went from “oh” to “aah” when I felt the baby barreling down but my midwife assured me that all I was feeling was my baby. I also thought of a mantra I heard from a relaxation cd: “this is you experiencing you”. I was in awe of how intense my body’s strength had become and then how I had to counter the urge to push to prevent from tearing. When I could no longer hold the little one back, our baby was received by my midwife and husband a few minutes before 9pm. Finally, our child was born and as much as I thought I would be bawling in joy, I was overcome with relief. Our baby had arrived safely, wailing a good strong cry, with healthy pink color, and robust activity, al hamdu lillah (praise be to God)!

Urbndervish recited the call to prayer in the baby’s ears as is customary and I examined our little one’s full lips, bright eyes, and full head of hair. While talking to our little one, I felt something hanging between the baby’s legs and realized that Lil’ Z was right—we birthed a boy. When the umbilical cord stopped pulsing, Urbndervish cut it and I delivered the placenta. As the midwife and birthing assistant emptied the birthing tub, they helped me shower and make my way to the bed. When our son was placed on my chest again about 20 minutes after his birth, he latched on quickly and started nursing. After he was assessed and dressed, we discovered that he was born 9 lbs. 5 oz. I asked the midwife to check if I tore and she saw a tear so small that it didn’t require stitches. I was grateful that I was advised not to push by the birthing stories of others, as well as my hypnobirthing readings.

After making some calls, eating a delicious packed dinner, and relieving myself, I was free to leave whenever I felt ready which was after midnight. Lil’ Z fell asleep before reaching the birthing center, so she didn’t meet her little brother until the morning and it has been an absolute love affair ever since.

Recovering from this birth was so much healthier and quicker than my first. The effort and expense to leave Morocco prematurely and give birth in the U.S. were significant but more than worth it.  The support of our family and friends complemented the sensitive midwifery care we received and I left this birth feeling whole and intact on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. Instead of standing over me, telling me what to do, my midwife kneeled by my side, offering her support, confidence, and respect. Both she and her birthing assistant told us that they hadn’t attended a birth like ours in a long time but preferred it over others where mothers actively push. The midwife added that the gentle birth of our son will leave an imprint on his personality and nature in years to come.

Our son, whom we nicknamed Moulay, has been such a joy. He’s very demanding when it comes to nursing and hates to have his clothes removed. But when he’s not tired, hungry, or nude, he is calm, pleasant and inquisitive. He stares with intensity and reaches with purpose. He enjoys tasting the outside air and smiles at the sight of his big sister. With his passport application already submitted, we look forward to the newness he will add to our lives and the adventures to come.

Our Newest Addition

MoulayThe last month for us has been quietly filled with baby baking, settling into our Floridian life, and preparing for our next move.  Lil’ Z has been taking swimming lessons twice a week and attending art classes every Saturday.  Urbndervish has taken up a part-time job and I’ve been completing small tasks and projects from my pre-baby to-do list.  But finally, on May 19 our little one arrived.  Lil’ Z prayed for a little sister throughout most of my pregnancy but then later insisted we were having a boy and she was right.  At a whopping 9 pounds, 5 ounces, the newest Raggamuslim a.k.a. Moulay entered the world and we look forward to sharing the adventures of our growing family very soon.  Thank you all for your prayers, love, and support.

Yours,

the raggamuslims

Ten Reflections for Round Two

Lil' Z draws Mama

Lil’ Z draws Mama

 

At 37 weeks pregnant, it’s about time I start acting like a baby is on the way.  My birthing bag is mostly packed.  We have an in-bed bassinet for our co-sleeping arrangement.  I’ve got a stash of coconut water and dates for my labor snacks.  The appropriate pads are on deck for all of that lovely post-partum leaking I anticipate and I’m taking all of the herbs and supplements I can tolerate.  Most mornings, I’m still able to do a bit of yoga, light cardio exercise, or walk in the park.  But I’ve mostly reached my threshold of preparation that I can currently sustain.

When pregnant with Lil’ Z, I had lots of time to fill with reciting Qur’an, reading parenting books, and doing lengthy yoga workouts but now, time is less abundant and I have to find resolve with what I’m able to do and not do.  As a parent, worship is not only what you do in quietude but also who you are and what you cultivate in your children.  We try to sow seeds in our daughter’s life and faith that will blossom into character and actions and that’s a big priority for us everyday.

Thankfully, we resolved a lot of our parenting decisions on round one, so now we’re mostly updating our positions and perspectives on the childrearing matters we grappled with more than four years ago.  Seeing the fruits of our choices in Lil’ Z affirms what worked really well for our family but we’ve been also taking mental notes of what we would do differently with our second baby. This is what we’ve come up with so far:

  1. Birth Outside of the Hospital

We preferred the idea of birthing at home or a birthing center with Lil’ Z but didn’t have the opportunity to do so in Oman.  Part of our leaving Morocco was to have the option to birth outside of a hospital, and this is our hope for round two.

  1. Oral Vitamin K drops

With Lil’ Z, we didn’t want any needles puncturing her delicate skin in the early moments and days of her life.  In fact, it wasn’t until she reached the age of one that she first had blood drawn for lab tests.  Instead, I took alfalfa supplements to deliver Vitamin K to our baby via nursing, but we plan to use oral Vitamin K drops to guarantee adequate blood levels this time around.

  1. Reconsider Newborn Screening

Attached to the no-needle policy, we didn’t want Lil’ Z screened for Phenylketonuria (PKU), a dangerous though rare disease not commonly found in people of African descent.  Currently in Florida, the routine newborn screening tests for thirty four different diseases that have no immediate outward manifestation but can be immediately treated.  Our midwife would do this during our two-day visit while the baby is nursing or comforted in some other way.

  1. Mobiles

I didn’t really get the point of mobiles until I read Maria Montessori’s work and vowed not to miss out on this valuable developmental tool for the next baby.  Mobiles are not for mere entertainment: immature eyes can be strengthened and learn to track moving objects by looking at mobiles.  Later on, mobiles can foster the eye-hand coordination required to bat, grab, and pull.

  1. Splitting Up Sometimes

With Lil’ Z, we reveled in the newness of being parents and did everything as a family.  Every walk, outing, or adventure was attended by all.  In retrospect, it would’ve been better for us to occasionally do some activities apart so either of us can have much-needed alone time or rest, while the other enjoys one-on-one bonding time.  When we’re apart, I do miss my people and worry about their safety, but I entrust them to Allah’s care and look forward to the warm hugs and stories that will accompany them upon their return.

  1. More Floor Time

Lil’ Z spent a lot of her early days on mattresses or beds; both of which carry the fear of falling.  Instead, we could’ve invested in soft, comfy rugs and a good vacuum cleaner to support early scooting, rocking, and crawling.

  1. Hold off on the Potty Seat

Elimination Communication worked really well for us, but we spent way too much with Lil’ Z sitting on the potty.  Instead, we plan to hold the little one over a toilet seat.  When the little one is walking, then we can introduce the potty as a step towards toilet independence.

  1. Give more space for exploration, germs, and dirt

We were mostly fine with Lil’ Z playing in sand but had difficulty letting her roam in parks filled with debris, bugs, and dirt.  It’s natural to fear the first insect bite, cold, or infection but immunity does not build itself in a cocoon. Resilience is bred from exposure.

  1. Don’t Obsess over Sleep

I spent too much of my time rocking, singing, and nursing Lil’ Z to sleep, all for the sake of keeping to a schedule.  I was so uptight about maintaining a schedule that I was slow to see how her sleep needs were changing and adjust accordingly.  Instead, I hope to set up a restful environment when signs of sleepiness arise—a restful and relaxing environment for both me and baby.  In that way, even if sleep is not achieved, we can both still have some much needed quiet time where I can recite Qur’an, read a book, or just take some deep breaths alongside my little one.  If it takes more than thirty minutes for the little one to fall sleep, maybe that nap needs to be skipped or that bedtime needs to be pushed back.  At this stage in my life, I want our days to end peacefully and our nights to be restful.  Even if our nights start at the same time, I can make up for my own quiet time in the early morning.  I’ve personally found more blessing and productivity in my time when I wake up early, as opposed to staying up late.

  1. Don’t Fear Food

We were so convinced that breastmilk is the best food for babies that we almost feared the introduction of solid foods.  At some point late into Lil’ Z’s eight month of life, we started to introduce foods and she wasn’t so interested.  This made us overly anxious, fearing that she would not be eating enough after her first birthday.  This time around, we’re hoping to start offering different foods to taste after the first six or seven months and support the baby-led weaning approach thereafter.

Even with these matters resolved, I still feel at times that I’m not yet ready to give birth or to bring a new life into our home.  There is nothing static about parenting.  It is constantly stretching, evolving, and throwing all kinds of curve balls.  But much like this pregnancy that we prayed our way through, we will continue to pray through our parenting, day by day and season by season.

A New Season for Our Family

Art Class in Tampa

This is the first Spring we’ve spent in America in the last seven years.  Though New York still felt very much like winter during our visit a few weeks ago, we are now in the Sunshine State and the weather is pleasantly sunny.  Our usual stay in Florida involves a ton of family activities, rest, and good vegan Southern cooking; but this time around is a bit different.  We’re looking into children’s classes, homeschooling groups, Islamic gatherings, part-time work, and the like since we plan to be here for a few months, as opposed to a few weeks, in preparation for a new arrival.

Habous Quarter

Shortly after reaching Morocco last Fall, we discovered a stowaway.  Apparently a fourth passenger had joined our caravan unbeknownst to us all.  At first we felt a bit of déjà vu considering that we similarly found out that we were expecting Lil’ Z while in North Africa, and my initial symptoms were the same:  a sudden disgust for olive oil and indigestion.  However, with two failed pregnancies since Lil’ Z’s birth, we were careful to get our hopes up too soon.  We had experienced the disappointment of loss before and wanted to tread lightly before announcing any news to our family and friends.

I quietly started visiting an obstetrician and we kept praying our way through, day by day, week by week, until we reached 14 weeks.  At that point, we shared the news with our family and our beloved Lil’ Z.  Much like ourselves, she had been eagerly awaiting a new family member and was over the moon when we told her.  Watching her cultivate, nurture, and love the life within me has been a special gift that never gets old.  After sharing the news with her, I told her that we need to pray that Allah (God) takes care of the baby and keeps the baby healthy and strong.  In total confidence she told me, “Allah is already taking care of the baby” and to that, I could not argue.

Lil' Z and Baby Elmo

Unable to keep a secret, Lil’ Z eagerly shared the news with our friends in Morocco but the announcement was slow to spread further West.  Mostly through individual phone calls and messages, we’ve shared our pregnancy with a few close friends.  Now, with about five weeks left until our due date, there is no longer room to conceal the news.  I am a walking billboard of the joy we’re experiencing and the blessing we hope to receive soon.  We started consulting with a midwife last week at a lovely local birthing center that we look forward to birthing in.  We believe that it will be a stark contrast from our first birth.  Being the second-time around, a lot of the first-time mommy anxieties are allayed but I find some new ones creeping up as I further my knowledge and raise my expectations for the pending birth.

I’ve been deeply moved by the concept of Hypnobirthing and have started reading about the Mongan Method.  It is fascinating and thorough, but on a day like today, I feel a little overwhelmed.  There are so many levels of preparation that I’m often stumped with where to start and what to do next.  Exercises in breathing, relaxation, visualization, and deepening are the cornerstones of the method, alongside physical exercise, good nutrition, fear releasing, etc.  In addition to all of that, there are herbal supplements, superfoods, and vitamins to consider.  Sometimes I have to take the time to do nothing but reflect and rest, no matter how indulgent it may feel.  We consciously left Morocco earlier than planned to take advantage of this very scenario:  staying with family to have extra hands in this transition.  I would be a fool not to allow for a little self-pampering , especially since Lil’ Z has more than Urbndervish and I around for a change.

Most gentle, natural, and easy childbirths are not by luck, but rather training and preparation.  We’re trying to do our best to prepare for success but ultimately know that our destiny will unfold in perfection, just as it should.  Our success lies in praying and preparing for what we desire and positioning ourselves to embrace what we receive.

To my many friends who are similarly pregnant this season, may your births be full of beauty, mercy, and grace.  May your trust in the Creator and the Creator’s design of your amazing body give you confidence, resolve, and fearless peace about the birth that awaits you.  May you raise healthy, upright, and strong children that are filled with faith and light to face the difficulties of the world they are born in.  May you remember us when you supplicate in your sincerest time of need.  Ameen!

Leaving Oman: From Here to Where?

 

Jabal Akhdar (Green Mountain)

Jabal Akhdar (Green Mountain)

Looking around at the bare closets, empty shelves, and boxes of books that dwarf our dusty suitcase of clothing, it’s evident that our caravan is pulling out.   Four years–the longest stretch of time our family has ever lived in a single residence or city–has come to an end.  For two years, we lived out of our suitcases in Yemen and Algeria, but here in Oman we had a reason to unpack.  We hung our clothes on hangers, bought bed sheets and spoons, and put our backpacks out of sight.  We nested ourselves into a cozy home, just in time for Lil’ Z’s arrival.

The quietude and serenity of Nizwa was the perfect first home for our daughter.  Urbndervish’s work schedule that year was light which gave us long hours to revel in the miracle of a little human form growing and changing in front of us every day.  We watched her eyebrows and eyelashes grow and stroked her silky black head of hair.  We kissed her at least 100 times daily and cuddled her even more.  The pace of any other place would have vied for our attention.

Lil' Z at 4 days old

Lil’ Z at 4 days old

Our apartment had more space than we were accustomed to and gave us ample room to tuck and put away stuff–the kind of stuff you keep only because you can.  Three weeks ago, we started to confront our stuff and sifted through the clothes and items to keep or give away.  Most of what we accumulated belonged to Lil’ Z, who had no attachment to anything other than her curious cloth diapers and books.  Unlike her, a flood of memories engulfed me when I recalled the people and events connected to her little outfits and dresses.  Part of me wants to hold on to them but practicality trumps my nostalgia when Urbndervish points out the signs of wear and milk stains on the collars.  There is little room for sentiment in the life of a nomad.

My favorite outfit

My favorite outfit

I’ve grown a special attachment to this particular apartment because of the memories each room holds.  The first time Lil’ Z raised her head was in the bedroom, the first time she reached up to touch my face was in the hallway, and her first steps were in the guest room.  I can’t separate her from this space.  When she thinks of home, this is the only place she will conjure for some time.  Last night before going to bed, she asked how much longer until we return to the US.  I counted ten days on my hands and she squealed.  “Then, we come back home?”  “No, not this home.  We’re not coming back to Nizwa”, I tried to explain.  Naturally, she responds:  “So, where?”  And to that, we have no answer yet.

Every adventure is tempered with some amount of anxiety.  Much like riding a roller coaster, some grit through fear, some reel in exhilaration, and some can’t stomach it.  Fortunately, we can make peace with this uncertainty because we’ve prepared for it.  We made special efforts to soak up all of the Oman we could- through personal connections, road trips, and hosting guests here.  This has been a welcomed resting place for us but it is not likely our journey’s end.  We may return but regardless, the process of mentally preparing to leave for good has been cathartic.  With every bag of clothing we set aside for donation and every book we decide to leave with friends, I feel lighter.  Our possessions are manageable without being overwhelming.  Perhaps we will find our home one day—a little piece of God’s green earth that we’re content to return to and find respite in.  Even then, the same principle applies for us, whether resident or migrant:

Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveler” –translated saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

Ramadan Festivity for the Not-So-Crafty

Candle Jars and Paper Lanterns

If you own a hot glue gun, X-Acto knife, or a MacBook, perhaps this post is not for you.  This post is for the artistically-challenged.  Those of us who struggle to draw straight lines, lack innate artistic ability and have never owned a set of cookie cutters.  There are great companies and creative individuals who save us from our artlessness by selling beautiful decorations, streamers, and banners.  But my inner minimalist prevents me from substituting someone else’s efforts for my own.  Besides, I’ve concluded that it’s more fun to craft with my child instead of for her.  She deserves the same quality of beauty that those fortunate children of crafty moms enjoy but our goal is to make her experience tangibly memorable, not our own.  With a few simple activities that revolve mostly around a child’s artistry, not an adult’s, this is what our Ramadan 2014 looks like.

Ready for Ramadan Party

We joined efforts with another family to kick-off our Ramadan this year.  We planned a simple Islamic trivia game, read a story, painted used jars to make candle holders and folded paper lanterns, followed by a tasty lunch and dessert.

Vegan Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Ramadan Love Packages

We found a simple cake recipe and made greeting cards for Lil’ Z’s friends.  She was quite proud of her cake and card.

Lil' Z's cake

The four-year-old boy she shared this card with was so happy to receive it that he kept asking if he could keep it.

Ramadan Card

Ramadan Calendar and Decorations

We made our calendar together and it’s great to see how much more Lil’ Z can contribute now than she could last year.  It really is starting to feel like her holiday, not one we’ve prepared for her.  We strung lights and stuck stars around the calendar and ended the night with the recitation of the Qur’an and sound sleep.  A blessed Ramadan to you and yours!

Ramadan Calendar

 

 

 

Raising Global Citizens: Our Hopes and Hardships

After drifting asleep in the car, my daughter woke up sleepy-eyed in Muscat.  Not sure where we were, she asked “Suwayq?” “No, sweetie, we’re going to Suwayq on Monday.”  “Ma-wocco?”  “No, we’re not going to Morocco today but maybe later”.  At two, she can’t quite understand what ‘next month’ or ‘next year’ means.  She does not yet realize the reality of how far or near places are but as I flip through the pages of her worn little passport, I wonder at want point will she begin to realize how blessed she is to see many places that most have only dreamed of.
While parenting is an adventure in itself, parenting abroad is like an adventure on wheels.  What or where ‘home’ is is a blurry concept and it takes a strong family bond to ride out the constant waves of transition.  As parents raising young children abroad, we’re sometimes branded as ‘selfish’ for torturing our own parents, forcing them to travel long distances to see their grandchildren in between annual summer visits.  Some brand us as ‘opulent’ for actually traveling to learn about new countries as opposed to picking up books and Hollywood movies in their place.  Some consider us down-right crazy and irresponsible for taking our children to developing countries where ‘all those poor and diseased people live.’  In the fraternity of families abroad you find a variety of folks who may be all or nothing of what others assume but in my circle of fellow parents, we seem to have common aspirations and frustrations with our life abroad.
The advantages of a childhood abroad can be tangible and appealing.  Young children can learn about cultures, languages, and world history in the context of where they live, as opposed to textbooks and tutors.  Authentic connections can be made with others before learned biases set in and make color, race, and religion points of difference.  Traveling matures children and gives ample opportunity to learn flexibility, adaptability, and agility in the face of life’s unexpected surprises.  Many of us find a better quality of life abroad and actually spend more time with each other, cultivating a home life and a vivid montage of memories for our families to savor for years to come.
One sacrifice that seems to hit us all pretty hard is the distance from our extended family.  Virtual grandparenting is challenging.  Children grow in leaps and bounds from summer to summer and no time is enough time every single vacation.  The luxury of sending children to Grandma and Grandpa for the weekend or even a night is forfeited in place of finding trustworthy babysitters and friends or simply opting for a night in as opposed to a night out for a date.  Depending on where you reside, you may not always find common principles and practices in parenting.  Varied notions of discipline, different styles and standards of education, and the role of children in society may not agree with your understanding and experience.  Even at the playground or in the neighborhood, if your child looks unlike their peers or don’t share the same language, making friends and finding playmates may be a hurdle too.

In coping with all of the challenges it entails, many families abroad have to seek out strategies to keep the wheels of our life abroad churning.  Some set up social groups or clubs for expat families to find a familiar haven when you need a break from being the foreigner.  Some rely on media tools like Skype, Whatsapp, and Viber to stay in touch with loved ones back home.  Some fly relatives over for visits to make the time abroad shrink just a bit.  Between care packages, video chatting, and fellowship around familiar foods, we make it through.  Sometimes other expats become stand-in family members while we’re abroad.  Just last month, our family along with two other American families met up in Abu Dhabi.  The long drive and border drama were not beyond the lengths we would go to be a family for each other.  We go out of our way to help each other and bolster one another on this journey.

As true as the etymology itself, there is no ‘utopia.’  Every place and circumstance has its benefits and challenges.  Life ain’t all rosy abroad but neither is it back home.  An economic downturn, rising costs of living, and mass shootings are enough to make our countries feel less homely and inviting.  Out of all our relatives, we own the least but financially have the most because we are debt-free.  Some of our dreamy goals and idealistic values are better actualized on the other side of the planet, making the sacrifices worthwhile not only for ourselves but also for our children.  Whether at home or abroad, our hope is that the compassionate, peace-loving, globally-minded citizens we raise today will become the pioneers of a better world tomorrow.
Being able to choose a life abroad is a gift which helps us, humbles us, and sometimes hurt us, but it is not in vain.  While my daughter may not have roots in any particular land just yet, it’s more important that she has wings. Allegiance to any one place shouldn’t prevent her from trying life elsewhere because who knows- she just mind find happiness, peace of mind, and security on the other end of a plane ride.
 
Photo credit:  Labinsky

This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.