Sunday, September 29, 2013

examining my motives

today was supposed to witness the baptism service of our daughter, our sweetheart, and this was the photo i put together for her to use as an invitation card (or facebook event) featuring her bible, white dress and shoes, and one of her stuffed animals. we've been trying for a while to get hold of a wonderful pastor who is an icon in the Evangelical community in this country. when he confirmed that he'll initiate the baptism we started running around and going through our checklists of big and small details.

my husband paused for a minute and said: "are we showing off?" he was cautious that by asking this specific pastor to baptize our daughter we'll be showing off, maybe conveying an embedded message of "look how prestigious our selection is" or "look what kind of connections we have to bring Reverend Doctor M. for our two-year-old daughter's baptism". it got me thinking, is this true? did we go for this plan because we wanted the best of the best? or because we wanted to show off? i started examining my motives, and after a few moments of honesty i found the answer, very clearly, deep in my souls saying "no we're not". on my side: my parents knew this pastor and his wife for over 25 years (even though the two families lived in two different countries), my late maternal grandfather was a pastor and i have no doubt that my mom gave copies of all 6 books he wrote to this pastor's wife. on my husband's side: my father-in-law was a pastor before he departed to heaven back in 1994, had he been with us he would've been exactly the age of Rev.M around 83 years old (they are a few months apart) so i felt that this is my grandfather who is coming, it's my daughter's grandfather who is coming... there was this emotional subjective intimate dimension to our decision.

Rev.M cancelled due to health reasons and we had to change 80% of the plan including the date and time, making an endless number of phone calls to re-arrange accordingly. i can't deny feeling a great disappointment. we're that kind of a family that keeps a low profile in everything, starting with a honeymoon we never went on and summer vacations we plan and never actualize, we keep a low profile in our possessions too, the tight budget is a major determining factor but our attitude is what drives most of our expenditure decisions. earlier in our marriage it used to bug me when people brag about their clothes brands, their owned apartment, their extravagant anniversary celebrations, their fancy gifts exchange as a couple, their kid's exceptional birthday parties... you name it. but over the years i could see God at work in me, i no longer got upset upon hearing similar news, then i started to feel really happy for people who shared their excitement over what they have or what they did even if it's a showy style i still felt happy for them. God continued teaching me the joy of giving and sharing whatever little we have, and i realized what a privilege it was for me to be God's arms stretched out to meet other people's needs, both financial and emotional... once you've had a taste of what it's like to draw a smile on someone else's face it will soon turn into some kind of addiction, you'll get addicted to giving and sharing, at times i feel that i'm taking this verse to the extreme: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Acts 20 : 35

so after thinking a lot about this change of plans (more like a change of dreams), at a time when i personally, along with a few more people in my close circle, needed a push forward, we needed a "HAPPY" event at the end of a very difficult summer, i discovered that this might be yet another lesson God wants me to learn. even when my motives pass the test, and i'm entitled to a dose of joy, even if i've earned it or i feel worthy and i insist that i deserve it, still i might not be able to wrap my arms around it and claim it as mine.

i've decided not to think of the new plan as a "compromise" or "settling for less", examining my motives again and putting my attitude to the test too, i am determined to view the event just as special and equally worthy of my excitement, my full effort, and my wholehearted preparation. here's one chocolate tray decorated and ready for the BIG DAY :) a pintrest-like photo, all you need to buy is: wire shapes (or make your own, letters and crosses), ribbons, a good scissors, and a glue gun. don't forget to borrow a fancy tray too...

i've searched online for a unique design of a wire letter "y" then a cross of a similar style to place the order, my friend has her own business of wire accessories and she was able to copy the letter and cross i found. 

once all chocolate pieces are wrapped with the white or pink ribbons, start adding the wire shapes with the silver ribbons. 

starting to look great already... drum roll...

...the end product of love love love and more love written all over... love you my sweet daughter... i pray that you'll have a unique and memorable baptism as God continues to shower you with a lifetime of blessings... and much more...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

a Syrian student's letter to her teacher

dear Teacher,

excuse me if i don't know your name yet, but i'm very lucky to be accepted at this new school since i've lost mine over the summer, will tell you that story in class one day. i'm writing today just to ask you for a favor, actually a few favors.

i've heard from my neighbor that you're a nice teacher, this is great news, but i'd like you to be more than that. you don't know me yet, but believe me i'm a good student, a clean and tidy girl, you would've loved to have me in your class had things been the same they used to.

if you see my uniform unclean or not ironed one day, please don't punish me. my mom does our laundry by hand and we don't have electricity or running water most days and we can't always borrow an iron. i miss my home, it was a small apartment but it had all we need. now it's gone, a missile hit our building and brought it to the ground, some of our neighbors were buried under the wreckage.

if you need a different note book for each subject, please don't ask me to buy several ones, i can only afford this small notebook my brother bought me on his way back from work, he wants me to finish grade 6 while he dropped out of school since my father died. it doesn't matter how i lost my dad during the summer, people keep asking me if he was with the regime army or the Free Syrian Army, if he is an opposition member or loyal to the government... he was killed and that's all what matters to me, my dad is gone forever and nothing can change that.

if you think that my handwriting is not neat please don't scold me in front of the class, we're all crowded in one room and we have no table, there are several families living in this place and tens of people sharing the same bathroom and kitchen. it's not easy to write nicely when i'm kneeling down on the floor of our small room.

if you find me looking out the classroom window (i hope we'll have a real window in our class) please don't call my name, let me with my daydreams for a few minutes, it's my only way to moments of happiness. i rarely sleep at night because i can still hear sounds of gunshots, missiles, bombings, babies crying, mothers screaming for help for their wounded children... i can still hear all of that in my head, sometimes i cry myself to sleep, but i hate to sleep because i always have nightmares... and sometimes.... it's embarrassing to tell you that....sometimes i wet my bed... actually it's not a real bed, i share a mattress on the floor with my brother but he never tells my mom, she misses my dad a lot and she already has enough things to worry about.

if you discover that i'm absent one day please don't try to call my mom, we have no phone and i can tell you that the reason would most probably be my little brother. he's sick and my mother leaves him with me on some days when she hears that medicine and formula arrived to the public hospital and it's very far away, transportation is difficult and mom can't take a toddler with her. i like playing with my brother, he looks a lot like my dad and doesn't seem to mind when i cry and laugh at the same time when i let him play with my only pen or my hair band, i'm sure he misses his toys, i miss mine too, now buried with our apartment, with our memories, with our happy years.

there's so much to tell you my dear teacher, when you get to know me you'll see that i'm a good girl, i'm smart and hard working, believe me i'm a good person so is my family but we went through a lot and i feel that i'm old, as if i grew several years over the course of one summer, but sometimes i feel that i'm still a child and i just want to run and play with my friends, some of them were killed by the way and others crossed the borders and i heard that they're now refugees at camps outside Syria, when i pass by the man with his newsstand i read a few headlines and when he let me read more i check names of camps where my friends and some relatives went, it's always sad news that i read about how they're living and suffering... why can't life just go back to the way it was? just the way it used to be... that's all i want.

thank you for taking the time to read my letter, i don't know if this will be my last year at school, i love school, i don't know which day will be my last day of life, i don'g love my life now as before but i hope that one day things will be "normal" or "easy" for my mom and older brother, for me and my little brother, for my relatives and friends, for all Syrians... i count my blessings, they are many, and i know that others are suffering a lot more than me.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

the "not good enough" syndrome

EUREKA... we've finally found a school for our son, i'm not sure if the verb "find" describes it best, but anyhow our son now is officially a student at an elementary school for the school year of 2013-2014 and yesterday we bought his uniform...

how cute is that? am i over-reacting or is it one of these unmentioned traditions of mothers to keep folding and unfolding her son's first school uniform? i keep staring at it admiring its beauty (the frog hanger is old, it's wasn't part of yesterday's purchase)!!! this brought back memories of my first pregnancy when i used to fold and unfold, wash and rewash, smell and kiss my baby's cloths anticipating his arrival to this world, when he'll be an official inhabitant of this planet, a visible one i mean... so now the clothes i'm admiring are a bit bigger and soon will become a bit dirtier than babies' onesies

when i was pregnant with little P. i started what i now call the "not good enough" syndrome of most parents, no food was good enough for me to eat, nutritious enough for the bundle of joy (bundle of cells actually) growing inside of me. no gynecologist was skilled enough to follow up on my pregnancy, no hospital was professional enough to witness my son's great entrance to the world (with a red carpet and paparazzi), no outfit was cute enough to embrace my newborn, no bottle was soft enough to make up for my poor lactation, no rattle was soft enough to be held by my son's adorable palm... it got more serious after a while when no country was safe enough for me to raise my child in... and then i dared to voice the most serious one: maybe I am NOT good enough of a MOTHER for my own son...

so this insanity had to stop, when i hit that cord i could hear how ugly the music that came out was... and this did stop, only for a while, it all surfaced back again when i got pregnant with our daughter and off i went with my husband on a search for a nursery or daycare center for our son... you have to agree with me on this one, honestly, no place was child-friendly enough for my son to go to, no nanny was trustworthy enough to look after my son for a few hours during the day, i have to be trusted on that one simply because i'm a professional in THIS particular area. when we attended interviews and visited so many daycare centers, the staff there thought that WE're being interviewed so they can accept our son or not, but the truth was the exact opposite, THEY were the ones being interviewed as i paid attention to every single detail said and every single thing present in that space... my eyes could quickly scan the place as i went through my mental check list of what's educationally correct and incorrect from the security of the front gate to the bathrooms to the pictures on walls to the tiny chairs, the playground, staff faces, amount of light, toys, hygiene, you name it.

i applied the "not good enough" test for our pediatric, toilet training technique, diaper rash cream, soother, car seat... etc. as i got more comfortable in my own mama skin i started to ignore some things, let go of bits and pieces of my perfectionism, well hello, perfectionism is the exact enemy or opposite to motherhood and parenting, thus i started to heal and recover from the "not good enough" syndrome... only for a while

when my toddler turned into a pre-schooler and we started to look for good schools for him... exactly! no school was good enough for him. this was the new highlight of our current era under which came teachers, kids (new friends), curricula, classrooms, also backpacks and lunch boxes.... and even mothers-of-potential-friends who for me are also potential-female-friends!!!!

so i'm trying to re-sharpen my skills of acceptance, gratitude, and surrender knowing that we did our best selecting this school for our son's coming academic year, and that God knows what's best for P's academic and educational future, so why spoil the excitement and celebration with fear and worry? instead let's go shopping for some black shoes and white socks... more items for me to hug, smell, and kiss... no wait, maybe i'll just stare at these two specific items and take few pictures too.

Monday, September 16, 2013

when adoption is an option

my husband and i got married in 2006, we talked about postponing having children for two full years. we decided to start trying after our second wedding anniversary simply because pregnancy for us meant that the child is already "here". during these two years we talked about "options" and "what if's" so the topic of adoption was included in our discussions.

it turned out that we're both open to the idea, so we discussed it further over the course of these two years. then when we got pregnant with our first son we still tackled the subject of adoption and i was happy to find out that we were on the same page, we had nothing against the idea of adopting our second child.

our daughter arrived two years, two months and 22 days after her brother (24 days to be exact, but i like cute numbers that "rhyme"). this second pregnancy and our second child was a planned one, on our side, and a gift from God on His side. we had written a list of pros and cons of keeping the age difference between our children this small, another major decision that i'll talk about some other time, but the adoption option was still an open one for us, even after having a second child of our own.

we are both citizens of countries in the MENA region and we live there (here) too, so the homework ahead of us was to find an experienced lawyer who knows the ins and outs of adoption in Egypt, mainly because the main source of the constitution and law in Egypt is the Islamic Shari'a, there's no adoption in Islam, you can raise and take care of an orphan (the closest term for it could be foster parenting كفالة يتيم) but you can't register that child under your name as a legal son or daughter of yours. we still need to know our stand as a Christian couple who are planning to legally and fully adopt a child.

throughout our 7 years of marriage and 4 years of having children (one child then two) I've always imagined what it would be like to adopt a baby who is not our own. the first few things that come to mind are the following:

  • s/he won't look like us or resemble any of us as parents
  • s/he might (or surly will) face the society, and our Middle Eastern society is not an easy one when it comes to "unfamiliar" practices or decisions, and adoption is almost a taboo 
  • there's a risk of her/him having genetic problems, biological family history of diseases we're unaware of, inherited tendencies of behavioral problems...etc.
all of these are variables out of our control, but who said that we were in control when we decided to have children of our own? we surly did our part, and planned it so well, worked so hard on every single detail that was in our hands, but the actual "giving of birth" or "granting of life" was done to our children by an Almighty hand, so who are we to claim credit for it and count is as a factor not to adopt?

whenever i think of adoption i categorize my questions in two boxes, the first category applies to couples who haven't had kids of their own then they adopted a child (whether they had a biological child later on or not) and the second category applies to parents who already had biological kids then adopted a child afterwards.

if we've tried for years and couldn't have a baby of our own, then there's the question of spoiling the child we're adopting, would we become "over-loving" parents? (if there's such a thing) like "over-protective" parents, which is a totally different issue.
if we already have kids and now adopted a child then we'll keep asking ourselves: is it ok to yell at or spank her/him just like we've done to their older siblings? should the boundaries of love and discipline be any different? would our families love and accept this child the way they did with THEIR biological grandchild/niece/nephew/cousin? how can we truly treat our adoptive child and biological one equally in terms of small daily details and major life-changing decisions? how can we introduce this new baby to her/his older siblings? ... i can go on and on with my questions...

of course there are the big questions of: IF and WHEN to tell the child that we're not her/his biological parents. IS adoption really what's BEST for this little human being? (or in other words: why isn't it better for her/him to stay at the orphanage or covenant or even on the street?) 

all we can do at the moment is collect data on the legal stand of adoption, and also collect real-life stories of people who walked this walk before us, what was their journey like, the ups and downs they've experienced (and still experience on a daily basis) so we haven't made a final decision yet, but for us adoption is an option, and we look at it from the perspective of living our life for a bigger cause, for a reason that goes beyond our limited mere existence. we know that we are already doing this through raising our two wonderful and amazing children, parenting IS ALREADY a big cause to live for. i personally love children and my original plan was to have 5 of them, yes as ironic as it sounds (if you've ready my posts about motherhood make sure not to fall off your chair because you're laughing so hard right now) i've made a final decision of no more pregnancies for me, i'm not willing to re-live the 18 months i've already survived miraculously. as for birth, then it's an even bigger NO, i don't want anyone to cut me open again to bring out a trapped little creature who has no other way out !!! 

but regardless of all this analysis and subjective perspective of mine, we prefer to put our adoption option in simple terms with a logical argument that goes like this: 
instead of "making" new children of our own, adding one more human being to the earth's population, why not raise an already existing child, who is a less fortunate dependent helpless little person?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

too good to be true

if you know me in real life then most probably you've heard me say this phrase a lot, or maybe a LOT, simply because in itself it's a "too good to be true" phrase, don't you agree?

anyway, this time i'm describing a gift i've just received, it's a combination of a request and a gift... to tell you the truth, at the beginning when this 3D or maybe 3B dream came true part of me wondered why didn't i dream bigger.. i.e ask for more books from my to-read-list, but then i heard the whisper of my conscious voice it out: "greedy!!!"

so i'm now over the excitement/regret/greediness/celebration mood and into the satisfaction/gratefullness/self-pinching mood, i have started to make more realistic plans for these precious ones you see in the picture. THREE new books cannot not be "too goo to be true"... mothering an infant and a toddler, then a toddler and a pre-schooler in terms of reading and my relationship to books (specifically) has been a forced and unwanted rehab program i had no idea i'll be signed into against my will, and yes i did sufferer from withdrawal symptoms often... only parenting and "what to expect" books were allowed in that program...

many mothers i know say a variation of this sentence, in person or through their writings and blogs: "there were certain things i said i'd never do when i become a mother... yet i find myself doing them" it's part of the unrealistic dreams and images of motherhood that we all have BEFORE becoming actual mothers ourselves, we used to criticize certain actions or choices of other mothers, but when we were all walking in these very same shoes we found out that perspectives and priorities change once you're elbow-deep into motherhood.

so reading for me was one of these things, i said to myself: "i'll never quit reading when i become a mother... i won't be one of these mothers who can't find time to read... who on earth can't find time to read? it's a matter of prioritizing your life... bla bla bla" i didn't have time to shower, or comb my hair, or look at my face using a real mirror (instead of a glass window or the plastic mirror in my son's soft book!!! that says "you're special"...) so yes, i admit it, as you must have figured out by now that I DID NOT HAVE TIME TO READ...

as some routines (or addictions, if we're talking about me and reading) started to gradually crawl back into my life one month after the other, reading surfaced again, but not reading books, not yet though, so after my daughter cut her 1st birthday cake in the second half of 2012 i found that the most modern and convenient means to fill my reading cravings are blogs... blog posts are mother-friendly and i'm forever grateful for the bloggers who saved my sanity and got me back on track with my reading habits... first it was Momastery world to which i've escaped for hours (or at times, minutes... whatever i found available) to take a break, "meet" real moms, and dust off whatever have accumulated on my brain cells. Glennon introduced us to Anna at An Inch Of Gray with whom i fell in love, and found way too many things in common between her and myself. then i honestly can't remember how i somehow found myself dreaming about meeting Kelle and her girls (now add a cute boy) in person after reaching her blog Enjoying The Small Things

so my daughter and i, together, started taking "baby steps" she into the real world of walking and me back into the MORE REAL world of reading... from cruising to unassisted walking ... from blogs to books... onward we marched

now the story of picking up these three specific books is a lot longer, and i've been thinking about writing a book report about each one of them, not the traditional objective kind of book report, but the Rihamic subjective one that includes a part on "how i heard of this book" and also "how the book got into my hands after it had traveled overseas with someone who love me enough to carry it in their luggage"... books are made of paper, paper is made of wood so when i ask someone to bring me a book i feel like i'm asking them to carry a tree branch in their suitcase or handbag!!!

so, soon and very soon, i'll be enjoying my own "Lala Land" experience with one of these titles... will tell you later which book will be my first stop.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

the adventure of living abroad

a few days ago my friend went to France for a one-year masters program. she was both scared and excited about this new step she's taking away from the comfort of her family, friends, and country

so i wrote her a letter to read on the plane, typing brought back wonderful and difficult memories of my own experience of living abroad pursuing a degree that wasn't available in my country... here are parts of the letter i wrote her, i've changed her name for privacy reasons and had to exclude certain paragraphs...

Hi Aline, 
So you're on the plane now... i'm better at writing than face to face communication sometimes, specially lately with the two little distractions in my life.

your trip to France reminds me a lot of my trip to Beirut in 2000, i had spent 4 years at Damascus University (2 years at the faculty of Economics and 2 in Biology) so my friends were graduating and i was starting all over again, from zero, at age 21 minus a few months. it was the beginning of a five-year journey and there were two things that kept popping up in my mind during that specific bus ride. 

the first one is a cartoon series, a variation of a famous story: "Daddy Long Legs" with an orphan character called Judy Abbott. she attended a boarding school, so she was a lot younger than me, but her life in her room, the letters she wrote, the adventures she had were always mesmerizing to me. i saw my introvert self in her and then i found myself starting a life that's somehow similar to hers. i was excited about this new beginning at a new country where i know nobody, where i'm determined to excel academically, and to soak in whatever new experiences that come my way, like a dry sponge. i went by bus, i had a book with me but i couldn't read because i was looking outside the window lost in thoughts, fears, and anticipation. 

the second thing was a song i saw in a Disney animation called Anastasia. it arrived to the cinema in Damascus in 1997 or '89, i watched it with my cousins who were very little back then (my kids' ages now) one of them was sitting on my lap (distractions!), but i fell in love with the film specially the songs and i bought the sound track cassette and memorized all songs. one of them in particular was relevant 13 years later. it's called "Journey to the Past". Anastasia was searching for her Russian royal heritage and sang this song as she was traveling, if you make a few replacements ("future" instead of "past" for example) it will be just perfect:

"Heart don't fail me now
Courage don't desert me
Don't turn back now that we're here
People always say
Life is full of choices
No one ever mentions fear
or how a road can seem so long
or how the world can seem so vast
courage see me through
heart I trust in you
on this journey to the past

Somewhere down this road
I know someone's waiting
Years of dreams just can't be wrong
Arms will open wide
I'll be safe and wanted
Finally home where I belong
well starting here my life begins
starting now, I’m learning fast
courage see me through
heart I trust in you
On this journey to the past

Heart don't fail me now
courage don't desert me
Home, love, family
There was once a time
I must've had them too
Home, love, family
I will never be complete until I find you

One step at a time
One hope then another
Who knows where this road may go
Back to who I was
Onto find my future
Things my heart still needs to know
Yes, let this be a sign
Let this road be mine
Let it lead me to my past
courage see me through
heart I trust in you
And bring me home
At Last

... so, time to get started, here comes the adventure, i'll be praying for you, take lots and lots of photos (silly ones and great ones. you can always delete what you don't like) and write names of places and some dates of major milestones (even if you don't get to start the blog i suggested you write, keep a private note of names and dates, i wish i've done that every time i traveled). and whenever you feel like sharing i'll be curious and exited enough to read or see photos :) 

under His umbrella
(Alex. Sep.2013)

talk about the effect of watching cartoons on kids (or teens) i wanted to BE Judy Abbot, i loved her skirts, her hats, her desk, her letters and trips to the mailbox, her love for children, her sense of humor, her tears and loneliness, her dreams and positive attitude... i'd love to watch that show all over again as if i'm watching scenes from my 5-year-adventure abroad, the differences between my experience and Judy's include the following, just to name a few: e-mailing my sister (instead of writing letters, even though i did actually receive lovely surprise packages she used to send me to my university inbox, the tangible one not the digital one), i had a single room during 3 years out of 5, i used to go home to visit a great family of mine with real parents and siblings.... 

i guess i should instead just "grow up" and read the original novel by Jean Webster, the characters in my imagination will always be influenced by the cartoon "The One With The Tall Shadow" (Arabic name) صاحب الظل الطويل... thank you Judy for having such a powerful effect on shaping my personality at a crucial age, here's a sentence i never imagined myself saying...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

back to school... in a few years

we've started the impossible search for a school for our son, and the discoveries we've made so far include the following:
  • the best schools in this city are French ones run by nuns
  • we can only afford a boys-only private school
  • our son was born on the WRONG month in school-admission terms
the complications turned out to be far more complicated than what we expected, and it's a work-in-progress with no good news to share yet

but all these "back to school" signs and invitation for stationary shopping and school supplies selections don't smell like September any more. i used to like school, actually i LOVED school, and i'm the only child i could think of who used to wait for the school year to start, the shopping part was an end in itself for my friends, but for me it was a means to an end, the final declaration that September is here and school is near... even though the weather wasn't always in logical harmony with the event because summer in Syria doesn't fear school, so it doesn't end when we find ourselves sweating in our classrooms in Damascus for yet another month or so, but i used to look for the smell of autumn in the smell of my new eraser and the not-yet-sharpened-by-me pencil 

i said good bye to my school in June 1996 but every single September that followed (including college years, and i had 9 of them, it's a long story) carried the same fragrant "back to school" goosebumps to me... except this year

the real reason why i see school supplies black n white and fragrance free this year is because the number of Syrian children who won't go back to school this year has dramatically increased during the summer of 2013, i'm sure there are children who love school now as much as i did when i was a child, for them the deprivation is definitely more harsh, i can even imagine kids who used to hate school but now love it because they miss it... but when your school (if not completely destroyed) turns into a prison, or a military base, or a shelter for displaced families (refugees) coming from other cities inside Syria, then there's no going back to school for you this year... and if you've become a displaced child yourself living else where in Syria (outside your hometown) or you're a refugee at a camp outside Syria then there might never be a back to school experience for you... ever...

yesterday the American Congress voted in favor of a military intervention in Syria, and a picture spread around facebook showing Obama with his index finger angrily saying: "Syria is killing Syrians in Syria, so we'll punish Syria by killing more Syrians in Syria" whoever put this "cartoon" together has a point...

so here's the REAL "back to school" photo this September for Syrians, young and old... all are students in the school of life... taking away their life from them means no "back to school" ever for them...