Cheesecake and Strategic Negotiations

“Oh Ye who believe! Fear Allah and make your utterance straightforward. That He may make your conduct whole and sound and forgive you your sins; he that obeys Allah and His messenger, has already attained a great victory.”

The Qur’an, Chapter Al-Ahzab (33) 70:71

So I came across this line today and it made me smile. It may be a reinforcement of what I already believe to be true: the best type of speech is honest and straightforward, but it’s great see that and be able to go, “And look, God said so too!”

On a side note, I had an imaginary conversation with Bebeface a few minutes ago that went something like this:

Bebeface, who was no longer much of a Bebe, but around 16 and wanting to go hang out with the guys on the corner who stand around each other’s cars and do whatever it is that teenagers do, comes up to me and says-

Hey Mom, can I go hang out with the guys?

And I put my cheesecake down (if I’m imagining things, I might as well add a piece of cheesecake) and say, Where to babe?

Oh, we’re just gonna hang out. On the corner there.

And I picture what we see every night now- groups of young men- some in their late teens, smoking and drinking that alcohol-free malt that still looks like a can of beer that no one would really drink if it was packaged to look like just another soft drink. There are younger kids too, hanging around them, but not with them, at a distance great enough to be safe but not too far to be excluded from the vicarious coolness.

And there will be a few cars with the hoods up, and a few guys looking inside and comparing things. And although there will be nothing distinctly wrong with the picture, there will be an outpouring of wrong-ness; the cigarettes, the near-beer, the fascination with fast cars that has little to do with engineering and more to do with drag racing, and then there’s the hierarchy of coolness and bullying and the social pecking and punching order of youth when more than two of them occupy the same dimension in space. And then there’s wondering what they’re all doing out at 11:30 on a weeknight, and where they’re going afterwards, and what their parents think they’re doing.

I can’t hide Khalid from the world, and I can’t hide the world from Khalid. I don’t want him to get burned, but he has to know what fire is to be able to avoid it. And I wonder if I say no- will he give me some sort of smart-alecky answer?

No Khalid, now ask me why.

Aw Mommmm… why?

There will be times in your life when you can’t avoid people smoking around you, but this isn’t one of them.

There will be times when you can stay up late for a perfectly good reason with friends, but hanging out on the corner isn’t one of them.

If you want to hang out with your friends, do something tomorrow in the day time. If you need a ride or want to go somewhere cool, grab your dad and we’ll plan something out that’s a whole lot better than hanging out on the corner at 11.

And last of all, if you just want to hang out, invite your friends over and just hang out. You know that smoking is a deathwish, and I wouldn’t let anyone else rip your lungs out, so I’m not going to let you do it to yourself-

Mom, that’s gross-

But it’s true, so you know not to hang out with people who are smoking, even though some of your friends may smoke, they don’t have to smoke around you.

So that’s a no?

Yep. Want some cheesecake?

No thank you.

And Khalid sulks away and goes to his room. And I’m not sure if that went very well, because the end goal is not control, but education and guidance. There are basic human needs that make everyone tick, and for kids, the need to feel like a part of the gang (aka: social acceptance) can be overpoweringly strong.

So I call Khalid back.

Hey kid, let’s have that conversation again. And this time, let’s use strategic negotiation, ok?

Mom, I would like to hang out with the guys, who are, at the moment, hanging out down the street.

I say Ok Khalid, I recognize the validity of
a. you wanting to hang out with your friends
However, I have the following concerns:
1. The timing
2. The venue
3. Possible negative behavioral elements
I would like for you to enjoy your friends’ company in a time and place that doesn’t infringe upon certain agreed-up boundaries, such a curfew and behavioral norms, how can we reach a solution that addresses both of our interests?

Here, Khalid looks at me like I’m crazy, but because he’s grown up with the principles of strategic negotiation (which HF and I try to use for all disagreements, even now) he knows how they work and what he needs to do in order for us to reach a compromise. He swipes a bite of my cheesecake and says:

As per venue and negative behavioral elements, Sami is the only one who smokes, and he’s not there right now because Hammoudi think he’s a moron, and I know it’s late, but if I could just go for twenty minutes, I can talk to the rest of the guys about meeting up tomorrow, at a venue that we both find satisfactory, during a time that fits well within curfew, and in a setting that minimizes the possibility of negative behavioral elements?

And he smiles hopefully.

I nod. And he comes home exactly twenty minutes later, and we arrange for he and his friends to come over tomorrow and hang out in the pool (imaginary cheesecake goes very well, poolside) after Maghrib. And I make secret plans to make them all volunteer in the cancer ward of a hospital for a few weekends, so they can see what lung and throat cancer does to your body, but that’s another imaginary battle for another imaginary day.

By Zeba, the end.


Abez is a 50% white, 50% Pakistani, and 100% Muslim. She is also chronically ill and terminally awesome. She is the ever-lovin Momma of: - Khalid, a special little boy with autism - Iman, a special little girl with especially big hair -Musfira, an especially devious baby Spoiler, Abez is also Zeba Khan on

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