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Monthly Archives: May 2010

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Khalid’s first sentence! Alhamdulillah!

Before I get to Khalid’s first sentence- his first spontaneously, original, and contextually appropriate sentence-  this blog has a long preamble.  Here it goes.

Once upon a time, HF and I met a friend of a friend at an Eid party.  MashaAllah, he was an American Muslim convert married to a South-American convert.  Together they had three children, two of whom seemed perfectly lovely and energetic and funny, and one of whom was… strange.  His name was Aziz.  He was extremely thin, held his arms in front of his body with his fingers in strange positions, his speech was difficult to understand and he seemed disconnected from things that were happening around him.   At that time I was pregnant with Khalid, and little did I know that the weird little boy with the flicking fingers and disconnected look would have so much in common to the unborn little boy I was carrying.  Aziz had autism.

We didn’t see that family again until over two years later, when Khalid was diagnosed with autism, and HF remembered that once upon a time, we met another Muslim family at an Eid party whose child had autism.  Contact was reestablished, and we went over for a visit, nearly three years after we had first met them.  I was nervous, and still depressed and in the initial stages of trying to understand Khalid’s diagnosis.  Khalid had not yet begun ABA and we were in the agonizing wait between assessment and the beginning of therapy.  Imagine my surprise when we got there and were welcomed by a totally different little boy.

“Come here,” he said, excitedly, though with his head tilted awkwardly to one side, “I want to show you my big city.”  He led us to a poster on the dining table dotted with landmarks along a hand-drawn river.  “This is the Eiffel Tower.  And this,” he said, pointing to a suspiciously geometric-looking piece of play-dough, “this is the Sydney Opera House.”  He took us on a tour from one wonder to the next- the Golden Gate Bridge, the Burj ul Arab- plastic models and play-dough sculptures as his parents stood and beamed with pride.

I asked the mother what had happened in the two years since we had seen them.  She told me that she had moved back to her home in South America for a year with the kids to get ABA training and the most therapy possible for their dollar value.  She sat with Aziz for six hours a day, training him, teaching him, coaxing him out of his bubble, and the end result was this intelligent, social, and earnest little boy who built his own cities.

I asked her when Aziz started speaking- a question that I worried over for Khalid constantly.  At that point in time, he had no words (apart from one, single instance where he parroted the word ‘socks’) and had gone almost completely silent, apart from screaming or crying.  She laughed and told me the story of their vacation in Malaysia.  They had gone there as a family, and of course, they were facing challenges with managing Aziz.  He could not stand being wet.  If even a single drop of water landed on his clothes, he would have to be changed.  Now, imagine pouring with sweat in Malaysia, and trying to control a boy who is freaking out every half an hour because he’s “Wet!  Wet!” and needs to be changed no matter where, no matter when.  The mother honestly told me (and I loved her for her honesty) that one day she couldn’t take it anymore.  She just flipped out, and when Aziz started panicking at a restaurant when he was sweaty, she took a glass of water and threw it on him.

“There, now you’re wet!”

He went silent.  And he stayed in his wet shirt until they got home, but he didn’t complain about being wet again.

Of course, the mother felt terribly guilty, and awful for having lost her cool.  It was a tense vacation, and towards the end of it, they were taking a jungle tour where they were led across a bridge that passed through some treetops.  They were bordered on both sides by monkeys desensitized by the number of visitors who passed over the bridge every day.  The tour guy expressly told them to NOT bring any food on to the bridge, because the monkeys wouldn’t wait for you to offer it, they would just take it.   And of course, kids being kids, one of their other sons ignored the advice, and midway across the bridge, pulled out a piece of bread from his bag.  Within seconds, a monkey appeared out of nowhere, snatched the bread from the boy’s hand and disappeared into the great green yonder.  And in the stunned silence that followed, Aziz shrugged and said his first sentence.

“Monkey took the bread.”

I have remembered that story since it was first told to me two years ago.  I’ve told it to other people as well as myself when fretting over when and if Khalid would speak.   It brought me joy and hope and always a little chuckle to remember the mother holding her palms up and shrugging, “Monkey took the bread.”  I loved her story of Aziz’s first sentence, and I’d been waiting to have one for Khalid.  Now, I finally do.

On Friday, the seventh of May,  HF and I had been sitting on the bed and talking, and simultaneously two things happened.  The first was that Iman made a grab for the piping-hot cup of chai that I had just set down on my desk.  The second was that Khalid, who had been quietly climbing the bed from the far side, fell down and landed face-first onto the mattress.   I jumped up and took the chai out of Iman’s hands just as she was about to slosh it onto herself, and HF turned and picked up Khalid who had begun to shriek.  I opened the wardrobe and shoved the cup of chai inside for safekeeping and turned to Khalid, who was bleeding heavily.  He had somehow bitten through the corner of his mouth.  Iman began to cry as well, terrified by the blood and the screaming.  She was whisked away by Cindy, and Khalid, bleeding and screaming, was quickly given a voltaren suppository as HF and I took turns trying to hold a kitchen towel over his mouth.

When we got a handle on the bleeding, we loaded Khalid into the car and off to the ER, where he was seen by a doctor at 12:20 pm, and four hours later, put under general anasthesia to have a surgeon repair his mouth.  Apparently, he had fallen with his mouth open, and cut his lip and the area around it with a canine tooth from both sides, inside and out. HF stayed with Khalid, and told me that Khalid fought blindly when coming out of anasthesia, and cried non-stop for around half an hour before settling down and watching  cartoons on the hospital tv in his undies.  Eventually Khalid had some juice without throwing up and was ready to come home.

We got home by 9:30 pm, thanked Joy for her help, threw HF into the shower and began prepping Khalid for bed.  Khalid, realizing there was something funny on his face, began to pull.  And within ten minutes of getting home, he had removed the glue that the surgeon had put over his stitches, disturbed the wound, and found himself in his car seat again and back on his way to the hospital.  Joy and I took the second shift and left HF at home.  We took our second tour of the ER, saw a different doctor (as their shift had changed too) and were told (to our relief) that even though he had messed things around a bit, the stitches were safely inside of his lip, and the edges of the wounds still lined up reasonably straight, so he was alright without the glue as long as he didn’t pick anything else apart.

We made it back to the car by 11:30.  It had been a long, long day, and Joy and I were sitting in relieved, if not tired silence at a red traffic signal.  Khalid, from the back seat of the car, picked up a paper cup and balanced it on top of his head.  Seeing the motion in the rear-view mirror, I turned in my seat to make sure he wasn’t picking at his mouth again.  He looked at me and smiled, and shyly and carefully said his first sentence.

“I … am… a hat!”


And all was right with the world, and when we got home Khalid fell promptly asleep, and in the morning, Cindy confusedly handed me cup of tea she had found in my wardrobe and we had a good laugh.

The end.

I want to hug this woman

The woman who posted this list at McSweeney’s deserves a hug. And so does Baji for mailing it to me, because it made my day.  We had a public meltdown about two or three weeks ago in the Mirdif City Center, and I didn’t blog about it because I try not to be pointlessly negative.  I feel I could be more positive writing about it now that I’ve had some time to think about it.

So were at the mall.  And it was a weekend, the opening weekend in fact.  And the check-out line was forty minutes long.  I’m not joking, it was 40 minutes long.  People were abandoning their purchases by the wayside and giving up before reaching the cashier, but we finally made it because Cindy held our place in line while I walked the kids around the store in the shopping cart.  But 40 minutes is a long time to aimlessly wander, and Iman wanted everything she saw, and Khalid wanted nothing but to be out, so there was crying and whining and grabbing and lots of attempted escaping from a moving shopping cart.

Eventually we made it to the checkout, and I pushed the cart to Cindy, who started handing our shopping to the cashier while holding Iman into her seat.  I took Khalid out, because he was climbing out of the cart anyway, and was just trying to keep him standing near me until we could pay.  On top of that, the forty minutes of people standing behind Cindy had a collectively mutinous look to them, and it was clear from the more-than-usual amount of glaring that I was thought to be cutting in line.

Khalid was tired and angry, and instead of holding my hand, laid down on the floor and screamed and kicked- and some shoppers got kicked too- and some carts were rearranged on the crowded floor by his flying feet of fury, and in the mean time, Iman was standing up in the shopping cart and yelling to be taken out.  And the two ladies standing closest to me – and they were really, really close- began their pitying analysis of me and my parenting skills with lots of tsk-tsking and Taubaaa!  (God Forbid!!) and gesturing to Khalid and making disgusted faces and looking to me to make eye contact so they could take what they were saying and put it into second person instead of third.

Eventually, Joy came to the rescue.  She had been at the other end of the mall trying to find chips and tic-tacs, two of our favorite go-to’s when there are errands to be run and children to be pacified.  She finally returned with said chips and carried Khalid out of the store so I could scribble something unintelligible on the receipt, collect my bags and try to exit the store with as much dignity as I could muster when all I really wanted to do was cry.  I would have been in good company, Iman would totally have joined me.  Heads turned as we walked past the rest of the line and the chattering followed.  I left feeling broken and worthless and utterly low.

We had parked on the opposite end of the mall, and it was a rather long walk back to the car.  Cindy pushed the cart, Iman rode inside, at peace with a box of tic-tacs.  It was relatively uneventful and morose until Khalid- seeking the freedom of the long, marbled shopping arcade- escaped and ran away from Joy at full speed, and in running past me, tripped on the corner of my abaya, slipped, and crashed head-first  into the shopping cart full of groceries and Iman.  And there was a mighty wail, and lots of crying, and people rushing out of stores to see what had happened.  And I sighed, and scooped Khalid up and eventually the crying stopped and eventually, after forgetting where we had parked and wandering around the parking lot for fifteen minutes, eventually we made it home.

When HF got home I had a good long cry about it.  I couldn’t help it.  I had been trying all day to forget about it, but the utter disgust in those women’s faces cut me to the quick.  I may joke about being ‘Mother of the Year’ when my kids have fries and peanut butter for dinner, or go to bed in the same clothes they’ve been wearing all day because they’ve fallen asleep in the car, but to be seriously seen in that light by someone else  made me feel like something you scrape off the bottom of your shoe.

I know, they had no idea Khalid was autistic.  Even if I told them that he was, they would have no idea what it meant in terms of behavioral issues.  Sometimes parents get together and complain about how long it takes their children to sleep.  “Twenty minutes!” they moan, “Twenty whole minutes!”  I nod sympathetically and tell them they are doing a good job, and that eventually, InshaAllah, their hard work will pay off with loving, responsible adults who appreciate your struggles once they have their own.  I can’t say ‘Twenty minutes?  Oh God, that would be AWESOME.’  Putting Khalid to bed takes an hour on good nights and two hours on bad ones.  Also, he kicks me in the face in his sleep.’

If I said these things I would be complaining.  I don’t mean I, me, myself, would see myself as whining.  I mean I would be seen as badmouthing my special-needs child, which is the moral equivalent of kicking a puppy.  Sometimes, when I tell people for the first time that my son has autism, I’m told- ‘Oh no, he’s fine!  Look at him!’  And if I warn them to move their mobile phones out of his reach, or put the decorations on a higher shelf because he may try to eat them- they look at me like I’m casting aspersions on him, the bitter, angry dishrag of a mom that I am.

But I digress.  Even if I had told the two ladies in the checkout line that Khalid had autism, they would still think I was a bad mother.  They didn’t know that Khalid had zero understanding of the situation and had already displayed epic patience (40 minutes!!) and had no way of verbally communicating that he was tired and wanted to go home other than screaming and trying to walk himself away from the clamour of the mall- and unless they knew what happened if I raised my voice to him or took a hand to him- they would expect him to behave better or me to spank him into submission.  If you yell at or hit Khalid, he is overcome with terror.  I’m not talking about the kind of fear that every child usually has of their parents, I’m talking about an animal fear- devoid of logic, unaffected by hugs or bribes or apologies- where he will run into walls or hurt himself in his desperation to escape.  Or, he completely shuts down.  He covers his ears with his hands and screams and is so overwhelmed that the original point of the disagreement is totally lost.

One of autism’s most difficult challenges is lack of public understanding.  No one would glare at a mother who had a crying child in a wheel chair, or physically rough child with Down’s syndrome.  It would be obvious- cut the mom some slack, the child has some issues.  With autism, most children *look* perfectly normal, but that facade covers up severe behavior problems further complicated by inability to communicate- not only from child to mother (I’m hungry = Screaming, I’m tired = Screaming, My toe hurts = Screaming) but also from mother to child.  When your child can’t understand you, they can’t easily be comforted when they’re afraid, or reassured that food is coming if they’re hungry, or be pacified with promised rewards for good behavior.  The bubble of autism doesn’t just keep your child in, it keeps you out.

Now remember, I’m not being negative.  I’m not complaining.  I’m just being honest.  And I can’t think of what an ideal situation would have been at that mall.  I won’t say that ideally Khalid shouldn’t have been having a meltdown, because that is unrealistic and unfair to Khalid.  He didn’t choose to have autism, and he can’t just choose to be normal.  I suppose I should have gone into ‘Autism Ambassador’ mode instead of just trying to contain the situation and get out of the store asap.  The ladies would have had a learning experience and I would have felt less like mother scum of the earth.

So here we are today, being positive. 🙂  Alhamdulillah. I should be willing to cut other people as much slack as I wish they would cut me.  They won’t know what Khalid’s autism means unless I tell them.  Sometimes I think I should just print t-shirts that say: Ask me about my son’s neurological disorder!  I wonder if I could order them in bulk.

Urge to shop blunted

The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) said,

“Whoever wakes up with good health, safety and he has with him food for the day, then it is as if the world has been gathered for him. O Ibn Ju’shum, what suffices you of it is that which prevents your hunger and that which conceals you; whether that’s a garment which you can wear or an animal which you can ride upon, then indeed, how fine that would be! (It is) half a bread and some running water, and you shall be called to account for whatever lies above the Izar (lower garment).”

Majma’ al-Zawa’id 10/292, Mawarid al-Dham’an 2503

To No A-Veil: Islamic Comics from Abu Ilyas

This one cracked me up.



Yes, motherhood is really like this.

Iman: (pulling a hairclip out of her hair) Fa-yi-yi!

Me: Yes, butterfly!

Iman: (offering to put the hairclip into my mouth) Oooh! Fa-yi-yi!

Me: No dear, I don’t want to eat the butterfly.

(Iman reconsiders and tries another idea.)

Me: Thank you sweetie, but I don’t want it in my nose either.

Mission X-20: Progress Zero.

I fell off the wagon and landed in a donut.

It’s been three weeks since the beginning of Mission X-20, my attempt to publicly shame myself by blogging about my weight loss or the lack thereof.  I did ok for the first week and even managed to lose a pound, Alhamdulillah!  But then, the house-hunting picked up, and I was driving down to Dubai from Abu Dhabi every other day, having breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the road, drinking less-than-gourmet coffee with cream and sugar from those machines in the petrol stations, bolstering my resolve with emergency chocolate pick-me-ups, and then Alhamdulillah we found a house, and then the packing began with limited home cooking and lots of junk eaten amidst cardboard boxes ensured.

We’ve spent the last four days moving ourselves from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, one truckload at a time- breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the road with munchies in between- boxes of greasy biryani from the public cooks, roasted chickens from the cafeteria up the road, Burger King, McDonalds and Blah.

Today was the first time in three or four days that I’ve cooked food at home.  Alhamdulillah, I made daal.  Lentils.  Red lentils.  Then I accidentally left the stove on and went to the mall, and when I came back, it was remarkably charcoal-like on the bottom but extra thick and -kapow- on top.  So I made really good dinner, I just made most of it inedible.

I digress.  Also, I get sad.  I gained my one pound back, and it’s been three weeks.  I was supposed to have lost three pounds.  Not lost one and found it again.  But hey, I re-learned some old lessons!  I am becoming better at spotting the common obstacles and outright enemies of eating according to the Sunnah- and they are:

Portion Sizes: You buy one burger from a fast food joint, and it’s so big you could use it to stave off starvation for the winter during hibernation.  And you didn’t even order the double.  A single portion size at a restaurant is enough for two people if you have Sunnah Eating Buddy,  which is fitting really, because Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him said-  “The food of one person will be sufficient for two, and the food of two people will be sufficient for four, and the food of four will be sufficient for eight”. (Muslim)

Sometimes I miss the good ole days when Owlie and I used to split one meal and one dessert and be more than content.  We were in control, we were superfly, we lost over fifty pounds together.  That was amazing, Alhamdulillah.  HF used to make fun of me when we were first married because all I needed for dinner was half of a shawarma.  Not two.  Or even one.  Just half.  But then kids came, and life changes, and good habits were lost and ground once gained was so badly lost that Cindy, the housekeeper, came across an old photo album of mine and exclaimed “Oh!  You really were thin!” as if this whole time I had been bemoaning my previously more streamlined state I had been making it up, because someone *this* plump being *that* thin seemed unbelievable.

Good Friends, Bad Choices- “Come on, have some fries with me!” It’s simple, you love your friends and your friends love fries.  But what is more important, pleasing your friends for the ten minutes (or less) that the fries are there, or making a permanent change in your life towards good health and amazing self-discipline?  Mona, I blame you for those cupcakes.  Those yummy, yummy cupcakes…Ok, it was my mistake for accepting them, and my repeated stupidity for eating one and then another and then another over the course of a few days so that eight cupcakes became zero.  And willpower needs momentum too.  Every day you do something right, you become stronger, more committed- you pick up the forward motion from each day that comes before, and you can think things like “Eight cupcakes?  No way, I’ve lost five pounds and I don’t feel like gaining them back!”  In my case though, I was thinking “Eight cupcakes?  With adorable nonpariel decorations of flowers and ladybugs and grass?  Can I get an order of fries with that?”

Stress: Stress eating is my achilles heel.  In fact, it’s both of my heels.  When I am angry, frustrated, upset, or depressed, I overeat to feel better.  And then I feel worse.  In fact, overeating makes me feel angry, frustrated, upset and depressed.   I used to channel my anger into ice cream so frequently that I had a personal Baskin Robbins guy.  When I finally realized- consciously-  what I was doing, I had to stop.  But it was hard, because I had to make the decision that I did not deserve to be sabotaged, especially by myself.  And if other people made me mad, then they should be the ones to get fat as a consequence.   Ha!

I still stress-eat though, and it’s a very hard habit for me to break.  Ice cream is not involved as often- it’s usually just an extra portion after I know I really don’t need any more food.  It’s just enough to  jab myself in the slightly achy gut and think things like “Take that.”  I must have a streak of masochism, because when I’m angry or upset, I settle on hurting myself rather than addressing the issue at the risk of hurting someone else.  But please don’t call me passive-aggressive, there’s a Baskin Robbins up the street from my new house too and I might have a double sundae just to show you what’s what.

Poor Planning: If you pack yourself a lunch, or wake up ten minutes early so you can make yourself breakfast instead of inhaling junk to tide you over until lunch, then you’ll have saved yourself the extra calories that lack of foresight tends to bring on.  Keep an apple in your purse.  Or a granola bar in the glove compartment.  It’s not a meal, but it can be enough nourishment to keep you from making a bad choice out of desperation.  Like that box if greasy biryani at ten o-clock last night.

Lack of Willingness Due to Loss of Hope: I gained my one pound back, what’s the point of trying?  I was honestly thinking that yesterday over that aforementioned box of biryani.  That and ‘this is so spicy I bet there’s smoke coming out of my ears’.  I had fattening food, and too much of it, and I went to sleep, woke up, and had a donut for breakfast, not because I couldn’t have had a bowl of cereal, but because I had thrown in the towel after a series of failures on my own part.  I was *trying* to eat responsibly, but I was also moving and packing and had no time to cook, and the smallest things I could buy outside were still too big, and well-wishers brought us junk food and friends met us in malls, and one slip up after led to stop trying  because I was just going to slip up again anyway.

[Note: Friends don’t buy friends donuts.   Next time I’m moving, come over with a fruit salad or suffer my flabby, donut-powered wrath!]

Yesterday I wasn’t even trying.  As of now, I am trying again.  Public humiliation can be a good thing sometimes.  And that’s why I swallowed my pride and admitted that I had 20+ pounds to lose.

I could stand to lose forty, actually, but I figure 20 would be pretty amazing start.  Provided I climb out of this donut and get back on the wagon.  So I am trying again, InshaAllah.  Which will be a challenge, because tomorrow we go back to the old house for the last time to pack the last boxes and load up the last truck, and there is no stove, no food, and no refrigerator for me to keep pre-packed lunches in during this 100+ heat.  Please make dua for me, cuz I really, really need it!