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.


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 Muslimmatters.org.

  1. HF

    This blog reminds me of the statistic that you shared once – that amongst special needs families, parents of autistic children have the highest divorce rates.

    The scrutiny they get, the public feedback they get – is non-stop.

    It takes a lot of strength for me to not make dua that may Allah (SWT) test you with the same – walk a mile in my shoes and then you qualify to even speak to me about my kids.

    This life is a test.
    This life is a test.

    To Him we belong
    To Him we return.

    I love you Abez.

    -Your HF.

  2. Niqabi

    Ah, this is the exact reason why I rarely want to go out or have people over for extended periods of time because there will always be embarassing meltdowns. And no matter how good you try to act or how calmly you try to ‘handle’ the situation, there will always be one woman just looking at you and tsk-tsking. Maybe, the real solution lies in just not caring about the general public reaction. You cant explain to everyone the reason why your child’s behaving in a certain, annoying manner. You know, to be honest, if I was in their shoes, I would actually try to help mums with their kids, hold their shopping cart, hold the child, just do anything but to stare! Really, it makes me very angry the way some people act all indifferent and disapproving of whatever you’re doing.

  3. Kimberly

    Hi from a mom in Canada with an autistic daughter who knows what it’s like to have people staring and talking about you while your kid screams. I make a point of never staring when a kid is losing it. You have more control than I do though, I normally end up saying something not overly pleasant to them! I love reading your blog, and you are a great mom!!

  4. thanaya asgher

    abez, hats off!!! sister, ure simply amazing mashaAllah! i often fwd ur posts to my entire friend list on fb, one such instance is now, because there are sooo many girls out there taking strength from ur situation! may Allah swt help you at every step of the way and reward you gardens and palaces and rivers and all the other treasures of jannah in the aakhirah, Ameen!

  5. Owl

    Is it bad that I was both crying and laughing when I got to the line about you being a dishrag?

    Subhanallah. That you survived and you learned from it – a stronger resolve to be patient with others (those who have no idea Khalid is autistic or what that means). But also, with yourself. Sir, life is damn hard. It’s ok to be sad sometimes.

  6. umm yahyaa

    SubhanALLAH…sometimes we over exgerate our own problems. after reading this i realize i have a lot to be grateful for. this was really insipiring and i make dua that ALLAH reawrds you greatly and may he make it easy on you ameen

  7. Rukhpar Mor

    I really liked the article/story by the lady. I just wanted to tell you that I read a book called, “An Anthropologist on Mars”. It is by Oliver Sacks and he writes about different neurological conditions. The last two chapters were about autism. It educated me on a lot about this that I didn’t know. SOrry if this is off topic, but just wanted recommend the book. I had to read it for a biology class. Salams!

  8. Fatima

    Your blogs entries are MashaAllah so ‘in the moment’. May Allah SWT make this test easier for you.

  9. hannah

    mashaAllah. may Allah reward you and your whole family. ive been reading your blog on and off since i joined your xanga group: hijab, the holiest hat of them all , back in my single/childless/adolescent days. I really love reading it!

  10. Amena

    Wow. I know it felt like there was nothing you could do and you were second guessing yourself, but you handled it wonderfully Mashallah. I would also be close to tears and trust me, there have been the same kind of incidents in my life – two kids and bedlam in public. I know it’s difficult at that very moment as a mother but think of the hasanaat you are getting from Allah swt who has the (some say) 70 times the love of a mother toward her offspring for his ‘abd. Here’s what I could find:

    It was reported that one of the righteous people was passing through the street when he saw an open door out of which came a boy who was crying and weeping, followed by his mother who was pushing him out. She shut the door in his face, and went back inside. The boy went a short distance away, and stood there, thinking, but he could find no other refuge than the house from which he had been expelled and no one else who would care for him as his mother would. Broken hearted, he went back, and found the door still locked. So he lay down on the doorstep and went to sleep, with the tear marks still streaking his face. A little while later, his mother came out. When she saw him in this state, she could not help herself. She embraced him, kissed him and started to weep, saying: “O my son, where did you go? Who would care for you except me? Didn’t I tell you not to disobey me and not to make me punish you, when Allaah has made me merciful and caring towards you?” Then she picked him up and went back inside.

    But the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) told us: “Allaah is more compassionate towards His slaves than this mother towards her child.” (Reported by Muslim).

    Keep up the amazingness =)

  11. ummezaynub

    Asalamalaykum wa rahmatulaahi wa barakatuhu,

    I honestly am in tears and I don’t know you.
    Popped over from MM to say salaam & thank u for your sushi offer. How amazing is Allah! We read one article and think we know so much about your life and click a name and read a page of your pain. May Allah bless your child. I feel for you- I have a friend who has a son with down’s and witnessing her struggles tears my heart. Despite knowing his special needs, they still judge her parenting skills all the time. It is even more horrible when they are Muslim and in the masjid. She has stopped attending iftars, potlucks further isolating her as does not have family around-may Allah grant her, you and other mothers who Allah (SWT) is testing sabr and great ajr. Ameen

  12. Abez

    Mona: You consistently embarrass me. Also, what happened to Wednesday? I want a cupcake! :p

    HF: 🙂

    Niqabi: I was actually thinking about what kind of useful help one can offer to a mom with a tantrum-throwing child based on what you wrote. In Khalid’s case, we would appreciate well-wishers with tic tacs! 🙂

    Kimberly: You know, sometimes I consider saying something, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin- “Listen lady, you think it’s bad he kicked your cart? He kicks me in the face!” wouldn’t necessarily build alot of bridges… heh. And lots of *hugs* and support to you and your daughter. I love hearing from other moms who are in the same boat, it’s nice to know that you’re not alone.

    Thanaya & Umm Yahya & Fathima: Ameen, Ameen, Ameen. 🙂

    Owl: Not bad at all, cuz I was too.

    Rukhpar Mor: Thanks for the recommendation, I am definitely going to look for ‘An Anthropologist on Mars.’

    Hannah: How on earth could you have been around that long and never have commented! SubhanAllah! If you’ve been reading my blog for that long then you’ve been reading it longer than my own husband has! Ha!

    Amena: That is a beautiful hadith, and I could nearly feel it when I read ” She embraced him, kissed him and started to weep, saying: “O my son, where did you go? Who would care for you except me? Didn’t I tell you not to disobey me and not to make me punish you, when Allaah has made me merciful and caring towards you?” Because I know that feeling- when I have to give one of the kids a time-out and Iman (especially) bawls her little brown eyes out, when the time-out is up I think I’m more in need of her hug than she of mine. heh.

    UmmeZaynub: You are most welcome to sushi, all you need to bring is yourself. To Dubai. 🙂 And totally feel for your friend, SubhanAllah- sometimes I’m grateful that Khalid can ‘pass’ for normal when he’s feeling alright, but to have people stare at your child 24/7 because he even *looks* different… MashaAllah, your friend is a brave woman and I will remember to include her in my dua.

    And ladies: I am not, by nature, an ignorer of all the lovely comments and duas, I just don’t get much time online that isn’t related to work. But JazakAllahuKheiran, and please remember us in your duas. 🙂

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