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Monthly Archives: June 2013

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This one’s a keeper

photo (3)Iman drew me a kimono-wearing cat, complete with fan, princess crown, and parasol. ¬†AWESOMENESS! MashaAllah ūüôā

Marty is our new hamster

Iman: “Momma, if we don’t feed Marty, he’ll die. ¬†Then, he’ll turn into grass and antelope will eat him. ¬†That’s the circle of life.”


Crime, Punishment, and Batman.

Why yes, I am blogging about Batman.   Excuse me, I think my geek is showing.

In this day and age superheroes have their own sort of mythology, and they are the modern equivalent of demi-gods in our shared popcultural experience.  They have devoted followers, fanatics even, and people can have stronger beliefs about which school of comic book thought they adhere to than to which religion they identify with.

I think it’s safe to say that the top three monoheroistic religious are Supermanism, Spidermanism, and Batmanology.  Personally, I have leanings towards Batmonology.  HF is a devotee of Spidermanism. Despite our differences, we are united through a common belief in Islam.  Alhamdulillah.

In traditional Batmanological texts, Batman could crash your car through a brick wall and land it upside down in a ravine, but you were guaranteed a background shot of leaping to safety or at least moaning from within the wreckage in order to be taken into custody later, injured but definitely alive.

Remember the A-Team? And GI Joe? All those bad guys leaping out of exploding jeeps at the very last second to viewer-established safety? Yeah. Heroes seem to share this amazing ability to inflict city-destroying amounts of damage upon cars and buildings without giving the baddies anything worse than a dramatic concussion.  In fact, it is actually safer for you to be a henchman than a good guy, because family members, friends, and love interests are more likely to be killed as plot devices than henchmen are to be critically injured.

This refusal to kill is an integral part of mainstream Superhero Lore- and it is the central moral lesson in traditional Batmanology.  In the awesome animated movie Under the Red Hood, Batman’s refusal to kill is tested in the most brutal way possible.  The movie opens with this:

Joker tortures and kills Robin.  Batman arrives seconds too late to save him, and digs Robin’s brutalized remains out of burning rubble.  Fast forward a few years and one well-written story later, and then this happens:

The video says it all.  Batman wishes every day that he could kill the Joker, but he won’t.  He can’t kill, because killing would be too easy and if he went down that path, he would inevitably spiral down into the same murderous darkness that his foes live in.

Batmonology is not the only superhero religion that adheres to this principle- Supermanism, Spidermanism- so the bad guy never dies, unless he is actually a robot (Braniac, Metallo) or he somehow kills himself so that Superman or Spiderman don’t have to. ¬†The monoheroistic concept bears striking similarity to the distinctly Bibilical concept of ‚ÄúThou shalt not kill,‚ÄĚ as well as the concept of Ahinsa that is shared by Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism.¬† Ahinsa literally means ‚ÄúNo Harm.‚ÄĚ

(I will make no assumptions on what Judaism may say about killing or capital punishment, because like all well-informed first world citizens of the twenty first century, I know more about Batman than I do about Jewish Scripture.)

We get it.  Real heroes don’t kill.  It’s not right.  It would be too easy.  That would make them just as bad as the villains they fight.  We wouldn’t want the good guys killing the bad guys.  That’s why our police aren’t armed with- WAIT A MINNIT!

The police do have guns!

And so do soldiers!

And when an old lady manages to shoot the guy who breaks into her house and tries to beat her death, we cheer for the old lady! When a Texas mother ran over a knife-wielding carjacker that had hidden in the back seat with her children, the newscasters were gloating on her behalf, even if she looked quite shaken by the experience.

So why are superheroes held to such unrealistic standards? Thou shalt battle vicious, inhumane killers who will use lethal force against you without provocation, whose continued presence in the community guarantees that more innocent people will be killed, raped, and crippled- but whatever you do, don’t kill them, not even by accident, because otherwise you’ll be as bad as they are?

Batman killing the Joker during the course of an epic, long-time battle to protect Gotham from a psychopath whose kill-count is in quadruple digits would not make him as bad as the Joker.  It would not make Batman a murdering psychopath anymore than you fighting off and killing a rapist would make you as bad as a murdering rapist.  Like the old lady with the shotgun and the mother with the minivan, it would make you… a hero.

I believe that it’s ok for good guys to kill the bad guys to protect the rest of us, and the people who don’t honor the sanctity of life have no right to claim it when it comes to their own.  The sanctity of human life didn’t apply to their victims, so why should it apply to them? And when killers get out on parole and kill again, I don’t think the sanctity of life will protect their next victims either.

If a police officer shot a known murderer to protect a child in imminent danger, he would be a hero, but we‚Äôre still not so sure that good guys are allowed to kill bad guys?¬†We have some serious double standards about this, and the gross over-simplification of ‚Äúgood guys don‚Äôt kill‚ÄĚ is hurting lots of imaginary victims and by-standers in the comic book world.

There is another, lesser-known school of thought in Batmonology, and its disciples made The Dark Knight Returns.  No, not rises- he returns in another brilliant two-part animated movie.   Gotham has gone to hell in a handbasket after ten years of forced retirement for Batman, and one day Bruce Wayne snaps. Finally, we’re allowed the PG-13 satisfaction of a bad guy disappearing down the same blood-stained hallway he was about to drag a mother into, and we don’t see him walk out. Another rapist/murderer is thrown into electrical wiring and he is electrocuted, screaming off screen.  The screaming stops, but we do not see his body drop.   The electrical sparking continues meaningfully.

A 17 year old henchman sent to kill Commissioner Gordon is shot dead, and when the Joker attempts to use a woman as a human shield, without pause Batman throws three of those little bat-shaped knives at Joker- landing one in each shoulder and one in his right eye.

(The Joker‚Äôs shocked reply: ‚ÄúAre you out of your mind?!?!‚ÄĚ See? Even he‚Äôs been accustomed to Batman trying to protect the world with kid gloves on.)

The knife stays lodged in the Joker’s eye throughout the final fight scene, and ultimately until his death at the hands of Batman.  And I have to say, as a long-time fan, it was so good to see the Joker final get what was coming to him that I actually did a little happy-dance in my chair.

Some people might shake their heads disapprovingly at this madhab’s darker, grittier version of Batman, but I give two thumbs up for the Joker finally no longer being allowed to threaten and kill in Gotham.  In killing Joker, Batman has saved countless other imaginary lives without compromising his own morality or becoming a villain himself.  Finally killing Joker made him more of a hero than he already was.

By Abez, the end.

Today the barber, tomorrow- the moon!

This video offers advice for hairstylists to help give children with autism less¬†traumatising¬†haircuts. ¬†I really wish it had been produced four years ago. ¬†Getting Khalid’s hair cut used to be as terrible for the stylist as it was for him, and he’d cry so hard he would vomit and/or soil himself. ¬†Khalid would end up with an obviously crooked haircut, the barber would end up a shaky, anxious mess, and HF and I would be almost equally plastered in snot, tears, vomit and hair.

So what changed? Alhamdulillah, the older Khalid grew the more we could use reasoning to help him, but we also had a few other really helpful strategies that this video didn’t include, and that’s why I am writing this.

So, here are some of the things that made a significant difference in getting Khalid’s hair cut with less stress for everyone.

We went to the barber more often, and it wasn’t for his haircuts. ¬†When HF went for a beard trim, we started sending Khalid along with him, and we made sure there were reinforcers involved. ¬†Chips, gummy bears, using Baba’s iPhone… we wanted Khalid to be in the barbershop without being in a state of terrible anxiety and fear. ¬†Over time, he was able to enjoy being there, where previously he would freak out simply being in a salon, even if he wasn’t the one getting a haircut at all.

We brought a hairstylist home. ¬†This was an amazing turning point for Khalid, even before we starting sending him to the barbershop. ¬†A lady with scissors, a comb, and an hour and a half to spare came over, sat next to Khalid at the dining table and let him look at her tools. ¬†Khalid combed my hair. ¬†We played with plastic (TOY!) scissors and both Khalid and Iman “cut” my hair too. ¬†Then, at the dining table and with no real rush, the hairdresser took a few little snips here and a few little snips there with lots of small breaks and Khalid’s favorite cartoons on the laptop. ¬†That was the easiest haircut we ever had, and it gave Khalid his first experience with a non-aversive haircutting.

We used some good old fashioned ABA strategies!

We used a reinforcement schedule so that after every X-seconds of motion-free sitting (while his hair was cut) Khalid would get the next chip/tic-tact/reward. ¬†We counted down (not up!) so that Khalid would know exactly when the snipping would stop. ¬†We started from five, and gradually built up to counting down from ten ¬† if he figited, the count was reset. ¬†Once we got to zero, we’d stop, clean off the hair from his face and neck and arms, and he would have a break and a treat. ¬†A few seconds later, we’d start another countdown.

As it became easier for Khalid, we started counting more slowly. ¬†The next step was to start counting up instead of down- we’d start from one and see how far Khalid could go before asking us to stop. By the time we reached the counting-up point, Khalid was given the option of saying “Stop please,” when he had enough.

We used D.R.I.– differential reinforcement of an¬†incompatible¬†behaviour- we filled Khalid’s hands with the iPhone (which required two tiny hands to play) so that he could not use his hands to push the scissors or comb away. ¬†I also held the iPhone at a level that was higher than he would have held it in his lap, that way he had to keep his chin up in order to play and not duck away from the scissors. If the stylist wanted his chin down, then I held the phone down in his lap so that he couldn’t lean back to push the scissors away from the back of his neck. If Khalid took his hands off the iPhone, I took the iPhone back.

We used D.R.O.– differential reinforcement of other¬†behaviour, so that if Khalid was angry and irritated by the hair falling on to his skin and clothes, he could use the barber’s little brush to clean it up himself instead of yelling or slapping at his arms and clothes. ¬†We also told him that instead of crying, he could ask for a break, and that we would then grant one to him.

Alhamdulillah, Khalid had a haircut just a month ago, and it was actually the first time the barber was able to use the electric trimmer instead of the time-consuming scissors. ¬†Khalid was terrified of the trimmer when he was younger- I don’t know whether it was the noise or the¬†vibration, but it put him into a state of panic and we avoided using it for years. ¬†The last time though, when the barber asked if he could use a trimmer, I asked Khalid’s permission first.

“Khalid, the barber wants to know if he can use this on your hair.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a trimmer. ¬†It’s like a tiny hair-cutting robot. ¬†You like robots?”


“Want to turn it on?”

Khalid turned the trimmer on and giggled at the funny feeling in his hands. ¬†Then it was the barber’s turn, and although he wasn’t as comfortable with it as he would have been with scissors, Khalid sat stoically through his tiny robot haircut and more than earned the icy-lolly that was waiting for him at the end of it.

Alhamdulillah, Khalid has made an amazing amount of progress in the past two years and it has been such a blessing. ¬†Sometimes¬†I feel like I can’t wait to see where the next two years takes us- today the barber, tomorrow- the moon. ūüôā

Artfully vague but critically important

DPO, my former boss, asked me an interesting question yesterday.  He asked me whether I could consider the creation of another version of myself, one that had my existing strengths, none of my existing weaknesses, and all of the skills she needed to get what she needed done.  He called her Abez 2.0.

We assigned her an empty chair at our table, and allowed ourselves to speak of her in present tense.  Here is what we have decided.  Abez 2.0 is able to:

  • Aggressively pursue business development without guilt, because the profit motive is not inherently evil. ¬†In this case, the profit motive behind non-essential services is what facilitates growth of the company as well as our ability to¬†subsidise¬†services for children who can’t afford them.
  • Reserve feelings of guilt for things that actually warrant them. ¬†At present, Abez 1.0 bastes herself in an unhealthy coating of guilt every day- whether it be about time spent at work, or¬†elaborate¬†cupcakes not baked, or sofas not looking as immaculate eight years on and three children later… Abez 1.0 has mommy guilt about taking time off, spending on herself, or allowing herself to have social outings. ¬†No one in their right mind should feel guilty about resting in between work, caring for themselves, or seeing friends. ¬†Needless to say, Abez 1.0 is not in her right mind about these things, but Abez 2.0 is.
  • Not grant destructive criticism an audience. ¬†Constructive criticism will be taken objectively and from sources that are trusted. ¬†It will not be taken as a sign of failure, and it will be taken as an opportunity for improvement, rather than a cause for feelings of guilt about one’s professional inadequacy. ¬†(see above)
  • Not allow the desire to please everyone all the time to dictate what policies are enforced at work. ¬†No one can please everyone, all the time. ¬†My responsibility ¬†is to help our kids, take care of my staff, and use the¬†minuscule¬†amount of “celebrity” status I have to further autism awareness and opportunities for kids on the spectrum. ¬†If that doesn’t make people happy, that’s ok. Making them happy is not my job.
  • Maintain a locus of control that is as internal as possible, and take action to change situations rather than lament how difficult they are to change.
  • Explore multiple plans and challenge limiting beliefs about what is possible for me to accomplish, personally and professionally. ¬†There is a voice in my head that pours water on the the fire of exciting new project ideas by saying “Oh, but I would never be able to do that…” Abez 2.0 tells that voice to shut up and wait to see whether we actually fail before making that assumption.
  • Delegate without panicking by¬†accepting¬†that outsourcing can bring projects up to 80% of the way, and that my involvement can be withheld until the final 20%, allowing me to accomplish more, panic less, and have deliverables created to my standard of perfectionism without waiting to hire a perfectionist clone of myself.
  • Assemble a group of trusted advisors to keep me honest- not because I am dishonest, but because the danger of being your own boss is that when you start projects, there isn’t anyone around to make sure you finish them. ¬†I need accountability and follow-up, and rather than expect myself to develop a multiple personality disorder, it would be better to seek outside help.
  • Give myself deadlines and share status reports with above advisors.
  • Create a workspace that is respectful of the role I am expected to play- in other words- set up a desk and keep the laundry off of it.
  • Not allow myself to feel like an imposter, but accept that people play different roles and adjust their¬†behaviours¬†accordingly to get the job done. ¬†Being no-nonsense at work shouldn’t make me feel guilty, because being silly is a¬†behaviour¬†I reserve for playing with my children. Being sympathetic and completely trusting is something reserved only for my husband, not for the well-off clients who try to¬†guilt me into¬†discounts from already zero-profit, at-cost services.
  • Accept that fear is actually F.E.A.R- False Evidence Appearing Real- that there is no truth to failure until it happens, and living in fear is allowing myself to be dictated to by the lie of perpetual failure.

There. ¬†That’s the beginning of what Abez 2.0 is going to accomplish. ¬†It’s a tall order, and we’re breaking the stages down into 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc. ¬†I’m actually excited- and this is all going to sound vague I’m afraid- because I’ve been living in fear of failure in spite of being a reasonably successful person, and it’s tiring. ¬†I live dangerously close to the fight or flight response, where I feel at any moment, someone is likely to yell at me, or discover that I am an¬†impostor¬†and in order to avoid being found it, I hide and avoid doing anything that would attract attention.

(Funny that I should avoid attention in the real world when I’ve been inviting the whole dang internet into my personal world for over ten years now, but maybe the two are directly connected. ¬†Maybe it’s my withdrawal from the world that motivates me to connect with people from behind the safety of¬†pseudonym¬†and an avatar?)

I’m looking forward to meeting Abez 2.0. ¬†I think she’s going to be confident,¬†comfortable¬†in her own skin, and more likely to take the risks that lead to success rather than hide from an¬†immobilising¬†fear of failure. ¬†InshaAllah. Please remember us both in your duas. ūüôā

Sometimes I forget she’s five

Iman: Momma, all birds lay eggs-

Me: That‚Äôs right, very good…

Iman: -except for tigers.

Me: Iman, tigers are not birds.

Iman: What about bats?

Me: No, they’re not birds even though they fly.  They don’t have feathers.  They’re kind of like flying mice.

Iman: But they’re not alive, right?

Me: Of course bats are alive!

Iman: Oh yes, in the rainforest.

Musfira’s Great Nap Escape

Musfira will be turning two next week, and the older she gets, the more creative and amazing her attempts to escape from nap-time become.

I put her down for a nap at 12:00. ¬†At 12:15, she desperately cried out “Momma, Ow!” I rushed to the room wondering how she could have gotten hurt while in her crib, and found her holding up a¬†paper-cut that she had gotten over a month ago. I kissed her Ow and left her to sleep.

A few minutes later, Musfira called out with “Momma, help!” In an act of maternal goodwill, I went back up the hall to see what the problem was. ¬†She had a dirty diaper, which was legitimate. ¬†After being changed and allowed a ten-minute reprieve from napping, I put her back down again.

A few more minutes passed quietly, and I was under the assumption that she had fallen asleep until I heard Musfira properly crying. I went back up the hall again and when I opened the bedroom door, I found Musfira standing in her crib and holding out her beloved pink cat, Meow-Meow. ¬†Her teary eyes met mine and she said, “Look Momma, Meow-Meow wet.”

I took Meow-Meow, and he was in fact thoroughly soggy. ¬†I looked at Musfira. ¬†She looked blankly back at me. ¬†I looked into her crib, and saw the cause for Meow-Meow’s current state of distress- Musfira someone had been using her sippy cup to slowly soak him in milk, one drop at a time.

Meow-Meow was taken and unceremoniously crammed into the washing machine, and when Musfira objected, I said to her, “Look, this¬†machine¬†is for washing. Meow-Meow is dirty, we’re going to wash him.”

“Iss for washing?” Musfira asked.

“Yes.” I nodded.

Musfira began pulling her shirt off. “Washing me?”

“No dear,” I said, escorting her from the washing machine before she tried to climb inside of it. “Not for washing you.”

meowmeow4inchIt’s 1:30 right now, and I’ve decided to let her skip her nap in favor of washing the crib and bedding. ¬†It’s sloshing around in the machine along with Meow-Meow, and considering how hot it is today, should all be dry in roughly five minutes.

Musfira is currently walking around backwards and “singing” a nameless tune of her own invention update: it’s the UAE National Anthem. ¬†The longer she stays up, the crazier she will become, until she finally goes down in a fiery ball of toddler exhaustion. ¬†Alhamdulillah, she’s awesome. ūüôā

From Iman with icecream and love


Iman drew a picture of HF today- a bearded, bespectacled figure with square glasses, big eyebrows, and a happy smile. Also, a crown and an icecream cone in each hand.

Gorgeously accurate. ūüôā