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Category Archives: Momma-ism

(Too cool for school)

The hunt continues to find Khalid a suitable English-speaking school that is autism-friendly, uses sound behavior reinforcement principles (rather than education through intimidation) and doesn’t cost an arm, a leg, two kidneys and your left earlobe.  I’ve been to three schools just today, dragging Khalid and Joy along for the ride and leaving a trail of bemused registrars in our wake.

“Does he know his colors?’

“Yes.”

“Can he recognize letters?”

“Khalid, what does this bag say?”

“Best Salted Cashews.”

People are generally confused by Khalid.  When we go into visually exciting new places, like schools, his attention is all over the place taking in the new surroundings, and the outsider’s first assumption is that the lights are on but no one’s home.  He has to read every written word on every wall and visually digest every shape lovingly cut and unsteadily decorated in glitter glue.   The various registrars and social workers who try to probe him ask him questions without first getting his attention, and as the seconds tick by in silence, I can see exasperation come over their faces as they assume I am exaggerating Khalid’s cognitive abilities just to get him into school.

“So Khalid, how are you?”

-tick-

-tock-

-tick-

“Big, big giant school.”

(The social worker looks amused)

“Stairs going up.”

(The school has an impressive staircase leading from the reception to the second floor.)

“Do you have any friends?”

(I want to kick her for asking this)

-tick-

-tock-

-tick-

“Boys.”

(Now she looks confused.)

I earnestly explain that he’s telling her about his friends- that they’re boys.

“And girls.” Khalid adds after another second.  “And kids.”

“Khalid,” I say nervously, “Can you tell me about your friend Omar?”

“He’s not here.”

“Omar transferred from the school,” I explain again.  “None of the children in his current school speak English, so he hasn’t made any new friends yet.”

“Khalid,” the social worker continues, “What shape is this?”

Khalid looks down at the iPad that she’s pointing to. He’s been using it to play Cut the Rope, and also, to search for walk-throughs on YouTube when he’s stuck on a certain level.

-tick-

-tock-

-tick-

“Rectangle.”

“Very good!” the social worker says, genuinely surprised. “And this?”

Khalid looks to the coffee table.

“It’s a circle.  Like the sun.” He uses his finger to squiggle, in the air, what he means to be the rays of the sun. The he goes back to his own world, reading the walls.  Do not enter.  Push.  Pull.  In case of fire.  I remember- once we were driving back home from Ajman, and the sun was setting in an electric orange ball to the west of Emirates Road.

“Look Khalid, Iman- the sun is going down! SubhanAllah, it’s so big and round!”

Iman says: “Ooooh!”  Khalid says: “Sun is a planet?”

-blinkblink-

Owlie and I took the kids to the children’s museum once, where watched a half an hour presentation on the solar system- once.   This was before Musfira was born, and she’s almost four months old now.

“Actually, the sun is a star.”

“Not a planet?”

“No, because planets don’t give off light. The sun is a star, I think.”

Khalid disagrees.

“Not a star, planet.”

In Khalid’s big-city world view, stars are shapes with five points that exist primarily to be colored yellow.  Dubai has way too much light pollution to see anything other than the moon and the air traffic.  I can see his point of view.  So I offer a compromise.

“Ok Khalid, maybe it’s a little bit like both.”

The social worker says she’ll get back to us.

We pack up and drive off to the next school.  The principal, who I met last Thursday to appeal for Khalid’s admission, is out sick.

“I’ll leave a message please,” I say to the front-desk secretary.  As I’m scribbling what I hope is a friendly, optimistic, and not too desperate-sounding request for a call back, Khalid is taking in the student-made exhibits on traffic safety week.  I borrow the receptionist’s stapler and use it to make sure my business card makes it along with the message.  Khalid’s last school admitted him on the strength of my position in exchange for training their KG department, and I’m willing to make whatever sort of bargains I have to and pull whatever strings I can reach to get him into a school.  I’ve spent hours camped outside of school offices waiting to hound, guilt, impress, and emotionally blackmail whoever I need to in order to get Khalid a fair chance.  I think I’m getting used to it now.  I think I need to order more business cards.

“Khalid, it’s time to go now.”

“I need to fix.”

He’s trying to put the hat back onto the lego victim of a car crash who’s laying on lego street waiting for the lego ambulance to come to his aid.

“It’s alright, I think that’s how they meant the exhibit to look.”

“I like legos.”

Iman goes to school every day and Khalid gets left behind, asking me when we’re going to pick her back up.  Iman’s teacher is delighted that she’s the youngest child in the class and the only one who can already write her own name.  Khalid’s teacher, on the other hand, was openly angry about having to deal with “these kinds of children” when she already has twenty six other children in class she’s supposed to be teaching instead.  The atmosphere on the first day of teacher training for that school was bordering on mutinous, and what was intended to be a workshop on using reinforcement within the framework of ABA quickly deteriorated into an angry argument between the pro-inclusion principal and Khalid’s anti-inclusion (and openly anti-Khalid) teacher.  She walked out of the workshop, returned to argue with the principal in Arabic, and then walked out again.

To her credit, she did come on the second day and exhibited much less eye-rolling.  Today was the third day, and she looked almost civil.  Of course, she has no reason to be mad anymore, because Khalid is no longer attending her class.

He’s been home from school for three days now.  He owns uniforms from two different schools, and when Iman came home in her PE uniform yesterday, Khalid walked silently to his bedroom and came back dressed in his.   He’s honest to a fault, and so sensitive to the world around him but so limited in expressing how much it affects him.  I look at him, with his enormous beautiful eyes and his profoundly hidden profound intelligence, and my heart aches.

“You like legos my Jaan?”

“Yeah. I like it.”

He smiles at me.

“Then I think it’s time to buy you some.”

I love my kids.

Me: Khalid, in five minutes it’ll be time to turn off the computer and take a bath, ok?

Khalid: InshaAllah.

___________

Me: What were you doing when you fell off the bed?

Iman: I was going down to get you a present, you know? Like, an adventure crown!

😀

C is for colic, but I’d much rather it be for cookie

And right about now, I’d much rather have a cookie.

You know what the problem with typing while hungry is?  Even words look tasty.

Musfira is getting properly colicky, crying louder and longer in the past few nights than before.  The Nightly Fuss has been going on for around four weeks now, and it starts at 6pm like clockwork and last night it continued until 2:30 am.  Please remember us in your duas.  I don’t like being nocturnal.  Or cried at for 6+ hours.  No fun. Very tiring.  Want a cookie.

Red Velvet Ramblings

So Musfira is very nearly a month old now. SubhanAllah. All in all she’s a lovely baby. She sleeps reasonably well during the day and although we do have a nightly fuss from around 10:30 to about 1 am, it could be worse. In fact, it was worse with Khalid and Iman, with Khalid being jaundiced, tongue-tied and constantly fussing and Iman being colicky.

So how can I describe her? Well, she’s pink. And her eyes are grey, though they’ll turn brown later InshaAllah. She has lovely little hands and feet, and despite voraciously chewing, gnawing, and sucking on any hand, towel, blanket or shirt collar that comes within two centimeters of her mouth, she refuses to use a pacifier. She cannot yet say it, but I know she’s thinking ‘PTUI!’ as she spits her “New, Natural Shape! Perfect for Newborns!” pacifier out. We’ve gone through three of them already, my hope being that maybe this shape will be better. I only really need her to use a pacifier when I’m driving, because many of the roads in Dubai have lost their shoulders in favor of one more traffic lane, so stopping to feed her isn’t always an immediate option.

What else? She has the most kissably soft cheeks. Really. Her skin feels like velvet. It is unanimously accepted (by Owl, HF, and I) that it has to have been all the cupcakes I was eating before she was born. She’s a red velvet baby, not only for the warm and fuzzy softness, but also because she comes with a distress alert system. Either she’s baby-pink all’s well, or she’s red-alert red and working up to a good cry, complete with pouty face.

Her hobbies? Contemplating fluorescent lights above her changing station in the bathroom and collecting fuzz from her blanket and keeping it tightly balled in her itty-bitty fists.

Her special skills involve remarkable bladder and bowel control that allow her to time her ambushes perfectly for the moment when she has been washed, dried, and just laid down on the changing station to be diapered.

Her top speed is three diapers in five minutes.

Her signature moves are slow-motion baby kung-fu and spitting up precisely down the front of momma’s shirt.

Her pet peeves are socks that fall off in the mall the day after momma bought them (ok, maybe that’s mine).

She’s the most beautiful baby in the entire world. SubhanAllah. And after 20 hours of labor and an hour left before the doctors prepped me for an emergency c-section, she was born a cheerful bright blue with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. But that seems like a lifetime ago, and she’s always been here, always swaddled in the flannel blanket with the ducks on it, and we go to meetings together where she sleeps through the boring parts but wakes up to share her opinions on important things like gas and why it’s better out than in.

Yes, it does take us forever to get anywhere these days, because we have to account for feedings, diaper changes, inconsolable crying, and the stroller being a huge pain to remove from the trunk. And yes, that one time I tried to drive home by myself it took two and a half hours to drive just a few miles because she would not stop crying in her car seat and I could not safely drive with that level of panic in her wailing. I can’t help it- when she’s stressed, I’m stressed- and I think that’s part of the job description of being a mother. If you’re not unable to tolerate your newborn suffering, then you might not be likely to cope with insanely insufficient amounts of sleep and the back-breaking labor of feeding, cleaning, maintaining, rocking, burping, and sustaining a tiny person with no self-preservation skills beyond a cry that tears your heart into tiny pieces.

Khalid and Iman adore Musfira. Really. Khalid wants to kiss her CONSTANTLY. Like once every few seconds. And that can get very frustrating when I’ve just gotten her to sleep and in burst the kids- Iman wants to give Musfira a toy, Khalid wants to kiss her again, and when I whisper at them to leave, they get mad and loud and wake up Musfira up. When I get desperate I lock the door until Musfira is asleep and hope the kids banging on the other side of it doesn’t wake her. But like I said, it could be worse. They adore her. They just adore her a little too much, too hard, and too loud for a newborn.

Musfira is very well loved, even if a little over-cuddled and way too well-traveled for a little girl who hasn’t been in this world for an entire four weeks yet. She and I went to two meetings and spent three hours in a furniture warehouse within the first four days of her being born. We do banks and groceries and summer camp for Khalid and Iman. We stay up late at night watching classic Japanese Anime to bide our nightly fuss, and we have collectively decided that if you make a cartoon in Japan that does NOT prominently feature giant and/or powerful robots destroying and/or saving the city/world/universe, then you are shamed into committing seppuku.

As usual, I digress. Alhamdulillah, we’re tired, busy, sleep-deprived, overwhelmed with the backlog of work that’s been piling up while I’m “on leave,” but very, very happy. Alhamdulillah. Alhamdulillah. 🙂

And I quote

Iman: Momma! The baby’s crying! Because she wants icecream!

______

Me: Here Khalid, you can hold Musfira carefully.
(I put the baby carefully into Khalid’s lap)
Khalid: Oh! Oh! Scareding!
(He passes the baby back)

___________

(Iman sees me laying down on the sofa for a quick break around 11 am today)

Iman: Momma, I bring you a pillow, you want a pillow?
Me: It’s ok dear, the side of the sofa is like a pillow.
Iman: I bring you a pillow, ok?

(She runs off and returns with the pillow from her bed)

Me: Thank you dear.
Iman: Momma, I bring you a blanket, you want a blanket?
Me: (Realizing I don’t have a choice) Sure dear.

(Iman returns with her tiny blanket and covers the middle half of me. Then she starts patting my head)

Iman: Momma, you can sleep and InshaAllah when you wake up I’ll take you shopping and buy you a nice gift! An umbrella! A pink one! With Dora! You like that?
Me: Yes dear, that would be nice.
Iman: Goodnight!

_________
11pm-
HF: There’s this one lone mango in the fridge and it’s late but I just want a mango milkshake…
Me: Ok, go pray Isha and I’ll make you a milkshake.
HF: You’ll make me a milkshake?
Me: Yeah. Go pray and I’ll make it for you.
HF: Thank you, but don’t make the kind that brings all the boys to the yard. Because it’s late, and we don’t want the front yard full of people right now.

😮

The best kind of outsourcing!

I haven’t had a chance to update yet, but Owlie has! Full post here and copy-paste below. Thanks luv!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

On Monday I was sick so I took a day off and figured, hey, this would be a good time to catch up with the super busy preggo rockstar business director big sister of mine Abez. So I call her up and ask how she’s doing, to which she calmly says “Oh, fine. The usual. Working. Responding to emails. Trying to get stuff arranged for the new staff. Oh, and I’m in labor.” 0_0

Yeah, that’s my Abez. Busy having a baby while simultaneously managing her business. “Woman, um, are you ok? I mean, you are nuts. But is everything ok ok? Is there anything I can do?” “Oh, yeah, could you please pick up Khalid and hang out with the kids and distract them while I’m at the hospital.” “Sure thing bob. On my way now.”

So, I picked up my favorite elf boy Khalid and took him home to his sister – the firecracker that is Mini Iman. Meeman as we call her, had been sick at home with a dental infection, and was hopped up on medicine. She’s a hilariously intense and unpredictable child when she’s ‘sober’ . Throw some extra strong meds into the mix and comedy ensues. I bring you the highlights of my few hours with Meeman.

AUNTY! I want the earth!
Excuse me?
The earth!
As in, the planet?
THE EARTH!
(At this, she gestures to my Blackberry. Which has a picture of the earth from space as its background screensaver. Turns out, Meeman wanted to take pictures with my Blackberry. I now have about a dozen pictures of her feet, hands, the ceiling, the sofa, and her lunch.)

(While holding an orange on her head) Look it’s a hat!
Is it? I thought it was an orange.
IT’S A HAT! IT’S KINDA FUNNY!

(after disappearing for a few minutes)
Aunty, find me!
(I find her. She’s on the toilet.) Oh, hi. Do you need help?
Yes. I want a pink pool. You can get me a small circle pink pool Inshallah?

(While climbing onto my arm) Can I ride your muscles?

(After putting on two skirts on top of her pants) Look aunty, I am a double princess!

(Upon bringing me one of her mommy’s hijabs) Make me a Muslim.
*confused* Iman, you’re already a Muslim.
*scowl* MAKE ME A MUSLIM!
Uhhh. With this hijab? Oh, ok.
(I wrap her up and she happily skips away wearing a hijab as long as she’s tall, two skirts and a pair of pants. Goofy child. :))

And now I have TWO nieces! Can’t wait for the new model to grow up and amuse me. 😀

Alhamdulillah :)

We are pleased to introduce puffy pink baby Musfira, born two days early and well-loved, well-poked, and well received by Khalid and Iman, who adore her, Alhamdulillah. 🙂

In true international fashion, her weight is 3.685 kilos- almost perfectly the exchange rate of the UAE dirham to US dollar, which is fixed.  Proper blog update coming soon InshaAllah, JazakAllahuKheiran for the duas. 🙂

Status check

*pokes self*

Still here, check!

*pokes stomach*

*stomach pokes back*

Still pregnant, check!

Did you know, that for all the jokes I make about taking up extreme trampoline sports in the last few days before delivery, that extreme trampoline sports is actually a …err… sport?

You learn something new every day. :p

Nine days and counting, InshaAllah.

The business license should say ‘Frustrated Incorporated’

I have a day off today, Alhamdulillah.  I got out of bed at noon, had two showers- one accidentally with a cup of tea, the other with the standard water- another cup of tea, a bagel, watched a Japanamation movie that I don’t know if I could ever sit through again, and I have studiously avoided doing anything useful, house, or work-related.  Having spent fourteen hours in bed asleep (or something close to it) my feet are almost feet shaped again.  Almost.  Alhamdulillah.  They’re not entirely unpuffy, but I have ankles for the first time in weeks- two of them!  Thank you HF, for taking the kids to their grandparents’.  You are the awesomest.  I couldn’t have been happier if I had woken up to brand-new chocolate-covered minivan in the driveway.  Really.  This is too good.  🙂 And now, another luxury- to the blog!

So AutismUAE has been licensed and operational since late September of last year.  We have only one more quarter left on the business license before it’s time to pay up the renewal fees, and in the mean time, we’re operating at…drumroll please… 2/5th of our capacity.  Why?  Because I issue visas for therapists and they sit for SO LONG in the Philippines consulate that I’ve had one visa expire before the employee could even get here and two more in limbo for over a month and a half.  If I don’t get them in the country within the next two weeks their visas will expire AGAIN and the whole four-month process will have to start all over again.

Between these three and one more therapist who’s been stuck in Iran for the past week waiting for her employment visa to be issued (already, it’s a week late) I have had months and months of lost revenue, and for a business that operates at cost, that’s a kick in the teeth.  How am I maintaining expenses?  Loans.  How long is our waiting list to get a therapist? Six to eight months, optimistically speaking.  How am I coping with the 30+ parents on the waiting list?  Not so well.  One parent called me the other day (she’s been on the waiting list since January) for what is, I am sure, the tenth time despite being politely told, please don’t trouble yourself to call, when I have a therapist, I’ll call you.

(Yes, I know, time is of the essence when it comes to autism therapy for child.  Yes, I know the early intervention window is running out.  Yes, I know you’re desperate.  No, I can’t do anything to make the therapists come faster.)

The conversation concluded with: These are our children, we need to get our act together.  And I sympathize with the mother, I really do, but the presupposition that I’ve been sitting on my hands since January  is what set my teeth on edge.  I’m 9 1/2 months pregnant.  I have a child with autism myself.  I have a paying job in addition to this completely non-paying job, and between pulling my hair out as well as one can from beneath a hijab and running after visas, agents, freezone people, and documentation- and still meeting with parents individually as well as for the monthly support group meetings, I think I could redefine the word ‘overworked.’  Just maybe.

Then there are the parents who call every other week, despite being on the waiting list for only a month or so.  And then there are the parents who want to know who they should follow-up with weekly once I am on maternity leave, and I say ‘just email me.’ And- here’s the hardest one- there are the parents who ask me for help.  I know I would do anything for my child, and so I don’t expect other parents to try less.  I get emails, I get parents on the phone begging, crying to me even, about how they cannot afford any treatment for their children, and is there no chance for any sponsorship or discount?  Forget the mothers, the fathers cry.  And I bite my lip and tell them I’ll put them on the waiting list for a service that is already marked down 60% from other centers, but that’s all I can do.  And I hate myself for saying what it basically No, I cannot subsidize a service that is already provided at cost  and when they finally hang up, I cry too.

Sometimes I worry about what would happen if one of my clients found this blog and started reading through all the AutismUAE posts- they would see past the shiny Director mask and into the world of a tired, complaining, pregnant, director and I think they would lose faith in me.  Well, the good news is, I don’t have any faith in me.  It’s all in God, and I need to stop beating myself up for not being able to save the world.  I have tried my best to get five therapists on the ground running within my first year of business, but with three quarters gone I have two.  We had to fire one already, and that was an amazing lesson, though I would have preferred to learn it when I was more financially stable and less in debt.

Sometimes I wonder whether all humanitarians eventually become misanthropes.  Not that I’m much of a humanitarian, but already I dream in dirhams, and I calculate expenses by how many months of therapy such and such an item costs.  I see a woman with a designer handbag  and I want to beat her with it.  Thirteen thousand dirhams for a small YSL bag is two months of help for someone’s child- two months of skills and hard lessons learned toward independence, maybe even speech.  Two less months of fathers worrying themselves sick and mothers crying themselves to sleep because every day they watch their children drift farther and farther away from the outside world.  Is that dramatic? No, it’s realistic.  We waited only 3 or 4 months to start Khalid’s therapy, and every day was agonizing.  It felt like watching Khalid die a little bit more every day as he became more silent, more withdrawn, and less and less likely to interact with us an any level whatsoever.

I’m starting to hate men in sports cars.  I don’t want to start on what I could accomplish if some rich sheikh dropped a Maserati’s worth of money into my lap.  Forget a Maserati- even a new corolla could set me up with an additional business license and five more therapists, bringing the waiting list down from thirty children to twenty, and although new children are added to the list every day, every therapist we employ makes a small financial margin that goes towards expansion, and the more therapists we have working the faster we can hire more therapists.  It’s a catch-22 of sorts, and although we could expand faster if we charged more for services, if we charged more for services it would defeat the intention of making services affordable.

HF keeps reminding me that Allah knows and plans best, and the fact that there’ve been months and months of delays due to unforseen, uncontrollable, non-deliberate circumstances should only reinforce that.  We’re not slacking off, we’re just being held back and Allah knows the reason.  He’s the best of planners, and while I can’t really say that to a crying parent on the phone from an emirate that I can’t foresee sending therapists to for the next two years, remembering that will at least help me retain my sanity.  Or at least my humanity.  I don’t know, I feel tremendously disconnected from the people and world around me.  No one else I know, no other friend of mine is pregnant, trying to run a business, trying to successfully parent two children- one of whom has autism- and is also an annoyed corporate communications consultant on the side.  While there are overlaps of interest, as well as a few really lovely people who will listen to me no matter what I’m talking about, I have so little time for destressing, socializing, or even holding still for very long that I’m starting to wondering if I shouldn’t come with a warning label: Contents under pressure.

(The sticker should be big and orange, and it should be stuck to my feet- they’re generally so swollen they look like they could explode.)

Maybe I should write out a list of topics that one should avoid in talking to me: Khalid’s apparent ‘lack of autism’ being one of them.  Another mother at the school was accusing Joy of looking too much into Khalid’s ‘disability’- “There’s nothing wrong with him! Are you sure he has a problem? Look, he’s fine!” and while it’s a relief that Khalid can ‘pass’ for normal to a casual observer, it’s a slap in the face to be told ‘You’re so wrong, you’ve been making it up and imagining a cause to spend so much money on therapy you’re in debt and so much time worrying that it’s made you see ‘special needs’ everywhere you look!’

The insinuation is either that we worry for no reason or we’re making it up to get special treatment.  Joy is more patient than I am, and she just said thank you we know he has autism and he’s made wonderful progress.  But then the mother pushes, because she’s a doctor, and demands to know who stuck the autism label on Khalid and how they went about doing so.  Because you know, as a dermatologist, she’s qualified to judge these things.

Excuse me, I think my misanthropy is showing.

I digress.  Sometimes it feels like my world is divided between people drowning in autism and people refusing to believe in it. On one hand you have people write off the years of blood, sweat and tears with a wave of their hand- Oh no, he’s fine.  I’m sure you were just imagining it all along. On the other hand, you have parents who are trapped living the same nightmare we were less than three years ago, and my inability to do anything for them puts an additional heaping of misery on top of my frustration.

I tell the parents- I know what you’re going through, I’ve been there myself and I’m working as fast as I can- but I know that when you’re at that stage you can’t believe anyone has it as badly as you do.  I remember talking to another mother- she was crying of course- about how she was so exhausted because her child wouldn’t go to sleep for two hours the other night, and then woke up again.  When I told her I could sympathize, she said really it’s so hard and I said yes, I know- Khalid fought going to sleep every single night of his life until he was almost three, and even then he would wake up every two hours kicking and crying.  Every night.  So yes, I know.  And I’m still trying to get you a therapist as quickly as I can.  And one father told me with tears in his eyes- you don’t understand- my son hits and kicks and pinches his mother and she’s nine months pregnant! And my mind went back to life with Khalid just before Iman was born- I’ve been nine months pregnant with busted lips, scratched face, and bruises from the daily battle of the daily everything involved with a child who has no idea what you’re trying to do and no idea what he’s doing to you.  It got so bad that I would have to keep Khalid at arm’s length.  If I saw him coming towards me I would have to deflect him and move away, because his only way of communicating pain, frustration, or want was to pull, hit, or fight until I understood what he needed.  And I know there are cases more severe than ours, much much more, SubhanAllah, but I get so tired of trying to convince people that the delays we’re facing in getting them a therapist have nothing to do with me not caring, not trying, and not putting everything I have into AutismUAE.

SubhanAllah.  I do have some happy thoughts, really.

Happy Thought Number One: I got the nicest SMS from a father making dua for our success and that Allah grant us Jannatul Firdaus.  And that made my week, and it still brings a smile to my face, because AutismUAE has two goals, one of which is a halal, sustainable operations and the other is Sadqa-e-Jaariya.  Charity that keeps on giving.  We may be really, really struggling, but at least we’re not in danger of having to close up shop -yet- and I can’t think of better business ROI than duas or better KPI’s than your customers praying for you. 🙂

Happy Thought Number Two: The Al Noor Training Center for Special Needs opened in 1981 with eight employees.  When I popped in for my first visit last week to their huge facility in Barsha, I saw an entire fleet of school buses.  And they started with eight people when I was a one year old!  It takes time, it takes patience, and according to the logos on the back of the buses, it may also take corporate sponsorship from HSBC.  Hey, a fleet of buses doesn’t pay for itself!  Or, maybe, it could. 🙂

Happy Thought Number Three: Hey, InshaAllah we’re having a baby! 🙂  Not yet though, but soon InshaAllah.  Any day now.  For Iman it’s not soon enough.  The other day she climbed into my bed, first thing in the morning, and poutingly demanded “Momma, where’s my baby ___________?” (gender-specific designation censored 😛 )

Happy Thought Number Four: Khalid has started to hug and kiss me of his own imitative, gently and without any of the ‘peck and go’ of a little boy who’s just kissing his mother because his therapist told him to.  It’s become a natural behavior to him, and I’m still bowled over every time he climbs through the car before going to school to put a kiss on my cheek that I didn’t ask for.  I absolutely love it.  He climbs in bed with me and puts his head on my shoulder and lays there happily, not wrestling or bouncing or looking for my phone, he’s just cuddling with me.  And I lay there with him feeling melted and happy, and when Iman comes in she kisses me sweetly and cuddles up on the other side and we have silly conversations and the two of them tell me all the things they’ve been waiting to tell me since they woke up a WHOLE TEN MINUTES before me and they’re still in their pajamas but they have things to tell me that just cannot wait.

Hmm, this post has gotten really long.  I suppose that’s alright considering that I don’t know when I’ll have another opportunity to sit uninterrupted at a computer while simultaneously ignoring work email. I’m on maternity leave, gosh darnit!  I am leaving my phone on silent and my pajamas on the bed, because two hours from now I’m going to put them back on and not get out of them until we run out of groceries!

Though if you happen to be a rich sheikh and you feel like dropping any amount of money in my lap, I promise I will answer your email right away.  Everyone who isn’t a rich sheikh, please just remember us in your duas for an easy delivery, a healthy baby, and successful operations for AutismUAE.  JazakAllahuKheiran!

At this point, I’ll take whatever compliments I can get.

Iman: Momma, you not big! You tall!  Lika Burj Khalifa!

Me: Like a Burj Khalifa?

Iman: (giggles) Yeah, it’s kinda funny!

Nine months pregnant. Again, Alhamdulillah :)

Here’s my post for nine months pregnant with Khalid

And here’s the post for nine months pregnant with Iman.

Notice the difference in the two.  Khalid’s post is about expectation, Iman’s is about ninja turtles.  Really, go look.

At the moment, Khalid and Iman are eating dinner and verbally taunting each other, two exercises that may seem incompatible (chewing + taunting) but they’re very skilled savages and I can hear Iman goading Khalid with her mouth full and here comes Khalid to my elbow, also with mouth full, to come and complain about her.

-pause to supervise dinner, with interlude of sophisticated dinner conversation-

Khalid: (looking at my stomach) Oh, it’s big tummy!

Me: My tummy is big?

Khalid: Yeah, it’s nice! (patting my stomach and then tracing the patterns on my shirt) It’s circle.  And sun! It’s nice!

Me: Thank you.  I’m glad you like it.

Iman: Momma, P is for princess!

Me: Yes dear, and pink, and pencil.  And how about the letter W? Do you remember?

Iman: (Nodding) I ‘member.  Iss for spider.

-return to computer-

The children are in their respective showers now, and once they’re out and freshly pajama’ed, HF and I will tuck them into their bunks, recite their duas, kiss them and say Ma’assalama for the night.  It’s a ritual we all enjoy, with Khalid reminding us if we miss a step (Momma, dua in the bed. Kiss!)  and Iman doing her best to negotiate one more story or random extra demand to prolong the routine.  Khalid enjoys the routine while Iman is forever trying to mold it around her desires.  She has now emerged from the shower and is, at this very second, streaking up the hall and yelling ‘run for your life!’ to escape being dressed by Cindy

-children tucked into bed and lights off.  in the dark, they are still teasing each other and the sound of giggling carries up the hall-

So Khalid decided to reinvent the English numeral system today.  Seriously.  It goes like this:

Zeroty one, zeroty two, zeroty three and so on until zeroty nine and then plain old ten.  Then comes onety-one, then onety-two, onety-three, until onety-nine and finally, twenty.  And here Khalid smiles, and his overhaul is complete.  Alhamdulillah 🙂

I think this blog entry closely follows how this pregnancy has been; mostly about Khalid and Iman, because they’re louder, more demanding, more amusing, and overall more urgent than Stringbean.    They kick harder too, though there is something to be said for the frequency and accuracy with which Stringbean seems to target my ribs.  I’m going to blame all of this fetal aggression on self-defense.  Khalid and Iman pet, poke, jump on, bump into, even drum on and play cars on my stomach.  This baby is just acting in self-defense, and they’re probably so used to retaliating that they’re going to come out kicking and punching.

I spend most of my time chauferring, entertaining, feeding, and refereeing Khalid and Iman and all the rest of it trying to ignore/work through being pregnant so I can get work done.  On one hand I feel guilty that I haven’t started ‘bonding’ with this baby.  Yes, I know it hasn’t been born yet, but daydreaming, talking to one’s stomach, lovingly setting up the nursery, and making lots of dua for your unborn child are all things that I did much for Khalid, a little for Iman, and even less for this child.  Not that I’m not excited about meeting Stringbean, or that I don’t already know the gender (yay!) and haven’t done all of the adorable pre-baby clothes shopping, but the time I spend focusing on being pregnant is way, way less than the time I spend trying to forget that I’m pregnant so I can get things done.

Which is easier said than done by the way- my wedding ring no longer fits, my feet are so swollen that they hang an inch and a half off the back of my sandals.  My back aches, my top speed is .1 miles per hour, even the maternity tops are getting tight.  If Iman, who is still a novelty-sized girl, stands too close to me she gets eclipsed by my stomach and occasionally even knocked over.  Khalid runs to hug me and crashes face-first into my stomach and then rebounds away.  He’s learned to come at me sideways for hugs now.  I feel like enormous, and yet, I’ve maintained the same weight for nearly a month now, Alhamdulillah.  Between swimming, working, and the fact that EVERYONE IS TOO MEAN TO BUY ME A DOZEN RED VELVET CUPCAKES WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING FROM MAGNOLIA BAKERY (basement one, near the Dancing Fountains, Dubai Mall, Index Mall parking area, she said subtly.) I have gained little weight, and even lost some according to my last weigh-in at the OB/GYN.  The doctor looked at the paper with my weight scribbled on it and frowned.

“Did we weigh you in your abaya last time?”

“Nope.”

“Same shoes?”

“Yes.”

The doctor shrugs and carries on.  She tells me I need to rest more.  She asks me what I do, and I tell her.  Then she offers to write me a note for sick leave.

“Why would I need one?”

“So you can rest for a few days. Just take it, it’s only seventy dirhams.”

“Who would I give it to?”

“The center you work for.”

“I’m the director.”

“Give it to the office, they’ll have to give you time off.”

Here the nurse interjects – “Madame, there is no one to give it to.”

The doctor looks at me again, confused.

“You don’t understand,” I tell her.  “It’s my business, and I even dream in employment visas.”

I told Owlie about this later and we had a good laugh.  Owlie suggested that I take the sick note with my left hand, pass it to my right, nod sternly and deny myself the down time.  In actuality, I would need to give it to Khalid and Iman, and Khalid would read it from top to bottom, and Iman would take it and draw a squiggle fish, a squiggle flower, and maybe a squiggle crocodile on it, but neither of them would approve it and school, cooking, shopping, working, meetings, outings, and entertainment would still go on.  HF very lovingly drops Khalid off to school in the mornings for me sometimes, and while once a week I do need to sleep in for a few hours, the rest of the week I have too much to do and too pushy of a secretary to be left alone.

“Momma, wake up! Open your eyes! Stand up! The sun is up! Can I play with your phone?”

“Yes Iman, I’m up. No sweetie, not now.”

Iman wrestles the blankets off me and theatrically takes me by the hand to ‘help’ me out of bed.  Sometimes that works and sometimes that doesn’t.  Sometimes Iman tells Cindy that I would like a cup of chai, even when I haven’t requested one.  Sometimes she has my chai supersized too- my default is a small cup of chai.  Iman runs up the hall and I can hear her call out- “Cinny!  Momma wants big chai please!”

“Small…” I mumble face-first into the pillow.

Iman comes back and updates me.  “Momma! I told Cinny!”

“Thank you dear.”

So I have a tankard of deliciously well made but WAY too big chai waiting for me on the dining table when I eventually stagger out.  How much extra sleep do I usually get on these days?  About 45 minutes if Iman is persistent.  If I cave and give her my phone to play with, I can get an hour and a half.  After that she gets bored and she expects us to launch into our daily routine- I go to the pool and Iman applauds and waves when I swim past her.  At every progressive lap she tries harder and harder to somehow insinuate herself into the water where she, being only three, is not allowed to swim.  Cindy calls her back to the poolside, where she waves at and encourages the other swimmers.  She also informs me, regularly, that she’s bigger now.  See?  She stands on her tiptoes and tell me “I’m seven.  Allah made me bigger.”  Why seven? Because that’s the minimum age for being allowed in the pool.

Then we go grocery shopping or come home and work on my computer.  By 12:30 it’s time to go get Khalid again, and once he’s home we do lunch, attempt to constructively entertain ourselves without too much screaming and battling over toys, cook dinner, and then find something for the kids to do in terms of physical activity.  It’s over 110 degrees daily now, so the park is out of the question.  In winter, the kids were off to the park every day by 3:30.  In summer, we cycle through the free play areas in various malls on a daily basis so that the kids can burn off some steam without dying of heat stroke.  Iman’s favorite is the play area in Babyshop, Khalid’s new favorite is Magic ‘Plant.’  Alhamdulillah, there’s a mall nearby that has both of these, albeit on opposite ends.  Cindy takes Iman one way and Joy takes Khalid the other.  I find a comfortable sofa somewhere in the middle and attempt to check email from my phone.  By five o’clock we’re home again and by six it’s time again for dinner, bathing, reading The Gruffalo with Baba and then the bedtime ritual, and the kids’ day has come full circle.

Once the kids are in bed, HF and I will occasionally go out, but usually get on our respective computers to work.  By ten I’m in bed, and tomorrow is another day.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Notice how nothing in my day involves appreciating, dwelling, relaxing, or luxuriating in the expectancy of expecting.  That’s what I was talking about.  With both Khalid and Iman’s pregnancies, the time just would not pass.  Now I feel ambushed every time another Babycenter.com email alert pops up saying “Congratulations, you’re X weeks pregnant!”  Last week’s number was 36.  I’m expecting the next one any day now.  The baby’s due date is anywhere between June 8th and June 17th InshaAllah, and the doctor says June 15th seems most likely.  I am torn between wanting the baby to be born early (because I’m tired of being a weeble-wobble juggernaut) and wanting the baby to be born as late as possible because I have too much work to do and I’m not ready to go on maternity leave yet.

So yes.  Here I am, nine months pregnant, happy, busy, tired, over-worked, not overfed though I wish I was, and not very likely to be able to slow down any time soon.  Poor lil Stringbean, you better come out running.

Kids these days…

At the Arabian Center's 'petting' zoo

Iman: Look momma, issa angry bird!

P is for poke, apparently.

(I am sitting at the dining table working on my computer, and suddenly I get a jabbing feeling in my left side.)

Me: Iman! What are you doing?

(Iman grins and holds up her pink pencil)

Iman: I poking you!

Me: Yes, I can see that.  If you want to get my attention, say excuse me Momma!

Iman: Excuse me momma?

Me: Yes Iman?

Iman: Can I poke you?

:s

And I quote:

HF, Iman and I are en route to Abu Dhabi for an appointment with my Orthopedic surgeon.  We take the exit ramp for a gas station and…

Iman: I want special full please.

HF and I have a good chuckle.

Me: Ok sweetie, let’s go inside and get you a drink.

We go inside and stand in line at the cafeteria.

Cashier: Yes Ma’am?

Iman, from two feet below the level of the counter: Special full please!

****

We’re sitting at the dining table having dinner and Khalid suddenly jumps down from his chair, rushes to the front door, opens it and sticks his head outside…

Khalid: Oh, iss dark! I need an umbrella!

***

Banging urgently on the bathroom door, which I am on the other side of:

Iman: Momma!  Momma!

Me: Yes Iman?

Iman: Have you seen my toes?

Me: I think they’re at the end of your feet.

Iman.  Oh. -pause-  Ok!

****

Khalid is reading a book of old nursery rhymes, and comes across The Lion and The Unicorn:

Khalid: Oh, the lion is ow! The lion is hurt! The lion is go to the doctor!

Me: The doctor for animals is called the vet.  The lion needs to go to the vet.

Khalid: No, the lion is go to the pharmacy.

****

Iman is feeding grass to a cow at the Bahiya Kids Park & Zoo, and gets slightly nibbled in the process.

Iman: Ow!  Bad cow!  Time out! No biting!

***

A car cuts in front of us as we’re driving on the highway, and HF honks the horn:

Iman: SubhanAllah!

Khalid: Bad car!

Iman: Time out!

***

As usual, Khalid gets to go into the Ikea play area, and Iman stands beneath the 95 cm mark on the wall, aspiring one day to reach it.

Attendant: I’m sorry, but you’re too small.

Me: I’m sorry Iman, InshaAllah when you’re a little bit bigger you can go inside too.

Iman raises her hands.

Iman: Oh Allah, please make Iman bigger.  Ameen.

***

Khalid wanders through my peripheral vision with something in his hands:

Khalid: Oh, iss hungry!

I’m working on my computer and take little notice.

Khalid: Oh, it’s eating!

Still no blips on the momma-radar.

Khalid: Eating curtains!  Scissors is hungry! Om om om!

And suddenly he has my full attention

CINDY IS BACK!

Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah. 🙂  and w00t

Did I mention w00t?  Even as we speak, Iman is at the park running wild and fancy-free, and I have managed to put an entire two hours of work in, which is, frankly speaking, two more hours than I had done all week.  And the house is clean.  And dinner is made.  And the laundry mountain has been conquered.  We did it.  We survived a month without Cindy, and even brought her home to a clean house with minimal dust-bunnies and a large slice of lemon-cream cake.  And we learned some things about ourselves in the process too.  Like how I’m not good at cleaning because I am just too good at it.  Case in point:

I went to clean my bathroom.

It looked like it could be better organized.

So Iman and I went to Ikea and bought a shelf, as well as some markers to entertain Iman.

In order to make space for the shelf, I had to hang the mirror in the bathroom that had been leaning against the wall for the last eight months.

I needed to drill holes in the tile first. So I went to the storage room to find the drill.

I found the drill, but I couldn’t find the size eight wall plugs.

The storage room was messy.  It looked like it could be better organized.

So I spent two hours cleaning out and reorganizing the storage room.

Then I drilled the holes in the bathroom tile and hung the mirror.

Then I assembled the shelf.

Then, as I was transferring the miscellany of toiletries onto it, I noticed that they looked a little messy.  They needed organized.

So I threw away anything expired, wiped off everything dusty, and made some tough executive decisions on whether or not to keep the tube of facial scrub that gave me an allergic reaction just because it was still full.

(It’s still here.  Apricot scrub, anyone?)

And by that point, five hours had passed since I first decided that I needed to clean my bathroom, and Iman and I were late to pick Khalid and Joy up from school.  And the bathroom was still dirty, but hey, at least it was organized!

I have discovered why Cindy can clean the whole house from top to bottom in four hours and still have time to browse facebook.  It’s because she doesn’t care if the tupperware is alphabetized.  This is a very important skill in a housekeeper, and rather than feel inadequate about not having it (crippling inadequacy about my level of huswifery is so last week) I prefer to see myself in light of other skillsets.  I may not be a very efficient housekeeper, but I’m a very good corporate communications monkey.  I can organize files and create style guides like nobody’s business!  Everything will be fine long as their design specs don’t look messy, lest I should try to organize them or something, in which case I get paid for my nit-picky, hair-splitting tendencies and lauded for my attention to detail.

Now there’s something that doesn’t happen when the tupperware is alphabetized but the sink is still full of dishes and dinner hasn’t progressed farther than the ‘thawing’ stage.

Oops, gtg!  It’s time to go pray and supervise the washing of the sandy savages.  (Translation: It’s Maghrib and the kids are back from the park).  The kids look messy.  Maybe they need organized.

SCORE! :)

Time is a funny thing.  You think you have lots of it and then before you realize what’s going on, another day has passed, another week is ending, another month is almost a third gone.

Cindy, our housekeeper/Iman-chaser/Jill of All Trades who holds down the fort while I’m off pretending to have a job or two, has been gone for a week and we’re learning to adjust accordingly.  I drop Khalid and Joy off at school in the way-too-early am.  Iman and I run errands together.  Then we come home and make lunch or something close to it.  A part-time housekeeper comes for two hours every other day to help with floors and bathrooms and other tasks that my knee, back, and pregnancy don’t totally jive with.  We use paper plates.  We buy ten-dirham roast chickens occasionally.    Sometimes the kids have peanut butter for lunch.

I remember, three years ago, crying on the sofa with a new-born Iman in my lap and Khalid whining at my knee, spit-up on my shoulder, still in my pajamas, nothing cooked for dinner and the house a wreck.  HF came home smiling and spoke three magic words that helped me redefine my measure of success or failure as a mother: “Lower.  Your.  Standards.”

These magic words were not carte-blanche for neglectful parenting or non-housekeeping, but rather of realistic goals and priorities.  And I have remembered them ever since, and HF, my HusbandFriend and superhero holds me to them, and and even good naturedly helps out and looks rather dashing in an apron with suds on his elbows.  Also, he makes bath-time more exciting.  And story time before bed perhaps a little too exciting.  Come to think of it, everything he does is exciting to the kids, and when he worked from home today so that I could get a little rest and attend a meeting in the afternoon, the result was that he and Iman went out for parathas and nihari at Karachi Darbar for breakfast and Iman came home with a squashy, melted chocolate in her tiny fist and a delighted grin on her face.  I got to sleep in to the extravagant hour of 9am, and after my afternoon meeting, even squeezed in a half an hour swim before rushing home to find the kids happily eating french fries, roast chicken and hummus.  Alhamdulillah 🙂

So yes.  Kids fed? Check!

House still standing?  Check!

No food being left out or wasted? Check!

Table has crumbs on it?  No prob!

Back screaming in pain?  Email can wait!

Everyone alive, healthy, happy, and grateful to Allah for His Mercies, great and small?

Score!

Now all we need to do is help Khalid get over tonsilitis, Iman get over a throat infection, and help me get over whatever it is that makes me pout and stomp when it’s time to go to bed in Iman’s room every night because she and Khalid cannot sleep in the same room.  They wake each other up, and after an all-nighter earlier this week with Iman crying that her cot was ‘yukky’ and Khalid waking up to see what all the fuss was about, HF and I took the cot down and put Iman back in her ‘bonk’ bed.

(We bought the kids a bunk bed.  We told them to NOT jump on the lower berth.  We told them they would hit their heads.  They didn’t believe us.  “Ow!” Iman cried two seconds after ignoring my warning,”I bonked my head onna bonk bed!”)

So now Iman and I sleep in Iman’s room, she’s got the top bonk, and I crawl into the bottom bonk, and in the middle of the night she wakes up and asks me for stickers (really, stickers!) and I tell her to go back to sleep.  And she cries, but Khalid is safely outside of earshot, sleeping with HF IN MY BED so Iman has no choice but to stave off her sticker pangs and go back to snotty, tearful sleep.

And now that I’ve polished off a few important emails and (with HF’s always charming help) brought the house to within regulation minimums for cleanliness for the evening, I’m going to pray, change into my PJ’s, and crawl into the bottom berth of a child-sized bed covered in pink flannel and nearly obscured with stuffed animals.  And I will try not to bonk my head.

If this post had a theme-song, it would be ‘Me & My Shadow’

Iman is “flying” a kite in the front yard (*hint, Momma hung it on some fishing wire tied between the car port and the gazebo) and singing a song of her own making.

She’s been playing happily outside on her own for the last fifteen minutes or so, but I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness for her- Khalid and Joy are at school.  Cindy is on leave and will be back home in the Philippines for the next month.

I’m home, but before I can take Iman out for some quality Momma/Iman time, I need to wash the dishes, cook lunch in anticipation of Khalid’s return and sweep the livingroom floor clean of the pancit noodles that Iman decorated it with for breakfast.  I also need to make a few time-sensitive phone calls, and visit the bank (with Iman, of course).

Then I’m going to buy paper plates/cups/bowls/napkins and heck if they made disposable pots I’d buy those too.  Without Cindy for the next month and no replacement available, I’m adding full-time housekeeping and Iman-entertaining to my directorship and corporate consultancy roles.

(And I’m thinking that when the mountain of laundry overwhelms me, I could start dressing the kids in paper towels.  Hey, they’re recyclable! )

I wonder what only-children do.  Iman is so bored.  It’s only ten am, and so far we’ve “flown” a kite, had a manicure, cut pictures out of the sales papers, drawn pictures of all the family members, and had not one, but two breakfasts, the first being pancit noodles and the second being cranberry juice and cereal.

Ah well.  Time to get to work and start sweeping, cooking, calling, driving, and somehow attending to Booboo, who has just informed me that she ‘needs to change clothes, to nice clothes.’

Off I go!

Blue, Pink, or Betrayal?

We do not yet know the gender of the baby, but for future reference, let’s call him or her Stringbean. No HF, I am NOT calling the baby Grandpa Wilkins. Yes, I know it’s a perfectly nice handle. No, I don’t want to attach it to a baby.

So yes, Stringbean. Khalid was my Jellybean. Iman was my Mysterybean because she evaded gender detection for almost 7 months via artful positioning and kung-fu fighting during ultrasounds. Stringbean is Stringbean because at my last ultrasound, the doctor took a look at the screen and said oh, that’s a long baby! I asked her what she meant. She said the head size was normal for the number of weeks of pregnancy, but the rest of the baby looked to be pretty long. This, she said, made sense because I was ‘tall too.’ I didn’t have the heart to tell this lovely, petite Asian OB that I’m only tall compared to lovely, petite Asian OB’s, but that’s ok. We have a long baby. We have a Stringbean. 🙂

When I first learned that we were expecting Stringbean, I refused to admit that I was hoping for a Boybean or a Girlbean, and I held the line that I would be happy with whatever Allah gave us and that was that. I already had Khalid and Iman, Boy and Girl, Salt and Pepper, so it’s not like I needed any specific pieces to complete the matching set but the truth is, I was in denial.  I wanted a boy, and I wanted a normal one.  I felt horribly guilty about this, and when I finally confessed this to HF one tearful night, he hugged me and asked me why I felt bad about that. Hoping for a boy, I felt, was like implying that I didn’t already have a son- like Khalid was not valid as a little male human being and I was telling the Manufacturer this one’s not working right so I want a new one.

And HF nodded and said I know, I want a boy too. And I was shocked, but it seemed less heinous coming from HF than it felt in the dark and guilty recesses of my mind, because wanting a boy has nothing to do with Khalid and everything to do with Khalid at the same time.  Wanting another son isn’t a matter of betrayal, but practicality.  Khalid is special, unique, difficult, academically advanced and socially delayed, verbally unintelligible to the uninitiated and physically confusing in his quirks and stims.

InshaAllah, he has a future and a rizq and a place in this world because Allah has written all of these things for him and is not unfair to any of His creations. But Khalid is going to need some help, and one day, HF and I are going to die. Iman will be married, and while I have no doubt that she will always share a special bond with Khalid, she may not always be in a position to support or help him when he needs it most. Or rather, let’s put it this way: Iman will have an easier time looking out for Khalid if she’s not the only one. Adding another Salt shaker to the set means that Khalid has a matching set of siblings to count on after his matching set of parents- Father and Mother, Provider and Nurturer, Protector and Soother, are gone.

The pregnancy is starting to show, and other autism mothers I meet look shocked when they hear we’re expecting our third child. “You’re so brave,” one mother told me last week, whose son was just diagnosed a month ago and who has lost seven kilos from the stress. “We want to have another baby but we are so scared. We don’t want him to be left alone when we die, but what if we have another child with autism?”

I told her, frankly speaking, that when I found out I was expecting Iman, I cried and it was NOT out of happiness. It was out of frustration and hopelessness and the feeling of failure that I felt from raising a little boy who didn’t even respond to his own name. This was before Khalid was diagnosed, we just knew that Khalid was different and difficult, and I felt like I could barely handle him, so how on earth would I cope with another one? SubhanAllah, to say the least, Iman is a blessing. When most parents of autistic children pay over 300 dirhams an hour for their child to take part in a specially structured ‘play group session’ with neurotypical children, Khalid lives with one. Iman was his first play-mate, his first enemy and the first peer he had ‘conversations‘ with. Iman taught Khalid how to pull hair, pinch, kick and run- and also, how to defend himself and rise to the defense of others.

Iman has been a challenge, a laugh-riot, a pretty pink princess crowned with ferocity, slathered in resilience, and lovingly adorned with sweet little kisses and precise deadly pinches. We will never need a TV- watching Khalid and Iman simply coexist is more hilarious, dramatic, entertaining, riveting, frustrating, and awe-inspiring than Comedy Central, Discovery, NatGeo, and Hallmark all rolled into one.

And now, InshaAllah, there’s going to be three of them. And what if the next child has autism? Well, the good news is, we already have a full-time therapist. And program materials. And a great case manager and a better idea of which nurseries, schools, play-areas, toys, people, malls, shopping-carts, are best for children with autism. So SubhanAllah, we’re better prepared now for an autistic child than we ever were with Khalid. So if Allah decides to grant us another special little child with very special needs, than I am grateful that we’ve been prepared this time. 🙂

And what if the next child is a girl?  Then I would like her to be named Khawla, after the amazing Muslim heroine that would have been completely unknown to me were it not for a cross-posting on Badass of the Week (actual site name, pardon my French).  Khawla travelled with the army of Khalid bin Waleed, ironically enough, accompanied by her brother, a commander and famous warrior-poet named Derar.  She would tend the wounded and sick, but one day, would move beyond that role when her brother went down in battle and was captured by Byzantine soldiers.  Khawla, seeing him taken from a distance, dropped what she was doing, covered her face with a strip of black cloth and her body in a shawl, and rode off, sword in hand, to go rescue him.

“Khalid watched a knight, in black attire, with a big green shawl wrapped around his waist and covering his bust. That knight broke through the Roman ranks as an arrow. Khalid and the others followed him and joined battle, while the leader was wondering about the identity of the unknown knight.”

Other soldiers in the battle saw her fighting with such ferocity that they thought her to be Khalid Bin Waleed himself, and when Khalid Bin Waleed appeared with a number of knights to reinforce Khawla, one knight turned to him and said “Who is that knight? By God, he has no regard for his safety!”

Eventually the battle was won, but her brother was nowhere to be seen. Khalid Bin Waleed demanded that the unknown knight reveal his identity, and when Khawla was discovered to be the sister of Derar, Khalid ordered his army to chase the fleeing Roman Army with Khawla leading the attack.

I won’t give the entire and seriously awesome story away, you can read the entire (and profanity-free) article here and I am not linking the place where I originally read it, due to the use of four-letter words used gratuitously, albeit, in admiration of Khawla.  But I digress.

It is a mercy, blessing, and gift from Allah that when we see things through the lens of trust and Taqwa that we have the opportunity to relax.  All good is in Allah’s hands.  All difficulty is a trial through which we may become stronger.  All ease is a blessing and there is no hopelessness for those who trust unfailingly in His will.  If our next child is a healthy, neurotypical boy, Alhamdulillah.  If our next child is a healthy, neurotypical girl, Alhamdulillah.  And if our next child is autistic, regardless of the gender, Alhamdulillah.

I am praying for a healthy boy, because Allah tells us to call upon Him and ask of Him, even for a shoelace.  He is, after all, the Owner of every treasure, known and unknown, seen and unseen, in the universe and beyond the known universe.  Hoping for a healthy boy and then not asking the One who can provide one would be a gross oversight on my behalf.  But I am also praying that Allah grant me a child who inherits Jannah, and if that means a person who is never questioned because they can never tell the difference between right and wrong, then that too is a blessing.

Alhamdulillah. 🙂

Apples versus oranges, lady.

The Ikea in Festival Center (Dubai) has a lovely little play area for kids, and Alhamdulillah, Khalid is able to play inside by himself as long as there is someone on the other side of the glass watching in case of the unexpected bathroom emergency or melt-down. Alhamdulillah, neither happen very often.

It’s a neat little place, with a slide and a large ball room and some tables and chairs with paper and crayons. The only bit of poor planning in there is a water cooler at toddler level with bright, easy to pull levers and only the tiny, standard drip-tray underneath- sorely inadequate for the number of kids who come, play, pull, and cause the occasional puddle. I don’t know whether the other children are less interested in water or more compliant with the attendants, but the water cooler isn’t so big an issue that they’ve had to move it or anything. But then, there’s Khalid.

One of Khalid’s latest fascinations is with pouring. He’s been in to pouring for a few months now, and it began with us losing five or six full pumps of liquid hand-soap in one week. Khalid would open the lid and pour the soap down the drain, then he would fill the container with water and pour that down the drain too. We lost a few economy-sized bottles of baby shampoo that way. Sometimes he would find water bottles and pour those down the drain as well, and then transfer the water from one container to the other, just to watch it pour. Needless to say, we no longer own or use liquid hand-soap. Bar soap is safer because it lacks a certain… flow.

So Khalid likes liquid, he likes watching it pour, he likes filling and emptying things, and he likes the water cooler at Ikea. Apparently he likes filling (but not drinking or pouring) glasses of water and lining them on up the shelf nearby, and apparently, the lady on duty last Tuesday had gotten a little annoyed. When I came to pick Khalid up, I saw him filling himself a glass of water, and I told the attendant that she might want to move him away from the cooler, since I was on the other side of the gate and couldn’t come in. She turned around, and from where she stood, over ten feet away, called out in a sing-songy voice, “Baby! I told you, don’t touch the water cooler!”

“His name is Khalid. He’s not going to respond to baby.”

“Okay, Khalid! Come here!” she sang out again.

Khalid, who heard his name and probably my voice as well, turned and ran excitedly towards me, knowing it was time to come home. When he reached the gate, the lady had to remove his numbered vest (that’s how they keep track of the kids) and retrieve his shoes and backpack. In the middle of this, she decided to kneel down, point her finger in Khalid’s face, and scold him.

“If mommy tells me you have been a bad boy I will not let you back in here.”

I waited to see what Khalid would do. No reaction. He was too excited about coming out. But then she said it again, more loudly and in his face, “You have to be a good boy! Otherwise I will not let you come back!”

That got Khalid’s attention. Khalid looked at her, saw the finger in his face, and pinched her. Hard. She stood up, rubbed her stomach where he had pinched her, and handed me Khalid’s shoes and backpack. As I signed Khalid out, she asked, “Ma’am, is this your only child?”

I thought she was asking if Khalid was my only child in the play area, so I said yes.

“Oh,” she nodded. “No wonder he is so spoiled.”

I think if this had been last year, and I had been more raw and less experienced, then I would have been seething. If this had been two years ago, I would have been in tears. But this was 2010, and I’ve been an ‘autism mom’ for long enough so that I don’t see peoples’ ignorance as insensitivity, or their criticism of Khalid’s behavior as a scathing judgment of my parenting skills or the lack thereof. As it is, I was warily amused. And, I felt a sorry for her. Khalid does pinch really hard.

“He’s not spoiled actually, he’s autistic. You know autism?”

She looked blank. And then looked at Khalid.

“He didn’t understand what you were saying.”

And then she looked really, really embarrassed.

“But, but he looks so normal. He looks ok!”

“Most children with autism look completely normal.”

Khalid was holding my hand now, and as he bounced in place, his dog tags- engraved with his name, nationality, contact info, and AUTISM in capital letters- jingled a happy tune.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know…”

“It’s ok,” I said. And really, it was.

I think the next time I go down I’ll say hi and strike up a conversation. She could use some pointers on addressing children directly and in an authoritative tone of voice. All kids, even the autistic ones and especially the normal ones, can tell who means business just by the tone of voice used. And it’s not about intimidating the kids into good behavior, but if your ‘don’t do that’ voice can be mistaken for a brief rendition of ‘twinkle twinkle little star,’ then there’s a good chance that you’re not getting much compliance out of any of them.

*rimshot*

One of HF’s coworkers came over for lunch today, and as per tradition, Iman decided that the new person in the house must absolutely be her new best friend forever in the entire world. So she climbed in his lap, fawned over him told him everything that she knew about everything, which is something she does to newly introduced people all the time. Iman doesn’t require any warm-up time for new people. In fact, the newer the person the better- she’ll adore them all the more.

So, as Uncle BFF was getting his own son ready to go by helping him with his socks, Iman decided that was the perfect time to plop down into his lap (between his busy hands) and poke him in the nose. And then she poked herself in the nose and initiated the following conversation. And I quote:

Iman: I bonked my nose! I got it an ow!

Uncle BFF: Oh, you bonked your nose? Did it hurt?

Iman: Iss pain-fo. I go to the doctor.

Uncle BFF: You took your nose to the doctor? What did the doctor say?

Iman: No more monkeys jumping on the bed.

End quote.

Because sometimes, you really need a hamster…

(I am in bed falling asleep for a much-needed power nap when Iman lets herself in and stands at the head of my bed.)

Iman:  Momma, I get it a wabbit?

Me: (trying to talk and not wake up at the same time) A rabbit?  Honey, you don’t need to get a rabbit.

Iman: I get it a ham-sto?

Me: We’re not getting you a hamster.

Iman: Momma, I need  it a ham-sto.

Me: Ok, go get a hamster.

She leaves the room and I start falling back asleep.  I am vaguely aware of Iman returning, putting something next to my chin, and then patting me.  And when I wake up half an hour later, I’m cuddling this:

It’s Harry the Happy Hamster.  Lil Grey’s kids left him here once upon a time, and he’s been an important member of Iman’s ridiculously diverse collection of stuffed toys ever since.

It was a nice nap.  Alhamdulillah. 🙂

And now that the cat’s out of the bag…

Phew! I can finally blog about what’s been on my mind!

Ok, what’s up with the Nuchal Translucency screening? And why did my doctor ask me if I wanted one? I asked her what it was for, and she said that measuring the Nuchal fold in a developing fetus could help determine whether or not your baby has a chromosomal abnormality.

*awkward silence*

And then what?

Well, if it’s positive, you can get further testing done to determine whether your baby has Down’s Syndrome.

And then?

Well, then about 90% of fetuses with Down’s Syndrome are aborted.

You know, they’re working on a prenatal screening for autism. So that potentially, individuals who have autistic traits can be identified before they’re born.

I wonder how high the abortion rate would be, and I think of how amazing, how silly, how sweet, how challenging and fulfilling it is to have Khalid as my son, and how awful it is that parents should choose to kill their children out of… what, fear? Laziness? A murderous need for the neurotypical? An overpowering revulsion to special children? If both of my children were normal then perhaps someone who supported prenatal screening (and subsequent abortion) could tell me to get off my high horse and that I shouldn’t judge a man until I’ve walked a mile in his moccasins, etcetera etcetera. But I don’t have a horse and I know for a fact that Allah does not test anyone more than they can bear. I’ve walked a few miles in special needs moccasins, thank you very much, and I think parents who kill their children out of fear should have their moccasins removed and thrown at them.

And do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.  The Qur’an, Surah Al-Isra, 31

Is fear of poverty the same thing as whatever it is people are fearing when they abort babies with Down’s Syndrome?  I’m not sure what exactly it is they’re afraid of- fear that their child will be made fun of?  So let’s screen for babies with really big ears.  Fear that their child won’t be able to hold a job?  Let’s screen for incompetency too then.  Oh, and blindness!  Don’t forget blindness!  Maybe it’s fear that their child will never lead a ‘normal’ life?  Well, I don’t know if they can develop a prenatal test for turning into an alcoholic or drug addict or someone with bipolar disorder, and I think humanity has yet to apply a standard for what a ‘normal’ life is, but let’s run with this, shall we?

Let’s develop a prenatal test to screen for any and all conditions that cause children to face challenges throughout their lives while causing their parents to sweat blood and bleed tears to provide medical care, education, and adequate opportunities for their children in a world that doesn’t give a hoot.

And then, let’s abort the entire human race.

Because every child is hard work.  Every child costs money.  Every child is in danger of ‘not leading a normal life’ and no child, no matter how thick their Nuchal fold is or how low their amniotic testosterone rate is, comes with a guarantee for an easy upbringing, a bright future, and a normal life.  Being normal isn’t a guarantee of all things bright and beautiful  any more than being ‘abnormal’ means a life-sentence of misery, toil, and complete unhappiness for the entire family + the affected child.

In all of this, I don’t feel sorry for the aborted children as much as I do the parents who chose to abort them.  The children got a one-way ticket to Paradise.  They were made for Jannah.  It’s the parents who have cheated themselves out of the most rewarding journey they could possibly have embarked on, the greatest test of their patience and the greatest blossoming of love they could feel for another human being.  On a side note, they’ll have some questions to answer in the next life.  But in this life even, they have cheated themselves.

You’ll never know how amazing it is to stand on top of the mountain unless you’ve climbed all the way to the top.

I told the doctor no thank you, I have one special needs child and I can have another one.  She nodded at me and smiled.

“Good,” she said.  “I have a special needs child too.  And I would not have it any other way.”

Me neither.  AllahuAkbar.

A Letter from HF

Assalamalaikum wa rahmatullahe wa barakatuhu everyone-
Alhamdulilah we have some very good news to share.  Allah (SWT) is  insha-Allah blessing us with another child. The current expected date is set 2nd/3rd week of June.
We are very happy about this, especially since we can now justify the minivan with flame stickers and an “R-type” sticker in the back. The kids will love another companion, and we’re pleased that our extensive collection of car seats will provide more value.
I would be grateful if you could keep us in your duas- duas for our children and for their Islamic character, duas that they may become a source of comfort to us and a sadaqa jaariya. May  Allah (SWT) give all our children a character that He loves. Ameen.
I know you may already be asking: Waleed, in all of this, how are you doing? I’m doing great, thanks for asking! And yes, so is Abez. She is a fantastic trooper and thanks  Allah (SWT) every day for this blessing.
Jazak Allah Khair,
Waleed

Randomly Random Ramblings -or- Anything but open my work email, hunh?

So we make plans, but Allah is the best of planners, so the visa for Joy’s replacement won’t be ready until Joy herself gets back. So Khalid will only start going to school once she’s back again, because as his Case Manager said, there was no point in him coming for snack + playground to drink his juice and play and then go home again, especially without a shadow, because we didn’t want him to be reinforced in negative behavior patterns that he would most likely develop in a trained shadow’s absence.

So we’ll stay home and play PBSkids.org and practice our handwriting in the mean time 🙂 Alhamdulillah, I know there’s a reason for everything so I don’t feel annoyed at the time lost. And the last thing I want is Khalid running amok in the class (and me hobbling behind him) while the teachers look on warily and then give him the boot after his three week trial is up.

Also, Iman is lately into negotiating. She asked me for a piece of cake after she had already had one, I told her no. So she asked if she could share a piece of cake. Then she asked if she could borrow a piece of cake. Then she asked if she could buy a piece of cake. When it all failed, she grinned at me and said, “Momma, chokit?”

No sweetie, no chocolate.

It’s strange being one hand short at home. On a daily basis, we’re usually a party of 5- Me, Cindy, Joy, Khalid, and Iman- and I remember once shopping in Lulu Al Barsha and turning to look at my entourage- it looked like I had one shopping cart and one nanny per child. And you know, here in Dubai, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve seen it. I saw a woman with triplets and matching nannies last night. I used to scoff at mothers with nannies but now that I have two kids and limited mobility, I figure as long as they’re happy, well-paid, and earning a halal income, good for them. If a woman who lives in an extended family is allowed to have the grandma and aunties and cousins all pitch in and help without that making her less of a mother, then there’s no reason why hiring help (instead of just being related to it) should make you less of a mother either.

(And besides, you don’t need a nanny to be a bad mother. There are lots of really bad mothers out there who do all the laundry and diapers and the emotional abuse themselves. Maybe if they had help they’d be less frazzled and more loving. AllahuAalim.)

Heh- can you tell I still have a wee bit of existential egalitarian typically American guilt about needing help at home? Once upon a time, I was adamant about doing everything myself. My own mother refused to get help, even when we lived in Pakistan as children, and we only hired our first housekeeper when I was 20- long after my mother would have needed help with diapers and hair-pulling. This too was because both parents, as well as every single one of us siblings was working. Daddy and lil’Bro were running Chez Daddy, Momma (mine) was teaching English, I was teaching American accents to diplomats and Owlie was running a news agency. So a sweet young lady named Najma did the sweeping, mopping, and dusting, and because our Momma raised us right, she was a member of the family that my father still checks in on when he returns to Pakistan on an annual basis.

But I digress. I used to feel guilty. Sometimes, I still do, but I’ve come to accept that help is a blessing from Allah as well as a test of my character as a Muslim, so I ask for help when I can’t get into the cabinets beneath the kitchen counter (you’d be amazed at how important a functioning knee is) but I don’t ask anyone to get me a glass of water. And my kids say please and thank you to Cindy and Joy and obey them- else suffer the Wrath of Momma.

I never planned to have a housekeeper and a therapist on staff, but then I never planned to wreck my right knee and have a child with autism. And Allah is the best of planners.

Out of the noses of babes

Iman: momma, wook!   issa booger.

Me: Yes dear, let’s get a tissue.

Iman: I eat it?

Me: No! Do not eat that!

[Iman is startled by my reaction, and then understanding dawns on her]

Iman: [nodding sagely] Iss berry spicy.

An Abaya Built for Two

So Iman has this routine that’s specific to us praying at home, which generally involves getting on all fours, crawling between my feet and then standing up inside of my Abaya.  Because I use a chair for half of my salah (for sajda, specifically) the space between my feet exists for the entire prayer, although previously, Iman has thought of better things to do halfway through salah and crawled out from underneath of my clothes and then run away to do something really worthwhile, like pinch her brother.

Today though, she almost made it through all four rakat of Isha.

Because she brought a book with her.

About dinosaurs.

And she read it.

From beneath my Abaya.

Alhamdulillillahi Rabbil ‘Alameen….

Momma, di-no-sho!

4am: What, us? Nocturnal?

On the bright side, if Khalid didn’t wake up in the middle of the night, I might never blog. On the annoying side, it’s 4 in the morning and he’s been up since 1:30, jumping, rolling, climbing, and lavishing WWF-style affection (half-nelsons, not pandas) on his stubborn “WE ARE STAYING IN BED!” momma.

This is how it works. Joy puts Khalid to bed by eight o’clock. HF and I get to bed by around 11, realistically speaking. Khalid starts thrashing and kicking and whining by around midnight, and I wake up and pat him and he goes back to sleep. I fall asleep again and am woken abruptly an hour or so later by a 45 pounds of kisses and head-butts and elbows and knees and pinching- he likes pinching. He doesn’t do it out of malice, he does it out of love, and if I’m asleep (or not awake enough to defend myself) he goes to town with it and so in addition to being lovingly jumped on, I’m also adoringly subjected to severe irritation. I wish I was more patient in my sleep. Also, that someone made pinch-proof pajamas. I have ideas- a single head-to foot suit made out of two layers of quilted flannel. Like a giant potholder. *nodnodnodyawn*

But I’m up, Alhamdulillah, so I might as well make the most of it and do a proper update. We picked our first therapist, but we couldn’t hire him because he had an immigration ban due to having had Hep B in 1992 (immigration can be rather strict about this) so he’s going back home on Saturday, poor guy. We’re screening other therapists and need to pick at least four by… wow. I just forgot what I was doing and answered work email for forty minutes. Right. By next week. We need to have two picked immediately and all four picked asap. Hiring the fifth would be good, but should wait just to make sure we have that many parents ready to go as soon as we can provide them. Because I’m operating as close to cost as I can in the pursuit of making things affordable, we have to be very precise about scheduling. I can’t afford to hire therapists who haven’t been placed yet, so inevitably, the parents say yes, and then they wait a few weeks while I get the therapist. I wish the process was quicker, but I’m a startup and let’s see how this works, InshaAllah.

But I don’t want to talk work. I live, eat, even sleep in AutismUAE right now. The other day, when Khalid was awake all night (again) my half-asleep brain was angry at him because every time he climbed in and out of my bed, he was using up one of my employee visas! And then a few nights later, I invited him into my bed because I thought we needed a receptionist for the office. :s

But right, NO WORK!

So, I was stealing a few minutes to relax in bed this evening when Iman discovered me laying down in the dark. She climbed up next to me and said Momma, I wanna story!

So I told her to bring me a book, and I covered my eyes with my arm and hoped she would forget what she went to go get. But she came back with The Hungry Caterpillar, and instead of handing it to me, opened it up and started to read to me.

Momma wook, a strawberry!
Turnna page!
Whereza strawberry milkshake?
All gone, a butterfwy!
The End!

And then she looked at the wall and said Momma, it’s a eight o nine o cwock!
(It was six)
Momma sleep! Close eyes!
(she poked me in the eyes to make sure they were closed)
Then, she gently stroked my face and hummed, and after a few seconds, kissed me gently on the forehead.
Then she whispered night-night and slipped off the bed and tip-toed out of the room.

Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but in this case, I could happily have done both, Alhamdulillah. 🙂 I burst out laughing and Iman, realizing that something fun was happening, ran back into the room and jumped on the bed and we had a hug and a nice roll-about in bed. Khalid heard the fun and joined us, and I ended up feeling refreshed and awake and happy without even having snuck in a nap. 🙂 Children are such a blessing, SubhanAllah, and I would call it magic except that magic does not explain the thousands of mercies that Allah gives us through our offspring, their ability to make us feel alive and loved being just one of them.

I’m also amazed by how quickly Iman and Khalid pick up my behavior and speech patterns, with Iman putting me to sleep and Khalid opening up the refrigerator and parroting the “Hmm, let’s see…” that I didn’t even realize I said until both children started saying it too!

Ah, it’s 5:22 and time to pray Fajr. Maybe we’ll even go to sleep. One things we’re definitely not doing today though, is going to work. Again. But on the plus side, the other guy cancelled the meeting first, and I’m not happy that an already overdue project will be further delayed, but I am relieved that I’ll be able to get some sleep before my second meeting in the afternoon. Now if only the car hadn’t died and was being towed to the mechanic, I might be able to make it to that one too. SubhanAllah. 🙂

I think he’s trying to tell me something.

Both kids have been sick for the past two days, it’s 3:45 in the morning right now, and Khalid has been up since 11:30 last night. He spent most of the night crying and kicking and thrashing around, angry because he couldn’t sleep. The rest of the night was spent in jumping on me and entertaining himself once he realized he wasn’t sleepy any more. Right now, he’s running between the two arm chairs in the living room, throwing himself face-first onto each one and then quickly doing a 180 and running to the opposite chair to do the same. It’s been a weird night. Momma is very, very tired. Momma has a headache. Momma is cranky. But Momma is ok. Because Khalid had a good point. He opened the refrigerator. He picked up a lemon. He handed it to me and said “Oh, wemonade?”

SubhanAllah.

My little hero, MashaAllah

Some children are bad at taking turns, but my kids are good at it for all the wrong reasons.  When Iman is getting an involuntary manicure, she’ll plead “Khalid’s turn!  Khalid’s turn!”  And when it really is Khalid’s turn, he’ll do the same.  “Iman’s turn!  Iman’s turn!”

To say it’s the other sibling’s turn is loosely translated as “Not me, take him instead!”  On the other hand, when Khalid is playing with a toy that Iman finds interesting, she has no hesitation in grabbing it and yelling out “Iman’s turn!” and when Khalid wants to use my computer, he’ll stand at my elbow and cheerfully announce “It’s Khalid’s turn!”

Turn-taking has been anything but an altruistic skill, until now.

Iman had a dental appointment two days ago, and of course, she screamed bloody murder while having her teeth cleaned.  I held her in my lap, Cindy held her legs, one assistant held her head while a second handed tools to the dentist- a lovely lady who works with the rapid expertise of someone with a small window of opportunity in the midst of a big fuss.

In all of this, Khalid was just outside in the waiting room, playing uneasily with the legos and periodically trying to come in to see what was happening to Iman.  Joy redirected him back to the legos several times, but he was quite upset by Iman’s screaming.  And my brave little boy, you know what he said to Joy as he tried to enter the room again?

“It’s Khalid’s turn.”

SubhanAllah, MashaAllah, Alhamdulillah. 🙂

It’s quiet in here, too quiet…

So, if five minutes pass without you hearing your kids laugh, giggle, squeak, yell, cry, fight, or jump off furniture, there’s a strong possibility that you may become suddenly (and rightfully) suspicious and tiptoe off in search of them.

You may find them sitting on your bed, holding those supposedly baby-proof cups- you know, the ones that will only leak if held upside down and vigorously shaken?  They’ll be holding those cups upside down and vigorously shaking them, engrossed in what is obviously very important and very serious work, because the two will be working in tandem and in silence to effectively soak your As-A-Grown-up-I-Deserve-A-Pretty-Bedspread bedspread, which is just a few months old and dry clean only.

Or, if you doze off thinking your son is asleep as well, you might wake to find him, the bed, the floor, the desk and the same milk-stained bedspread all ghostly white and pleasantly floral smelling-  all covered with a layer of baby powder so deep it will require a proper archeological dig to restore the room to its original color.  There will be two jumbo-sized containers of baby powder suspiciously kicked under the bed.  Both will be empty.

Or you could wake up with four colors of post-its stuck to your face and pillow.  Because your son woke up and early and quietly entertained himself while waiting for you to come around.

Kids: If you can’t hear them, find them!

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.

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: Coming soon to a blog near you

Out of the chub that covers me

Though soft I sit from pole to pole

I thank forever the Lord that Be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the sweet clutch of circumstance

I have not pinched nor snacked around

Under the bludgeoning of chocolate chance,

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of fat and fears

Looms but the horror of the shade

And yet the menace of these years

Finds, and shall find me, unweighed.

It matters not how great the plate

How charged with condiments the roll

I am the Master of my fate

I am the captain of my…stomach.

I first mangled William Henley’s Invictus six years ago, and I was then, as now, trying to lose weight. I wasn’t dieting, but I was exercising and trying to eat according to the Sunnah, which, on a side note, is possibly the only weight loss plan endorsed by God Himself. SubhanAllah. 🙂 Fast forward six years, and I’m not trying to lose weight so much as I am trying to try to lose weight.

To say that I’m trying to lose weight implies that I am actively doing something about my weight. I’m only trying to try, which means I forget I’m supposed to be trying, have a second helping of Thai green curry and then later remember that I wasn’t supposed to be filling my stomach. And then I feel sad, so I have a cookie. I’m not joking. I’m struggling here, and like many other young mothers, the only proof I have of a previous life and waist-size are some pre-marriage abayas lovingly kept and impossible to wear except as righteous-looking wetsuits. With matching sheilas.

And I’m typing this as a much, much needed reminder to myself, because I will be turning 30 in five months, and while there’s no magic to the number, there is the fact that my health as a human being isn’t going to automatically improve or maintain itself. I’m not old, but I’m not getting any younger, and the older I get, the harder it will be to get into shape. Besides, the excuse that you’re only carrying a little post-baby weight only works when you actually have a baby. Iman is no longer a baby, she’s an all-singing, all-dancing, hair-pulling, toe-biting, cookie-stealing two-year old. With whipped cream and a cherry on top.

So it’s time for me to dust off the old resolve, and bolster it with some imperative and structure it with some best practices. Here I go.

I resolve to lose weight, InshaAllah. I have done it before, and with Allah’s Grace I will do it again. I once lost 50 pounds with the same- God’s help, eating according to the Sunnah, and exercise. The exercise wasn’t very intense, and it was secondary to controlling my stomach. So how does one eat according to the Sunnah?

“No human ever filled a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for any son of Adam are some morsels to keep his back straight. But if it must be, then one third for his food, one third for his drink and one third for his breath.” –The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, recorded by Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasaa’I, Ibn Majah – Hadith sahih.

It took me almost two years to master eating according to the Sunnah, and it was one of the hardest battles I had ever fought against myself. Once I finally did it though, I can testify- it feels amazing. Eating according to the Sunnah does not mean that you go hungry, it means that you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you are satiated, not full. Being satiated means that the need to eat has passed, though the desire may still exist. The need is a function of how empty your stomach is, but the want being a function of how good the food tastes.

The funny thing about eating this way is that in a few hours, you’ll get hungry. Surprise! If you’re eating to satiation, and not fullness, this is natural. So eat again just until you’re satiated, and life goes on. And gradually, your stomach shrinks, you start to feel light and energized, and you can enjoy a meal without having a belly-ache afterwards. The weight begins to fall off by itself- no dieting, no counting calories, no carbs this or protein that. You are consuming enough calories to fuel your body’s basic needs without putting excessive amounts into storage (fat). And you have mastered one of the most overpowering urges that humans can experience- the desire to overeat.

Of course, you do need to exercise common sense- don’t fill a third of your stomach with bon-bons. Don’t drink a third’s worth of grape soda. Eat normal food, drink water, and remember that you are in control of your body. You’re in charge, not the stomach!

When you start losing weight, and passing by mirrors and thinking things like- hey, that doesn’t look half bad! Then you’ll probably want to accelerate the melting process. That’s where moderate exercise comes in. Do something, anything aerobic for fifteen minutes a day. Take a walk around the block. Run up and down your stairs, get on a bike- just do something, anything, to get your blood pumping and your muscles moving.

Weight loss is, simply speaking, a matter of math.
Input vs Output

One pound of human fat contains approximately 3,500 calories. In order to lose one pound a week, you need to decrease your calorie intake by 500 calories a day. And yeah, you could starve yourself briefly, creating miserably sudden weight loss, but there’s a good chance you would cut into muscle mass, mess with your metabolism, and then fall face-first into a gallon of ice cream once you had reached your goal, thus, undoing all your hard work.

Dieting NEVER works, because dieting is a reduction of calorie input that is generally a) drastic, and b) unsustainable, and therefore temporary. Temporary changes in eating habits only yield temporary results, because the underlying problem (consumption of excess calories) has not been addressed. Once you go back to your old habits, you inevitably go back to your old weight.

Eating according to the Sunnah is different, because a) you are never hungry, only satiated and b) it is a permanent shift. It is a change in how you perceive food, eating, and the purpose of your stomach. It’s a fuel tank, not a bean bag.

So here I go. And to keep myself honest, I’m going to blog updates. If X is my starting weight (and no, don’t ask me what X is) then the goal is X-20. I’ll weigh myself tomorrow morning, and I have five months to lose 20 pounds. I was going to say 30, but with my grinding, groaning right knee and a move to Dubai coming up soon, I need to keep my goals reasonable. Make dua for me, ladies. (Brothers are exempt for praying for my weight loss, thank you) I’m going to need it!

Apples, Oranges, Autism

My blog needs an update – design and structure-wise, I mean. To replace the links I no longer have time to visit (sorry Blogistan!) with links I visit constantly- places like Autism-watch.org, the Assosciation for Science in Autism, Photon in the Darkness Blog- and a slew of blogs written by/for/about Autistics and Autism. It’s a natural shift for me to make, but one that seems odd nonetheless. When I started blogging.. ohh…six years ago- wait, has it really been six years?

*checks archive*

Yep, it’s been six years. And four months. My blog is older than both of my children, as well as my marriage. Ha!

When I started blogging six years ago, I was a single, carefree, English-Accent teaching expat living in Pakistan with my parents, Owlie, and our little brother. I drove a mini-car named the Silver Bullet and went to the National Stadium Pool to swim laps, socialized all over town with my girlfriends and blogged about religion, life, and whatever sort of nonsense was Soup Du Jour. I wrote poetry and short fiction, played Playstation 2 until my eyeballs turned to glue, and baked compulsively.

Fast forward six years, and I’m a (very, very) happily married special needs momma with one Autistic boy and one neurotypical Babysaurus Rex.

(Iman is lately into biting. And slapping. And pulling hair. And screaming bloody murder when she’s put into time out)

We see three ABA therapists, one OT, and almost no one socially. Phone calls with friends (if ever) tend to be about kids, fianance, real-estate, family, and very often, Autism. I’ve written no short stories, and only a handful of short poems, and even these were before Khalid was born. I wear comfortable sneakers because frilly shoes do not make good kid-chasing gear. I wear stain-resistant, highly patterened clothes and have invested in not one, but three pairs of sunglasses just this year, as both Khalid and Iman are equally bent on, well, bending them.

I don’t think I am who I used to be.

I would like to belive that I am better, but I think the most honest thing that I can say is that I am different. Comparing Single Abez to Momma Abez is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, except that this apple slowly started changing color and rounding out and woke up one day and said Hey, am I really an orange?

I know I am more patient, but I also know that there are days and times when I desperately need time off, and I leave both kids at home with Cindy and HF or my parents (when and if they are in town) and escape to a coffee shop or mall.

I’m not a big fan of malls, it’s just that here in the UAE in the summer, the mall is the closest thing to a community space that doesn’t resemble a convection oven. I think it’s 108F today. Not bad. Two days ago it was 114. The hottest I can remember has been 116.

But yeah. I think I’m an orange now. Sometimes I miss being an apple- reading books all night and sleeping until noon the next day, having the time/brain power to write, the energy to bake, and the fitness of a person with the time to excercise and lift weights. But if being an apple again meant losing the entourage that has turned me into an orange- my HusbandFriend, Khalid, Iman- then I wouldn’t trade any of it.

There are times when I can’t take my children for another second, but I can’t imagine life without them. And being a very complex kind of orange, I then ruin my time-off with overwhelming maternal guilt that causes me to sit in the coffee shop and sulk, and call home and complain to HF that I don’t know what I do when I’m not being Momma.

*shrug*

If anyone needs me I’ll be in the produce aisle. Next to the lemons.

Time again, for another 2 am post.

HF is en route to Australia for a bidness trip, and we, The Circus, are left to our own devices for this week. Apparently our devices involve rolling around the floor sucking on building blocks. Well, those are Iman’s devices anyway. She’s the reason I’m up cooking instead of down snoring- I woke up at 12:46 to giggling and pulling of the strings on my hoodie, which, in addition to fist-sucking and foot-waving, is Iman’s way of letting me know she’s fully charged and ready to party.

So here we are, it’s a party.

(Wave your feet in the air like you just don’t care?)

Khalid began ABA therapy last week at the autism center in Dubai, Alhamdulillah, and it’s amazing to see him already picking up the things he’s refusing to learn there. :p Khalid will resist instructions to clap his hands until we’ve used up every tissue in the box and he’s blue in the face from crying, but he will go home at the end of the day and furtively clap his hands in a corner. The therapists have told us that they can see he is intelligent, but he has compliance issues. In other words, he will refuse to do something solely because you asked him to. That makes sense, after all, the motto Khalid seems to live by is ‘You and What Army?’

Alhamdulillah, he has made progress though, because he’s starting to realize that no matter how hard he fights, he won’t be released from that crazy place where he’s made to stack blocks against his will. Poor baby.

Iman is learning things too. Just this week, she’s started a precurser to crawling- the commando-wiggle. I’m sure it has a real name, it’s that thing you do under barb-wire on your elbows while pinned down by enemy fire. Whatever it’s called, she used it just now to wiggle under the desk and start pulling my pant leg. Two days ago, she used it to get to my feet and diligently suck my toe, thereby entering the record books for ‘Most Adorable Distraction During Prayer By A Baby Ever.’

Well, Iman is rubbing her eyes and wriggling unhappily, so I think maybe the party is over. Let me whisk her off to bed. Khalid and I have to hit the road at 9:30 am to get to his therapy on time.

Peace & Tarka Grease!
-The Circus

I’m not half the man my mother is.

My momma is my hero. She is the ideal to which I strive. She is the vanquisher of metronome dogs.

This morning the Mother of All Evils and her three loud puppies were serenading the neighbourhood from our back yard again. I buried my head in my pillow and did my best to sleep through it. My mother, however, did not take it lying down. She threw dirt clods at them. She scored several direct hits. When that failed to drive the dogs away she took further action.

She marched across the backyard Dirtscape (it’s under construction), grabbed the puppies by the scruffs of their necks and tossed them on their merry ways. This while the mother dog was cringing across the creek. One of the puppies had poked its head into a crack in the boundary wall. After a good tug it came out with a audible –pop- and a yelp (much like a barking wine-cork) and sent packing.

My mother, being the brave and slightly nutty woman that she is, then kicked the dog’s new burrow in and threw a few more dirt clods for good measure.

My hero. I’m not half the man my mother is…