By Afshan

Teaching our kids tolerance and respect for all people.

Holiday Notes From a Muslim Mom

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Muslim women are oftentimes easy to spot. We wear a scarf around our heads as an open declaration of faith. Based on cultural preference, this head-covering varies from vibrantly colored wraps to longer, flowing styles. Not all Muslim women choose to carry such an obvious banner of religious identity, but a lot do.

Teaching our kids tolerance and respect for all people.

This, fortunately and unfortunately, has put us in a sort of spotlight. Don’t worry though, if you spot us you can rest assured we’re generally harmless, sleep deprived and pretty approachable. We may seem a little grouchy in the morning before the coffee has kicked in and sometimes very disheveled trying to haul two or more squirmy toddlers into a quiet library for story-time. Feel free to stop us on our tracks to say hello. We love the holiday season as much as the next hot chocolate addict. There are worse things you can do (and have been done) to Muslim women in the recent months. Be a proactive element in strengthening the ties of community love and humanity. Let’s teach our children how to keep those bridges of harmony and love intact as these ideals are attacked on a daily basis.

News anchors, presidential candidates, and several other spokespeople with a platform from which to eject words to larger audiences have been feeding a very evil image of the average Muslim person. As false as it may be, the waves of fear mongering have swept across the globe and unsettled everyone’s sense of safety and security.

After a monstrous attack or fatal atrocity occurs, my phone begins buzzing. Fellow moms, Muslims and not, share information about the events as they are leaked by media sources. We exchange feelings of sorrow that the world is in such chaos. That there are people out there hurting others, individually or en mass. We weep for families who are waiting for news, we pray for survivors.

Our hearts squeeze together, wondering how we can raise children in such a scary world. A world that can hurt innocent people senselessly and create dangerous rifts between people who are of different faiths, cultures, and races.

We begin conversations with our children. There are some people who say some mean things about Muslims. You can always talk to us about it. There are other kids who may be going through the same thing. It can be a little hurtful and scary if you get teased about what you believe. Don’t worry, we continue to explain, they’re only confused. People who make judgement calls on large groups of people can do very dangerous things. The important thing is to continue to have a good and pure heart. Look for the people who have kind and open hearts, too. Always smile, and be positive. Don’t doubt who you are or be ashamed. Throughout history, even grown ups have made really big mistakes about other people. A time came when Native Americans were stripped of their land and dehumanized. There are African Americans to this day who are treated unjustly. From Catholics to Japanese Americans – there has always been a time when a group of people were seen as scary when they really weren’t. Don’t worry, we remind them again, there are still good people. Be a good person so when someone mean comes across you, your goodness can create a light that may draw them closer to knowing who you really are.

There are a number of holidays that are being celebrated around this time of year. A nice list that my children learned about in school and a few they didn’t. For those which weren’t included, I’ll make a polite note to their teachers to become even more inclusive in the coming years to expose children to an even wider array of religions and cultures that are coexisting on this earth. That’s the least we can do to counter a lot of the rhetoric out there causing divisions between races, cultures, religions, and ways of life.

We had the opportunity to watch a few live-streamed sessions from the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah this year. It was an immensely pleasurable experience to see people of all different faiths and belief systems come together and celebrate the unity of humanity, spirituality, and love. There was a notable session in which women came together and shared their experiences of celebrating life by highlighting their own roles as mothers and caregivers.

As nurturers, we play such a crucial role in how our children grow up to partake in society and evolve into open minded and caring adults. Let’s begin today by learning about someone who is different from those living inside our four walls and begin a proactive journey to combat the violence and prejudice that exists today.

So from this Muslim mom to all the other parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, little tykes, more – Merry Milad-un-Nabi, Khwanzaa, Bodhi Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Omisoka, Festivus and many more holiday celebrations to you and a Happy New Year!

Practical ideas for traveling with kids!

Road Trip: Tips for Traveling with Kids

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The holidays are approaching and we definitely have a road trip or two planned. Here are some tips and tricks that have worked for us (alongside those things that definitely failed). These may help as you cross state lines and try not to fall off your sanity radar. I’m sure things on the list will change as children become older and more independent. For now, the toddlers and and tykes have given us these golden pieces of guidance.

Practical ideas for traveling with kids!

Snacks

Fail – cinnamon toast crunch, chocolates, and similar items that leave sticky residue over hands, clothes, and car seats
Score – froot loops, trail mix, and other easily vacuum-able dry finger foods

Fail – water bottles or juice boxes which result in inevitable spills, half empty leftovers, and excess trash in the car
Score – reusable water bottles that are both environmentally friendly & convenient

Entertainment

Fail – puzzles, legos, craft beads that fall and cause drama because butter fingered kid NEEDS to unbuckle from their car-seat or else…
Score – car DVD players, audio books, individual coloring books/kits to maintain a semblance of collective productivity

Fail – play doh. ugh. UGH!
Score – books and educational electronics

Clothes

Fail – cute outfits that will get spilled on and won’t be comfortable to snooze in
Score – PJs. Comfy cozy cotton lounge style easy to sleep in snuggle gear

Fail – anything NEW or anything with buttons
Score – older clothes that you can toss in a gas station trash can after ultimate diaper explosions (without struggling with buttons)

Maintenance

Fail – paper towel rolls
Score – baby wipes. they clean EVERYTHING under the sun. EVERYTHING

Fail – trash bag because it’ll inevitably get mixed up with non-trash bags so you’re stuck digging out the useful things amidst junk
Score – trash container, sealed to contain smells and easily disposed and re-used after a quick wipe-down (see maintenance score item above).

Backpacks

Fail – asking children to pack their own
Score – filling individual backpacks with quick emergency essentials (diapers, extra clothes, emergency undergarments, a soothing stuffed animal or surprise)

Fail – packing bandages and emergency supplies in someone’s backpack (the number of fake emergencies we’ve had to address…)
Score – hiding away the actual first aid kit and replacing child’s backpack with toy bandages and medical equipment to diagnose and treat themselves

Happy Holiday Road Trip, Folks!

A simple craft project to teach gratefulness and thanksgiving. The Shukr Tree

The Shukr Tree

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As autumn kicks into gear, we are marveling at the vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red that adorn the trees, treating us to a magnificent display of nature’s beauty…

Just kidding! We’re in Houston and that whole leaves changing colors thing doesn’t happen here. Bummer. As we more accurately reminisce about the beautiful changing colors on trees – a special playgroup project sticks out in our mind.

The Shukr Tree.

A simple craft project to teach gratefulness and thanksgiving. The Shukr Tree

Shukr is an Arabic word for gratitude and thankfulness. The feeling of being sincerely appreciative is something we as adults struggle with on a daily basis. Likewise, our children require a constant dialogue of finding contentment and recognition that what we have is very valuable and special – and so many people in the world aren’t as lucky as we are.

The Shukr Tree was something one of my dear friends planned as a playgroup activity for our preschoolers during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Traditionally, this month signifies 30 individual days of fasting, self-reflection, and charity. Since children didn’t have to participate in the actual fasts or supplemental worship – we playgroup moms concentrated our efforts on helping them learn how to be grateful.

Thanksgiving is coming up and we’re really excited to re-visit this project and utilize it again to continue our reminders of appreciation and thanks. Shukr is an internal state with an external expression. Dialogue can only encompass so much in terms of a child’s comprehension. Their innate ability to internalize and express can be so much more profound with a visual, hands on activity. Having a child verbalize what they’re appreciative about, writing it down, adding it to a growing list of other items that generate thanks was an eye opening experience for all of us.

The first year we did this project, our leaves generously included belly buttons, grandparents, and umbrellas. After a nudge, mom was added, followed closely by lollipops.

A simple project for reminding us (and our kids) about thankfulness.How to create your own Shukr Tree:

1 – Trace and cut the outline of a large tree with ample branches – best done on a poster board. Allow children to color or paint (parents & guardians may assist)
2 – Use different colored construction paper and cut out leaves large enough to write a word or two legibly but small enough to fit on the branches comfortably as they fill up
3 – Use glitter glue or glitter pens (those are a doozy, aren’t they?) and encourage your child to write down or help them write down something special they’re grateful about
4 – Adorn with leaves all at once or once a day for a countdown to a special occasion
5 – Display proudly

We tend to cultivate our habits and nurture our spiritual psyches based on our surroundings. Having a giant reminder of our blessings is a wonderful sight. Even when it’s not Thanksgiving, a religious occasion, or a child’s birthday, spending a few weeks growing your own Shukr Tree can make hearts blossom with goodness. Supplementing this activity with something more tangible to include helping others (volunteering at nursing homes, soup kitchens, other community based organizations) may result in more leaves – just a fair warning.

My personal goals from the Shukr Tree include developing more inner peace & empathy. My kids goals? Gluing on as many leaves as possible before the tree is hanging by a corner, overloaded with happy reminders.

See 9 Best Books on Gratitude

Pinterest Activities on Teaching Thankfulness

Such great advice for helping our kids live more simply. The Minimalist Life.

Raising Minimalist Kids

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“Life is a balance of holding on and letting go” – Keith Urban

Such great advice for helping our kids live more simply. The Minimalist Life.In simple terms, the minimalist ideology is concentrated in living a simplistic and wholesome life. This lifestyle sheds the layers of consumerism, superficiality, and excess that society has developed to make us feel the more we have, the more secure we are in life. If we’re struggling daily to maintain appearances and worrying about what people will think based on what we own, this insecurity will be quickly picked up by our kids and the pattern will continue.

Depending on individual preferences, exemplifying minimalism has varying extremes.

As a family, we didn’t consciously take a step in the direction of minimalism. People appear really surprised at our sparsely furnished home and streamlined lifestyle. Having multiples of everything is very common, as is having complicated daily schedules. Before moving to Houston, we decided to donate everything we owned that wouldn’t fit into a U-Haul trailer. The conscious decision of letting go of so many tangible material things at once was a VERY cool experience. The kids said goodbye to the excess of clothes, shoes, toys, dishes, furniture – the works! We squeezed in the essentials and hit the road.

Great tips for how to live life as a minimalist!What are some practical ways to implement lifelong habits within a home to encourage our children to not be weighed down by material goods and instead, find joy and contentment in a more natural, stress-free way of life?

One stop shop. Have all the kids toys remain in one area. Sometimes, it’s even easier to have toys and games in the main area of your home and instead of spending hours and hours a week organizing and color coding blocks and figurines, throw them all in a giant storage ottoman once playtime is wrapped up. Even if playtime is all day – coordinate a massive dump of toys into a common storage area into the kids nightly routine. You’ll be relieved to know that there’s a greater chance of escaping a Ninjago Lego nunchuck lodged into the heel of your foot when locking up for the night. Plus, who’s coming to give you a check mark for a toy color coding job well done? Think about that novel you could have written instead.

TV Placement. Having a giant box in the middle of a main family area in the home can prove to be a huge distraction. A TV can also add to self consciousness in addition to pumping subliminal messages on the standards of beauty and materialism depicted on screen. Oftentimes, a TV will come with requirements of its own entertainment system (if it isn’t on the wall), remote controls, and additional electronic devices. This means more wires and equipment that adds a visual clutter, in addition to being hazardous for younger children. The ambiance of a room or home is completely realigned to focus on a means of entertainment and input versus conversation, productivity, and independent play. Find another place for the television or keep the use limited so that kids don’t feel conditioned to need this particular avenue of entertainment, especially as they get older and want to find ways to relax.

Weekly Discard. Encourage your kids to take inventory of what they used in the past week and itemize what they didn’t need at all (great weekend activity when you need to snooze the extra 5 minutes). Try to keep a box that is designated to collecting toys, books, personal items that are kid specific (puzzles, headbands, trinkets, etc) for charity and make it an event to take the family donation box to a local charity once a month. Not only will it create a feeling of fulfillment to your child’s life, but assuming you can facilitate this habit to continue, the cycle of goodness and community service will blossom!

Uniformity. Socks are the greatest exemplify agent of frustration every morning when the kids are getting ready for school and you’re running late for work. Finding matching socks is an almost surreal experience, especially in a family with more than one kid. Imagine 4 kids with multiple pairs of socks, each in different colors and sizes. Madness! Either the kids will become confident wearing mismatched socks (success!) or purchasing the same style and color for everyone will minimize the battle and increase a habit of efficiency. Spending less time on fruitless tasks just adds bonus time for kids to notice the brighter things in life – like how your baby brother is about to pop a cicada shell into his mouth or the fact that your sister just skipped her turn to clear the table and moseyed away. Make decision making easier on non issues in exchange for alleviated stress on a day to day basis.

Emotions VS Practicality. Letting go requires effort, whether you’re 6 or 60. Creating a sense of security in our children doesn’t mean we shouldn’t indulge in the material possessions in life that are beneficial or just plain fun. Realizing that daily patterns turn into lifelong habits can help us create a regular dialogue with our children about the confidence we have in ourselves is separate than the confidence we may feel when we are surrounded by our possessions. Curbing the need to buy in excess will allow our children to gain a sense of security in what already exists in their life versus always looking for something else to make them feel at ease.

Trying to raise minimalist kids is fun. Teaching them to feel great without needing to surrounded themselves with objects or visual clutter, through our organizational tactics or input of media, is a great endeavor. This task may not be consistently appealing, or even fully understood. The science of minimalist living is constantly evolving and is very individually rooted. Overall, we can rest assured that society would be well benefited to receive community members that realize the pleasure in giving to someone else, even if it means taking away from something they once had. If we begin with ourselves, our children will follow suit, and it may change the way we embrace life each day.

Want more tips on becoming a minimalist family? Check out Becoming Minimalist.

The voice of a child calls us back to what matters most.

Life Lesson Learned Through Kids: Miscarriage

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Almost 5 months after my miscarriage, my children continue to discuss the subject of the baby brother that passed away. Their discussion usually emerges when there’s chatter about who the oldest is (and therefore, the boss) and who the youngest is (and therefore, nobody’s boss) and each time, without fail, they’ll include Danyal at the bottom of the sibling hierarchy.

The voice of a child calls us back to what matters most.

Danyal – the Arabic version of the Biblical name Daniel – was delivered 16 weeks into my pregnancy. He weighed a little over 1 ounce and fit into the palm of my hand. There was no heartbeat detected at our latest appointment and since I saw little hands, feet, and limbs frozen on the  ultrasound screen, my husband and I decided to respect his miraculous growth and prepare for a proper burial.

My children visited me at the hospital after the induction and varied between being a little creeped out to just plain enthralled with this tiny human being that just recently had been cuddled inside their mother’s (very comfortable) tummy. Fully shaped miniscule features invited us to imagine what he would have looked like had the pregnancy progressed.

My 6 year old had a number of hidden concerns on the concept of death. He worried that he wouldn’t know anyone the next world (akin to a new classroom or a new school) or how long he would have to wait for someone else to join him in Heaven if he died first. My 4 year old daughter, on the other hand, had an itemized list of people she wished to play with (including a set great-grandmothers who are supposed to be just as sweet, if not sweeter, than her living  grandmothers). Her whimsical desires included eating a mountain made of ice cream and exploring with a handy sidekick named Boots (thank you for sharing, Dora).

Their innocence generated more conversations. Their resilience to a situation as stark as death and positive energy in the light of an often hushed and ignored experience centered my healing process. As they radiated confidence, acceptance, and contentment we, too, shed many clouds of anxiety, anguish, and sorrow. Our broken hearts regenerated with pronounced vitality.


“We have another brother, but he died.”

“My mommy had a baby in her tummy and he lives in Heaven.”

“Does he have diapers his size?”

The idea that there may be no need for diapers in Heaven caused in eruption of gleeful, roll-on-the-floor laughter.

Friends and neighbors offered their help and support, while sharing personal experiences of losing a child, during pregnancy or after. They mentioned numerous women they knew who had tread the same agonizing path of trying to channel grief and find acceptance to an abrupt end. The number of little souls that are remembered, mostly in private, seemed to grow with each conversation, and learned that the finality of a child’s death had visited almost every person I encountered.

Somehow, a child’s questioning can shift the perspective about something that we as a society have neglected. This negligence makes it more difficult to allow room for grief to run a natural path, and a lack of conversation makes seeking solace a difficult path.

Some eyebrows will rise and an awkward pause may interrupt a casual conversation – but continuing to acknowledge the existence of someone we cherish and love who left us sooner than expected may promote another’s understanding of just how often miscarriages occur and how possible it can be for both children and adults to move forward without forgetting.


Resources:

Misconceptions about Miscarriage

Pregnancy Complications