Sufyan mostly

good morning, Sufyan!

Sunrise. Whoosh. The day begins in a flood of color and then my children immediately go downstairs and start painting with water colors.

A morning with the early risers.




9am (finally dressed)


Today was huge for us.  It may not sound like much to other parents, but for us it was groundbreaking.  My family has moved a lot in the last 2 years.  New beds, new kitchens, new homes, new cities, new countries.  8 times, 8 new homes, 2 little kids in tow.  Through it all I have been home with my kids, making me (for better and for worse) the one constant in their lives aside from each other.  4 months ago, my son started having “separation anxiety” that I have been reticent to write about.  In fact, it has made writing anything or doing anything nearly impossible as I am always with him and engaging him.  To say he didn’t want to be without me would be an understatement.  Example: I am sitting beside he and his sister while they play.  My son suddenly looks up, eyes wide and says in a panicked way, “MAMA???  (looks to his right about 12 inches) Oh!  I thought you were gone.”  Even being lost in play was too far from me.  Maybe this is actually “We are separate people” anxiety.  He did not want me to turn a corner in the house ahead of him (and be out of sight) much less go into another room without him.  He wanted me promise I would not leave the room when he was asleep.  “But if I call for you, you will not hear me and I will be alooooone,” is a common statement around here.  Recently, when the whole family is out somewhere and his sister needs to go potty, he goes with me even if he doesn’t need to use the potty and even though his Baba is there to wait outside the bathroom with him.  He prefers to stay with me even if that means going into a yucky public restroom that is full of things which inflame his VERY sensitive senses (the loud flushing, the banging doors, the incredibly loud hand dryers, the banging and ripping of the paper towel machine, the smell of soap and deodorizer which is much worse than the smells they are masking.  A public restroom is a mine field to him. The world looks very different to a person who is this acutely tuned to sensory input).  His nightmares are frequently that I am gone or unavailable in some way.  When I signed us up for a little camp on a farm this summer  (just a few other kids, no structured dancing or singing, no expected hugging, no forced hellos, lots of outdoor space, talking and not yelling, no time-outs) I thought maybe by the second week I might be able to sit on the porch while he played nearby.  As it turned out, I spent nearly every moment in physical contact with him and did every activity with him.   It was a major accomplishment when at the end of the camp he waved to his teacher.  No voice, just a wave while looking at the ground.  I took him out for ice cream that day.  I was elated for him.  Fast forward to today.


My big plan for today was a “mommy and me” yoga class geared to ages 2-6 that I read about online.  I psyched the kids up to do yoga together.  I even brought Sufyan his favorite book in case he got overwhelmed and needed to retreat (often happens in activities that put him in a room with other kids, particularly if there is music and especially if there is a ‘thing’ he must do like sing or dance).  I brought water for us all.  We got our mats.  I sat down, ready to cheerlead.  Ready for the refusals, ready for shy smiles, ready to assuage the teacher’s feelings if need be (I’m an expert at ‘it’s not you, it’s us”.  You’d be surprised how often the leader needs as much or more assurance than my child).  I sat there on the mat and I noticed the teacher was looking at me in a funny way.  “You can go enjoy your practice!” she told me.  What?  Go?  We are here for the mommy and me…wait a second.  I read it wrong?  This is a DROP OFF class???  Oh boy…that will never happen.  They won’t…they can’t…But I looked at my kids, a hopeful Laila in her violet leotard and smiling Sufyan in his favorite glow in the dark pajamas which he had insisted were perfect for yoga, and I simply asked if they felt they could do it.  I nearly fell over when Sufyan said YES!  The only catch:  I had to be visible at the door.  That’s it???  That I can do.  I can practice yoga later, like after we conquer this major obstacle in my son’s emotional life.  So even though it seemed weird, and even though I expected the magic to last about 30 seconds before they were banging on the door to get me back in the room, I sat on a blanket outside the door and…they did it!! THEY DID IT!! They did a 90 minute yoga class in a room with music with a stranger and without me.  In fact, Sufyan was sad when it ended.  And he did make eye contact with me occasionally.  He would see me, smile and go back to yoga-ing.

For her part, Laila was a bit nervous, too, but not much.  In classic Laila style she was up for the adventure as long as I was close and her big brother was with her.  She was so involved that I could have been on a distant planet for most of the class instead of right outside the door.  At one point, though, Laila wanted to go get me and began to feel sad.  I heard Sufyan tell her, “It’s ok, Laila.  Mama is there and I will keep you safe!”

And she was fine!  I’m celebrating this day.  HOORAY FOR YOGA!!!  HOORAY FOR SUFYAN AND LAILA!  Their world just got bigger.

Passage of Time Marked by Food

First Maqlooba in our new place

We’ve been in our place for a month. These are the 2nd and 3rd loaves of bread the kids and I have made since moving in.  Also the second jar of ghee we’ve made (and eaten). Time passing is marked by food being made, consumed (and no, I’m not eating the bread.  *tears*).

Found Object for Today:  Home Comming

found near a high school in Austin, 2009 Hey r u going 2 the home comming Dance?  Yeah, I think.  you?  and why?  Just wondering and If I get a guy.

Trauma or not.  Is it up to us?

What is the mental/emotional difference between a bad day and a traumatic experience?   An event that is traumatic for one person is not traumatic for another.  Being embarrassed in front of peers comes to mind.  Some kids brush it off and some never do.  Is it the way we process an event that determines whether or not that event will be a haunting, flashback-inducing, trauma?  Or is the experience itself essentially traumatic or non-traumatic?  It is certainly not about the end result being “good” or “bad”.  Childbirth comes to mind.  You can tell a woman who has had a difficult birth experience to be happy because she is holding a beautiful baby (subtext:  You got the baby and that’s all that matters) all day and that won’t make her anguish lessen.   So, what makes something traumatic?  Is it the way we look at that experience and sort it out in our minds after the fact?  More importantly, how does one “let it go”?  I’m trying to sort this stuff out.  Thoughts?

He read this (I promise no more about his reading after this, but I am so amazed.  I’m proud of him)

Sufyan read this out loud to me. I’m just not over it yet! This was complete sight reading.


25 thoughts on “Sufyan mostly

  1. This whole post is HUGE! I get it! Wow, yoga is just an amazing thing. I am amazed all the time on how it takes us to the next level of being human and being okay with being human! Yay for your loves, for being so confident and curious! And the READING–ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME???? WHAT?!!! SO AWESOME!
    I just got back in town from Colorado. We shall talk SOON! xoxo

    • Lizzie! A trip to CO, huh? yoga training I am guessing? I wish I could have joined you! Thanks for stopping by. Talking soon would be great. Love to hear how it’s going? How’s the big E? And J?

  2. Your children are so beautiful because you give them the space to be who they are. For me trauma is a part of the mold that makes me who I am. Almost a love/hate relationship. But not a victim excuse. We can’t choose our lives, but we can make choices and you and Farris have given your children gifts that you don’t yet understand (but probably deftly intuit). They are lucky to have chosen you.

    • Agree that trauma makes us who we are. If you are referring to some of the things I think you might be in your past, kudos to you for getting to the point where you can live with it and own it. I think the issue with this particular traumatic experience for me is that I have not accepted it yet. I want some say over how it shapes me, and I have not figured out a way to control it vs it owning me.
      Thanks for the kind words about my kids. I would love for them to be able to hang with you and your fam sometime. Miss you.

  3. What great news about their yoga class. Those photos of their practice are priceless!!

    I will be interested in what you explore regarding trauma and memory. Living in the West Bank, it is difficult for me to process traumatic incidents because it is continuously measured in comparison to others people’s trauma. Added to this, since I am not Palestinian, there is always an underlying knowledge that I have the freedom to leave anytime, so I have no “right” to claim to feel trauma.

    But witnessing helplessly, for example, school children getting bullied by soldiers with guns IS traumatic. When I express distress about it, having flashbacks, etc., locals often assumer that I am somehow implying that this is the WORST incident ever, or that my distress is more important that what the actual children experienced. (“Oh you think YOU have it hard? What about those KIDS?!”) So it has trained me to not mention distressing situations, because I just feel worse when people shrug and say, “yeah, that used to bother me, now it’s normal.” I never want to consider it “normal” to witness children and old people being humiliated and demoralized by soldiers. Just because something is “normalized” does not mean it is “normal.” And just because it is common does not mean I should aspire to get hardened to it.

    So I guess my point is, that sometimes the low-grade trauma of the West Bank gets engrained more deeply in my memory because emotional resources are stretched thin in the community, with little energy left to find empathy and compassion for this “overly-sensitive” foreigner who knows only a fraction of the suffering of Palestinians.

    • I can really relate to this. Well said. I had a similar experience being an expat in the WB. I sometimes felt embarrassed by my “weakness”, my shock at the way the average Palestinian life is exposed to so much I would consider awful, and traumatic. I refused to be ok with it, but that would have been the only way to live there unless I would devote myself to the cause. I would add another dimension to this and that’s the pressure to be ok with everything. I found that distressing.

  4. Choked me up, so happy for you (and him!) and thinking about some of my own big mama milestones. As far as the trauma…you’ve got me thinking. I really feel like 3/4+ of what we feel in life are reactions based on processing, not events themselves. Awareness of this has come recently for me (within the past 5 years). Would love for me kids to “get it” sooner…that emotions are chosen reactions. Certainly a subject worthy of further reflection.

    • I agree. Mostly this is the way we process and choose to react. I would like my kids to get it sooner, too. My issue right now, and maybe you will relate, is that even though I am aware that I choose my reactions I am choosing to hold on to this trauma sometimes. I want to tell the story before I let it go. I am not sure why! And then when I think I’ve let it go, it crops up unexpectedly. Like out of no where.

  5. that is awesome!! I wonder what made him decide that it was ok to do it “alone”? Oh, and I loveeee Maklouba!!! My fav dish!! Great post!

  6. What a great post! I’m always so excited to see something new on your blog. Always makes me think about deeper things than just what to make for dinner and how to get my son to sleep through the night! 🙂 And I’m SOOOO happy for Sufyan that he was able to do the yoga class!! Even if it ends up being just a one-time success and he doesn’t want to do it again, the fact that he felt strong enough to do it all is HUGE! Yaaaayyyyy!!!! 🙂 Kudos to you for giving him the time and attention and closeness he needed to get to this place of security.
    The whole trauma question is intriguing. The events in my past that were scarring/traumatic for me for a long time were healed/transformed when I was able to 1. Spend a lot of time mentally releasing the trauma through various means and choosing to replace that feeling with a healthier perception (definitely agree with Beth here that we can process an event and work to choose our own reaction/emotion), 2. Share the experience and also the work we are doing to respond to it in a non-traumatized way (even with just one person) and 3. Becoming less inwardly focused and more focused on others. I’ve heard others argue that becoming deeply self-aware is the ultimate goal, but for me I would just get too wrapped up in myself and my feelings. Becoming more others-aware is what has made my reactions to potentially traumatic experiences less damaging to my psyche. That and feeling like I’m more than just ME on my own- having someone else to share the burden- usually through talking about it. Just solidifies my belief that we were created for community. 🙂

    • this is so interesting. I have NEVER thought of it that way. I am going to let that sit for a while…I like it.
      As for kudos about Sufyan, thank you so much. You of all people know how long the journey to this moment has been. HUGS to you all! See you next month. I CANNOT believe L will be 5!!!!

  7. I find it so admirable how you have the strength and patience to accept your children just as they are. Max has a milder version of what you describe in Sufyan and is only now starting to get a little better at coping in bigger groups (usually by looking for one or two children to play with or one activity to focus on). He has a small inner circle of people he loves and trusts and will go and stay with (apart from his two Mums). It is getting better but I did an awful lot of trying to change him and wishing he was different. Trying to push him into situations he is uncomfortable with. I still do. I wish I didn’t and wish I could be more accepting of this little being who I created and who I love. Some of my pushing has done him good – he always says no to new situations but once he is there, more often than not, really enjoys them. I guess being a good mother is all about striking the balance between protecting and encouraging your child. I wonder if it’s even achievable?

    • Yesterday a post to my conscious parenting group from a father looked like this:
      “Sigh. What I’m doing and what I want to do are so far apart. Don’t you hate that?”
      I have made the mistake of pushing Sufyan, too. Sometimes in small ways and sometimes in big ways. For example, in Palestine when a stranger pressed him to respond to their extremely boundary insensitive greetings (like trying to pick him up or kiss him) I would say, “OH (nervous laugh). He’s just shy.” He’s not shy. He’s just got the right to not feel like being picked up by a stranger. And it took me 4 rounds of Music Together to realize he fucking HATES it. 4 rounds!!!!!!!! I think the kind of balance you’re talking about is a good aspiration, and is attainable in a sense. But that sense would include mistakes. Forgivable, human, no-such-thing-as-super-mom mistakes. Right? I sure hope so. Thanks for the comment.

      • Ah, yes, the need to justify our child’s natural behaviour. I can relate to that too – he normally warms up much more quickly; he must be tired; he was ill recently; it’s because I have been away for a while. I always feel this must have an impact on him accepting his weaknesses too. However, I am not going to start on the guilt / blame game now. Very unproductive. Great quote from that father in the parenting group. Almost every time I am making a mistake, I am aware of this before I do it, whilst I do it, and after I have done it. So why does it keep on happening? Funny old thing, parenting. Keeps us busy, that’s for sure!

  8. They look so sweet in the class together! So glad that you (as in all of you) are taking steps toward you having a little space and Sufyan feeling confident in having that space. And what a great first step!

    As for trauma…that is something I’m exploring a lot lately as well. I’m realizing I am experiencing some PTSD related to Lily’s hospital stays. It’s making it difficult for me to make sound medical decisions since I am reacting on emotion instead of logic. For me, identifying why I feel or felt traumatized, acknowledging the emotion, and working to train my mind (through meditation, physical activity, and mantra) so that I don’t continue to relive that reaction has helped.

    I had a lot of trauma in my childhood as well, which probably exacerbates the reactions to Lily’s stuff. For that, I feel the biggest release has been reframing the situation and trying to see it through my parents’ eyes and give them the benefit of the doubt that they did not realize I was being traumatized. If that fails (and it often does), I work towards forgiveness, whether the person being forgiven realizes it or not or has asked for forgiveness or not. Lowering my expectations about my relationship with my father has helped immensely, for example. Now when he does anything kind or helpful, I’m pleasantly surprised, and when he does nothing, I’m not offended or hurt. We have an amiable relationship at this point, mainly because I’ve worked through the lingering emotions.

    I really believe trauma has more to do with how we interpret a situation and that we have a choice about whether to continue to be traumatized by something. Even something overtly traumatizing (such as being physically harmed by someone), can be overcome by being aware of what retriggers those emotions, avoiding those triggers when possible, and having a plan for dealing with those emotions when they do come up or the triggers are unavoidable.

    • darn you for mentioning to me the tools I already have in my toolbox. you are so right. meditation, action, release from suffering. Not necessarily in that order. I would love to talk more about this with you, especially since the trauma to which I am making reference also involves the hospitalizations my son had. A friend of mine contends that negative experiences that involve a mother not being able to protect her child as she and the child expected or promised makes for the worst traumas. Deeply etched. The hospital setting is the very epitome of trauma in this sense: the only way you retain power is by being a bull dog type advocate for your child. So we try to do that. I know you do. But you still have to bow to the experts. That’s what they are there for. You are not the physician and yet if something goes wrong or goes right but your child suffers you cannot help but feel you let them down. You fucked it up. And it’s the most important thing in the world: your child. We should talk.

      • I think your friend is right. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve experienced something so emotionally painful that at times it’s physically painful. I find myself unable to even speak of the experiences at times. Especially when I get horrified looks in response, even though they are often meant with the best intentions. We are coming off of two ER trips last night (a new record, even for Lily), but I’ll try to call you tomorrow.

  9. At one point, though, Laila wanted to go get me and began to feel sad. I heard Sufyan tell her, “It’s ok, Laila. Mama is there and I will keep you safe!” – this one sentence caused my throat to close up and my eyes to water. This is family and love, right there.

    With all the transition and change in your lives I think Sufyan considers you to be “home”. Since he has grown up with yoga and he sees it as something that is calming and safe and happy for you maybe that was the perfect venue for him to find a little space and grow in it. He had his sister and you were in view and then he turns it all around and becomes the one who gives comfort.

    Your thoughts on what makes something tragic are interesting too. It is a hard thing to define but an easy thing to know when you are experiencing it.

    • “an easy thing to know when you are experiencing it.” Yes indeed. You know, the thing is that this particular incident has longer legs in my life than I ever imagined. It’s so personal, the issue of what becomes a trauma. I am pretty settled now in thinking that for the vast majority of difficult experiences it’s about perception and “filing”. Now I want to know if I can un-traumatize myself and my children or not. If I can file it someplace else, someplace better.

  10. When we first moved to this house a little over a year ago Lily went through a phase where she didn’t want me to leave the room without her. She would collapse in a ball of tears if I passed her on the stairs. It was frustrating for me because I was often trying to unpack and carrying heavy boxes at the pace of 3 year-old child up or down the stairs just sucks and sometimes isn’t possible. It drove me nuts. Then one day I realized that she was playing by herself in her room downstairs and I was sitting on the sofa upstairs and she didn’t care. After Priya was born she would cry about not wanting to sleep in her room because she wanted to be with her family. I understood, but I couldn’t sleep with her and Priya in the same bed. It wasn’t safe. Now her bed is in our room next to ours. I’m not sure why I’m sharing this except to say that we bend and fold and stretch ourselves in all different directions for our children. Other people aren’t always going to understand our victories, but that doesn’t make them any less amazing.

    As far as trauma goes, I have found in my own life and in the few times I have been privileged enough to witness other people unearth and truly release their past traumatic events, there is always something that is decided about oneself in a traumatic event (I am not good enough, smart enough, strong enough or the opposite, I don’t need help from anyone else) and a meaning that is attached to the trauma. Once the meaning and decision are realized and acknowledged as something that was created in the mind and not the actual truth, then the story becomes a sequence of events and loses its power over us. I hope that makes sense.

    P.S. It took me 1.5 rounds of Music Together for me to figure out that Lily would rather be playing with the toys in the lobby.

    • Kisha, this is an incredibly useful comment. I can’t stop thinking about it!!! I am so grateful for the thoughts you shared publicly here, as your ideas about trauma are really potent. I hope you don’t mind if I use this comment to launch the discussion I need to have about trauma. Thank you again.

      • I almost forgot. Whatever emotions that were not released during or after the trauma do have to be released. I’ve learned that it is healthy to scream when it is for the sake of screaming. I’ve stopped holding in emotions. It wasn’t a conscious decision, I just stopped doing it. Priya has had two very scary choking incidents and I wailed like I remember the mother of friend did who died when I was 9 years old. I don’t hold any of it back anymore. Lily didn’t understand it when she saw it, but I got to explain my emotions to her later and I know that witnessing me fully express mine is serving her in some way.

      • I was making dinner and negotiating a meal with Lily when I typed the last response. It was my 9 year old friend who died and I cried like I remember her mother did at her funeral when I hugged her mother. It was the first time I ever experienced seeing someone wail. I wasn’t terrified by it, but confused. I didn’t know how to be with someone who was so deeply expressing their feelings.

        And by the way, I am so grateful for the writing you do on your blog. While I find it way to cumbersome to do any writing of my own, I so enjoy reading your thoughts and insights.

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