Instruction Manuals for Children : February 7, 2013

I wonder, like new gadgets, why there aren’t instruction manuals for parents to figure out the whims and vagaries of their new-born or growing children. Originating from the same genetic pool, how two children can be so different from each other, and have completely unique personalities!

One of them may sit next to you and finish her homework five days ahead of schedule – and the other one, not want to even start her science project until the night before it is due. One maybe fascinated by pets – another, allergic to everything; one can’t wait to get on my boat and sail away for days – while the other one holds on to my t-shirt – the entire journey!

Daiyaan and Shania 5 years ago!
Daiyaan and Shania 5 years ago!

When my first born came to this world, I had no way to prepare myself. There were lots of What to Expect in Baby’s First Year type of books but very little practical advice about your baby’s temperament or why she wouldn’t sleep the first night she arrived home!

I had no clue how to put this baby to sleep; after a few hours of trying to sing, generating hair-dryer or vacuum cleaner sounds (these are days before the noisemaker app on your IPod) and trying multiple motions, failing to soothe the baby, finally I placed her ear on my chest and allowed her to connect with my heart beat and warmth; she was out like a light bulb! I lay there, in that same position, for hours, afraid that any movement on my part would wake my baby up.

I remember my mother always bemoaning to her friends, “Baccha Manush Kora Khub Kothin” (It’s so very tough to raise kids); I wonder why my mom would say that it’s tough to raise children during her times. In our luxurious childhood at Joypahar, we had a nanny and also had a seven other help in the house; I don’t remember my parents ever needing to coordinate a babysitter; uncles and aunts visited us frequently and we had a wonderful support system protecting us. In those pre micro-chip days, we were not exposed to the demands of video-games, Twitter, Instragram or FaceBook. I don’t remember my Dad ever have to wonder if the length of his teen-agers’s skirt is appropriate for a birthday party!

Being blessed with two beautiful daughters, I sometimes wonder, what life would be like with more children. I watch parents, and their delight, when their older children return home for the holidays. They make their children’s favorite dishes and look forward to doing those common things that they may have done together, like a round of golf – or going to the spa – or baking together, or in the case of my mother, playing Scrabble or just arguing over political views!

If I regret about my personal circumstances, it’s that we didn’t have another child, in-between my two princesses. While I am grateful for what has been gifted, It would have been fabulous to have another daughter (or son for that matter) !

It has been a pleasure watching my children grow-up and take on their own personalities. Recently, Shania, my seven-year old rolled off my grocery-list from memory!  I don’t need to write anything down any more.  When she goes for a school –entrance interview, I watch her eyes sparkling with inquisitive possibilities.

In my recent role as a single-dad, my beliefs have been re-affirmed that, children are the most important and enjoyable occurance in life – for the period that they live with us. I have learned more acutely how important is stability, re-assurance and a safe place for them, to come back to.

Shania is just as happy with a project she can complete with me – versus a super-expensive gift! Daiyaan, my seventeen-year old, just wants to share her daily experiences – without my judgment or commentary! She watches my eyebrow curve up and smiles and gets the message that that part of the information may just be just TMI (too much information)!

When I go out for the evening, I love it when my daughters approve my attire or tell me to change my shirt! I love the simple rituals we have developed; as I cook dinner, and the children are completing their homework – or when we quickly step out to the balcony to observe a spectacular sunset and wish the day goodbye.

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At night, when we read stories in bed, or say a quick prayer before closing our eyes, all of it becomes real;

It is the true joy in the discovery, of what we love about our unique and amazing children – without the instruction manuals!

Thank you God, for not sending instruction manuals with the children!

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Does God Live Here: August 2011

Does God live up in the sky, amongst the clouds?

As the 767 soars above the sky, my six-year old lifts the window shade looking at the amazing blue around us, with puffs of white clouds scattered like cotton from an old pillow. She looks at me joyfully and asks, “Does God Live Here, Daddy?“

When you are a child, you are likely to believe many a story about the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus or even or where “heaven” is ~ thereby having a distinct impression of where God’s “home” is.  As time passes, and we experience discrete pain, or disappointment – we question many of these beliefs, and come to our own conclusions about the mysteries of the Wishing Well.

As my children grow up, I watch their innocence being washed away, layer by layer – through experiences they have – or, just by watching TV or listening to a friend. Recently, my sixteen-year old asked me if I knew the meaning of Rihanna’s song “S&M”.

As I was growing up, in the black & white TV days in Bangladesh, the world used to be quiet simple. We watched The Saint, Hawaii Five-O, or Star Trek – the bad guys always looked ugly, the good guys looked like they were personally chiseled by God. There was a defined “good” and a “bad” – the world always ended up safe because some valiant person invariably, saved the world. We always went to bed knowing that tomorrow, the world would be safe – because of our parents and all the other good guys, who would ensure that the sun comes up safely and the sky remains blue.

As one grows older, and becomes a parent – and learns that we have to save the world now, and keep it safe every day – it’s quite a responsibility! Every night, I make sure I lock the doors, turn off the outdoor lights – turn on the alarm and go to bed worrying about burglars.

Recently, during a personal crisis, I talk to a therapist about worrying that I am taking many actions on behalf of my children that, I am concerned, may not always be taking the “right” steps. She eloquently tells me, “children don’t come with instruction manuals” and that, I just have to trust my best judgement!

It’s so much easier to make a multi-million dollar decision at work – with Six Sigma data, facts and factoids – advisors and confidants. You look at the rational outcome possibilities – pick the least risky option and wham , a decision is made!

When it comes to life, and your children – you intuitively try your best to make the right decision every time. You try to locate  a home in a good neighborhood so that they have good friends; you try to find the right schools for them; you try to take the right memorable vacations,  that combine both fun and learning.

But at the end, you really don’t know the cumulative outcome, of all those micro decisions. The mysteries of the world have influences on them and even your own complicated, decision-making process. Sometimes, horrible tragedies (like an accident or a disease) overcome us; worldly incidences like job loss, alcoholism or addiction, hinder our thinking process.

At the end of every day, after we have saved the world (the best we can), we come home, jump in the pool, splash around with alligators and mermaids, buy make-belief hamburgers from the make-belief snack-stand, and hope that wherever God lives, she keeps our children safe and healthy. We wish for their eternal happiness – just like our parents did for us.

My dear Shania, I believe, God lives all around us and within us. Wherever she lives, I know God will protect you, even when I am not there.

Pizza and Ice Cream for Breakfast: October 2010

The first time I had pizza and ice-cream for breakfast, a junior in College, at Columbia, Missouri –I felt, free.

Growing up in a disciplined environment, there were lots of rules. Rules about everything: what to eat, what to wear on Fridays, which way to sit up and how to address your elders. Eggs with toast in the morning – white rice with vegetables/fish in the afternoon – a type of Chapati (flat wheat bread) with some protein in the evening. We were required to drink tasteless milk from plastic packets written Milk Vita – with the logo of a blue, expression-free cow on the packet.

Some Bangalee saying dicated that you do not eat fish or bananas in the evenings; some religious incantation dictated that you should not be out of the house around the particular crimson time of sunset (illusory Jinn roaming around the vicinity, waiting to jump on your head).

It’s incredulous to think about all the rules we had. It was very unusual to question the wisdom or vicarious nature of these rules. If you did question, you were considered a rebel; which in some instances meant, your friends would snare at you or neighbors would label you as Noshto (gone to dogs).

My sister and I, the amicable sort, never challenged the dogma – afraid of the wrath that would befall us – if we deviated from this bizarre, yellow brick road. Some boisterous cousins could never understand the lack of will on our part, to complain or counter these obstinate rules.

Once I remember asking our Quran teacher, Moulobi (Mullah), whether God had a beard. He got enraged and complained to my mom; I prefer to forget the punishment that came with that innocuous question.

Around my high school years, I stopped wearing the skull cap when going to the mosque. The concept around wearing the skull cap, that Shoitan (Satan) could (literally) not sit on your head, when you prayed. For a teenager, that predilection (of Shoitan not accompanying you) was pretty tough. However, as I would enter the mosque, or just before the prayer time, strangers would scurry around trying to find me a cap to ensure that my skull-cap free prayers would be “accepted” by God.

Doctors, diet magazines and all sorts of Oprah type of shows now tell us to have a protein-rich breakfast (with egg-whites) – avoid any sugar/caffeine in the morning, and preferably, have a glass of tomato juice (specially for men). Being the obedient “rule follower”, that’s typically the diet I follow, every week day.

This Sunday morning, I am eyeing the left-over pizza in the fridge. When Shania, my five year old, looks at the pizza and asks me for a slice, I don’t hesitate for a moment. I cut her two generous slices, warm up for 20 seconds in the microwave oven and serve it on her favorite Hello Kitty plate.

Life’s too short for these absurd rules. Enjoy your pizza, my little one. Would you like a choco-bar ice-cream after that? Not sugar free, not low-fat. Just regular vanilla bean, covered with smooth, dark chocolate crust – let it convert in your mouth into sheer, unadulterated, happiness and freedom.

Living with a Benevolent God

Free wallpaper / desktop wallpaper - nature, sunset, by Voetmann

At the age of seven, my childhood priest warned me that, on the Day of Judgment, every grain of wasted rice would return as a snake and devour my head.  Needless to say, instead of comics and Disney characters, many of my dreams were superimposed with different snakes that engulfed my body parts.

Growing up in a hybrid environment – one religious parent and the other of a more liberal bent – my childhood and teenage was packed with religious and cultural rituals and contradictions; however, the basic tunes of religion never stuck a deep chord in my mind. I practiced reading the Holy Quran in Arabic (without much understanding of what I was reading) and prayed before serious exams and on Fridays.

Fast forward about 15 years; at an interview on PBS, a renowned philosopher talks about how he couldn’t imagine his God creating a place like hell. His God is so loving and caring, and makes humans in his own reflection, that hell is not a factor in his world.

From that day onward, I felt an affinity to this point of view and have had a highly skeptical and cynical view on organized religion of churches, mosques and synagogues.

I have fallen in love with a Loving God; a God who cares, forgives, nurtures, nourishes – benevolent and non-interfering. Unlike the one that sits around and constantly watches (with billions of micro cameras) what I am doing and writes down in a big book with a magic marker.

After the birth of our first child, I had a long argument with one of my elders about why children need to be raised with one of the major organized religions.  I don’t want to raise my children with the fear that is so prevalent and practiced in most Abrahamic faiths, where men and women are never equal and God has a vengeful side and lands you in purgatory if you don’t pray umpteen times or don’t cover your head in a particular way.

I am perfectly comfortable if, as an adult, one of our daughters pick a religion that gives them peace of mind. In my world, however, I have chosen not to have priests or intermediaries.

When I am upset or feel treated unfairly, I try to meditate – to come closer to that higher, kinder spirit, I believe, helps me understand both myself and the environment that surrounds me.

I know that all the answers that I seek, will not be revealed with some message – but I seek the jurisprudence to make a fair decision that will not hurt anyone and will seek to build better relationships rather than destroying them. My father had a couple of simple rules; don’t lie and don’t consciously do something that hurts someone else.

When I watch natural disasters, like a Tsunami or an earthquake, it’s easy to believe that God  cannot be sitting up in some space, seven layers above, manipulating the sun and the moon in ways beyond my comprehension – no way could she let these innocent (and mostly God fearing people) be devastated without any rhyme or reason.

When I watch poverty besieged around me in Bangladesh, or abundant prosperity of my own surroundings and realize that very few people have the ability to break out of their own circle of truth and become someone else (other than who they were born), one wonders, why the lottery of life I have won, is different, from the person next to me.

On a lonely plane journey, when the plane suddenly falls into turbulence, I do say a quick prayer. But the prayer is to my non-interfering God – who looks up and smiles and wishes me well; she inspires me to be truthful – not to blame others – or to look for reason in everything.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. My beautiful God resides all around me; with all of her benevolence and beauty.