Tuesday, 19 August 2014

August 2014 Boot Fair Finds

This weekend one of hubby's friends from the masjid wanted to visit a boot fair with his wife and daughter, so he invited me to come with them.  Little Lady was still awake from fajr (dawn prayers), so invited herself along too.

I have only been once or twice this year, so was very keen to go.  We ended up at Dunton Boot Fair which is enormous and also visited Barleylands Boot Fair on the way home which is smaller but my favourite for craft materials, jewellery and children's books and toys.

These are the books we bought, all of these were between 20p and 50p and the kids have been enjoying reading these.

The three fashion books were 20p each, I have bought versions of these for Little Lady before where I have found them discounted and they cost around £5 (on Amazon they cost between £5 and £11).  The little knitting tool was 50p and the Star Wars Story Studio £1.  I try to look for things that keep the kids busy and mean that they have to use their imagination or own initiative.

This was one of my favourite finds.  The box of acrylic paints was 50p (they are £3.99 each in the shop).  The lady then threw in the watercolour paints for free (the smaller tubes).

The pencils are half watercolour pencils and half regular colour pencils.  I love how pristine they are.  I have been wanting to try and learn some simple art with watercolour pencils  (inspired by images like this).

Little Lady took some money of her own and enjoyed doing her own shopping.  This was her haul (bag, fingerless gloves, purses x2, packet of silver loom bands and Jacqueline Wilkinson 2014 planner all 50p, mini Miffy stationary 20p and Tatty Teddy (her favourite) pencil case full of stationary £1).  The snaps she bought for her brothers who then dropped them all over the house.

She also bought this rainbow loom band for £1 as it was a different design than she usually makes.  The little rainbow crystal bracelet came with the sparkly bangle I bought for myself in the image at the bottom, both were £2 together.

The peacock feather locket is a Past Times Art Nouveau range one which was £15 in the shop and which we paid £1 for and Little Lady absolutely loves it.  The ring was 50p.

It was nice to pick up some treats at bargain prices and it means that we'll all have lots to keep us busy and for us to play with.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Keeping Positive during the Last Days of Pregnancy

I'm 38 weeks today and counting down the days to my due date. The last few days have been challenging with strong Braxton Hicks contractions, sleeplessness and quite severe back pain. I’ve been up every hour or so the last few nights and the back pain and my heaviness are messing with my sleep.

I've come to know what all of the small hours look like in my house. At 1am I get up to find the boys have turned the light on again to read after I put them to bed and have to switch it off again. At 2am the bathroom is mine although mum-in-law starts to stir at this time. At 3am she is up for her tahajjud prayer and at 4am the rest of the household stirs for fajr (dawn prayer) and by 5am we are crawling back to bed. At 6am hubby comes back from the masjid and clatter’s around in the kitchen looking for something to eat and by 7am the traffic starts up outside. At 8am, I finally give up and spend the next hour trying to straighten out my sore back and joints so that I can start my day (usually dishes from the night before and the washing I put in at fajr).

I cannot imagine another two weeks of this and I have been reminding myself of the fact that every life has a time to begin and end decreed by Allah (SWT) and that this cannot be changed. This thinking has really helped me to accept my situation and take one day at a time. I am trying to find some good in it, by using the time productively to organise my home, work slowly on my to-do list, spend time hanging out with my children and re-arrange wardrobes and cupboards.

The following hadith has also really helped me:

Narrated by Anas ibn Maalik (may Allah be pleased with him): Salamah – the nurse of Ibraaheem, the son of the Prophet (peace be upon him) – said: O Messenger of Allah, you give glad tidings of all good to the men and you do not give glad tidings to women. He said: “Have your friends put you up to asking this?” She said: Yes, they told me (to ask). He said: “Doesn’t it please one of you that if she is pregnant from her husband and he was pleased with her, she will have a reward like that of one who fasts and prays qiyaam for the sake of Allaah. When her labour starts, neither the people of heaven nor the people of earth know what is hidden for her of delight, and when she gives birth, not one drop of her milk comes out and (her infant) does not suck once, but for each drop and each suck she will have one hasanah, and if he keeps her awake at night she will have a reward like that of freeing seventy slaves for the sake of Allah? O Salamah, do you know who I mean by this? It is the chaste and righteous women who are obedient to their husbands, those who are not ungrateful for kind treatment.” (Narrated by al-Tabaraani in al-Mu’jam al-Awsat (7/20); Abu Na’eem in Mu’jam al-Sahaabah (no. 7049); Ibn ‘Asaakir in Tareekh Dimashq (43/347); Ibn al-Jawzi in al-Mawdoo’aat (2/274) and others)

It reminds me to make as much dua for myself and for everyone else during this challenging and vulnerable time and despite not being able to pray as well or as much, this time makes me feel closer to Allah (SWT). I tell myself that this time will be over soon and to make the most of it.

I have also found that when the discomfort or pain gets too much even to lie down comfortably, that dhikr (remembrance of Allah SWT) really helps. I rely on astaghfar (repentance), the third kalimah tamjeed and durood sharif (blessings on our beloved Prophet peace be upon him). I also find that reciting Quran helps me feel better in the morning and I can sleep for a little while.

I am a little worried as our nearest hospital has closed its labour ward and we have to drive 30 minutes to the next one which is very busy and takes the most serious cases in East London (the nearer closure means that the alternative hospital provides local hospital services to a population of 750,000). It also happens to be placed under “special measures” by the Care Quality Commission for previous failings in maternity care. Generally you are discouraged from coming in until your contractions pains are regular and four minutes apart. I had Darling within 20 minutes of reaching hospital, so I am concerned. But I remind myself that I cannot control everything and to trust in what Allah (SWT) has planned for me and this is helping me to let go of my anxieties.

Subhan’Allah this morning I had some interesting “twinges” which looked like something might be happening. Nothing came of it in the end, but just ma me think it could be any day and that I have to make the most of this time before I get even busier alhamdulillah.

His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness ~ Quran 31:14

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked: “Which of the parents have a higher status?” He replied, “The one who for nine months kept you between her two sides (stomach), and then brought you into this world and gave you milk from her breasts.” (Mustadrak al-Wasāil, vol. 2, pg. 628)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The reward of a woman, from the time of pregnancy until birth and breastfeeding, is the same as the reward of one on the path of Allah, and if a woman leaves this world during that time because of the hardship and pains of birth, she has the reward of a martyr.” (Makarim al-Akhlāq, pg. 238).

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Thrifty Craft Haul

I haven't got long to go with this pregnancy insh'Allah, with my due date at the end of the month and I don't like to leave the house too much.  I thought I'd make a short trip into town and get everything we need while I am holed up.

I needed to get the kids some scrap books and glue sticks.  Also as Little Lady has been so crazy over her loom bands, I thought I'd buy her a crochet hook and knitting needles.  She has been using YouTube tutorials on the tablet her granddad bought her to make things out of the little rubber loom bands and I thought she could try the same with some other types of crafts.

You often find knitting needles and wool in charity shops, so we thought we would have  a look whilst we were out.  We didn't find the knitting needles in the charity shop, but I found some really nice stationary and craft materials:

All of these came to just over £15 and included:

Two Pukka Pad project books (usually about £5 each) - I remember using a different version of these at university and really loving them.  So Little Lady is going to use these for high school.

A plain canvas for my artistic neighbour.  This was £1 and I saw the same size in the shops for £6

A bright pink moleskine style lined notebook with really nice quality paper.  I have a thing for notebooks and stationary, so this is mine.

Crate Paper 12x12 Paper pad in Pink Plum, I have seen for £20 online and a reduced version for £8 in TK Maxx and paid £1.25.  Not sure about this paper set as not what I am usually drawn to, but I like some of the blossom prints which remind me of Japanese prints.

DCWV The Glam Rhinestone Stack in Brights.  DCWV along with American Crafts is one of my favourite craft brands.  This pack costs about £20, although I couldn't find it online in the UK any more, I ended up paying £1.25

American Crafts Glitters in Iridescent  - I've been eyeing up these and the Martha Stewart version for a long time, but couldn't justify the cost (around £30 on various UK sites), this cost £4.

Probably our favourite find was this very small unlined notebook by Paperblanks which we are both a fan of, but which is normally outside of our budget.  This is the Nodding Blooms Micro (£6.99) and cost us £1.  The sparkly cover is so pretty and Little Lady asked for it to keep in her school bag.

In the end I bought her some knitting needles and a crochet hook from the high street along with two balls of wool and she has been practising with her grandmother who used to knit.

Packing my Hospital Maternity Bag

A few weeks ago, I found myself having what felt like mild contractions at bed time. It was a bit too early to go into labour, but it was an hour or so before they eased off and they freaked me out enough to pack my bags for hospital in case. As it’s the fifth time I am packing, I was a little more sparing about what I included and left out lots of things that I often see on lists on the internet.

Baby Bag:
  • Two blankets – Darling had lots so I just washed and packed two of hers
  • Towel – I was debating whether to buy a new one because Darling’s aren’t as soft as they used to be and I still use both for her, one when she gets out of the bath and the other over her nappy mat for when I sit her down to dry her off. In the end I found a soft white one in a clearance sale and packed that.
  • Packet of newborn vests
  • 3 Newborn size babygrows/onesies. I found a few of Darlings that were nice quality and neutral colours that Shutterbug had bought her. I bought one new one so I have something nice to bring baby home in.
  • Baby shampoo
  • Small Size 1 (newborn) packet of nappies
  • Bag of cotton balls
  • A baby hat
  • Some scratch mittens
  • Some ready made formula milk and a disposable bottle and nipple. I might not need this, but in case the milk doesn’t come in for a while.
  • 1-2 muslins – probably won’t need these yet, but they don’t take up much space. I found some heavily reduced so bought these new too.
  • Some date for the baby’s tahneek (sunnah)
My Bag:
  • Spare modest pyjamas (I usually go for a nightshirt and find some pyjama bottoms that vaguely match)
  • Lots of spare pants
  • Maternity sanitation – lots!
  • Maternity breast-pads, although it might be a few days before you have enough milk come in to need these.
  • Nursing bra - again, might not need this yet, but at least they tend to be very comfortable.
  • A towel
  • Toiletries  – travel size shampoo, shower gel, wash sponge deodorant, moisturiser, lip balm, toothbrush and toothpaste and hairbrush.  
  • A small waterproof bath bag to pack the wet sponge/shampoo etc away
  • My contact lenses and some wetting drops 
  • Bath sponge and waterproof bag to keep it in so it doesn't soak everything in your bag
  • A big warm cardigan – It’s summer so I may not need it, but I usually get very cold and shivery right after I have had the baby.
  • Socks and slippers for the same reason as above
  • A plastic or waterproof bag to throw dirty laundry into for when you get home.
  • Some energy bars and dates to keep me going and a bottle of water or juice
You might want to pack something to wear to go home, although I tend to throw my big cardigan over my pyjamas and set off.

At the last minute in my handbag:
  • My phone and charger
  • My hospital maternity record (red book)
I also found it useful to grab one of my daughters Al-Amirah pull-on scarves which I kept on the whole time I was in hospital.

If everything goes okay insh'Allah, you tend to get discharged within a few hours and leave hospital the day you give birth, so would not need that much. With Darling I ended up staying for three days whilst they ran some checks on her, so everything I packed got used.

In the past I have packed some books or magazines to pass the time, but my mum and mother-in-law are adamant that a woman should not read after birth (in their time they were told not to “thread a needle” i.e. do anything that might strain their eyes). They think this leads to deterioration of eye sight. Not sure if this is true, but my eye sight did get worse over the years I had my older children, so I am inclined to take notice. I might end up catching e-mails and news on my iPhone instead if I find myself going crazy.

The only other thing that I recommend is to organise some decent food for the first day. Hospitals here don’t seem to have much of a clue and will offer you sweet watery tea, which I find helpful and hard toast which I don’t as your insides feel raw without hard bits of toast scraping their way down. I usually get chicken soup or semolina pudding sent from home (made by mum or mum-in-law) which are nutritious, warm and soft.

What else would sisters recommend that they have found useful in getting packed and ready for hospital?

Monday, 11 August 2014

Kooks Vintage Style Bridal Shower: Outfits and Dessert Table

Kooks Bridal Shower was great fun and lots of the guests made lots of effort with their outfits which ha a vintage theme.  The theme is one that could be interpreted very broadly which made it easier for everyone and we suggested pearls, floral, polka dots and pastels to those who were not sure.

I was going to make do with something I had and realised the few outfits that I am rotating for the last few weeks of this pregnancy were mainly black or plain.  So I went for a walk with Little Man around the local shops to see if I could find something reasonable.  I think I was asking a bit much.  The shops near me are South Asian and not only expensive but their idea of large size clothes is about a size 14 (US size 10/12) which isn't going to fit over my nine-month bump.

We were about to go home when we found a tiny new little shop with abaya's and floaty maxi dresses.  The shop keeper pulled out a few and I kept asking if he had anything bigger.  He pulled out some floral butterfly style dresses in different colours and said these were the biggest.  I picked one and paid a very reasonable £20.

It looked really nice with the diamanté belt over my bump, but Little Man who is very modest suggested it looked better without the belt.  He is a people-pleaser and suggested it in such a nice way that I wore it loose.

I accessorised with a long necklace of opaque blue beads and some chunky beaded bracelets.

This is one of the outfits I really liked, simple and pretty.  This guest got it right with some pink satin heels.

I really liked this floral maxi dress too, our friends son fitted right in with his shirt and suspenders.

Kooks in soft florals and pearls and her ever present camera:

It was all of our little girls that totally stole the show mash'Allah.  This is my little cousin in her belted skater dress with rabbits and bikes.

Darling and my cheeky niece wore their Eid outfits and took every opportunity to sneak sweets and biscuits and run off with them.  They also both stuffed themselves with chicken nuggets.  These two are going to be firm friends and lots of trouble.

This is Shutterbug in florals with Fashionista's little one who also dressed up for the day.

The dessert table had old-fashioned treats like pink wafers, custard creams, Viennese whirls, jammy dodgers, almond cake slices and lemon cake slices.  The sweets were mints, sherbets and humbugs.  The gorgeous cookies were home-made by one of Kooks friends and were probably one of the best I have ever tasted.

Kooks bought these pink ceramic cupcakes a few years ago and everyone kept lifting the lids to see what was inside.  Except we forgot to put things inside them.

Shutterbug makes these strawberries dipped in chocolate for us sometimes.  The cold and tartness of the strawberries and the melty sweetness of the chocolate work together a treat.

I had the best time at the bridal shower.  Our Sister-in-law is hosting the next one which promises to be very chic and stylish and which I am very much looking forward to.

Kooks Vintage Style Bridal Shower: Decor and Food

My youngest sister Kooks is getting married in about a month so we thought we would start the festivities early with a bridal shower.  The theme was vintage with pearls, florals, pastels, and polka dots, which meant we could really have fun with décor, outfits and our dessert table.

The venue was my mum's garden because it is bigger than mine and we felt that the greenery and flowers would make a lovely backdrop.  Kooks and Shutterbug Sister tied scarves across the washing line and pinned them to the walls to create some shade and colour.

They pinned the bunting I made to the scarves.

The girls also put scarves across my mum's garden swing and tied on the string of herats on a ribbon my children made.

I found these butterfly clips at home in different colours and Little Lady pinned them around the garden for me.

The food was amazing - Fashionista bought tandoori chicken sandwiches and her mum-in-law made us pasta with tandoori chicken chunks and radish which sounds strange but tasted really good.  Sister-in-law made a really light, chocolaty mousse trifle and some chicken and potato pasties, mum made samosa's and spring rolls and dahi bhalley, Shutterbug cut plates of fruit and made strawberries dipped in chocolate and chocolate cornflake cakes which we thought were very old fashioned and appropriate.  I made macaroni salad and guests brought lamb kebabs, feta cheese and spinach pasties, home-made cookies, crispy cheese balls and moon pasties and more.  Shutterbug also found some old-fashioned lemonade.

Sister-in-law organised a game where she had asked Kook's fiancé some questions and then asked the bride-to-be the same questions with a challenge to get the same answer.  For each one she got wrong, she had to eat some gum.  She got about two out of thirty right and ended up with a mouthful of gum.  The answers were a lot of fun.

My favourite thing was all of the little girls mash'Allah - my youngest Darling, my little niece, my cousin, all three of whom are about the same age and got up to all sorts of mischief and also my newest little niece, Fashionista's little princess.  I really enjoyed holding her and watching her nod off.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Pregnancy Superstitions

Pregnancy seems to bring out the advisor, expert, midwife, doctor, shaman and superstitious old soul in all sorts of people. I know every culture has some variation of pregnancy/baby superstitions – in England it’s the ring on a chain held over the stomach to determine if it’s a boy or girl (depending on whether the ring swings or goes round, can’t remember which signifies which). Over the years I have come across quite a few of them from Pakistani/Indian/Bengali ladies:
  • You should not buy things for the baby before it is born – something about tempting fate I think. This drives me up the wall because I like to be organised and prepared and mum-in-law keeps trying to discourage me from buying things. I don’t blame her, it’s just the prevailing thinking in her circle. It did mean though that with Darling I didn’t have the things I needed when she was born.
  • If a woman is expecting a boy she will always put her right forward first and if a girl her left foot when she starts walking.
  • The child looks like the person you look at the most, so you should look at good looking people. I think this is why you often find pictures of beautiful babies displayed around pregnant women in India and Pakistan. Mine all start off looking exactly like their dad and then change but retain a strong amount of his influence in some way (hands and feet, build, face, colouring, skin and hair texture, bone structure) and I still complain I don’t get to see enough of him.
  • If a child has a birthmark, it’s where the cord touched them (this one seems really silly to me as the baby seems to be in touch with its cord all the time).
  • If a child has the cord wrapped round it’s neck at birth, you will have a child of the same sex for every time the cord is wrapped round.
  • You must not wear henna when you are pregnant - not sure why, especially as you get so hot when you are pregnant and henna has cooling properties.
  • You should avoid eating too many hot foods earlier in the pregnancy to avoid miscarriage – foods with hot properties are ones like red meat, nuts, fish. I suspect this is based on some variation of ayurvedic medicine.
  • If you become beautiful in pregnancy, you are having a boy. I'm less dubious about this one, as with my boys my skin glowed and my hair felt great, with the girls less so. This time round a friend took one look at me and said I would have a girl because I have lost my glow – we’ll have to wait and see if she is right!
  • One that my family do not practise but which I have come across, is to not put a first born, or a first son, or very beloved baby in new clothes, but rather borrow another babies old clothes – something about protecting the child from the evil eye I think.
I'm sure I have heard many others which I have also managed to ignore, I thought it would be interesting to compare with what other people have come across or have been told regarding pregnancy and newborn’s. Please do share in the comments if you have an interesting one.

Crafts for a Vintage Bridal Shower

Yesterday was my youngest sister Kooks bridal shower.  We had an old-fashioned homely vintage theme with florals, polka dots and pastels.  In the preceding days, I and the kids pulled out my craft materials and made a big mess creating banners, frames and garlands.

Little Lady helped with spray-painting the chunky wooden letters.  I use these ones from Ryman's and I really like the shape and size.

I had to raid all of my paper and card stacks to find the right type of florals and pastel colours for the banner.  It ended up so long I had to assemble it as three strands.

A doily gave the frame an old fashioned look.

The kids cut out these hearts and worked out the best way to string them onto ribbon.  My favourite thing about this was that it kept the kids busy for a while.

I spent most of the time creaking and heaving trying to find a comfortable position.  Thankfully Little Lady did lots of the fetching and tidying of materials.  She can be grumpy at the best of times, but the chance to do crafty activities together really gets her in a good mood and makes her helpful.

The bridal shower itself was a very enjoyable afternoon.  Pic's of the finished crafts and the party to follow!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Free…Last Day at Work and Planning for the Holidays

Today was my last day at work before my maternity leave begins. What a relief. I've had weeks of sweltering in a glass office, feeling sleepy and overheated and trying to appear professional and not the hot, sticky, sleepy mess that I have been feeling. I spent my last day trying very hard not to fall off my chair. I tried food, chocolate, a mocha, walking around, cold water, going to the loo every little while (not surprising given all the water and mocha I drank) and still thought I was going to keel over. In the end I said I was going somewhere cool for 10 minutes as I could not concentrate and was overheating. I went to the quiet room which is used for prayers, set my alarm for fifteen minutes and promptly fell fast asleep. I woke up after about ten minutes, came back to my desk and borrowed someone’s fan and spent the rest of the morning with it trained on my face. If it hadn't been for the nap and the fan, I wouldn't have made it through my last day.

So no more waking up at 6:30am, no more wearing sensible office shoes, or any shoes if I can help it. No more forcing myself to stay upright and pretend to be concentrating at work, when I am feeling so sleepy I just want to lie on the floor. No more eating to stay awake. No more getting so hot I can’t think straight and wondering if it’s just me or if it is actually that hot. No more feeling like an out of place, not very smart or professional looking blimp. No more giving people a shock when they ask me if it’s my first baby and I tell them it’s my fifth.

As of this evening, I have a few weeks to rest and get myself and my home organised. My hospital bags are packed, my birth plan is completed and I have been thinking about where we would fit the clothing and paraphernalia for another baby, so will be spending time moving things around to accommodate everything.

Over the last few days I have been thinking about what I will be doing during the rest of the year at home with the kids. I spent some time going over the goals I wrote for myself at the start of the year, just before I realised I was pregnant (including “I will do my Masters this year no matter what” – except a new baby it turns out!). I've used the templates at the start of the 2014 Muslimah Inspiration Journal I created at the end of last year as well as some others (such as Productive Muslim’s one here, Scott Dinsmore’s Live Your Legend 2014 Goal Setting and Action Workbook here and Leonie Dawson’s 2014 Create Your Amazing Year Life Edition Workbook and Planner here). I also found any old documents saved in various drives and e-mail folders that mention any kind of goal or creative idea or wishlist and extracted any sections that were still relevant. So I have a long list of goals, plans, dreams, bucket lists and intentions to work on and plan. I have been breaking them down into what I want to achieve this year, next year or in subsequent years and mapping them out in one place. The whole process has left me feeling excited, energised and looking forward to the rest of the year insh’Allah. At the same time I am mindful that my body can’t keep up with my brain and everything needs to happen in small steps. The next few months will also be about taking care of a tiny baby, potty training a toddler, helping Little Lady settle into secondary school, tying to find some kind of tuition for Little Man to help him prepare for his 11+ exams the following year. So lots to do, but I believe in taking whatever small action whenever you can.

I found that one of my goals for 2014 was to help the kids have the best summer holidays ever. So far they have been complaining it’s their second worst holidays ever (last year Ramadan was during the holidays and we couldn't do anything at all with them). So I have asked them all to make a list of things they want to do that are sensible, reasonable and affordable. Little Lady wants to bake cupcakes and do crafts with me, Little Man included clay modelling and a midnight feast in his list. Gorgeous handed me a list that said:

Disney land
Safari Park
Olympics ?!

Clearly the boy has no concept of sensible and I’ll have to try and help him think of something that I can actually afford and manage to do.

In the meantime, I have Kooks vintage style bridal shower this weekend that I am hosting in my mums garden, an aqeeqah to think about, another Great Gatsby-inspired bridal shower that my sister-in-law is hosting the day before my baby is due and Kook’s henna and wedding which are about a week after my due date. Before all of that though, I'm having another long nap and liberal doses of Gaviscon.

Managing my Workload as a Mother

A sister kindly took the time to leave a comment on a previous post in which I mentioned I was pregnant:

“Asslalamoalikum. I was just wondering how do you take care of the littlest one while resting and not being very well. My son is 18 months n it's hard how will I manage the next pregnancy with him in tow. Doesn't your darling need constant supervision and attention? Who gives it to her all the time? Thankyou so much for your reply in advance”

I just love reading comments and I always have the best intention to respond, but never get round to it, mainly because I read them on my phone and then plan to log on to my laptop to answer them properly and don’t get the chance to until much later. I thought this sister had a valid question and wanted to answer it properly.

There are a lot of elements that come together in how I take care of myself and my family, especially when they are at challenging ages. The first element is experience. I helped my mum a lot as a child with my siblings, being the eldest I was expected to pull my weight and I have clear memories of changing Fashionista Sister’s nappies when I was about eight or so and also of baby sitting numerous babies and toddlers at a time from about ten whilst mum and my aunts were out shopping the sales (no-one thought anything of leaving so many kids unattended twenty five years ago). So there was never the novelty factor for me of having children, I never thought about it too much and I just got on with it when my kids arrived. Certainly the practical elements of nappies and bottles were no big deal as this is just part of being in a bit family and something you gets lots of exposure to.

Alongside this the most valuable factor to me has been the help of my husband. This has made all the difference in my life Alhamdulillah. Hubby was the eldest of six brothers and always pulled his weight and helped his mum at home. He is also religious and understands that it is sunnah to help your wife. Finally he is just a decent guy mash’Allah and if he sees that someone needs help won’t sit there tapping his foot for his dinner. I would strongly encourage brothers to help their wives wherever they can and not think they are above it, it makes so much difference in their lives and in the lives of your children.

That’s not to say it’s easy. I had three children under five at one point and I remember how miserable I felt after Gorgeous was born. I had a dose of the baby blues (undiagnosed post-natal depression) and could not motivate myself to get up and get on with taking care of my children. So for months it was a case of robotically going through the motions of constant nappies, bottles, breastfeeding, changes, baths and bedtimes. I was lucky that Gorgeous was such an easy-going baby and also that the feeling of depression and not wanting to do anything lifted after a few months. Little Lady started nursery and I went back to work. Those years really were hard work though and once all three were old enough to go to the bathroom themselves and feed themselves, it was if my life had suddenly gotten easier.

Another factor that helped was that a few years ago, my mum-in-law started spending summers with us. This meant that the kids had supervision from someone that really adored them through the summer holidays whilst I worked. Mum-in-law loves it here: the climate suited her, our home environment is quite easy going and religious and she made lots of friends on the school run and when she took the kids to the park. It means that between us, with mum-in-law here, me doing earlier hours and leaving work around when school finished and my husband becoming self-employed we could all help each other take care of the children and they have never been in day-care. I am also lucky that my neighbours are amazing. They pop round during the day to keep my mum-in-law company and occasionally one of them will take Darling home for an hour or to the corner shop. I have found it very rewarding to make friends with a number of my neighbours, they dote over my little girl and a few have offered to help with taking the kids to school or picking them up if I needed it when I was pregnant or Darling was very small. I have never had to take up the offer, but I know it is there in a tight spot.

Now that they are in school and I have a 22 month old again in Darling, the biggest factor in caring for her has been her laid back nature. Darling sleeps a lot and she sleeps for a good part of the day when she is with her grandmother. She is a quiet introverted child and occupies herself with her toys (or by standing on her potty and getting hold of my make-up). I find myself taking her in my stride - she is a fussy eater and instead of chasing her I try again later, or she refuses to go up the stairs herself for her nappy change so I get one of the older kids to carry her up for me.

The one big thing that has helped me is that I and hubby have mostly been consistent in setting boundaries. The kids know that they will get the same answer from us both and that there is no point in trying with the other parents if one has laid down the law. So we save a lot of time in whinging and pestering. There are certain things that are set in stone – once Darling is in bed she knows no one is going to get her out again, so she lies quietly until she falls asleep. The kids know that they can’t have fizzy drinks, so they don’t ask. All four have tried tantrums and found that we ignored them and given up quite quickly (Gorgeous is the exception and responds to everything loudly, not so much because he is throwing a tantrum, but just because he is very loud and energetic). Once we say no to something, we keep to our word, so when the kids were smaller they didn’t pester us too much or they gave up with – “well I know you are not going to let us have it anyway”. As they get older I tell them that they can disagree or negotiate with us if they are respectful and reasonable, so they will often try to persuade us and we will sometimes change our mind.

Something else that helps me is my faith. I ask Allah (SWT) every morning in my fajr ()dawn) prayers to help me get through the day, to fulfil the responsibilities He has tasked me with, to be a good mother and wife. Especially at nine months pregnant I could not do it without the help of Allah (SWT). When I am at my limit, I carry on putting one foot in font of the other knowing that Allah has promised:

“Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. Allah will grant after hardship, ease.” ~ Al- Quran 65:7

At the same time you have to be realistic about the standard you hold yourself to. I think mothers in the modern world have unreasonable standards placed on them regardless of whether in the West and Muslim or not. A perfect house, amazing cooking, the figure of an eighteen year old, immaculate children who are ahead at school, know all their prayers, have perfect manners and Arabic and are good at everything. Mothers are expected to organise activities, tuition, enrol their child in every class and sports activity and programme going. All the time with a vague anxiety at the back of their mind that if they let slip anywhere they will be failures and their children will fail miserably in life. I don’t think so! I don’t buy into this and I believe in taking on what you can manage and doing it as well as you can rather than perfectly. Allah (SWT)m knows and we know when we are doing our best. I believe in allowing children to enjoy their childhood rather than hot-housing them and placing undue pressure onto them.

As I get older, not only do I reject these standards and create my own definition of what a good mother is, I am more confident in saying that something is too much and I might have to stop doing it or ask for help. I don’t see it as assign of personal failure as a woman or mother if the house is messy or the kids have misbehaved or dropped a grade in a subject, or spent the last twenty minutes fighting, or the baby has a dirty face and bedtime is getting late. They are only children and you are only human and in the bigger scheme of things, maybe these things won’t matter so much.

One other thing that has freed up my time and given me the opportunity to do other things despite having young children, is not having a television. This is such a time-stealer and I find not having it means that when I do have a rare free moment these days, I will use it for something useful, or productive – writing, crafts, even napping. Over time I have also found that it means that the children have found ways to occupy themselves – reading, building dens, having a summer club with the neighbours kids during the holidays. Sometimes it means they occupy themselves with wrestling, fighting, mischief and breaking things (so far this summer holidays I have a broken tile on the kitchen floor, a door hinge loose on one of my kitchen cabinets and all of my lovely garden plants and ornaments have been destroyed thanks to football practice). I figure their dad will have to fix what he can and I console myself with the thought that I was much, much naughtier than any of them as a child.

After all these years, I have no idea how I will manage a toddler and a newborn with three older kids at two different schools – except to say that it’s not my job to do so alone. Our family only works and does well if we work as a team. If I am too tired, I don’t try to be a martyr and I am honest and tell them I can’t do any more for anyone until I have rested. I take one day at a time, try to be organised and ask Allah (SWT) for help every step of the way knowing I can do nothing unless I have his help.

Darling helping her sister make loom bracelets

Monday, 4 August 2014

Some Instructions for the Lazy Muslim Husband (and His Wife).

I often hear sisters whinging about their husband’s. It’s very rare for women to say their husband is wonderful, is enough for them and does enough. Sometimes, I think they just like to moan and sometimes I’ve met their husband and I can’t blame them for complaining.

To be fair, the standard set for Muslim men is pretty high – our role model is our beloved Prophet (saw), who was beautiful, strong, wise, gentle, kind, loving, fair, considerate, mindful of his spouses’ needs and helped them with the house work. You can’t realistically expect any man to come close, but what you can expect is from them to try and do things according to the sunnah (habit) of our beloved role model (saw).

Some of the examples I have been coming across, including in my family, are ridiculous. Men who expect to be waited on hand and foot, men who are rude or speak down to their wives, men who think its okay to go round looking or smelling like a hobo.

One of my best friends told me about her parents daily routine. He mother would clean the house in the morning and then spend the afternoon at her job in an elders day care centre. She’d finish in time to pick up her three children from school and then head home to cook dinner and finish off chores. She would sit down to watch her favourite programme (Neighbours, which my mum also loved) just as her husband came home from work. His reaction? “Alright for some, you get to spend all day watching TV”. (“Of course, because you have gifted me with a self-cleaning house and the dinner magically cooks itself too…”)

My mum is a wonderful cook, I absolutely love her food, it’s my soul food as I have often mentioned before. She has spent the last thirty years perfecting it to my dad’s taste, does she get a thank you? Nope, the only time anyone notices is if she forgets the salt. Except the times she has travelled abroad alone to visit family and my dad has had to make do with my sisters offerings, she beams when she tells me dad has missed her cooking (takes so little to make her happy mash’Allah). Come to think of it my brother is another version of my dad – my sister-in-law just happens to be an angel with the patience of a saint when it comes to her husband (or at least she doesn't try to do what I did when I was 9 and hit him on the head with a high heel and land him in hospital).

On the other hand there are some sisters that make me wonder if they should grow up a little. A friend of ours has just decided she doesn't like her husband any more. She just seems to have outgrown him. Not that she can do anything about it, they are from a conservative background and have a child together.

A whole heap of other friends complain because their husbands don’t seem to be able balance the relationships between their wives and mothers. Not an easy one this and it seems to affect a lot of people.

Then there are the sisters who write to me to complain about mistreatment they have suffered at the spouses’ hands. From emotionally neglecting them, to verbal abuse or physical abuse and leaving them destitute or in debt.

Alhamdulillah, Allah (SWT) has given us such a beautiful example in our Prophet (saw) and in the behaviour of his wives, that I can’t help but think that the answer to most of our problems is right there. If we moan at our husband’s they can think we are just going on and on as usual and ignore us. If we work together to implement the sunnah in our marriage, then we are not moaning, but taking positive action which our spouses cannot justify belittling or ignoring). Some examples come to mind for my brothers in Islam:

1. If your wife is cooking or doubled over the bath or scrubbing the floor and the baby is clinging to her and howling, don’t just look at her or ask her why the kid won’t be quiet, go over and pick up the kid. You might be tired, you may have returned from work, but her day is as long as yours and her job is not 9-5, but 24 hours. The Prophet (saw) was known for showing affection to children and playing with them. You help your wife, you get the reward for fulfilling the sunnah, you get to be the fun parent and your wife isn’t directing hateful thoughts towards you in her head.

2. If your wife is a great cook – lucky you, my husband often says that the quickest way to win a man in through his stomach. If she is not, give her a chance, it takes time. The worse thing is when men compare their wives cooking to that of their mothers. No harm in thinking it, most likely it’s true – but why do some men need to be tactless enough to say it out loud every chance they get? Your mother has had 20 or 30 years to perfect the food you like, your wife is starting out. Plus you are used to the taste of food cooked by your mother. My husband always liked his mum’s cooking and she would tell me to cook things a certain way. In turn my kids like my cooking, but not that of their grandmothers and ask me to make things instead of her. Over fourteen years, I have gotten better and there are some dishes she cooks better and others that I am better at. The sunnah regarding food is to eat and be grateful, or if you don’t like it, leave the food without commenting on it. My husband told me about a man he met at the masjid. He had been entrusted with the cooking for their group and cooked the food and served it. Everyone ate, thanked him and told him how good it was. When he tasted it he realised he hadn’t put any salt in and it tasted terrible anyway. His wife had been cooking his food for twenty years and he complained every day and never thanked her. At that moment he felt deep remorse for the way he had treated her.

3. If your wife had gained a bit of weight after having your six kids, how about you let her know? Or how about you don’t? Women are often hyper-sensitive about their weight, they will know even if you haven’t told them, in fact they will see themselves as far bigger than you view them or they actually are. Plus you have to give them credit if they haven’t mentioned the fact that you too are getting a paunch, balding or greying. I believe that if you model the eating habits of your family on the sunnah, you will all be healthy and avoid getting fat. At the same time, no matter how carefully you eat, having babies will change the way you look. Muslim men should know better than to buy into the modern, Western cult of youth that dictates you must always stay skinny and look 21 or you will become worthless. By the time you have children, you would hope that a husband and wife have developed a connection between their heart and souls that allows them to see the beautiful qualities of their spouse alongside the flaws, so that when the body is less than perfect, those other beautiful elements make up for it. I also think that men that cannot tolerate a woman’s body that changes and ages as it is meant to don’t deserve a fertile wife or children – as we women know, every good, precious thing in this world has a price to exact, whether in blood, sweat, tears and pain or a body that take the toll of those things.

4. If your wife pretends to be tired, asleep, have a headache or rolls her eyes every time you cosy up to her, check your breath. Being married does not mean that you have permission to be stinky, have poor hygiene, wear ugly clothes or be proud of looking like a Neanderthal. Our Prophet (saw) was beautiful, but despite the abject poverty he and his family endured, he always dressed in his best, took care of his teeth, was mindful of his breath, always made an effort to wear the best scent he could obtain, took care of his hair and was very clean. This does go both ways, women should make an effort to be as attractive as they can for their husband’s, but many men in general seem to think they are perfect as they are, whatever state they are in and some men just don’t get the concept of deodorant at all.

5. Also if your wife is having the above reaction to you when you are feeling amorous (and it’s not your breath), then think about what you are doing. I knew someone who put a quota on how often her husband could approach her very soon after they were married – every other night only, with the intention of decreasing it to far less first chance she got. This is something that is so hard for Muslim’s to talk about due to our modesty about such things. But I felt sorry for her and her husband, she was putting a ban on him, because the poor man clearly had no idea about how to win her over (wham, bam, thank you ma’am). The sunnah is to be loving and affectionate with your spouse and to fulfil all of your needs through them, this goes for both husband and wife. There is a book called “Islamic Guide to Sexual Relations by Muhammad Ibn Adam Al-Kawthari” that I would recommend. I was seriously blushing as I read this book and couldn’t read it in one sitting – it made me realise that speaking frankly in the right context about such matters is part of the sunnah. Certainly I can imagine no other religion placing so much focus on pleasing your wife, learning about what she likes and placing importance on her satisfaction. And who knew that French kissing was sunnah?

6. Some women are very organised, have the house spotless and take on dirt like some kind of personal jihad. Some of us have a life (joking!). Some women are just better at seeing the mess and knowing what to do with it, others either don’t see it or see it and despair, just not knowing how to keep up with the cleaning and tidying. If they work or have demanding small children, then it gets even harder. I’m quite organised and have despaired at the number of times that I have broken my back on my day off and cleaned the whole house only for the kids to follow me around and undo everything I have done by the time their dad gets home. I love the sunnah of our Prophet (saw), who helped his wives in their house work, something many men think is beneath them. Doing so meant they could spend more time in worship, good deeds and their social activities which involved taking care of the poor and sick. Everyone gets a share of the reward and everyone wins. Thankfully my husband is oblivious to the mess and is kind enough to help me when he can.

Sisters, also some strategies that might interest you:

1. If hubby doesn’t like to help with the kids, set them on him like little rottweilers. Usually when the kids are causing chaos and my husband doesn’t help, it’s because he just hasn’t noticed. He is crazy about our youngest daughter and she adores him. I have so much fun causing mischief when he forgets he has kids. When he's about to go out, I tell Darling and she runs after him, he ducks and hides on the stairs but she homes in on him with her jacket in her hand. Or if he's catching up with the news on the computer I remind her of teletubbies and she runs over grabs holds of his leg and screams tubbbeeee!!!, so he has to put her in his lap and put it on for her. He's clocked I'm doing it on purpose now and trying to find ways to get me back.

2. If your husband moans about your cooking or keeps bringing up his mum’s cooking, you have a number of options. Ask someone independent whose opinion you trust to try your food and tell you if it is actually bad. My husband was patient for years and ate my dodgy cooking without complaint. When his family came to stay they would complain and I would get angry. In the end I told a friend who is a very good cook and she asked me to explain my cooking process and gave me a few pointers which improved my cooking. Another option I used when I first got fed up of the moaning is to dump tons of chilli into everything. Everyone is so busy huffing and puffing and having their taste buds burnt off, they forget to complain about the actual taste of the food.

3. If your husband keeps telling you that you are fat, you could be as tactless and tell him he doesn’t exactly have a six-pack and toned pectorals either. But sometimes the best approach is the gentlest. Tell him you need his support and encouragement as you try to regain your health and fitness after having his child and it will take time. I think men sometimes feel cheated when they find themselves with a women who doesn't look like the sylph they chose to marry and they can’t just go and swap you for another one. I think they can be a bit naïve about real life like that. Alternatively put a ban on all of the fried chicken, lamb kebabs, biryani’s, rich curries, shawarma’s and take-away’s, telling the family that you are on a health kick. You could mention it’s dad’s fault because he is moaning about your weight and you are concerned about that paunch of his that is starting to resemble his fathers. A word to the wise – women are sometimes their own worst enemy in this regard, men are often oblivious to things like a small amount of weight gain, cellulite or minor stretch marks (I’m pretty sure my hubby wouldn't know what cellulite is). So when sisters keep complaining about their weight gain, expect your husband to take note and follow suit. Be proud of the body you have, of all it has endured and of the way it has served you. When you walk around your house like the best thing since Miss Universe, you start to believe it and so do other people.

4. If you have a husband whose habits mean you don’t find him attractive any more, you might have to be a bit more pro-active. I always used to buy clothes for my husband, based on how I liked him to look – fitted jeans and tops because he was well built. When he started to wear the sunnah thobe, grow a beard and started to wear the amamah (sunnah turban), it was such a change that I had to get used to it. So I bought him lovely white thobes with a nice fit as gifts. A friend of mine always gifts her husband the best scent she can afford. She says people always knows where he has been because of the lovely scent he leaves behind. If your husband has dodgy teeth ( a lot of women have a thing about that and teeth are a big signifier for health and an element of attractiveness), book him in to the dentist and make him suffer so he learns his lesson and then establish the sunnah of siwak (the tooth stick) for the whole family.

5. If your husband is just absolutely crap in bed (sorry I know that’s a bit harsh), you still can’t tell me him to leave you alone and then expect him to stay faithful and happy. This is one of the hardest things to deal with because we just don’t talk about these things. But in not doing so and accepting things as they are, you are doing both yourself and your spouse a disservice. Sometimes we forget that when we marry a pious husband he is as inexperienced as we are and that both of you are on a life-long learning journey together. I would suggest read the book I mention above and see if you can get him to read it, have a good laugh together and create an environment where conversations about these thing can emerge. I know – this is easier said than done, even after years of marriage, but there is really no alternative to communication on this one.

6. If hubby complains the house is always a mess, or just doesn’t help out, or even worse both, it’s time to decide how much of your life you are willing to give up to cleaning and tidying. After I heard my friends mum story (the one who liked to watch neighbours), I decided for a long time that I wouldn't be doing any housework unless I have an audience. So rather than work all day and then sit around when hubby gets home, I would sit around all day and make sure I am hard at work when he gets home. Now that I have four children, with number five on the way, I care less what people think and my attitude has shifted again. I will do what I think is enough to take care of my home and family and prioritise other things, such as writing, worship and trying to achieve my goals alongside housework. Is worship a bigger priority or making sure every cushion is straight? Is it more important to make sure the kitchen is clean or spend hours killing time online? Is it more important to get the blog post written or the kids bathed and in bed at a reasonable time? – priorities and time management are both key.

The post is tongue in cheek, but I ended up writing it because I was hearing about so much bad or careless behaviour from my sisters and friends about both men and women they knew. I truly believe that if we follow the sunnah and look to Rasulallah (saw) and how he treated his wives and how they behaved towards him, we would find models of success for our marriage. We would find examples of selflessness, humility, affection, kindness and patience.

In Islam the model for a successful marriage is geared towards success because it is based on shared Islamic values between spouses. No matter how different your temperament or your outlook in life, Islam guides you to the best way to do something. If you both have Islamic values you can find yourself travelling in the same direction through life rather than pulling each other in opposite directions. This has helped my family with making big decisions, because no matter how much family members have differed, when we looked to what Islam said about a matter, a clear path emerged that was acceptable to all.

I also believe that when we place too much trust in another person that no matter how good or kind or pious they are they will break that trust and hurt us. Not because they are bad, or because men are selfish or women are ungrateful. Allah (SWT) says in the Quran:
"...mankind was created weak" ~ Quran 4:28

It’s human nature. We are not perfect. It’s not our spouse that is bad, but our trust that is misplaced. The only one that we can trust a hundred per cent is Allah (SWT). We love each other so much that when we hurt each other it is unbearable. Yet when we love each other for the sake of Allah (SWT), He blesses that love. I used to think it strange that you can love someone for Allah (SWT) rather than for themselves, until I started to tell myself I love my loved ones for the sake of Allah (SWT). I found their mistakes, petty hurts and unintended betrayals did not get to as much any more.

I truly believe that the foundation of a successful Islamic society is the family and that the backbone of this is a loving and successful marriage. This is the unit in which we raise pious children, fulfil our needs in a halal way and propagate our faith. I make dua that Allah (SWT) places peace in between the hearts of spouses and makes them an excellent example for their children of how to conduct a kind, affectionate, peaceful and happy relationship.