Thursday 26 January 2012

Searching for Simplicity

The last few weeks have been ones full of uncertainty for me, not a state I do very well in.

Mum-in-law has gone back to Pakistan, meaning the dynamics in our home have changed subtly. It’s nice to have more time with just me and hubby, but means I have to manage the housework on my own and the small stuff seems to invade all of my time.

I am trying to manage my health better too. I have started juicing and the first two days I ended up with cramps and stomach pain. I lowered the dosage and built it back up slowly. I have tons of energy, but my body still does strange things, so I am getting used to what suits and what doesn’t – I will do the sensible thing and buy a book on the subject at some point.

I have also started running after work (okay running for thirty seconds, then walking fast for the next 40 minutes or so). Kooky Little Sister is my running buddy and humours me as she can actually run, but resists and keeps my pace. I absolutely love this opportunity to get fitter and stronger insh’Allah, but it means when I get home, I have hardly any time left to do anything else.

The boys are still attending madrassah after school for two hours, but Little Lady is not going as her teacher has just had a baby. I am trying to teach at her home, but we are missing days and I am anxious that she doesn’t lose any of the wonderful progress she has made. The fact that she does not have to go, means that Little Man plays up daily, with cries of “it’s not fair” which we can explain away, and “I feel sick” which we can’t. So every day they are late because we are trying to work out if he is actually ill/dizzy/has a headache/stomach ache as he says or he is faking. The real issue for me is that he hates madrassah so much that he tries so hard to get out of it every day. I desperately want my children to love Islam and to love to the Quran, I don’t think this is impossible, but it requires something different from the usual approach we employ in teaching our children. So I have asked hubby to sit in for one session and see if he can identify what is going wrong. Otherwise the next option is for me to teach them all at home. I have studied tajweed, so I am confident I could teach them up to Quran, but I was keen to get them all memorise (do hifz of) as much of the Quran as possible, I don’t feel qualified to instruct them in this. Maybe more learning required for me? Insh’Allah one step at a time, but I have no idea how I will fit this in (maybe I need to start running at night after everyone is asleep and all my chores are done? With all the drug-dealers and prostitutes that hang out outside our thanks).

Work is interesting and I am enjoying what I do. I work half the week with my team and half the week with a team that is preparing our organisation for the impact of the Olympics. This means I am between teams with different cultures and working styles and have to adjust to both. The work has gotten me far out of my comfort zone as in the last two years I have done nothing I am experienced in, only new things which I have picked up as I go along. An amazing learning curve, but I realise it has eroded my confidence over time, because confidence comes from expertise and knowledge on a subject and although I am learning all of the time, it's always just enough to do something new.

To compound the confidence issue I had a meeting this week where I was asked to speak about something I was working on. I opened my mouth and utter nonsense came out. You know that moment when you are trying to explain something and everyone is looking at you blankly and slightly pityingly? Yep, now add a bunch of managers. One of the Olympic team came to my rescue and explained what I was trying to say, but I wished I could just disappear at that point. I spent the next two days re-visiting the meeting in my mind over and over again, unable to get out of that moment and feeling utterly worthless and terrible. I woke up in the morning with it on my mind. The reaction was deeply disproportionate to the event, and I could not understand why. I am starting to realise now, that I was with people I am trying to get used and I am working hard to prove myself as competent and confident and get over people’s assumptions about me as a Muslim woman. Because of this I was not allowing myself to achieve anything less than perfection and when I didn’t achieve this I punished myself by obsessing over one mistake. What helped in the end was Don Miguel Ruiz's book The Four Agreements which are:

1 - Be impeccable with your word - Speak with integrity.
2 - Don’t take anything personally - Nothing others do is because of you.
3 - Don’t make assumptions - Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want.
4 - Always do your best. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

I read it in two sittings during the morning commute and it really made me think about how I need to let go of things and forgive myself for my mistakes.

At the same time, The Olympic team has mentioned a role for me Games-time in their operations centre which would involve 12 hour shifts, sometimes at night. Although this sounded like an exciting and interesting prospect, there is one thing to consider – I have small kids!! We will be fasting during the period of the Games and I don’t feel entirely safe in the area the centre will be based. I am also not quite comfortable as a Muslimah with the idea of being at the office at night either. This has been bothering me for the last few weeks, something else to add to the maelstrom of things going round and round in my head. Hubby has been supportive, but not keen, especially as it will be Ramadan. In the end I called the person managing the centre and asked if I had been put down on the rota. He said that I hadn’t confirmed if I wanted to do it, but it was up to me and I had the option of being a back-up officer. I quite liked that option, so plan to go for it as I will get to have some involvement, but not be working 12-hour night shifts (I did the testing for this for a six-hour test event and it was gruelling).

This doesn’t mean that my usual team will be letting up, an organisational re-structure means that my work has just doubled and I am still only working half of the week with the team (but doing the same amount of work as other full-time team members).

Financially I also have to face some home truths. I have never looked too closely at my spending and income and so have always just got by. But winter is usually quieter for my husband’s removal business and masjid work has taken up most of his time for the last six months. So between us, with my careless ways and his quiet period we are managing just by the skin of our teeth. So I have been stressing about money, stressing about why I care about money (I think Muslims can sometimes have a very conflicting view about money – i.e. it is worldly and we should not chase after it, but we do need it). Instead of stressing I have booked some time this week to sit down with my bank statements and work out where we are not managing our money properly and start budgeting. I think I might need to start keeping a spending diary too to work out what makes me spend so haphazardly and deal with some of the false logic I use to justify my spending.

This week I also had deadlines for two magazines and lots of things to blog about. There just didn’t seem to be any way I could get near a computer and I felt guilty for letting people down. I also wanted to blog and write about lots of things whilst they were still current in my mind.

By yesterday all of these things to think about had made me slightly mental and quite over-emotional, unsettling my poor husband who was trying to calm me down and help me with the things I needed to do. I found myself at 9pm trying to get dinner for hubby and me, trying to talk to my sisters who had come round to visit for Little Man’s birthday, trying to work out what to do about the kids packed lunches and close to tears.

It was 11pm by the time I had the kids in bed, pasta cooked for packed lunches, kitchen cleared away (with hubby’s help Alhamdulillah), bags and clothes ready and my night prayer done. I prayed in floods of tears and it really helped – I believe that if you are going to cry it might as well be in front of the One that can help you.

This morning, I woke up with a clear head and some resolution to do things differently. I am going to do my best, no more, no less. I am going to prioritise – family is more important than work and deserves more of my attention and energy. I will leave work at the office and find ways to divert my attention away from work when I am not in the office. I am going to get out of my head and into the present. Insh’Allah will savour every minute – getting ready in the morning, the morning commute, the hours at the PC trying to crack the numbers and bring order to chaos, lunch with the girls or my book, the trip home with hubby, the mad rush to get the kids changed, fed and out the door to madrassah in less than 30 minutes, running with Kooks, Quran lesson with Little Lady, getting dinner on the table in time, getting the house and everyone organised for the next day and then trying to sneak some time to read and write before bed. I am going to try my best to be present in each moment of the day, to listen to my body, to do a little of something I enjoy so that I don’t feel neglected and to prioritise people over things to do, by listening attentively to the people around me and stop acting like a miserable headless chicken.

Writing this is making me think about how much I need to bring simplicity into my life. I have made so many plans for myself this year. I have set goals and broken them down into activities, exactly as the books on achievement tell you to. But when it comes to delivering and balancing it all with my hectic days, I am starting to think that what I need is simplicity. Something to reflect on as I make my way through this day.


  1. Wow, you certainly look like you need more than 24 hours a day!! I'm feeling like that too nowadays, with working out, eating healthy, preschooler's activities & diet, house keeping, family visits, blogging, article writing all taking up so much time and still not being done satisfactorily. Like you said, I guess prioritizing is key. I've started keeping To Do lists and hope it'll bring some order to the chaos!!

  2. Asalaamu 'alaikum sis,

    I love your blog! Its an echo of every muslim mum! I'm about to have my 2nd child and really worried about everything that will change. I'm also thinking about what i'll do when I return to work in 1 years time, Inshaallah. Reading this post has made me realise that we all have our challenges and it all adds up to make life interseting!

    Umm Ibraheem.