Tuesday 26 March 2013

My Mini Retreat

I have been a bit slow the last few days.  Struggling to get up, slow to get anything done.  I've been feeling demotivated and letting the late cold snap and an ongoing cold get to me.  So when I woke up yesterday I had a long list of things to do all going round in my head and absolutely no inclination to do any of them.

I just about got the children ready and got them to school.  By the time I had gotten home, I had made a decision.  My brain could not take any more.  I needed a break from it all.  I decided to go on a mini retreat for the day, or at least whilst the children were at school. 

No housework, no bills or forms, no chores, no blogging, no article writing, no e-mails, no Arabic practice, no sorting out maternity leave (which I am in the middle of), no wedding preparation (for a family friend), no school stuff (assemblies, trips, piles of letters), no thinking about Little Ladies secondary school options and what that would mean for us as a family, no worrying about money.

My brain was just too tired of it.  Especially having done it all alone for the last four months with no one to discuss with or bounce my thoughts off of.  I let my husband know how I felt (yes he’s back alhamdulillah!) and he offered to mind the baby for a while.  I told him it was okay, wrapped up Darling and braved the cold for a long walk.

A nice idea for a retreat seemed to me a long leisurely breakfast, a spa, an afternoon with some friends or some time in nature.  Having decided just that morning that I was going on a retreat, I didn't really have that option.  So I took a walk into the town centre and walked about a bit.  I bought myself a few nice things including the toner and make-up remover I like to use but which I hadn't bought in a while due to the price.  After the amount I ended up paying, this is the last time I will be buying either!

After a good walk, I headed to the library and spent a sweet hour browsing books without the kids in tow trying to drag me back to the children’s section.

Being a responsible Muslimah, I headed back home for midday to make hubby some lunch.  Once done though, I resolutely continued to ignore the piles of dishes and laundry and carry on with my retreat.  By this time my brain had started to relax a bit and feel motivated enough to get on with the things I needed to do.  I decided to hold off at least until it was time to collect the children and spent the afternoon reading my library books (finished the brilliant World War Z by Max Brooks and started The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha).

By the time I went to pick up the children I was upbeat, refreshed and motivated.  I came to make a list of all of the things that needed doing and prioritised which were the most important.  I whizzed through dishes and laundry which in the morning seemed insurmountable.

The whole experience was a reminder for me of how important it is to care for yourself as well as for everyone else.  A little bit of me time and a period of time away from the constant demands and distractions of everyday life was such a balm for me.  Even if it didn’t seem like a proper retreat, just making the decision to step away from things and give yourself some space was so beneficial.

Insh’Allah I hope to make some more spaces like this during my week every now and again.  I recently watched an online discussion panel on women and business which included entrepreneur Ali Brown.   She said something which captured my imagination.  Over time she had de-scheduled at least fifty per cent of her time and stopped working on her everyday business during that time.  She went for walks, she relaxed, she visited the beach.  She found this time opened up so many unexpected avenues and opportunities for her.  I loved this idea and have been trying to de-schedule my weekends as much as possible and be up for new experiences and fun with the children.

What do sisters do when they are feeling overwhelmed?  How do sisters who live in cold places keep their spirits up when the cold weather and coughs and colds never seem to end?  I would love some inspiration, ideas and advice from you.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Mothers Day 2013: Some Unexpected Sweetness

Most of us have been ill the last week, Little Lady with a nasty ear infection and cold and the boys and I with colds that have left us with nausea, sore backs, temperatures and headaches.  It helped this morning when the boys let the girls sleep in and cleared up downstairs and made themselves and us toast, before presenting me with the annual pile of handmade cards.

My mum was concerned that I was at home alone and unwell and asked us over for lunch.  We headed over with a bunch of flowers and our gifts for her.  I picked some bright colourful roses because she loves both roses and bright colours.

My husband usually takes the kids to pick me flowers and chocolates on Mothers Day, but as he is not here this time, I wasn't expecting much.  I turned up to mums's to find flowers and gifts from my sisters waiting from me.

Fashionista had stopped by the night before and left a single red velvety rose this box of cupcakes that she had made.

The girls bought me books and a clutch which went down very well.

Kooky Little Sister also bought me these very elegant bangles.  

These are the coloured version she bought for our mum.

Both mum and I ended up with nice little stashes and had a really nice day (just a shame I couldn't taste her gorgeous food properly).

"We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents; in pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth" ( Quran - 46:15).

The Prophet Muhammad said, may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him: Your Heaven lies under the feet of your mother (Ahmad, Nasai).

The Prophet Muhammad said: Be good to your mother (Bukhari, Muslim).

Thursday 7 March 2013

Little Lady Wearing Hijab and Loving Allah

Last week, my daughter got dressed in her school uniform, brushed her hair and then...put a scarf on her head.  I watched her with curiosity out of the corner of my eye as she ate her breakfast and then gathered up her schools things as we set off for school.

I watched with curiosity because we have talked about hijab before: why I wear it, why it’s a part of our faith, what I like about it and what I struggle with.  She has always been fairly clear that she doesn’t want to wear it and I have not pushed her due to her age.

I feel very clearly that hijab is an important part of my faith and a command from Allah (SWT), so I did worry than when she reached puberty she would continue to refuse to wear it even though it becomes an obligation on women from that time.  I also worried because some of the women in my family that she looks up to do not cover their hair and I wondered if this would have an effect.

So I was surprised when she donned her little two-piece Al-Amira scarf and set off.  I asked her why she decided to wear her scarf and she told me she wanted to start now so she could get into the habit.  She said that she wanted Allah (SWT) to be pleased with her and she thought he would be pleased with her.  She thought it would be the right thing to do (my heart was just overflowing at that point).

I asked her at the end of the day, what people had said.  She said that the girls in her school asked her why she wore the scarf.  She explained that Allah (SWT) says you should cover yourself and that you should listen to Allah (SWT).  She told them it was the right choice to make. Alhamdulillah I am sooooo proud of her.

This has been a very special and pivotal point in our relationship.  Whilst her daddy has been away doing dawah work (he is back next week insh’Allah!!!), she has been sleeping in my bed (the three of us girls together – I , Little Lady and the baby) and we have been able to have lots of discussions and girly me-time together.  I was worrying  a lot about her temper, spikiness and the intermittent rudeness that she was displaying.  I wondered how I could help her to deal with it and become a calmer person.  I tried to be calm, to not let her push my buttons, to encourage her to talk about how she felt.  I made dua for her and bought her stacks of Islamic books.

Over the last few months I have noticed a considerable change in her.  She is still messy, shouts at her brothers and is an expert sulker.  But mash’Allah I find that she is calmer, happier and less angry.  She helps immensely with her little sister who is the love of her life at the moment.  She finds lots of constructive ways to keep herself busy (reading, journaling, bead-weaving, drawing and painting).  But most importantly Allah (SWT) seems to have found a central place in her heart and she often refers back to things she has read in her Islamic books or in our daily Islamic study circle and relate them to why she does things.  I am finding it so humbling, because I know I was nothing like that at her age despite having a deeply religious dad.

I think there are a number of things which have really helped with encouraging Little Lady to care about her faith:

1.       I made lots and lots of dua (supplication) and asked Allah (SWT) to make my children pious, gentle, kind, of excellent character and to spend all that Allah (SWT) has given them in his path and to serve his beloved Prophets (PBUH) ummah.  I also supplicated to help me a better mother and role model and a calmer person.  At the same time I begged Allah (SWT) to not let me fail at this most important test and privilege of being a good Muslimah mother.

2.       I think it made all the difference that their dad was out in the path of Allah (SWT).  My husband loves his kids and misses them so much, he is an amazing dad and has always stepped up and done more than his share in caring for the kids.  It is hard for him to be away, but we believe that when we spend our time and effort in the path of Allah (SWT) with the intention to please Him, then he takes care of our affairs for us in a way that is so much better than we could have taken care of them.

3.       I've been buying Little Lady Islamic books.  Our local shop has a limited selection and they are expensive, but I have considered them an investment as all of the children will be reading them.  I was inspired by the advice of the wonderful Sister Zohra Sarwari at the Mercy Mission Annual Sister’s conference last year, where she said that if her house burned down, the only thing she would regret the loss of would be her collection of books and that she saw Islamic books and CD’s as an investment in her children.  Over time, I’ve found that Little Lady has built up her knowledge and that on many things she now knows more than me (i.e. details of the lives of the Sahabah (RA) and the Prophets (AIS).

4.       The two of us have had lots of quiet time together.  We would put the boys to bed and then share some chocolate whilst we watched a movie or talk together, or just read our own books in each other’s company.

5.       We established the habit of a daily study circle (taleem) each evening.  Little Lady would take the lead and read from the books we chose whilst I tried to get the boys to sit still and listen for a short while.  Most of the time I despair that no-one is listening and we spend most of the 15-20 minutes telling the boys to behave.  But over time, I have realised that it is soaking into the children’s mind.  The one habit I have insisted on is for the kids to remember to send salawat (blessings) to the Prophet (PBUH) when his name is mentioned.

I think these are some of the main things which have really helped me with my children in the last few months and especially have had an impact on Little Lady.

We are lucky that we live in an area with lots of Muslims, so seeing a young girl with hijab is not a big deal.  Lots of girls at my children’s school also wear hijab, so wearing it is not going to make her stand out.  I asked her if she would take it off for PE and she said probably because they have to, although two girls in her class harass the teacher so much that she lets them keep it on during PE also.

I think it helps to have confidence when making choices like wearing hijab.  Someone recently directed me to the TED talk video by Amanda Cuddy below.  We watched together and it certainly seems to have impressed on Little Lady the need to take up space and be mindful of her body language in order to create confidence and a positive mental state.

I asked her if she tried standing tall at school.  She told me she stretched her arms out and held her head up when she told a naughty boy in her class to leave her friend alone.  She was amazed when he listened.  (I had hilarious visions of her standing in class in the alpha monkey pose shown in the video).  The next day on the way home again, she told me “I was taking up space today mum”.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Red Nose Day: Make Me Smile Cakes

Red Nose Day falls during this month in the UK.  In honour of this my children's school decided to hold a bake sale and requested contributions.

The kids were keen to help.

The first batch both overcooked and collapsed.  I racked my brains and realised I put the wrong quantity if butter.

I added more butter and tried again.  The second time around the cakes collapsed again.  I haven't made fairy cakes in a long time so I wonder if the ingredients were a little too old.

Kooks had to come to the rescue and bring us some plain fairy cakes on the way home which we decorated with glacĂ© cherries and cake decorating gel.

I filled a tray each and they went down a treat at school.