Sunday, March 2, 2014

You are three.

Dear Ali,

Today, you turned three. I have tried to write you a letter every now and then since the day you were born, mostly describing how I feel about being your mother, about you landing in my life and helping me find my feet. I have hoped that one day you will read these and get to know the life and times of your mother with you. But this letter is going to be a little different.

This day, I want to talk only about who you are—at three, in this particular moment in your hopefully long and lustrous life.

There are things that are no surprise; simple evidence of your being a) a toddler, and b) happy. You laugh with your entire being—starting with the telltale twinkle in your eyes, to the helpless shaking in your shoulders, to the gleeful electricity in your feet. Laughter doesn’t just evaporate off of you; it engulfs your entire being. You are hilarious without trying, honest without putting on, and loving without reservation. And you are, of course, relentlessly curious like only a three year old can be, impossible to ignore.

But there are also things that are just you, and lovely indications to the person you will one day become.  When you are older, I hope you read this little list and can relate to some of these traces of your three year old self.


First things first. You love the birthday song, but you have no idea what a birthday is. Your dad and I have been trying our hardest to explain to you, and you just give us a good natured grin, and redirect your attention to more important matters at hand, like the cookie monster song for the letter C.

You love touch. You love to hold, and to be held, and have no qualms about giving unsolicited hugs. Among the first things you learned as a baby was to return a kiss. Of all the things I have taught you this far, that one makes me the proudest.

You are an excellent judge of when a touch is loving and comforting, and when it is meant to quiet or thwart you.

You are very, very sensitive to the latter.

You are scared of being alone. Even though you are an only child, and accustomed to imaginary friends and games for one, you like to be in company at all times—awake or asleep.

You are terribly afraid of water. You are not getting on any water rides or swimming lessons any time soon. I worry you get that from me. Sorry.

You are incredibly sensitive to sound, ever since you were born. You hate vacuum cleaners, loud music, the sound of electric razors, and most kinds of noise—unless it is a train whistle.

Your biggest hero in the whole wide universe is not Spiderman, or Batman, or even Thomas the Tank Engine—who has a special place in your life. It’s your dad. You are his shadow, and he is the love of your life.

You want to be Thomas the Tank Engine when you grow up.

You are strangely diplomatic for a three year old. Whenever you hurt yourself, and I do the old kiss and heal routine followed by asking very hopefully if it made you feel better, your answer is always yes—regardless of how much it still hurts.

You have an amazingly short memory for the things that matters less (like the time I completely lost it when you ran across the bedroom carpet peeing, or all the times I fall asleep before you while reading to you) but an amazingly sharp memory for those that do (names of every character in every book I’ve ever read to you).  You have no idea how many times I have thanked God for your selective retention.

You are an incredibly good sport about the fact that your parents work full time jobs and are, on most weeknights, just too pathetically tired to be better prepared for your time at home. Whether it’s your inexplicable love for Dr. Who that gives you a chance to spend quality time with dad, or your equally inexplicable love for cuddling in the bed with a book to spend quality time with mom, I truly believe you are wise and compromising beyond your years.

Best of all, darling boy of mine, you are a gentle soul. I see it in your impossibly long-lashed eyes when you measure every stranger upon meeting for the first time for signs of genuine interest in you before bestowing a smile. I see it in your avoidance of all things ear-piercingly loud. I see it in your love for books, and weird science fiction characters, and unsolicited hugs. I see it in your all-engulfing laughter.

Soar. Grow. Fly. But please stay the same.



Monday, January 9, 2012

In My Motherhood - ep. 2

In the past week, my ten month old son has punched me in my left eye, pulled individual strands of my hair till I yelped in pain, and kicked me in the face upwards of two dozen times as I slept at night. And yet, when he rubs his plump little fingers on the couch --fingers coated with the spicy hummus he just discovered in a closed Styrofoam container on a side table-- all I do is mildly chide him, and then plant a fat kiss on his cheek. Not to compensate for the chiding, but because the chiding doesn't really mean a thing.

But every day, starting from day he was planted in my body, my threshold for pain and tolerance of mischief has expanded almost boundlessly. Not to mention an apparent gluttony for punishment. Sleepless nights, poop in the bath tub, pee on the face, pulled strands of hair; you name it and I can take it. And yet, in a paradox, also grows a seething fear, in bed with the supposed strength. Fear that makes me weak in the knees when I think of possible future calamities, and that makes me cry with fright, irrationally and extremely unhelpfully, every time my son threatens to topple over the bed.

There is no love like a mother's love; oh, how cliched, ridiculous, and endlessly true.

Monday, October 3, 2011

In My Motherhood

What is it that makes women so susceptible to the smallest slight once they've scoured practically the highest mountain for human endurance: giving birth to a child. One would think that successfully delivering a living, breathing person would open gates for some kind of new, thriving confidence that would make them a seamless amalgam of wonder woman and Minerva.

Well, it doesn't. Touchy-feely bundle of free-falling self-esteem is more like it. The transition for me has been even more dismaying because physical aspects notwithstanding, I really felt on top of the world during most of my pregnancy. The moment I saw him on the sonogram, I was hooked; I was in utter awe of my own ability to really do this. And that feeling had the effect of elevating me to this strange position of self-perceived superiority when I walked--waddled--into a room, staring down proudly at the world like a holy matriarch looking down at her brood.

In the labor room though, as fast as it took the nurse to decide I was a candidate for an induced labor, I went to feeling something that would soon become unflaggingly familiar. Unequipped. Unequipped to handle excruciating pain. Unequipped to handle this exquisitely beautiful newborn human that was suddenly, actually here. Unequipped to somehow stymie the creeping feeling that the whole being on top of the world with a budding person inside me state was about to melt down, to being just so damned unprepared.

Eventually, with a lot of trial and error, I learned to overcome some of that unpreparedness. Kind of, sort of. But here's what propelled that free fall of confidence. It wasn't the mistakes, though there were too many to count. It wasn't an uncommonly long recovery process either. It was, for me, the deluge of advice that perhaps inevitably hits the average first-time Pakistani mother, left, right and center from the minute she begins the process of procreation, making her rethink every little bit of knowledge she painstakingly gleaned from non-human and non-judgemental sources (like What to Expect When You're Expecting). Instead of teaching you valuable life lessons as it is helpfully intended to, it turns you into warrior woman, ready to defend your honor against anyone who casts a single stone at your parental prowess.

Don't get me wrong. I have needed, and used, plenty of advice. From being pregnant to raising a restless, hyper-active infant, I have stayed true to my womanhood and asked for directions whenever I was lost. It's the unrequited, thinly veiled as advice criticism that sends me over the edge. I believe that I, that touchy-feely bundle of free-falling self-esteem, can tell the difference. Like a cat sharpening its claws, I get into defense mode, lunging with my invisible shield and weapon of zero mass, but plenty of self-destruction.

The thing is, there is a technique to advising new moms, and it's a shame that the people completely clueless to this technique are mostly other moms. I once read a story a new mother shared about being scolded by a fellow mom on not doing enough to make her baby stop crying at the grocery store while she hurriedly bagged her items in line, because crying so much 'isn't good for a child'. She, of course, cried all the way home. One would think a mother would know to avoid the all-too-easy condescending, judgmental tone to an already-embattled person struggling with life-changing events, feelings of inadequacy, and possible postpartum depression--mainly because she was that person once. But apparently, for some mothers, another person's motherhood is just fodder for their own egos rather than a genuine desire to help. They hold them to the mythical high standards of a so-called perfect motherhood, hammered out by countless modern studies in childcare and improved upon every day. They forget that raising a child is a technique as old as time; protecting and loving your offspring is not something you'll somehow forego if you didn't listen to each and every bit of advice from everyone--experts or non-experts alike.

Moreover, it's the moms among us that pass the most self-righteous, flippant judgement with no knowledge of the context to their observed 'problem', or sin committed by the other mom. Having been a parent for a few years becomes automatic license to scorn and judge what you assume to be 'lesser' parenting by others. From unruliness to lack of social skills in children, to a messy home or lack of lunch-making expertise--every misstep by another mom is a crime, even though there is no such thing as a perfect parent, or a perfect child for that matter. I know I'm far from perfect for sure. I've had plenty of challenging moments during the last seven months, plenty of stuff to beat myself over. Working eight hour workdays until last week, even if most of them were from home, I have struggled with an increasingly demanding (albeit uncontrollably adorable) infant who rejects the concept of the playpen and attacks my laptop at every opportunity he gets. I repeatedly declined our friendly next-door neighbor's offer to take strolls with our babies throughout summer, or join a new mom support group in the neighborhood that would probably have benefited me. To my defense, I barely got a chance to take a morning shower while trying to balance work, feeding/changing/amusing my son, and managing to swallow at least one meal during the day. Taking him out on daily walks was not on the agenda, however beautiful the weather. I also didn't make enough effort to make baby food at home (though I try to compensate by paying extra for organic) or do other things other, more dedicated moms do, like giving their babies luxurious massages after baths. Poor Ali gets high-speed baths which almost always end in his yelling and screaming as he gets transferred unceremoniously from the bath tub to a diaper. Not only do I forget to put lotion on him, I routinely am late in cutting his nails on time. So yes, I am not super-mom, and I probably never will be. And even though I like to think my kid is the happiest baby I know, I also know I'm never going to satisfy myself either, lest the self-appointed parenting critics.

But here's what I think: I know I have enough guilt to beat myself over without having to also deal with external judgement. It's hard enough focusing on things other mothers do better than you, and then completely ignoring the few things you do better. New moms deserve, and need, to be just ignored for mistakes that don't really break any sacred rules and won't traumatize their children forever. Trust me, when I get lost, I will ask for directions.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I Wonder...

...if writing a blog is really just a way of fooling people into thinking you're a writer and not high/delusional/a little bipolar. Because you're really just sitting in a corner talking to yourself quite eloquently.

Monday, August 8, 2011


I have decided to...drum roll...reclaim this blog. I'm not entirely certain what has brought on this sudden relapse into another prematurely orphaned project of mine. Two possible reasons: One, I am finally re-inspired. Two, I am soon to be unemployed. Might as well have a vent handy.

Step 1: Change the name of this blog. It is not cool anymore to name a blog after yourself. Working on it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Really, Shahbaz Sharif?

A few days ago, the chief minister of the Punjab province came into the limelight, for a strange, ill-advised commentary on the Taliban's recent attacks in Lahore (see Dawn's unusually strong-worded editorial about it here).

Sharif was also chief minister, Pubjab in 1999 when his brother, then PM Nawaz Sharif, was ousted by Parvez Musharraf during a bloodless military coup. The Sharif brothers were briefly imprisoned, and then exiled to Saudi Arabia, which lobbied to the Pakistani army for their release given its longtime cordial relations with the Sharif family. They eventually moved to London from where they re-entered Pakistani politics (Pakistani politicians have a history of holding political court from overseas).

Now, Musharraf is gone, and the Sharifs are back in power--sort of. While Shahbaz, once again, holds the coveted post of chief minister of the most powerful province in the country, his brother is continuing to dream of reclaiming the 'throne' he once occupied. BB's assassination and the subsequent rise of PPP to power have put that one on hold for now.

So anyway, here's the riveting piece of wisdom Shahbaz Sharif delivered at a gathering in Lahore, following the March 12 bomb blasts:

"General Musharraf planned a bloodbath of innocent Muslims at the behest of others only to prolong his rule, but we in the PML-N opposed his policies and rejected dictation from abroad, and if the Taliban are also fighting for the same cause then they should not carry out acts of terror in (PML-ruled) Punjab."

One would think that at this crucial time in the country's history, with the ongoing battle with the poisonous Taliban, and given how long he's been in politics, he'd have mastered the art of thinking before he speaks. It's hard to imagine he could actually think this speech Wouldn't be misconstrued by Pakistanis being slaughtered across the country by the Taliban. In a country already torn by enough ethnic hatred, comes this man stating why the Taliban shouldn't be carrying out acts of terrorism in his province (not Pakistan, but just the province he's ruling right now because his ass is on the line). Why? Because his party hated Musharraf just as much as they do.

Does any Pakistani really believe if Musharraf hadn't taken 'dictation' from the US post 9/11, Pakistan would have survived the explosion of American fury in Afghanistan and Iraq? Despite being the training ground for Al-Qaeda? I'm no fan of military rules and Musharraf may have made many other colossal mistakes in his decade-long tenure, but that wasn't one of them.

Shahbaz Sharif is a massive idiot. And unfortunately for Pakistanis in Punjab and elsewhere, he's an idiot still in charge.

(Photo courtesy www.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Oscar Rant

On a lighter note, Sunday's Oscar ceremony was typically boring and overlong, which is fine and expected, but there was something especially annoying about it this time.

Apparently, some genius gave them the idea that broadcasting Barbara Walteresque testimonials by actor friends of the nominees would keep those flighty audiences rooted in their seats.

Well, here's what it came off as. Not that the overly patronizing, condescending and self-congratulatory world of Hollywood will ever get a clue about this, but must giving someone an award for best acting also entail proving that they have the purest of hearts as well? Tom Shales of the Post was right on when he played down the nauseating and rambling tributes to the 'great humanitarians' and the 'best fathers and husbands' of our times. No talk of the acting skill involved, the preparation, the labor of love that a well-acted role is, or the character they were nominated for. We do, however, know now that Julianne Moore truly loves Colin Firth and Morgan Freeman is bad with names. And Vera Farmiga's mom thinks George Clooney is a dish.

Who.the.hell.cares about whether Oscar nominees have a forty year old marriage or gave a million or two to Haiti or are oh-so-lovable? Were they nominated for the goodness of their hearts, or their general cuddliness? Heck no! They were nominated for doing their job, and as someone should tell the producers of Oscars too: DO YOUR JOB. Respect your own award.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The bitter pill called Aafia Siddiqui

Three days ago, Washington Post reported that that U.S. investigators have formally concluded the late Bruce Ivins, a government scientist, to have acted alone in the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others.

Bruce Ivins' actions bear testimony to a complicated fact: brilliant minds are more than capable of causing mindless, even inexplicable terror. Most of us will nod our heads to that. This isn't the first time someone seemingly normal and well-adjusted and ridiculously accomplished committed an awful crime. But here's another example of a ridiculously accomplished overachiever going bonkers. For my Pakistani friends, this should be easy.

The case of Aafia Siddiqui has baffled educated, urban Pakistanis for several years now. They have found Aafia's mysterious disappearance and arrest understandably hard to grapple with, given her stellar academic record, and most of all, her middle-class, genteel upbringing in the metropolis of Karachi. Even I, admittedly, reacted with disbelief when I first came across her strange story and tried hard to find answers that, due to the secrecy surrounding the entire case, did not come easy.

There is still so much that's unexplained. Yet, in the past few years, with a patchy yet telling unfolding of her circumstances and her subsequent court appearances, there are certain things that I've concluded.

Firstly, Siddiqui's recent conviction in a Manhattan court has to do with attempted murder of her interrogators, not terrorism. So without a terrorism conviction, nobody can brand her innocent or guilty of terrorism. Yet, if there is anyone deserving of the term 'shady' in the current slew of persons implicated in terrorism, it is she. While we do not know what the extent of her involvement was, Aafia Siddiqui was involved. In some way, in some capacity, she was. That's a forgone conclusion at this point. And while her family has steadfastly stood behind her, she cannot be fully exonerated from jeopardizing their lives, and her unfortunate children's lives to no point of return when she did become involved. I think it is safe to assume that an MIT educated scientist would be at least sufficiently conscious of what she was doing to have been caught as a complete innocente in the lethal ring of extremist terrorism as she did. It is unfathomable to let her off as simply a victim of her circumstances or associations--which is what most Pakistanis still believe.

There are two categories among those believers. One comprises of folks who feel Siddiqui doesn't deserve punishment even if she were guilty of the crimes she has been charged with. She was just doing what any good Muslim would do.

That category's bit of a lost cause.

My focus is the second group. These are educated, relatively more informed Pakistanis living in cities like the one where Siddiqui grew up, the people who refuse to admit the thought that Siddiqui could, in fact, be guilty in the first place given her background. It's important to at least try and reason with this particular group of her supporters, given the recent series of protests against the American court that tried her (a privilege not given to many others like her, something that deserves protesting about).

These Pakistanis need to come to terms with a bitter possibility about Aafia Siddiqui.

They need to open their minds, without jumping to conclusions, about unlikely participants in extremist-driven terrorism. Extremism does not always fit a bill and a certain profile. Just because she was a woman, just because she was a mother, or just because she went to MIT does not mean much, for people are complicated. And preconceived notions often fall flat. And brilliant people do not always make brilliant choices.

Obviously, Aafia Siddiqui made some unlikely choices along the way. If her case progresses beyond the recent conviction, we as Pakistanis need to prepare ourselves to hear unsavory truths. I have a feeling they are inevitable.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

And time yet for a hundred indecisions

Since I have nothing original to say, I will let T.S. Eliot speak for me this sunny, wintry Saturday.

My favorite excerpts from the very tedious, and very beautiful, Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Shopping for a cause...

For the last year, I've been involved in starting a Washington DC chapter of The Citizens Foundation USA (, my favorite charity (and once employer) that builds schools in underprivileged communities throughout Pakistan. My fellow members and I recently chose a particular school project to support through our fundraising efforts (information about the project at the bottom of this post).

We're starting a fantastic new fundraising program to support our project, one that allows just about anyone in North America to support TCF while shopping at a very interesting new website, is a new “social shopping” website that sells unique items at great discounts. Once you sign up, each weekday you'll get an email from them offering a different, unique product from a specialty web retailer--normally one that hasn't gotten a lot of press yet. Jasmere will offer this product for sale at a heavily discounted price for a limited period, and the price decreases further as more people buy it.

Jasmere offers a range of novel and beautiful (or delicious) products, such as gorgeous purses made in Cambodia, children’s toys made of organic alpaca from Peru, letterpress cards made on an 1870s press, and even chocolate chip cookies or fresh oranges from Florida! You have 24 hours to act on each day’s offer, except for Fridays, when you have the weekend as well. For more information see this. Check out a list of the products they've offered since starting last month here.

And here's how you can help TCF: Each time you buy something on in the next month (starting today), enter the code "TCF" in the gift code box at check-out. At the end of the month-long period, will give us $5 for each time the code was entered!

So do check out today...even better, right now. Just sign up for their daily emails, and then shop while supporting education for children in Pakistan.

And now a bit about our project:

We're raising funds to cover the annual operating costs of a school in a village in the Bagh district, in the Azad Kashmir (the Pakistan-governed Kashmir region). The Umm Dardah Campus, named after a female Muslim scholar, is a primary school located in a village that was destroyed in the earthquake of 2005. Construction of the school, which is earthquake-proof, is 90% complete and will start operations in April 2010. Like all TCF schools, the Umm Dardah Campus will include open, airy classrooms as well as a play area, a library, and an art room.

Sustaining the school for one year costs $13,800, which covers utilities, salaries for teachers and other staff, teachers’ transportation to and from school, administrative overheads as well as and books and uniforms for the children. These items are provided at highly subsidized rates to kids who can afford them, and free of cost to those who can't.

Thanks to fundraisers held last fall, we're well on our way to achieving our goal--but we have to get all the way there by April! So every little bit helps.

Happy shopping.