Kiss my tear ducts

zara
My daughter, Zara. She cries and she is strong.

A funny thing happens when water wells up in a woman’s eyes and—God forbid—falls out. It seems those tears, salty and shameful, trigger a mighty trumpet to blow, signaling to the world that weakness has arrived. Never mind the strength she’s had to develop just from living in a world that scrutinizes her so deeply. She is definitively weak. Her leaking eyes are my witness.

And though a woman’s tears they may look similar to regular, run-of-the-mill tears, know they are not. They belong in a class all their own, far away and separate from everyone else’s. Because other tears have meaning. They bring about empathy and compassion.  Baby tears, for example, are considered a valid form of communication. When a baby cries, people know there is an issue that needs to be addressed.  Man tears are sweet, endearing, and sometimes sexy. Even whiny kid tears, which can be soooo annoying, get more love than the cleansing waters a woman produces. Silly me, here I was thinking all tears mattered.

Over the past week, I have been bombarded with comments regarding my “Mind your own womb” blog post. Though much of it was positive and quite moving, I was struck by the number of women who were upset with my “portrayal of women.” According to said comments, I made women look weak by suggesting that we cry all the time.

*Deep sigh*

First off, can we talk about the fact that I only mentioned three women in the whole post? There is a 30-year-old, a 34-year-old and a 40-year-old. That’s it. Sure, I mentioned various scenarios that I knew would apply to many different women, but at no point did I mean for this tiny group of ladies to be a symbolic stand-in for all womankind. The fact that so many people would assume this is, well, pretty crazy to me.

Second, can we talk about the fact that I only described these women as crying in response to this one particular, highly personal matter? At no point did I say that they cry all the time, every day, about everything. In fact, it seems it would make more sense to assume they spend most of their time NOT crying. But then, I wrote it, so perhaps I’m able to read into what others can’t.

Third, can we accept, claim and rejoice in the fact that crying is a natural and healthy part of the human emotional response? And though not all women are frequent criers, the ones who are have nothing to be ashamed of. I can’t be sure, but I have a feeling many of these decriers who found fault with my portrayal probably consider themselves feminists. They probably felt like they were standing up for the portrayal and progression of women. Good for them. Please do stand up for what you believe in, but recognize that equating crying with weakness does nothing to further the cause of women. And recognize that crying is only considered weak because it is a so-called feminine trait. It crying were considered masculine, no one would have a problem with it, and they’d probably be encouraging us to do it more.

But guess what? I’m that type of feminist who doesn’t feel the need to take on so-called masculine traits to be valid. I’m the type of feminist who feels comfortable crying (or not crying) as much as my little heart needs to, and I recognize that different women handle different emotions differently. And I’m so cool with that.

But since you want to equate tears with weakness, let’s take a closer look at that. I’m reminded of my late aunt Umaimah Khalifah (may Allah have mercy on her soul), a true pillar of strength in my family. She died in 1999 and left a void no one could ever fill. Talk about strength. This is a woman who was always looking to help others, always looking to give—even when she didn’t have much herself. I remember it like yesterday. She would say, “If there’s enough for one, there’s enough for two.” Wasn’t no way you were coming in her house and not sharing whatever you had! She used to let a whole group of us, my cousins and I, come over her house to spend the night. She never complained, never seemed in a rush to send us back to our parents. Her heart was so full of love and kindness…and strength.

She was one of those “I only fear my Lord” sort of women. I remember she took all us kids to an amusement park once. It was probably around 5:30 pm or so and it was time for Asr (the 3rd daily prayer for Muslims). We just assumed we’d make it up when we got home, but she wasn’t having it. She found a nice spot in the grass and made us pray on time, right there in the park. While we were embarrassed and concerned about onlookers, she stood tall and unbothered. She didn’t care who looked or what anyone thought. My aunt would let no one interrupt her connection to God. She was loving, kind and unapologetically Muslim. And she was also a crier, a huge crier. She cried so much that her nickname was Boo. She’d cry if she hadn’t seen you in a while. She’d cry for happiness. She’d cry for sadness; it didn’t have to be her own.  She just felt things deeply, so much that water leaked from her eyes. I assure you, there is no weakness in that.

mamie
My aunt, Umaimah Khalifah, aka Boo

I’m also reminded of my own daughter, a nearly 7-year-old with a heart of gold. Like her great-aunt, she feels things deeply. She’ll even get teary-eyed during touching commercials, and I swear I saw her crying once during an episode of “Iyanla, Fix My Life,” but she denies it. I guess I’ll let that one slide. Her heart is incredibly open, and that scares me sometimes because there is so much ugly in this world that I’d hate for her to take into herself. But I can’t live in fear. That would be unfair to us both. So me and my leaky-eyed child just live day to day, sunrise to sunrise. We don’t focus on the many people who lie in wait, judgment in hand as if we were made of glass and gears instead of skin, blood and bone.

And even with tears in her eyes, perhaps because of the tears in her eyes, she is strong. Every day this child becomes more of herself—more confident, more intelligent, more grounded in who she is. A few weeks ago, her first-grade class had a performance. Her teacher asked them to wear something special, so she wanted to wear a headscarf, the first time she’d done so in school. This is a decision she made completely on her own despite the fact that no one in her class, maybe even her whole school, wears hijab. But she didn’t care. She wasn’t concerned about the possible judgment and didn’t fear rejection. On that day and every other day, she was nothing more and nothing less than her entire self. That’s strength, and I dare you to tell me it’s not.

So on behalf of my aunt, my daughter, myself and everyone else whose eyes tend to leak, kiss my tear ducts.

~Nadirah Angail

On Diaper Bags, Care Bears and Justmoms

carebearsAs an almost-mom, I’d have to say that the hardest decision I’ve had to make so far has been choosing a diaper bag. It seemed like it’d be an easy and effortless task, as I love purses and diaper bags are nothing more than big purses, but my diaper bag search has proved to be much harder than I expected.

I don’t consider myself a diva, a fashionista, or any of those other trendy terms people like to throw around, but I do like to look nice and care about the way I present myself. So when I found myself standing in the diaper bag aisle, surrounded by Elmo, Care Bears and that hunny-addicted Pooh, I knew I had a problem. Does becoming a mother mean I all of a sudden have to revert to my childhood preferences? Because if I was still five or six, I would have been all over that pink and purple Care Bears bag with the matching changing pad; but now, twenty years later, I’m not as interested. My likes and interests have matured and evolved to now include looks that don’t scream “I’ve been watching PBS and Noggin all day.”

My issue with the character bags is more than just aesthetic. It also has to do with the fact that I do not want to become a Justmom. A Justmom is a wonderful, multidimensional woman who, after becoming a mother, puts her entire life on the back burner to focus exclusively on being a parent. These are good-intentioned women who end up deserting their friends, families, husbands, interests, hobbies and, themselves for motherhood. They spend all day cutting carrots, cleaning rooms, checking homework, washing clothes, joining mothers’ groups online, buying children’s clothes and items, taking trips to parks and zoos, and many other child-centered activities. There is nothing wrong with doing any of these things. In fact, they’re all signs of good parenting, but what pushes these moms into the ranks of Justmoms is that they do these types of things only, at the exclusion of the many other parts of themselves that also need to be engaged.

stressed momI don’t want to pathologize Justmoms. They’re very caring, nurturing, forgiving, and all around sweet women. My concern is that they don’t put nearly as much energy into their own maintenance as they do into their children’s. They become shells of their former selves as their marriages, social lives, self images, and mental states suffer. Consider the research. According to Ariel Gores’s The Mother Trip, mothers are more likely to be affected by depression that any other demographic group nationwide. I doubt that all of these depressed moms are Justmoms, but I’m sure being a Justmom increases the chances of being included in that group.

Mothers seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, and not having healthy outlets to help shoulder that load is nothing more than a recipe for disaster. We all want to be good moms. We want to give our children the best, protect them from harm, prepare them for the future and reassure them of their value. That’s great and admirable. (No wonder Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said “paradise lies at the foot of the mother.”) But, in our haste to feed and protect our children, we often forget that one of the best gifts we can give a child is an honest image of a healthy, balanced mother, one that is so much more than a bodyguard/servant. Healthy and whole moms teach their children the benefits of helping self along with those of helping others. They laugh more, handle frustration better, become angered less easily and are pleasant to be around.

For me, the idea of being a Justmom is scary, but I understand that, for some women, the idea of not being one is even scarier. Many of us have a romanticized image of the perfect mom in our heads. We grow up either wanting to be just like our own mothers, who some of us feel were perfect, or the exact opposite of our mothers, who some of us feel were neglectful. The truth is that most moms fall somewhere between perfect and neglectful. Either way, the image of the Justmom becomes glorified and normalized. So once the children start to arrive, your date nights with the husband disappear, your biweekly girls’ nights vanish, the salsa lessons you loved are discontinued, your paint dries up and your brushes harden, the instrument you used to play begins to collect dust, your sense of style somehow gets lost, and your overall personality dulls. Basically, you lose your zest and unique qualities. These are some of the affects of becoming a Justmom.

There was a time in my life when I thought being a Justmom was inevitable. I thought being a good mother meant sacrificing all else. Lucky for me my understanding has changed. I now know that it’s not a bad thing to continue to have a life outside of my child. I know that my husband can continue to be my husband instead of just being my co parent. And if nothing else, I know that it’s ok to hate the Care Bears diaper bag.

Nadirah Angail

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