The other day I was listening to the children discussing some of the places we have lived. Those of you who follow my Yemeni Journey blog will know that we have moved around a lot more than most families, prompting me to at times ascribe our little tribe to that of the Bedouin. Most of the houses we have lived in have been pretty small, often in not so nice neighborhoods, and hardly what most people would think of as ideal. Yet, despite this, the children don’t have any bad memories of any of those houses, instead remembering them for the good in them, and the good we made in them, alhamdulillah.
One case in point would have to be the mud house we lived in in Damaaj. It was tiny, even on the scale of tiny houses, and our family was large. We chose it because it was right near the masjid and we had come to Damaaj in order to study, and because the price was something we could afford. The kitchen was smaller than most people’s bathrooms, and the three rooms were postage stamp size. There was no electricity, the plumbing didn’t work for most of the time we were there, and running water was by no means a sure thing. There were no systems for heating or cooling at all, and every time it rained the small sitting area would flood. I mean flooding of epic proportions. I don’t know how many times I sat on the doorstep to my room when I had the typhoid, watching the children bail out the house, bucket after bucket that I suspect just came back in from another route. Needless to say we had no furniture in that particular room!
Despite all of this, that little mud house was one in which we were all incredibly happy and fulfilled, and our lives were interesting and meaningful. I remember walking to class in the mornings, feeling so totally and completely alive and content that it was almost as if I might burst. I once told someone that living the way we lived ( and still live, as much as possible) cuts down on the distractions, the white noise that fills your ears, mind and heart and causes you to not see the truth of the beauty all around.
How does this all relate to parenting? We teach our children what they should put value in. If you teach them that value comes in having the latest gadget, a sweatshirt from Victoria’s Secret, or some new game to play on the computer, then guess what? That is what they will value. The other day in class I was trying to explain this to my students: Everyone complains about their children, and says my children are “different” from everyone else’s, mash’Allaah tabarakAllaah, as if they came out that way, fully genetically programmed to be the way they are. BZZZT! Wrong answer. It is a lot of hard work. A lot of careful watching, examination and appraisal, and switching gears when necessary. It is teaching them to see that strength comes from hardship, and patience, contentment, and even joy are a part of every trial that reaches you. It is teaching them that this life is not what you are thinking about or planning or hoping, but rather is what happens to you, each and every moment you draw breath on this earth. That there is beauty all around them, and beauty inside of them, and they just have to take the time to look, listen, taste, smell and feel it.
Yesterday we went on a walk at dusk. The air had that crisp almost winter but not quite flavor to it, and the smell of the decaying leaves reminded us of the cycle of life and death that marks our time on earth. We stepped out the door, and I said, “Breathe.” And they did. And they can never untake that breath, or unfeel the cold, quiet air filling their lungs. I pointed out a small red leaf, laying in stark contrast to its brown and yellow neighbors. “Look!” And they can never unsee that splash of color in the late Autumn landscape. In the park, we saw the geese gathered around an old, bare tree, looking up at it in seeming adoration. The wind was blowing the leaves across the path in front of us in a scuttling, rushing movement like the tides on the beach of the Arabian Sea. “Listen.” And they can never unhear that whispering, rasping sound of dry leaf and cement coming together, parting, coming together again, or the soft sound of the geese feathers as they moved, restless, when we disturbed their peace.
Just be, my children, be and be thankful and know that things are unfolding as they should, and you are a part of all of this, right here, right now- the beauty all around.