2000 was 23 years ago – sometimes I struggle to believe that. That’s when the roof over our heads was blown away and I last saw my father. And that’s also when I saw my mother becoming much more than just a mother.
Since then, I have only felt, seen, and experienced life in exhausting patterns. My body has a defense mechanism that it’s over-worked for years. Its inability to function meticulously is no longer questionable.
Exhaustion for some is working endlessly. For others, it’s sustenance and finding ways to keep going. For me, it’s not being able to rise above my circumstances and expectations, when I finally found wings and then with one powerful thrust, came crashing down, paralyzed. My bones remember the pains of carrying babies, the love that did not make its way and the coldness of winters, of burying a brand new baby.
It seems like the burden of yesterdays is slowly coming to an end with the predictability of the unknown. It seems like my father was gone just yesterday and that his farewell- radiance has taken over my life, even in his absence, guarding his blood from the worst. It all feels vague and also very carefully planned.
In this phase of my life, I follow the clock and am a slave to my days and nights. When my bones start aching and my brain starts to fog, and there’s still expectation to keep going, I hold on to strength a little more and keep moving. My shoulders start stiffening and my lower back signals the end of my strength, but there’s still that last hour left until I can park myself at a safe spot to rest.
It is a complex mix of emotions, a constant state of longing, to-be. It is an uneventful record of the past and a never ending present where you find yourself struggling to conquer the world or fail miserably and give up the next moment. In moments where the only emotion that drives you also feels like an unloved job, the inability to smile takes over, is when the last straw announces its early retirement .
I try to think about when I last had a break from a chaotic twelve hours and my memory fails me each time. I come close to collapse and remind myself each time that I have healthy kids and I have my (leftover) health to (still) support them.
I remind myself to think of that mother from the concentration camp who’s struggling for basic human rights. But then I despise the idea of being grateful by comparing myself to someone who I’m better off than. I don’t want to compare my worst to someone else’s worst – it strikes me as unjust.
The becoming is a painful process of being. Of giving up, moving on, keeping up but also finding ways to not be miserable.
Exhaustion for me is making three meals, feeding them, barely eating, struggling to find some time in between to pray, going up and down the stairs even when my back and memory are asking for equal attention, fixing closets, closely watching the bathroom floor in frustration because I have never liked it dirty while knowing I can’t clean it any time soon, so I find shortcuts and manage. Exhaustion reaches my insides planting little seeds of worries about exhausted finances and drained resources. I hear the sounds of faint duas reaching my tongue by the same monstrous insides and I surrender.
Three years ago, in the height of the pandemic when we packed our familiar comfortable-but-not-so life in two bags, he was the only child, followed by many beautiful firsts. Our second and third child came together. They were a team from the beginning, together forever until one unfortunate day. For one of the two, it took us two days to find a cemetery because they chose a celebration-day-of-sorts to bless me with a lifetime of people telling me that I’m lucky to have a child waiting for me in Jannah.
My soul has seen scars that my bones thrive in. My memory reclaims only the best but in the end, a beautiful white haze takes over and I find myself thinking we have come a long way.
A long way from a twelve year old’s needy mind to a now thirty-something myself. It has taken many broken pieces to complete and repair and left many holes inside of me numb, that feel everything with a hyper focus but also nothing, really.
Exhaustion, emotionally, is a parallel world, beautifully spread over exhausted dreamscapes. Far and wide. Occasionally, there’s a fire that’s burning my insides knowing the potential my body stores, all of those passionate ideas I no longer have the strength for. I remind myself how S. said, ‘Parenting is your responsibility given by the Rabb, and He promises, your rizq will reach you.’ I go on. Like the engine of a train that only knows one way forward, other way backwards.
My five-year-old came to me today after school and asked,‘Mummy, what did you make for lunch today?’
I told him, pancakes with peanut butter (one of his constants) and he asked if I could make him a paratha instead.
I wondered what was coming next.
He said, ‘I wanted to try qeema paratha’
The child who only ate honey and paratha for two years as his main meal came to me and asked for qeema.
I have had many sleepless nights dreading the next morning where I would serve oats or pancakes with peanut butter or bananas, or apples or French toast or honey and paratha — despite doing my best, nothing really worked where his determination would prosper.
His first day at school is a day I clearly remember. It was the saddest lunchbox I had ever seen. I looked at it at least ten times before packing it in his lunch bag hoping its contents would change. I have spent hours reading up conditions to shed light on our failing food endeavors. I have spent hours making notes with doctors that only brought more misery into my life. If parental suffering is a term, I have lived it and my spine will attest to it.
And today, he asked what? I reminded myself again, Qeema and paratha? Miracle? Duas? Ramadan duas.
The familiar beeps of a hospital room, dying fetal heartbeat of one twin baby, quick rounds of the staff to make sure other one keeps growing, efforts to artificially induce my body with Corticosteroids, all that torture of being in fight or flight, beautiful smelling nostalgic Garnier Fructis, a long journey of faith, a thousand collapses and getting back up a hundred times to find that my broken self hasn’t healed one bit has still come a long way, all by this mighty faith in knowing that He won’t leave me.
And He did not.
I lacked communication but my trust won this battle.
He granted me a piece of my soul, I could keep one more child in my nest, and my firstborn had started eating food.
I have found new ingredients to add to old recipes and turn them into a beautiful mess. I have lost people I called friends. I have moved out of the places I called home. I have adapted new seasons I never knew existed. I worked day and night to raise two humans when I thought I was not even capable of changing one diaper.
My thirties are a new phase of life where my previous challenges stand in front of me and I have to take them head on.
One such day, I found myself in the driving seat, with hopes to take with me a little piece of paper that would validate my existence. It took me hundreds of dollars, seven rounds of trial to learn basic theory in one day, leaving two kids behind to be taken care of, two instructors, one positive COVID result, and a failed test to finally hold that little piece of hugely significant government identification.
Right after, I was given a bike. Now I had two vehicles to learn and conquer. It was expected to fill me with hope and give me my life back. To say that overwhelm became my new best friend is not incorrect. We became best friends until winter finally allowed me to rest in peace.
I was a hopeless dreamer, achiever. Today, I find it hard to believe that my dreams are equally exhausted. First generation immigrants could use some special allowance for lost dreams, more courage to practice what they love and patience to keep going, despite challenges. That would be quite a journey, knowing for sure that they will eventually make it through.
Between the hours of ‘she should go to nap now’ and ‘please, can you sleep now?’ I find myself daydreaming under the quilt where I pretend to be sleeping. When my child begins to oblige, I hear the amused songs she sings to herself, her hilarious monologues, and sometimes we find ourselves just being there for each other. Her tiny feet constantly aim for my bones and reach for them with all her might. In her true warrior spirit, she goes on.
And when a little calm takes over,
Today, my gut is asking for attention and my knees are showing signs of damage. My soul feels stuck, far from its center but tomorrow, when I wake up, I will start again, knowing that my blessings are far too many and that this damage will take me home.