children, emotional, identity, parenting

Another time, another space, what might you be?

wooden house in winter forestWe are who we are. Or are we? We become what we can become, we realize possibilities that are available to us, that are within reaching distance. The tendrils of our hearts and minds curl around the persons who are biologically or become socially connected to us. We mold ourselves into shapes that fit those persons. If we don’t, we are socially inept, or emotionally dysfunctional, or loners.

The pace of most lives is so rhythmically steady that we don’t have the opportunity to stop and consider who else we could be, or could have been. The thought of a potential other Me can be exhilarating, can be terrifying. Reflecting on that other Me is a waste of time, isn’t it? Philosophical garbage, right?

It’s early January. We recently concluded my daughter’s winter break and a whole lot of togetherness. It’s beautiful and cozy togetherness, and it fills up all the empty spaces in your heart and mind until there is nothing else there. At times, I felt like I was in a lazy groundhog day with surround-television.

It’s Saturday evening right now. My husband took my daughter to a children’s event at the public library – because that’s what good parents do. He often does this, and gives me time to myself. I spend more time with my daughter during weekdays.

I just got home from the gym, where I have been spending more time than usual recently, and a quick trip to the grocery store for raspberries and grapefruit juice. I was surprised to find that my family wasn’t home yet. I dropped the groceries, prayed the evening prayer, and did not turn on the lights. The fairy lights – we call them Eid-Miladunnabi lights (it’s the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday on January 13) sparkled in the dark living room. It was utterly quiet. I sat there quietly, full of wonder at this unusual experience. A tranquil silence, no urgent tasks pending, and no other person.

When Svend and Raihana are not with me, I miss them. I feel incomplete. Right at this moment, though, I felt like I was peering from the darkness into a bright window of alternative possibility. Who could I be right now? In the silence, in the aloneness, there is another me that I might access.

Not for long. They are back home, and I have a 7-year old voracious reader leaning on my shoulder. So I’ll just pack away those possibilities – which are, after all, not – and savor what I’ve got right here. 

children, cultural, feminism, gender

No more Disney Princesses

A mother in California, sick of Disney representation of girls and women, came up with a new cast of characters – the Guardian Princesses. This is a hopeful sign, but Setsu Shigematsu cannot do it alone. Disney with its enormous, hegemonic power – cultural as well as financial – is too big for one person to battle alone. I hope Shigematsu finds allies and backing in her work because I am one of those many, many parents (and others) who are sick to death of the Disney/Pixar girl image problem. I would really like girls to have a narrative that is not centered around the climactic appearance of romance and a man, but most entertainment products for children appear to follow the dominant romance narrative. This is more than a feminist issue. The narrative is reductive. It centers the life-story around the identification of that Other Person who will make life meaningful. That expectation is often a destructive and depressing force which can detract from a person’s strength and aims.

May I a little spitefully hope that someone other than the big corporations picks up where they failed. Why should they get to make money off all the consumers, feminist and nonfeminist alike? When Merida belches and doesn’t care for fancy outfits, this is good, and the change in body representation is helpful, but for me, the plot is the key issue. When everything in the plot revolves around a man/romance/marriage, any degree of proud, strong, assertive, feminist female character only succeeds in showing that that, too, can be domesticated into patriarchy. The feminist representation becomes harmful because it’s just a way to nab a wider audience. The Guardian Princesses will be a change from the Disney norm if the plot is not man-driven.

class, immigrant, Pakistan, Uncategorized

Cold enough for ya?

It’s pretty cold right now. My Facebook feed is practically exploding. Sometimes, even though I am an immigrant, I lose this perspective.

As a girl, I had no coats when I was growing up, and we were middle class. I remember wearing thin cardigans over linen shalwar kameezes, with lightweight socks. One time, a schoolfriend wore a fuzzy coat to school one winter’s day (her brother had brought it her from the US) and I was stupefied. In the late 1980s, Afghan tradesmen used to sell fuzzy sweaters – possibly aid or charity clothing – at the roundabout in Liberty Market. We’d never seen anything like it.

To this day, when I wear performance fleece, I want to stockpile the stuff, fill a plane with it, and take it to Pakistan. The poor – the milkman, the vegetable seller, the gardener, the maid – they all wore nothing more than their shalwar kameezes with a woolen shawl over their faces and bodies.

You might think that it doesn’t get very cold in Pakistan. The coldest I feel is when I visit Pakistan in the winter. The poorly insulated homes and the lack of central heat make a visit to the bathroom an experience to be remembered.

The upper and middle classes now have access to a range of products, in Pakistan as well as abroad. But for the poor, the thin layers of a shalwar kameez with a worn-out shawl is all most of them have. And in recent years, the shortage of gas and electricity make for a killer mix.

Even if you do have gas heaters (and gas), those things tend to be leaky and you will get dizzy and ill if you enjoy them too long. I’ve done it too many times. I will never forget the time when a group of Albanian students at the International Islamic University (I was the Residence Hall Director) decided to run the gas heaters in their closed room at NIGHT. I went upstairs to check on them  and found them all passed out. We opened doors and pulled them awake, and carted them off to PIMS (local hospital). It was terrifying. Those women learned that cold was not something you could always fight. You think we’re fatalistic? Try spending the winter in Pakistan.

So if you are in the US in the middle of a cold wave, or even sidling up to your radiators in parts of Europe, some would love to have what you have.