Saturday, May 7, 2011

MAKING HIJRAH 30 "We Are Family"


Asalamu Alaykom,

Three is a magic number.

I was now (once again) a married woman in Egypt.  I honestly didn't think I'd ever be on my fourth marriage.  It sounds like a joke---a bad joke.  Just a re-cap for viewers who tuned in late:  my first marriage was to an American man I met when I was 19 (I married at 22 and divorced at 31); my second marriage was to an Egyptian-American man who helped bring me to Islam and our relationship lasted five years; my third (Islamic only) marriage was to a Moroccan internet romance and it lasted four months before I moved out.  And in 2010, I entered into a marriage four months after meeting an Egyptian man here.

Was I nuts?!


But it made sense at the time.  I was no longer alone in Egypt.  I could wake up, pray, make love, get help getting Mr. Boo ready for school, and together we could walk (or run) down the road to catch the bus.  I could count on someone.  It felt good.

Sometimes, it felt bad.  Yet, from all my previous experience I knew that the first year was not going to be easy.  I knew that I had to keep it going and make it through that first year no matter what.  For one thing, I needed to save face after my Moroccan disaster.  More importantly, I feared Allah and didn't want to displease The One Who Blesses.  I felt that I was blessed to have married this particular man---though during those first months it was a frequent challenge to stay positive.

For one thing, it seems as if step fathers switch roles from when they were courting to when they are married.  X3 did it and so did my current husband Ahmed.  In all the times of going out as a faux family and having fun, he rejoiced in my son's antics (or at the very least, showed huge amounts of patience).  Yet, as soon as we started living together, Ahmed became the authoritarian.  He thought that to curb my son's naughtiness, there had to be some tough love. 

I didn't grow up with a man in my house---not even a boy.  It was only my single mom and me.  There was zero testosterone.  It maybe didn't matter too much as a girl (although I certainly went looking for male attention as a teen).  As the mom of a young boy, I knew we had to get some male role modeling...otherwise Mr. Boo would be looking to me as his role model.  I married in part to have that influence.

However, when the time came to see a man actually fathering my son, I was not able to loosen my control very well.  There was Ahmed's slap on the hand to stop Mr. Boo's thumb sucking.  There was Ahmed's cold, non-loving stare when Mr. Boo did something naughy in the house. There was walking away from us when Mr. Boo did something naughty outside of our home.  I had a hard time with the rough-housing.  I didn't like the teasing.  I didn't like the name-calling.  I wanted to coddle, contain, indulge, and protect my baby boy. 

Over time, I saw how Mr. Boo was making positive changes.  He stopped sucking his thumb, he obeyed better, and basically he developed a need to please.  With each positive change, I saw my new husband loosen up and outwardly show more affection and approval.  Remember:  a mother's love is non-conditional and a father's love is conditional.  Before, in America, AbuBoo would be a visiting dad who could not, in his own mind, afford risking displeasure from his son.  The fun once-a-week father with few boundaries spoils his offspring.  This becomes a kind of weird reversal, i.e., the father's love becomes non-conditional and the mother's love therefore has to balance it out with a conditional love.  Think "Good Cop/Bad Cop". 

For the first time, I really was in a parenting relationship.  I got to experience the balanced life with an active partner.  I could stop being The Everything in my child's life.  I could be the parent who gets help.  It wasn't the big wonderful Hallmark "Happy Father's Day," card.  It hurt almost as much as birthing or weaning.  In a way, it was me who needed to wean myself from my son.  I could leave him under the care of this man and his family and feel like he would be safe.  Alhumdulillah.

At the same time, my husband was needing to redefine himself with his family.  We faced some friction with his family.  He was their baby.  I married ANOTHER baby.  In fact, I seem to marry only babies.  Youngest children are the ones who are the least confined and defined by family traditions.  To marry me, does seem to mean breaking away from the norm.

Egyptians love to yell.  They yell when they are happy and yell when they are mad.  Basically, they yell most of the time.  There is such noise pollution in Egypt from the the cars honking, people yelling in the street, the Quran playing in the home, the TV on full blast, and the people yelling inside the home. 

I thought, when we moved to our little honeymoon cottage, that I could get away from a fair amount of that.  We were living on a quiet street.  We only turned the TV on to watch a show and then we would turn it off.  We didn't yell to be heard. 

So, imagine my surprise when the family started coming over to our place to chillax.  I would come home from a hard day at work and find the whole posse plunked down in the salon.  My needs had to be submerged for the moment while I played hostess.  Everyone got a glass of pop or a cup of tea.  I passed cookies, candy or fruit.  Alhudulillah I've played the part before so I knew what to do.

When there was a problem, the family would show up again.  Once, during a family meal at the Grandma's, I had asked in Arabic how the tile was coming along in "my house".  The Grandma flipped out.  She thought, in her limited capacity that I was trying to claim her property.  She yelled at us in her house (and I better not forget it was hers).  We retreated to our house AND the whole family followed.

The doorbell never stopped that evening and into the next afternoon as a steady stream of menders came to patch things up.  Even when my husband tried to sleep off the upset, his sister showed up  She boldly came in uninvited, proceeded to walk through the salon and into the bedroom where she flipped on the light.  No, my husband was not allowed a break and that made me mad.  I vowed that would be the last time I would let a family member walk in the house and walk all over me.

It took another pow-wow to calm everyone down.  No, Yosra didn't mean that the house was actually hers.  I wasn't trying to clain anything legally.  I was just wanting information about the workers who were getting our real home ready. 

As nice as our honeymoon cottage was, we weren't going to live there forever.  We were paying money to have the walls finished, the tiles layed, the kitchen counter top installed and so on.  This was going to be our home...with the family.

I was starting to doubt if moving into the family house was such a good idea after all.  Before marriage, I could go to my little apartment and find solace.  Now after marriage, even in my our place, I didn't feel like I could get away.  I was not happy with all the visits.  I let my feelings be known to my husband, although I won't say that I sounded very good.  I sounded American!  I sounded like that independent individual whose home is their sanctuary.  The visits reduced and my husband started asking me about people coming over instead of them just showing up.

I had to keep remembering the good times with family.  The sisters brought homemade cakes to our kitchen.  When I was scared of a man the window, I called the brother-in-law owner and he came right over to introduce me to the "boab" or security man.  If Mr. Boo was lonely for a playmate, I had many cousins who could supply the fun.

In hindsight, it was a good way to gradually ease into a new life---a new family life.  In Egyptian culture, you really don't have friends who take up your time and your energy; you have family.  I now had a family.  Alhumdulillah.

Chapter 31


Anonymous said...

Asalamu Alaikum yosra, I just wanted to say I loving reading you even though i dont comment. You have a bunch of selfish readers like myself who devour your posts and keep looking for more but never give back. Im not sure if you need that or if you just write for yourself and dont get bothered but I know i would be bothered. So im Sorry and thank you:)

Um Zakarya said...

Assalamu Aleykum sis,

MashALLAH really nice post.It is indeed really to share "Authority" when you once were a single mother and used be the only role model.We have to learn how to share the parenting tasks and enjoy our sole mom's role , which gets us to spend more quality time with our sons.

Lot of love, and wish you and your lovely family the best InshALLAH!

Marie said...

I imagine it has not been easy to get used to Life as it is in Egypt.
But slowly you learned how to share authority and to know more about your husband family and how to live with them around.
Every change takes time. Wishing all the best for you, your husband and your little boy.
It is always a pleasure to read you Yosra. Stay well.

Bonnie said...

I really hope this Egyptian yelling thing is not an inherited thing ;) guess i'll find out when my son arrives!