Monday, July 25, 2011

MAKING HIJRAH 37 "Madness: Our House"

Asalamu Alaykom,


                                                          Our house it has a crowd

                                                          There's always something happening

                                                           And it's usually quite loud.

The last remodeling project was done; the walls in our apartment were finished!  We were moving into the family house. It was three months into our marriage and it was time to be welcomed into the fold. I was going to be inundated with more people than I'd ever lived with before (excluding summer camp at Interlochen).

Intially, when I would go to visit the family house, it was coming from a quiet life of me and Mr. Boo bumping around our apartment. The big house full of people was therefore a refreshing change. The monotony of aloneness was counterbalanced with lots of togetherness. And I could leave when I was satiated; I would usually leave around 9:00 or 10:00 at the latest to put Mr. Boo in bed.

For me, my life and my scheduled remained in tact.  The visits to the house didn't change who I was or what I was doing with the rest of my time.  I never altered my scheduled.  I never lost sleep.

I had no idea that the visiting grandchildren didn't go home until close to midnight. I didn't know that the grown-ups would stay up drinking tea after tea after tea; chatting loudly about nothing as if their life depended on it.

Once I moved, I learned how different my life and priorities were from the people I had chosen to belong to. I was really suprised how much I hated living in the house.

I had been worried about the grandchildren children running loose all over the building. I had been reassured by my husband that they would respect our place and our privacy. You should have heard me when I discovered dirty foot prints on the walls I had yet to enjoy. Or when three of them decided to barge into our home as I was changing my clothes. I was livid. I hated having my quiet apartment ruined by thoughtlessness.

For months, there were fights, misunderstandings, upsets, harsh words and (in the end) agreements to get along. It was horrible. I don't know how I lasted.

Plus, I came to realize that my husband was going to be distant from me every time we were in the public eye downstairs. He was not the same person I had been enjoying in the honeymoon cottage. He was their son and brother and his primary role was with them. I had to take a backseat to their wishes. That hurt.

Yet, at the same time, I started to revel in the moments of togetherness which we did share.  Our marriage has not worn thin from over exposure.  We have a lot of time apart to be who we are and when we are together it is as if we are still discovering our bond.

From the get-go we had problems.  He actually invited his sister to come help him clean the apartment for the first time.  I was in total utter disbelief.  He had seen it as a kindness to me and I had taken it as a slight.  He had no concept in his head that a husband and a WIFE should work together to clean up their home.  I threw a fit that time and many times after that.  I'm not saying it was right of me!  It's just the way I (over) reacted.  I have really had to work on not living my life as one big reaction.

Yes, I had my meals cooked for me by my sisters-in-law.  I was envied by many teachers at the school who had to do it all themselves (or pay a maid to do it). Yet, I'm not a woman who likes to have someone else nourish my family. I want to play my maternal part too. At the family house, I couldn't. I couldn't even add a side item. No one wanted to eat my food---not even my son.  Soon, the constant re-play of last week's menu wore on me.  I had to take breaks from eating with them (and with my husband) so I wouldn't go insane eating one more mashy.

On the bright side, I no longer had a kitchen of comfort foods and my weight dropped steadily until I reached a point of liking my body again.  I really ate a lot but didn't have the interest to binge on food (which was only going to take money away from other plans).  Food was no longer a big expense or interest.  Once a month we would make an effort to go out and enjoy a restaurant.  Sometimes, it has gone on for two or three months before I remember to suggest eating out.

I got to re-experience my mothering instincts all over again through my rent-a-baby. She was the other child in the house and my buddy. I couldn't talk to any of the adults who were deep in Arabic converstation around tea so I talked to her. She loved my interactions and came alive in ways no one else could reach. I saw that. I also saw some mistakes in her care and demanded my rent-a-baby be taken care of.

More friction.  More times of me leaving in a huff over something I had no control over.

Honestly, I think that my lack of control in my new country has made it harder to have the same thing happening at home.  I thought of all the immigrants to America I had met over the years.  They had all seemed hyper-possessive of their kids and super-sensitive of keeping their culture intact.  I understood them better.  I didn't just have sympathy; I had gained empathy.

In lots of ways, I am still processing how to survive the family house.  I do see the positives and I try to remind myself of the good that comes out of living here.

Mr. Boo has ready-made playmates coming over regularly.

My husband has lots of halal social outlets.  He has never had to leave the house like other men to find bonding over tea and sheesha.  He's actually never smoked sheesha.  He can even have other women (his sisters) to interact with.  Now, I often wonder if American Muslim men turn to polgyny because they miss all this socializing and hate the solitary life with only one other adult at home.

I have a network of people who can help me watch my kid, find a galabiya on sale, introduce me to the lady down the block, or commiserate (again in a halal way) about how difficult my hub can be.  The visiting sisters have backed me up more than once when popular opinion seemed stacked against me.  I do have a love for them.

The brothers who live here have given Mr. Boo a wonderful blend of personalities to bounce off of.  There is the oldest uncle who is quiet, funny and so kind.  The middle brother who is boisterous and loud.  Both are so giving and willing to accept my son as their nephew.  They tell off my husband when he's been too harsh with my boy. 

They all fear Allah.

The family here have a love for my husband.  They really want the best for him.  As long as he says that I'm the best for him then we are welcome at the house.

I'm not going to lie:  there was a time when I dreamed of buying a different house and moving away from all this.  It didn't last.  I don't think we're going to do it---especially since The Revolution when being alone meant the same as being vulnerable.  This is a lesson to be learned.  How do you get along with a family?  I've never had to dig my heels in and stay---until now.

May Allah grant me patience, grace, and a sense of humor as I remain a resident of "Our House".  May I be good to the people and remember all the ways they are good to me.

Chapter 38

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