I roll out the prayer mat and place my feet, shoulder width apart, onto the rug. I pause and take a few deep breaths to focus on the act I am about to begin. I whisper Allah’s name over and over again until I feel the tension within break apart, feel my chest expand and my muscles loosen. I make my intention and raise my hands to my ears. Allahu Akbar.
I move slowly through the first rakah, praying with the mindfulness that Allah is watching me. I move into sajdah, forehead and nose touching the floor in praise of my Lord. It’s all going smoothly. I’m focused and feeling close to my Creator, only the hum of blessed silence pulsing around me and then—“Moooommmmyyyyy!” I pretend I don’t hear it. I’m having a spiritual moment. It’s me and Allah, just me and— “Mooooommmmmyyyyy! Where arrrreee yooouuu?” Dammit! Astaghfirullah, did I just say “dammit” in my salat? Yes I did.
Somehow I manage to pound out the remainder of the prayer, in between snapping my fingers, clapping, and knocking on the floor (in vain) to signal quiet. The calm I possessed at the start of prayer has vanished.
The thing is, my son knows better. He knows how to behave during salat. He’s the kid you can take to the masjid and know that (most of the time) he will be quiet and well behaved. But, like a true kid, sometimes he forgets. I should have paid closer attention in my child psychology class in undergrad. Perhaps they explained the fickle ways of children; how the same kid who can pray an entire prayer next to you, or quickly push their internal mute button and scurry away when they see you are praying, can also be the kid who crawls on your back while you are prostrating. Or race cars across your prayer rug (complete with zooming noises), or stand in front of you while you pray continuously calling your name, oblivious to the fact that you are spiritually occupied.
Sweet and sour is what I call it. My son and I even discovered a children’s book about it: Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie by Norton Juster. We read it, exchanging nervous glances, and laughs, sometimes wholeheartedly, sometimes uneasily. I swear we were thinking the same thought: Gee, this sounds familiar. There’s no solution for it; I just try to soak up the sweet moments and bite my tongue through the sour. If I can make it through them without becoming equally sour then I feel like I won. And we talk about it, my son and I, about how we make each other angry or frustrated. As for prayer, I’m getting better at taking a deep breath and reminding him in a carefully constructed calm voice of the proper etiquette for salat. When anger doesn’t work you have to try something different, right? At least I know—when he’s being sweetie pie—that he was listening.
Ambata is a writer. She lives in New Orleans, LA with her husband and son. She blogs about writing and other things at www.aknthoughtsonthings.