Last night I sat in a darkened room with my eldest son, D, as he alternately cried a dil-se-dhook rona (heart-worn crying) and screamed in anger and frustration. The best I could do was be present to his pain, until he worked himself through it and fell exhaustedly asleep.
This morning, going on barely 3-4 hours of sleep, I showered, dressed up and drove with my parents to attend the eighth-grade awards ceremony/graduation for my daughter. She had been excited about it for days, planning our outfit, wondering if she would win any awards (she did!) and requesting a special meal for our nightly iftaar.
The pendulum swings mightily in my life, barely stopping to rest in the middle. It’s a metaphor I’ve drawn on time and time again, not knowing a better way to describe how it feels to go from one extreme of emotion to another.
They’re all my children.
I need to be there, be a part of their emotions, for all of them.
So, I sent D off to school, with a detailed note written to his teacher about how his night was and plans to take him to his doctor after school for further lab work. Then we went and opened our hearts to receive the joy at seeing our daughter reach another milestone after a tough three years of middle school.
She faced her own set of challenges the past three years, especially this past year with the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election and the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes, insults and fear-mongering behaviors. She chose to take an International Studies class this year, where she debated her classmates and stood her ground on global topics of elections, war, famine, terrorism, racism, poverty and more.
She through her heart and soul into Model UN conferences, learning the ways of being a delegate, debating and ultimately passing resolutions, dealing with mock crisis. Sometimes I wondered what the point of it all was, while I tried to shepherd my eldest child through big school transitions, issues with puberty, ongoing night time anxiety, more effective communication via his iPad and ongoing work to gain better self-care and community-based life skills.
But her pursuits matter, too. Her dreams, her goals, her passions. Heck, even her current Taylor Swift- and 21 Pilots-obsession. It all matters. This is a constant lesson being drilled into my head as I parent my three vastly different children with vastly different personalities, needs, goals and challenges.
This was the year of multiplication woes for my 9-year-old son H. We spent countless hours working on multiplication tables, math drills, math concepts and timed tests. We worked on the art of analyzing chapter books and writing mini-essays. He finished his first full reading of the Quran, and I threw an Ameen party for him in the fall to celebrate it.
And, while I was organizing that party, I privately lamented the fact that both A and H had had Ameen functions and knew how to read the Quran. D, however, didn’t.
Just like I lamented the lack of an awards ceremony/eight-grade graduation for D along the lines of what we proudly enjoyed with daughter A today. Those are private sorrows that will always be, and I’ve accepted that as a part of myself, knowing that it in no way diminishes the awesomeness of D and the path he walks.
This school year I worried about A’s Muslim-ness among a (public) middle school population that also got riled up by the divisive presidential election and by acts of violence perpetrated by ISIS and others around the world. I worried about her while simultaneously being secretly proud when she, instead of trying to talk about the goodness and worth of Muslims, proved it by walking the walk.
I worried about her fasting in Ramadan during school, a first for her. But she did it; she is doing it.
In the keynote speech from the ceremony this morning, A’s favorite teacher, who happens to be her International Studies teacher, spoke about what he learned from the students. We all were getting emotional, but my scales were tipped when he gave a shout out to the “Muslim students, who show such devotion and grace as demonstrated by how they fast in Ramadan, forgoing the end-of-year pizza and wings that everyone else devoured.”
Well, it really doesn’t get any better than that for a parent.
So, I will sit at night with D. I will celebrate all his accomplishments. I will read poems from “Where the Sidewalk Ends” with H and listen to his endless stories about dinosaurs, and I will support A on her passions while I guide them all on the sirat-ul-mustaqueen (the straight path).
And, I will remind myself to be thankful, even when we have times like this (from a Facebook update):
Sitting with D on another difficult night. Nobody should have to be upset or cry like that. Nobody. And, like a friend of mine said, it seems like once we figure out what the problem is and how to manage it, the problem changes and a new answer is needed.
Autism living at its finest (sarcasm).
The #Ramadan prayers have been the same year after year after year – just make things better for him. Give him peace of mind.
Because it’s not just autism living. It’s living.