After my second divorce, I took a break from relationships to decide what I wanted in a future partner.
With two young kids, there was no time for dating. My kids needed me, and I needed myself. So, I composed a list containing everything I wanted in a man. My list had 45 bullet points, (including ‘doesn’t text while we’re together’, to ‘not homophobic’, to ‘likes sex’) that I required as I healed post-divorce
The man who embodied my list manifested in my life three years later – though that was still before I expected him.
I read a book to my children, called “Small Beauties,” and started tearing up right in the middle, much to their amusement.
The book talks about a little girl in the midst of the Irish potato famine who was a “noticer.” She would dawdle in her work to notice the magpie flying, to stare at castles in the clouds, to examine a moss-covered rock. Her family was always yelling at her, saying things like, “Castles? Clouds? MILK THE COW, NOW!”
Later in the story, poverty sets in, their house burns down and they are forced to immigrate. Sitting in the dank darkness of a cellar in New York, she opens the hemline of her dress and brings out all the small beauties she collected in Ireland: a moss-covered rock, her grandmother’s burnt rosary bead, a wilted flower. The cellar is momentarily transformed by the small beauties she noticed and gathered back home.
I could not help but remember the little girl from the story when I noticed a baby robin who had dropped from her nest while practicing flying around my backyard.
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I didn’t mean to misplace my spirituality. I just lost it while searching for my identity. After a tumultuous marriage and divorce, all I wanted to do was scrape the remnants of the relationship from my being.
In Pashto, a girl’s reputation is like a mirror, a chip or crack makes it look ugly. Thinking that my divorce was a mar on my honor, I wanted to not be me: the 24-year old girl married and divorced while her friends had just graduated. I wanted to be someone else, someone without a chip on her mirror.
Last summer, after a long talk with a friend who’d been molested as a small child, I decided I’d waited too long and it was time to talk to my children about sex. I’d talked to them extensively about touch. They understood good touch that they desired, and bad touch that they didn’t desire. I’d taught them that they had a right to say “no” to any touch they didn’t want , no matter who was offering. Don’t want to hug baba or grandma? Fine, your body, your right. Don’t want to shake uncle Fulan’s hand or kiss aunt Fulana on the cheek? I will defend you, and a salaam will have to suffice.
I wanted them to know from the earliest age that they had a right to control their own bodies, and no matter the age, title or position of authority of the other person, no one has a right to touch you in ways that make you uncomfortable. Excluding diaper changes, baths and other necessities of good parenting, these rules held fast. But things were changing.
They were 9,7, and 5, and after two years of being homeschooled they were about to leave the comforting shelter of the nest to re-enter the larger bubble of Islamic school. My best friend, with years of Islamic school teaching under her belt, warned me not to be complacent. Anything I thought my children might face in public school they’d also face at Islamic school: sex, drugs, assault, petty crimes, and peer pressure, and I’d better prepare myself and my children for it.
Tonight the rains flooded the parkway, turning my twenty-five minute commute into an hour and a half. Butterscotch, our year-old puppy, greets me at the door, belly up. I give him his ritual tummy rub and call out to my son, “I’m home.” Ali comes out of his room, kisses me hello, and says, “I gotta go.” He runs back to his computer to continue world domination and sling-shooting birds at pigs.
I’m tired, wet, hungry and so grateful.
This time last year I spent many nights stuck in traffic. Only I wasn’t driving home to my son.
Ali was in the back seat, hooked up to bags of saline so his body would stay hydrated and the chemo levels would come down before there could be damage done to his kidneys.