There is No Me, There is Only YouPosted: May 29, 2014
I’m going back to work. Which seems like a ridiculous thing to say because I’m writing those words with chapped, painful hands, hands that have not stopped moving, even for a full night of sleep, in the three years during which I’ve been a stay-at-home-mom. Honestly, this work has been the most physically and emotionally difficult, and the most spiritually challenging of any I’ve ever done. It wasn’t so hard with my first. One is tiring. Two is crazy-making. At least when they’re within 2 years of each other. Even when you’re parenting with a blessedly devoted husband and father. The need in these little beings is frighteningly constant. The need for me, that is, and I’d never before longed NOT to be needed. It’s not something I would have easily grasped before I had children, how overwhelming it can be. It’s like my neighbor Nancy, who raised five daughters, says: just going to the bathroom by yourself is a break. The way I get through it is by remembering something my teacher, the woman who ran my local dhikr, used to say: “there is no me, there is only you.” To this day, I have no idea whether by that ‘you’ she meant ‘You’, as in, the divine, or whether she meant any other person, in an offering of limitless service to God’s creation. Either way, I’ve found devout selflessness a more useful sentiment than despair at 4 a.m. when I’ve been woken every hour on the hour since 11 p.m. by a beautiful but teething baby. The decision to return to work came when it became apparent that our dreamed-of move back to the East Coast would not be immanent. We know that to raise the kids to feel the richness we’ve felt in our lives, we need to be back in a deeper community than we have here in the Midwest. But for some reason things are just not opening up for that move as quickly as we’d like. Our friendships here are strong, but few, and the long winters seem to drive everyone, particularly those with small children, into tight family cloisters. I was feeling the onset of another long winter and knew I would need an anchor outside of the house, some consistent adult conversation besides my sweet spouse. And, as soon as I articulated the need, things opened up in the way they do when they are meant for you. I said, “I can really only imagine this one part-time position fitting into our lives and covering the cost of child care. But that position has not been posted in years. In fact, I think they laid some people off recently.” Then I looked online that day, the position I wanted (at a local legal aid organization) was posted, I applied the following day, and the next day I was called for an interview. By the time I had my interview the following week, it was clear that they planned to offer me the job, and called me the next day. I start in two weeks. All told, the entire hiring process took two weeks, from the moment I decided I wanted to go back to work in this particular job, until the day I was offered that same job. There are some things that just shout “God’s will RIGHT OVER HERE!!!” Still, leaving these little ones, for even a few hours a day, is so hard. These co-sleeping, breast-fed, well-loved little bodies are in my care and have been for most of the last three years. And even as I write that I know it’s way, way too much. I know that my daughter loves her two mornings in preschool and that my son loves new faces. I also know that I would be a better parent with a break from parenting: from the relentless repetitive physical tasks of caring for the children, dressing, toileting, bathing, feeding, feeding, feeding, cleaning, holding, carrying, nursing, rocking and from the intense emotional need that my children bring first and most forcefully to their momma. I wonder, though, as a racial and religious minority, what it means to hand over child care to someone, however well-vetted, who isn’t like us. It’s hard enough trying to explain and nurture a Muslim identity in children when I am with the kids all the time. I mean, I’m still trying to explain to my daughter that Muslims don’t live in mosques. Or at least not most of them, most of the time. So what happens when I let someone other than me into that intimate space of care giver, comforter, nurturer with them and that someone brings in a wholly different set of beliefs, or, more frighteningly, no beliefs at all? And would I really be any more comfortable with a Muslim care giver, as Muslims are so very diverse in their viewpoints on everything from dress to devotion? I wish I had the opportunity to find out. I wish that mosques were the sort of places that hosted job postings for nannies and babysitters or welcoming spaces for stay-at-home moms and their children. But I have to work with what I have for now and trust that it is full of grace. So here I go. Away from the spiritual challenge of the children’s need — only so that I can meet that need with greater reserves, I tell myself, not so I can run away from it altogether. It turns out there is a me, and I am disappointed, as if I’ve failed some cosmic test. But then some words come to me that seem to fit here. They were spoken seven or so years ago as the end of a grace at some dear friends’ table: “and God, give us the strength to do your will. Amen.” Ameen. — Sofia Ali-Khan is about to not be a stay-at-home mom of two, She has been a legal aid lawyer, a poet, and a potter. She is working on her first novel and night weaning.