The Musaafir Diaries: Plazas and Palaces and Churros…oh my!

[This post was written by our newest team member Mariam Alavi. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and is a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist. She was  raised in Connecticut and has traveled around the world (12 countries and 20 U.S. states.) Mariam loves trying new recipes,  traveling and crafting.]

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” (The Holy Quran, 49:13)

One of the many things The Mister and I love to do together is traveling. There isnothing like diving into a culture and exploring it as the locals do. Our travels this past November brought us to Spain as we celebrated our first wedding anniversary alhumdolillah! We began our travels in Madrid, the largest city in Spain. The Mister and I had an amazing time exploring the city on foot and by Metro . We saw beautifully built government buildings, cultural centers, and century old plazas, along with stories from the past, at every corner. We also enjoyed shopping, strolling the large boulevards, and stopping to eat a snack or two at the many quintessential European sidewalk cafes that I love so much.

The Prado (Museo del Prado), Madrid’s famous art museum, is one of the highlights of the city. Although the Mister and I are not big fans of art museums, we figured we’d make an exception given the status of the place (plus we went 2 hours before closing time so the entrance  was free :)). From an art perspective, we appreciated the realistic depictions of fabric, fruit, and people, as well as the historical value of some works that outlined the horrors of life such as the Spanish Civil War. But I certainly wouldn’t go again. “Art” in the Western world consists of inappropriately (un-)dressed bodies and vulgarity which is just unacceptable. Anywho, it was an experience 🙂

If art is not your thing, there is plenty more to be enjoyed in Madrid. Walking through the city’s flourishing downtown and towards Puerta del Sol, the center of Madrid, savor the liveliness of Spanish life. Streetside vendors and performers, roadside cafes and international shopping all await in this area of the city. Just minutes away, you’ll find yourself in Plaza Mayor, a square built in the 1600s that was the site of many social and historical events, such as markets, bullfights, and even the persecution of Muslims and Jews during the Spanish Inquisition.

Today it is home to many cafes and restaurants,  along with a market on weekends. After dinner at a halal restaurant, the Mister and I returned to a café near Plaza Mayor to have our first authentic Spanish churros. We opted to sit outdoors on iron chairs/tables, complete with outdoor heating lamps above each table! Here, we indulged in the “deep-fried goodness” of Spanish churros dipped in chocolate (that’s what the Mister called them), enjoying the conversations in Spanish around us

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The “deep-fried goodness” of churros dipped in chocolate at an outdoor café near Plaza Mayor. Photo Credit: Shahzeb Jabbar

Make time to visit the Royal Palace (Palacio Real), which is still the official residence of the royal family of Spain (although they don’t actually live there anymore). It is one of the three most famous palaces in Europe, and is built on land that was once occupied by a Muslim fortress. Across from it is the Almudena Cathedral. Although we didn’t go inside the cathedral, we could still see (and hear) the remnants of the San Isidro Festival, which celebrates the Catholic Saint Isidro, the farmer, who is considered the Patron Saint of Spain. It was really interesting to see the fervent Catholicism in this country, especially in comparison to some other European countries. And as we know, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella took their beliefs to an extreme level by enforcing the Spanish Inquisition, which forced Muslims and Jews in Spain to convert to Catholicism, burned books of knowledge that had been translated by Muslims, and of course tortured and killed those whose conversion they did not accept.

The exterior view of Palacio Real, Madrid. Photo Credit: Shahzeb Jabbar

FOOD

Muslim tourists will be pleased to hear about the many halal options in Madrid. In each city, we simply did a Zabihah.com search and found quite a few options. We then used Google Map to figure out how far the restaurants were from our hotel (don’t you love technology?). In Madrid, there is a halal fast food chain called Doner Kebap, which sells Turkish style pita wraps and other yummy items, and can be found in many easy to reach areas of the city. Of course, if you’re like me and Mister you will want to have an authentic Spanish experience and try tapas. The Spanish tend to eat a light breakfast and a heavier lunch in the late afternoon. Dinner usually starts around 9 or 10pm, so a typical Spanish dinner consists of a variety of appetizers called tapas. But beware folks! The Spaniards love hamon (ham) as well as alcohol…so you will need to be careful about what you’re eating, especially if the menus are only in Spanish (as was often the case in the places where the Mister and I ventured).  Honestly, we found it easier to opt for the halal options throughout our trip, even if we ended up consuming non-traditional foods. But don’t worry—there are still plenty of authentic traditional foods you can still enjoy…including seafood paella, tortilla patate, and of course, the deep-fried goodness of churros.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Visit the local masajid even if it’s just to pray 2 raqah sunnah prayer! We were lucky enough to be in Madrid for Jumuah, and joined the jama’a at The Islamic Cultural Center (Centro Culturo Islamico). It is a truly Iman-lifting experience to witness the Muslim communities all over the globe! Every society, culture, and language has something to offer that we can learn from in order to improve ourselves. Traveling reminds me that Allah (swt) made us into different ethnicities and cultures, and created different languages, not as a way to divide us, but as a way for us to learn from each other. I don’t know where my travels will take me next, but I do know that no matter where it is, I’ll come back home knowing much more about the world than when I left.

 

Centro Cultural Islamic, (Madrid,) the masjid where Mister and I prayed Jumuah. Photo Credit: Shahzeb Jabbar

 

 

 

 

Transitioning from Stay at Home Mom to a First Job

 

 

I landed my first job a few months ago, prior to that I had been a SAHM (stay at home mom) for about four years. Like many other SAHM I had graduated from college and immediately started my family.

I had no idea what I was supposed to do in the real world, my liberal arts degree in  communications was  vague and didn’t give me much direction in applying for jobs. What  I did know was that I really loved working with nonprofits and have always been drawn to that type of environment. So with virtually no experience except for a short stint at a well known Muslim non-profit organization. I started applying to every organization that I could think of. I had a really genius way of doing it (not really) I googlemapped organizations that were closest to me and started sending my resumes to the HR departments.

After a couple of days with no response from various non-profits in the area I started fishing for government jobs on USAJobs.com. As I read about the various positions I dreamed of working in the state department, so I  filled out lengthy applications and thought to myself what a perfect fit I would be.

Unfortunately the State department didn’t see my urdu speaking skills as enough of an asset to hire me. And as many applications that I filled out I got that many rejection letters. My morale was at an all-time low. Nothing seemed to be pulling through for me. I looked for jobs on Government sites, craigslist, Monster and even tried to look into interpreting jobs. This was an incredibly disappointing experience for me. I remember finally applying for a retail position at the mall.

My mom encouraged me to look into volunteering and that’s when I started talking to a non-profit group in the area.  It went well and I  got an  volunteer position to be a liaison for  refugee families that they house in their shelter apartments.

Excited with this new development I called my attorney friend in DC to tell her the good news. She was happy, but gave me some great advice and urged me to volunteer in the office with the communications director, so that I  could use my skills and build up experience in my field which would eventually lead me to a paid position.

I decided to go and talk with the volunteer coordinator to switch my position as my friend has advised. But even before going back to discuss change of plans with coordinator, I ran into a community member  from the Mosque. I enthusiastically told her about  the new volunteer opportunity that had landed my way.

She looked at me perplexed and said, “Why are you volunteering there? We could use you at FAITH Social Services,” a group that  she was affiliated with. Intrigued about a Muslim social service so close to me, I immediately  scheduled an interview with the director and became emerged into a world of social work that has made me both humble and grateful.

I volunteered for FAITH for about 5 months before becoming an employee.  I followed my friend’s advice and started volunteering in the office. Initially I  worked on flyers and little write-ups. Over  time, I  began to get a feel for the organization and started to see how I  could contribute with my communication’s background. I saw that there was a need for a newsletter and I started working on creating a newsletter every month for FAITH.

I began to plug myself into more projects going around in the office and brainstormed ideas with the staff. Finally my youngest was ready for school and I mustered up the courage to ask the director if I could work as an employee. She agreed and I’ve been the Public Relations Coordinator for FAITH for four months now.

The point of this post is to give women who have been SAHM hope that they can work when they choose to. It might take some time to build up your resume and gain that courage but inshallah with these tips it should be a smooth transition:

1. Get the word out – Tell everyone that you’re looking for work: friends, neighbors, community members.

2. Fix your resume – If the last time you  did your resume was in college, it is definitely time to revamp it.

3. volunteer/intern  with the organization that you think you want to work at. Specifically in the department you want to gain experience in.

4. Make your mark while you’re volunteering (establish networks, make yourself an asset  to the organization) ex: don’t just shred paper – think of ways to reduce the paper in the office –> digitalize files and get the okay from the department head. The leadership will applaud your effort and will value your initiative.

5. Don’t get disappointed if you’re not hired after volunteering. The end all is not to get a job, but it is to learn new skills, build up resume and experience. This will be invaluable and will help towards the next place that you go to.

Good Luck, and don’t despair if things aren’t moving as fast as you want them to its all part of the master plan from above 🙂

Aunties in Denial

Say salam to Abeer Khala”, a 1.5 year old came and said salam to me.  At the time it was only my third time meeting this cute (but still random) kid and I had known his mother for hardly a month, yet I became a khala.  (Khala: title given to your mother’s sister in the Urdu language)

How do you become a khala?

1)   Mother’s sister(s)

2)   In the South Asian culture, your mother’s female cousins are also known to be ‘khalas’

3)   In my book my children also call my close long lasting friends khalas as well.

 For that 1.5 year old kid I didn’t fall into any of those categories.  So why call me khala?

 I’m noticing this growing phenomenon of girls my age (ahem late 20s) referring to themselves and their friends/acquaintances as khalas to their children.  I find this  extremely annoying.

 Khala is a major title, growing up we would always hear that your khala is like your mother.  I used to think this is just another one of those Desi notions that probably stemmed from Hindu traditions.

 WRONG.

 This notion actually has Islamic roots, our beloved Prophet (PBUH) gave maternal aunts a high status.

“A man came to Allah’s Prophet (Peace be upon Him) and said: ‘O Prophet! I have committed a major sin. Do you think that I can atone for it?’

He asked: “Do you have a mother living?”

The man answered in the negative.

The Prophet (Peace be upon Him) asked the man: “Do you have a maternal aunt living?”

The man answered in the positive. Allah’s Prophet (Peace be upon Him) said to him: “Be good and kind to her.” (Tirmidhi 1904)

 “The sister of the mother has a status similar to the mother.” (Bukhari #2552)

 After learning that I realized that our Khalas should be given great honor and respect.  Hence the reason why I think to toss around the word ‘Khala” for any other average jo-lie, seems almost degrading to the title.

I think the reason why we end up resorting to khala is because we have a problem with the word Aunty.

Our generation of folks growing up here have given ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ this comical yet negative connotation.

We think Aunties just like to sit around gossip, watch dramas (or create them) and drink chai.  Well, I try to avoid gossip, and I love my Pakistani dramas BUT I don’t drink chai.  I guess I’m a semi-aunty, but nonetheless still an a-u-n-t-y.

Even if I didn’t do any of those things, I’m a married woman with children and their friends will and should refer to me as aunty.  I don’t take offense to that and neither should any other person.

I would not want my child calling an acquaintance ‘khala’ for no reason.  It may just be a title but to me that word means a lot.

If my close friend’s children refer to me as khala then I take it as an obligation to try to live up to it.  To make it a point to ask about their well being, their new hobbies and to acknowledge big milestones in their lives.  I wouldn’t do that for just any kid.

Granted, some of my “aunties” have over time become more than aunties (but less than Khalas).  I still refer to them as aunties but would treat them with love and more respect simply due to the nature of my relationship with them.

Aunty is not a bad word nor does it mean you’re the ‘old’ ‘nosy’ and ‘annoying’ lady from the community whose going around causing havoc.

There are a number of cool aunties out there and I plan on being one of them insha’Allah, or I just might be a typical  aunty in denial

Fighting Hunger one Sandwich at a Time with pbj revolution

pjb

 

pbj revolution is a movement to feed as many people in need as possible with simple, delicious pbj sandwiches. I was excited to hear about such a great cause which was easy to do.

So I got in touch with the organizers to learn a little more about this great cause.  It started of with three friends who were talking and thought it would be nice to hand out pb&j sandwiches as they were out and about  in their communities.

“Talking amongst ourselves we thought it would be cool if others started joining in to fight hunger… like a revolution, hence the name,” said one of the organizers of the group.

The organizers and other individuals who passed out the sandwiches had a great experience and said that people receiving the sandwiches were very appreciative. The goal of this revolution is not to start a trend or get recognition but we want to get the message out, said one of the organizers.  The pbj revolution has a Facebook page in which the organizers tell participants to make pbj sandwiches pair them with a water bottle and a napkin and find people who need them.

pbj kids “We figured we could reach a lot of people in a lot of cities by starting a FB page, rather than just focusing on our own cities. Passing out sandwiches is something you can do alone or with others, so no one city needs a large number of people to get started,” said one of the organizers.

She added that there are no requirements. “We are trying to trigger some action, not dictate it. Loading pictures and posting to the page, though, will hopefully generate excitement and encourage action so we do encourage people to do so. Our goal is to feed as many people as we can, with something simple, affordable and quick.”

I couldn’t agree more and I look forward to having my kids help me in making and passing out these sandwiches. Join the pbj revolution here

 

 

 

Burka Avenger: An American Pakistani Mom’s Dream Come True

 

My 2 year old and 4 year old are in their superhero stage.

This means that their  constantly  shooting webs at me with their tiny fingers,  flying around the kitchen island with their palms turned out (Iron Man) and randomly yelling out “Super Heroes save the day” when I’m on the phone trying to make a good impression with a potential employer.

So when my newsfeed started buzzing about this new Pakistani kids show called “Burka Avengers” I was interested. My first thoughts were:

1. Wow!  a female superhero that wears a Burqa

2. Positive coverage of Pakistan in the news

3. Where do I watch this show?

This Pakistani animated kids show had gotten some great media coverage, I had read the Huffington post article, seen a piece on BBC and heard an interview with the creator of Burka Avenger on NPR. That same night I watched the first episode.

 I was impressed. It was smart, tongue in cheek, entertaining and it has a super catchy title song.

The main story of Burka Avenger is that of an orphan girl, Jiya, who was raised by a kind man (Kabbadi Jaan) who has taught her a fusion karate form called Takht Kabbadi. This martial art style is based  on education and karate moves. Jiya is a teacher at a school but she is most fearful of the mayor and villain Vadero Pajero ( oh yes the stereotypical corrupt Pakistani politician) who is constantly trying to disrupt the education of women in his city.

As a first generation American Pakistani mother I want to raise my boys as proud Americans but I also want them to have a understanding of their Pakistani heritage as well as their Muslim identity.

Burka Avengers may just be what Parents like me need to help us accomplish these monumental goals

The show manages to teach our kids Urdu, take away the stigma and negative sterotypes of the Burqa, expose our  kids to Pakistani culture and raises important issues about gender equality.

So while my boys will still continue to transform into Octomus Prime and have superpowers like  Captain America its refreshing to know that they will grow up with a female superhero who wears a burka and battles bad guys with her Takht Kabbadi.

Kuddos to the Burka Avenger team we look forward to more episodes!

Staying Strong after Boston Bombings

As we find out more about the Islamic connection that the suspects in the Boston Marathon Bombing had, Muslims across the nation are going through an array of emotions.

The news pundits keep bringing up Islam and how that might have been the motivating factor for the two brothers actions. The American Muslim community is beginning to brace for the backlash. Already we’re hearing stories of kids in schools being taunted, mosques with armed guards and harassment of women wearing the hijab.

Muslims are feeling vulnerable, tired and frustrated. We are asking “Why do we have to constantly explain our religion, be unfairly targeted and treated in a way that that other Americans are not?”

But we often forget that we are not the first generation of Muslims to feel this way. Neither is it a new phenomenon that Islam or Muslims have been attacked. From the first time the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) preached till present day and till Allah wills, there will continue to be challenges for the Muslim Ummah. However what has changed is the way Muslims respond to these challenges.

The Prophet (SAW) and the Sahaba’s were physically, emotionally and financially tortured and yet were patient. They were so steadfast in their beliefs and trusted that Allah (SWT) would guide them through their hardship. One example is of Sommaya RA who was tortured to death (the first female martyr of Islam) for simply believing in Allah SWT. The Prophet(SAW) was powerless and the only thing he could say to her was to be patient and that her reward was waiting for her in Jannah.

Our tests are like cake compared to theirs. We’re bugging out because some dude is staring at us in a grocery store or the media is bashing Islam. Muslims living in America find it difficult to deal with issues such as profiling, defending our beliefs and dealing with the ludicrous comments thrown by the media.

When we feel angry about the way the media is portraying Muslims we should read about the challenges that the Prophet (SAW) and his companions went through. The Prophet’s (SAW) own family threw sticks and stones on him till he would bleed. His own neighbors and friends drove him and his followers out of the city of Mecca.They were physically attacked, their properties were seized and they were economically marginalized. But these hardships did not wear them down, their faith in Allah was only strengthened by the challenges. Their faith also helped them in remaining optimistic about their future.

We must remember we are all ambassadors to our deen, the only way to change anyone’s perception of Islam is through our own actions. So lets practice the patience and optimism that the Prophet (SAW) and the sahabas practiced. Put on that smile and lend a helping hand to your neighbor, be the first in community service, give a compliment to the cashier and don’t forget that extra cheerful thank you to the waiter, sales clerk or whoever. Our best akhlaq (virtues) and adab (manners) is most needed right now.

Changing one person’s outlook may lead to changing an entire household. In addition to educate the masses, exemplify what you speak. Justifying the violence or comparing other countries does nothing but harm. Lives are lost and our empathy and mercy should be in the forefront.

These are days of trials and tribulations. We must hold on to our ideals and principles. May Allah (SWT) preserve our community and bless our Nation.

-The Biscuits and Banarsi Staff-

Three Wives and the Diamond Set

More than a half-century ago when there was no border between Pakistan and India, My great grandfather, a charismatic man had three wives. He presented his first wife with a beautiful diamond necklace and bracelet set.

When my great grandmother first saw the grand set she was delighted and marveled at the size of the diamonds in the necklace. However she said to my great grandfather that although she loved the necklace she thought the diamonds in the bracelet were small in comparison. She suggested to her husband that she should keep the necklace and that he could give the bracelet to his other wife.

My great grandfather, a connoisseur of fine jewelry and real estate, did not want to break up the set. He told my great grandmother that he would order her a new set with the bigger diamonds. He then went to his second wife and offered her the diamond set, she loved the set and put on the necklace and the bracelet but her wrist was a little large and the bracelet didn’t fit.

Again, my great grandfather was insistent that he didn’t want to break up the set. He then went to his third wife and showed her the exquisite set. She loved it and everything fit her perfectly.

As promised he went again to the same jeweler who had made the original set to pick up the bigger set for my great grandmother. While the jeweler displayed the necklace and bracelet set to him a merchant who was also at the store caught a glimpse of the pieces being displayed and insisted that he wanted that set for his daughter.

The jeweler explained to the merchant that he could not sell it to him because it was a custom order made for Mr. Quraeshi. The merchant then turned to my great grandfather and pleaded with him to let him buy the set. He explained that it was for his daughters wedding and he would be proud adorning his daughter with such an dazzling set on her wedding day.

My great grandfather agreed and for the third time placed an order for the brilliant diamond set. Sadly, my great grandmother never did get her diamond set. My great grandfather was never able to return to the jeweler because of the historic Partition between India and Pakistan.

My great grandmother had expressed her disappointment in not receiving the diamond set that she had been waiting for. She regretted not keeping the first set that her husband had first brought to her. This has always been an important lesson and it is a reminder to always accept gifts graciously and don’t be too picky about your lot in life, because you never know what the future holds.

I am thankful to my family for these stories. Although I have never met my great grandparents these stories allow me to catch a glimpse of what their lives were like. To this day I feel the disappointment that my great grandmother must have felt.

May Alllah (SWT) grant my great grandmother a beautiful diamond set in Jannah  and reunite her and her children in Jannat-ul-Firdaus – Ameen

 

 

Armed Guards Don’t Belong in School

After the senseless tragedy that occurred in Newton, Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary the entire nation has been engulfed in a conversation about gun control, school safety and mental illness. In my own Islamic school community, parents have  debated and had heated conversations about our kids safety. The school our kids attend is in the basement of a Mosque. It was decided that an armed guard would be the best short term solution in beefing up our schools security.

But that very notion of having an armed guard at school makes me extremely anxious and I don’t think he will keep our kids any safer. To invite a stranger with a gun into such close proximity of our children seems counterintuitive on every level.

My feeling on having an armed guard align closely with Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy who said:

“Let me say this: more guns are not the answer. Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher, and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom…”

In my head the math just doesn’t add up: Gun+Gun= safer school!

Having an armed guard at school introduces a whole new dimension of problems that we must be aware of. First  and foremost, the armed guard can be a potential threat to our kids and the staff. I understand that the guard would be trained and there would be a background check, but what guarantee do we have that he would not in fact use the weapon against us? We do not know what his intentions are and neither can we judge how he may feel on a given day. Why are we willing to take such a big risk?

The second problem that can potentially arise is the higher risk of accidents. If the armed guard  had a judgement lapse and mistakenly identifies someone as a threat he could potentially injure or kill an innocent person. That is also something that we can’t control and we are putting a lot of faith in a person who our community knows virtually nothing about.

The third problem is that we may become satisfied with the armed guard and not feel the need to consider other security options. The security issue is an ongoing dilemma that needs to be consistently improved by long term solutions such as adding video surveillance and bulletproof windows.

The hiring of an armed guard may make us feel more secure, but we are working under a lot of assumptions.The first assumption being that the armed guard is in fact a good and sane person who will not ever misuse his power. The second assumption is that he will never have an accident in regards to his weapon. The third assumption is that in the event of an emergency he will in fact put himself in harm’s way.

Our childrens security is paramount and an armed guard is great in theory “if” he performs as we would like to imagine him to be. But lets be honest he is a guy working a 9-5 job like the rest of us and we cannot put our childrens lives at risk because we are under the false pretense that the guard will put our kids first and will become a hero if an emergency type situation occurs.

The truth of the matter is that the Newton was an isolated event. Yes we should be proactive about our students safety, but we shouldn’t do that by bringing a gun into a gun free place. We should as a community seriously think about the potential problems and consequences that can occur by  bringing an armed guard to our schools.

In Sickness and in Health

 

Does perfect health make a marriage?

I recently heard of a gentleman who is mighty fine looking, highly educated and not to mention living a well to do lifestyle (in other words ‘well-set’). Who would think such a brother is  having a difficult time in getting married?

Well….he is.

The reason is he limps when he walks.

Does this disqualify him from being a suitable match? He has everything going for him, his looks, fun personality, education and financial success.  So should something like that get in the way?

I know of others (both men and women) who are also good looking, highly educated and successful people who have certain ongoing health problems which are becoming a hindrance in their marriage search.

These individuals are loving and living life to the fullest on a daily basis, but because of medications or treatments prospects get scared and immediately turn them down.  It breaks my heart when I hear of such cases and can’t stop thinking about it.  Can I blame the potential prospects for turning them away? Or are they too quick to say no?  For the brother who limps, I cannot imagine why he would get rejected unless his prospects are embarrassed of him.

I can understand people being reluctant when it comes to proposals with health issues.  People worry about fertility and the concern of having to ‘take care’ of their ‘ill’ spouse.  It is human nature to be afraid of the ‘unknown’.

However, if there is a spark and an instant connection between the guy and girl, then there should be no concern. Many Islamic books have mentioned that a good marriage can overcome any hurdle, but a bad marriage would be a life-long hurdle in itself.

For the married couples, we all know marriage is not just a matter of two people playing house.  Looks can only take you so far, and we know that money does not fill a void.  Marriage is a commitment that should be tied with love, trust and mutual understanding.  Often times we know of couples who are living dull and loveless lives. The only thing tying them together is their children.

Certain people are indeed given tests and trials that are clearly beyond their control. Do these people who have exceptional circumstances or cases have no hope of getting married?
People with health challenges may end up having a better perspective on life due to the various tests and trials they had to go through.  Such tests may humble a person, thus making them better spouses.

Don’t get me wrong, I can understand why prospects or their parents may not want to consider individuals with health conditions. However, for those who accept these people for the way they are, then in my book they are pious people.  Such people have a strong eman and know that whatever test they may be put through, with the help of Allah SWT they will get through it.

So on the notion of marriage searching for people with health conditions, how should they go about it? Should they mention their conditions prior to even meeting their prospects? or should they first create an impression so people can look past their health challenges?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, hence the blog post! 🙂

Something to think and respond about…

The Day I Met the Tiger Mother

I came across Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” during a time of my own parenting crisis. I had gone into the library on a mission to find some parenting book which would help me navigate the world of toddler boys. My boys were fighting each other, me and the boundaries that I had erected.

I needed a strong tool. Destiny…kismat…karma… took  me straight to Chua’s book. The tiger mom was my answer, war had been declared.

I had been struggling with my two boys. Everything lately seemed like a fight and I was beginning to lose the connection and joy I used to get with them.  Instead I was frustrated, unhappy and was going through the motions of being a parent while constantly looking at the clock counting the hours they were going to be in bed.

I first heard about the Tiger Mother a year ago. This is when Chua, the petite Asian professor, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal titled   “ Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” It seemed like overnight people were rushing to attack or defend her parenting style. Hailing from a South Asian family and having parents that were quite strict (my mom would give me a look that would stop me in my tracks) I felt like I could already relate to the Tiger Mom model.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is Chua’s journey of Chinese parenting in the West. Chua made a decision to follow the chinese model of parenting in which she had been raised in. To her the regimented parenting style meant that her daughters were never allowed to: Attend a sleepover, have a playdate, be in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin.

She was committed to following through on her rigid  parenting style and expected her daughters to work hard, excel at academics and to not take anything for granted. Chua wanted her daughters to have a strong work ethic and believed that childhood is a training period for the rest of their lives.  She summed up the Western and Chinese parenting by saying:

“Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions,  supporting their choices and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

Chua talks in detail about the challenges of this type of rigid parenting. Her husband who had  been raised in the Western style was often not supportive of her parenting method. That isolated her during the periods when her daughters hated her.

Chua made her daughters practice their respective instruments, the piano and the violin for hours each day and did not let them take any breaks even when they were traveling or on vacation. Chua was headstrong, arrogant and relentless but what I admire about her is her persistence and patience. She actively was involved in every step of her daughters lives and pushed them because she believed they could do better.

It is that dicipline that I want to cultivate in my own parenting style. It is easy to let our kids be average and to let them just rot away in front of the television but to take that time and spend hours with them to help them master a skill is certainly commendable. After spending a half-hour of one on one time with my kids I feel so drained. One lesson that the Tiger Mom has taught me is that until the mother doesn’t put the time and commitment into her kids than it will be very hard for them to reach their potential.

Another story that Chua tells us in the book is when she rejected her daughters handmade birthday cards for her birthday.

“I don’t want this, I want a better one – one that you’ve put some thought and effort into. I have a special box, where I keep all my cards from you and your sister, and this one can’t go in there…So I reject this.”

This story has resonated with me because of recent  research that shows that over praising children can do more harm than good. I have in the past lavishly praised my kids for scribbling on a piece of paper, but now I take time to actually examine their art, give them some pointers and set some goals (like color inside the lines, lets try to make a square, can you draw a spoon) The results were fantastic. My three year old was more enagaged more excited and was actually learning the praise that he deserved for being creative instead of just scribbling!

Although Chua believes in the Chinese parenting style, she doesn’t particularly advocate for it. Through her journey as a parent we see the successes and failures of her extreme parenting. We see the good, the bad and the ugly.

I found her book to be extremely honest and it was an entertaining and interesting read. Chua’s book motivated me to be a more involved parent who spends quality time with their kids. Although I don’t agree with everything she did with her daughters I feel that Chua’s book is a breath of fresh air with insight into a  parenting style that we often don’t get to read about.