Silence can suffocate, silence can set free

My last post was a cathartic, therapeutic experience. Over the past 26 months, I’ve gone through all of the stages of grief I think, and that post was finally one of acceptance. It was everything I want to say about my marriage, the good, the bad, the way we loved and the way it ended. I can explain until I have no words left, but the questions will never be fully answered, the loss can never truly be understood. And the emotions, the anger, the bitterness, the desperation, the shame, and the guilt, it’s all too big to ever really put into words. So I choose now to stop talking about that marriage itself. It happened, it was whatever it was, and it doesn’t make a bit of difference now to even attempt to analyze where it went wrong.

That doesn’t mean I can’t learn from it. There’s plenty about who I was, what my life was like, and how I allowed myself to be treated and how I responded that was wrong for me. There’s so much I needed to finally see and change and I can do that now because I finally let myself face it. I accept that I will never know if that man became someone I didn’t like or if that was who he always was and I just didn’t see it. I accept that I was young and foolish and naive when I fell in love and that I wasn’t proud enough of myself to set limits to my patience. I didn’t respect and honor myself enough to be clear about what lines could not be crossed. I made myself weak and unhappy by not caring enough about my own wants and needs. And that’s just not a way to live OR love.

There is one last piece to my grief that I have yet to write about. Once I let that out, I will no longer write about those events because I choose to move on in my life now. I have to get this out, though, because it’s the last big thing that happened between us and it defined everything I’ve done since then and how I’ve chosen to be happy instead of being a martyr.

*****

I have always been so hyper-aware of what others expect and that has taken precedence over what I feel. I was happiest making others happy, but sacrificing my own joy was the wrong way to go about it. I’m worth the same amount of effort I put into others’ lives. Why not voice my own desires and, (gasp) MAKE IT HAPPEN?? I know I’m a good person. I know I don’t like to hurt people, to lie, to cheat or steal. I am kind and generous, sympathetic and empathetic. But I have no reason to fear that listening to myself and doing what I want will ever be the wrong choice. If I know I’m that good person, than no choice I make will ever be one that is truly hurtful to someone else.

And as a mom, I want to set the example for my little girl that taking care of herself is a priority. I want her to value other people’s opinions and feelings, but honor her own heart first. I teach her right from wrong, and I teach her to care about the community, her family, the world around her. I can also teach her how to be strong within herself, a lesson I think is the most important one a desi woman today can learn.

The generation before mine was conservative. The generation after will probably be comfortable in a settled balance between the traditions and the new ways of life. But my generation is one of turbulence, extremes of rebellion and obedience.

I’m a first-born American pioneer in my family, the guinea pig that tested out the strange and awkward thing that is growing up Muslim in America… a bit like straddling a spiked fence. The experience is painful and embarrassing at times. I felt like an outsider in both the “American” circles and my family’s. I was different. And I tried to be silent about it, to pass by unnoticed while I satisfied everyone else and attempted not to feel like I wanted something else. But countless times I wished I was one of the little blond girls, the ones who didn’t know where in the world their families were from, whose religion wasn’t a stamp on their foreheads labeling them one way or the other. I wanted so badly to blend in, not to be so pointedly unique while I felt invisible.

That silence was suffocating. My relationship with Zahara’s father was similar, not in such negative ways, but in the way that I quieted my discomfort for the sake of maintaining peace. I was silent, and I was sad. Like I said in my last post, there were some amazing times. But I needed more. I needed to go through the hell of the end of that relationship to truly be set free. I needed to learn how to love myself.

*****

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. When I found out about his cheating 2 years ago, I went through periods of the first 2 stages rather quickly. He made it easy for me to get to stage 3, bargaining, by asking for forgiveness and expressing his love and desire to prove himself. I tried to remain objective, but really I was denying that his actions could be as bad as they felt to me, I was angry at myself for not being able to get past it, and I was ready to do all kinds of heavy lifting to make it work. I let him back into my heart and my arms too many times to count that first year.

I thought I was being strong, when in reality I was just trying to ignore my own instincts in order to get us back together. But becoming a mother had given me some new confidence, making me push against my own resistance to care about ME. I was confused and conflicted. I knew something had to change and (or because?) I knew that my daughter deserved a better example. On New Year’s Eve I realized it had been a year since I’d discovered the cheating and I was still just waiting for him to go through with his promises to make it up to me.

This is when he told me he had a week off and asked me to come to Thailand where he’d be for that week so he could finally win my trust back fully. He wanted to explore this random foreign place together while we explored a new kind of relationship with each other, one in which we would be wiser than before and stronger together because of it. So I did it. That was the moment my life really changed.

Sometime during my LONG flight from New York to Japan, his girlfriend got suspicious and made plans to see him and his parents called mine to tell them to tell me to turn around and come home because I was “pressuring” him. Meanwhile, I thought about my life and decided that I was tired of waiting for people to live up to my expectations while I inevitably let them get away with doing the opposite. This was going to be the end of this relationship or the beginning of a new understanding between us (with plenty of marriage counseling along the way, of course!)

I landed in Japan for a short layover and called him to say I was almost in Thailand. When he’d asked for the visit and convinced me it was necessary, I’d asked him three times if he was sure before I finally clicked the enter button to charge my credit card for the ticket. My parents were understandably worried but wanted me to make the decision that felt right to me. I think I was a little desperate at that point, too. I just wanted things to go back to how they had been, with the adjustments that I felt were necessary for Zahara to see in our relationship.

He had started describing the adventures we would have, the hotel and car arrangements he’d make, the tours we could go on. He sounded so excited and enthusiastic and romantic, it was infectious. But when I called from Tokyo after hours wide awake in a cramped airplane seat, he sounded different, abrupt and angry. He told me he wasn’t sure about all this and I told him the decision I’d reached about the visit and its implications. Now that I was almost there and so sick of waiting around and getting hurt, it was in his hands. He could do whatever he wanted, but I was done letting things happen to me. Whatever came next, I’d do what was right for me.

What came next was unexpected. I arrived in Thailand after he angrily ensured that he’d still be there to pick me up. I walked out, looked around, walked outside, walked inside, walked through that whole airport I don’t know how many times. I called to let my family know I’d arrived safely and to calm their fears. I called him and I called him and I walked and walked. I charged my phone by a nice security guard’s chair and I tried to shake off the numbness. And then somehow I did.

I got up, asked the airline about a return flight and found out I was stuck there for the weekend. I got a reservation at the airport hotel and I went there, ate dinner, and got in bed. I flipped through my IPhone pictures and videos of my daughter, of the reason I wanted to go on, of the one person that made me want to be strong. And I laughed at her silly infant dancing style and I cried at my lost love and I tossed and turned and slept.

That sleep only lasted a few hours and then I was awake and still in disbelief. I was struggling to understand how I was where I was, and then I chose not to even try. I had to get home to my little girl. I couldn’t fall apart in a hotel in Thailand with hardly any money and not a soul to rely on but myself. I got myself up.

    I swam in the pool.

I ate AMAZING food.

I got dressed up and I got information and I got on a train and I went to the main city. I met a kind older man who talked to a taxi driver for me to get him to give me a tour of the temples and monuments. I took pictures and I soaked in the beauty. And I ate some more. And somehow, I was happy. I was excited. I felt FREE.

On the way to the airport for my flight, my taxi got stuck in horrible, sit still for hours traffic. Turned out there was some sort of a Communist procession protesting the current government in Thailand. I negotiated and got my taxi driver to stop a motorcycle taxi and tell him to take me to a nearby train station. I grabbed my bags, hitched up the skirt of my maxi dress, climbed on the back of that motorcycle and put my arms around the first man since my husband. And then we flew.

I was flying.

It was the most invigorating, liberating, exhilarating feeling ever.

I laughed like a maniac and the wind cooled every last bit of heat from my stages of grief: the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. Because I hadn’t realized but I had been depressed, functioning and smiling because I HAD to for my baby girl, but internally destroyed. I found my sexiness on the back of that motorcycle. I found my adventurous, fabulous, life-loving, self-loving self in those few moments. God, I felt lighter than I had in years and I liked it! And I wasn’t about to let that feeling go.

*****

When I got back from that trip I filed for divorce. Zahara’s father has spent this past year alternately trying to convince me to forgive him and trust him and then disappearing with his girlfriend for weeks at a time. I’ve never let our problems get in the way of his relationship with our daughter, but his sporadic presence in her life through phone calls and skype has remained sporadic. He’s barely visited, and is often out of touch for long periods. That’s his issue. I only want to make sure our daughter is happy and safe and healthy.

My trip to Thailand brought on the process of acceptance. And now, a year later, I wrote my last post about our marriage, accepting that there’s more to it than can ever be explained, and accepting that it is truly over. And now, I’ve written about the experience that finally changed my life.

I am no longer a little girl wishing I was someone else. I am no longer silently suffocating. But I will not argue the details of that relationship anymore. I won’t blame or defend. I won’t focus on that time. Because I am finally done grieving and I can truly say that I am free. And there’s nothing more that needs to be said about it. I am free.


Like setting fire to the rain…

“My hands, they’re strong / But my knees were far too weak / To stand in your arms / Without falling to your feet. / But there’s a side to you that I never knew, never knew / All the things you’d say they were never true, never true / And the games you play you would always win, always win….. But I set fire to the rain” – Adele Set Fire to the Rain

When you go through a breakup, friends take sides, your supporters rally around you to compliment your strength and badmouth your ex, and you use anger as a fuel to get through it with your head held high. It’s even more pronounced in a divorce, this bravado that comes from trying to convince yourself and the world around you that you are better off and everything will be perfect now. But eventually, the time comes when you have to look back with an unbiased eye and try to see the truth of the marriage, its failings, yes, but also, you have to be willing to see the moments that you tried to forget when you first began the process of ending things.

Those moments, when it seemed as if your life truly was perfect. Those moments, when love really did seem like the most powerful force in the world. Those moments, when you were undeniably, irrepressibly, irrevocably over-the-moon, as big as the universe, as deep as the oceans happy.

Like when you watched the sunset together from the cockpit of a 4-seater Piper and he gave you control of the airplane and a confident smile.

Like when you held him and cried with him as he tried to understand the huge fight he’d just had with his dad and he looked at you and promised you that he would never be that kind of man and, even though your chest hurt with the weight of his pain, there was a sense of peace in you thinking about the future you’d have with him.

Like when you walked towards him, a terrified, heart-clamped, breath-stalled bride, and you looked up to see his waiting hand, his eyes searching for yours, his lips parted in anticipation, and you shed your fears and doubts like an ill-fitting coat, stepped forward, and placed your hand in his…..

Like when you hid a pang of regret that he hadn’t planned ahead and instead told him it wasn’t his fault that he had very little money and couldn’t take you on the cruise he had promised, you would have an amazing honeymoon anyway because you were together and you rode a motorcycle around Puerto Rico and jumped off a cliff into a cool river and rode horses and ate sushi for the first time and felt freer than you ever had in your whole life…..

Like when you told him you were pregnant, your arms around his neck as his eyes grew big and just a little scared. Like when you shared the heartbreak of a miscarriage, and he held you night after night as you sobbed uncontrollably, asking the questions he couldn’t answer, the ones you didn’t dare ask in the daylight, and his nightly silence, his strength seeping from his arms to your soul, were the only things that helped you not to cry during the day… and eventually not to cry at all…..

Like when he lost his job and you told him, with not a doubt in your voice or in the most secret part of yourself, that you trusted him and that it would be okay because he would find a new door to open and you would walk through it together.

Like when you crossed state lines so he could succeed in a new place and you entered your first real home together just the two of you, and you watched him go from a self-doubting novice to a smooth professional and you were so proud of him you ignored any hardships and sacrifices involved with constantly moving because nothing else mattered as long as he was satisfied.

Like when the big break came, and you crossed an ocean and started a new adventure with his airline back where you had honeymooned two years earlier, and you hiked down to the bottom of a waterfall, had picnic dinners on the beach, took your first and so very overdue vacations, and explored and imagined and created memories that should have lasted a lifetime…..

Like when you started two jobs that you loved, editing an in-flight magazine from home and simultaneously rising quickly in the customer service department of the airline, and he looked at you again like he used to all those years ago, as if you were proving your own worth and strength to him, a look that had somehow been lost over time but you hadn’t really noticed.

Like when you had lunch breaks together and kissed in between flights and took turns making each other dinner and filled your one day off together with as many meals out, beach or pool afternoons, laughs with friends, and nights to remember as possible and after all that, how he hated being home without you and he came and sat and watched you work and held you and you thought, how odd, that he can’t stand to be alone when you had done it for so long for him, and yet, how sweet…..

Like when you could barely get through a shift without repeatedly sitting down, and you got so sick you couldn’t get out of bed, and even though you’d waited a year and then tried for another year and it wasn’t expected at all and you’d secretly given up hope, you found out you were finally, blessedly pregnant, and then you called and told him and he came home from work with a huge smile and flowers in a Valentine’s Day coffee cup left over from the holiday two weeks earlier.

Like when he planned an elaborate birthday for you, with all the friends you’d made a kind of family in this home away from home, and you were both grinning and glowing with the hopes and expectations dancing like something alive in your eyes.

Like when you moved away from that place for better doctors and you cried because this had been the best time of your life and he had been at his best there, confident and strong, loving and respectful, generous and caring, and you realized that despite all the good times before you two had been missing this, this connection, this balance between you that made your life together beautiful…..

*****

All of those moments and more, forgotten when you return to the Northeast, to the states you grew up in and moved to together. All of the warmth between you two simply overpowered by the sharp winds of a Boston autumn and then a New York winter. All of the pieces of your soul that you handed him so trustingly, so easily long ago and over those years, all of it scattered when he reveals parts of himself you didn’t know existed.

Like when you start catching him lying about spending money on his family and you’re hurt, not because he spent the money but because he pretends you wouldn’t want him to even though you’ve spent almost all of the 300 dollars a month he gave you the last few years on your in-laws, trying to make them love you like you love them.

Like when he starts blaming you for his long commute since it’s your proximity to the OB-GYN that helped you two pick an apartment and you’re hurt again, because you wanted him to take the flight line offered in Boston, only 15 minutes away, but he chose to take a schedule that meant he had to drive an hour and a half each way.

Like when he stops looking at you, really looking at you, at first a little and then at all, and you feel so alone and you wonder why people say husbands are more loving when their wives are pregnant and you start watching more and more television to fill the void and to bring some noise back into your silent home.

Like when you start finding out he’s lied to you for years, about big details and small, and even how much money he made and you realize that you’ve come to feel guilty spending any of it on yourself because he’s slowly made you think that would be such a burden on him and now you’re not just hurt, you’re angry.

Like when his temper starts getting worse, and his angry times come quicker and last longer and the moments he disrespects you and curses at you or the ways he allows his family to be rude to you or make fun of you or cause you heartache all come more frequently and without warning and you think about how you don’t want your child to be born into this…..

*****

The memories are there, good and bad, and if you focus you can find endless lists of either one tucked into your history, hidden by the ways you tried to be “strong” to get over it. And they haunt you, these lists that, if looked at separately, paint such a different picture of your time together. Was it all so bad? Was it ever really good? And you think about how it all ended…..

Like when you couldn’t take the sense that nothing was in your control anymore and you felt betrayed when he told you he’d made major career decisions on his own (including where he’d be living!) and lied to you about everything now it seemed and finally told you just two days before your pregnancy was going to be induced that he had not, in fact, told his parents that you would be arriving in New York a week later anyway so nobody should come visit you in the hospital in Boston. And you felt like you didn’t know this person at all and all you wanted was just that one week to bring your baby into the world together and spend as a little family without the distractions and disruptions of people he had been allowing to hurt you anyway and why didn’t he understand that?

And when you think about all this you have to acknowledge how your sadness and desperation and fears and pregnancy hormones led you to react to his personality shifts in ways that must have hurt him, too. Like when you told him you wouldn’t let him into the delivery room if his parents were there and you started crying and screaming at him, and as he screamed back at you it was as if the switch in your brain that had always kept you supportive and smiling for whatever he needed and quiet when he or his family were mean to you, that very important switch had suddenly not just turned off, but disappeared completely. And since your fears were choking you, you told him you didn’t trust that he’d take care of you and that baby or that he’d be the man you needed him to be if his parents were around and you both knew that the only reason you’d been so happy in Puerto Rico was because it was so damn far away from these people that had tried to divide you from the beginning…..

*****

He held your hand and rubbed your back and counted. You saw only him as you did the hardest thing you’ve ever done and went through something indescribable. He has never been more your husband, more of your love and strength, more of a man than that time when it all came down to pushing and exhaling from 1 to 10 and inhaling and counting and pushing again and his voice keeping you going and his eyes looking into yours keeping you hanging on.

And then she was born.

And then

and then

and then when time starts again, even though you had apologized and he had apologized and you had done this amazing thing together something has changed in you both. Even though you had calmed down and agreed to his parents being there and later he held you and his daughter together in the hospital bed, you suddenly knew that you couldn’t be silent anymore when anyone hurt you.

You look at this tiny face, this tiny but powerful presence, and you vow that you will be a stronger woman and finally tell him that you want his Puerto Rico, beautiful love connection, moments that make you undeniably, irrepressibly, irrevocably over-the-moon, as big as the universe, as deep as the oceans happy and you want it for her, so she sees what a man and a woman should be to each other.

And while you’re finding a strength and backbone in yourself you should, but didn’t, always have, he is already somewhere else, someone else. He’s gone even if he’s sitting right next to you. He’s far away from what you want and you’re no longer what he wants and so the holes are there for someone else to fill. And while you gain a new sense of self and learn what you want for you, he finds someone to fill his void.

*****

Whether he’s always been playing games and weakening you without you knowing it, or whether the perfect moments really were perfect, it doesn’t matter anymore. You’re happy being you and when you look back with that unbiased eye you can say that for a while, you were also happy being his. And you can carry yourself forward now, ready to give yourself the chance to make yourself happy, in any way possible. You’re able now, to look with greater clarity at what kind of a person you are and what you expect from a lover. And you know now, too, why it’s not only okay, but necessary for you to demand respect and how you can be kind and generous without losing yourself or letting anyone use you.

As hard as setting fire to the rain, seeing what was and accepting it and moving on without any real answers to the painful WHY.

And like setting fire to the rain, the process of discovering your own strength, your goals, your love of yourself, and the kind of inner peace that will let you stand in love, instead of falling weakly to someone else’s feet.

So I set fire to the rain.

And I survive.

Mommy fail: when swimming equals sobbing

Okay so maybe it’s normal, maybe every other parent there told me I have to stop myself from running out there to save her, maybe it WILL actually get better over time, but oh my God did I not care! When my baby girl is panicking and sobbing for 20 of the 30 minutes of her first swimming lesson I have to put my hand on my mouth to stop the tears threatening to fall. I’m anxiously waiting to hug her tight in a big, warm towel not caring that she’s dripping wet. I’m wondering why the hell did I sign her up for these lessons? I’m thinking, “I’m so sorry, baby I’ll never do this to you again!”

Only next week I will. I’ll take Zahara back to that swimming school with the big indoor pool and sea animals painted all over the walls. I’ll hand her over to Miss Kaitlyn (who looks like she’s in high school by the way. At least the instructors could look like gentle, old elementary school teachers to give us parents some peace of mind!)

I will take her there week after week until hopefully she DOES actually get over her initial fear. And I’ll feel guilty the whole time. I’ll continue to wonder if this counts as abandonment. And is Zahara getting some kind of emotional scars from being dropped in a pool with strangers for 30 minutes and not seeing her mommy anywhere when she gets scared? And if this is just separation anxiety because it’s the first time she’s ever been without me in the pool, then why is she hysterical by the end, struggling to catch her breath, looking at me like I’ve disappointed her BIG-TIME??

Oh, God how horrible I felt sitting on the other side of a one-way mirror, watching my daughter’s eyes search for me, terrified. It was like we were on a crime show and she was being interrogated and I was the sad family member, unable to help. What am I punishing her for? For loving the water?! My God, the girl is going to develop a phobia! She’s going to associate water with a disappearing mommy and then she’s going to hate me forever!!

I know that’s irrational and I’m just an emotional wreck right now because I can’t get the image of my baby crying for me out of my head. But seriously, that was horrible. I signed up for these lessons so Zahara would learn about pool safety and swimming enough to be careful and capable in and around water. There’s a pool in my parents’ backyard where we live and this is Long Island; beach outings are a given during the summer. But still. Watching this happen felt like the longest and worst 30 minutes of my life.

I’ve told you about other firsts that I’ve handled on my own since Zahara’s been born. I’ve been getting better at it and felt really strong and okay with being single this 2nd year. And when I was sitting there during this first lesson I really didn’t think of her father. But when the class was over and I ran in there with Zahara’s towel and she clung to me so tightly and couldn’t stop crying, for a second, only a second, I wished I wasn’t there alone. I didn’t want Zahara’s baba there, because I could imagine how he’d yell at me and make me feel even worse than I already did for putting her through this. He’d be so overbearing and rude to the swimming instructor and other staff and to me.

He’d never understand that this is what many kids apparently go through their first few lessons or that separation anxiety is a normal phase for toddlers to go through, because at that moment I barely remembered all that. But he’d be mean. And I didn’t need mean. I needed MY mommy or someone to hold me and say it would all be okay. I needed someone to reassure me that I was doing the right thing for my daughter. I needed a hug.

I hope it does get better, because I am going to be dripping with as much guilt as Zahara is dripping overly chlorinated water as long as this goes on. Please someone, tell me it’s worth it, because right now I feel like this was the biggest mommy fail of my whole 2 year and 2 month mommy career. And I’m thoroughly exhausted by it. :~(

Putting the HAPPY back in birthdays and holidays

I am a goofball. No, really. This is Christmas 2008 in San Juan, Puerto Rico and I was the only one this, ahem, festive.

I LOVE holidays. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, New Year’s, the 4th of July…these are all opportunities for me to get silly, get creative, and get really, really into it! I get excited, giddy like a child, and I can’t stop smiling.

I plan out menus for Thanksgiving and crave the stove-top stuffing and mashed potatoes more myself than anyone I know. When Zahara’s father was based in South Bend, Indiana, the company had us staying in a hotel and I invited another pilot/our best friend to dinner. I had a mini-fridge, microwave, and electric griddle to work with and no turkey to be found. But I created a dinner complete with mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, fish and veggies and we were all sort of surprised at how much I was able to do with so little.

Holiday music and movies annoy some people but I just can’t get enough! I showed Zahara some old classic holiday cartoons that I memorized when I was young. My sisters groaned and laughed at me and left the room, but I was still enthralled. Even though I’m Muslim and we don’t actually celebrate Christmas, I give others gifts, wear Santa hats, sing along to the jingles at the top of my lungs in the car and fall asleep to them at night (we believe in Jesus Christ as a prophet, not the son of God.)

And speaking of giving gifts, I am that woman who doesn’t just go gift-shopping to get it over with, but actually enjoys it. I love finding that little something that you will love. I love your face when you open it and I love that I could make you happy. That’s why I buy things year-round for birthdays and holidays, because as soon as I see the thing it instantly makes me think of someone and I have to get it for them. I end up having more gifts to store than I have room to store them, but it makes me smile every time I look at them and imagine that moment when someone I care about will light up upon opening them. I used to visit New York with an extra suitcase full of presents for the events we weren’t at while moving around for my ex’s career.

I’ve already mentioned my philosophy on New Year’s Eve and how my marriage started falling apart around my first time celebrating it with Zahara. But look at me there, all dressed up and holding my daughter, big smile on my face and another festive item on my head.

While other girls may worry about their hair or makeup or who they’d be kissing at midnight, I hadn’t even looked in a mirror since getting ready hours earlier and I was HAPPY. My baby had me exhausted with new mommy duties and her father was stressing me out, but I was happy, and hopeful. That’s the thing about December 31st. It makes me hope. And I love that. I love to dream, to plan, to examine my life and think of ways to improve it that are reachable, doable. I love that at that moment, I held my little girl close and smiled.

And then there’s Halloween. Oh God, do I LOVE Halloween!

 

I bought a lot of costumes as a child, but as I got older I started trying to create something from what I already have. I’ve been all kinds of cat, witch, angel, vampire, and on and on. I wore a glow in the dark, lime green tee with the word BOO across my chest when I was very, very pregnant. (I wanted an orange tee so I could be a pumpkin but I couldn’t find one that fit.)

I was an angel for Zahara’s 1st Halloween, and she was a tiger with a Halloween onesie underneath that had the orange tutu attached that you see here. I know one day she’ll probably think my choice of onesies was odd, but hopefully she’ll also think it’s quirky and that her mommy is a bit of a Halloween addict. I just couldn’t pass up the chance to put her in it even though it had nothing to do with the tiger costume she wore to go out (also too adorable not to buy.)

I love chocolate and trick-or-treating, but I save my candy and eat some all year long. I just can’t let the fun end too soon!

This year I was a princess and I wore my prom dress. Yes, my high school prom dress. I actually fit into the thing which made Halloween extra special this time knowing I’m closer to my body goals. (Go ahead and do a cheer or I’ll wait for a standing ovation….that getting fit stuff is hard!)

Finally there’s BIRTHDAYS!!! My family has this joke that I am the only person who can somehow make my birthday last all month. But that’s because I still feel the way people usually stop feeling as a kid. That this is MY time and I deserve to really have some fun. I pamper myself, a manicure or an overdue haircut for example. Not ON my birthday, but close to it so I can feel special on that day. I go to lunch with my best friends, including my sisters, and since not all of my circles are friends with each other, that’s more events for me! Even if you give me a handmade card, I’m bursting to open anything you get me. And since I start counting down to March 3rd around Valentine’s Day, my birthday goes on for quite a while. It’s like New Year’s, a time for self-examination and hope and excitement.

But as much as I enjoy my birthday, my daughter’s has been something I excel at! Her 1st was a huge event like Pakistani/Indian ones usually are, with my whole extended family there.

 

I planned. I visited store after store getting princess-themed decorations. I made centerpieces out of clear plastic plates I decorated with fairy princess and flower stickers and on top of which I set balloons with all kinds of pink chocolates surrounding the balloon weight. The kids ate that candy all night. (And so did I!) I also made my own loot bags filled with goodies and toys that I searched for with the intention of getting things I would have enjoyed receiving myself if I was one of the children at the party.

I ordered this banner and designed it choosing 2 cute pictures of Zahara. Beautiful images of her right after she was born and right before this 1st birthday. Her funny and inquisitive personality was already showing and I wanted to create something I could show her one day so she’d see what a character she already was at such a young age.

And I danced. I danced with Zahara, and when she took a nap I danced with anyone who wanted. I got the whole family on their feet, including some who never dance. My joy was infectious.

Her 2nd birthday was downscaled a ton obviously, but not in fun or creativity. It was a Chuck-e-cheese’s celebration because Zahara has decided that this is currently one of her most favorite places. I still ordered a cake from my favorite local bakery like the previous year, only smaller. I still found ways to make the day, the decorations, and the activities specific to what Zahara likes, what other kids would enjoy, and what I myself would appreciate. Child-centric, quirky, obsessively planned out loot bags? Check. Singing happy birthday balloon weight? Check. Happy mommy and baby? CHECK.

And that’s the thing. While my first year as a mom was filled with all of these events, holidays and birthdays that I’ve ALWAYS fully enjoyed, it was also a time of great personal heartbreak. I was devastated. After dancing at Zahara’s first birthday I had to duck into the bathroom to sob for a couple of minutes because even with all the happy smiles around me, members of my family had tears in their eyes feeling sorry for me and Zahara for her father’s betrayal. My first birthday without him he didn’t even call or text although he was still claiming to want to be with me again and atone for his “mistake” as he called it. And that lack of care on his part was even more hurtful than his original cheating. The 1st everything that year was hard, but I pushed through the pain, determined to put a smile on my face and do everything with double the enthusiasm for my daughter’s sake. I wanted her to have memories like mine. I wanted her to have fun.

The second year doing it all alone has been much easier. Not that it doesn’t still hurt sometimes. Not that it isn’t frustrating or stressful or exhausting. Just that I’m happier. I’m stronger. I’m okay being a single mom and this year I celebrated all of those days with more of my old goofy, quirky, childlike giddiness than the last year. Zahara’s 2nd birthday left me smiling, not a tear in sight or in my heart. By the end of 2011 I found myself free of the pressure in my chest of 2010, the one I got from pushing all the pain down and forcing myself to live and laugh in the moment. Now, I don’t have to force any of it. I do live in the moment. I do laugh and mean it, even deep inside.

It’s the laughter, the memories that are made that are so important to me. It’s knowing that no matter what else is happening in my life, I am still a goofball and I like being that way! I can make myself and my baby happy with what others may call my childishness. And that’s all that matters.

 

I want my daughter’s childhood to be full of these crazy happy times. I want to be a fun mommy and pass on my goofball good humor and positive approach to obstacles and life. And from the looks of things this past Halloween (2011) I have already done my job. Here’s to really putting the happy back in life, for myself and my little goofball in training! :~)