Controversies and kindergarten

Some of you might have heard of some recent videos and news stories about Zahara’s biological father that are circulating online and in the Pakistani and Indian media.

Maybe you’re wondering if you should reach out to me or my family, out of sympathy or curiosity or a combination of the two.

Let me set the record straight.

The most important piece of news in my life and Zahara’s is that she has been registered for kindergarten this week M’A and will begin there in the fall.

The videos that I’m watching are of Zahara singing a song from “Frozen”, doing a magic trick, watching fireworks and dancing with me on the Disney cruise we took last week, and “what does the fox say” because that song makes us both giggle and dance around like crazy people.

I survived the blizzard and polar vortexing at work and a cancellation of a 500+ passenger plane and returned to work to find people had “heard stories” of my 15-hour shift and thought me a hero.

I don’t pretend my life is perfect or I’m perfect, but my daughter and I are perfectly content pursuing our dreams and living our own lives.

Any other news you’ve heard or will hear is inconsequential.

We are surrounded by our friends and family and most importantly the love and laughter and strength we provide each other.

If you’d like any other exciting updates on our lives, I’ve got tons of stories for you, regarding the kinds of things every normal 4-year-old and parent go through together…because despite the most recent controversy in her father’s life, Zahara and I are quite normal, silly, human people with all of the challenges and triumphs and dysfunctions of every family out there.

This is all I’m going to say on this subject. Thank you for respecting my stance on this matter.

Yeah, I’m freeee, free-fallin’

I

am

divorced.

Officially, finally, unbelievably UNmarried!

If you’re thinking of what to say, I suggest CONGRATULATIONS and balloons and high-fives and happy dances.

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I filed for divorce almost two years ago. I considered myself single. I got back in shape to feeling good about my reflection.

I laughed and I wrote and I moved forward.

I got a job. I made friends. I got my daughter and myself insured (another happy dance!)

I told myself having the paperwork signed, sealed, and delivered was just a formality.

That my heart was already unbound seemed to be enough…..

yet,

knowing I’m DONE with that whole miserable mistake is like the moment your body goes slightly airborne on a roller coaster and you know the bar across your lap is holding you in, keeping you from harm, and all you feel is your heart and your stomach rising up inside of you and the seat beneath you falling away and the air around you filling and expanding your lungs, to and beyond capacity…

or the way your body starts to spin and shimmy and the hips shake and the feet move and the heat builds and suddenly you’re being spun and spun and spun around a dance floor with the beat of Latin music pounding through you and nothing but music inside you and an arm holding you and catching you and releasing you and steadying spinning steadying…

yeah, it feels something like that.

Free-falling, weightless, breathless,

a little terrified,

a LOT electrified,

completely FREE.

I can’t even really explain how it feels. But just know this, World, it’s time for some major celebrations! So get on your party hats and dresses and clear out your calenders because there’s one more single sexy mama spinning through New York tonight.

And I am so ready to fly!

xoxox

The walking wounded

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I’m not the Woman you cheat on your girl with. After being on the receiving end of that heartbreak, I’ll never be the cause of someone else’s.

But a realization I’ve come to lately is that I’m no longer the girl who gets cheated on. I refuse to be so blind ever again.

When I look back on my life, I want these to be the defining moments. The days and years that proved myself to me.

Because the girl that lets a man break her with her eyes wide open, unwilling to see what’s happening to her? That girl ends up a wretched mess on the side of the road.

Begging for scraps of love.

Wrapping her tattered shreds of sanity around her and shooing away both the night,

and the memories.

But the woman who gives love a chance and, upon finding herself bewildered and betrayed, decides to stand up and see clearer anyway? That woman faces the reality head-on. She figures out what must be done and gets the 40 hour a week job.

That woman does whatever it takes, standing for hours on end, accepting any overtime they give her, learning and running and ignoring the lack of sleep.

She makes friends. She makes a plan. She builds a career.

She sacrifices her skin for blisters and rough patches and health insurance.

She even gives up watching her baby grow that one last half of an inch that finally means she’s tall enough to get on the toilet all by herself (a milestone mommy was losing her mind trying to have them reach together just months earlier.)

And through it all, the Woman refuses to change who she is.

A fallen love is no reason to stop believing in falling in love.

Being wrong about the man she chose doesn’t make it wrong for her to have chosen in the first place…no matter what the world might say.

The wounds eventually heal as much as they ever will. What’s left can only remind her of what was, even if once in a while a bit of salt finds its way in and begins the stinging and healing process all over again.

It comes and it goes. And she keeps going.

***

I loved and I was lied to and I can still be happy. I can still love again someday.

My wounds won’t transform me into the type of female who makes men pay for the hurt in my soul.

And my heart can’t be punished for its part in the injuries of my past.

These wounds can’t be allowed to isolate me from laughter and joy.

If they do, then everything this Woman has worked for during the past three years have been for nothing.

But I’m also not the one who flirts with every guy around, engaging in intrigues and trysts, naturally becoming the favorite subject of the gossipmongers and drama queens.

I’ve never been that one. Not because I care what people say about me, but because I’m happy as long as I’m doing what feels right to me.

I’m a nerd. I’m a nice girl. I’m not apologetic about it.

These blisters are nothing more than a sign of my commitment to the future I dreamt of when my little big girl was merely a warm and tiny loveball in my arms.

And part of that commitment was to do things right this time. To live my life the way I want to live it, without excuses or placations to the world around me.

To build myself up, from the ground up, doing whatever it takes to get to a place of stability, and who knows, maybe even some money to spare.

To not be the girl who gives everything up for the guy and then gets cheated on anyway.

To be the Woman who I was meant to be. The Woman my daughter already believes I am.

So while I won’t be dancing on any tables, I won’t be a wallflower on the dancefloor of my existence either. I’ll do what feels right and my soul will be whole- even with the wounds, even with the start all over again.

No waiting to join the party. Just me, who I am. Who I’ll always be.

Sugar and spice, that’s what I’m made of

I’ve been doing a lot of baking lately and the results have been yummilicious, which is surprising because I always thought I¬†wasn’t good at making desserts. But just like running and working with technology, I was wrong about my own capabilities. I’ve become more than a passable webmaster, manually switching web hosts for this blog with minimal issues and pat myself on the back success. And I not only ran a 5K last year, but kept up running since then and intend to continue. As for sweet treats, I was always better at eating and appreciating them than actually making them. Or so I thought!

If you look at my list of recipes I love on the left side of the screen, you’ll notice that a lot of them are desserts. One trick I’ve learned about sweets is that the best ones actually have a dash or so of salt in them to make the sweet flavor even sweeter. The more sugar is in a dish, the more salt is required to bring that flavor out. I find that so interesting, and it’s an obvious metaphor for life. The best parts can’t be as good without that bit of salt to really contrast them. So maybe I seem positive and upbeat and completely in control, and for the most part I am, but there are moments of self-doubt or times when my heart just wants to sulk and the loneliness hits.

In those moments, I close my eyes and take a deep breath and find flashes of memories, still pictures of the life I once had, flashing on the back of my eyelids, taunting me and haunting me and giving that sulky heart more to drown in. The heart becomes an independent being, separate from the rational, organized, STRONG part of me. And I miss him. Not the him he either became or I refused to believe he was all those years, but the him I thought I had married. The him I loved. And okay, rational Sheba says, he isn’t that guy anymore even if he ever really was, so get over it. But the heart replies, I don’t care, I don’t want to remember anything but the feeling of dancing with his arms holding me as I just let go and didn’t care who was watching. I want to remember the feeling of sexiness that came from HIS eyes watching me dance and HIS hands holding mine and HIS fingers leading me through a crowd. And rational, didn’t know I had it in me, strong Sheba responds, Ah, but now you’re sexy in YOUR eyes. Isn’t that what the past two years have been about? The end of that journey is that now, YOU LOVE YOU.

Becoming a mother was the biggest turn around of my life.

And after all that borderline schizophrenic, emotional tug of war saltiness, I feel relieved and renewed. Life is sweeter. Also, having an outstanding support system is the ingredient that gives the dish of my life a great little kick. Thank you my family and friends, especially Melysa S. and Zahara for about the thousandth time!

When I used to make dessert before my separation, I tended to psych myself out in advance, thinking, “Oh, the rest of the meal will be delicious so maybe I should just BUY dessert so I don’t ruin the whole thing.” I told myself I was in over my head, and lo and behold, I found myself overwhelmed, covered in flour and baking soda and sweating sugar streaks down my neck and staring into a bowl of custard that wouldn’t set or a tray of deformed, or liquidy, or burnt cake and fighting the urge to throw down my spatula and eat my way out of the sweet mess and into bed sobbing. So maybe I was a little overdramatic? It was traumatic, people, especially when my hormones kicked in once a month and again during pregnancy!

Anyway, I set myself up for those major fails with my negative thinking. But one huge difference since I became a mother, got separated, and filed for divorce is my sense of accomplishment and my belief in myself. I know if I think I can do something, I do it. And with all of the eye rolls and sighs and logical, oh so annoying arguments that start with “But Mom-my-y,” I need that core of determination and self-assured certainty to get through the day. And seriously, I’m not even raising a teenager right now! She’s TWO and a half, what the heck is going to happen in ten years?! And how many syllables will the word mommy have in it by then…

So maybe the sweet masala of my life includes a teaspoon of salty tears, a few drops of bitterness and bile. It takes those things to make the end result better. It’s the same theory as that a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down. Something about that combination in life makes the whole thing easier to swallow. And so I CAN run. And I CAN create and control a blog. And I can walk a 5K along the boardwalk pushing a stroller into the wind with a combined baby-stroller-diaper bag stuffed with extra everythings-weight of about 60 pounds. Because I said I would, I did it and felt amazing even after a bout of extreme loneliness the night before. I’ve got my cake and I’m eating it, too! And it tastes soooo good loves, so so good. :~D

 

Facets and facades

“Each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against ourselves.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.,¬†Strength to Love

Remember when I said in my first post that I’ve always had these two sides to my personality, the “American” and the “Pakistani” and that they are very often at war? Well, it’s a misleading statement, because I no longer feel like I’m at war with myself. I’m not two separate people inhabiting one space. I am, instead, a prism. I look transparent, but I am solid and multi-faceted.¬†I am a sparkling soul, bending and reflecting what seems to be one simple beam into a fascinating spectrum of colored light.

And I do fascinate myself.

I have met many women since that first post. Women who are single by choice or circumstance. Women who take the shnizzle thrown at them and turn it into fertilizer and then the best Goddamn flowers you’ll ever see or smell. Women working, laughing, mothering, writing, pretty-fying, cursing, being honest with themselves and being honest with the world about who they really are and, most of all, boldly unafraid to be happy about it. Women who are winning and showing others it can be done.

I fascinate me because I am one of those women.

It may sound trite, but the last two years helped me meet myself. I didn’t know I had this much strength in me. I didn’t know I had this much love. I didn’t know I could be so positive and so outgoing and so carefree. And I didn’t know I could be an inspiration.

An old friend contacted me recently after she saw some of the media coverage of the past month. She is a kind, intelligent, beautiful woman I used to have sleepovers with until our early teen years. We would whisper about love songs and romance in the confessional air of nightfall and dream of an idyllic marriage and perfect life. It turned out we were looking through glasses so rosy, we got thorns in our eyes that are still being meticulously picked out.

She has been divorced for years now, but I never reached out to her about it because I was so unsure of what to say or how to react. Like I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, divorce in the Muslim community was almost unheard of a generation ago, and my generation is just starting to see a spike in “failed” marriages. People are uncomfortable and embarrassed discussing it. Divorcees, especially the women, tend to go into hiding for a while, not attending community or family functions where the questions and stares and pity would be too much to handle. Some go back to school. Some work. Some go on dating sites or turn to the traditional and ask their parents to look for potential mates. But few, if any, feel like talking about it. Few, if any, are ready to put their past out there and not care what others think.

I am one of those few. I never bent my head with shame or let myself get too discouraged. I hurt, I hate, I regretted and recovered. And I kept going, confident that if I chose what was right for me, that I would be okay. I was depressed that first year, but I had the baby and the job of keeping a smile on my face for her sake. But I never gave up on myself no matter how hard it got. And I never stopped living my life, because unlike others in our society, I don’t think these are “failed” marriages. There is no failure in finding your strength and satisfaction in the single life. There is no failure in getting out of something that threatens to destroy you.

My friend told me about other Muslim women she’s met who have or are getting divorced. She described their guilt and confusion, their feelings of suddenly becoming an outcast. And she told me how strong she thought I have been. She read this blog and was awed, because she knew me back when I was a Disney-Hollywood-Bollywood inspired lovesick in love with the idea of love little girl. Apparently, my transformation from that into a self-assured, single yet un-bitter woman makes me an enigma in this divorced desi world.

It is unimaginable to people that I can be so calm and secure. I question things and I over-analyze at times, I complain and I get overwhelmed. But I am happy. I’m okay. I do not shy away from the topic, and I am honest with myself and I’m¬†boldly unafraid to be happy. This, for some crazy reason, is a new phenomenon in my culture.

Somewhere along the way, the many sides of myself stopped fighting and resolved to become one solid body. I stopped feeling like a bumbling, circus sideshow among the non-desis. I also stopped feeling like I was the only one playing the part of the old-fashioned saintly sufferer among the conniving, controlling geniuses in the soap opera dynamics of my changing community. I learned there are others like me, desi and not, and we can be our own, unique blend of spices, ground into a bold, unforgettable new masala paste.

I have more to learn about myself. I have much more I want to see and do and be. But I am turning shnizzle into fertilizer and the tragic, schizophrenic nature of my personality into a unified, sassy model for those who think it can’t be done. I want to do something to help those other women who are still divided. I’m not unsure of what to say like I was when my friend got divorced, because I’ve been there, I am there, and I am coming out on the other side in control. I want to be a voice for those desi women and I want to tell their stories. I want them to find their voices and their real selves and that feeling that they are winning. I want them to kick off the facade of failure and self-loathing, and join me in what I have become.

I am a prism. And Goddamn it, I love this rainbow.

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.

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! :~)

 

 

 

 

 

Sexy, single, and oh, so satisfied!

Some days I feel hurt, angry, and resentful towards Zahara’s father and his family for everything they put me through. The beginning of the end of my marriage was mind-numbing at times and I had a newborn to focus on, so with what little energy and self-control I had left, I mustered the courage to put on a smile and sing songs and change diapers and breastfeed at all hours and on and on. And I loved that part of myself, the mommy who could be happy and loving with my baby. It was good for me, because I had no choice but to turn off all of the contemplation, the doubts, the whys and the maybes, and the loss of self that I felt threatening to swallow me whole. The ever-present ache that was my reaction to everything that had happened was diminished, even shockingly forgotten, when I chose to focus all my faculties on my daughter. Yes, chose, because I had every manner of means, motive, and opportunity to incapacitate, injure, or even eliminate myself but I wanted to be a mom to Zahara and that mattered more than my broken heart. (By the way, can you tell I’m a crime-show junkie from that last sentence?)

The simple act of choosing to lock up my thoughts and emotions during my mommy moments was a fake it ’till you make it experiment that turned out to help me heal. When Zahara fell asleep, my mommy mask fell off and all of the feelings I was struggling to get rid of would come pouring in and sometimes I’d start to sink into it like quicksand. But then, blessedly, I’d hear the unmistakable shifting of a little body, and the first tentative cries calling to me, asking me to please come quick and hold this warm little person against my chest. It’s not all sweet and Hallmark-appropriate with a newborn, but those first moments of wakefulness really were. And I never thought I’d be so grateful for the sounds of a sleeping baby waking up as I was in that first year. It gave me a responsibility to fulfill an unspoken promise to my daughter that I would always be there for her, that I could make us happy. So the quicksand would recede for the moment and I’d pull myself up and be a mom.

One thing this shoving aside of problems did was make me incapable of analyzing my situation. I didn’t think much so I wouldn’t feel anything, but then that meant I also couldn’t see how much better off I was. I knew that I wanted a certain kind of life for my little girl, and that included a man who treated her mother right so she would know what to expect for herself one day. I also knew whatever my life had been it was not working, but I still felt just as hurt, resentful, and angry as ever, so figuring out that I liked being single took a while. In fact, if I’m honest, I still have times when I wish I could just go back and somehow fix what went wrong. But not only can’t I go back in time, it wouldn’t have helped anyway. Just like I chose to be a good mother, Zahara’s father chose to be a bad husband.

Lately I’ve been feeling stronger and calmer, and I’ve realized that some time in the last two years and without my knowledge, I had stopped faking happiness and actually started experiencing it. I am sexy, single, and oh, so satisfied! And there are a bunch of reasons why that’s so, which I’ve decided to list so I can look back whenever the sadness creeps back in. Because, let’s be honest, no one is happy all of the time but a little self-encouragement does go a long way.

Reasons why I LOVE being single

  1. I don’t have to share my bed anymore! Well, I do, for half the night, with my toddler who inevitably wakes up and comes to me, but at least it’s not a huge, sweaty, comforter-hogging man¬†who disturbs my sleep with his lust at 4 a.m. And if I ever miss the occasional arm across my waist, I’ve got sweet baby snuggles which are so much better!!
  2. Speaking of lust, I do not have to pretend to like it or that I want it.¬†Yes, he knew what I wanted and sometimes it was perfect, but mostly it was sort of a job. I’m your wife and you expect me to want you so I will even when I’d rather just sleep, or read a few chapters of a good book, or eat ice cream, or watch one of those crime dramas I’m addicted to! But now, it happens on my schedule, how I like it and how long, because the only person I worry about pleasing is me.
  3. I cook the food I like, trying new recipes for myself. When I was married I thought it was also my job to make my husband’s tummy happy regardless of whether or not I liked the dish I made for him. Now I bookmark recipes that look interesting to me and I make them at my whim. I feel like having spicy veggies tonight? Let’s whip out the old cell phone and find something I could love. I’ve already made a ton of stuff that’s become part of my cooking staples, and if anyone wants to try them they can, but whether they like it or not my tummy’s happy and so am I.
  4. I can go anywhere I want without asking anyone’s permission or explaining myself at all. This, of course, includes doing whatever Zahara needs, but I am in charge of our lives and I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself. I can go to Stroller Strides every day this week or take my daughter to a different toddler-friendly restaurant for lunch each time and it’s up to me. Living with my parents, I do forget sometimes and think I’m 15 again but then reality kicks back in and I realize that I’m twice that (oh dear God, insert minor nervous breakdown here) and a parent myself, so I am really the adult now! :~)
  5. I can write! I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s so important to me I have to say it again. Somewhere along the way I lost my writer’s voice, my inner poet smothered by the life I was leading. I was uninspired and my words were inadequate. But look at me now. I am well on my way to rediscovering my passion for literary endeavors, and I’m doing a damn good job if I do say so myself.
  6. I can appreciate myself and critique myself constructively. I don’t have to look in the mirror and care what anyone else sees. I know that I want to lose a few more pounds to get my energy level back up, although it will sadly never be what it was pre-pregnancy! But I love how I look. I even fit into my prom dress from 12 years ago at a Halloween party last week and I was absolutely beaming. I looked and felt sexier than I had in years. And I also have started figuring out the things about my personality I love, and what might need to change (but that’s a whole other post!)

The point is that I know I like who I am and being single gave me the strength to not care who else likes it. I’m not going to hide any part of me because I don’t have to. I’m not trying to please anyone else and I’m living my life my way. And I am sexy and satisfied because of it. There are things I want to do, personal and professional goals I have, but I know I’ll accomplish them because I’ve learned how to listen to what I want and also that I can make it happen. Yes, I’m single, but I am so over being married that my single status is a source of inspiration and clarity. And more than that, it’s a way for me to be happy. What more can a single woman want?

A tale of two identities: how I became a single mom

DESI- of, or belonging to, a specific land; slang for Southeast Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis) living outside of their own or their parents’ homelands.

In Boston’s Tufts Hospital at 7:48 p.m. on November 13, 2009 I finally met the baby girl I’d been carrying for 41 weeks. All of the movies and television shows around the world depict a woman suddenly glowing with pride and awe and love as she gazes at her fragile newborn and cries. It is an image universally portrayed, but in our case, it was my husband who sobbed as Zahara entered the world. I heard his half gasp, half sob, “My baby!” and then I saw her hair, her face, her body for an instant, before the nurses took her to the other side of the room. I didn’t cry. I was amazed by her and got caught up in trying to wrap my head around the fact that she was really finally here. This was my little girl and I had been waiting for what seemed like forever just to hold her in my arms.¬†I know I’m a bit biased as her mother, but honestly, my daughter arrived as this curious little¬†genius with an innate strength I marveled at, grabbing a nurse’s stethoscope as she tried to measure her. Then I was holding her, and I kept telling myself again and again so it would truly sink in, “I am a mother.”

********

I had been staying with my parents since November 25th in New York where I was born and raised. Desi women go to their mothers for the first 6 weeks after delivery to recover and learn how to be mommies themselves. And in my case, my husband’s parents had decided to hold their daughter’s wedding in New York exactly 3 weeks after my due date, which ended up being when my baby was only 2 weeks old. I was upset that they hadn’t chosen to have it in December, when the groom’s family wanted and when I would have been able to really participate and enjoy myself, too. December would have been perfect for my baby, too since a big gathering like a wedding is really not recommended for newborns.

In desi soap operas, there is always one saintly female character who sacrifices everything for her husband, his family, her children, because by loving, respecting, and caring for them she will eventually win them over and they will appreciate and love her, too. I’m no saint, but I was as close to this as humanly possible, with room for errors in judgment and unintentional mistakes, of course.¬†Even though I was recovering from painful emergency surgery that I had to have a few days after Zahara was born,¬†I was so happy for my sister-in-law and the rest of my husband’s family that I felt it was my duty to get us to that wedding no matter how much my doctor advised rest.

I continued to be the best daughter-in-law I could while dealing with a new baby and taking Percoset for the post-surgery pain.¬†And when my in-laws expressed doubt for my love for them, I thought if I wasn’t able to help out with the wedding than at least my husband could. I told him he had to go be with his family 40 minutes away from me and Zahara, because once his sister left that house a married¬†woman his relationship with her would change forever. I insisted he spend every waking moment with his family, because at the time, I believed in sacrificing for the family I felt was my own. Whether he ran around finishing wedding preparations or just sat on the sofa and talked with his parents and siblings, that was where he should be, I said. All I asked was that he come sleep with me and the baby, even if that was only an hour a night. I wanted him and Zahara to bond, and honestly, I craved that little bit of time when I could just fall asleep in his arms, exhausted but peaceful because I knew Zahara was in good hands. My in-laws erupted. My husband erupted. I told him to stay with his family until everyone went to bed and then to come be with me and our daughter when there was nothing going on there except sleep. I didn’t want him or his family to miss any special pre-wedding moments together, but I also wanted him with us, even if only for one hour out of every 24.

********

Cut to New Year’s Eve.

Zahara’s father was supposed to spend New Year’s Eve with us at a party my parents were having at home, but since we’d been arguing a lot recently he told me he wanted to be alone. He’s a pilot, and was in and out of New York with temporary duty in random states around America since Zahara had been born. Until I had the baby, I had moved around like crazy with him to support his career however he needed. But this New Year’s he was in St. Louis and I was on Long Island, and all evening I kept trying to call him because as mad as I was at him, I still loved him and thought it was my job to somehow appease him and make it all better.

As much as my “American” independent streak made me expect certain behavior and voice my demands quite loudly one minute, my desi upbringing including the need to pacify my husband made my voice soften, my words tinged with the calming notes of forgiveness and moving on. The two sides of my personality fought hard as they had done increasingly since I got married, but eventually I decided I had given the man enough of a cold shoulder and being together at midnight on New Year’s, even over cell phones, was more important than my anger. So I called and texted and became more and more uneasy.

And when midnight came and went, and my daughter slept with her head on my shoulder, unaware of anything but me, I got angry again. How could he not call? Not call me, not call his daughter, not be there as a last minute surprise? Didn’t he want to wish our baby girl her first happy new year? We had always said that whatever you’re doing at midnight is what you’ll be doing all year. Like if you’re on the tiny island of Jost Van Dyke in the Caribbean with friends (as we were 2 years in a row…oh yeah, there were some out of this world experiences), if you were laughing as the clocks hit 12, then your year ahead would be full of laughter and good times with great friends. So this, Zahara’s first ever New Year’s and what was supposed to be the end of my 6 weeks recovery at my parents’ house, what was this?

I fell asleep, troubled and sad as a wife, but genuinely pissed off as a mother for my child who was ignored so easily. I was more than disappointed in him. I was mad as hell, and although I didn’t know it then, the mother in me was turning out to have a backbone I hadn’t noticed before. There was a core strength in me as a woman, desi and American combined, to become exactly what I needed to be for myself and my sweet baby girl. That night will forever remain a turning point in my life as it was the end of my marriage, although I didn’t know that yet either.

On January 1st, 2010 I woke up so early it was still dark out. Some instinct was telling me something major was happening and I took out my IPhone to check if Zahara’s father had at last called. Seeing no missed calls, texts, or voicemails, I quickly started checking my email with a nervous, focused energy I have come to rely on. One email caught my eye, a notice from my bank for recent suspicious activity. Even as I opened it I knew. Even though I had never seen any evidence of it before, I knew. Even though in the desi community it is still the most scandalous thing, and no one knows anyone who it has happened to, I knew. There, in that innocent little email at some random hour of the early morning on the first day of the new year was a charge for a roundtrip ticket to St. Louis from New York on Southwest Airlines for a woman staying with my in-laws as a wedding guest. I hardly knew anything about her back then, but the one thing I knew, from somewhere deep inside me that was unwilling to flinch from the truth, was that this woman represented the end of my marriage.

Just like when I gave birth, I didn’t cry but was amazed at how life had changed so suddenly again. I reread that email so many times, and then something took over and I investigated in as many ways as I could online to see what other facts and information I could gather. There was something raw and choking somewhere in me, but I closed that off and found myself able to function. Even now as I write this, I don’t know what exactly kept me from falling apart right then and there. But I just couldn’t, I wouldn’t give in to the emotion that threatened to devastate me. Whether it was that American pride or the desi definition of a woman’s duty to her children, I’ll never know, but I found out what I needed to and I kept breathing.¬†With my baby girl asleep in her bassinet beside me, I repeated to myself again and again until it would sink in “I am a mother.”