what i’m thankful for.

November 26, 2015

Today, on this Thanksgiving morning in Riyadh, I’m very thankful for Miss Lavender.

We’ve had a rough few nights, she and I. Despite a few promising attempts to remedy the situation (last week she actually went to bed at 10 o’clock at night—nothing short of a miracle), her inner clock is persistently telling her that one or two o’clock in the morning is an appropriate bedtime. She sleeps until eleven in the morning or so, wants to go down for a nap around four in the afternoon, and then stays up until the middle of the night.

I’m exhausted. In the morning, I usually wake up a little bit after Mr. Mostafa does, or right before he leaves for work, and of course, I stay up with her at night, because Baba needs his sleep on a normal schedule; he has to go to work in the morning. But I haven’t been able to really sleep in or nap with her, mostly because I’ve got work to do and even if I didn’t, I’m too keyed up to rest because I feel like if I can’t get her to sleep on a normal schedule, I should at least be taking advantage of the time she’s asleep in order to work uninterrupted.

Long story short, I’m currently running on very little sleep.

And it sometimes feels like she wants to nurse ALL NIGHT. Even when I am in bed and trying to sleep, I’m tossing and turning all night because she wants to be snuggled up on a boob and switching between them.

And when she doesn’t get what she wants in her bedtime routine, she throws tantrums. She’s at that age. And a couple of times last night, I lost my patience and didn’t speak soothingly. My speech was rough and angry and today, I feel guilty.

Because I love her so much. I can’t even explain, but I know mothers of all spots and stripes don’t need me to. And I’m so thankful that she loves me despite my neverending missteps as her mother. Right now, she’s sitting in my lap, and we’re cuddling under my Snuggie blanket, and she’s proudly holding her new green bouncy ball that she got at Tamimi yesterday (her “kora,” as she calls it, which is “ball” in Arabic), and we are eating “pangcorn” (not Arabic, just lavender’s word for “popcorn), watching nursery rhyme songs on YouTube and singing along to “Three Little Kittens.”

She is joyous and giggly as she sings about the three little kittens who shall have no pie, and I’m thankful that she doesn’t seem to remember, that last night, around one in the morning, after she launched into a fit when I wouldn’t get out of bed and go in the living room and turn on Doc McStuffins for her on the TV, I yelled, “LAVENDER, GO TO SLEEP!” and she cried even harder and sobbed, “Potty? Potty?”

And I wouldn’t take her potty, because I knew her game well; she didn’t actually have to go potty. She was just going to have me get out of bed and go into the living room (because in our apartment, you have to go through the living room to get to the bathroom from the bedroom) and then demand Doc McStuffins once she got me there. Which is exactly what she did when Mr. Mostafa, who had been awakened by the ruckus by this time, took her to go potty.

And speaking of which, I’m thankful for him, too. Because instead of laying there in bed and being pissed that he wasn’t being allowed to sleep, he got up and tried to help, even though his patience was worn thin by then, as well. Earlier that night, before he went to bed (or tried to, anyway), Lavender had been having another tantrum because she wanted me to hold her (“Mama, come here! Mama, come here!” is what she says, with her arms up, when she wants me to hold and hug her), but just a few seconds earlier, she had asked for “pangcorn,” and I was busy making it in the kitchen for her.

“Lavender, I cannot hold you and make pangcorn at the same time!” I yelled over her screams. (Because I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t believe in microwave popcorn so I make it on the stove, and also, Saleh and I now say “pangcorn” instead of “popcorn” and “tomos” instead of “potatoes” and “chocake” instead of “chocolate,” because those are Lavender words and they’re so darn cute we couldn’t resist integrating them into our everyday usage. Parenting hazard, I guess.)

And so Baba came into the kitchen and said, “Babe, go sit down. I’ll finish it,” and he sent me into the living room to sit and snuggle with our crying toddler. And he fixed the popcorn and brought it to us on a Hello Kitty plate, which Lavender promptly spilled all over the floor and I snapped, “This is why we put pangcorn in a bowl, not on a plate.” And that was really bitchy of me, and I feel really guilty about it now. But he didn’t say anything, and I love him for that. And after work today, the poor guy is going on a wild goose chase for a can of pumpkin so I can make pumpkin pie tomorrow, because Tamimi was out when we went yesterday and Thanksgiving requires pumpkin pie.

So by God, the little kittens will have pie.

And speaking of which, I’m thankful for my in-laws, my Saudi family. Because tomorrow, Friday, we’re having our own Thanksgiving dinner here in Riyadh. Like last year, my mother-in-law has ordered a turkey from Burj al Hamam, and I’m going to make the green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, creamed corn, and pumpkin pie. I love them so much. (Both the food and my in-laws.)

And speaking of which, I’m thankful for my loved ones on the other side of the world, too. My family, my amazing friends, the people whose WhatsApp messages consistently remind me that they haven’t forgotten about me even though I’m not there and that they still love me, even though I’m a mess.

And speaking of which, I’m thankful that I can acknowledge this holiday as one that gives makes me happy and gives me warm feelings of love and home, while still acknowledging that the narrative of the origins of Thanksgiving that we are taught in school is dangerous propaganda that masks the reality of a genocide.

Alhamdulillah for everything. Even the little things. Especially the little things. Happy Thanksgiving.

at gymboree.

love, tonsils, and cerelac.

October 19, 2015

Hollywood has a history of giving movies present participle titles that include the word “saving,” presumably to indicate that this is a Very Important Film. Saving Sarah Cain. Saving Private Ryan. Saving Mr. Banks. And I think there are like, four different movies called Saving Grace. (Spoiler alert: I’m pretty sure the main character in each one is named…wait for it…Grace. Punny.) And then there are the not-so-important movies that piggyback on this precedent, like Saving Silverman.

I think if Mr. Mostafa and I had a movie, it would be called Saving Cerelac. Because we always seem to end up eating Cerelac.

Once upon a time, about seven years ago, Mr. Mostafa and I paid a visit to the only Middle Eastern store in our city (or town? I’m confident that some people would call the place where we met a town; its population is around 165,000. But for me, growing up two hours southeast in a town–or I’m confident some people would call it a village–of 212, that big “town” was, to me, the big city. Also, fun fact–that Middle Eastern store was also a Latin American store, because the couple who own it are bicultural–the husband was Middle Eastern and the wife is Latin American. Love). Anyway, Mr. Mostafa took an immediate liking to this store, obviously, because it was the only one in town (city?) that carried such homesickness-alleviating items as black limes and Vimto.

And then he found the Cerelac. He picked up the can and looked at it wistfully. “My mom used to make this for me when I was a kid,” he said sadly.

“What is it?” I asked. I had never seen a can of this stuff in my life. I would later learn that Cerelac is common in many countries around the world, but not in the United States (although you can get it on Amazon, of course. I’m surprised you can’t buy a human kidney on Amazon yet).

“It’s hot cereal for kids,” he explained. “It’s so delicious.”

“So, like…baby cereal?” I asked, trying to make sense of this.

“Basically,” he nodded.

“Huh,” I said.

So we bought a can of Cerelac. I watched, incredulous, as Saleh, a grown graduate student in his mid-twenties, expertly mixed a bowl of hot baby cereal. He held out the bowl for me to try it.

“Wow,” I said, impressed. “It’s really good!”

And, um…it is really good. Especially when you fancy it up with things that babies can’t really eat. Like honey. And chunks of fruit. Swirl some honey and toss some blueberries in a bowl of hot Cerelac, and you’ve got a breakfast fit for a queen.

We ate it quite a bit when we were in the States, but we haven’t eaten it much here in Saudi Arabia, where it’s readily available in any supermarket. That’s partly because, you know, it’s baby cereal–designed to be heavily caloric for the benefit of growing babies, but not so much adults who are trying to stay the same size (or get smaller). But every once in awhile, something happens that reminds us how good it is. Like, having a kid (who actually didn’t like Cerelac until a few weeks ago–the first time we brought home a can to try it with her, she wouldn’t eat it, so of course, we did). Or developing a massively abscessed tonsil.

Which brings us to the present day, where Mr. Mostafa has basically been living on Cerelac and soup for the past few weeks. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you might have seen my post about his recent medical situation. Poor dude has been dealing with an abscessed tonsil for about three weeks now…except we didn’t know it was an abscessed tonsil until a little over a week ago.

The thing is, he never got sick sick. Like, when people talk about tonsillitis or strep throat, I think of a sore throat along with flu-like symptoms–fever, headache, general malaise, as they say on WebMD. He never had any of that. He just had a pain at the back left side of his mouth, and we assumed it was a canker sore.

Except canker sores eventually go away. This didn’t. In fact, it got worse, and worse, and worse, until eventually, he couldn’t swallow food without tremendous pain. Furthermore, the left side of his jaw and his left ear had also begun hurting. He’d been super busy with work lately and hadn’t wanted to take any time away, even to tend to his freaking health.

“Enough is enough. It’s time to go to the doctor,” I finally insisted, on about the tenth morning of watching him cringe down his breakfast. On his way home from work that evening, he went to the hospital and saw a doctor.

“It’s a tonsil infection,” he told me when he got home. “The doctor gave me a shot in my ass. Then she gave me a prescription for antibiotics and one for a pain medicine.”

“A shot in your ass?” I repeated. “Why would she give you a shot in the ass?”

“I don’t know, but it hurts,” he said, rubbing his right butt cheek.

“So what else did she say?”

“Nothing, just that it’s a tonsil infection. And she said I should come back in a few days if it doesn’t get any better.”

“A tonsil infection? Tonsilitis? Strep throat? What does that even mean?” I nagged.

“I don’t know,” he shrugged.

“I knew I should have gone with you to ask questions,” I sighed, kissing his forehead as I unfolded the insert to one of his prescription boxes.

Four days later, nothing had gotten better. He was even more miserable.

“Enough is enough,” I said. “It’s time to go back to the doctor. And don’t go to the emergency room. Make an appointment with an ear, nose and throat doctor. Something is seriously wrong.”

He did. He came home later that night after visiting an ENT doctor. “How did it go?” I asked.

“Awful. I think he’s crazy,” he said.

“You think the doctor’s crazy?”

“Yes. He had me sit in the chair and then he sprayed some numbing stuff on my throat and then he took a giant needle–A NEEDLE, HONEY–and he stuck it in my tonsil and pulled out all this nasty stuff. IT WAS SO GROSS. And it hurt. And he gave me more antibiotics. And I want to go to bed. Can I go to bed?”

“Eat some soup first, sweetheart. Then of course you can go to bed.”

Fast forward four more days. The tonsil infection was not improving. Mr. Mostafa was still subsisting on soup and Cerelac, and cringing even when he had to swallow that.

“ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. GO BACK TO THE DOCTOR,” I said. “And I’m going with you this time.”

“Do I have to go back to the crazy one?” he asked.

“I don’t care which one you go to,” I said. “But you have to go back. You’re not getting better.”

That evening, we left Lavender with her auntie and grandmother and we went to the hospital, back to the doctor that Mr. Mostafa swore was crazy.

I could see why he thought that. He was very jolly and he spoke to Mr. Mostafa like he was a small child, cajoling him into the examination chair while calling him “Salooh” the whole time (“Salooh” is a cutesy nickname for “Saleh”).

The doctor strapped a light onto his forehead, pulled on a pair of gloves, and peered into Mr. Mostafa’s mouth with aid of the flashlight. “Scalpel!” he said cheerfully to the nurse standing next to him. He sprayed some numbing spray on the back of Mr. Mostafa’s throat.

As she took a sterile, plastic-wrapped scalpel out of a drawer, Mr. Mostafa looked at me, wild-eyed, and held out his hand. I stood up and went to the chair and took my hand in his.

The doctor laughed. “He is a baby?” he said to me.

“Well, he is my baby!” I retorted.

“Okay, take care of the baby Salooh,” he laughed. He pressed Mr. Mostafa’s tongue down with a tongue depressor, then took the scalpel and announced, “Suction!” Then he swiftly sliced the tonsil right open.

Mr. Mostafa wrenched at my arm and yelled, “Aaaaaack!” The nurse stepped in between Mr. Mostafa and the doctor and expertly placed the suction tube in his mouth, sucking out all of the infection draining from the tonsil.

The doctor tugged his gloves off, threw them away, took his flashlight off his head, and went to sit back down at his desk. He instructed “Salooh” to go to the sink and rinse out his mouth.

Mr. Mostafa complied. Rinse and spit. Rinse and spit. Rinse and spit. This continued for about five minutes, because the incision kept bleeding. I stood there, rubbing his back. I felt awful for him.

Finally, after he was done, we sat back down at the doctor’s desk.

“Why isn’t he getting better?” I angrily inquired. “It’s been four days and he hasn’t improved at all. In fact, I think it’s worse.”

The doctor raised an eyebrow at me. “Did your baby tell you he was supposed to come back in two days if it wasn’t better?”

“No, he did not,” I said, narrowing my eyes at my husband, who hung his head.

“Yes,” the doctor said, nodding. “I told him to come back after two days if he didn’t feel better. Why he didn’t?”

“Yes, why didn’t he?” I said.

“I was busy with work,” Mr. Mostafa mumbled.

The doctor laughed. Then he prescribed yet another oral antibiotic, along with three days of intravenous antibiotics to be administered at the hospital. “Do not let him go to work tomorrow. And make your baby come back to see me after the three days,” he said.

I promised.

He’s doing much better now. The intravenous antibiotics did wonders, and he is finishing up his oral antibiotics. It’s such a relief that he’s going to avoid having his tonsils taken out, which, according to the doctor, was an option on the table should he continue to not improve after the three days of IV antibiotics.

But we’re still finishing up the can of Cerelac that we bought when the whole saga first started. Because it’s good. Really good. And even Lavender likes it now. This morning, when she woke up and came into the kitchen, still bleary-eyed from her sleep, she said, “Hi, Mama. Whatcha doin’?”

“Hi, baby! I’m making tea. Do you want me to make you some Cerelac for breakfast?”

“Yes, please, Mama. I like Celelac.”

Me, too, cutie pie. Me, too.


how to (not) wean a toddler, part two.

October 1, 2015

Since I wrote about attempting to wean Lavender from the breast, I’ve received a few emails and messages asking how it’s going (or how it went). So…here’s an update. Because I know everyone is just dying to know what’s going on in my bra (that was sarcasm, just to be clear).

Some may find this oversharing (heck, as long as we’re there, I guess some might find the entire blog oversharing. Oh, well. My response is the same); it’s okay. I don’t mind. As much as I respect women who feel empowered by posting breastfeeding selfies, I’m certainly not going to be among them any time soon (although you can be sure I have taken lots of them for purposes of private memory-keeping…my favorite was taken back when Lavender was maybe eighteen months old or so. With a Hello Kitty calculator in her hand, she crawled into my lap, settled in, latched onto the breast, and promptly fell asleep there…with the Hello Kitty calculator placed right on top of my boob, just above her head, as though it were sitting on a desk. As a piece of art, that photo would probably be called something like, “Future Accountant in Repose”…which, naturally, made Mr. Mostafa very proud), so you can consider this detailed but illustration-free discussion of how my boobs are currently being utilized as my small, ironic contribution to the ongoing struggle for nipple freedom.

So, as I already disclosed, day weaning went swimmingly. Lavender never nurses during the day anymore, and she never even asks to, either. I’m baffled by all these moms on the Internet who say that night weaning was easy-peasy, and that it was day weaning that was tough. This is so not how it has all worked out for me. Who are these women?! How do they get their children to sleep without the boob? I mean, I’m really confused and amazed. We’ve tried everything. We’ve read books. We’ve watched videos on the iPod. We’ve sat up with her and watched TV. We’ve stuffed her full of food (that’s supposed to make her tired, I guess? Eating like that sure makes us tired, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about parenting, it’s that children can be such illogical little creatures) and then did all of the above. We. Have. Tried. Everything.

As I wrote in my earlier post about weaning, we had one really super easy night where Mr. Mostafa was able to get Lavender to sleep without a struggle. Every night since then, whenever he tries, it’s been a disaster. She’s figured out that if Baba takes her to bed and Mommy isn’t there, it means that she’s going to be expected to fall asleep without nursing. And that is just not okay with her. When we’re in the “weaning days” on the calendar (see the post to which I linked in the first paragraph of this post), she will whine and cry quietly, and she will refuse to sleep. When we’re not in the weaning days, she will cry loudly and yell for Mommy, and she still won’t go to sleep.

And if I’m present and we try to get her to go to sleep without the “milk” she demands? The tantrum is practically nuclear.

Thus, I regret to inform you that Lavender is still a nursling. Despite our best efforts, we haven’t managed to completely wean her. She still nurses in bed in order to fall asleep. I mean, she can fall asleep just fine when doing other things, like riding in a car or in a stroller…but when it comes to sleeping in bed, she must have her milk. When we crawl in bed, she automatically reaches for my shirt. When she comes to me and asks to “go bed,” I know what she’s saying is, “Mom, I’m tired and I’d like to have milk and go to sleep, please.”

I mean, I don’t seriously regret that she still nurses at night. I certainly don’t mind the snuggling. And according to the research that I’ve been voraciously consuming in an attempt to assuage my society-driven fears that I’m somehow warping my child for life, it’s totally normal for her to still want to nurse at night. My fellow attachment parents who mommyblog their hearts out (God bless us all) assure me that this is so. Lots of Saudis (and I’m sure plenty of non-Saudis) think it’s weird that she can eat popcorn but still drinks breastmilk (and I mean, that’s kind of a valid point, to be honest). My mother-in-law mentioned to me that she was concerned that breastmilk was unhealthy for children after the age of two (which probably has to do with the fact that the Qur’an mentions breastfeeding until two years, although there’s scholarly disagreement as to whether that particular ayah means that it is recommended or obligatory to breastfeed until two if possible or that the breastfeeding term is limited to two years). I assured her that it was okay; breastmilk may not be essential at this age, but it certainly won’t hurt her.

But I’m not gonna lie, y’all…I’m tired. I’ve been nursing her to sleep for two and a half years now. And she wakes up throughout the night. Frequently. And every time she does, she calls, “Milk? Milk!” And she nurses right back to sleep. And a lot of the time, she likes to stay latched to the breast while she sleeps. So I spend most of the night sleeping awkwardly on my side (until I had a baby, I was always a back sleeper). Which, as I’ve already said, I’ve been doing for two and a half years. I just want the chance to fall asleep on my back, with my husband snuggled next to me on one side, and my baby snuggled next to me on the other…and not on the boob.

At least until the next little Mostafa decides to come along.

I’m sure it would be easier to night wean Lavender if she had her own room and her own bed. I find that she sleeps more soundly when she’s alone in the bed (i.e., during naptime). But we cosleep at night in our one-bedroom apartment, and that’s how it will stay until we move into our own house. So, unless she magically changes her mind about milk at some point before that happens, I guess she’ll be night nursing until then. And heck, it might even stay that way after we move. We’re fans of the family bed. I guess she’ll just quit the milk when she’s good and ready.

But hey, whatever. Someday she will be done with nursing, and I’m sure I will miss it. In a couple years she’ll probably still be refusing to go to sleep and I’ll be sitting by her bedside, bleary-eyed from sleep deprivation and caffeine consumption, and I won’t even have the boob as a secret weapon to convince her that it’s bedtime, it’s bed time, for God’s sake, it’s bedtime. That’ll really be fun.

Yeah, I’ll take what I’ve got right this moment, thanks. And even in those sleep-deprived, caffeine-fueled moments that are almost certainly still to come, I’ll keep right on saying that for every single second I have with her. Sometimes I look down at her and think, “How in the world did I become the mother of this wondrous little person?” Sometimes Mr. Mostafa and I will watch her play, and he’ll turn to me out of the blue, awestruck, and say, “She is such a gift.”

Truer words were never spoken.

That being said, if you have any suggestions to help us gently night wean my sweet little barnacle, I’m all ears. Ears and nipples.

milk monster.

P.S. In other news that is likely of no interest to anyone but me, you might notice that there are some design changes happening here on the blog…instead of doing a big design overhaul all at once, I’m making tweaks here and there over the next few months. So if things look kind of mismatched around this little space for awhile, don’t worry–I’m on it. The blog, like its author, is a work-in-progress. I guess that’s kind of the nature of blogging, actually. And life, for that matter.