August 26, 2015

A few days ago, Mr. Mostafa and I had a fight. A big fight. A big, ugly fight. A big, ugly, semi-public fight.

We decided go to Ikea to check out some of the furniture possibilities for desks, bookshelves, and a new bedroom set for Lavender. Now, quite honestly, we don’t go to Ikea very much these days. It’s on the far edge of the city (traffic after maghrib is a nightmare), it’s always super crowded and crazy, and as we discovered, we don’t even like Ikea furniture that much anymore. I still love me a good Lack table, but as we meandered through the meticulously designed maze that is an Ikea store, Saleh observed, “Is it just me, or do you feel like we’re too old for most of this stuff? Like, when we get a house, I don’t want it to feel like a dorm room.”

Sadly, I had to agree. But the kids’ section still made me light up. And it wasn’t just the furniture–I still loved the toys and the art supplies and the perfectly designed Antilop high chair (beloved by baby-led weaning advocates worldwide). I excitedly grabbed a few toys for Lavender, and Mr. Mostafa heaved a great sigh.

“I don’t want to buy anything,” he whined. “I just want to look. You know the lines are going to be crazy downstairs.”

“We aren’t here very often,” I insisted. “And we don’t have any reason to hurry. It’s not like we have to be somewhere.”

He sighed again, and he became more and more short-tempered as we moved through the rest of the store and he saw that I wasn’t going to give up on bringing home the toys I had chosen for Lavender. He didn’t want to wait, he kept insisting. He wasn’t going to wait. He hated waiting, he repeated numerous times.

I didn’t care.

The thing is, being a woman in Saudi Arabia is all about waiting. Constantly. The concept of just deciding, “Hey, I’m going to go somewhere” and then actually doing it right that second is nonexistent for women here. Obviously, we can’t drive. We can’t really walk anyplace (except maybe on Tahlia Street); the transportation infrastructure is not set up for pedestrians. There’s basically no public transportation yet (I cannot wait until the Riyadh Metro is finished. Four more years). Even if you have your own driver, you still have to wait for him to show up at your door. If you take taxis or Careem cars, you still have to wait for them to arrive. If you go someplace, you have to wait for a car with a male driver to show up to take you home. If you’re an American wife of a Saudi, you’re probably waiting for the next time you get to see your American friends and family. If you’re a Saudi woman, you might be waiting for a dude to show up at your house and say he’d like to marry you. Or for your dad to say it’s okay for you to go abroad to study.

So, waiting is an integral part of life for a woman in Saudi Arabia. Waiting is thickly woven into the fabric of our existence here. Waiting is a skill that every woman in Saudi Arabia must develop, to the point that we don’t even realize we’re doing it anymore. After awhile, it’s not even a big deal to most of us, and we do it without even thinking about how inconvenient it is. It’s just a part of life in Saudi Arabia, the same way in the Ozarks, we slow down on the back roads during deer season without thinking about how annoying it is that we’re being delayed.

But, like many Saudi men (or men in general, honestly), Mr. Mostafa does not have that meticulously cultivated sense of patience. Like, he gets irritated when he shows up at a store or something and it’s still closed for prayer, even though the athan was half an hour ago. I never understand why he’s so bothered, especially since he grew up here, and that’s basically the only time he has to wait for anything. I mean, yes, it can be annoying, but just take out a book and read until the place reopens, I say. Learn to wait. I certainly have.

And that is why I had very little pity for my husband when, after we reached the checkout lines at Ikea and saw that they were very long, full of people pushing huge carts stacked high with furniture boxes, he announced once again, very loudly, in the middle of the store, that he “didn’t want to wait.” Or that he “hated waiting.” Or that he “was not going to wait just to pay for some stupid toys.” Nope. I had no pity at all.

I made him ask an Ikea worker if any of the lines were for people who just had a few small things to purchase. The man said no, they used to have a line for such people, but when the store became more busy, they opened it up to everyone.

“There’s no fast line,” Saleh repeated to me. “I’m sorry, but we’re not going to wait.”

Angrily, I handed my chosen toys over to the worker and skulked out of Ikea like a shamed child, not wanting to escalate the fight in public.

But in the car, I lit into my husband. I screamed my grievances at him; if he was going to treat me like a child, I reasoned, he could deal with me screaming like one. I told him that it wasn’t fair that he couldn’t possibly wait. I told that him I spend my days waiting; that waiting is a skill a woman cannot live without in Saudi Arabia, and the least he could do is stand and wait for a few minutes so I could buy some toys for our child. He accused me of being stubborn and inflexible. I replied that he was just as stubborn, if not more so.

“Would your dad have stood in line with your mom for a couple of toys?” he argued.

“No, probably not,” I admitted. “But he doesn’t have to! My mom can get in the car by herself and go stand in any damn line she wants to!”

“Oh,” he said. “Yeah, that’s true.”

I told him that I was horrified at how he had controlled me in the Ikea store.

“I didn’t control you,” he insisted. “I don’t have any control over you!”

“Oh, really?” I said. “I’m calling Mohammed right now.” I took out my phone, unlocked it, and brought up the number of the family driver. “You go upstairs and sit with Lavender while I go back to Ikea with Mohammed and get those toys that I wanted.”

He opened his mouth to speak.

“Tell me no, I can’t,” I dared him. “And then tell me again that you didn’t control me in that store.”

He took a deep breath and turned the car around.

When we got back to the Ikea parking lot, I got out of the car, slammed the door, and stomped back into the building. It took me awhile to work my way back through the entire store (seriously, Ikea is designed so sneakily, just like a casino–labyrinthine, with no windows, so it’s easy to lose track of how much time you spend in there) to re-select the toys and get back downstairs to the checkout lines, which had more than doubled in length by this time. I didn’t care. I got into what I could minimally identify as the shortest line, and I waited.

And I waited.

Considering how long the lines looked when I chose one, they actually moved quite quickly. It took me about a half hour to get up to the checkout counter.

As I swiped my debit card, I looked up and saw Mr. Mostafa standing there at the counter, with Lavender in her stroller, waiting for me.

We walked out to the car in silence. Finally, as we sat in the post-maghrib traffic jam that we could have avoided if he had just been willing to wait for me to check out the first time, he apologized.

I ignored him.

Once we got home, and Lavender happily played in the floor with one of the toys I had made such a fuss to buy, he watched her and said, “I’m really sorry. I feel ridiculous.”

I ignored him.

The next morning, when I woke up next to sleeping Lavender after Mr. Mostafa had already left for work, I picked up my phone and found this text message waiting for me:

IMG 1905 waiting.

We’re all good now. He’s still my favorite. And I think, finally, we’re both figuring out that life together is worth learning to wait.

older and wiser.

August 19, 2015

In the words of Mr. Mostafa, it’s my birthday eve. In less than 24 hours, I will be 32 years old. I just now had to blink and stare at that number to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Yes, it’s true. 32.

IMG 3842 750x499 older and wiser.

When I turned 30, I was much more depressed than I expected to be. I mean, most people eventually turn 30, and even though I wasn’t where I had wanted to be at age 30, things were pretty darn good. I was happily married, and I’d given birth to a beautiful little girl exactly three months earlier, and I didn’t have a crying jag the way I did when I turned 21. (I was tremendously depressed when I turned 21; I remember thinking–and saying, “Every other milestone birthday from here until I die is just marking how old I’m getting!”)

But on my 30th birthday, I was sitting on the couch, having just downloaded Snapchat, and not understanding the point of it at all. I kept squinting at my iPhone–not because I couldn’t see it clearly (although that would have been the cherry on the top of the cake of a depressing birthday), but because I just didn’t get it. What was the point of this dumb app? Like, it seemed pointless. Couldn’t I just send little videos to my friends on WhatsApp? Instagram had just launched video capability a few months prior; wasn’t that the perfect spot for posting little videos that followers could watch? And of course, there was always trusty ol’ Facebook. Snapchat just seemed superfluous. And then, there was the fact that once you watched the video–the snap–it self-destructed. No way to get it back or watch it again. The YOLO life philosophy crammed into a social media platform.

This thing was obviously tailor-made to exclude the old and uncool–and it seemed determined to classify anyone with a kid in that demographic. Because let’s face it–at some point, every parent is going to miss a snap because just as they start to watch it, they have to suddenly jump up and run to their kid, who is gleefully throwing her blocks in the toilet.

I felt…old. And slightly panicky. Already, the world was moving ahead without me, and I was being left behind. The Big Bang Theory was basically the only current show I could have a conversation about (although now I can talk to you about Better Call Saul and Downton Abbey, as well). I could name maybe one song in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 (and I was smacked with a flash of realization that anyone who references the Billboard Hot 100 is obviously already old).

But now, as I’m on the cusp of turning 32, I’ve settled happily into my 30s. I can’t name a single song in the Billboard Hot 100, the iTunes top 10, or anything else pertaining to current music (but I’m guessing Taylor Swift is there somewhere? Maybe One Direction, too? And to be fair, by the time I got to college, the odds of you getting into my car and hearing a song recorded within the previous 20 years were maybe 50/50, at best. I was already in the thick of the discovery that of all the music made so far, the vast majority of my favorite songs were born on vinyl). I’ve long since given up on trying to understand the appeal of Snapchat. I made the conscious choice to basically abandon Twitter after I realized that by obsessively keeping up with what was happening on it, I was becoming more and more depressed by the horrible state of the world. I’ve even withdrawn a bit from Facebook. I still use it a lot, but I’ve deleted the apps from my phone, and I only check it when I’m physically at my computer. The only social media apps I keep on my phone are Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, and Goodreads, and the first one is the only one I check frequently, especially since I stumbled upon the magical world of used books and vintage shops on Instagram. My newly blossoming Butterfly Gold collection is very thankful for this discovery.

Yes. I’m old. I mean, I’m certainly not old old. But I’m old. And I’m just a little bit thrilled about it.

I realize that embracing my advancing age means I’m probably going to be falling further and further behind. Even though I don’t intend to fall behind on current events, I will probably continue to care less and less about keeping up with the technological and pop culture tide. And I’ve become okay with that. I’ve realized that a positively glorious part of getting older is waking up one day and finding that you genuinely don’t care about being cool, or on trend, or whatever you want to call it. I mean, we all say that when we’re young, that we don’t care, even when it’s painfully obvious that we do and it hurts us when we’re not. But when you get older…you don’t. You really, really don’t. At least, if you’re lucky.

For me, this moment happened just a few weeks ago, when we were on vacation in Bahrain. I was bopping around happily in the pool, as Mr. Mostafa blissfully practiced his swimming with his noseplugs and goggles strapped to his face and I instructed Lavender, sitting in her toddler floatie, how to kick-kick-kick, and I suddenly became aware of the fact that I hadn’t once thought about what I looked like, or about what the young, annoyed, and impossibly cool poolgoers lounging at the side of the pool (people who wanted to tan and be seen but would rather die than take their sunglasses off or get their hair wet) thought of me. I mean, I knew I didn’t (and don’t) want to look like I had completely given up on personal grooming. I still care about those basic things. But as for looking like I care about what the cool kids think…nope. I felt nothing. (And thank God, because sunscreen is awesome and Chacos are straight-up ugly, kids.)

And I can’t express in words how tremendously liberating that is. Especially for us girls who spent our youths being weird and not really understanding why people saw us that way. It’s like losing 50 pounds and suddenly being able to run up stairs without feeling exhausted. For real.

I was talking to my dad on the phone the other day, and I was expressing how happy I was that overalls, one of my wardrobe staples in high school, were now back in style. I mentioned that even though it was kinda depressing that I was old enough for my high school wardrobe to have gone full circle in the cycle of cool and uncool, it’s liberating to be in that position because now, unlike in high school, I’m not willing to ever let those things work their way out of my wardrobe again purely for the sake of fashion (although, let’s be clear–I have never been anyone’s style icon. My wardrobe choices have always leaned toward minimal effort). I like them and I feel comfortable in them, so I will wear them, even when doing so will someday prompt my children to quip, “Hey Mom, 2015 called. They want their Birkenstocks back.”

“That’s right, sis,” my dad said. “I never get rid of any of my clothes. You wear whatever the hell you want.” It reminded me of that old Coco Chanel quote–“Fashion fades; only style remains the same.” My dad and Coco Chanel…two of my style icons.

Getting old rocks.

And someday, there will be a social media platform that I know I need to learn to use, and I will have to call Lavender at college and ask her how to do something on this newfangled Inster or Spielbox or Talkpop (note to developers: I now get royalties if you build a platform with one of these names, got it? I think Spielbox is particularly clever, although that may because I’m an old person, so it looks like a play on Steven Spielberg. Do young people today, except for film school students, even know who Steven Spielberg is? He hasn’t been nominated for any Oscars in awhile, has he? Do young people care about the Oscars anymore? Oh, who am I kidding…even I don’t much care about the Oscars anymore. But is that because I’m old and young people do still care about the Oscars?! Oh, dearie me, now I’ve got the vapors). She won’t understand how I could have possibly become so old as to not understand the technology, and even worse, not be too particularly concerned that it appears to be well over my head. She won’t understand how even though I kinda want to learn, I don’t seem to care nearly as much as she thinks I should.

And she will say, “But it’s so easy, Mom. Just tap the pink popbox and say your spiel. Blink twice to select a photo, and then hit the blue pop.”

“That all sounds really dirty, and I have no clue what you’re talking about, you little shit,” I’ll say.

“Mom, I don’t have time to help you with this. You can do it yourself, really. I promise you can!” she’ll say.

I taught you how to wipe your ass!” I’ll yell as she hangs up on me.

Happy (almost) birthday to me. But more importantly, happy pushday to my mom. At this point in my life, I now possess sufficient age-induced self-awareness to understand that by God, you’ve more than earned the right to make me upload pictures to the Walgreens app and place an order for you to pick up instead of me forcing you to do it yourself because you can do it, Mom, really, you can. Seriously, how come you haven’t smacked me upside the head yet?

life lessons from doc mcstuffins.

August 12, 2015

Racism, sexism, and other bad -isms are strange, sneaky things. We like to think, “I’m not a racist! I’m not a sexist!” As though such titles are part of a specific group, and putting a in front of the word means, “Hey, don’t look at me, I’m not in that club.” Like, “I’m not a Republican!” “I’m not a Democrat!” “I’m not a tortoise!”

But the thing is, we are all raised to be racist and sexist in many ways. Even if we don’t explicitly identify as racist or sexist (as, sadly, many proudly do), we are all racist and sexist beneath the surface. Some of those ways vary from culture to culture. And if we’re willing to accept that, sometimes we encounter things that, for better or worse, highlight just how deeply those systems affect who we are. For me, one of those things was Doc McStuffins.

Like many other children around the world, Lavender is a serious Doc McStuffins fan. We watch it in English, and sometimes in Arabic, too. If she wakes up before Mr. Mostafa leaves for work, she becomes distraught when he leaves, and the only thing that calms her down is Doc McStuffins on the TV. (In case you’re unfamiliar with Doc, click here to get caught up on what the series is all about.)

When we were in the States last year in October, I bought Lavender a Lambie toy. Lambie is Doc’s best friend, a stuffed lamb who always gives cuddles to her fellow toys, as well as to Doc, in order to help them feel better. She always wears a tiara and a tutu, and she’s kind of presented as this sweet, girly, princessy, yet motherly figure.

I admit that it took awhile for the character of Lambie to grow on me. Mr. Mostafa didn’t like her much, either–we found her annoying and cruel. There was one episode in particular where Stuffy, Doc’s blue stuffed dragon, announced that he was very brave, and Lambie replied in a sickly sweet voice, “Real dragons are brave, Stuffy. But you’re a stuffed dragon!”

“That’s so mean, Lambie!” I exclaimed.

“I know,” Mr. Mostafa agreed. Lavender was sitting between us on the couch–he placed his hands over her ears and sadly whispered over her head to me, “Lambie’s kind of a…” He paused, then silently mouthed, “B-I-T-C-H.” Returning to the whisper, the added, “Isn’t she?”

I had to agree. I did not like Lambie.

But from then on, I paid a little more close attention to the character of Lambie. Much to my surprise, what I found is that…Lambie’s actually pretty awesome.

Lambie takes no shit. She speaks up for what she needs (in one episode, when Lambie had a rip in her fur, the other characters stood around making ridiculous propositions for how to fix the wound. When they got entirely off track, Lambie called out angrily, “Can we focus on fixing me…please?”). She calls it like she sees it, but she’s still soft and sweet and always willing to give a cuddle to anyone who needs it.

I began to realize that I could totally relate to Lambie.

Lambie stands up for herself. She says her piece. And even though if someone had described these traits to me, I would have defensively insisted, “There’s nothing wrong with that!”, I still realized that before I became aware of how I was thinking, even I had the knee-jerk instinct to think Lambie was…well, bitchy.

But aside from figuring out that Lambie is a lot like me, as I started to pay even more attention, I realized that the mean, sexist moments presented by the male characters in the show often went right over my head. They didn’t make me feel any sort of negativity about the characters saying the words. Like, at one point, after someone suggests that Lambie could help rescue Stuffy from some scrape or another, Stuffy exclaims in objection, “I don’t need to be saved by a little old lamb!”

Wow. Harsh, Stuffy. Rude.

But no one corrects Stuffy. No one insists that Lambie actually can help rescue Stuffy. And for a long time, I didn’t even notice the mean and somewhat sexist implications of Stuffy saying this–at least, I didn’t notice it until I really started paying attention to the interactions of the characters.

I began to realize that when Lambie had something to say, loudly and unapologetically, I found myself thinking she was bitchy and mean. When Stuffy did the same thing, I felt nothing about his words. I saw his observations as totally benign, even when they were sexist or just rude.

This is how the world works. This is how we all work, on some level.

If you asked me if I’m sexist (or “a sexist”), my first instinct is to say, “Hell, no!” But once I started unpacking my thoughts, it became clear that the way I viewed these two characters on a kids’ show was completely rooted in sexism and misogyny.

And this is how these ideas get perpetuated and passed on to children, even as we insist that we aren’t carrying ugly -isms forward into new generations. I’m not saying that Doc McStuffins is a bad show; on the contrary, it’s amazing. It constantly breaks down sexist (not to mention racist) stereotypes–the nickname “Doc” is usually reserved for males, but girls can be Docs, too. In another episode, the characters have to outsmart an evil king, and something about that villain felt off to me. It took me awhile to figure out that it was because I’d never heard of a villain being described as an “Evil King.” Bad royal villains are always Evil Queens.

I know this may sound ridiculous, an entire blog post about how freaking Doc McStuffins turned into a social justice epiphany for me. But I’m sharing it because I think the world might slowly turn into a better place if we all tried to pay attention to the little ways we find ourselves supporting sexist or racist systems, even when we don’t realize it. And the next time I find myself wanting to say something about how I don’t like a female character, I’m going to think back and see if there’s a parallel male character who exhibits the same behaviors and ask myself if I dislike him just as much.

And if the answer is no, then I’m going to ask myself why. That’s not so much to expect from anyone, right? Just ask yourself why.

life lessons from docmcstuffins 750x500 life lessons from doc mcstuffins.