This is a common essay topic in school that I was often asked to address.
It never seemed like there were a lot of fantastical career options when I was little. Or maybe, we weren’t exposed to as many options or the whole wide world out there. Or maybe, it was because we lived in a small town. But, it seemed like the only career options that existed were to be either a doctor, a farmer or a teacher. Occasionally, we heard of more exotic options like engineers or cricketers, or even an astronaut like Rakesh Sharma.
As for me, I always wanted to be a doctor — like my mother.
With the upbringing I had, and living in a small town, we all knew we would follow in our parents’ footsteps. It was what was done.
And my mother had the life of dreams.
I was lucky to have a mother who was not only an excellent, very well-loved and respected doctor (an ob-gyn), but was also extremely well-read. She had seen the world and knew how it worked. She also was that rare individual who was grounded with an extremely refined common sense.
But, events turned out differently as I reached puberty and my mother who was once my idol, turned into my worst enemy. But, that was also just my perception.
That’s the relationship status quo between a mother and daughter. She was really still the same woman who worked the whole day, and sometimes late into the nights as an Ob-gyn. The miracle of birth knows no time-table.
The drive from our house to her clinic was a long one. And she drove. And, to this day, she’s the only female who I have heard men praise for her driving skills.
At night, she whirred away on her sewing machine through the cover of darkness — it was her only free time to indulge in her favorite hobby.
Today I live in a city like Venice, and Rome before that, and I see these designer clothes and I think to myself, “I’ve already seen similar designs before.” I saw my mother wear them in old sepia-colored photos. I saw them when she stitched clothes for me using designs which were not even on the market — and I hated them all. I hated the fact that she expected me to wear something weird that didn’t exist where we lived, and I hated that she was making me things that we could have easily bought readymade. Her designs were out of my world. They were strange for me and uncomfortable. She knew and understood their beauty. I didn’t and neither did my sisters.
I hated the fact that she expected me to wear something weird that didn’t exist where we lived, and I hated that she was making me things that we could have easily bought readymade. Her designs were out of my world. They were strange for me and uncomfortable. She knew and understood their beauty. I didn’t and neither did my sisters.
Until now — now that I have learned to stitch, I want to make things for my daughter with my own hands, and she has the same reaction as I had with my mom. And I now understand that my mother was not trying to save money by stitching my clothes herself. She wanted me to have clothes that were her creation only for me.
Yes. Sometimes it takes a mother to understand a mother.
My mother was an enigma for me. I adored her on the one hand, and on the other I never understood her, and so I found myself always on the defensive. I couldn’t easily accept what she wanted nor what she said.
And, in my quest to understand her better, and to know her, I stumbled upon her sacred territory — her silver-colored small cupboard. In a way — and I am still convinced till today — that the most real part of my mother is hidden away somewhere in that cupboard.
I can say that much with confidence because, somewhere at my parents’ house I left behind my own memories of who I was before I came to live with my husband in another country, with a man I loved but was just learning to live with. Isn’t that what women do when we get married? Somewhere, we leave behind our old free selves tucked away in a secret place, hoping no one ever stumbles upon it. For it is ours — and only ours.
My mother’s memories were locked away in that cupboard. It belonged to her alone and held only her things. Nobody was allowed to touch it or open it — ever. The keys were tucked into her waist on her sari, at any given time of day or night. It contained her most precious memories, her photos from when she was a small girl to the day she got married. All those memories of her as a dreamer, and as a young girl and then a woman, were tucked away safely in it and in due time I made it my own secret haven. Every time I was in trouble and found myself cornered, that cupboard became my solace.
You have to understand that you could hear my mother wherever you were in that sprawling bungalow where we lived — and all because of the clinking of the keys that she tucked into her waist. It was a signal of her presence for us. There were many nights we fell asleep to the familiar and comforting clinking, knowing she was somewhere nearby.
I would steal those keys from her which was only possible during her afternoon nap. There was an extremely stringent unwritten cardinal rule; nobody bothered or disturbed her afternoon nap. Not even my father.
You were absolutely prohibited to wake her up unless it was a matter of life and death. Life, because sometimes, a baby needed to be born right then, and death, in case you woke her up for no apparent good reason. But this rule was my favorite time of the entire day because it gave me the opportunity to sneak those keys from her, lock her bedroom door and finally enter the world before she became a wife or a mother.
I would go through the memories with a fine toothcomb. I was fascinated and obsessed with this young girl who wore short skirts and beautiful dresses. She had a habit of drawing hearts when she wrote something. (I’ve realized that I have the same habit and maybe I subconsciously picked it up from her. But now, strangely even my daughter does it).
The thing that most fascinated me most was that in all those pictures, she was laughing, smiling and had a relaxed and carefree air about her. It was not something that I saw in my mother everyday. I rarely saw her laugh whole-heartedly. She would smile sometimes when she was in the company of friends or when she played with small children. But most of the time, her life was so hectic and busy that I don’t think she ever had the time to stop and smile.
I marvel now that after all the hard work she did, taking care of her two clinics, her four daughters, my father’s social life (and her own), that she would still manage to find time for her favorite hobby — stitching through the nights. Maybe that is the reason that I never had enough of those pics of her of when she was in college, or with her family as a young girl, and of her scent on the sarees that she had tucked away neatly in that cupboard. Her sky blue diary was in there, that she wrote in when she was in medical school — and a beautiful rope of red and gold beads in the locker.
My most precious memories, till my daughter was born, was of this young woman that I wanted to meet for myself. I wanted to be her. I wanted to be a part of that life of hers, when she didn’t have to take care of people but be her own free self — an extremely intelligent, hard-working, beautiful young woman who had the world in the palm of her hands and who laughed carelessly…
Today, when I look back to those stolen moments, going through her things and her diaries, I sometimes wish I hadn’t tainted her world. Maybe it was her safe haven too, which she, every now and then, went through the memories of when she knew what she wanted. Maybe I defiled that sacred place that was not mine to enter.
But it did have a huge impact on me. Those afternoons going through her things, that was her world she inhabited, the books she read, the music she listened to… I learned all that and made it mine.
While till today, my relationship with my mother can be strained, and I never became who she expected or fulfilled her maternal expectations, in my own way I became a woman who could smile even against all odds. Her sacred hidden world made me realize that I would never let anybody steal that smile and that desire to do whatever I wanted.
I have tried passing that same irrepressible nature down to my daughter. To be strong, but feminine at the same time. To smile against the odds, and still come out triumphant.
That is why I strongly believe that strong mothers always create strong daughters who know how to take a stand against the odds and stand on their own. They know how to nurture and how to keep things together.
Over the years, there were so many occasions when I could have just stopped fighting the odds. When it was easier to give up and say, ” I can’t do this anymore.” But even if I might have said it, I NEVER did it. The only thing that stopped me from doing it was the thought of the scent of my mother in those beautiful sarees and the blue diary pages full of her dreams and little hearts tucked away in that silver colored cupboard.
I want my daughter to have that feeling too that when she gets married. I would want her to wear the green yellow saree, with the huge nose ring even if it is not in fashion like I did. She should want to leave behind the world she knew, and happily enter the new one for the sake of the one she loves. I know she will renounce her old dreams voluntarily to make way for new ones. Like I did. And my mother before me.
Because beautiful memories create beautiful beginnings and strong women create strong families…
Aprajita Puri loves to write and is a freelance translator. She is settled in Italy and lives in Venice. For her happiness is synonymous with food. She loves to write about love and food. You will find her cooking when she is not busy exploring Venice.
As we enter the holy month for Muslims around the world, Ramadan — a month of fasting, reflection, community, charity and celebration — I aim to foster long-lasting Ramadan memories and traditions for my children while also showing them the beauty of our faith.
The rich tapestry of my life has been intricately woven by the threads of my Pakistani ancestry, an Indian-Kashmiri partner, and the multiculturalism we have passed on to our children. As I navigate the current journey of my life while being a mother to two children, I aim to provide my kids with a life enriched by different cultures which will ultimately help them to become compassionate and empathetic human beings in the future.
Through education, conversation, and exploration, I hope to help set a strong foundation of values that will serve them well in their journey as Muslim Americans and make Ramadan a holiday that they look forward to every year.
Before we explain the importance of Ramadan to children, it’s helpful to holistically explain the importance of the five pillars of Islam.
Declaration of Faith (Shahada)
Giving Alms/Charity (Zakat)
Fasting During the Month of Ramadan (Sawm)
Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj)
When it comes to Ramadan for young children like mine, there is no better way to teach them than implementing practices of both fun and learning. Engaging them in activities that feed their interests means that they are much more likely to retain information.
It’s amazing to see the assortment of Ramadan decor available at national retailers such as Target and Amazon. I purchased Ramadan lanterns for the kids, and we decorated our home with majestic lights, crescent moons, and other arts and crafts the kids and their friends enjoyed. Noah and Liyana also look forward to the ‘Countdown to Eid Calendar,‘ and put a star sticker on, each day before bed.
Charity and Gifts
Charity supports building a strong foundation for children and demonstrates to them that their actions, no matter how big or small, can make a difference. I strongly believe that good habits instilled during childhood go a long way. The kids have been packing gift bags filled with toys and food packages for local orphanages. I have partnered with other Muslim families to create Ramadan cards for the victims of the Syrian and Turkish earthquakes.
Songs and videos
Another form of educational content that we have introduced to our kids is singing and watching animated videos — after all, we are in a tech generation! Below are some options for child-friendly and lyrical songs to teach your children about Ramadan.
Community is an integral part of a Muslim’s life and even more so important during Ramadan. It shows the profound significance of relationships to humanity. As a Muslim parent, it is important for me to make my kids excited about community-based traditions such as Eid-ul-Fitr. This year we will be taking the kids to the Washington Square Park Eid Event where there will be many family-friendly activities.
Whether it’s decorating our home during this blessed month, Ramadan-themed coloring books, bedtime stories or our ‘Countdown-to-Eid’ calendar, the best part of it is that we do it all together, as a family.
We survived several long months of frigid winter, wondering when sunshine, blue skies and a healthy amount of humidity would return. Now that it’s all here, we wish we had planned out and meticulously scheduled the days. If you’re like me and aren’t sending your kids to a summer camp this year, here are some ideas to ensure your little ones stay entertained and you stay sane. All while being connected in the best ways and making the most cherished memories for years to come.
The year 2020 saw many loaves of banana bread so make this summer slightly spicier with something different. My daughters love getting their hands messy and bringing creativity into the kitchen. There are two different types of foods we love to snack on; something savory and something sweet. For a savory snack, we enjoy a Punjabi favourite: samosas! I know you may be thinking that it would be a better idea to just hop over to the Indian store and order a box of them, but where’s the fun in that? Also, it’s not as hard as it may seem. If you’ve made aloo parathe before then you’re already ahead of the game! You won’t even have to do much of the grunt work if your kids enjoy being involved in the process. They can get their little fingers in the wheat flour and knead the dough, stuff the triangles with the potato mixture and pinch the edges closed! Here is a super simple and quick recipe you can use (I personally love that you can bake them in the oven, so it keeps the process completely safe for the kids). These samosas will be perfect with a lovely cup of chai! For sweet, one of our favourite desserts to make is a combination of two heavenly treats: gulab jamun ice cream. It doesn’t get any better than this! Don’t worry, you do not need to own a fancy ice cream maker. In fact, you don’t even have to do any churning! If you have heavy cream and condensed milk, just grab a box of frozen khoya from the Indian store, and you are good to go. Here is a 10-minute recipe that does not disappoint!
We were recently invited to a destination wedding in the Dominican Republic which would have cost upwards of $6,000. For a lot of parents — more so single parents — those funds have only one destination: the mortgage company. There’s an easier way to get to a body of water and some sand! What I like to do is search the area for local beaches. For a good, clean beach, I’m willing to drive two hours and spend a full day there. What I look out for when researching beaches are: Is it dog-friendly? Are washrooms clean and easily accessible? Is there a fee for parking? Are there enough picnic tables? (You bet I’ll be packing food from home instead of purchasing from the snack bar at the venue! When I do this it takes me back to my own childhood, when my family would all get together at Canada’s Wonderland, and my parents, Massis, Mamajis, and cousins would spread blankets on the grass and open up the foil-wrapped piles of steaming parathas). Last summer, we made a goal to try and visit a different beach every couple of weeks. Trust me, the kids won’t care that it’s not an all-inclusive resort. Remember, the earlier you get to the beach, the better to avoid big crowds! My daughters made me promise that this summer I will actually get in the water. So put on the bathing suit and start splashing your kids, mama!
Brunch and Books
Sunday morning cafes and bookstores (and/or libraries) are, in my humble opinion, the absolute superior road to relaxation and bliss. Books and the spaces they are kept in are my place of calm. When you arrive at the cafe (and I mean an independent cafe, not Starbucks) each person orders something they have never tried before and everyone shares what they love or didn’t love about the pastries or sandwiches or drinks. You can ask your kids questions like, what did the food make them feel? Joy? Sadness? Confusion? Why? Did what they tasted remind them of anything? Did it make them think of any colours? Sometimes, my daughters and I like to pretend we are judges from “The Great British Baking Show,” and talk about the textures of cake or if the lavender is really “coming through” in that scone. After the café experience, head over to the closest independent bookstore or library and browse through the children’s/youth section for books you and your kids haven’t read before. I recommend books written by BIPOC authors and/or culturally specific stories that your kids can really relate to (one of our favourite authors for children’s books is Supriya Kelkar). Get cozy in a little reading nook and read together.
In my household, we are a little obsessed with staring at the sky when it’s lit up in various hues of pinks, reds, oranges and purples (taking photos of them never does the beauty justice!). Being in the presence of the sun, whether it’s rising or setting is such a spiritually refreshing, humbling and moving experience. I strongly urge you to pick one day a week to wake up with the sun and create your own little sunrise ritual. This could be praying to the sun, trying a few new yoga poses or a simple sun salutation. Sit with your kids on the floor and each of you takes turns setting your intention for the day and stating something you are grateful for. For example, “My intention for today is to create something new. I am grateful for our home and the family in it.” Closing your eyes and taking a few deep belly breaths releases negative energy and gets you in the best mindset to start the day. When it’s time for sunset, sit together again and this time each person says out loud what they love about themselves. This small practice, when done consistently (not just in the summer), actually does wonders for your kids’ mental health and self-compassion.
My youngest daughter is always experimenting with various items in the house, whether it’s ingredients from the kitchen or old boxes and paint. One day she somehow made her own version of mehndi! She called out to me to come and get my mehndi done and showcased what she had already done for her sister. She mixed together different colours of water-based paint, pink, yellow, a bit of purple, and some green. The outcome was a nice “chocolatey brown, almost caramel,” she described. She used a thin paintbrush to make small designs on the palms of our hands and along our fingers. The paint dried and fell off (similar to mehndi) and washed off after a day or so. She was really proud of herself and we had so much fun with it. If you want to make actual mehndi at home, that’s another great activity for the kids. Here are really great instructions for a DIY henna paste. You don’t have to wait for a wedding to adorn your skin; do it on a Wednesday afternoon!
Remember the days when photographs didn’t just exist inside our phones? They were on a reel of film inside of a physical camera and if we ever wanted to look at those memories again, we had to visit a photo center to have them printed, and wait at least 48 hours! (And sometimes we waited just to find that the photos were blurry or we all had red vampire eyes). I am here to tell you please don’t leave those photos on your phone! They aren’t just meant to be posted on Instagram. Make an afternoon of going to your local printer and physically print out photographs from the last 10-12 months. I suggest making a folder on your phone where you and the kids have already selected the photos you want to print, otherwise, it will take forever to load at the photo kiosk! Then head to the art store or even the dollar store for a scrapbook, and fun art supplies. Anything from glitter to googly eyes. Have the kids come up with a theme or a storyline for the photos (for example, visits to the park, school photos, sibling love, etc). Just have fun with it. Another idea is to gift the scrapbook to grandparents! They’ll love it.
We hope you have a really magical and smooth summer with your families! Find small moments for yourself too — don’t forget, you can’t pour from an empty cup! May your days be as refreshing as biting into a cool slice of watermelon.
February 28, 2023February 28, 2023 4min readBy Sara Qadeer
Hi! I am Sara and I am a mom to a beautiful, neurodivergent child. This piece explores some challenges of parenting an atypical child in a typical world.
It is a sunny day in the summer of 2020 and I am trying to enjoy the only entertainment that has finally been “allowed” by our province. Parks. Sunshine was always free; scarce but free. I have eyes on my daughter, running and somersaulting, with that untethered quality they say she gets from me, while socializing with two girls her age from a distance.
All of a sudden, the distance called ‘social’ gets smaller and as I run and call out in vain my child has the kid in a tight and loving but forbidden hug. I understand that pandemic or no pandemic, physical space is a basic right but for my daughter, it falls under the ‘but why?’ category.
The next 15 minutes are spent apologizing to an exasperated mother asking me why my kid was not taught the dangers of COVID-19 and personal space. She is four, I tell her, she just got excited. At some point, I zone out and just let her say her piece. Some of it is in a language I have never heard before, complete with hand gestures and melodrama as if it was not a preschooler but Bigfoot.
Maybe later I will do the thing we all do; oh, I should have said that. Maybe I won’t. This is not the first time my kid has drawn public attention and it is not the last.
Six months later, we received a diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). After the reaction time (read stress eating and ugly crying) ended, we began our journey of raising an atypical child in a world that insists on the typical.
Textbook wise, neurodivergence includes Autism, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, OCD, hyperlexia and Tourette Syndrome.
I could write a book on my journey as a mom raising a child who is neurodivergent (ND). I will in due time and the first chapter would be, “Fighting for inclusion in a world insisting on exclusion.” If you ask any parent with a neurodivergent kid, they will tell you that it is not finances or the fear of the future bringing them down, it is just people. But that’s been the case since the dawn of time anyway.
If you are someone who is kind and inclusive but are confused by the jargon, read on for some guidance that will make you an ever-favorite ally and, well basically, just decent. It is just basic decency after all to be inclusive and kind.
If you have a kid on the spectrum for ASD or ADHD or any other neurodivergence in your social circle, the first step is to not stop being friends with their parents. Yes, that happens. Parents can get super isolated and alienated because their kid is a certain way. Give ND families a chance to breathe. Invite them to BBQs, ask them what their kid will eat, encourage your kids to include them — the whole nine yards.
There will be meltdowns, at birthday parties, at the mall, in restaurants. Sometimes the best thing to do is to look the other way. Ask the right questions. Rather than asking “what happened?” or “why are they doing this?”simply say “how can I help?” Maybe you can help with another sibling or give the child some space.
Do not equate a sensory meltdown or otherwise to a parenting failure or a lack of discipline. ND parents face a lot of judgment on those grounds. That is one of the top reasons they scoop up their kids and leave before dinner is even served.
The biggest challenge in our community is acceptance. There is a dire need to accept that around 30 percent of our population is neurodivergent. This includes adults and undiagnosed individuals. You and I might not even know if we are atypical, the world is just getting to know this word and what it entails. As for the South Asian community, neurodivergence is practically stigmatized and seen as ‘spoilt’ child behavior or ‘mom spending too much time at work, on social media, Netflix, sewing, knitting, kayaking…’ The list goes on.
It is 2022 and we are all trying to make space for people at our tables. This includes people who might not look or act or perceive the world like us. As a parent I have fears that all parents have, but somehow those fears have been heightened to exponential limits ever since my kid’s diagnosis came through.
How is she doing? Did someone bully her? Does she have friends? Is she included in activities? What if she says something silly and they laugh at her? What happens when she is older? Will she go to college? I should not be thinking that. I want to think about how much she is learning at school, what game they played today, what she and her friends talk about and all other typical mom things.
Except I am not a typical mom. And that is okay.
My child has wonder; she has innocence. I see things from her lens and her computation of the world is unique. The biggest misconception people have is of intelligence. A child with autism finds difficulty in processing social cues (like sarcasm) but otherwise they are as smart as you and me, if not more. Probably more.
Some days are hard but not all days are hard, and not every moment of that rough day is difficult. We, parents of ND children, do not keep obsessing over the fact that our kids are atypical; we binge watch the same shows, we have hobbies and interests and date nights and ‘me-time.’ Some days are magical and the most important thing for people to know is that Autism families are not looking for pity parties, just kindness and inclusion with a healthy sprinkle of understanding— an understanding of the atypical in a world only rooting for the typical.