“Muuuum!”, one of my daughters drags out my name extra long as I am teaching a homeschool co-op class. “Do you have to…do you have to…” she struggles to find just the right words. “Do you have to be so, so you!”
It seems that I must have gone over my quota of embarrassing statements, gestures or idiosyncrasies for a child on the cusp of teens. It’s okay that she comments lovingly at home that we are a weird family, but that apparently is our little family secret, not to be shared, and especially not to be shared with her peers. I look at her, and she gives me that look that she is serious. Her twin sister is silent, showing no emotion. I’m not sure if that is because she doesn’t care what I do or if she is even paying attention. Some of the other kids giggle. I continue to teach, and my embarrassed daughter makes no more comments for the rest of the class. I’m not sure if it is because I stopped embarrassing her or if she just gave up. After all, being me just comes naturally.
To be fair, she has a point. We have a homeschool co-op that requires each member to teach one or two classes a year. The classes meet once a week and last seven weeks. Putting together a curriculum and teaching the classes takes a lot of time to do right. There is the added pressure that you are teaching your friends’ kids and you love them like nieces and nephews. You want the classes to be educational and entertaining; you want them to like your class. Generally the kids spare no feelings. If they are not enjoying the class, you will hear about it one way or another. Feedback is definitely not a problem. So, when the classes are over, there is a sense of relief and it frees up a lot of time for other things.
Last year at co-op I did the unthinkable. I have a dance. It is my happy dance. It is a dance that I cannot replicate at will. I have tried, but my family continues to tell me that I never have it right. It is visceral and comes from my soul, unexpectedly. It doesn’t happen every time I’m happy, only at certain times, and I have not figured out which happy times trigger the dance and which do not. I don’t even realise that I am doing it until I am moving across the floor – and by that time, it is too late. So I guess you can figure out what happened. The class I was teaching ended; the kids left the room, which is on the first floor of the masjid, and I followed them out and then proceeded to do my happy dance down the hallway. Now, Allah (SWT) is Merciful because most of my class and the kids from other classes were heading in the opposite direction. Only a few mums and maybe a couple of kids witnessed the spectacle. Yes, there was laughter, and yes, there was embarrassment on my end, and of course my children were mortified. Who could blame them? Things didn’t get any better when I explained what they just witnessed was my “happy dance” and what my “happy dance” was. The damage was done and at least one daughter’s memory is long.
But I know I’m not alone. The other members of my immediate family have their own weird propensities that they would not want me to share – so tempted as I am, I will resist. I grew up in another family, a non-Muslim family, with its special brand of weirdness. Occasionally, friends will share their own private weirdnesses. I suspect, but of course do not know, that each family has its little secrets, those little endearing moments that strengthen the bonds among family members.
One of my favourite stories from the Seerah concerns our beloved Messenger’s (SAW) wife whom he (SAW) married shortly after Khadijah’s (RA) death, Saudah bint Zamah (RA). She was older than his other wives and apparently a big woman with a somewhat distinctive and peculiar walk. She knew that her walk would make the Prophet (SAW) smile so she would play up on that in order to bring the Prophet (SAW) joy. Some people might think her walk was weird, but she was loved for it, and she used it to express her love.
“Love is blind”, it is said. But I’m not sure that accurately reflects what is happening. It is not that we do not see the faults or idiosyncrasies or weirdness in those we love. Indeed, who is better to know these things than those who are closest to us? It seems to me that all of these things make each of us who we are: the good, the not-so-good, and the special about us. It is the package that we appreciate and love in each other – it is the package that others might not see. So, I would not say that “love is blind,” but rather “love is piercing”.
This does not mean that there are no aspects of ourselves where we could improve and that our families would like us to improve and that we should improve. Each of us is a flawed, a human work in progress, but hopefully with Allah’s (SWT) Mercy we are trying to become a better servant to Him I and in the process, helping those whom we love to do the same. So, when my daughter asks me, “Do you have to be so, so you?” I can honestly answer, “Well, yes – and no.”
O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (Al-Hujurat:13)
J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent being Zak and His Good Intentions (2014) and The Great Race to Sycamore Street (2013). She is currently working on sequels to both. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.