Shrinking Elephants 2.0

As I write this blog, the following thoughts are racing through my mind simultaneously. In some cases, this is a sign of mental illness and requires professional help, but in my case, it’s because I’m a mom:

  1. This blog is due tomorrow!

  2. Am I screwing up my son by typing instead of watching him practice?

  3. I haven’t finished packing.

  4. I don’t even know what to pack.

  5. The nanny will forget the soccer game schedule.

  6. I have food in the fridge for this weekend’s lunches and dinners. There’s enough milk for cows to form a picket line. There are well-planned snacks and produce to make any viewer of my preparation believe I have it together in this sphere. I don’t.

  7. My kids will eat pizza ALL weekend. And they will drink gallons of soda and 59 cent glow in the dark drinks from the fountain at Circle K because grandpa is in charge.

  8. I’m so behind at work, even if I catch up this weekend, I’ll still be behind by two years.

Will my mind stop when I look up at number 6 to see my significant other walking into practice? Nope, we keep going, him to the bench to watch, cheer, and advise, and me to fill my cup and find a way to fill others. The elephant stays.

We’re taking a trip this weekend--2 days and 3 nights, just my husband and me. Us. It’s been over a year since we did, and that was for less than 24 hours. Maybe it’s an only child thing, but he fears leaving the kids as a couple overnight. He only managed to do it when we went to Hajj and swore he wouldn’t do it again. Cue *The Scream* on my face. Maybe it’s the guilt of being able to leave the lives where we had to “make it,” and we shouldn’t do now what we couldn't do then. Going away with your spouse, leaving kids in the love of diligent, doting caregivers is not an option for many people whom I love and cherish. A home stocked full of food, warmth, and security is not there for many millions of people whom I don’t know. Is it possible to do one while acknowledging the other, and if so, how? More importantly, why? The answer is “elephants.”

In my pre-kid period, my mantra was, “After my kids leave, I have to like this guy. Kids aren’t my priority.” I wasn’t going to wait 12 years before going out to eat with my husband. No surprise, my parents did. Enter my first bundle of joy, launching me into a jarring fourth trimester and the foreign land of First Motherhood. I was born at last. Yet I felt like I died, replaced by an anxious, self-deprecating nag instead of the amazing mom and wife I always imagined I’d be. My son was immediately the center of my existence, the reason for my being, at the expense of all else, people, and I venture to say Allah (SWT). My firstborn changed the trajectory of my worship, identity, career, and most of all, my relationship with his father. We dove headfirst into a 58 month period of babies and boobs, thinking, “What could go wrong?” The answer was “a whole lot.” Alhamdulillah, it’s a period, and all periods are marked with ease or hardship. I would call it our “Blue Period,” but it was marked by so much joy that Picasso would have scoffed at the name.

Many times in our marriages, we find ourselves not speaking up. There’s an elephant in the room, but so are these little monkeys we made, wreaking havoc. “You know, it’s been a while since” is replaced by robotically cleaning messes, wiping noses, sterilizing, planning and running lists because checkboxes are so much easier to fill than adult hearts. “But the kids NEED me.” Then both of you can crash silently in bed because more lists await you in the morning and you lack the bandwidth to discuss what’s happening. Meanwhile, the elephant just grows until it consumes the space between you in bed more than the toddler who’s crawled in there to provide much-needed birth control. When the elephant hits critical mass, he won’t be ignored and you have to yell, “Dude, stay in your lane!” What makes us shy to call him out before there’s no more room for each of us on the bed? Probably the same issues that made our parents shy to do it, not least of which was a cultural expectation to “live for our kids” What are our cultural expectations as first genners?

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In the dozen years, I’ve been with my person, I’ve never regretted calling out that elephant, although I often waited until critical mass. It eventually made the priority list, but after 4 years, many trials, and a lot of help. The elephant is a lot smaller now because we made efforts to decrease his breadth. Counseling, cuddling, boundaries, and bedtimes. The kids have to have a bedtime and if they won’t sleep, they’re not coming downstairs. We don’t even go upstairs when we hear blood-curdling screams anymore. They’re all old enough now not to get seriously hurt by anything up there, and paramedics have been to the house enough times that we know it only takes them 4 minutes anyway. It took time and a whole heaping helping of patience and gratitude with each other to arrive here. Those last two are advised to us by Allah (SWT) and the Prophet (SAW) for a reason. They always come together, like us.

We have an obligation to our people, the little and the big, right here at home where sadaqa begins. Of course, you can and must dole it out to others, but prioritize! You can’t put out fires if your own house is burning with your loved ones inside. Giving the sadaqa of time and attention to our children is so key, so why explain giving it to our partners? One of the things I always say to the what-iffers and I-don’t have-timers is “There’s a million reasons not to do something good, but usually only one reason to just do it.” When it comes to carving out space for our partner, it’s just as much an obligation as the children we’re entrusted to teach and rear. My racing thoughts are making a list that doesn’t matter right now. My elephant wants to be fed with excuses.

How do you shrink an elephant? Don’t feed it with excuses, ostrich playing or silence, and worse, procrastination. It’s as easy as saying to your spouse today, “Dude, I miss you.” This takes some serious ego checking because fear of rejection unfortunately NEVER leaves us, no matter our love stories. Yes, the person whom you travel, sleep, and parent with on the daily could potentially reject you depending on how big that elephant is now. Disarm your person with these 4 words (you can skip “dude”) and see what happens. The rejection is usually worse in our heads than in reality. Coffee works, too if ya’ll can share that time. Some couples text each other all day (NOT about the kids), or actually make phone calls to each other “just because.” The really savvy ones have, and hold onto your hijabs, FACE TO FACE CONVERSATIONS at these rare things called “DATE NIGHTS.” You know, every night before kids. For some, we can’t hold a conversation without a butt announcing itself in need of cleaning, an MMA parody ending in blood, holey socks, missing permission slips, the “very urgent question” about “how is foil made” at 10pm, an emergency dollar offering for a lost tooth, and the incessant need for water after bedtime. We run away. Or at least one of us runs and drags the other on Super Bowl weekend (Sorry, I thought the bowl was in January!). Because I miss him. And that’s all that matters.

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Zaiba Hasan