Mommying

The Mr. left for the Eastern Provence three weeks ago and when he did I was terrified. It’s been a long time since I had to be a full time parent. My time with my daughter had been reduced to mornings before school, a quick hug in the afternoons before she went to her two hour Arabic lesson, and weekends. I was no longer responsible for routines and dinners and the crazy amounts of dirty laundry she produces.  Three outfits a day, people! I had grown used to the quiet and having free time for friends and the freedom to make pants an optional item of clothing. But it turns out that single parenting is kind of like riding a bike or swimming. Even if it’s been a while since you’ve done it, it’s not something that you forget.

I also worried about how my daughter would adjust to not having her dad around. He’s now the one who puts her to bed and wrestles with her at night and plays games with her before bed and tells her stories to fall asleep to. In the past when he’s traveled for any length of time, it’s been hard on her emotionally and we’ve had weeks of sobbing and asking when daddy is coming back. But this time has been different. She was bummed for one entire day and then we got on with life and she’s fallen right back into the swing of the mommy routine.

These past three weeks have been AWESOME. I forgot how much fun it is to have my kid around! I forgot how comforting it is to be able to peek into her room at night and see her sleeping peacefully.

We’ve had time for snuggles. We’ve read two books and have moved on to a third during our bedtime reading. We have had time to decorate the house and watch movies and cook food. We had a salon day and shopping time and she’s the coolest kid ever. What I’ve not had time for is friends. I’ve been out on zero coffee meetups with readers and I’ve canceled plans with people left and right because I have zero time. But it’s awesome. I feel so lucky to be her mom and to have this extra time with her.

I’m not sure how long he will be gone and therefore how long I’ll have to enjoy this new routine with my girl, but I’m enjoying every minute of it while it lasts.

32

Today I turned 32.

I’m pretty sure that 31 was one of the best years of my life. I’ve experienced so many things and learned important lessons and have accomplished more than I thought I was capable of. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the people who surround me and embrace me and offer their unconditional love and support.

This year has been radical. I’ve typed this post like 5 times and erased it because I can’t seem to come up with words that adequately express how I feel about this past year and the year I’ve just begun. I’ve officially begun to abuse the word year.

I feel like I have become a grown up this year. Well, kind of. Maybe not. Because adulthood is overrated, isn’t it?

I am 100%, without the slightest doubt or hint of hesitation, OVER my marriage and the man I married. I wish I could explain how much weight that is off my shoulders. How incredibly liberating it feels.

I have finally accepted that I live in Saudi Arabia and I’ve even started to make it work for me. This place is still a total asshole, but I’ve learned the asshole’s ways and can now beat him at his own game most of the time.

I have learned to comfortably say no. I wish I’d learned it about 12 years ago.

I am finally comfortable living alone. There is no noise I cannot investigate and no cockroach I cannot smash on my own.

I am officially financially independent. I thought that would literally never happen as a single woman.

I have learned to allow myself to be loved. I’m sure that might sound ridiculous to some. Loving comes naturally to me, but receiving love has always been a scary thought because what if love leaves. It was easier to push it away and keep it at a distance, but screw that from this point on.

I’m also pretty sure that 32 will be better than 31, so I’m looking forward to the one ahead. Life is great and I’m loving it, you guys. I’m positively giddy.

I’m off to treat myself to another piece of strawberry cake that was generously presented to me by one of my students and binge watch illegally downloaded TV. Happy Birthday to me! Goodnight!

Serious Questions

It’s been nearly a year since I wrote about anything having to do with religion here on the blog. Because writing here about religion tends to bring the crazies out of the woodwork and I’m not really a fan of conflict, especially with crazies.

I’ve not kept it a secret that I’ve been struggling for some time. I took religion at face value more than 10 years ago and never looked any deeper than the basics, but for the past several years I’ve been allowing myself the freedom to question and to search for answers. So far I have a treasure trove of questions and very few answers.

Every once in a while I send B the following message:   Serious Question

This message serves as her cue to ready herself for an impossible to answer question that I’m hoping she will refer to her husband. Or that maybe she’s asked herself something similar before and I’m not alone in my clueless wondering.

The questions are never ending. Here are a few doozies.

In Islam, why is slavery permitted but the consumption of alcohol forbidden? I can understand why the consumption of alcohol would be forbidden, there’s no need for you to explain that to me. But what I can’t understand is why owning another human being was ever A-ok. Sure, maybe Islam gave more rights to slaves than they had pre-Islam (I don’ t know honestly, just trying to counter any obvious arguments that may arise). Sure, slaves had paths to freedom and glorious rewards are offered to the souls of those who freed their slaves. Sure, slavery was a pre-established practice. But still…why wasn’t there an explicit NO MORE OWNING PEOPLE rule explicitly layed out? It’s pretty major.

Why is it changing creation, and therefore forbidden (in some opinions) to pluck one’s eyebrows, but totally ok to circumcise your children? Knife to the genitals, ya’ll. Yowch. If creation is already created perfectly, why do we need alter it surgically? And if altering one’s body surgically is not only allowed, but (in some opinions) required, why will I go to Hell for shaping my eyebrows? I mean, I’m too lazy to shape my eyebrows anymore, but still. Why does it deserve hellfire?

Why, if God loves us more than a mother loves her own child, do crappy things happen to people? Especially children. I mean, only the worst of creation actually harm their own children…or other people’s children. So…cancer. How does that work? Yes, little Susie. God loves you so much that he’s stricken you with a horrific, incurable, indescribably painful disease. But don’t worry, it’s just a test for everyone who loves you. Even though no one should bear the burden of another. You have cancer because God loves you and wants to test us all. I’m ok with believing that sometimes for unknown reasons our bodies turn against us and we have to deal with disease and that crap happens in life and misfortune befalls the innocent. I just can’t understand how there’s a merciful hand behind it. I can’t believe that.

Yes, I know how blasphemous this sounds…but we should be allowed to ask the hard questions, right? Please, someone make these things make sense to me.

I swear, although I’m asking these questions without sugar coating, I am asking them honestly and I am seriously craving answers. I know they’re hard or maybe even impossible to answer satisfactorily. Because if they had satisfactory answers to them I imagine I would have found them by now. I just can’t push them aside and leave them be.

When I was 13 years old and preparing for my voluntary baptism at church, my youth minister asked me if I had any final questions that I couldn’t find the answers to and I rattled off a list of questions that had been nagging at the back of my mind. The one I remember was “If Jesus is God, why does Jesus pray to God? Is he talking to himself?” My youth minister didn’t have answers to my questions. He told me these are matters of faith and they were things I just had to believe. It’s like God is saying to us “Because I’m your mother and I said so, that’s why.” I listened and that weekend was dunked in front of the congregation in my new Speedo one piece I made my mom buy me because I couldn’t be the ONLY girl in the 8th grade without a Speedo one piece.

I’m not 13 anymore, though, so I can’t leave things up to faith. I need real, concrete, satisfactory answers.

Again, I know they’re hard questions. Maybe even ridiculous. But I need someone to take a swing at answering them. Or hey, even let me know that you don’t have answers but have had similar questions. Ok?

Go.

Consulting

I’ve been debating whether or not to publish this post since I wrote it hastily while waiting for a plane a few days ago. And so I’ve got it set on auto publish so that I can’t chicken out.

Happy Mandi is still pretty new to the world and I’m still kind of nervous about letting her out for the world to get to know. I’ve had no problem opening up about hurt and grief and daily struggles, but for some reason sharing my happiness with all of you is a whole new level of vulnerability. It’s frightening. But just as I’ve shared the bad to let people who may be reading know that they’re not alone, I also want to share the good to let them know that the bad doesn’t last forever. Not even in the most seemingly impossible of circumstances.

So onto the story I came here to tell.

Once upon a time, through the wonders of the internet and this strange new thing called blogging, an American girl living in Saudi Arabia and an Indian boy connected and became fast friends.

He was the first friend I made thanks to the world of blogging.  He was easy to talk to and I found it easy to open myself up to him, so we hit it off quickly. For those of you who haven’t been reading since the beginning,  I am of course talking about The Consultant. (I still think he needs a better name). He has been in the background helping to keep my show on the road even when I haven’t been talking about him. So let me talk about him for a minute.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that he is the reason I have made it through this divorce craziness alive and well. He’s the reason I was able to pick myself up and realize that life could be amazing if I’d just take the time to realize it. He’s the reason I was brave enough to search for who I am and to slowly introduce myself to the world all over again. He’s been my friend and confidant, my problem solver and advice giver, my confidence booster and little voice in my ear telling me to keep moving forward and reminding me of how far I’ve come.
He is the reason for my hope in someday and my renewed belief that I could be really loved.
He will read all of this and tell me to shutup. So, let’s move on.

The blessing of a decent salary has afforded me the ability to not only pay my own bills, but to have enough left over funds to treat myself to little breaks from life in Riyadh. So this weekend I took a trip to finally meet and hang out with The Consultant! I wanted to type that in all caps but I don’t want to seem obviously obnoxious.

This weekend I got to see a new city, take a stroll along the beach, check out a couple of art galleries, see the skyline from the corniche, smoke sheesha on a rooftop, eat amazing food, listen to live music, let wind blow through my hair, and soak in a culture that is nearly identical to the Saudi culture, which seems, by contrast, so muted and hidden. And I got to do it all with one of my favorite people in the whole world.

I still can’t believe it happened.

It is becoming more and more obvious with each little step outside that Saudi really is like its own little planet. When compared with the rest of the Gulf, the place is a wreck. Life in Saudi is tolerable, but it’s not until I hop across the border that I realize that it could be so much better. But then again, as crappy as Saudi can be, I’m thankful that it has put me in such close proximity to affordable and fabulous weekend getaways.

So anyway, that’s my amazing weekend story. Thanks for reading. Thanks for making my blog what it is. Thanks to those of you who continue to reach out to me and become my friends. Maybe we can all have some sort of global hangout someday. There are more amazing weekend stories to come, I’m sure, so stay tuned!

How To Be Friends With Your Ex

Things are about to take another drastic change in our lives, and that change has my clocks spinning.

The Mr. has recently accepted a job that will take him to another city. At least for a while. And instead of thanking my lucky stars that my almost ex husband is moving away and I can once again enjoy full time status with my daughter, I am sincerely dreading it. Because I’m about to lose my parenting partner. And ours is an arrangement that has, for the most part, worked so well for the past couple of years that I’m afraid that him not being an every day part of our lives, even temporarily, will throw a huge curve ball at me that I’m totally not prepared to swing at.

So onto the subject of the post. You all know that the Mr. and I haven’t always been friends. In fact, that could have been one of the main reasons our marriage was doomed from the start. We were never friends. We never hung out. We didn’t have friends in common. Our lives were lived almost completely separately outside the home and we never let ourselves or each other exist outside of our own personal, narrowly defined limits of husband and wife.

Our breakup was HARD. On both of us. You all also know that by now. So how is it, many of you wonder and ask me about, that we have gone from tremendous hurt and devastation to being able to not only successfully parent our child together, but to hang out now and then? Honestly, I never realized it was such a remarkable accomplishment until so many people told me so. But thinking back to my own childhood when I was dealing with the tumultuous divorce and heated custody battles between my own parents, I guess it is kind of cool what we’ve been able to do without the interference of a legal system. And with some upcoming changes happening in our lives, I’ve been reflecting on the situation more and more.

So here’s what we’ve done.

1. We ALWAYS try to put the needs of our daughter first.
Since we never had a courthouse showdown that resulted in a “My Time” vs “His Time” situation, we’ve had to work it out ourselves. And we’ve let our daughter decide how to float between our two homes. There has never been a time where he wanted to take her someplace but he couldn’t because it fell on “My Time” and there has never been something that she’s had to miss out with me because it was “His Time”. It might not work this way for everyone, but it totally works for us. And it works because…

2. We’ve waved bye bye to our egos.
Well, mostly. I still have moments where I think he’s absolutely ridiculous and I’m totally right about issues A, B, and C. And he still thinks I’m a know-it-all who never lets an issue go from time to time. But we both, in our own ways, want what is best for our kid. So we both have learned to tuck our tails and compromise. I respect his no sleeping over at friends’ houses rule and he respects my hell no I will not stay at your mother’s house just because you’re going out of town position. And seriously, it has been hard. Especially when my daughter has chosen time with her father over me. Especially when I’ve had so many people in my ear whispering about how terrible of a person they think he is. Which leads me to my next point.

3. I stopped listening to other people.
This is a lesson that would have been useful to have learned during the marriage. Because if anything can mess up a relationship, it’s the opinions of others. I can’t speak for him on this one, but it has been essential to my own personal sanity. This doesn’t mean I don’t have bitch fests with my friends when I need to get things off my chest. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t accept well-intended advice when it is appropriate. But it does mean that people who do not know the ins and outs of our situation, who are not around in my every day life, and whose advice I have not asked for, are politely ignored. Because, like the old saying goes, opinions are like assholes….and you’re all clever enough to figure out the rest.

4. We listen to each other.
If he’s had a rough day or I need some feedback on some basic life stuff. If’ we need to discuss a parenting issue. Or a discipline issue. If I need more time with our daughter. If I need an adults only night with friends. If he needs a night out with the guys to watch the game. I listen. He listens. We make adjustments. We move schedules. We cancel coffee dates and plans to hang out with friends. Why? Please refer back to number one. The kid comes first. And for the kid to be able to come first, we have to take care of ourselves. And that means one of us has to step up so the other can have time to do so. Because alone time is stress free time. And stress free parenting is best.

5. We stay out of each other’s business.
This is so, so important. I’ve seen so many people obsess over the lives of their exes and I’ve seen the damage it does to the psyche. I don’t have the time or energy for it and neither does he. Other than the occasional check-ins with him joking about the difficulty in finding a decent second wife option (and my subsequent offers to post an online ad for him) or me letting him know that I’m totally ready to start dating again, we leave each other’s personal lives alone. I don’t give a crap who he’s hanging out with. I was in the States alone for 3 weeks and he also gave not a single crap. I went to Beirut for a weekend and he asked ZERO questions about it. And for two people who used to be so obsessed with each others’ goings on that trust was virtually non-existent between us, this is a major improvement. We’re not together. His life is none of my business and mine is none of his. It’s beautiful.

6. Family time.
As I mentioned above, this isn’t something I had with my parents when I was younger. It’s only been since I was an adult that my parents could occupy the same space without tension or fighting. It was always hard to be in the middle of and that’s not a burden I ever wanted my daughter to carry. So we hang out together. And we genuinely enjoy each other’s company. We laugh and goof around. We grab dinner or ice cream together. We go to doctor’s appointments. We’ve picked her up from school together. Just today she reminded us that it’s been a while since we’ve shared  family hug, one of our old daily traditions where we all hug each other at the same time. So we need to do more of those. But otherwise, we’ve got a good thing going on.

This whole situation has been one hell of a ride. But it has without a doubt made us both better and more capable parents. And it has made us better friends, which is way more important while raising a kid together than trying to be husband and wife.

So to answer the famous question of  “How do you do it?” the answer is…I just do. I do it because I have to do it. And if I can do it, you certainly can too.

Choosing Happiness

I’m not usually in the practice of sharing emails I receive from people. But I opened my email this week to find the following message:

“I clicked on some of our old emails about trying to get together at the same
time I happened to be on a blog called UNDER THE ABAYA. I thought it was you, but
wasn’t sure because the author of the blog sounded HAPPY!! Don’t get me wrong, I
sincerely hope it’s YOU. But, then someone asked for “your” email & the name didn’t sound
familiar, so I went back to our emails to double-check your name and that wasn’t it.

Just wanted to know if that’s your blog? Is that you? Your gorgeous? What happened?
I have a ton of questions!! Only because last time I read your blog, you were up and down
and miserable, blah, blah, blah. And, I kept thinking, I hope she gets back with the hubby
because it’s OBVIOUS she loves him & he loves her.”

I often look back at old blogs and old pictures of myself and realize how much I have changed. I can see the differences in myself, but most of the people who know me well enough to have been through this transition with me have, for some reason, never acknowledged the changes I’ve been through. So I didn’t realize that they were noticeable to most of the people in my life.

And then someone commented on an Instagram picture asking what had shifted in me. How is it that I am happy? And I had to think long and hard about that, you guys. Because on the other side of this change that I’ve been through, it is not only hard for me to recognize myself at different stages, it is hard to recall how I got here. But I’ve worked it out for you…and for me, should I ever need a reminder.

Firstly, I chose happiness. This doesn’t mean that I woke up one day and instantly became happy. But there was a definite choice that I was not going to allow myself to live a miserable life, no matter what kind of circumstances I’d gotten myself into.

The choice to be happy is not the solution to your problems. It is the goal. Your end point. It is opening the map and circling your destination. And there are a LOT of detours along the way, so be prepared. But if you don’t consciously make the decision to be happy, to decide where you’re going, you’ll never get there.

For me to set out on my journey to happiness, I’ve had to let go of a lot of things. I’ve had to let go of the need to control my circumstances, because there is no such thing as control. I’ve had to let go of the wheel at times and let others do the driving for me. I’ve had to let go of my ego and the need to be right. I’ve had to let go of being a victim and blaming others for my own choices. I’ve had to admit that I don’t know how to get where I’m going. I’ve had to be ok with being lost at times because I have been lost a LOT.

Letting go of the need to control helped me to deal with my anger. If control of a situation doesn’t exist, then there’s no use getting angry over something you can’t change. I was a terribly angry person when I came back to Saudi. I was angry at myself for agreeing to come. I was angry at The Mr. for using my emotional vulnerability to sucker me into it. I was angry at our marriage counselor for telling me I was a bad mother and our daughter would have a better life in Saudi. I was of course angry at the entire country of Saudi Arabia, the greater Arab world, and everyone living in it. I was angry at Islam, and I still am sometimes. I was angry with God. Letting go of anger has been the most difficult bump in the road so far for me. It’s still something I deal with occasionally, still something I’m trying to let go of.

Letting go of the need to be right has opened me up for learning. It’s a powerful thing to admit when you’re wrong of you’ve made a mistake. If I knew earlier in life that opening up about my mistakes and weaknesses would make me a stronger person, I would have boarded that train long ago. It’s ok to mess up. It’s ok to not know it all.

I have leaned on friends and I’ve learned to be weak. I have accepted well-intended, unsolicited advice when its been good for me. I’ve learned to let go of less than beneficial friendships. There are not many people who are allowed in my inner circle and that has created room for deep, meaningful friendships with those I’ve allowed in. I’ve allowed those people, the ones on the inside, to tell me harsh truths about myself and my situation.

I’ve had to learn to be humble, and that has been HARD. But learning to be humble has allowed me to see the world through different eyes. I have learned that everyone has a story. Everyone has been through battles. Everyone has experienced loss and change and devastation they never thought they’d come back from. Everyone is beautiful and remarkable and capable of things they have no idea they’re capable of. Everyone is beautiful. I said it twice because I believe it sincerely.

The most humbling act of all has been choosing acceptance. I’ve chosen to accept my situation for exactly what it is. The good and the not so good. That doesn’t mean that I don’t crave for change sometimes, particularly in the man in my bed department, but my life is what it is. And that’s ok with me.

I don’t want to run away anymore. Of course there are days when I curse this place and all who inhabit it, but my life is here now. I’m no longer resisting it. I live here, I’m making it work, and I am happy. Extremely happy. I am happier now, right here in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, than I have ever been in my life. My life is not perfect, but it is great. And I don’t think it would have ever been this way if I hadn’t chosen to allow it to be.

Today, right now, decide that you will be happy. Don’t waste any more of your time being miserable. You don’t have to know how you will get to Happy, but you need to decide that it’s where you’re heading.

 

Beirut

Something happened to me this weekend. I wanted to come home and upload a hundred pictures and tell you all every detail about my trip to Beirut. But I can’t, because something happened to me, and whatever it is I want to keep it to myself.

I keep staring at pictures of myself wondering who this person is that I’m looking at. I sincerely don’t recognize her. She’s happy and I swear you can practically see love oozing out of her skin. I don’t know her well enough to introduce you to her yet. So I’m keeping her between me and the people I love the most. Because frankly I’m afraid to scare her off.

Beirut was incredible, I can tell you that much. The city is intoxicatingly beautiful  and chaotic and some how fast and slow at once. I fell in love with it at first sight. Its quirky neighborhoods, the mix of old and new, the people who make life move at their own pace. Old men sitting on plastic chairs on rickety balconies or in front of old storefronts. The chatty taxi drivers…even the ones who try to rip you off. Breakfast by the sea, getting lost for hours while wandering through skinny streets. Fishermen with backs permanently bronzed by decades in the sun. Bracing myself as waves rush toward me, holding tightly, hiding my face at the last moment because I’m a chicken. Mosques and churches singing praises to God through prayer and music…the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. Overwhelming. Sunsets and cocktails and the best shawarma I’ve ever tasted. I’m still trying to catch my breath. And that’s all I’m telling you.

Here are a few pictures to enjoy, and don’t forget to check the Facebook page for a couple videos.

Sea, mountains, city. Absolutely breathtaking.

Sea, mountains, city. Absolutely breathtaking.

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Old mosque, new mosque. And right next to this garden...lots of military guys holding serious looking automatic weapons.

Old mosque, new mosque. And right next to this garden…lots of military guys holding serious looking automatic weapons.

Mosque, church, mosque.

Mosque, church, mosque.

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The indescribably beautiful St. George Cathedral

The indescribably beautiful St. George Cathedral

Roman bath ruins and the famous Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque

Roman bath ruins and the famous Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque

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The outside view of the St. George Cathedral

Church right next to the Al-Amin mosque, also beautiful, can't remember the name.

Church right next to the Al-Amin mosque, also beautiful, can’t remember the name.

Martyr's Square

Martyr’s Square

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Got in trouble after taking this because apparently that’s a police station on the left.

And once again, the sea <3

And once again, the sea <3