With and without.

Not too long ago, I found myself walking through the isles at Michaels’ circling around the store looking for the woodburning tool I was eyeing for months. I picked it up with hesitation, questioning if I this would be just another tool collecting dust at the back of my craft closet after a few tries.

I put it back on the shelf and circled the store again to find myself right back at the same isle, but this time with a firm resolve to get said woodburning tool. I didn’t suddenly have the extra funds to get it, but rather, my gut was telling me this tool would help me create the art I’ve wanted to try my hand at, and that enough was worth it. And there went the best $26.70 I spent that month.

My daughter loves when I open a new package, especially when I remember to include a treat for her in my shopping trips. This time, she got a stamp to play with while I plugged in my new tool. I collected scraps of wood from our unfinished basement and itty-bitty keychains to practice woodburning (otherwise known as pyrography, which sounds way cooler). Instinctively, my first attempt led me to burning my daughters’ name into a slice of wood, just as the memory of her home-birth will always be burned in my heart and mind. I practiced pressing the tip with varying pressure until I got the curves and etching just right. The smell of burning wood made me feel warm even though the room was cold. There, in that space, I was the kind of Asma I love being. When I am with my creativity…

I am open.

I am trusting.

I let my intuition guide me.

I am generous and giving, as I think of ways to share my new art with those I love.

I see the good.

I see possibilities.

I struggle, go back, persist, pour myself in, and try again.

I am hopeful.

I can imagine a new reality before it’s real.

I stay open to a sense of wonder and amazement.

I get to feel proud of myself and excited to make what wasn’t there before.

I feel most human.

Without my creativity, I’m missing a piece of my core. I am searching, at odds, or stuck consuming. It’s only after a few days in this space when I realize I must create to feel alive.

My Artists’ Date

I walked through the quietest isle in the entire Walmart in our small town as I pursued a selection of mini fabric bundles and rolls of muslin. My daughter Waliya was home and as strange as it felt, I was not pressed for time. I walked slowly, deliberating prints and complementary patterns. I felt the fabric, not knowing what I was feeling for since my only use for sewing machine in previous years was for hemming extra long abayas to fit my petite height. What I planned to make from striped and dotted cotton in lovely neutral colours, I wasn’t sure, but I simply new I wanted to sew something.

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On the drive home, I remembered my sister Ayesha taking sewing lessons from a local aunty in our neighborhood when we were growing up. She attended the classes begrudgingly but it was a practical activity and my mom loved the idea of her daughters’ learning to sew. I, on the other hand spent far too much time after school worried about projects and club meetings and AP exams, so I never had the privilege of learning to sew at a young age.

Only now in my 30s am I getting to experience the joy of sewing. From mini zip pouches to wall calendars to a DIY dress made out of a pattern I traced on $ store kraft paper, each project gives me a sense of utility I can’t find through other means. Had it not been for a long and soulful winter, I wouldn’t have found myself in the self-help isle at my library reading books by Julia Cameron. I spent most every evening after Maghrib in December, sitting cross-legged on my living room floor atop the red Persian rug my father gifted us, reading and trying to find my interests again. On one of these cold nights, I came across the concept of the “Artists’ Date”.

“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic”– think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration.”

— Julia Cameron

This idea made me feel instantly in contact with my intuition. I thought about the places my soul feels most happy on a creative level. Our local farmers’ market came to mind, bustling with families, children wearing sunglasses, fresh produce, and an assortment of goodies like beeswax candles from our mennonite communities up north. I thought about my favourite isles at local shops and boutiques, and small towns with hole-in-the wall apothecaries. For me, these places sparked the idea of an “Artists Date”. I hadn’t thought of Walmart at all, but in the thick of winter, I didn’t have as many options, so there I was, picking out fabric bundles that brought me more joy than I can explain as I sewed each zip pouch for my daughter in hopes she’d never lose a hair-tie again (who am I kidding?).

My Artists’ dates have included going to book stores to smell candles I don’t intend on buying but love seeing. There’s something about the lighting and placement of everything at Indigo that makes me smile. I’ve also gone to Bulk Barn on a whim, to randomly sample various spices and blends I’ve never tried before. Turns out, I love caraway seeds on everything, and Nori Furikaki is my favourite topping on fried eggs. I also can’t help but pop into my local marketplace attached to the most Canadian farm I’ve ever seen, just so to smell the baked goods and take in the lovely decor and cookbooks up for display. Doing this simple practice helps me see and experience new ways of expressing creativity, even if I only manage to squeeze them in every now and then. The idea is to go in with the intention to be open and ready to feel inspired.

Garage visits and holding on.

With a warm tumbler brimming with coffee in my hand each time, I’ve looked forward to every meetup with my two closest friends. I am never not available when I get the text, “Meetup at (insert location) at 11?” from either of my twin friends.

I’ve always shied away from making friends too quickly. There’s a part of me that wants to keep myself hidden and a part that wants to be deeply known. The former often makes me feel most protected. Perhaps its because I have a subconscious fear of not being all that I want to appear I am (ugh, imposter syndrome). Or, I could just pin it on my introversion. Either way, I’ve noticed certain elements that make my friendship with my twin sisters so special.

Our friendship unfolded in a rhythmic way over several experiences. Since the pandemic began, we’d meet in local parks, overhearing teenage chatter, going on about motherhood and speculating about when our children will feel a sense of normal again. They listened, and I listened. We’ve laughed and sighed, and cried together through our monthly meetups, keeping ourselves hopeful in the ultimate plans we don’t understand.

Through the months, we’d hike through conservation parks, forcing ourselves to forget housework for a few hours, taking in the view from the highest cliffs around us. We’d grab burritos and eat on a patch of grass like we were in high school.

On warmer days, we made it out to Toronto for a beachside picnic with our families. We gathered around, a few feet apart, sharing snacks and stories trying to fill the voids we knew were awaiting as soon as the experience was over.

Autumn invited us to to the trails where we’d walk between lunch, contemplating work-life balance, taking care of elderly parents, and hopes for our children.

Even in frigid weather, we met up on local benches to chat about our favourite books, what we’re missing, watching, baking, and struggling with. With these two special friends, I felt myself willing to share the harder parts of myself and my life. With a full heart, I noticed they were still there.

We’d meet in our garages with mini-space heaters in -12 degrees. The conversations blanketed us with the warmth and connection we so deeply craved. With bubbling excitement for having company, I’d set up a warm tea kettle and my favourite chocolate-covered pretzals, chatting and munching together, wishing for time to stop.

These few hours of friendship every month have sustained so much of my (limited) social life during this pandemic and I can say unequivocally, I would not have developed such deep friendships after so long, had it not been for these past 14 months.

Alhumdulillah, for honest friendship.

Warm stuffies.

“Mama, I’m gwateful for you,” she says, holding my arms as she looks up at me with her big brown eyes. If only I remembered this moment and how it filled my heart before snapping at her for losing my keepsake earring the next day. Of course, the thoughts that help me make better choices always come at night, when she’s fast asleep and when I’m feeling the kind of guilt that keeps me awake till 2 in the morning. I sigh as I pull down my eye mask, putting it over my eyes as a comforting insulation between me and all things difficult. I pray and ask Allah to help me do better tomorrow. I commit to doing better tomorrow, even if it means sticking post-it notes in places where I tend to lose my patience.

“Create a relaxed environment.” This one will be in our homeschool room. “Slow down the morning routine.” This needs to be right next to my bed. “Let her eat without commenting.” Put this right next to the dinner table.

Even if we still have friction tomorrow, I feel armed and ready with my post-it note plan to help us have a better day.

As I was praying dhuhr a few days ago, I felt myself sinking into thoughts about whether I was doing “enough”. Am I teaching my little daughter everything I need to? Will she thrive as she grows or will she have a lot of unlearning to do because of my mistakes? Will her childhood memories be overwhelmingly positive or less so? Will she know enough about her Creator to turn to Him out of love and awe in any stage of her life?

As I stood in salah, wondering what “enough” looks like, I overheard her playing gently with her stuffies, putting them in one-by-one into her cardboard “car”, asking each stuffy if he/she felt comfortable in their pretend carseats. She prayed and read the travel du’a for her stuffies just as we always recite when we’re buckling up in the car. She even went upstairs to grab an extra blanket to keep her stuffies warm as she got ready to pull them through the living room on her pretend drive to school.

In this simple moment of play, I felt her her concern for others’ well-being, even if they were stuffies. I felt her spiritual self-guided connection with her Creator. I heard her mimic the habits I’ve wanted to instil in her. I saw how she adds warmth and love in everything she does.

It was as if Allah was showing me the glowing rays of my broken efforts in this moment. All I can do is put in my honest effort, and leave the rest to the One who created her and guides her just as He guides me. In this moment, I was seeing what enough looks like and perhaps this view appears when least expect it.

Even on days when my sense of “being enough” is shaken, I want to cling to this feeling and remind myself to look for the rays that pour through the clouds, showing me the glow emanating from pieces of my struggle, sustained by His help.

I knew.

I knew it the moment you asked to hold my hand on our wedding day, that my heart would be safe and honoured inside yours.

I knew when you wrote me a love letter, the kind with hand-dyed paper, rolled into a scroll and tied with a bow, that you understood my deepest love language.

I knew when you reassured me we’d visit my parents and family the second this is all over, that you could sense my struggling heart aching to be here and there.

I knew when you started turning off the heating on my side of the car, that you could anticipate my aggravation and love me for my (many) quirks.

I knew when you began reading a hadith with us after Maghrib as a family, that you were striving to bring the best of Prophetic guidance into our home.

I knew when you indulged me every time I started talking about personality types and enneagrams, that I could share my interests with excitement.

I knew when you cheered me on as I launched my first business, that my goals mattered to you as much as they did to me.

I knew when you supported me with your love and confidence when I felt at my weakest in my 3rd trimester, that I could trust every ounce of your love.

I knew when you consoled me on a low day, quietly praying and crying in my closet, that my feelings were not a burden for you.

I knew when you reminded me of Allahs’ words, His mercy, His tests, and His reward, that nothing would be too difficult to face with my hand in yours.

__

For my loving husband, Mehdi.

One-sided.

You were always a priority for me. Your blossoming blooms welcomed me every time I saw you. I even went out of my way to see you between clients because you were my escape.

You gave me the gift of exploring without even leaving my city – I could go from India to Italy within just a few steps in your frozen isle, and treat myself to a mini-coffee sample as a soothing balm for my all my woes. You knew just what I needed. In return, I made sure everyone I loved got a chance to taste your maple walnut blondies when they came around in September. You made me believe in the impossible – You made me start to love pumpkin-flavoured just-about-everything. You introduced me to cheeses I never knew I was missing out on. You showed me healthy alternatives for the crunchy snacks I relied on after a long day of social-working. I thought you did all this because you cared about me. I really fell for you harder than you’ll ever know.

After moving to Canada, I was almost certain you’d be there waiting for me. How could you not, after all we’d been through? I was sure you were coming with me. I had packed all of my favourites you’d introduced me to over the years into a handy snack bag to my share with my husband on our first road trip after marriage. It was only after I finished my last bar of your 30% Whole Hazelnut Swiss Chocolate with the orange packaging when I realized you didn’t make it up here with me to Canada. In fact, you were nowhere near my vicinity in the entire country. How could it be?!

Frantically, I opened my laptop, searching for answers, an address, a phone number, anyone who could help.

I found nothing.

At least, not in Canada.

I didn’t give up. I knew there had to be a way. Having been 6 weeks into my first pregnancy and in dire need of my cherished goodies, I searched every corner of your website until my eyes felt weary.

And that’s when I saw it.

“Request a TJs in my City”

With renewed confidence, I started emailing you.

“Hi, I’m a huge fan and I just can’t believe there is no Trader Joe’s in Ontario, Canada. Could you kindly consider bringing a TJs up here? Thanks!!!”

“Phew, that was easy,” I thought.

I waited for anything other than an automated response. I sent you an email every week for almost a third of my pregnancy. Did I mention you were a priority for me?

I lost hope after I realized this entire bond was one-sided. I dreamed about our next reunion to cheer myself up, knowing you’d be there across the border even if you couldn’t come along with me. I never thought I could be angry with you even after this realization, until…

I saw the unthinkable.

I was looking at my old TJ packages I had in my pantry one afternoon, when I noticed something peculiar on my keepsake peppermint tin.

“PRODUCT OF CANADA” ?!?

How could you come from here and not be here? I was all the more confused, and hurt! It almost felt like a joke! Talk about salt in the wounds.

And that’s when I had to give up all most of my hope. Reality struck me hard. Perhaps, I would never have a friendly neighbourhood TJ in my new Canadian city.

I wouldn’t experience the genuine customer service skills only TJ cashiers had, with their cheery Hawaiian shirts.

I wouldn’t be welcomed into my favourite store with a fresh Fearless Flyer or an array of blooms, matching perfectly with my taste.

I wouldn’t get to sip the mini-coffee samples, or try the TJ brand of frozen [insert international dish] or walk out of the store with an extra skip in my step to take on my day.

Instead, I’d wait to be reunited only once or twice a year,

Because it was always one-sided.

This was fun to write! I don’t consider myself a “fun” writer but I really enjoyed trying something new!

Mixed.

“Melange” – a French word I see every week when I pull out my colossal bag of frozen mixed berries to make a smoothie. It’s amazing how many French words you can pick up just by reading labels in Canada. I scoop out a spoon of blue and red berries with bits of frozen ice and layer them into my blender with yogurt, OJ, and honey. The sudden buzz swirls the mix into a medley of purple hues and I see my favourite colour emerge as I pour the smoothie in my daughters’ favourite glass.

I pause as I look at the colour. There I am.

When motherhood shook my world, I was almost sure I was completely changed forever. But my love for purple has never changed. From the lavender essence always by my bedside, the eggplant-coloured hijab I wear on special occasions, to the hints of purple peppered throughout my wardrobe and planner doodles, I manage to add a little purple wherever I go.

Purple is as mixed up as I often feel – jumping between languages, roles, and hobbies. As much as I love wearing multiple hats for the novelty it brings into my life, I sometimes wonder how far deep my own voice is buried.

Growing up, I’d speak Urdu at home and English at school. I became proficient at becoming who I needed to be for the setting I was in. Class presentation? Perfect English or Spanish, just as was expected to get the A. At a family dinner? Enough Urdu to say the right things. Qur’an class? Arabic pronunciation that made other parents ask if I could help their younger kids learn to read. But which language, which persona, is truly mine? I wonder.

I know my voice is there. I don’t need to search anywhere but inward to find it. It has always been a part of me and although I feel like I’m losing grip of a rope connecting me to my core, I feel the spark in me to pull myself up with greater resolve than even before my precious daughter entered my world. The purple part of me has its own beauty, and I am convinced that writing with my heart again is the only way to bring out the hues and shades in my story that no one else can write except me, inshaAllah.

All the hats.

“Mama, can we play the lion hunt game?” My daughter loves when we pretend to be little lions chasing each other through the house, and I mostly enjoy it too, except the request often comes when I’m cooking with several stove-tops running and pressed for time or taking a mini-break.

“Of course jaani, in just a sec.”

After a fun game of lion hunting, I switch modes and remind her for the umpteenth time to wear her apron for dinner to keep her clothes clean, tie her hair back, and say her du’a for eating. She protests the apron each time but manages to get it on, shifting it to the side so it’s not really on.

“Don’t fight it,” I tell myself. 

Over dinner, we laugh about the day and share a lesson we learned in our morning homeschooling class and just as I’m starting to speak in English, I catch myself and switch to Urdu. I’m reminded of how much I want my daughter to learn the language I spoke growing up to preserve that part of our family identity. 

The pressure to be all the things has never felt so heavy. 

I go from being a playmate, teacher, rule-setting mama, creative explorer, to family historian, all within the span of a day.

Am I doing enough? Will she have the right foundations in her early years to live a purposeful and God-conscious life? 

I can’t be sure of anything but I do know that Allah is with me, and I am showing up every day, asking Allah for His help and despite falling short, I am fiercely committed to giving my best. 
So for now, I’ll wear the different hats, and stretch myself remembering each season of life is filled with ease and with minor doses of hardship, and I know that when it passes, I will miss it with every ounce of my being.

Lines upon lines of people prepping for potential quarantine at local stores. Checking the stats every few moments. Panic and concern.

In times of fitan, I remind myself of what I learned in a class some years back at PIC – increase ‘ibadah and avoid the mass obsession of keeping up with the news by the minute (just for the sake of it) in times of fitan. Stick to your home and be vigilant of your foundational duties to Allah (swa). Losing that means losing everything.

March Musings

Bismillah…

When I enter into Seekers, there is a sense of order and serenity that evokes a hope for my own betterment. I love the simple reminders about the foundations .. clear your intentions, eat less, know Allah is watching, be committed to the path, work on clearing the excess in your life. It’s a beautiful and uplifting space. They organize the coffee part with ease and simplicity each time. I also really appreciate their zero waste reminders and efforts. Waliya has gotten quite comfortable there since she sees Hannah and takes turns running from Mehdi and I.

I started learning how to swim. WOW. Huge step outside of my comfort zone and I’m so happy. I’ve had only a handful of classes so far but it feels great knowing I’m making progress and inshaAllah will be able to fully swim soon if I keep at it. The last time I was in the water was in Dominican and I felt totally within my element even though I couldn’t swim. There’s forest people, beach or mountain people, and one other I can’t remember. Even though I love water, I think I’m overall more of a forest person. Kind of like the Hobbit. Yea, definitely like the Hobbit. Loved that movie when I watched it with Ayesha and Aminah years ago.

I’m reading Wild + Free and have a book club coming up for Indian Horse. Great reads. I always gravitate to non-fiction but love that my book club keeps me on my toes with reading interesting titles I wouldn’t pick up on my own.

I’ve been aching to go back to see my parents and sisters but trying not to verbalize it too much. I know Waliya and I will go soon inshaAllah but it’s tough to decide when given all that’s happening with travel and all. One of the best reminders Sh. Faraz shared this past Sunday was to ask ourselves .. “Where am I? And what does Allah want to see from me where He has placed me?”..

I overthink everything. There are so many people on my long list of amazing people .. family members all over the world, beautiful friends I’ve met and knew who I want to reach out to but I struggle with it a lot .. Sometimes I just want to call one of my family members from Pakistan or an old friend just to chat but I feel like I have to go through 481309481 formalities before I can get to what I loved most about our connection. Have to get over my own blockers.

Loving enneagrams lately .. almost as much as I loved psychopathology class lol. I’ve pretty much typed all my close ones and done so pretty accurately. I even talk like an annoying enneagram expert at home and say things like “I’m leaning more towards my 3 so you can expect I’ll be..” haha.

I need a new skincare routine. Or at least one that’s consistent. I don’t think I ever did or can do anything consistently. I make my chai or coffee a different way every single time. I realized I have rhythms but I’m not huge on schedules.

I had a mini panic at the meat store yesterday. I never ever ever go to the meat store, but I figured I should get some meats to prep that I should’ve done Sunday but we were busy. So I get there, I walk around the store like 6 times looking at everything, trying to avoid the meat section. Two people cut me after I kind of looked like I was in line, but I was actually looking in a totally different direction. I got up to the counter, almost at my turn, all while fidgeting with my little post-it note that had my order written on it till it almost ripped. I saw the faces of the uncles and they seemed nice but I literally froze and went mute. Alhumdulillah there was still one person ahead of me .. in my head I said “Umm, yea no .. can’t do this today.”  So I just decided to call it a day and go home .. heading out I messaged Mehdi “Having a panic, can’t do the meat order” lol and of course he smiled and said he’d get it on the way home and to just relax. Phew.

This was fun. Now I’m gonna have cereal (this habit hasn’t changed since 2006) and maybe watch Murdoch Mysteries. :)

-Fi Amanillah-