Some of you may be familiar with the time honored curse: “May you grow up to have a child exactly like you…”? I know, no one is exactly alike, but the point is, some of what we put our parents through will likely be revisited upon us if/when we become parents. And so it is, I have joked with my children time and again, “I wonder where you got THAT from?”
Of my five children the one most like me is my middle daughter. Of course from my perspective her version is multiplied exponentially. Take her vegetarian beginnings. When she was 10 years and 10 months old she made the pronouncement that she would no longer eat slaughtered animals. As she was too young to have any kitchen responsibilities besides a weekly dish-washing assignment along with her siblings, I begged her father to intervene on my behalf. He managed to get her to agree to wait until she was older. 2 months later, she had a birthday. Now she was older. She has been a vegetarian ever since!
She would have you think my opposition was due to my poor choices regarding food consumption, in relation to which her choices are superior. Actually, it was simply that this, like other of her major life transitions, did not include in any way a change in the meal preparations in our house hold. I was solely responsible for that. So providing for her along with her meat eating siblings, I became a short order cook expected to cater to every one’s food choice! At least when I announced to my mother I was a vegetarian, I was a University student living in another state, preparing my own food.
Fast forward only a few short years from the food-choice event and she hit serious teen years characterized by crisis after crisis. My description: she decided to take a trip to hell and take me with her. There are far too many to details and I respect her privacy, but I do remember thinking: Who is this person holding so tenaciously to her own opinions on everything? Who is this young woman who never completes institutional requirements except by her own terms? Does she have to hold off for her own understanding of every scenario, suspicious of mainstream opinions (sometimes including mine) at every turn?
There was often no common ground; no means to work towards peaceful coexistence; and no end in sight. Yet, the years passed. Now as a mom, a wife, and a partner, responsible for her own household and the happiness of others therein, she is still head-strong, opinionated, independent, focused and forceful. We no longer live together but absence makes the heart grow fonder, I guess. She lives an alternative life away from the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area. I note with great pleasure that she is happy in her surroundings. I once told her, it may take time to find people you are comfortable with as friends, family and community, but when you do it will make a world of difference to you. So hold on to your own opinions, your world view, your trajectory, until that happens. Do not give in to the mainstream, just because it is prevalent.
I joined her in her semi-rural community to await the birth of her second child in an at-home birth. I noticed everywhere we went she was embraced by people who knew her and wanted to interact with her. She has been there 3 years and I thought: why, she’s like the mayor!
A beautiful baby boy was born on a Sunday morning after a short intense labor. It was a bit chaotic for me, but I was happy to be there to assist when she asked and to witness the amazing moment when a new life, still tied by his the cord to his mother, was placed in her arms and she said softly to him, “I love you…”
A few hours after the delivery the midwife returned to say she had noticed something at the time of birth and after further research recommended taking the baby to the hospital for observation. This led to immediately being transferred to the closest larger city neo-natal intensive care, where they ran a series of test over the next five days. Still, after five days he was allowed to go home with his mom and dad. My daughter put the unpleasant hospital experience behind her.
A week later he stopped breathing.
She rushed him back to the nearest hospital administering mouth to mouth in the back of the car. This led to a second neo-natal intensive care unit in the next largest city and eventually an operation for a prolapsed airway.
As I left the first of several visits to her and my grandson in this other hospital, I thought about her casual description about giving mouth to mouth an infant in the back seat of the car. When the full picture hit me, I leaned for support on my car in the parking garage. The way she said it sounded like, “Well, you just do what needs to be done…”
The way I saw it was: like a tunnel, running straight back through every minute of her strong willed, stand-your-ground, resistant tenacity from days of her youth. Turns out, this was exactly the tenacity needed to save the life of this tiny being as he struggled unable to breathe.
I stand in awe to have made this journey with her. Yet I am humbled by this simple reminder: you never know what good might come out of a thing no matter how horrible it seemed at one time.
I am grateful to welcome her son, Bashir Sage, from under her heart into her capable arms. May your life be long and joyous!
amina wadud is Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, now traveling the world over seeking answers to the questions that move many of us through our lives. Author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad, she will blog on her life journey and anything that moves her about Islam, gender and justice, especially as these intersect with the rest of the universe.