Sufism and Motherhood: To the Walrusnut!

The Prophet Muhammad (s.) once said that “Paradise lies at the foot of the mother”.
When I gaze down, mostly I see at my feet cake crumbs, bits of Ancient Egyptian Playmobil, ripped up paper, pens without lids, and the occasional puddle for which I shall not be held accountable.
I see his point, though. After having a few days in a row of luxurious kid-free time, in which I slept way past 8am, performed music, went on spontaneous wanders through London with friends and had uninterrupted conversations, it is all the clearer to me how much of a grind on the ego it is to spend all day every day with your own kids.
My irritability crept in after about 24 hours. I was unnerved by how fast my bachelorette turn had diminished my tolerance for screeching, spats, brat-outs over toys and their ilk. I could hear myself using that exasperated tone of voice that I would so hate to hear from anyone else. Does this sound familiar? “All this mess needs to be cleared up in five minutes or the My Little Pony gets given away. Come on, I want to see some movement here! Chop chop!”
However, when I really scrutinise my flashpoints, I recognise that they fell into four general categories:
1) Mess. Lego all over the floor. Rice, ditto. Pens left unlidded (see above). Generally, things not being in the place they should be.
2) Screeching. Theirs usually provokes mine, thus forming a vicious cycle.
3) Brat-outs, spoilt behaviour, over food, spoons, plates, toys…any action indicating that things mean more than people. Really gets my goat.
4) Fighting, hitting, bruising, throwing things (especially when it’s at my head). Often involves all of the above.
Essentially, all this is boils down to something happening that I don’t want to be happening.
This in no way means that it should not, in fact, be happening. I’m sure there is some psychologist out there who has definitive proof that children need to screech, leave Lego all over the floor, brutalise their siblings or freak out because the plate is the wrong shade of green as it’s essential to their brain development. Who am I to argue?
Now, the process of trying to simultaneously manage a household, not let your child die from eating poison berries, and stay remotely sane is a serious grind on your ego. Oh, the ego. That sumptuously curved, glossy-haired chick you see in the blurry periphery of a photo only to discover she is a warted frog with prickles all over its back that lives permanently in your spleen.
Our egos get a serious jolt when we have a baby. All our ideas about ourselves – so tenderly nurtured throughout our teenage and college years, attested to by thousands of photos at various stages of our well-staged lives – is thrown into the gutter, to be replaced by a shaky-legged, stretch-marked, tearful dairy cow who doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing.

And then heaven sends us one last chance to patch up our relationship to our old selves – Facebook! Here we can post selfies that have been Photoshopped to remove the black bags under eyes, wrinkles, grey hairs and look of raving desperation in our eyes.

Of course, there are lots of genuine benefits. (That’s the addict in me talking.) We can reconnect with old friends, send out requests for second-hand buggies, read endless articles about health, education, psychology, world politics and anything else that will fill us with fearful concern for our new baby’s future. And whereas the real world is full of dangerous, nasty people who sneer and criticise, Facebook language is almost always interspersed with hearts, emoticons, lols and lots of loves. So much emotion in so few characters.

In fact, we mums seem to spend an awful lot of time on FB. Quite a few mothers I have met who dash off to check their profile while the kids aren’t looking, race to the computer once the kids are in bed to post pics from that day, whose phones beep notifications which they check whilst boiling pasta.

I’ll save the platitudes about how none of this was necessary twenty years ago, when we still lived in communities and we had mums to tell us what to do about mastitis instead of Mumsnet, etc. etc…only, after reading this article about social media and narcissism, I can’t ignore the link between my FB use and my outbreaks of irritability any longer. Among the symptoms of narcissism – which were linked to excessive social media – along with believing oneself to be above the rules, hyperchondria and inability to accept criticism, was being quick to anger.

Oh dear. Not only is it a prerequisite to using social media, it’s actually making me MORE narcissistic. I was much calmer with my kids after reading that. Can’t have them thinking I’m a narcissist or something.

On a completely different spectrum of motherkind, the kind of mum whose example is passed around by Sufi-type women is the sort that has a dozen children, takes in waifs and strays too, teaches literacy and ethical values with compassion and patience, and reads Surat al-Baqarah in her spare time.

I’m not sure these women have ever existed. If they still do, I wonder if they don’t freak out when the kids are asleep and turn into vicious trolls, leaving scathing remarks on every YouTube video ever to be left open to comments.

And yet you do meet women who, eight or so children down the line, despite various health issues concomitant to those births, shrug off trouble quite well. Perhaps it’s because they’ve borne their fair share of it and have learned not to sweat the small stuff – or, indeed, any stuff. They have stories that would make your eyes pop out, or at the very least treasure your washing machine.

The allure of websites like Facebook (and to some extent WordPress, though I don’t find nearly so much time to write here) is that they present a window of opportunity to fly out of the mundane, hamster wheel existence in which your image means about as much as a raisin squashed into a sheepskin rug, and to relive, in some small measure, the lives we had before, when the world was a mirror of what people thought of us.

The thing is that in between issues 1), 2), 3) and 4) above, there are a whole host of moments spent with children that are riproaring fun without that old vampire bat, the ego, getting its feed.

Silly games or made-up words – just today we had walrusnuts, nasalnuts and toilet trees – provoke laughter that blocks the chattering mind for a few seconds at a time. Hugs do the same in a golden, peachy kind of way. Racing breathlessly through a puddly park. Painting, cutting random shapes out of paper, mucking around with clay, anything that gets you engrossed like them and not concerned with ensuring that they fulfil orders (unless you have a hard time letting go of order – in which case some messy paint is probably just the ticket).

The reason those moments are precious is because you were totally present, without the veil of your self-consciousness clouding the view. Once you’re there you access that limitless space in which imagination, innocence, and spiritual awareness become realities again. You can let go of the inner fascist and feel part of the infinite, beautiful harmony that is always in Divine hands.

Apart from all that, who wants to be remembered as that woman who cooked dinner and spent the rest of the time staring at a screen?

There’s always going to be more interesting stuff out there. It seems to me the only way to make any sense of it is to see what in here first.

The Gospel According to Mum and Dad

Lately, I have been pondering the best ways to parent.*

(*This is a complete lie. I am constantly worrying about it. I am frankly obsessed.)

The simplest advice I have heard so far, apparently given by members of the Jerrahi Sufi order from Turkey, is that the only things you can offer your child are a good name, good food, and a good example.

Names, check. Caveboy’s main name is Shamsudeen (Shamsie for short) – having Rumi’s spiritual master and poetic muse as a namesake can’t be bad. Rosa Nour is for her part endowed with hints of exquisiteness, resilience, Divine light… (let’s ignore the thorns).

Food, check, more or less. No deep-fried Mars bars on our menus at least.

Example…ah, now that’s a different story. It makes sense, of course. How many times have we heard the hackneyed phrase that ‘kids are like sponges’? They don’t learn how to live in the world from a how-to manual, that’s for certain. (Now that would be a book worth its weight in gold!) We parents are their blueprints, their paradigms, the pioneers in every habit and prejudice and turn of phrase. The gospel according to Mum and Dad is, without a doubt, the main reason people seek out therapy of one sort or another. Recognising the dictums your parents imprinted on you as a child as the ‘tape’ you run when in need of authoritative advice, and not your own, proven experiences, will (so the thinking goes) show that tape up as the cold, impersonal celluloid that it really is.

So, now that we’ve neatly wrapped up all our complexes inherited to us by our forefathers (hey, ancestors don’t get off any lighter! With the wonders of modern genetics they are brought right back, like a scientifically-endorsed psychic hotline!) we can move on to our children. And the complexes we will inevitably give them, like it or no.

For those interested in some great advice on how to parent with compassion and respect, check out this very thoughtful blog post on The Parenting Pathway. Alternative, Google ‘good parenting’ and spend the next fourteen years reading all the hits, by which time your kids will have grown up and will already be seeing a psychologist for your absenteeism.

Personally, I got stuck on the very first of Carrie’s basic steps for dealing with gentle discipline: getting the rest and time you need to be a centred, calm, balanced individual, capable of giving your children the best of yourself. If only this blog post were a personal promise to come to your house, give you a footrub, put your kids in the bath, make you dinner, put on a funny film and tell you you’re great, all wrapped up in one giant, sisterly hug. When I have one child who wakes up almost every hour, despite all my ‘good’ techniques (not letting her fall asleep on the breast, yadda yadda yadda) and another child who wakes up most nights several times to for various baffling reasons, my eyes will barely stay open long enough to read one paragraph of all that good advice.

(I have been trying to come up with jokes to help me laugh it off: ‘I’m so tired I went to visit my granny, in advanced stages of dementia, and she told me I was rambling.’ ‘I’m so tired I picked up my handbag and it miaowed.’ ‘I’m so tired I can’t even be bothered to work out a punchline for this joke.’)

In all of my reading to date, even the wonderfully helpful No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley, nobody has yet offered a cure for the mind-curdling exhaustion that looking after small children entails. It stands there, blithely ignoring all the tips and suggestions that concerned friends throw at it, like an obelisk in a hurricane.

I have come to the conclusion that after reading all of the advice, trawling all the forums, driving yourself bonkers trying to figure it all out, the only approach that does not involve a perpetual sense of disappointment in oneself is that of accepting it. The whole kit and caboodle: crotchety behaviour, imperfect affection, even wonky teeth and a predisposition to keeping pet newts. Run headlong towards your crummy, substandard parent-self and just give it the most enormous, loving, honest hug imaginable.

And if that is the conclusion offered to me in my chronically sleep-deprived state, then I believe that is in fact the point of it all. Bag all the hot tips, guys. Don’t even try putting money in the mental meter. Bewilderment is, as the Sufis say, the only way to witness to Divine Reality; ‘tear down the house to find the treasure buried beneath.’ It’s all in the best hands you could possibly imagine.

Now go to bed!