Who Is My Friend?

Drama Mama

I don’t have an answer for you but I do have our own journey to share:

When Beta was three or four years old, we were in the throes of diagnoses and delays and despair and du’as and the desperate desire to “FIX MY SON SOMEHOW”. His having friends was something I thought about quite often. Or to put it more accurately NOT having friends. With his particular temperament (loner, verbally delayed, obsessive fixations, overly controlling ways of playing), I was convinced that my son would never make, have or sustain friends and friendships. It killed me. It felt so achingly lonely, such a visible failure from what it means to be a happy child with a golden, joyful mainstream childhood.

In the early days, every time we were in a public space, I would watch…sometimes wistfully, sometimes jealously, sometimes, even (unfairly) downright angrily, at all the other kids playing together. When will he be able to join in? Ever? I would think sadly. Do these moms know how lucky they are that their kids know how to interact … this skill that they must take so for granted? Why can none of these self-absorbed brats and their dumb moms see this sweet little boy sitting by himself in the sand?? Would it kill them to come over and play beside him?! I would rage inside myself, nonsensically, with all the pitiful self-righteousness that only a heartbroken mother can carry. It was particularly bad on days when I saw Beta, in his awkward, unsure way, try to reach out to the other kids. To see him then being ignored, rejected, misunderstood or worst of all, criticized, was painful. Ya Allah, will my child ever be happy?!! Even my duas were accusing and hopeless.

In a year or so, with the passage of time, this anger and frustration turned into the literal and physical turning of the back. If they, whoever they were, didn’t want Beta, well guess what, Beta didn’t want them either. Playgrounds and libraries became solitary experiences. Where previously he had sat alone but facing the crowd, occasionally looking up at them, the wheels visibly turning in his head as he seemed to try and figure out how to join his peers, now he sat back turned. The peer play went on behind him and he was, for all apparent purposes, completely oblivious, lost in his own world. This stage was easier and harder. Easier because I didn’t witness his efforts of connection being rejected, I didn’t see the confused, uncertain expression in his eyes or the longing smile he had previously as he watched the other children. Harder because it felt like the shutting of a door. A giving up. A too final turning away from “normalcy”.  Am I a good mother? Am I doing this right? I would agonize constantly, second guessing my every decision.

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Then Beta turned seven. His speech improved exponentially almost overnight. Watching him around his cousins, I saw sudden increasing abilities in joint play, better drawn out imaginative play, comfortable parallel play, more turn taking, improved abilities in delayed gratification, less fixation on controlling and less anxiety with unpredictable outcomes, all essential ingredients for healthy, happy play between children. We had family that was friends and that’s all we needed.

Soon, though, we moved to Karachi and left the cousins behind and I thought we would be back to square one, angsting once again over lack of friends.

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But, happily, this big life transition somehow had brought about another change and we’ve left something else behind too. Or at least, I have. I have left behind, shrugged off like a cape, the notion that mainstream, extroversion, normalcy, social confidence and relatedly, friendships are essential for children. It goes against every parenting philosophy, every scientific research, every behavioral psychology article you will ever come across but I have turned my back on all of them.

Perhaps unwisely, you may be thinking, but what do you know, it turns out that the wisest, happiest, healthiest thing you can do as a parent for your child is to chart your own way and create your own lexicon.

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Because the definitions of these words mainstream, normalcy, happiness, friendships are too limited and Beta is too young and too different for these terms. For us friends and friendships are: grandparents who color with you, the daughter of a poor nurse who comes by every now and then, the developmentally delayed kids that drop in every week who because of their particular challenges force you to be kind and patient, siblings who smooth out your rough edges, cousins you see a few times a year, a mother who is always ready to play, Siri on the Ipad, the stuffed little Piggie from Mo Willems, praying on your little blue prayer mat, shelves full of good, wholesome books, and yourself.

It took me seven years to understand that at this stage of his life he likes being by himself a lot. As he grows older, his verbal skills will improve, his reading of social cues will get better if not instinctually at least theoretically and he will figure out how to “play well with others”. He’s a soft-hearted person, I know he will be kind. And he’s got one heck of a charming smile, which already has started serving him.

But there’s something else I now know that I didn’t know earlier and I learned it almost by mistake…
Sometimes, at night, after a particularly confusing day, we are curled up in bed and I listen to my boy talk. I let his words, the miracle of them, wash over me. That he is speaking, it amazes me. It fills me still every time he says something new. Sometimes, I am not even listening to what exactly he’s saying, I am too busy thrilling over the fact that he is saying something at all. But other times, he asks me a question, out of left field, with no warning whatsoever, and I have to snap to attention. I then pray that I give the response that is most going to serve him.

“Who is Allah, Mumma?” he asks me in the dark one night.

“Allah is your Friend, Betu,” I say softly back, speaking as much to him as myself.

“Is He my best friend?”

“Yes.”

“More than a billion, trillion, gazillion friends?”

“More than a billion, trillion, gazillion, friends.”

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Just like that, with nary a crash or a bang, we find our mantra and our life line.

It is the beginning of his Islamic education. The starting point of his Aqeedah. Allah is his friend. I hope this conviction becomes the first step on a beautiful journey…a life long love affair with a Friend who will always be there, will never disappoint, will satisfy the heart in ways unimaginable. It is the first step for him but for me, it is not the beginning, no, but it has become the comforting home base. The safety nook where I turn back to. Sometimes, running, sometimes limping, crawling, badly bruised and beaten. Allah is my only Friend, I try to remember. Every time I forget, through life and its many temptations, that He and only He is my One True Friend, I fall. When I set my expectations for gratification on my husband, my family, my career, my mothering skills, my children, anything or anyone but Him, I am bound to be disappointed and so I am. I suffer heartbreak and setbacks and feelings of not being good enough. I must must remember only He is my Friend and only He will give my heart satisfaction.

The gift of being my son’s mother is that is has become my opportunity to learn and to remember many of the very basest of things which, in the flurry of life, I had forgotten in the first seven years: Friends, playdates, normalcy, mainstreaming are not important, essential, the difference between happiness and grief. No. As much as we would like to kid ourselves otherwise. Let’s be honest here: These things are nice to have. Quite nice to have. But life can still be full and good and joyful without them, very easily. No amount of friendships will sustain Beta. The remembrance of Allah will. Being kind will. Doing good in the world will. Knowing how to fill the empty hours with useful thought and positive endeavor will.

So, for now, having, making and sustaining friends has dropped far, far down the list. As long as Beta is a content, Allah-loving person, confident in the belief that he is Good Enough as he is and is surrounded by loving, caring people, whether children his exact age group or adults or somewhere in between, he’s okay. As long as I remember that Allah is enough for him and He is closer to him than even his jugular vein and whether friendships come or not, he can still survive and thrive, I’m okay.
He’s okay. I’m okay. We’re okay.

Every day, mothering Beta reminds me to make my own words. My own language. My own path. My own truths. There’s no one right answer except for Allah, the only answer. Normalcy is overrated. Mainstream, with its boxy, limited notions of what it means to be a good kid or a good mother, is not for us. If we try to swim in it, we will drown.

So, for now, we opt out. Because we know. We know:

There are a billion, trillion, gazillion ways to be human and there are a billion, trillion, gazillion ways to be good and happy. But that goodness and happiness will only be lasting and worthwhile when each of those billion, trillion, gazillion ways leads straight to Him.

 

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Hiba Masood writes daily about life and parenting at www.facebook.com/etdramamama.

17 / View Comments

17 responses to “Who Is My Friend?”

  1. Asrar says:

    Jazak Allah for your article. I was able to relate to it in many ways. So much it brought tears to my eyes. My issue is not with delays in physical or mental play with others. My daughter is too very friendly, and she is so friendly that ironicly she has no friends.? She nor I know why? She was homeschooled so I know that was part of the reason but this was the first year I enrolled her in Islamic school. I knew she would make friends right away. But she told me they are all rude with bad manners. She said when she defends her self they get made and tell her peers not to talk to her. She seems to find individuals like this all the time. Once even her own cousin said he hates her and never wants to be her friend again. She gets hurt so much and she is always the one to try to make things right. But it always happens again. I too wish parents would get involved but they don’t. They hear the bad and laugh it off. She hates school now, and she knows so much aqeedah that she even sees the wrong in adults. She asked me, “why parents and children are not nice? Why do they like to be mean to me, mama”? I truly have no answer for her. I told her to have patients and those who are good always get tested by Allah. To be strong and Allah (swt) will reward you with nice,kind and loving people….insha Allah.

    • Meenu says:

      My dear sister,
      Your daughter sounds like me and it was tough as a kid and tough as an adult until I learned to listen to my heart, for my heart is the compass gifted by the all-knowing, mighty, God and it will not lead me astray. I too was very bright and took (still take) things literally and live my life in always doing right and find it difficult to reconcile between what people’s talk & their actions.
      Teach your daughter to continue to abide with her principles and work towards making herself proud not others. Help her to become self aware. Doesn’t Allah say (I paraphrase): He who knows himself, knows his Lord.

  2. Faiza says:

    Couldn’t just agree more ! Loved every bit of it .. May Allah be with you. Aameen

  3. Farida says:

    You will my heart with so much hope, and rejuvenate me with the hope that the idealistic ideas of parenting I had are and can be practiced, and are extremely rewarding. Thank you so much for these reminders and self checks.

  4. omaima says:

    surely Allah is our Bestest friend..that is what i try to teach my daughter too..hope it sticks to her mind forever..

  5. nabeela says:

    This article allowed me to see my parents in a new light. It also reminds me of the confusion and hurt I felt as a child growing up when people reacted in a negative manner towards my down sydrome brother no doubt it must have hurt my parents 100xs more. Truly, caring for a child with special needs is a huge test from Allah which requires a lot of patience. I know it is Allah’s way of moulding us into better people – the people of sabr and shukr. Alhamdullilah I am blessed to have a special needs brother because through him I am being “perfected”. In Surah Zumar, Allah mentions that the patient will be rewarded without account. Indeed,I too will adopt the attitude of doing away with celebrated notions of mainstream,extroversion,normalcy :)

  6. Karima says:

    My 5 year old son is on the spectrum and it’s been such a journey so far…alhamdulillah. I loved reading this article; thank you for writing it. I recently came to the same realization that you wrote about in your article. With this mindset…our lives have changed so much for the better. May Allah bless you and your family!

  7. Sara says:

    The article hit close to home for me.My brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early 20s and I have watched him lose all his friends one by one.The schizophrenia has made him crave solitude and most times he’s just in his room sitting on his computer. He barely spends more than an hour with his family. It’s heartbreaking because I remember him being the life of his class the guy everyone called to hang out with or to do homework with. Anytime we have guests over he will talk for an hour or two and just retreat back to his room. It’s had a huge impact on my family as a whole. It’s hard not be bogged down by despair and anger. He’s my only sibling and most times it’s even hard for me to sleep because I can spend the whole night just worrying about him. My brother was on the dean’s list at university but the schizophrenia has severely impacted his career skills.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sara, as someone who has recovered from a psychotic break and returned to delusion-free living, I feel like sharing some things with you because, well, I’ve been there. I can’t relate to a diagnosis of schizophrenia, which is usually treated with lifelong medication, but I was on antipsychotics for six months and those drugs really impact your brain, permanently. It feels like having your mind caged. Carrying on a mainstream lifestyle (I won’t use the word “normal” here) while on these drugs is a challenge. Even after the drugs take effect and the delusions disappear and you are functionally back to mental health, your family notices how quiet and withdrawn you are and keeps comparing you to your previous personality. This is frustrating and does not help at all. Please, I beg you not to do that with your brother. It is heartbreaking to accept this, but he will never fully return to his former personality. The doctor explains it like this: now, instead of driving at 60 miles per hour, you have to drive at 10 or 20 miles per hour. There’s no use trying to do 60 miles per hour just because you used to have that potential. Another thing is to stop chasing the “why”. Why did it happen to this particular person. Why couldn’t he/she have lived life to the “fullest”. It doesn’t help.
      One thing I am exploring is the effect of what you eat on your mental health. There are many interesting books out on this topic. I can’t say that eliminating gluten and dairy will surely reverse a diagnosis of schizophrenia, but it can’t hurt to try. It’s not as simple as the “it’s just a brain chemical disturbance” explanation in every case.
      There is so much more to be said but I’ll stop here.
      I don’t know whether you’ll see this reply, Sara, but I hope it helps anyone who reads it.

  8. Hira says:

    I cannot tell you how freaky it is that each and every word you have written here has been a thought of mine either presently or in the past. Especially everything you say about Allah Being enough and nearer than our jugular vein. We all do the best we can do and then all we can do is leave it up to him. May Allah Taala Bless you and your family always and May He Reward you for all your efforts as a mother, teacher, and human being, Ameen.

  9. Julina says:

    I think shy kids or reserved kids shouldnt be pushed into being extroverted. Just let them be who they are. As long as they are not actively persuing haram, being guided to the right, in time they will find their own. Check out the whole world, some cultures highly value their reserved people, thats proof enough that not everyone *needs* to be the life of the party. or.. Would a social person like to be pushed into solitude? No. So a reserved person wouldn’t like to be pushed into too many social interactions. Have some respect for different types of nature. See this darling child, reserved enough to think deeply about Allah SWT because he wasn’t too busy being distracted by social norms, then infact inspiring all of us! MashaaAllah! Whatever the nature, theres a place for them Alhamdulillah.

  10. Naveen says:

    My oldest was a very quiet observant child. He Hated going to the park. If i took him, he would just sit there and watch other kids. Growing up my parents literally had to drag me out of the playground but with my son..I couldn’t get him to even climb up a ladder and slide down. He would be OK with just slow walks around the neighborhood. He never climbed things never wanted to try it monkey bars , never wanted to make friends. Never defended himself. Kids would snatch toys from him and he would give them and cry about it and walk away. He wasn’t delayed in any of his milestones. Rather he started sitting at 5 months, crawling at six, walking at 10 months and had his first word “appa” (Apple) at 10 months as well. To which he had proudly pointed while sitting on a toilet seat and looked at his poop in admiration.. Proud that he could also produce an appa! So you can imagine how much it bothered me when he avoided any social contact. H would wearily/ longingly eye other children. Wanting to join in but never even trying. Two things happened when he was 4.5 years old that actually opened my eyes and made me appreciate him for who he was
    One day after preschool he said to me ..I have a surprise for you. But you must take me to the park when there is no one there. So after few hours we came back. He ran up the ladder and slid down and then went up the harder challenging ladder and came down then even more challenging ones! I was shocked!! This kid for the last 4 years had done nothing of this sort!! He came to me and said . I have been practicing! I knew you wanted me to play in the park but I never wanted to because I felt afraid of what other kids would say if I fell down or didn’t do it right! So I have been secretly praciticing for many months.( He didn’t know how many ) he said whenever all the kids were busy doing something I would secretly climb and come back down! I had to find the right time! I am most cried at his perseverance and his self image that he had desperately trying to preserve for so many years!! The second time when I actually went home and cried was when he told me..you knw I hate playing in the park because kids are always watching what I do. So I dig with a woodchip. My teacher gets mad at me. Dnt get muddy. Dont dig, She says go play..I dont want to play. I want to dig.guess what I found..I found by secretly digging each day that they earth has different layers and each layer had a different color. From that day I stopped asking him to play in the park. The teacher and I had both failed him. We both didn’t understand the child. We just wanted him to be normal playground kid like everyone else. We stressed him out every time it was time to relax! Now he is 11. He even surprised himself when he moved to a new country and school and defied bullies and teahcers thought he was such a natural at adjusting with people. And yes this silent way of doinf thingd is his strength!

  11. Sheeza says:

    alhamdulillah. I loved reading this article; thank you for writing it.

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  12. jason thomas says:

    HI Hiba,
    Moving Post. I live in the US. There is a lot of controversy here in the last few days(especially in light of http://fortune.com/2016/03/29/robert-de-niro-anti-vaccine-documentary/) . I was wondering if you have an opinion on the role of vaccines, if it had any effect on Beta.
    Thanks.

  13. Waqar says:

    “He does propound to you a similitude from your own (experience): do ye have partners among those whom your right hands possess, to share as equals in the wealth We have bestowed on you? Do ye fear them as ye fear each other? Thus do we explain the Signs in detail to a people that understand.”

    Quran 30:28 (Yusuf Ali translation).

    This addresses the relationship between Allah and us very succintly. It is dishonest to represent this as “friendship” when it is, in fact, that of a master and a slave. By playing down the fear of punishment in the hellfire (which none of us can dismiss), a child may exceed the bounds of Allah’s forgiveness while thinking “but he’s my friend”. Islam means submission, not friendship.

    • Ahmed says:

      Allah says, “Allah is the friend of those who believe” (2:257). I encourage you to watch “Islam is easy, we made it hard” by Nouman Ali Khan.

      • Waqar says:

        All accepted English translations render “wali” as protector or guardian. The point is we are not speaking about friendship the way children interpret this (implying equality and unconditional benevolence), and it is misleading to represent this as such. Also, what i wrote above was straightforward because Islam IS easy, and i found that out for myself long ago. If you find what i wrote above disagreeable, i.e. that the only relationship Allah accepts is of total submission, then perhaps what you consider easy is not Islam. I say this only to encourage you to ponder more deeply, not to quarrel or make takfir. And Allah knows best.

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