Further Adventures in Anatomy (For a Five-Year-Old)

Hasan came to spend the night with me again. He said,”Grandma, will you please tell me more about the body? I’m not confused anymore.”

“No, I think we’ll not study tonight,” I replied, remembering his emotional upset after we’d “studied” last week.

“Where’s the book?” he asked, ran to my room and found the illustrated atlas of anatomy. “Tell me about breathing,” he demanded.

I opened the pages illustrating respiratory anatomy, and told him about how the air goes into the lungs from the nose and/or mouth. I wanted to tell him about oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange in the capillaries, but he interrupted me.

“That’s creepy!” he said.

“Why?” I asked. “I don’t think it’s creepy, I think it’s beautiful.”

“Why is everything red?” he asked.

“The lung is a vascular organ, full of blood vessels.”

“EEWWWEE! That’s soooooo creepy. I don’t want to learn anything more about breathing.”

“OK,” I said, and closed the book.

“Wait!” he said. “If air goes into the throat, how does the body know the difference between air and food?”

That kid amazes me. 

“Well,” I said,”there are two pipes in your neck, one for air and one for food. There’s a door between them, and the body knows when to shut the door, according to whether food or air is coming down.” 

He bent his leg at the knee, and pressed on the joint from the sides. Then he extended the leg and pressed his kneecap. 

“Why does this top part pop up when my leg is straight, but disappears when my leg is bent?”

I showed him the cross-section of the knee joint, and  how the kneecap  appears to slide between the leg bones as the leg is moved. He found that picture fascinating– not too vascular. 

He then said, “Grandma, I need a folder, and some paper. I’m going to learn you how to read and write Arabic.”  

Physiology for a Five-Year-Old

My grandson Hasan wanted to spend the night with me, so I picked him up on my way home from work. We played on the computer,  constructed a model car together, watched a little television,  brushed our teeth and put on our pajamas. Then he asked me, “What color is our brain?”

“Pink,” I said.

“What color is a very young brain?”

“Pink.”

“What color is a very old brain?”

“Pink,” I said, “I’ll show you.” I dug out my beautifully illustrated atlas of anatomy and flipped to the section on the nervous system. I showed him the pink brain, with its packed convolutions, and I showed him where the spinal cord enters the lower part of the brain. Then I ran my fingers down his spinal cord. He stared.

“How do the five senses work?” he asked.

I flipped to the eye picture and told him about how light enters the pupil and how the optic nerve is connected to the brain.

“How do we hear?” he asked.

I flipped to the ear pictures, and showed him the inner anatomy of the ear, which conveniently looks like musical instruments (if you apply a little imagination).

“How does burping work?”

To the digestive system…

“How does the pee pee get made?”

To the kidneys, ureters and bladder pages…

“The poopies?” Back to the digestive system…

“How does our hair get white when we get old?”

To the section on aging…He stared at the drawings of people at various ages,  their hair becoming white and their flesh becoming  loose. He wanted to know where each of his family members stood in the lineup.

We sat with that book for nearly an hour, he asking questions and  me flipping the pages to show him pictorial answers.

Finally I saw his eyelids droop, so we went to bed. I was relieved he hadn’t asked me about death.

He turned from side to side, unable to fall asleep in spite that he was tired and it was nearly midnight.

“I can’t fall asleep,” he said. “I want my mommy!” He became agitated and I wasn’t able to help him recover his usual good mood. I  had to phone his mommy, waking her,  and ask her to unlock the door for us. I took him home, feeling sorry that he had suddenly felt so unhappy.

Next morning, he phoned me early and said, “Grandma! Don’t tell me anything more about the body at night time. I just get so confused! I get sooooo confused!”

A Sacred Trust

 

Yesterday was Friday, and I went to jummah prayer with my grandson. The khutbah was about children as trusts from Allah. My heart squeezed a little when the imam said that children are Allah’s trust to us, but that they can be taken from us at any time. In fact, they are supposed to leave our care when they get old enough to start  their vocations and new families.  My five year old grandson was cuddled in my lap as I listened. I hated to imagine that he could ever be separated from me, but I also knew my relationship with him was nothing if not a sacred trust. My actions today and every day will put their mark upon him.

The imam continued. The point is that we must love our children and be active in their lives as they grow, and give them our wisdom, especially about matters of Islam.  This advice is nothing new.  Suddenly I was very thankful I’d come to jummah prayer.  I nearly stayed home. In going to jummah, and bringing my grandson, I showed him what I believe, and showed him what is expected of him.

When the khutbah ended, and we rose for prayer, I nudged my grandson to join his grandfather in the men’s rows, and he balked. He  knows he’s supposed to pray with the men, but I could not force him. Maybe the other sisters found fault with me; maybe they didn’t. My grandson jumped on my back as I made sujuud, and I nearly laughed, astaghfirullah, but I continued my prayer and ignored his antics. He’ll grow up soon enough , and face difficult choices as he carves his path. I need to give him the best of myself to take with him. I need to teach him many more things, including our religion.  Some people would say especially our religion. 

 

Hyphenated Names– for Women Only?

I’ve wanted to write this rant for months, and now I’ve succumbed to the urge.

 

Hyphenated names for non-Muslim  women make no sense to me.  They are long, phonetically awkward, and cumersome to write. They suggest that the poor woman didn’t know what name to call herself after marriage, so she simply tacked the married name on to the maiden name, much like one would add blond extensions to a full head of auburn hair.

 

I work in a hospital. Hyphenated names cause no end of confusion. They don’t fit on forms, they don’t get entered correctly in certain computer programs, they get mixed up, reversed,  exchanged with first names, and ulitmately abbreviated when expedient.

 

Some women hyphenate their names because both names consist of one syllable, and the two together sound better. Why don’t they finish combining the two into one,  forming a new name altogether, similar to the way in which John’s Son became Johnson? 

 

Why don’t they ask their husband to take the second name, as well? It seems ridiculous that a man has a single name, and his wife sticks  his name behind her maiden name, and what about the children? If the hyphenated name is given to the children, what names will their spouses use when they grow up and get married? 

 

Some women use a hyphenated name because one of the names has social recognition, but why not simply drop the obscure name and use the name that carries social weight?

 

Some women want to keep the maiden name, in a salute to feminism and the maintainance of identity, an awkward attempt  to exert themselves as equals, but it doesn’t work. When was the last time you heard that a husband tacked his wife’s maiden name onto his own, because he wanted to preserve his identity?

 

Ah, but we still live in a somewhat patriarchal society, feminism and working women notwithstanding. All family members should use the same name, the father’s name, no? In the olden days of my childhood, fathers were the “heads of family”, working outside the home,  carrying the entire financial responsibility for the well-being of the family, making all the important decisions. They were also the disciplinarians. Most people as old as I am remember their mother’s chilling words, “Wait til your father gets home!”

 

Now, however, most mothers work outside the home, too, many full-time, just like the father, and therefore feel entitled to share in the decision-making as well as  the  financial responsibility. Hyphenating their names may point to women’s desires to fully participate in the two major life roles most people embrace– working and having a family.

 

In Islam, women do not stick their husband’s names behind their own. The children carry the father’s last name. While this might suggest gender inequality, it recognizes the father as the head of the family.  Gender inequality, if you could call it that, does exist in Islam, in the sense that the father is supposed to work and bring home money, while the mother works inside the home, providing the kind of nurturing and domestic organization that is never paid its worth in currency. The deal for women is that they give up their earning power to gain financial security from the husband, and the right to stay home and raise their own children (rather then having to take them to day care).  The fact always remains, however, that he who pays the piper calls the tune.

 

Naming customs reflect the social, economic, and religious realities of families.  If hyphenated names for  non-Muslim women are meant to suggest  gender equality, then all family members must carry the hypenated names. Multiple  names are awkward, however, and suggest nothing but indecision or equivocation on the part of the woman. I don’t know how women are going to evolve in the future, with respect to “balancing” major life roles such as working and child-bearing.  

 

While I’m at it, let me add that I hate the word, “balance.” It suggests that two or more quantities can be manipulated so that their weights become equal. This is not the reality with regard to women who work and bear children during a twelve week maternity leave. Instead of  talking about balancing, let’s talk about  dividing. How does a woman divide herself so that both work and family get an equal share? Why must work and family get equal shares, anyway? In reality, they don’t, yet women keep trying,  whether they want to or not.  Hyphenated names are the objective correlative to the reality of Western women’s lives– cumbersome, awkward, and suggestive of division rather than unity.

Sweet Hasan, and Why I Work

A few weeks ago, while visiting my grandson, he said, “Stay with me, Gramma. Don’t go to work tomorrow.”

“I have to go to work,” I replied. “I’d love to stay with you, but tomorrow is a work day, and I have to work tomorrow.”

“No! I don’t want you to go to work!” he cried, tears erupting from his eyes.

“I don’t want to go to work, either, Habibi, but I have to go.”

He pouted, with big, dreamy eyes and a poked out lip. “No more work,” he begged.

“I’m sorry, Hasan, but I have to go to work. That’s how I get my money. If I don’t work, I don’t get money. Without money, I can’t buy gas for my car, and I can’t come and see you, and I can’t take you places or buy toys for you.”

His eyebrows drew down as he thought about this. “Buy me toys?”

“Yes,” I replied, relieved that I’d touched a spot that would help him let me go.

He brightened. “OK! You can go to work tomorrow!”

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This morning, Hasan phoned me and asked, “Gramma, do you have to go to work today?”

“Yes, Sweetheart, I’m sorry. I have to go to work today.”

“No! I don’t want you to go to work!”

“I don’t want to go, either. I’d rather spend the day with you, but I need to get more money.”

“Why do you need money?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, suddenly feeling the weight of work and the need for money, “I need money to pay for my food, my clothing, my electricity, my car… and to buy you toys! Remember? I need money to buy you toys.”

“Gramma,” he said slowly, “I don’t need any more toys.”

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As true as it is that I need to work, and as true as it is that thousands of people are now out of work and cannot earn money even for their basic needs, I felt resentful that I cannot spend the day with this lovely boy, this dear boy who is getting his first lesson in the necessity for work, and isn’t liking it.

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On second thought, I could have given him a more positive lesson. I should have said something about contributing to society, making myself useful to others by means of work, fulfilling my need to do productve activity, etc., but that would have been false, and he would have known it.

For me, work is nothing more than a means to make money, and I work no more than absolutely necessary to earn the absolute minimum needed to live comfortably. Ironically, my work was the sole reason I ended up in Riyadh, and that was an experience I wouldn’t have traded for anything.

A Lesson in How to Love a Child


Recently I took my daughter Mai and her three-year-old son to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. I poured tea for her and I. My grandson– his nickname is Nooni–  wanted to drink tea, too.

“I want shay!” he demanded. He mixes his languages, sometimes.

Mom told him, “It’s too hot, Habibi.”

“I want shay!” he cried, louder.  Mai continued to dissuade him but he wouldn’t believe her that the tea was hot. In fact, the tea was not particularly hot, and Nooni insisted on his own cup of “shay.”  Finally, she poured him a tiny amount in his own cup, and swished it around a bit. I didn’t object.

We had underestimated the tenderness of tiny mouths. He screamed, threw the tea cup down, then started slapping his mother’s arm. I scolded him for slapping his mom, but Mom did not react. She perceived that he was  expressing his shock and pain not only at the hot tea, but more importantly, at her for not protecting him.

His slaps said, “Mom! Why did you cave in to me? Don’t you know I’m just a three-year-old, and still inexperienced about the world? You have to protect me!”

I felt quite badly then  for not objecting to the tea, and I remembered  occasions on which I had caved in to him and gave him whatever he wanted, because when he cries, my heart also cries. I love to see my grandson happy.

The incident with the tea taught me a lesson about how to make him happy, a lesson I’ll have to keep foremost in my mind. This is a kid who always wants to do whatever the adults do, from drinking tea to driving the car to diving into the deep end of the pool!



Caught in the Betrayal of Fate

Monday, July 19, 2010
Caught in the Betrayal of Fate

My daughter’s doctor called her and her husband to come in for an immediate appointment regarding a prenatal test that indicated something could be wrong with the new baby. She’s at the end of her first trimester. I asked,”If the next tests indicate something wrong, what will you do?”

She replied, in tears, “What can we do? We believe in God, we have to accept what He sends us. What? Are we going to kill a baby?”

When I asked her husband the same question, privately, he gave an entirely different response.

Here I am,  in dead center, as usual, able to understand and agree with both of them.

As a family, we’ve already trod the moral high road. We’ve paid our dues for admission to the tower of special needs, and we’d rather not do it again.

My third daughter has Down Syndrome. Though I did not give birth to her (all my kids are originally “stepkids”)  I know what it feels like to be betrayed by fate, to relish the thought of the arrival of another child, and to be kicked in the heart when that child appears with special needs. Believe me, I know, but my story is another story. The point is that I know how she and her husband feel, and I  understand the moral implications of either decision.

Whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is a decision that one can never fully evaluate before the fact. One will never know how the future would have unfolded had the decision been made the opposite way. Therefore, one is caught in  a double betrayal of fate.

I honestly do not know what Islam says about terminating a pregnancy during the first trimester, but I don’t really care, astaghfirullah.
Religion is only one of many factors that will have a bearing upon the outcome of this situation. The best outcome would be that the test was a false positive, and that the baby is perfectly normal.

Life is hard enough under ordinary circumstances. Are we required to hang an additional ball and chain around our necks while we have the means to prevent such a fastening? Oh, yes, I’ve heard about the blessings in raising a child with special needs; I’ve acquired some of them myself, but if I had it to do over, I’d rather pass on this particular blessing.

Nevertheless, if my daughter bares a child with “special needs” (what a euphemism!)  I’ll have to fasten my seat belt on that particular roller coaster all over again. I’ll do it, and I’ll shut up about it. I’m prepared, and I’ll help her.