One of the benefits of being part of the Silicon Valley Moms Group besides writing for the Philly Moms Blog is that I have the opportunity to participate in their book club. We don't review the book per se, but write a blog post inspired by the book.
This month we read I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced (you can read a synopsis here). And I have been flat out struggling to write about it for the last two weeks. Because I can't even begin to relate to a life like Nujood and so many other girls and women live in countries like Yemen.
And then I had several talks with Hala*, a woman from Saudi Arabia that is spending a year doing a fellowship with the organization I work for. She is this intelligent, strong woman that is just thriving during her experience here. Unfortunately, I haven't taken enough time to talk with her about her life and what it is like for her living in a Muslim country.
The fact is I am ashamedly ignorant about the Middle East and Islamic life in general.
So reading I am Nujood and the brief talks I have had with Hala have been eye opening. And confirmed that I am damn lucky to have the life I have.
One day Hala overheard me talking about how not only was my eye twitching but so was my upper lip. She expressed concern and I told her it was probably just stress. So she asked me what was going on. I told her about Noah and how the day before he had climbed out on to the roof outside his bedroom window and thought he would jump off to get outside (thankfully the neighbors saw him and urged him back inside). She asked me more questions and I told her about Noah's history and our adoption of him and what he is struggling with now. And how hard we fight to get him the right doctors and therapies and all the other services he needs.
And she sighed and said "you are so lucky." Which admittedly took me by surprise, because I don't think anyone has ever told me I was lucky; they always say Noah was lucky. To which I usually respond, "no, we were the lucky ones." So yes, to have something that I have heard over and over for seven years turned around like that caught me by surprise.
Hala went on to tell me that in her country there really isn't such a thing as adoption due to their religious laws. If you want a child and can't have one yourself adopting from another country like we did really isn't an option.
I asked her what a couple would do if they couldn't have children and she kind of shrugged and said you enjoy your nieces and nephews.
A couple days later Hala asked me how things were going and I told her about the struggles we were having with our insurance company to get Noah wraparound services for the summer. And she told me again that we were lucky, because in her country they are only starting to acknowledge autism. And forget mental health treatment, that is a huge stigma.
I asked her what parents did when their child was autistic or bipolar or had some other type of emotional problem. And she told me they usually end up locked in a room, cared for, but an embarassment.
And then just the other day she saw that I had a new picture up on my wall that Noah had painted. I mentioned that I was hoping to get him some therapeutic art classes this summer if I could swing it in our budget. She told me that her niece is quite artistic, but because of their religion she can't take formal art classes and it isn't encouraged.
Talk about giving me a dose of perspective!
I needed to hear those things from Hala, and read I am Nujood. And I needed it right when it happened, as I was struggling and frustrated and eye-twitchingly stressed about Noah and summer camp and his teacher not agreeing with his doctor and insurance companies, etc. etc..
I needed a reminder that as much as it sucks that Noah has to live with a wonkily-wired brain, and that I have to fight for almost every step along the path of treatment for him, I am lucky that I live HERE, in the US, in a country where I can get him help.
It doesn't make it less stressful. It doesn't stop me from worrying about the next step, or next year, or how life will be for him as a teenager. But, at least I know I have something to fight for for him. That no matter what I have to do to get it for him, I will find a way to get it, because I can.
And no one is ever going to make either of my boys marry someone they don't choose.
I want to learn more about Islam and life, the real life not the politics, of the Middle East. I can thank Nujood and Hala for inspiring me to do that.
This post was inspired by the book I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced and is part of the Silicon Valley Moms Group book club.
* Not her real name.