New Year New Me…

glossybox_zahra_sandberg<I posted about this Glossybox contest on my Instagram – if you repost this pic with your own New Year’s goals, you have a chance to win a gold iPad air. Check out my original IG post for details.>

I use the title of this blog post, New Year New Me, tongue in cheek because this isn’t some cliche list of things I say I’ll do more of, but rather a resolution I’ve made that has been brewing in me for some time now and is finally ready to be acted upon. My goal is to be unapologetically ME. As an American Muslim woman of color, I have way too many people making incorrect assumptions about who I am and what I believe. I want to be the writer of my own story. I plan to do this by speaking my mind against ignorance and bigotry around me, especially if it is in my own family or community.  As an influencer sharing my story, I hope my actions will empower other women to do the same. But if you want to understand how I came to this point, let me put it all in context for you first – read on…

This year for Adam’s first Christmas break from school, he had a total of 18 days off – 18 days with plenty of math and language assignments to keep us both very busy. Its been both tiring and stressful to get through all of the work, and after one particularly exhausting reading of ‘The Emperors New Clothes,’ my appreciation for the teaching profession has gone way up. Side note: how does one explain the Chinese social constructs and tenets of human psychology that is the basis for this book, to a five year old child? Please someone tell me.

Doing all of this at now 32 weeks pregnant, only exacerbates the realness of my struggle.

Speaking of the miracle that is pregnancy, it is in itself transformative in so many ways. Let me take a moment to break it down for you. First it is mind boggling just mentally accepting everything that is going to take over your body. I mean, they start as freckle sized cells dividing to produce an embryo. That teeny tiny thing that will eventually encompass the internal organs, bones, and intricate nervous system of your sweet little babe. Everything internal affects you externally, and hormonal changes can cause a range of symptoms, from slight fatigue all the way to severe illness, sometimes for the entire duration of the pregnancy. Case in point – I couldn’t even muster the strength to leave the couch during my first trimester, so this blog took a major backseat! 

Second, two-thirds of a year is spent completely trapped creating this life. Or an entire year if you count the fourth trimester. If something goes wrong along the way the mother is often blamed indirectly- and if not by others, she is probably blaming herself, a natural extension of being completely unequivocally responsible for this life. You can’t just quit being pregnant after a long or particularly frustrating day, you just have to learn to endure and be patient – a skill that I’ve never had before, and one that surely won’t go wasted after birth.

And finally, If you live in the United States, most likely you do not have hired help to assist you at home, and you are also expected to return to work very shortly after delivery, giving you little time to truly recover from the trauma of the birthing process, let alone bond with the new life you have created. Oh and if you have other children, their needs don’t diminish so you can just plan to live life in a sleep deprived blur for a while.

It sounds like I’m complaining here, and maybe I am a tad, but I’m also eternally grateful and humbled that I have had the chance to be pregnant (twice now), something that I know not everyone gets to experience.

Then begins the constantly worrying. I’ve heard the saying bigger kids equals bigger problems. The overwhelming feeling of the responsibility for the outcome of this life never really goes away, even when they leave the womb. I think to myself: How does anyone effectively raise a thoughtful, caring, intelligent, hard working human being? How will i protect my babies from all that is wrong in the world? How do I instill a deep sense of right and wrong in their hearts and minds, and with that, the ability to decipher between the two? How will I teach the little soul to feel empathy for another human being who may not have the same privileges as they do in society?

With the Presidential election being the latest of a series of anti-progressive populist movements taking hold around the world, I’ve struggled with my own response to the troubling trend. Even though the outcome was a result of Russian hacking, that does not soothe my sorrow of what the next four years will bring. Avoiding any news stories about the President-elect and also anything about his family is what I’m doing to get by. Ignoring has pretty much been my default defense mechanism lately.

I’m proud to say throughout my life I’ve always earnestly questioned everything I was taught, in order to seek the truth. I don’t take any news story at face value, and always try to seek out the source and the bias. It was this invisible driving force that gave me a purpose and passion that was bigger than myself. In college, I put my passion in action and organized and went to rallies to support important causes, I worked on political campaigns of candidates I believed in, and I shared my knowledge with anyone who would listen. However, after becoming a mom, I think I finally hit my burn out point. There is only so much precious energy one has in their reserve to spend in a lifetime, I reasoned with myself.

Instead, I’ve simply chosen to cut out a good number of people from my life who have shown their views were intolerant, particularly during this last election cycle. I’ve shifted focus to more positive things, meditating and practicing yoga to keep myself in a healthy state of mind. Ive basically been taking the easy way out to avoid the conflict that is sure to arise from interacting with them. I don’t believe I’m the only one doing this – in today’s information overloaded society, almost everyone is basically living in their own well-curated social bubble, with real or Russian sponsored fake news filling their feeds, their shared opinions just preaching to their very own like-minded choir.

But through the transformative power of this pregnancy, I’ve come to realize that my silence is not the answer, it’s actually the problem. How am I going to teach my children to be strong and fight for the truth, if I don’t do so myself? That is why my resolution is to be unapologetically me- to live life as the example I want to set for my children. So for this New Year, the ‘new me’ is actually the old me coming back to life, the real, unapologetic me.

Martin Luther King famously said, ‘in the End we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’ Our silence has in part enabled a caricature of a President-elect to win office, to  eventually lead us into the unknown. In The Emporer’s New Clothes, when no one  informs the Emperor that he is actually naked, for fear of arousing his anger or being dubbed a ‘fool’ just further enabled him to continue falsely believing that his clothes were magic and invisible. Similarly, I hope we can somehow expose the people who shall-not-be-named, for no other accomplishment than inheriting a lot of money, have been trumped up by their own inflated egos into believing they are something they are not – civil servants with the duty of running a first world country. Rather than enabling our country to be run like a soulless corporation, let’s instead be the like the child at the end of the book who innocently yells out the truth to the Emperor, that he is in fact naked!

Until then I will be using quite a bit of that new skill I’ve honed throughout my  pregnancy, the art of patience to continue to endure…

  • Amina M

    So excited for the return of the Cali girl I met on campus so many years ago. Although I doubt you went anywhere. 🙂

    • She’s ba-aaack! Hahah thanks so much love!

  • Wow Zahra, first of all, you are such a good writer. Secondly, I’m glad I’m not the only one consistently asking myself the same questions you are, i.e. “How does anyone effectively raise a thoughtful, caring, intelligent, hard working human being? How will I protect my babies from all that is wrong in the world?” etc.

    Just thinking about it makes me nervous, but we have to take it step by step and try our best to instill good in the future generation. At least that’s what I tell myself when I freak out about being a new mom hah! Absolutely love everything about this post. We should all be “unapologetically us” without any doubt. Such a good value to have now more than ever and it’s something we have to teach our kids as well. Thank you for taking the time to share such a thoughtful post!

    Fariha | http://blog.farihawajid.com

    • Thanks Fariha! sorry for my delayed reply! Thanks for the kind words- especially meaningful coming from you because I love your writing and your blog!