August 18, 2021
I remember walking by the card shop daily after school, and being drawn to the window display of one particular greeting card that was shiny and bright, colorful, large, as it promised to wish a special mom ‘Happy Mothers Day.’ I coveted it but did not have the money to take it home with me. One day I was inside the store with my father, and without him noticing I quickly swiped up the card, because you see I had to have it to give to my special mom for Mothers Day; I was certain that she would love it! I must have been about nine or ten years old and my character was taking shape. I refer to this as Character 101.
I had the worse time gifting that card to my mom, for I was traumatized by what I had done. I thought of not writing in it and just showing it to Mom, then returning it to its slot at the store. I think I lost my nerve and was afraid to even touch it. I do not remember my mother enjoying it. Maybe she knew what I had done. That act of taking something without paying for it left such a ‘distaste in my mouth’ that I’ve never ever been so tempted again.
Well, not if you count the quarters I would take out of my father’s car. He was a taxi-driver and would ask his children to clean up his car for him when he came home for lunch. I didn’t think he would mind if I took a few quarters to buy candy. I found out years later, my brother and sister also did the same. My Papa had to know! He made a living to take care of us by those quarters he earned. I don’t know why he never said anything to us children.
Perhaps, by allowing me to face my indiscretions privately, during those prepubescent years, was the best form of rehabilitation this little girl needed.
A few years later, at the age of twelve, I emigrated with my family to the United States of America. Never again have I done anything like that. I carried such shame, guilt, and ‘yuck’ in my memory! In my previous blog, I wrote about my qualities of boldness, confidence, and self esteem that I’ve recognized throughout my life. I think those qualities were beginning to take root in me around this time, as I experienced wrong doing, developed guilt and disdain for it, and taking the stance to never again do.
While my Mom had preceded us to America, some time in the early 1970’s, I became my father’s trusted scribe, as he often communicated by writing to her about the goings on in our lives. My job as his scribe began when I was about nine years old, and soon the content of the letters became more complex (for me at least) as they involved discussions on bank statements and police records, and descriptions of our interactions with embassy personnel. I even found myself filling out the long complicated forms for my father, younger sister, brother, and I as we processed our papers for permanent residency in America.
My parents trust in me to perform these important tasks, allowed the young me to experience increasing confidence in my abilities, pride in myself as I watched my actions take form, and growing self-esteem as I observed us gaining success in our goals. My father was methodical and precise and I’ve followed his example to this day.
As we worked on our ‘papers’, my father would constantly caution us children to protect our bodies from getting scarred while we played our children’s games, and he repeatedly admonished us with “you all have to protect your body, you are going to America, you can’t go with cuts and scars, you have to look your best.” Additionally, our Mom often sent us boxes of used clothing worn by the doctor’s kids whom she cared for, and we proudly wore them to various occasions.
These ready made outfits further engendered the idea that we were special and set apart for great things. At that time (1975), our family was one of the first among our relatives to leave everything behind and forge a new life overseas. So, that made us popular amongst our cousins and peers.
Since we lived with our father’s mother we also enjoyed certain privileges, as we had center stage to observe and partake in every benefit of our grandmother’s matriarchy. I believe these activities and celebrations placed us in a variety of situations and allowed our adjustments and adaptations to build our confidence.
During those first twelve years of my life, we were always surrounded by relatives, either through a short visit to their homes, attendance at a wedding, a funeral, or a Muslim gathering. And, food was always plentiful. During food shortages, we would witness our grandmother sharing whatever she had procured from the grocers with anyone that stopped by her tiny, simple, wooden home. Few owned a television at that time, so we entertained with storytelling and singing. I believe all these things fostered feelings of being loved and cared for, further enhancing our self-worth.
I cannot recall ever being shamed or called a derogatory word by a member of our family, like I’ve seen other children treated. I recently talked with my sister about this subject and she reflected on how well our father treated his two girls and our Mom; we were never disrespected, and felt ‘covered’ and protected by him, unlike others we’ve known.
So, my friends, these simple expressions and experiences became the foundation of my self-esteem, my confidence, and my courage, which I believe equipped me for the challenges I would later face during my assimilation into American society.
My sister and I have this inside joke that, “We Ali women might have a lot of problems, but one thing we sure don’t lack, and that is SELF-ESTEEM!!!” Then we erupt with laughter!!!!
It is my belief that ones character should include the building blocks of courage to pursue ones dreams and a strong sense of self and confidence to make the desired outcome ever so much possible. Approaching a mentoring relationship, these same characteristics can definitely give a mentee an advantage!!
More to come…
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