Why do we have to worry about what they think, baba?

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14 Sept 2015

I’ve decided that I probably need to start taking stock in Starbucks because I spend so much time there and my wife has asked if they’ve started paying me yet because I already know what half of the same customers want when they come in.  I even remind the cool guy behind the counter (his name is George and he rocks!) – “Don’t forget, George.  Ahmed wants no cream!”.  I get a high five and then carry on about my day.

That day may consist of 1 or 2 or no small little people depending on whether there is school or nursery or if my lovely wife has given me a peaceful moment of ‘man-time’ and is entertaining the girls.

On this day, I am lucky to have my 2 ‘darlings’ (I am using the term very loosely today).

We have settled into 3 of the comfortable, well-worn high back chairs in an empty Starbucks in what looks to be a day off  for the ‘Mummy-Morning-Coffee-Hour” crowd.    I only get to listen to my own 2 high pitched screams vs. 20 others (oh, and their kids, too).   Again, don’t get me wrong, its great that you Mummy’s get your coffee time together to commiserate but I’m clearly holding a grudge from all those times I looked longingly at your groups and I was snickered at (atleast, I think I was).

My two proceeded to run amuck, taking great interest in building a fort with the wooden chairs, tables and left behind newspaper (bless George after we leave).   I am holding onto my Iced Mocha for dear life (with real chocolate chip pieces – yummy for me!) and in walks a nice steady stream of patrons wanting their caffeine fix for the day.

I asked Saffiya (the oldest) to slow down and lower her voice as they were playing and having a wonderful time.  She gave me ‘the look’ and continued.  Another screech by little sister following suit, another request to keep it down and her response “But baba, its her!” pointing to the 18 month old innocently standing there with chubby cheeks and a big grin.

They go ahead with running after each other round and round the middle wooden half walls of the entry way – almost toppling over one of my fellow caffeine filled friends.

“Saffiya, khallas!    There are people around us!”   I say.   She looks around, and yes, clearly she has acknowledged that there are people around us (stupid baba statement of the day and not understood as intended).

The fort has now fallen over and a chair lands with a bang on the cement floor.  Everyone starts looking – a couple of whispers – George asks if the girls are ok – and I run over and grab their hands back to our little cordoned off area – visibly irritated and a bit red faced.   I tell them to sit down and drink their juice and be quiet, we don’t want those people to think badly of us.

They both sat quietly in the same chair drinking their juice and playing footsie with each other.

After a minute Saffiya stands up and comes over to hug me and says “Baba, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure. Tell me”

“Why do we have to worry about what the other people think of us?”   Her big beautiful brown eyes stared at me.  And if you look at pics of my daughter, they are just the most beautiful things that can look straight into your soul.

“We don’t know them and they are not even our friends” she continued.

I told her we didn’t want to look bad.    She looks down at her clothes, “Do we look bad?”

At that moment, I realized that a big part of my own traditional Arabic culture had shown itself.   This little girl was right.  Why would we have to worry about what other people think of us?

In our culture, overt and public displays of anything (affection, anger, emotion, etc.) aren’t necessarily looked on positively.  Any of that is usually kept behind our family doors.  We are judged by our honour and our family honour.  Harming that, even if it meant that we were viewed as not having well behaved children which would be the case in this situation, is something that most Arabic don’t want and could very well be talked about through the grapevine if not carefully resolved.

The kids were having fun.  And yes, they were a bit obnoxious but my approach and explanation was not the right one.  I knew that.  I was concerned about what people would think of us at that moment.  Why?  They were my kids.   Who cares if someone else says something or whispers about it?  I won’t see them again (except for George, I need to care about him – he is my chocolate-chip-pieces-mixing guy).

What I should have done was simply sat down with her and explained that the people around us came in to enjoy their coffee too and didn’t want to have a lot of screams and noise so it’s good if we could keep our voices down a little bit so that they can be happy and we can be happy too.

I did just that.  First thing I told her was that “There are some people that we want to make happy – family, teachers, pets, friends.  When we make them happy, it makes us happy too.   But there are also people that we don’t know who want to be happy and when we are all in one place together, we want to make sure that we don’t disturb them and they don’t disturb us so we can all relax and do what we want.  Ok?”

It seemed to make sense to her.

“And Saffiya – don’t worry what people think.  Do your own thing.  But just don’t make other people sad when you do it, ok?”

I had to pat myself on the back.  I felt like I reached her.  But, even more importantly, I felt like I had just had one of those thoughts that hits a person that completely changes their own direction.

As a parent, we don’t always take into account what we mean vs. what we say and how literally our kids actually hear it.  And, in her case, she took it literally that we cared what these people, whom we didn’t know, thought of us and didn’t understand why.

I don’t want her growing up thinking the way I did.  I want her doing her own thing but not forcing it onto others – regardless of the situation.

She taught me a lot that day.  I couldn’t wait to go home and tell the wife that the visit to Starbucks actually paid off today – education, replenishment, field trip, emotional understanding, love, happiness and anything else I could possibly come up with- 🙂

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