Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dichotomy Bites

After thirty (mumble) years, I’ve finally figured out what my problem is <insert drum roll>.  I have a split personality.  Completely not qualified to go all psychoanalytical here (though I had such an awesome Psychology professor in college, I almost switched majors).  But the whole theory explains a lot in my life. So for kicks (clearly my life is not very exciting), I’ve decided to name both of them and talk in third person (my husband is thrilled, of course).  I’ve got a friend who’s doing it too. We’ve even discovered one of his alter egos is a female. How’s that for enlightenment?  I dare you to try it when you’re in the mood for some introspection (like after a high school reunion).  Hey, you might even determine you have more than two.  Write them down.  Writing is always a good thing.  Let me introduce you to the two Suzi’s (for the record, my co-blogger Suzy is completely innocent in my lunacy).  Here’s my example:  
Susan— can count to three and have her children snap to obedience (most of the time), is a “what you see is what you get” kind of girl and wishes more people were the same, listens to Contemporary Christian music, impatient but has learned how to fake it, a slightly cynical realist, sarcastic, likes to use big words (especially Latin derivatives) just to watch people fake like they understand what she says, tends to be a bit self-righteous, is quite skilled in emotionally abusing herself for the things she’s done wrong, and believes true love exists but is jaded enough to know that happily ever after isn’t a sure thing.
Suzi—perpetual hopeless romantic 17 year old who has wanted to be nothing other than a writer since the age of 12, puts her heart before her head which has been known to get her into trouble, likes her music loud, played by real instruments, and preferably sung by guys who had long hair and leather pants, billowy open shirt optional though highly recommended, loses her train of thought easily, wait, don’t forget the black boots on the guy with long hair, um what was I saying? Oh, yeah maintains a list of guidelines for a perfect kiss (available upon request), favorite expression is “it’s not fair”, thinks happy endings should be required by law, believes with every cell in her body that true love absolutely, positively exists and is worth waiting for, LOVES to talk…well ramble really, gets her feelings hurt easily and cries without effort, laughs loudly and has been known on occasion to snort if the person she is with is particularly funny, especially her brother, and when she gives her heart to you, she gives it for life.
Oh, alright.  No new concepts here, right?  Bit of id and ego with a splash of superego.  Yay, Freud.  Even Biblically speaking, we are told we are at war with our flesh.  Clearly Susan is the mind and Suzi is the heart and flesh.  And even though they often end up on the floor punching each other like siblings for control, they can’t exist without each other. 
It’s that way for all of us, depending on our location and company.  At work, we show whichever alter ego conveys responsibility.  At our place of worship, whichever is moral.  In front of our children we are authoritative yet loving, an opportunity for a coordination of our different selves.  And lying in the arms of true love, we can hopefully be all of our selves, completely vulnerable and whole.    
So, make your list.  I dare you.  My hat’s off to you if you find more than two personalities.  Two is all I can possibly handle. Please be more original with your names.  And you absolutely must talk in third person.  Just don’t be surprised when your kids start doing it too.  J
          -Suzi Ryan

Monday, December 20, 2010

Power of Prayer

As the holidays approach for many, the upcoming days are usually a great time of reflection and prayer.  Whether the prayers you offer are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or any other faith you adhere to, an inherent belief is needed to give the prayers meaning. 
A common Muslim phrase that is often repeated before embarking on any task is “’id’eelee” which essentially means “pray for me” in Arabic.  Asking others to pray for you is common across religions and cultures and shows the power of prayer to transcend religious boundaries that may otherwise seem insurmountable. 
Recently, a professional acquaintance sent me a link to preview his blurb book of inspirational quotes, images, and stories.  One story in particular caught my attention since I had just been asked by my Christian friend to pray for her, even though my Muslim prayers were probably very different from hers.  The following story struck a chord that showed it’s often the intention of prayer that matters more than how, when, or in what way you offer those prayers.  I hope this story is as stirring for you as it was for me.  Reprinted with permission from Fahim Munshi (     
“A ship was wrecked during a storm at sea and only two of the men on it were able to swim to a small desert-like island. The two survivors, not knowing what else to do, agreed that they had no other recourse but to pray to God for help.  To find out whose prayer was more powerful, they decided to divide the territory between them and stay on opposite sides of the island.

The first thing they prayed for was food. The next morning, the first man saw a fruit-bearing tree on his side of the island, and he was able to eat its fruit. The other man's parcel of land remained barren.  After a week, the first man was lonely and he decided to pray for a wife. The next day, there was another ship wreck, and the only survivor was a woman who swam to his side of the island. On the other side of the island, there still was nothing.
Soon the first man prayed for a house, clothes, and more food. The next day, like magic, all of these things were given to him. However, the second man still had nothing.  Finally, the first man prayed for a ship, so that he and his wife could leave the island. In the morning, he found a ship docked on his side of the island. The first man boarded the ship with his wife and decided to leave the second man on the island. He considered the other man unworthy to receive God's blessings, since none of his prayers had been answered.

As the ship was about to leave, the first man heard a voice from heaven boom out, "Why are you leaving your companion on the island?"

"My blessings are mine alone, since I was the one who prayed for them," the first man answered. "His prayers were all unanswered and so he does not deserve anything."

"You are mistaken!" the voice rebuked him. "He had only one prayer, which I answered. If not for that, you would not have received any of my blessings."

"Tell me," the first man asked the voice, "what did he pray for that I should owe him anything?"

"He prayed that all your prayers would be answered."

Pray as we might for ourselves, it’s often the unselfish prayers of others for us that are most likely to be answered.  This holiday season be sure to repeat the mantra of “id’eelee” in whatever language you speak to anyone who believes in the power of prayer.  If we all pray for each other, the prayers of the world are bound to be answered one by one.  May all your prayers be answered this season and happy holidays to all!
          -Suzy Ismail


Friday, December 17, 2010

Ho Ho…No?

“So are you guys all ready for Santa?”  the well meaning Target clerk stoops down to ask my children.  My son replies plainly, “Santa isn’t for real.”  The woman’s eyes turn to saucers and I have to explain, once again, that we don’t do Santa.  For us, it’s just a Jesus thing.  The woman looks over each of my little ones sadly and then returns her disapproving eyes to me as if she’s just caught me beating my children. 
So, here it is:  we don’t do Santa…or the Easter Bunny…or Halloween…heck, we don’t even do the tooth fairy.  Wait!  Put down the phone.  Before you report us, let me explain our reasoning.  Good.  Now slowly step away from the phone, nice and easy.  Here is why:
Jesus was born at the North Pole in a stable because there was no room for him in Santa’s toy shop.  Yeah, not really.  But the duality of Christmas can get confusing, especially for the little ones.  I mean, my kids have always been taught there is no Santa, but my daughter, who is four, is still not sure because she overhears other children talking. The influence of peers is evident already.  And let’s be honest.  Which is more appealing?  An imaginary guy who brings you lots of toys or the birthday of some guy you’ve never met. 
Okay, hear me all the way out for this next part.  I try very hard to always tell my children the truth.  Yeah, I admit I’ve been known to say, “Yes, I ate my peas in the kitchen while I was cooking dinner.  Now eat yours.”  But I try very hard to keep my fibs to vegetables.  As a Christian, I’ve been handed the mammoth task of leading my kids into a relationship with the God of the whole universe.  A God they can’t see or touch.  And I have this reoccurring nightmare of a teenaged version of one of my kids, screaming in my face because he or she doesn’t want to go to church—accusing me of lying to them about Santa and the tooth fairy and how dare I expect him/her to believe in an imaginary God.  When I tell my kids about God, I don’t ever want to give them reason to doubt me. 
For the record, I am not a Santa hater.  I don’t turn off Santa Christmas music if it comes on and I don’t turn off Dora or Olivia at the mere mention of the fat guy.  We have a tree and we have presents.  What’s a birthday party without presents?  It’s just my kids know exactly who the presents come from.
And so, nice Target check out lady, may we please reach an agreement?  I will do my best to teach my children not to spoil the secret for yours.  I will not look down on you or judge you because you chose to include Santa in your Christmas.  I acknowledge that your comment to my children was meant as a friendly gesture and I am not offended by it in the least.  In exchange, please don’t look down on me for following my own, personal convictions.  Let’s respect each other.  And for the love of God, please put the slip of paper with the DYFS hotline number back in your drawer.  J
Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Happy Hanukkah/Shalom/Peace on Earth/Happy Birthday, Jesus
          -Suzi Ryan

Thursday, December 9, 2010

One Good Gig

When I was younger, my favorite scene in Mary Poppins was when the proper British kids head over to the house of laughs with their magical nanny.  The high-flying fun that results at the ceiling tea party always made me wonder if laughing super-hard could really set your feet a-flyin’.  Mary Poppins wasn’t the only movie to firmly plant the seeds of this notion in my seven or eight year-old mind.  After all, Peter Pan clearly told Wendy, Michael, and John that they could fly to Neverland just by thinking happy thoughts.  And didn’t Chitty Chitty Bang Bang stay afloat with the help of delightful laugh-inducing tales?
Speaking of laughter, as elementary school flew by and the days of naively believing in flying feet passed with them, my own laughter seemed to decrease each day.  Sitting down to dinner awhile back, my oldest daughter cleared her throat as if she had a big announcement to make.  Over the giggles of her siblings who were competing in making mountains and molehills out of their mashed potatoes, she used her best ‘grown-up’ voice to command everyone’s attention.  “I need to read the back of my Snapple cap, now.” 
Dutifully, we all put down our forks, stopped making designs out of the rivers of gravy atop the mashed potatoes (my husband, not the kids), and waited for the profound Snapple wisdom to come our way.  “Children laugh about 400 times a day while adults only laugh 15 times a day.”
The Snapple sage had spoken and I was awestruck at the truth in those words.  Her announcement was followed by another eruption of giggles from the younger two, but barely a smile from anyone else. 
In that moment, I saw my first-born growing up.  It wasn’t the adult teeth that had somehow stolen into her smile while we were all sleeping.  Nor was it the proper way she held her dinner knife to cut through the over-done steak.  It was the realization that she was slowly winding down that path of only sharing “necessary” laughter.  The unabashed mirth of just a few months ago had been replaced by a much more “grown-up” seriousness.  As her younger siblings cracked up at everything and anything, her solemn nine year-old eyes just stared them down with a new-found knowledge.
I quickly calculated the age in my head when I stopped believing in the flying power of laughter and realized that it was right about the age of my daughter.  I decided I would have to count my laughter for the next few days just to prove the darn Snapple bottle wrong.   But, I couldn’t do it.  Every day I counted and found that I was barely making it to the 15 genuine laugh marks on my barometer.  That’s when I knew it was of the utmost importance that I reverse the trend.
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long for a solution for this laughter deficiency to come my way.  My hubby and I had been planning a weekend in the city for ages which we finally followed through with.  On the agenda was a trip to a comedy show with Jim Gaffigan.  Reluctantly, I went along with the plan, sure that I would hate the show.  Surprisingly, I found myself laughing for a full hour way past the 400 mark with side-splitting belly-aching mirth that would have made my six year-old proud.
On coming home to tell the kids all about it, I realized that I couldn’t remember a single joke, but only the feel-good sensation of long latent laughter.  As I giggled absurdly with my little ones while botching up joke after joke, I saw my nine year-old break out into a grin.  Slowly, the smile with the out of place teeth widened even more and began to turn into a laugh.  The laughter was contagious.  Before I knew it we were all shouting out silly knock-knock jokes and ridiculous riddles while rolling on the floor with laughter. 
It wasn’t a ceiling tea party, but it was probably just as fun.  We were flying, but with our feet planted firmly on the floor.  In a final burst of funny, my oldest daughter suddenly shouted out Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”  The room silenced in awe at the magic of the word and then the uncontrollable giggling began again. 
I probably hit a thousand laughs that day.  Every heartfelt chuckle took me a little higher up and a little closer to Neverland.  Snapple was wrong.  Adults can definitely rival kids in the laugh quota if they want to.  But in the end, who’s counting anyway? 
"Knock knock"
         "Who's there?"
         "Boo who?"
"Oh, don't cry, it's only a joke!"  J
          -Suzy Ismail

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tangled, a movie review

5 out of 5 stars  (Contains no spoilers)
“Mommy, can we please, please go see Rapunzel?  She’s a princess.” My daughter looked up at me with large, imploring eyes.  And in a flash I was back at the old Landis Theater in Vineland, NJ  with my mom, my own little grade school self staring wide-eyed at Sleeping Beauty on the big screen.  Back to the present, my daughter bounced on the balls of her feet like a baby robin as I thought to myself…a new Disney princess movie?  I’m so there.  Time to keep the tradition going.  I raised my hand to my daughter and she slapped me a high five.    
Far from an original concept, Tangled is the age old story of boy meets girl (an equation I shall never tire of, so long as I live).  In this particular story, the boy is a scoundrel and the girl is a princess  (Han and Leia minus the Millennium Falcon).  Again, not a unique idea.  However, this movie was executed so brilliantly, with perfect pacing, that no one will remotely care that this is a recycled plot (or that it’s a cartoon, for that matter).  
From the previews, I was pumped up for some good old-fashioned slap stick humor.  Figured even my boys would get a chuckle.  And Tangled certainly did not disappoint.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard.  That was what I had come for.  That was what I was prepared for.  I was NOT prepared to cry.  Yeah, I cried at a Disney movie (not a first by the way—I got a bit choked up when Belle leaned over the Beast and whispered ‘I love you’).  But this?  Tears were streaming down my face.  I had a “please don’t let my husband see this or I am so going to get teased” moment.
And it wasn’t just me.  At a certain scene (you’ll know it when you see it), the entire theater, made up of mostly children, fell silent except for sniffling.  And then a sweet, little voice rose from amongst the crowd and asked, “Mommy, why are you crying?”  And then we all laughed.  I was not the only lachrymose mommy. 
What did I love about this movie?  
Finally, a strong heroine I can enthusiastically cheer for! As a reader of Young Adult fiction, I’ve been so frustrated lately with the lack of good, strong female leads.  And I finally found one.  Ironically, a cartoon character.  Don’t get me wrong.  Rapunzel is sheltered and sweet, but she’s not one to cower in a corner and wait for the guy to save her.  No, a number of times, she saves him.  Refreshing!
It’s a redemption story.  I am a complete and utter sucker for a story of personal restoration.  I mean, come on, we’ve got a scoundrel here.  Of course he needs to be redeemed.  And it was done so magnificently.  Amongst the sea of predictable plots of Disney movies, there’s a part in Tangled where I turned to my husband, with my mouth agape and said, “I didn’t see that coming.”  And my highly intelligent husband admitted he didn’t either.  I LOVE THAT! 
Bottom line:  There is nothing I disliked about this movie.  Nothing.  I cannot say this strongly enough:  Go see this movie.  GO NOW.  Run like the dragon form of Maleficent is chasing you down.  You can thank me later.  Oh, but whatever you do…do not forget to tuck a tissue in your pocket.  J
          -Suzi Ryan

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Battling the Deluge

I recently picked up a book at the library that I’d been eyeing over my past several visits.  Glancing through the text quickly as I settled down for my usual late night laptop date, I decided to read the first few pages.  The reading of the first few pages turned into a devouring of the entire book within the next few hours.   Upon turning the last page, I sighed in contentment and knew that this would be an oft-revisited work whose ripples would probably stay with me forever.
Surprisingly, this amazing work was not my usual romantic fluff reading of choice—far from it, actually.  It was a narrative nonfiction tale titled “Zeitoun” written by award-winning journalist Dave Eggers.  From the first few lines, the reader is swept away by the lyrical writing style that Eggers employs in describing a typical Louisiana family.  Okay—maybe not typical to everyone, but amazingly familiar to me.  The Zeitouns who Eggers portrays in the book are a Muslim family living in New Orleans around the time of Hurricane Katrina. 
Their lives immediately struck me as incredibly similar to the lives of the average Muslim community members that I know and count myself a part of.  A respected member of New Orleans society, Zeitoun decides to stay behind to help his neighbors and friends battle the devastation of Katrina even as his wife, Kathy, and four children flee the area to stay with family in another town.  Yet, in his altruistic and selfless concern for others, Zeitoun is rounded up and thrown into a makeshift prison as an assumed Al-Qaeda member in the wake of the government’s intended “clean-up” after Katrina.  The harrowing tale that follows showcases the disintegration of a classic American city and a classic American dream as the fa├žade of liberty and freedom are stripped away from the citizens of New Orleans.
As the story beautifully interweaves a picture of human heartache amidst the devastation of broken levees and a forgotten people, the reader is gripped by the reality of what happened in New Orleans and what can happen amidst an atmosphere of fear and destruction.  The same methods of lawlessness that we as a nation tend to denigrate others for was clearly displayed in the aftermath of Katrina as fingers were pointed and blame cast every which way. 
Eggers offers no excuses nor pleas for sympathy in his journalistic writing style.  Instead, his book evokes insane emotions alternating between outrage, love, and fear for the incredible people he uncovers in his story.  Neither fantasy demons nor vampires can compare to the true demons of hate, prejudice, and inhumanity that rule reality.  As nice as it is to sometimes insulate ourselves with that warm cup of coffee and a great romantic fiction read, it’s just as important, if not more so, to force the flood gates of fact open and let our senses experience the inspiring tales of truth that surround us every day.  Rather than drowning in a deluge of fantasy, let’s come up for air once in awhile with a serious dose of reality.
          -Suzy Ismail