Reem is a mom, a wife, a Pakistani immigrant and a children’s book author. Getting to peek inside her home was a lot of fun, and hearing her perspective on letting kids be kids and be messy and sticky and a bit wild was a helpful reminder too. After reading her beautiful words, don’t be surprised to find yourself seeking out her book. I’m so glad you get to meet her today. Hello, Reem!
Welcome! I live in a townhouse in Atlanta, Georgia with my husband and three daughters. If you told me years ago that I would have three girls I would have been surprised. I am the only girl in my family and have three brothers. My husband doesn’t have any sisters either and has two brothers. I always thought I would have sons, but I do love having daughters.
I taught second grade in the public school system for five years. When I had my first baby, I became a stay-at-home mother. Being at home with a little baby was quite different from teaching, and I enjoyed the slower pajama days. I did miss the creativity that came with teaching, and took to writing and photography. I am now a children’s book author of an ALA Notable book, Lailah’s Lunchbox and a seasonal photographer. I also am quite busy with emails and work at home as a Scheduler for the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta.
My husband is a consultant and occasionally travels for work. For a few years, he was an AP Physics high school teacher, but this year he is back at consulting.
My eldest daughter is 8, my middle daughter is 6, and my toddler is 18 months. When my middle daughter was born, I had a toddler and a newborn and was stuck in a challenging parenting phase! I do not remember all the details from that hectic stage. I always thought my children would be born a couple years apart, but I had a health issue after my middle daughter was born. I did not know if I would go on to have more children, so it makes it even sweeter to have our youngest baby. We try to savor her! I also love witnessing the interactions between the older two and the youngest baby.
Our house didn’t have a baby in it for many years, so it is rather refreshing to have a little one giving us sticky hugs, erupting in cackle-y giggles, and leaving a trail of mess behind her. It can also be somewhat challenging when she climbs into the dishwasher, scribbles over her sisters’ papers, sticks Legos in her mouth, and pulls their hair when they do their homework!
I live in a townhouse in Upper Westside of Atlanta. It has just started to blossom. When I moved here, the real estate agent boasted of a Publix grocery store to open soon and how the area was booming. However, we did not get a grocery store right around the corner until years later. Now, Publix is walking distance. My daughters love going there because they get free cookies! I love that our area is developing and am excited to see what pops up — but with the new developments brings the dreaded Atlanta traffic. Mornings are rushed, and I hate turning left out of my subdivision because cars zoom by and we do not have a traffic light. It drives me bonkers and I have emailed the city about it. They are undergoing a traffic study they said, but unfortunately I have seen numerous car accidents from people turning left.
The park around the corner from us is the first in Georgia to honor an Hispanic citizen, Sara J. Gonzalez, so that is exciting. It recently got renovations, but my 8 year old misses the monkey bars as they took that away and replaced it with equipment for smaller children. We have so many dogs in our neighborhood and dog parks in our neighborhood, but no children parks which is frustrating.
There was a pretty green space at the front of the neighborhood that we used to call our Secret Park. We would walk there with warm cookies in our hand and eat on the grass. But alas, that area got demolished and there are new town homes instead, and we no longer have that green space. I am grateful for our park nearby though and even spotted Sanjay Gupta from CNN there!
What strikes me about my area is that in my neighborhood, we do not have that many children. Often when people do have children, they tend to move to the suburbs to bigger homes. Each time, I have had a child, I get asked, “When do you plan to move out?” (I have no plans of moving and enjoy our home.) However, just a little behind our neighborhood are smaller homes with many more children. They are heavily populated by Hispanic children and they look to be a jolly bunch as they wait the bus. Their area fills up the whole bus!
My neighborhood has just a handful of children, who are sometimes staring down at their phones at the bus stop, which saddens me.
I love witnessing the interactions of big families. My mother has 7 siblings and my father has 4 siblings — I have a lot of cousins!
Atlanta is a beautiful place to be. Our weather in the fall is gorgeous and crisp. Spring is lovely to see, but is not a breath of fresh air. If you have pollen allergies (my husband and I), or asthma (like my eight year old daughter), it is quite challenging!
My husband found our home. It was a foreclosure. Once I got engaged to my husband, my family and I toured the home. I loved the greenery on the deck, the painted walls, and curtains. I’ve heard that sometimes foreclosure homes can be left in quite a mess as the resident is angry when they leave, but our home was left in good condition, curtains and all! Houses are getting sold pretty quickly in this neighborhood as the location is becoming quite popular.
I want my home to be a cozy house full of laughter and light. When we leave my husband’s family in West Virginia after visiting them, my husband’s 93 year old grandmother will comment in Urdu how the light has gone now that we have left and that children bring light. It is a sweet Urdu saying and so true.
However, then there’s reality. When I walk in the door after picking up the girls from school, I may be holding the baby, drive-thru leftover bean burritos from Taco Bell, the mail, school papers, and more! After plonking everything down, I can see and feel the mess. My feet are always brushing up on crumbs. Surfaces get sticky effortlessly and the voices of my children can get LOUD. Looking around, I don’t always see the light that my husband’s grandmother sees!
When it gets too overwhelming, I try to remind myself to be grateful to have a body that can hold and lug grocery bags (we have many many stairs in our town home), and energy to drive around town and do errands.
Being a mother can be physically and emotionally challenging. When I had a health issue, I had to have chemotherapy and I had no energy (Thank God for good family to help!). I would look out the window from the chemo ward at the weaving Atlanta traffic, and marvel at the places people were going. Now, when I roll my eyes at traffic, I try to remind myself to be grateful that I get to be on-the-go. When my toddler leaves a literal trail of random items behind her, I try to remember how much I prayed for her. Perspective can be helpful!
I am an avid reader and my favorite part of teaching second grade was Read Aloud time. I loved how my hyper students would transform into wide-eyed listeners when I would pull out a good book. I dreamed of writing children’s books for the longest time so was thrilled to finally have a little time to write once I stayed home. I wrote story after story and thought they were going to become bestsellers. However, the publishing world can be quite picky and challenging. After submitting my work, all I got was rejections. I took up blogging instead and reveled in photography. I created a small photography business and enjoyed photographing families in buttery sunlight.
Still, I wanted to write a children’s book. I had another baby. I started to write again and this time I got an offer! I based my story Lailah’s Lunchbox loosely on my experiences as a Muslim immigrant. I described how it felt to be different in school and that uncomfortable feeling you feel when you stand out. I was thrilled when my book got awards and I love seeing how children can relate to my story on Ramadan.
It is the best feeling to see your manuscript turn into a real book. When a child falls in love with your book, you feel on top of the world!
For aspiring writers, I suggest reading dozens of children’s books. See which books you gravitate to in the library and take note of the publishers. A book I referred to before submitting my manuscripts was The Children’s Writer and Illustrator Market. One comes out each year and lists what types of stories publishers are looking for.
I found Tilbury House Publishers as they published stories with themes of social justice and produced diverse award-winning stories. They were one of the companies I submitted to and received an offer from. I get many questions from aspiring authors and have a section on my blog in case this may help you.
Most of my extended family lives in Karachi, Pakistan. I used to go to Pakistan every year every holiday I got, but once I had children, it became much more challenging to go back and visit. Luckily, most of my extended family does visit, but I miss Pakistan greatly and plan to visit soon. Sometimes I hear a bird that sounds like a crow cawing or smell the whiff of exhaust, and I am reminded of Pakistan.
I love the vibrant colors and textures of Pakistan and try to decorate my home with pieces of home. The wall hangings are handmade by artisans and support their business. Pakistani clothes are colorful and some of the wallhangings are pieces of women’s clothes stitched together.
My mother’s brother Zia Zakaria, father’s brother Moeen Faruqi, and grandmother’s brother Wahab Jaffer, are well-known painters in Pakistan and have art galleries so I enjoy displaying their art pieces in my home. My grandmother paints pretty flowers on stones that I like to collect on my windowsill. Having their art work up in my home reminds me of family and soothes my soul.
I think my ability to let the children be creative or make a mess would be where I excel as a mom. For example, I would much rather make play dough than dinner. As an author, I have to put my blinders on to the mess and write. There are moments though when I look around at the mess and think what happened?! But I think being semi-fine with letting the house go when I try to get work done makes the home cozy.
When the house is too clean, I can feel on edge trying to keep it perfect. When the home is way too messy, it’s hard sometimes to focus. When the home is just right (I know I sound like Goldilocks!), it feels cozy. With that being said, I do love it when my home is sparkling and clean and free of clutter — but I don’t think it happens enough.
I hope my kids remember the cozy times they had sharing bunk beds, daily Uno games, smuggling books and reading them to each other from the dim hallway light, baking, and licking gooey batter from the bowl. I hope they remember watching the birds visit from the window and spending time with their father on our lazy, brown sofa. I hope they forget me getting angry at them. Sometimes I am a tea kettle, quietly steaming away without them noticing that I am getting angrier and angrier and then I explode. I hope they forget those times!
I love being able to have conversations with my daughters — especially when they say something funny and I can feel the laughter bubble in my throat, but try to listen to see if they keep saying funny things! I miss the little games my daughters used to play. When they were younger, they would collect all their dolls and put them in their stroller and knock on the door and I would open the door with surprise and pretend to be the grandmother. One would watch with a smile tucked in her cheek, one with a wide open smile, as I picked up each doll and hugged them, pretending to meet my grandchildren for the first time. I realized that we hadn’t played that game in a long time and when I reminded them of the game, they had no recollection of it! I miss that already.
I miss my daughters’ voices when they were lighter and sweeter as little children. I miss my middle child’s slow drawl. I miss my older daughter’s baby teeth. I can’t believe how long and lanky they already look and am glad I still have a baby at the moment. When I had my first baby, I couldn’t see past each stage. Now that I have an eight year old, I want to slow down and savor the littlest one, but it is hard when we are on the go!
I wish someone had told me how much my life would CHANGE after having children. Gone are the days of a quick errand! Going to the post office with my children usually involves one of them needing to use the restroom, and of course they don’t have public restrooms in the post office, which means we have to leave our spot in line, run next door to McDonalds, and then run back. It definitely keeps life interesting! Usually someone kind will save our spot!
With children, the home is constantly in upheaval — dishes and laundry tend to pile up, and there is a constant hum of noise in the house. It is entropy at its finest. With children, international travel and any sort of travel actually, are a much different story. With that being said, I am utterly grateful to have them.
I remember right after I had given birth to my first child in the middle of the night, I was rather disoriented by it all. The two days in the hospital were a blur. I remember an OB coming to check on me the morning after I gave birth and saying Congratulations! in a cheery voice. I remember trying to sit up and rubbing my eyes, asking her, “Did I win something?” Surprised, she responded, “You had a baby…” Needless to say, I was a sleep deprived wreck! I didn’t feel like myself at all. No one really talked about the terrors of postpartum time. A kind nurse with a southern accent pulled me to the side and said, “After six weeks you will feel like a new person.” I wish I had believed her then! Six weeks later, I did feel like a new person again.
With my first baby, I couldn’t see past each stage, but with this baby, I know that one day she will be going to school and losing teeth! Children are like walking clocks and I need to remind myself that certain stages are temporary and fleeting.
Thank you, Reem!
I loved looking around Reem’s home and seeing the pops of colors and textures she has brought into it from her native Pakistan. It makes her home feel warm and vibrant and gives it so much personality. What a win to have so many family members who are talented artists! Showing original art in the home is always such a great way to make your space feel unique and interesting — and having art that you have a personal connection to is even better.
I also loved what Reem had to say about relaxing into parenting a bit. Sometimes just keeping on top of the logistics of everything (laundry, dishes, wiping up all the sticky spots) can be a full time job. I loved Reem’s perspective that sometimes it’s okay to let the chores of parenting pile up a bit so that you can spend time with and actually enjoy your kids.
How do you keep yourself focused on the important parts of parenting? Do you find yourself getting sucked into the minutiae of chores and errands? Can you leave things until later, or do you find yourself getting easily overwhelmed?
Reem’s Children’s’ Book Lailah’s Lunchbox
Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at [email protected]