My Super Power
When I got pregnant as a twenty-two-year-old college student I heard a saying that stuck with me until today and has pushed me through many moments. “Life happens while you are making plans”. That is the absolute truth. It used to be just my own circumstances that would change, but then as a parent my children’s lives and decisions also now impacted mine. LIfe happened all around me while I was busy making plans.
If I was a superhero my cape would be blue and I would be rocking a silver “R” for resilience because that is my superpower. Resilience is the way I have made it through hard times and not only survived but thrived and stood tall through it all. I sometimes wonder how I got to this place amid the chaos and unpredictability life has been throwing at me since I was twenty-two?
I am fully aware as I share this that I have had many privileges and opportunities afforded throughout these experiences to help create a space for resilience. My parents had financial means and the home to support me when I got pregnant, I completed college with no debt and I married a man who was financially established with a career and a homeowner while I was in college. All those play into what I was able to do and how I navigated my life. Despite that, I have been tested in other ways and overcome barriers along the way. I managed to balance a lot on my shoulders and have made it look effortless. That is not a small feat, but it also didn’t happen by accident or because I was privileged. It took knowledge of myself and intentional decisions to get myself here. To be resilient, we have to be aware of what we do, see and say in our mindsets and actions.
In November 2020 I was driving my children to a socially-distanced family Thanksgiving celebration and making small talk. I turned to my second son and asked if his college Political Science class had spent time talking about the upcoming election and was promptly met with this reply. “ Oh yeah Ma, I meant to tell you, I dropped that class, and actually I dropped out of school.” After I finally managed to lift my jaw off the ground, adjust myself in my seat and take several deep breaths, I simply said, “OK”. In my head, there was a cacophony of curse words flying and I really just wanted to grab his shoulders and shake the reality of life choices into him. Instead, I held it together and just let the moment pass to give myself time to process. Fast forward three days and this same son went from being a teenager who dropped out of college to a new marine recruit. This is one of the million reasons I have stopped making plans because life and shit will constantly happen and I have no control.
Following his bomb drop on Thanksgiving, I told him that since he was old enough to drop out of school without any conversation with me, he was old enough to figure out his own transportation to and from work. Turns out my reaction to his decision, pushed him into manhood faster than I realized. On his bus ride home from work he saw the poster for marine recruits and called the office to set up an appointment. The call came a few days later and then we were on this new path for his future.I was standing in the eye of a storm while everything swirled around me in his one extreme decision to another. But this decision was admirable and showed more maturity than his older brother and father when it came to shifting gears and continuing to move forth as life gets tough. He showed resilience which is a life-saving skill I pray all my children find one day.
Resilience is a noun, but it isn’t a state of being. It is birthed through small intentional steps and moments where we make decisions for ourselves to either allow the world to control our fate or take the reins. The power of our thoughts is instrumental in healing and getting through challenges and barriers. I have always been optimistic, flexible, and patient. These three things make getting through tough times a whole lot easier. My optimism means that no matter how bad I may feel or something might seem, I will look for the silver lining and reframe it into an opportunity. That doesn’t mean I don’t get upset or think negatively, I just choose not to dwell or park myself in that spot because it would never move me forward. So take a moment and feel the feelings that overwhelm you, cry it out or punch something ( preferably not someone), but then stand up, dust yourself off, and widen your lens to see more of the picture. How can this be an opportunity for me and not a barrier?
At twenty-two, I framed my pregnancy and this sudden shift from a carefree party-girl in college to a soon-to-be mom with the optimistic view that this was an opportunity to make my life better and finally grow up. I took the fact that the absence of the father of my child just meant I needed to be both the maternal and paternal role in his life. I focused on finishing school and moving into a career that would be the financial stability my child and I needed. My optimism was supported by the opportunity to live at home with my parents and go to school full-time while working only part-time. My flexibility and patience with myself and others during this time got me through the first adult life decision I was suddenly presented with. I had to adjust to the moments my parents would be thrown back into the cultural stigma of having a Muslim daughter being pregnant with no man in sight. I had to be patient when my family presented multiple “alternative choices” to having my baby or raising him on my own. It took a lot out of me as a twenty-two-year-old kid, but I made it through because I didn’t lose sight of my optimism that the pregnancy was a blessing in my life meant to teach me something. I became a mom, graduated undergrad, and started my career with this optimism, patience, and flexibility. Mindsets frame the lens through which we see our experiences. We can choose to see life’s challenges as punishments or opportunities to grow. The framing around the picture we paint is what we control when life takes an unplanned course.
Mindsets don’t work on their own. I can believe many things, but if those beliefs aren’t coupled with actions not much will change in my life. The action that helps me thrive when life gets hard is that I never go it alone. I have an ever-expanding village. When I made the decision at 40 to leave my seventeen-year marriage and move out with my four children, I needed a support system. I reached out to my sister and Jose, one of my closest friends from my high school days. In the 6 months it took to make my final getaway, I leveraged this village.
Each morning when my ex tried to punish me for my decision to leave with his words and dismissive actions, they were there. I was still required to walk into the job I was trying to get the hang of and which required all the mental and emotional capacity I could muster to lead conversations on race with strangers. As I grappled with it all on the way to work, I called either one of them. I cried and processed my morning than planned the next steps of moving out and figuring out my life changes. Every day Jose would say “Mars, we will get through this.” My support system was not only there for me, but to the extent, they could be, they were in it with me. So I could end my hour and a half long commute, freshen my face and walk into the office as though nothing was different and I was the dependable, positive Marya that always showed up and delivered.
This is only a tiny snapshot of who my village is and how they got me through life changes and challenges. The key is that I needed that space to breakdown and be authentically my mess of a self who didn’t have all the answers or couldn’t hold it together so that when I had no choice about those things I was ready to show up and give a perception of thriving for my survival both financially and my sanity. Reach out to people and let yourself be supported. It is not a weakness, it is a strength. Sidekicks are integral to superheroes getting the work done, Your village should be your lifelong sidekick.
It’s not about your aptitude in life it’s about your attitude. I think I saw that sign in one of my son’s classes and I wholeheartedly agree. Attitudes are infectious internally and externally. We manifest what may come and what we attract through the attitude we put forth. That is why I laugh a lot. Most likely you won’t be in a serious conversation with me for too long before I crack a joke or say something ridiculous to lighten the mood. I do this in personal and professional spaces because it’s how we get comfortable and make others feel at ease. I am serious and driven, but I laugh a lot. Most of which is self-deprecating humor, because we have to be able to laugh at ourselves to accept that we are flawed and it’s ok. This got me through when my father was dying of a terminal illness in 2010. After three years of watching him wither into a 68-year-old frail and weak man, I would spend nights in the ICU with him and crack jokes. We would share stories about the boys and the things they did to entertain me and him. In his final year his ability to communicate had become less, he needed dialysis and was eating through a feeding tube, I would sit by him and continue to tell my stories not knowing if he heard them or not. Levity and humor made the hardest goodbye I have had yet, a little easier.
Life is unpredictable, unexplainable at times, and never ever in our control. How we approach it and what we choose to do and see is up to us. The only thing we control is ourselves. The one certainty I have is that life will keep changing and challenges will keep coming. I hope for me, my children, and for all of you that regardless of that presence, you have the tools and knowledge to keep moving forward and harness your superpower to thrive amid the chaos with resilience.