When Parents Go to Hajj…
by Nur Kose, Nura F, and Safiyyah Ghori
with additional content from Sabriya Zaman, Samiyah Ali Khan, and Sakinah F.
Every year, millions of Muslims around the world gather to Mecca for Hajj. Many men and women complete the sacred rituals that Muslims have been doing for hundreds, even thousands of years. During Hajj season, people around the world watch the daily tawaafs around the ka'bah on TV and on the Internet, observing the Hajjis fulfill the pilgrimage of a lifetime. People wonder about the Hajjis' stories, their trips, how long their journeys will be, and how they feel in such a sacred place. What many observers don't realize or consider, however, are the stories of the children left behind at home.
Some girls have collaborated together and have compiled some stories and experiences of Hajjis' kids on the homefront. Kids from all around the United States share what it was like for them to be at home while their parents were off at Hajj.
Finding someone to take the place of one's parents can be a difficult job. Most parents rely on other family members to take care of their young ones, whether at their own homes or at their family members' houses. Upon talking with various children whose parents went off to Hajj within the past few years, we realized that mostly, grandparents come to take the place of parents. One family of kids, however, stayed without any adults at all except for a college student who was living with them at the time. Fatimah, a then two-year-old, went to stay with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in another state when her parents traveled to Hajj last year. Her grandmother came along, as well, to help take care of her.
Challenges the Kids Faced
Nura and her siblings from Texas initially thought that three weeks without their parents would be lots of fun. They looked forward to no restrictions and doing as they pleased. However, as they soon came to realize, life without their parents would be a lot more than simply all fun and games. Even with the knowledge that a college student was staying in her parents' room upstairs, Nura felt like she and her siblings did most of the work. The college student stayed upstairs most of the time, making a lot of peculiar sounds that the kids preferred not to investigate.
Kids who are generally accustomed to everyday routine and habits they formed living with their parents must learn to adjust to new caretakers and possibly a new environment. If their caretaker is someone they know well, it is easier for the kids to adjust. Often, however, many kids have not been separated from their parents before and may have separation anxiety, especially when they are young.
Even for older kids and teens, being without parents is difficult. Arranging rides to get to different masjid events and even Eid prayer can be a challenge. Kids quickly realize that, even with a capable caretaker, life without parents, even for a short amount of time, can be really difficult.
Sabriya from Pennsylvania found it very difficult to be without her parents when they went to Hajj a few years ago. “I missed my parents so, so much. There isn't only one thing that I missed about them, I missed everything about them, their whole essence!” Besides simply missing her parents, Sabriya also faced a few other challenges. “I don't know why, but I felt like if my grandparents were to pick me up [from school], they would get lost in my school! Thankfully though, my grandpa knew where he was going and successfully found me.” Sabriya also felt bad about asking friends over to her house because she didn't want to make extra work for her grandmother.
Challenges the Caretakers Faced
Caretakers take on a huge responsibility when they agree to take care of kids for such a long period of time. Substituting as one's parents can be very difficult, especially for someone who hasn't taken care of younger children for years. Additionally, caretakers are often not fully accustomed to the kids' daily habits and although they try their best, some children just don't feel at home. Toddlers and younger children are especially difficult because they often become cranky when they are upset without their parents.
Many toddlers do not understand why their parents are gone and feel abandoned for a while as well. Although she had lots of cousins to play with her when her parents went to Hajj, two-year-old Fatimah was very confused when she didn't see her parents anywhere. Even after she realized they had left, she assumed they would be returning the next day. “When it was time to sleep, she spent half the night crying for her mom,” Fatimah's oldest cousin Nur remembers. “The next day, although she was her cheerful self again, playing and having fun with the rest of us, it was evident that she expected her parents to be back right away. We couldn't really explain the entire state of things, she being only two. Being the busy family we were, the doorbell rang a few times that day. Some people came to visit my grandmother while others came to drop something off. Every time the doorbell rang, Fatimah's eyes lit up, she stopped whatever she was doing and excitedly ran towards the front door, exclaiming, “Mama! Baba!” We felt so bad for her every time she realized it was someone else, her entire body drooping with disappointment and her eyes ready to overflow with tears any moment.” To distract her from the temporary loss of her parents, they often relied on paint and play-dough which were the causes of many messes over the next few days.
Not all kids whose parents went to Hajj had as many caretakers as Fatimah had. Nur remembers how her family divided up the challenge of taking care of the toddler. “Each of us had our role, official or unofficial in taking care of Fatimah. Fatimah quickly became a prize student in our homeschool and all the kids took turns teaching her. My mom and grandmother fed her. My sister and I helped dress her every morning and evening. I gave her a shower every few days. And my mom, grandmother, and I embarked on a difficult task, that of potty training her.”
Eid Without Parents
Having Eid without their parents is also very upsetting for many kids. For many, it is their first Eid without their parents and exceptionally difficult to enjoy. In fact, this is often the most difficult aspect of the entire Hajj experience for the kids left at home. Samiyah, a teenaged girl in Delaware remarks that because her grandmother couldn't drive her to Eid prayer, she and her brother had to go to school on Eid day. “Me and my brother were stuck going to school on Eid! No Eid prayer, no parties, and no gifts whatsoever. But my grandmother being the best grandmother ever got us pizza and donuts as a surprise.” Nura, a teenager in Texas claims there was nothing very enjoyable about her Eid day. “Eid day wasn't very exciting either, because we spent most of the time at home with a friend of my brother's, and a house we did nothing at but eat.”
For other families, Eid was still enjoyable even with parents off at Hajj. Fatimah got to enjoy tons of Eid gifts from all of her cousins and had lots of fun going to many Eid parties. Twelve-year-old Sabriya missed her parents but was still able to enjoy Eid. “I woke up and I wanted to say Eid Mubarak to my parents, but they weren't there. They were at Hajj. I knew that I should not be sad [because] of their absence, but happy that they were doing the special, life changing pilgrimage. So I put on a happy face and went to Eid prayer with my family. Honestly, I forgot I was so sad after a while because, come on! It's Eid!” Sabriya had lots of fun visiting friends and family.
Children find it very hard to adjust to life without their parents in what seems like the longest weeks of their lives. The average amount of time parents leave their kids when they go to Hajj is around three weeks. One couple, however, went for an entire month, while another was gone for a shorter time period of two weeks. Whatever the length, kids will think even one day without their parents is strange. The first few days are usually the toughest for all parties involved.
Older siblings often have to take on much more responsibility when their parents are gone, even with substitute caretakers. As Safiyyah and her sisters from Maryland soon came to realize, they would have to get themselves ready for school while their grandparents took care of their energetic younger brothers. “The plan was that my grandparents would come to our house and take care of us for those three weeks. As we later learned, this meant that we had to get up and make sure everyone was ready for school on time without any prompting. We also had to make sure that all of our homework was done on time and that we prayed on time without being told.” Safiyyah also quickly realized that she and her siblings would often have to entertain themselves without the usual daily events their parents would take them to. With six siblings in the house, finding activities to occupy everyone at home was a challenge.
As the eldest sister of her family, Samiyah realized that she would have more responsibilities than usual during her parents' absence. “I had a few extra chores to do around the house, more than usual which definitely wasn't something I enjoyed.” She also wasn't able to go anywhere except school during the entire month her parents were gone.
Nura's older sister was in charge of making sure the lights were on outside at night, and the doors were locked. She had to make sure everyone did their jobs of washing dishes, cleaning the house, and cooking. It was her responsibility to call people for rides. From her experience, she says, “We rely on our parents for so many things, but you don't realize how much responsibility it is until you experience it yourself.”
Although staying at home when parents go off to Hajj poses many challenges for the kids, there are many positive experiences that the kids get to enjoy, even with their parents across the country. Nura from Texas invited one of her friends over for a baking day once. Another time, she went for Jumuah on the Friday after Eid and hung out at the masjid's playground with her siblings and the college student she stayed with. They all were so hungry that they decided to have ice cream at the only ice cream place in town. They couldn't go home because their usual ride was at work. Nura was so desperately hungry that she actually took a piece of wrapped cheese she discovered on the grass and ate it. It was actually worth it! When the ride came, Nura went shopping with her siblings, and since it was October at the time, Halloween candy was all over the place. Nura's younger brother suggested buying a bag of candy, and since no parents were around to set off tirades about cavities and prices, the bag of candy was purchased! They remembered these memorable random experiences even months later. Nura tells of another hilarious memory she experienced in her parents' absence.
“An event I must not forget while my parents were at Hajj was one of the enjoyable things about being without them. It was a normal (well, not really normal) Saturday afternoon. I have no idea what we were doing, but my younger brother brought everyone's attention to a black widow spider that had been hanging around the shoe place for a while. We decided to kill it. First we sprayed it with something to freeze it on the wall, and then we trapped it there with a yogurt container. One of us slid a piece of paper under the container. Then we put all that jazz into a giant Ziploc bag…[W]e were screaming the whole time, and wondering why the college student upstairs was paying no attention to us. The Ziploc bag somehow ended up outside. That was one of the memorable things about those three weeks without my parents, and I still wonder how the college student did not hear us. ”
Samiyah and her siblings enjoyed positive memories, as well, as they bonded with their grandmother more than they ever had before, particularly on Eid day when they enjoyed pizza and doughnuts together. Safiyyah and her siblings had a lot of fun at the airport while dropping their parents off. “It was very cool to see all the planes and people who were going to different parts of the world.”
Connecting with Parents
It's not so easy to connect with people from overseas, but there's always a way to greet one's parents at Hajj and ask them how everything is going. Nura video chatted with her parents two times while they were gone, and called them on Eid day. They were doing great, but sounded awfully tired and looked even worse. However, by the stories told by her mother much later, Nura could tell her mother had a great time with the humorous, silly, and awesome members of her Hajji group.
Because of the time difference, other kids were not always able to communicate often with their parents. Fatimah was only able to talk to her parents on the phone once. And then she was too shy to say much. When the rest of the family video chatted with her parents, Fatimah was usually asleep.
After Parents' Return
Once parents return from Hajj, everything doesn't go back to normal right away. There is lots of fun, of course, reuniting with each other, getting gifts from Mecca and celebrating Eid again a few days late. However, readjusting to the everyday life before Hajj can also be difficult, especially for younger kids who had gotten used to new adjustments and habits. When their parents come back, young children often act rebellious as payback for their parents' absence. They may also take time to warm up again.
After the Hajj experience, younger kids can ironically get even more attached to their parents than before, making sure not to let their parents out of their sight again. When two-year-old Fatimah's parents returned from Hajj, she was careful to stay close to her mom always after that. The next time she visited her aunt, uncle, and cousins in Delaware, she started crying when her mother was in the other room. When her dad and uncle went out for a few hours, she assumed that they had gone to Hajj and said, “Baba went to Hajj!”
Two young girls whose parents performed Hajj last year found it strange and frightening to live without their parents, and found it harder to warm up to their mother again once she returned. Two of Safiyyah's younger brothers wouldn't leave their parents even to go to the bathroom. The older children weren't able to simply give up their responsibilities once their parents returned. After the long Hajj experience, Hajjis are usually jetlagged and tired. Many develop illnesses and have to rest before resuming care of their children. During the time after her parents' return, Nura and her siblings continued to do the work they had been doing before because their parents were sick. Fatimah's parents were also sick when they returned from Hajj, and they were not able to continue potty-training her.
Learning about their parents' experiences, however, is lots of fun. Safiyyah marveled at her parents' descriptions of their Hajj. “They talk about the crowds and how everything stops at salah time and how amazing it is to hear the athan in the streets.” All of this makes Safiyyah eager to perform Hajj, as well.
When Nura went to pick up her parents from the airport, it was wonderful and strange at the same time. At home, the kids helped their parents unpack, and discovered lots of strange and unique souvenirs, like two enormous bottles of ZamZam water, little packages of dates, and strange-but-delicious Arab sweets. Among the gifts Nura's parents brought were beautiful abayas with matching hijabs, fancy thawbs, and hats to go with them.
An additional strange part about reuniting with one's parents occurs after the dads shave their heads. When Nura video-chatted her parents, she was surprised to see her dad's shiny bald head. Her first reaction was, “Whoa” and then it became, “Oh yeah, I forgot you're supposed to shave your head.” Still, throughout the whole video chat, she could not take her eyes off her dad's head. Later, at a girls' halaqa gathering, Nura remembers telling her friends, “My dad is, like, totally bald.”
Kids left behind when their parents are off to Hajj usually learn important life lessons. After such a big event and long absence from their parents, they realize the importance of their parents. Many kids also learn how to be a lot more independent and to take care of themselves more than they had before.
Since she was supposedly freer without her parents around, Nura left her Algebra I alone for just a while. She soon realized the hard way that she should not have left those days alone, and ended up finishing her Algebra I near the end of May. That was not fun, considering Algebra I was really challenging for her!
Nura also came to appreciate her parents more after the experience. “Life wasn't very exciting without Mom and Dad. I had nothing to blog about in their absence, except for their absence. That Eid was the first one I'd ever spent without Mom and Dad. I'm not hoping for an Eid like that again. Obviously, this experience was Allah showing me how important my parents are.”
Samiyah learned that she “could be more independent and didn't need my parents around all of the time.”
Advice to Other Kids
Many of the kids had their own pieces of advice to give to others whose parents will be going off to Hajj in the near future.
“When your parents leave, you are so overwhelmed with boredom that even interesting, fun things become dull and gray and all you even want to do most of the time is sleep and wish your parents were home,” Safiyyah says. “I was really bored while my parents were gone. I didn't think I would be, but I was, and it was terrible!” Nura says. Samiyah from Delaware agrees. “My advice to kids whose parents are at Hajj is that they shouldn't think about their parents all the time…Another thing that makes it better is having someone who's the next best thing after your parents around to keep an eye on you and your siblings.”
The unspoken advice of toddlers is definitely to keep an eye on your parents all the time. Otherwise, they might just decide to escape from you for a few weeks…
Have your parents gone to Hajj before? What was it like for you? Tell us by commenting below!
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