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Liane Al Ghusain

THIS IS NOT A MAMA BLOG

#RealTalk about developing yourself and raising kids. Covering everything from mom guilt to dating in the Arab world.

DOES AGING TURN YOU INTO A SCAREDY CAT?

I first noticed it when I was at my favorite beach north of Beirut.

I had jumped that cliff many times. Squealing, holding hands with a girlfriend. Smiling, eyes and body squinched shut into a cannonball, trying to impress a boy. Making a star shape, mid-air for the ‘gram at sunset.

That’s why when my heart dropped as I looked down from the cliff edge, I was a little surprised. What had changed? Can one develop a fear of heights spontaneously? The only new development, honestly, was that I’d just turned thirty. The cliff had never been that high, anyway.

You can do this, I egged myself on. You don’t want to be one of those women who won’t swim in cold water or get on rollercoasters.

every time this gif loops my stomach flips.

I stood at the edge again. This time, my knees actually knocked together! A first. Whoa. I decided to listen to my body. I walked back down to the seashore, crestfallen. I was soon distracted by friends and our delicious lunch of fresh fish, but my mind came back to it again and again.

Do we develop new anxieties and phobias as we age? Does life paralyze us as we grow?

We all remember the driving anxiety that Kim Kardashian developed once she had kids (and if you don’t keep up the Kardashians, I congratulate you and I’m sure your brain cells thank you). There are even reports of postpartum OCD and germaphobia that hit new mothers with a vengeance. It makes sense that your Mama Bear instinct would kick right in and protect your cubs at all costs. But could my biological clock be similarly responsible for my spontaneous acrophobia?

A little poking around on the internet…and BAM! I was right 😎 Not only was growing up making me more afraid of heights…it was actually making the very cliff appear higher than it actually was. The reason being that “perceiving something as being taller than it actually is can reduce your risk for dangerous falls, increasing the likelihood that you’ll live to thus reproduce.”

And I learned the fancy term for this…EVOLVED NAVIGATION THEORY.

The theory is backed up by legit scientific research and funny sentences such as, “Falling injuries likely influenced reproductive fitness in all environments in which humans evolved.” So, the next time you’re at the beach choosing a chaise lounge instead of chasing thrills, you can just say,

“Well, excuse me for lying here like a beached whale, I’m just minding my reproductive fitness.”

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LEMME TELL YA

Virgos like to be supporting actors. We enjoy being backstage (unless you’re Beyonce) where the view is better, back where we can see everything and we don’t have to be full-blown participants in the drama of life. We’re looking for patterns, seeing signs, and every once in awhile, closing our eyes, taking a deep breath and stepping into the limelight. I don’t intend to share much of ‘me’ on here, but since it IS my birthday tomorrow, here are some of the main themes and lessons of my 31st year:

Stepping outside your comfort zone is great, but once you’ve hit your thirties, it’s ok to enjoy your comfort zone a little.

Honestly, even an overachieving b*tch (it me) needs to take a break. At some point around hitting thirty (and like, no judgment if this isn’t the case for you) you start making enough money and feel comfortable career wise (Saturn returns, baby!). Relax 💆‍♀

And then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll shift your attention to the freaking MEANING of your life.

And there’s no damn bank account for that, let me tell you. You start to wonder - am I a first world problem? Is my existence choking the earth? Is my complacency about poverty and politics basically how the world got so fucked up in the first place? I’m a professional _____ …but what do I DO? How do I serve humanity? What is my MISSION?

First of all, breathe.

Second of all, stop. Enjoy the present moment. Your joy is radical. You’ve earned your peace.

And finally, read on to my last point.

Your thoughts mirror your actions. Meditation works.

Meditation is a form of prayer. Prayer is a form of meditation. There are loads of resources on meditation, and the meditation app space is crazy right now (maybe even oversaturated). If you’re ready to start meditating, the right way to do so will appear in your life. For me, it happened on a silent retreat in Bali, after I had been reading Sufi texts.

I just started repeating “AL-LAH-HU” silently. And then magic happened. It felt like I was watching a sunrise with my eyes closed.

I’ve begun to study Sufism with others and we gather to talk and chant. I also participated in an abundance whatsapp group challenge that featured daily Deepak Chopra meditations and journal exercises, and saw some surreal results for both myself and fellow members.*

There is no substitute for action.

Your thoughts might be powerful, but it’s your actions really have the potential to affect others and the world we live in. On my birthday this year, I tried to set the tone for the rest of the year — I volunteered, raised money for a charity, and spent time with family. Sometimes I wish I were a policymaker, because that’s where we can really enact change, I think. My thirties have been shifting so that it’s less about me and more about the world I hope to leave behind for future generations. Here’s to a lifetime of selflessness. end scene

*I’m happy to tell you more about what happened during the abundance challenge if you message me privately!

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OMG BABY SIGN LANGUAGE

YES, you read right. Babies are speaking sign language.

I recently visited my college bestie Jess in the UK, and finally got to meet her AMAZING identical twin boys, Will and Arlo. I was astounded at how many words they were both speaking, and even more so when I saw them use sign language.

We were at the park, and the twins started doing a funky little hand movement simultaneously. Like this 👌🏼, but it flutters! I understand that identical twins are in sync, but this was weird. It felt like both one-year-olds were trying to tell me the same thing.

“Jess, what’s this?” I ask, showing her the little hand movement.

“Oh, that’s a bird,” she said nonchalantly.

Like, duh. I looked at the tree where the boys had been waving their hands, and saw a sparrow fluttering up to its branches.
“Right…” I said, looking at Will —or was it Arlo?— as he moved his attention to the ball that had bounced over from the playground. Was there a sign for that too?
”I’ve been taking them to baby sign language class,” she said.

Jess has always been #goals, from her killer writing, to her boho chic life and family, to her sweet, giving nature. It was so cool to see what an active, hands-on mom she is, and how developed her kids are as a consequence! In my time and travels throughout the Middle East, Europe, and North America, not all the new parents I had talked to had heard of or were using baby sign language.

I got insight from Lubna, who is using baby sign language with her 2-year-old twin nephew and niece in New York, that you have to be strategic when using baby sign language.

“If a baby signs something to you, you should respond accordingly.

So, if my niece signs that she’s hungry, I should show her I understand by giving her a piece of bread. If she signs “I love you” then I should sign back “I love you too” instead of whipping my phone out for a quick Instagram story of my freaking adorable niece.”

Oops! So when Will and Arlo were signing about the bird, the supportive thing to have done was to turn around, look at the bird and also sign “bird.” Now I know! There are lots of baby sign resources, and there have even been scientific studies done that show babies can learn sign language just from watching videos. Another friend, Nauf (whose story I’ll write about in an upcoming post), says of teaching her daughter sign language,

“I know it saved us so many tantrums and meltdowns!”

It seems particularly useful to use baby sign language to know when your babies are in pain (when they’re teething, for example, so that you can give them medicine). And sometimes it can be hilarious. Take, for example, when the twins both started signing “more” after I did a super groovy interpretation of the chicken dance for them. Or this little guy from Meet the Fockers!

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Is it a Couples-Only Thing?

The older we get, the more RSVPing is a thing. The better we get at hosting, the more insistent we get on knowing the number of people showing up to our house. I mean, how many fondue sets should Dana put out? Am I pre-ordering 3 or 4 pizzas for the Rupaul Drag Race finale?

Recently, we were RSVPing on a WhatsApp group to a gathering, and people were responding as couples. The Smiths. The Hassans. The newly married Salahs (mabrook!).

One of my single girlfriends made a joke about it, and all the other singles chimed in in support. “We’re coming too!” “Wanna be my plus one?” It was pretty cute to see. I think I’m pretty lucky to be part of a “mixed” group of friends - that is, made up of both singles and couples, men and women. It keeps things interesting for everyone, I think. But what about those socially isolated groups?

Do people feel they have to only hang out with other couples after they get married? And only have “girls” and “boys” nights otherwise?

Why does this mindset exist? The cynic in me thinks that everyone gets self-conscious once marriage starts to unite us, and, ironically, divide us. So, for single people, we don’t hang out with other couples because it makes us feel “behind.” I’ve had girlfriends confide in me, telling me about how they thought they’d be married by now. How they’re sad their friends are having babies without them. Basically, that hanging out with couples makes them feel depressed about not being “on track” in their personal lives. Another thing single people worry about is posing a threat to couples. My girlfriends and I have actually discussed tactics for dealing with jealous/possessive wives. I’ve heard guys talk about how their newly married guy friends don’t want to introduce their wives to them, and kind of just, disappear.

And in the case of couples, perhaps they too feel like they are out of sync when they compare themselves to their single friends. I’ve had a friend who just had her third baby sit me down and say, “ok, now tell me exciting things about the world out there. What adventure are you going on next?” She wants to know about movies that aren’t about animated cars and hear about disastrous first dates. This kind of curiosity and honesty is rare. Most “mommies” (and “daddies,” honestly) seem to feel deflated about being wholly dedicated to their kids (for now), and the self-involved presence of single people perhaps sharpens that feeling.

In both cases, having people around who can’t identify with your major gripes can be challenging. Yes, I need to bitch about how lonely it is to order or cook food for one person. Do I need you to feel the same? No.

Perhaps you think I don’t want to hear about how hard it is to share an apartment with someone who prefers to live at arctic temperatures. Honestly, if I care about you, I want to hear about what you’re going through. I think we could all learn a thing or two about compassionate listening, and it starts with putting yourself aside, making some time, and keeping friendships through thick and thin, matrimony and singledom.