Love Language

It’s a rainy Sunday morning. I’m sitting cross-legged on my couch, the fancy one I won’t let anyone eat or drink around. I’m breaking my rule and have a few last drops of coffee shallowing out my cup on the table next to me. My feet are feeling a little numb because I don’t want to detangle just yet. My laptop has set small lines on my thighs.  I woke up in the dark because I couldn’t sleep and have waited quietly for the yellow to come through, but all I’m seeing this morning include dull whites and greens because the rain has got some work to do.

I got to working yesterday as well. After a conversation that spun about spouses to fictional characters to stories, I found myself staring at something I’d read five or six years ago when my friend was trying to figure some things out about her life: websites on love languages. If you’re like me and could use some brushing up, here’s some quick info on it: Gary Chapman wrote a book in 1995 that has been on bestseller lists for some time. In it he describes the five ways humans experience and express love. It’s broken down and clarified into these expressions: physical touch, acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation, and quality time.

I had dropped off the kids to enjoy freedom with their grandparents for the night. Kal was working, so I treated myself to a pedicure. While I waited to get seated, I took two online tests to figure out which love language I spoke. Don’t we all want to know more about ourselves by clicking on a few questions?

I don’t know how truly accurate they are, but this one and this one were of the first to pop up on my search, and I was anxious to figure out what love language I was without having to read the book (reading will have to resume after the school year lets me up for air). I did both tests and figured out that generally, one of these is my primary and one of these is my secondary love language. 

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I was not surprised to find out that words of affirmation was a big one for me. Of course that makes sense. I was disappointed, though, to figure out the one about my loving gifts. It makes sense though. I think I show love in this way and maybe my friends could attest to that. Looking back on it, I could never understand how Kal would get uncomfortable receiving gifts or how he’s not the gift-for-the-occasion person that I certainly am. I guess if I look back deeply enough, I get it–not the materialistic side (ah!), but the side of having someone think of you and just do something concrete with some forethought.

Before 8 pm when we were surrounded by date-night plates of sashimi, I read questions aloud to Kal as he drove us to the restaurant. I clicked his answers to some interesting questions. With the advantage of knowing him for 14 years, I read questions like, “After a long and tough week, what do you want most from your partner?” or “When you’re in an emotional place, you want your partner to…” After two tests, we figured out his love language.

Having a partner for over a decade gives you the advantage of knowing them up close and personal. It doesn’t mean variables won’t change you or that people won’t disappoint you, but there are basic things you just kind of know. It’s validating to know that I probably could guess at his language but didn’t know exactly how to break it down or how my way of expressing was different from his way.

I asked him to guess mine, and instantly he said words of affirmation. When I told him about the gift one, he laughed and said, “yeah, I can see that.” All of this online quizzing brought us to some open and new conversation. That type of talk is truly refreshing in marriages when life operations consume most of our conversational energy. We got this small glimpse of how things can be reframed and adjusted like a painting that you move from one wall to another. You notice something you haven’t seen before even though it’s been in front of you for years.

As we walked into the restaurant, I told him that I’d most definitely hug him more and be enthusiastic about cooking dinners, something that because it usually falls on me feels like a chore those nights I just want to not think about taking out the chicken. In turn, I kidded, he may want to praise me, get me a small gift, and then maybe load up the dishwasher.

Take the quirky quizzes yourself and see where they take you. It’s a perfect Sunday morning thing to do, and it can teach you something about how you express and receive love in any type of relationship.

Stitches

Zade is not yet 5 but has had over twice that number in emergency stitches. Over a year ago, he needed 6 stitches on his hand, and now he has 7 more on his face. I will no longer hear a story about a kid getting stitches and take it casually.

What ends up as a faded line starts as a break in expectations and pain. 

Thursday started with confidence. After work I even had coffee with a former student turned teacher, a perfect kind of person you hope the education world will appreciate.

I went for a run and came back to kids who like myself needed bathing. Five minutes after their routine started, Zade fell with all his might on the edge of the bathtub and gashed his face close to his eye. I yelled for Kal to come fast, and then quickly turned into another person.

I talked calmly and looked into Zade’s eyes to show him it was okay. I regulated my voice and said anything I could to reduce his frenzy. His blood flowed everywhere, and I felt I wanted to catch it all and put it all back inside. I wrapped him in a towel like a baby and carried him to his room. Layla hovered over him like a young nurse and brought out her special first aids kit. Kal noticed it was my battlefield and let me figure out what to do next. Zade’s uncle who had just arrived gave him a pep talk and sweetly insisted on helping us. After texting with a few special doctor friends who were so supportive and guiding, a true testament to their hearts, we left to the hospital.

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When Zade was given oral sedatives before the procedure, he gagged for a few minutes profusely until he just he slumped over like a drunken frat boy in my arms. He went to what Susie called a “happy place.” He’d put his hands in front of him and examined them, rotating them slowly like one would examine crystals against the sunlight. His eyes roaming over the room, he asked me to go to the office store with him; he slurred words together; and asked how come we got back to our home so fast.

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Four uncomfortable, scary steps and nearly 3 hours later, Zade was totally restrained, wrapped in a white sheet and a papoose, a blue flapped straight jacket. He looked coffined, and it was horrifying despite its logic.  The nurse held his head and Kal bent over Zade’s little boy body. A memory of Kal holding onto my leg when Zade was born passed over my eyes. I cupped the top of Zade’s feet, the only skin visible—even his head was covered in a blue sterile cloth. Layla, my amethyst, refused to leave the room and cried for her brother while standing on her toes to see the doctor with needle and thread. She wanted to see every step, just like the last time Zade got stitches. She even got mad at us for not moving over so she’d have a better angle.

Zade cried out for help from both Kal and me. He tore our hearts when he shouted, “I’m going to die, Mama!” and “They are breaking me!” He begged Kal to get them to stop. It was the most counterintuitive moment. Zade didn’t see my face then, so I looked down at Layla and broke down and hated myself so much for his pain. Like always, I felt she could handle my real emotions. We were palms matching on a window in that small ER room.

When it was all done and Zade had red syrup from his Popsicle on the tip of his nose and around his mouth, Layla said, “Wow, Zade. I don’t know how you did all that.” Kal nabbed a wheelchair rebelliously and rolled them out, racing them through the dark parking lot. Finally, Zade and Layla were with each other again, kids asking about ice cream, and the ordeal was over.

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We stopped at Waffle House on the way home. The kids and I stayed in the car while Kal got two waffles for Zade. Zade was still drunk off his medicine and looked as wobbly as the young guys taking tabasco shots inside. The night ended for the kids with myriad maple kisses. I lay in bed dead to the world but still awake for a few hours unable to sleep.

Tonight my parents came over to bring get well gifts for the kids. After a quick recap, I didn’t focus on anything that wasn’t funny. We got through it. It’s already become a story now of the time when Zade got that scar on his face. You can’t be badass without at least one of those, right? Most importantly though, even while we were at the hospital, we held steadfast awareness that so many kids endure so much more, a thought that is even more nauseating when a fraction of that misfortune happens to your own child.

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Instead, the kids played with new toys around citronella candles on the porch as we all rocked back and forth, arching from one conversation to another.

I’m thankful that nighttime comes at the end and that daytime comes eventually after that. I’m grateful that patterns exist and that there are things in this world we can count on. Waiting in the pharmacy parking lot, Zade blurted shakily that he’s afraid if he dies he will stop thinking. I can barely type that without reminding myself to breathe. It’s clear, though, that he’s been reflecting, too.

I thought I’d end Thursday with that school routine we’re trying to start back up again, but the unexpected took us somewhere else.

My stories here never end the way I leave them on the page. One story leads to another, each reflection as valuable as the conversation we had in the car today where words embed best intentions and family does its best to somehow roll with it.

This Summer

On writing her memoir, Abigail Thomas says, “instead of not-writing, I am painting.”

If you don’t count a thin Crayola watercolor paint brush from Zade’s art drawer, I haven’t picked up a real brush for many years. Andrea bought me my first adult painting set in October 2008.  Kal was in Dubai for a few months and I was open to focus on my own devices. The spirit of Halloween nearby, we sat on an old red tablecloth in my living room and painted side by side. I’m squinting hard to remember what I painted—probably a sunset or some trees, the usual beginner fantasies of painting—but I remember thinking, now that wasn’t so hard.

Thomas begins her account with this simple and equally truthful message: “Nothing is wasted when you are a writer. The stuff that doesn’t work has to be written to make way for the stuff that might; often you need to take the long way around.”

I’ve focused on writing this summer more than I’ve dreamed of for any summer, and when I wasn’t writing, I was “not-writing” while observing something else. Long drives back and forth from kids’ camps became quiet moments where I could uncover a crucial plot element or come up with an idea I’d toss later. Either way, it only mattered that while I was consistently busy this summer, I was also “not-writing” when I was.

I’ve become more and more comfortable with scrapping pages and pages of writing, so hard to pluck out at first but still purposeful in laying out the road. Two things have helped me the most: just writing. just committing.

On a great leap of faith, I enrolled in a UCLA extension course on short fiction writing, one of many I hope to take. To echo a girl I met this summer, I didn’t want all the balloons buoyant in my head to just release, one by one out into air.

On the first day of class, our professor asked both for creative writing and for some writing on what brought us to the class. I admitted the ultimate catalyst for enrolling: Taking this class is a grand leap of faith on myself. In fact, I almost didn’t take this symbolic course.

I put the money aside and was debating if I should do stuff for the house instead, another source of joy, or saving it in what Betty Smith names the moneybox nailed down in the closet.  One day on the way to get my hair colored, I got pulled over for speeding. I was polite and knew I was wrong for speeding, so I apologized to the officer and took my ticket with dignity. I knew then that I wouldn’t be able to take the course after all and took it as a sign. I held it together and accepted it like an adult.

Two weeks later, I sat in the same car and called up to pay for the ticket, and clerk said I owed $39.00. Shocked, I confirmed what she said, $39.00. I almost sang out my card numbers to the automated service. I was expecting to pay over 200 dollars at least, but there I sat with my phone and credit card in my hands,  waiting in the parking lot for the other shoe to drop. It didn’t.

So I went home, created my account, and signed up for the class.

I had a deadline for class during Andrea’s latest visit here. After Kal and the kids went to bed, both of us sat at my long dining room table with only the glow of the soft light above us. Two cups of coffee sitting next to us in mismatched mugs and our laptops open, we wrote quietly alongside each other for hours. The best part of this experience was not just the energy. It was the catalyst for the moment—although this time I was the one to orchestrate it.

Two weeks ago, I had two rose gold necklaces made for us, each one stamped with the first letter of each of our most important characters. Big Magic inspired me to commit to characters, the way one would while married or the way one would while having an affair, sneaking off no matter what is at stake to be together. Over oysters and pomegranate drinks, we held hands and took a vow to stay true to our stories.

 

 

We opened the boxes together and slipped our necklaces on. From that moment, we steadily walked away from life updates and strolled right into our stories. The rest of the visit, when Andrea wasn’t playing Barbies and Jenga, or watching Rio and Wild Kratts with her niece and nephew, in the moments when we had some quiet, we filled ourselves up with the explorative, something consistent between us but noticeably rare, a joy that only comes with someone who stares out the window like you do.

Amidst long summer days, learning about our new home, going to a Georgian safari, myriad trips to Brusters, laughing with visitors, long pool days, running around a track, bike riding, camps from rock climbing to gymnastics, Layla’s first playdate at Six Flags, Zade’s mischief-charm, text-designing with friends, slower mornings, really late nights, reading and listening to books, cooking warm meals, eating tacos at the table, crazy sibling rivalry, sweet sibling synergy, running in the early morning, getting splashed by the sprinkler, visiting with neighbors, Spiderman and Barbie adventures, workshop training, daytime appointments, kids sprawled upside down on the couch, watching cartoon matinees, and melting in high summer Georgia heat, I stayed dedicated to not letting the thick-head talk that comes in the way with allowing yourself to create.

Next week our lives change up again to the rhythms of fall semester. Lots of this summer in which we’ve nestled will change to a pitched energy. I’m aware of it, but it is still 6 days away. We still have a few more memories to make in this narrowing expanse; therefore, I’ll just write it out to carry its hopeful weight: summer is not over just yet. 

Independence

Last night we set up camping chairs on the front lawn and listened to fireworks go off all over the area. A few times, we saw some colorful crackles above the dark trees ahead. With all the trees around us, the sky never looks just black; it’s charcoal with strong, bright stars. If these stars could strut, they would do so nobly like the stroll of a pedigree in a horse show.  Seeing real fireworks had nothing on the soft breeze and the noble stars last night.

The four of us took snacks outside and sat in blue chairs on the lawn. The kids lit up sparklers with more and more confidence until they were each swirling in circles and making rings with the fire sparks. I joined them with some and whirled around; we looked like a team of amateur driveway dervishes. Afterward, Kal lit up some fireworks at our house, and both the kids and I held our breath until the last starburst. When they were done, I asked the trees, “you guys doing okay?” I wonder if they brace themselves or roll their eyes when the time comes for fireworks. It was weird to be on the side of the “crazy people that light their own fireworks;” I’ve thought that before, but here I was, reluctant yet willing to watch, kind of just wanting not to say no to Kal. He should be able to experience this season in this new space his own way, too.

When our shows were over, the kids and I blew out the giant citronella candle that we used in lieu of a campfire, and we made our way back to the house.

Maybe it was running in the heat that morning or cooking a big lunch, or maybe it was our lazy trip to Brusters or the adventurous grocery shopping we did, but by the time this joyous moment happened, I passively slid into it. I didn’t waste my energy on the reel of scary I can often do, for example, on any given Sunday night before school when I picture all the bad things that could happen. Instead, I just enjoyed and didn’t think about it until right now.

But this isn’t always the case. You know how you feel something is so right and hope so much that you don’t mess it up? That the wave you’re riding on may turn into a tide against you? My good friend reminded me of Brene Brown’s words when I shared with her I was afraid of the other shoe dropping: joy is terrifying. To let go of the refuge in safe decisions that I might make for our family is to risk that I may upset a rhythm we’ve created that brings us peace. Yes, I’ll push against complacency, but it doesn’t mean I’m not scared doing it.

I struggle with this especially as I feel more confident and more adventurous than ever.  But honestly the time when I’m the most fearful is the time when things are doing just fine. In fact, if you’ve read previous posts, you know how much moving into this new home has meant to me. I’ve seen close friends experience this high and then get kicked unexpectedly. I’m an optimistic person who has seen this happen so often to my friends and just notice it as a pattern.

My reconciliation has been that I just have to ride the wave and hope that I can handle what comes up next, knowing that hardship presents its own gifts. Brene Brown says, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.” We try to dress rehearse tragedy, she says. And boy do I know this feeling well. The antidote is to practice gratitude, she proposes.  I feel I do this well enough in my way with friends, my projects at school, my love for people, my efforts with my family.

All of these actions try to bring joy, which in turn usually make me feel so grateful. But the small difference is that I have not been thinking of gratitude as a defense for the terrifying, especially in regards to my family bubble. Teachers and writers are always in tune, so it’s not for lack of not seeing, but on a personal level, I want to take it a step further and make even more of an active effort to lean on gratitude rather than to lean on fear.
Today, I am grateful for that breeze on my hair as I turned around to see Layla try to record her dad run away from the fireworks, Zade passing up the stars for a stolen game on his dad’s phone, the communal popping sounds from east to west of us, and plates of staled crackers sitting on the grass by our feet.

4th of July

I wish us all two things today: the type of joy that is born with sheer gratitude, and that passive, lazy calm that captures inconsequential beauty.

June Promise

At the end of this week, it will be the beginning of July. I’ve just now outstretched my arms over June’s bed. I’ve calmed into a June routine, and I’m not ready to give it up. Teachers turn a page from June to July and resist the gnawing feeling of July. As my friend Naomi calls it, it can feel like “the eternal Sunday evening.” But today, it’s still June, and today, I’m on day 2 of not going out anywhere by choice. I’ve rebelled this weekend against camp schedules and driving to far places.

Looking back at the last few weeks, I think I’ve had four goals:

1) Get kids to camp and back and try to tip the balance in favor of peace rather than in defeat of sibling rivalry. They’ve done some pretty awesome things and are peas in a pod when they’re not sloshing around in a stew.

2) Read as much as possible. I told Kal yesterday I’ve been having book affairs—there’s a different book in various corners of my house that I’m sneaking off to as soon as no one is looking. Even though it doesn’t feel like it some days, it’s clear that my kids are at a different stage as I’m able to actually to read books while I’m home with them sometimes.

3) Keep my house open to visitors and playdates; our first summer here has felt both like a vacation and a long, romantic first date.

4) Preparing myself.

I peeled back the covers at 6 am, careful not to drop Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (thank you, Katie) off my end table.  I could hear heavy sleep around me. I gently walked out of the room and down the hallway. I may as well have size 24 feet as loud as my steps sounded to me. I guess the weight of my need to get some fresh air amplified my belabored thievery. Luckily, I grabbed my notebook and opened the front door and settled in a chair. I looked over my shoulder a few times before admitting the coast was clear. I sat, listened, and wrote down what I saw.

An orb of gnats or some type of fly group sparked and spiked in a 6 inch radius around the juniper. I stared at the floating ball moving a few inches from left to right, keeping with their crazy circle. Apparently this cyclone was mating fervently since their life span is only a few weeks; they wanted to keep their line. They certainly looked busy. I tried to take a picture, but they just looked like static on a screen.

My eyes darted away from the gnat-party a few times because loud house flies buzzed around me unusually. One insisted sitting on the same spot on my leg.  A few different breeds raced and hit the window behind me, making a sound like a fingertip tapping on a glass. To keep myself unharried, I looked over to the flowers with curiosity. They looked so much taller. I once saw a bird feeding four of its baby birds, beaks wide open like an origami note. The flowers looked like they were sticking out their necks out high, waiting for something.

I got distracted by the loud sound of crickets and bird calls. I’ve been soothed by them before, yet this time was different. To my ears, they sounded like announcements. It was overwhelming really. Between swatting flies, the orb-party circling in front of me, and the warnings from the birds, I escaped back inside after only a writing down a little.

Despite the hot morning sun, the forecast says it’s going to rain today, and now all my notes make sense. Plants and animals feel the air pressure and react. Even bees scramble and cram back into their nests.  I bore witness to nature preparing and ordering the way a ship’s crew hoists boxes to each other, arching down and throwing up as they unload cargo and passengers. The ship directs traffic and brings on new crew, people dispersing depending on their goal; these systems work alongside each other noisily but with purpose. Maybe that’s why everything feels so calm right before a storm. Nature has already sent out its signals, and the crew has read the signs.

I feel the crumbs under my feet and know I’m going in the right direction. June has given me some time to commit. Repairing myself and pushing physical limits that went soft towards the end of the school year is one thing I’m prepared to maintain. Running trails and looking at huge trees, noble and Triassic, is something I have to keep doing.

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With that I have committed to more writing experiments every day as that’s the only way I can find the “treasures” as Gilbert alludes to in Big Magic.  It’s clear now that diligence and routine are the strongest ways of locating them.

Several hours ago while the kids watched Good Dinosaur again, I took out the recycling trash and something caught my eye. This giant bloom wasn’t there late last night when I watered the plants. It’s like the pressure in the air pushed her out into the world. She didn’t come out with a trumpet’s horn. Her buds were concealed, cloaked in an understated brush. I walked to take out the recycling and she caught my eye. She looked like a woman in a red dress, blooming and surprising the spectator, maybe even herself.

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I’m preparing to be more willing, especially with fiction. The story that has lived in my head and in fragments on the screen for almost two years want to go somewhere, and I can feel it.  As Lamott says, I want to “squint at an image that is forming in [my] mind,” and to clear a space “for the writing voice.” I’m saying it here so I hold myself to the task,  even if it gets noisy and has me bumping into windows like the crazy flies preparing for the rain this morning.

Uninked

During the summer, I can see what it’s like to work from home or to not have a job at all. I’ll go to the gym in the morning and wonder how so many people are already there and imagine what their daily lives involve. A few days ago, my body already ached from pushing too hard that week, but I made myself attend a kickboxing class. The room was filled with an array of badass poptarts, colorful and ready to jump, uppercut, and heave someone at any moment. Strong women, commonly beautiful in their commitment.

The 9:45 am-energy in this class was unlike anything I’ve seen in that studio, maybe because I’m accustomed to going to the “I’ve-had-a-long-day” classes at night. The boxing instructor taught in motorcycle boots, tight jeans, and a razorback top showing off her tattoos. Her hair was down, flying around at each jab, and she was rocking it.

A common denominator with some women in that room was tattoos. Women in the rows in front of me had a garden of them. Vines on forearms, birds on necks, words on thighs. All of them have a story, I hope, and I was the wallflower wanting to know about each of them. Ink on skin is like ink on paper—they hold a truth, a story. Tattoos instantly say to me, I did something I wasn’t supposed to do. I’m not complacent; I control the story.

Sheltering eventually makes everything seem so avant-garde. My generation of Persian girls spent so time writhing in their awkward years. Our parents tried to keep us modest, hoping that the shade cast from our overgrown eyebrows would keep us out of trouble. Eventually, we would recognize we don’t have to be blond to feel confident (although most of us have tried that route at least once), but by that time the damage would already be done. After middle school, it would take 10 more years before we could recognize that a boy and a girl can actually be friends, that driving someone home after school is not a big deal, that staying late for games is normal, that not seeing a future in every step is okay, and that making mistakes is fun and good—like that great line from Gregory Alan Isakov, “If it weren’t for second chances, we’d all be alone.” Growing up comes with common angst, but our adab can make the obstacle that much more…ethnic.

The loud bass in the class encouraged us to fight in unison, a solidarity that could be channeled to light cities, a visual reminder of our capabilities. These women who walked from different roads to get to class that Thursday morning are all part of a remarkable gender. I’ve said this many times before and will say it again:  women are the superior gender—naturally capable, able to be the stereotype and to break it, distinguish our inside and our outside. Sure, some of us might rule the world like a khanoom, a lady whose hands may fold over one another in her lap but only because she’s mastered multitudinous tasks and silently observes as if from a balcony over the crowd.

She carries, births, raises, cultivates, and preserves more than children; she’s the fraternal twin to Mother Nature. She’s like Alabama Shakes on stage, Brittany Howard rocking and redefining; she is Esme Patterson’s bird call, cooing with girlish ferocity in a duet with Shakey Graves. These ideas make me wonder about my past and about what I’m capable of; they make me imagine how one clichéd late night with friends would change both the way I see myself and the road I walked on.

It’s ironic that during this holy month of Ramadan that I should be thinking so strongly about the power of those tattoos and how much I want one. When everyone’s in bed and I’m given some silence to let words fall into their place in my head, I wonder how my life would have been if I had gotten a tattoo after high school. I never really wanted one then, and my father’s firm stance against them was clear.  I think, too, that what is un-inked is also a story. In Brooklyn, Jim tells Ellis, who has returned to Ireland after emigrating to America,  that deep down he is terrified of things that he’ll never do.  I supposed I’m suggesting that there is a figurative divide between the tattooed and the not-tattooed, and I wonder what it’s like on the other side.

Maybe it would be silly in some ways to get one now, but part of me wonders what else would come out of me as a result of the very defiance a tattoo outwardly projects. What decisions would I have made differently if I made that first bold move long ago? Or am I just glorifying it like I do so many of the things I didn’t do? Maybe I would have stepped on more toes, slammed doors harder, said no more permanently, rebelled a bit longer, or grown new skin sooner.

Certainly, I have my uninked stories that I’ve earned and that I cherish, but it doesn’t stop me from sitting here on this lazy summer afternoon and wondering about the possible-inked ones. 

Train

fireflies

A couple hours ago, I had that 8:30 pm moment I’ve watched on the horizon for the last month. I sat on the porch. I didn’t bring anything to write with or a book to read. At first, I just sat, and then I just listened. The birds in the tree to my right had a lot to say to each other tonight. One bird would call the loudest, 4 whistling curls, then pause, then 4 whistling curls. I thought it was his pattern at first, but then he stopped one short at 3 oscillating calls outward. A bird from the tree to my left seemed to respond to him with a few matching sounds. I wish I understood their conversation.

The ground in front of me was dirt not long ago. When we walked into the house just 5 months ago, we’d bring in dusty brown-red dirt that could only be swept with a broom and then wiped with a damp paper towel. Now the ground has grass on it from seeds we planted and tended from infancy. In our landscaping feats, we have raked up some of the baby grass in place for decorative mulch at the front of the house. While I was scraping the grass down and out, I felt like this action was a sacrilege to its recent birth. Although this section with new plants looks more polished now, underneath the fresh black mulch are sprigs of grass that grow up sharp. Each sprig has found its place in that dirt; therefore, there are sporadic, declarative intervals of grass popping up from underneath– disrupting the new look, yes, but ideating natural strength.

In front of me, the kids have escaped their beds and are running around with pajamas on and wet hair in the dark. They are chasing fireflies they saw from their bedroom window. In unison, they came out running with a blue plastic container from my cabinet and a sheet of white paper—kids inventive contraptions. I told them can chase the fireflies and hold them for a bit, but they have to be gentle and let them go and glow. Layla has made a bed of grass for them and is saying, “come here, little fly. Don’t be scared. I just want to see you and then let you go.” The flies are putting on a show for her, it looks from here. It doesn’t matter that these lightning bugs may light up as a signal to predators or that they may be looking for some bug romance; they light naturally, and we look at them with dazzle and wonder.

fireworks at graduation

At graduation this year, I had the good fortune of hugging my favorite graduates on stage. Something about this year satisfied me more than ever. Perhaps it was venturing into something new like the literary magazine class or getting recognized in a significant way, or maybe it was magnetizing to what my friend calls “the circle” of people at work. Maybe it’s where I’m at in life now, whatever that means.  Either way, when I walked off the stage at graduation and surprising fireworks erupted for excited families, I recognized how often I’ve been part of this ceremony, but I haven’t felt this way about it before. Something inside me has settled.

One friend at work reminded me of how we live so much of our life in increments, 4-year high school, 4-year university, 1-year engagement, 3-year grad school, 10-year marriage, 10-year career. The increments are getting naturally longer and no longer accompanied with a stage and certificate. Moving into my house felt like this long-awaited giant step, like I couldn’t act on any ideal more grandiose than that until it happened. Now, I’m here, and I’m able to look out at the next thing, but this next thing doesn’t come in the form of increments. It’s not a 9-month pregnancy, and it’s not a distinct goal. It’s a feeling that has some patience behind it, both looking out and wondering what the new stage is, and looking within and wondering what I’m capable of next. It’s both the recognition that this is a golden stage and that this is the forming of something new.

What it’s not is the foozling about of ten years ago when I looked straight to the inevitable stages that come after marriage. I’m in that place of it now. Figuratively and not, I’ve come inside and I’m sitting at the desk. When Tally and I walked into this bare-bones house; I told her to watch her step because there were nails poking out from the raw-wood walls ripped floors. There was no electricity, so we used our phone lights to look out into the dark and picture this very image I sit in right now. Right now, sitting at this desk, I feel I’m the pause between grateful and next.

I’ve never sat still, really. I’ve always “kept myself busy,” as my dad likes to call it. Even on a day where I’m sick and vow to rest and do nothing, I’ll manage to finish all the laundry and cook a warm dinner so that my day feels earned. More than that, I’m not the octopus who trails her arms behind her, mine tend to find somewhere to go. I used to feel guilty about it, especially when the means to the end were out of my control. But I think I’m recognizing this tendency is just a part of me like the way my grandfather always buys ten of everything (you could find enough butter in the freezer and paper towels in the closet to help a small village), or the way my mom will always err on the side of caution.

It’s recognizing our patterns that help us figure out who we are, and if we pause long enough and porch-listen inside of our own chatter, we may be able to catch it, that thing distinct and predictable in us, and we can claim it before it comfortably disappears back into the world, flickering on an invisible string swaying incautiously in a warm field.

out of the blue

d. zade jumpingEach day when Layla plays on my phone before we arrive at her school, she gets sneaky. She sets up a timer along with a few alarm notifications so that when I’m least expecting it, the alarm will go off. Sometimes I see the countdown timer on the lock screen once I get to work. I could easily disable her little alarms and dismantle her plans, but I don’t. When I’m submerged at work and Layla’s alarms go off, I think of her sitting in the back of the car, stealthily clicking on random times that she can scare her mom. She’s probably spiked with excitement anticipating my surprise and having a laugh to herself. The notifications make me think of her thinking of me, which in turn makes me think of her. I’m given something unexpected even though one could argue I should really expect it by now.

After ten years of teaching, I should expect the stress of the end of the school year, but it punches me hard in the shoulder every year. At work we are all really just trying to make it to the end of the semester. We’re trying to grip to the camaraderie and the horizon, yet we’re all a little more quick to get irritated than usual. A retiree at our school who transferred from a middle school to a high school said humorously in a speech to his fellow teachers that he has “no idea how you do it. I don’t know how you’re not all dead.”

In general, for all of us counting down to an end date usually means a stressful mixture of desire and tasks. All of a sudden, the tasks you’ll normally just do because you’re a productive human bloat into this burdensome stone that you want to throw through a window.  In my case, all good habits have been thrown out the window. Honestly, I’m eating a stale bag of cool ranch Doritos as I type this, not because I’m hungry, just because I’m rebelling. At Norah’s birthday party this morning, I ate a giant dressed-up waffle and then topped it off with a huge donut. The Whole 30 I finished in April and the running I’ve done to de-stress have been buried in the backyard until maybe after Memorial Day.

d. zade

I have done some recent digging though, another unexpected source of joy. Last week Kal and I went full force on the landscaping the front lawn. I thought I’d be able to just dig a hole in soft soil, but that fantasy swiped up fast.  Our ground here is filled with the previous owner’s memories. I dug up shells, garden fossils encased in cement, tarp, stones, brick edges, and clay pot chunks.

d. rocks

It was painful.  I took a few selfies in disbelief as I mixed manure and soil or repeatedly jumped on the shovel’s edge to get the plant’s new hole “twice the size of the pot.” I helped plant hydrangeas and salvias, and I whispered little prayers that I’d see them bloom again next year as I put them in the ground.

d. selfie

 

d. garden

I took in the view of our new plants surrounding the house just before I drove off to visit friends for dinner last night. I sat across the table from two ladies who heard about my receiving the TOTY award and wanted to celebrate. These are successful women who had no friend-obligation to celebrate me at all as our relationships are new, but they did something so kind for me anyway. Best of all, I had engaging conversation with a friend who asked me questions and made me remember stories that haven’t been relevant for some time, forcing me out of the grit of the heavy Friday. The unexpected energy of easy-moving conversation transformed a long day into a sweet one.

dino eraser.jpg

A surprise can be so beautiful.  We all have things to do and lives to manage. When something clears up on its own to dazzle me, I’m so grateful. Last week at the kids’ Haflatuna performance, I found Zade’s dinosaur eraser dug deep in my front pocket; I have no idea how it got there. I thought of this eraser, a symbol of his age, as I said bye to him yesterday at his school. My friends at work helped me steal away an hour from work so I could see Zade sing in a school event. When I had to leave early to get back, he didn’t cling on to my leg or cry for me to stay like he usually does. He hugged me maturely and got back to his friends.  My little man’s blooming in his own way.

d. zade smiling

The unexpected moments are a motif for the simple beauty that’s out there waiting for us to see it. Even my drive home from the birthday party today had a rural charm that has become such an interest to me. It’s what I needed as a pleasant backdrop my kids’ intense sibling bickering so I could have something to hold on to in the hard moment.

d. view

I’ve noticed that my plants look the happiest when the sun is going down; the marigolds’ heads stand taller, and the azaleas arch gracefully. If this crazy month can equate to a whole day, I’m looking forward to the 8:30-pm moment when there’s still just enough light to catch the view, but the rest of the day is behind me, leaving me unburdened and free to appreciate the night.

 

Happy Aunties’ Day

mothers day

This is a fast, quick-write post for all my chosen aunties out there.

I’d have to write an 11-page post about the influence of my mom’s sister on my life. She’s a kindred spirit. She’s the one who got me my first razor to shave my legs (Persian girls, you know!), first one to arch my eyebrows stealthily as my parents set up for dinner, made me feel like a teenager when I wasn’t there yet, told me about her little secrets, and then let me tell her mine. My mom is the nurturer, and for me, my aunt was the sly, naughty aunt who made me feel I was looking fabulous wearing a metaphorical mini-skirt every time we talked.

I’m a mother now, and I still cherish my aunt. In fact, she witnessed first-hand my first child be born into this world.  As a mother now, though, I am lucky to have friends in my life who make up my motherhood.  

To the friends in my life that are like aunts to my children, I wish you and everyone like you a Happy Aunties Day! So many of you don’t have your own children but loves ours just the same.

Andrea is my best friend. My friends have heard me say her name a thousand times. For my baby shower, she got me a Coach bag to store kid’s stuff so that I could have some style through it all. For Layla’s first gift, she got her a build a bear and recorded her voice inside the paw. I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve honestly memorized it: “Hi baby Layla, it’s your auntie Andrea. I just want you to know how much I love you, and I wish I could be there with you right now.” I’d neglected to make a wedding album for myself and only did one for the set of parents, so she found my photographer and made me a 500-page wedding album as a surprise, over 5 years after the wedding! She listens to my mom-rants even though she’s had her own struggle with the idea of motherhood and doesn’t have children of her own.

I’m lucky to have a fortress of women around me who support and appreciate each other.

Chosen Aunties are the people who make mothers sane, listening to us and doing your best to navigate us back to the center. You remind us of old stories and make us laugh at some decisions we make. You say things like, “don’t buy the light fixture for the house; take that writing class you’ve longed for instead, or take that adventure you’ve been craving.” You get our kids ladybug rain coats with matching umbrellas. You open up your house to us on Thanksgiving and let our kids take over. You pick up our babies and throw them in the air, catch them, change their diaper, and hide your exhaustion from our eyes.

You’re the chicks who buy the impractical gifts for the kids that they love. You visit, play card games, buy MASH notes, read book after book, listen to your names be called ten thousand times, get stolen away, and become entertainers instead of guests. You offer to our kids the stuff we often can’t offer to our kids since we’re in the thick of it. We trust you, and we rely on you. Our kids will tell you about their first cigarette before they tell us. They’ll figure out their secret dreams because you’ve shared yours with them and made it possible. You’ll be their confessional, and we’re just happy to have you as our chosen sisters.

You guys keep us sane and help raise our kids. Happy Mother’s Day to all the aunts—blood and not–out there that care deeply and do things to show their solidarity selflessly.

I wish this was more eloquent and all-encompassing. But you chosen aunties understand how it is, and we thank you for it.

Rain Outside Myself

I’m sitting on the living room sofa, sinking beyond its 11-year lifetime with us. The kids are bathed but not in bed.

Less than an hour ago, the kids and I came home from a track by the house. It’s a simple track, not intimidating, enough trees and breeze to drift off some stress. I’ve enjoyed running there so much that each time I load the kids in the car to get there, I nearly forget the constant bickering that scratches at our experience. The kids bike, fall, argue, play, make up, roll, skin, laugh, stall, and bicker. There’s a lot of this lately–gratifying mixed with grating. I’ll breathe, then pause and appreciate, deal with some crisis, and then try again to get into the zone.None of this buoyancy is uncommon to any parents I know; I suppose it’s all relative.

I think I’ve noticed a pattern with me. When I’m overwhelmed in one area of my life, I work exceptionally hard and practically invent minutia to do (I did the paperwork to set up annual memberships not due until August instead of grading 70 research papers clumped on my desk), but my physical exhaustion does not shut down my wandering, amorous mind.

My mind amps up and gets dreamy, almost tortuously so. I try to find a match for the longing in a book, show, or good conversation. I’m trying to spill out the angst on other forms of writing late at night so I can do something productive with this feeling, a recognizable restlessness mixed with a surprising ennui given the time of year and a busy calendar.

I read an article today called “Its Raining All Over the Universe” where Adam Frank, an astrophysics professor and author, talks about waking up one morning to the sound of rain. He is “suddenly struck by the realization that Earth is not the only world that knows rain. There is rain falling in many other places in the cosmos…Venus, Titan, Saturn…And all these rains matter.”

Frank concludes that “across the galaxy, on countless worlds, there will be rain. It will fall across as many windswept plains as you can imagine.” Frank says the rains matter; they help show us that despite our notion of conflicts, we “don’t really understand what is happening to us at all…we are part of something much larger than ourselves, and our ideas about ourselves.”

Initially, I wanted to read this article because it was about the solar system, a system I feel belongs to my best friend Andrea since she’s been obsessed with the moon’s world as long as I can remember. I’m sharing it here because Frank sees something like rain and uses it as a unifying element, one that can flay our vision of ourselves and recognize something bigger.

I’ve been occupied in my own head space even if I’m physically moving and reacting and doing; I have been retreating above the neck as a cozy yet squirming defense.

I like being inspired to see beyond that.

I haven’t turned on any lights since we came home. The green outside has befriended the windows and given it less work to do, but there is a pale glow coming through, silencing the room in this moment. I’m going to go sit outside and look up, and then I’m going to release some of the build up of thoughts to the sky above and let its truth advise the rest of my evening.