A Series of Surprising Reactions

Layla was a flower girl in a wedding two weeks ago. Getting her hair done, wearing a tiara, working alongside the bride, and sprinkling flowers on the floor were absolutely second nature to her.

Layla at dinner at Shireen's wedding

Layla at Shireen's wedding

Participating in their the wedding agenda has inspired Layla to ask questions about mommy’s wedding 8 years ago. “Mommy, is that your wedding dress hanging on the back of your door? Can you try it on for me? [me thinking: Ah! It doesn’t fit anymore].

“Mommy, is that your wedding tiara in the china cabinet? Can I wear it?” [Of course. And did you know it was the “something borrowed” in both my best friends’ weddings?]

And then my question: “Do you want to see the wedding video?” [YES! They scurried excitedly to the tv.]

Zade and Layla made a small sleepy-theatre downstairs with a line of pillows and a collage of scarves from my closet, throws, and blankets. They wanted ice cream, but they got a couple of bananas as a movie snack.

Layla and Zade set up to watch the video

What I wasn’t expecting was what happened just a few minutes into the engagement photo montage at the beginning of our wedding video. I looked over and saw tears puddling around Layla’s eyes. I asked her desperately, “What’s wrong, honey?” And she said, “You remember how you told me about happy tears? I have those now.”
Layla cry heartbreak

I’m sorry, did I just hear her right? Is this 4-year old recalling the time I was tearing while watching a video of the kids and told two concerned toddlers that mommy is crying happy tears? Is Layla crying happy tears because she is a 30-year old woman in disguise?

I proceeded to kiss her all over her cheeks and thought the emotional episode was over.

As we went through the ceremony and the speeches, Layla started crying again–even harder this time. Through her hicupping sobs, she pleaded, “I wish I could have been there at your wedding. Why couldn’t I be there?” I fumbled through a fast pg-list of ideas: first comes love, second comes marriage, and then comes the babies; God gave you and Zade to us years later?

Layla crying 2

Nothing I said really appeased her. She really couldn’t understand, and I’m thankful she can’t associate anything else but a mommy and a daddy with babies. But I really felt heartbroken for her. To demonstrate how long it had been, I showed her aunties who didn’t have her cousins yet, teenage cousins who looked like toddlers in comparison, and men who had hair back then, and this time elapse helped her a little bit.

Overall, I felt a bit shocked at the moment I was facing and hoped that I had not scarred her–perhaps thinking that I excluded her on purpose somehow. I promised her that one day daddy and mommy will get married again on the beach with both Layla and Zade there; she looked confused for a bit and then offered practically, “Well, we’ll need to get all the wedding stuff.” I said happy “okay” to move the conversation to a happy place. Now, Layla has determined that we are renewing our vows this summer “when she doesn’t have school.”

After the surprising reaction, I got this heartwarming reaction when she saw me walking down the aisle towards her dad.

Layla's reaction at seeing me walk down aisle<

While Zade bounced around our small teachable–for mommy–moment and kept talking to people on the tv screen wondering why they wouldn’t talk back, I caught a glimpse of Layla appreciating the memory. The experience Layla had with our wedding day is a new lens for me: for our toddlers, there is no life beyond what they’ve shared with their parents, and only experience and years will give them a new lens.

Getting better 2

It’s funny because while I remember having a life without my kids, it all seems like a fake sub-universe and my life now–filled with sticky fingers and bath time and morning muffins and little warm feet and dimples– seems like the real one, the memory we’re making that means the most to me right now.

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Mommy Guilt

Guilt

Wednesday and Thursday this week left me feeling detached and frustrated. And guilty. Zade got his spotlight at the expense of our sanity, and Layla, who I count on to follow logic and order, resigned her rock status and joined her brother. I found myself nagging on the kids, begging them to listen. Trying to plea at them with “Can’t you tell Mommy is really tired after work and truly needs just 20 minutes of uninterrupted silence?” eyes.

The worst of these days is that I walk away as though I’ve done nothing good. When I tuck them in and tell them I love them, I say it with remorse and with a desperate attempt to wash away anything I didn’t do for them that they will remember later in their lives.

zade sleeping

Will my impatience tonight outweigh our pancake mornings?

pancake 1

Will my need for a few minutes of quiet replace my morning love notes to you? Can the memory of me yelling at Zade for purposefully smearing his dinner on the floor supersede the fun arts and crafts we make?

So Friday I took charge. It was prom day for my students at school, which put a happy lull in the air. I left work with resolution. I put my car windows down and let the spring breeze and sun gradually dissolve my week’s remorse. I went to the grocery store and placed pizza-making ingredients in the cart and threw in an instant pudding mix. Wanted something fast and friendly. When I came home, the kids greeted me like lost loved ones at the airport, and I brought to them the energy and clarity they’ve been wanting from me all along.

I used this method for a new way of making mini-pizzas, and I let the kids go to town.

PIzza 1

We were so excited that I even forgot to take a picture when they were all done! While the pizzas were in the oven, Layla and Zade took turns whisking the cold milk into the pudding, and they discovered the marvel of licking the wire whisks before placing them in the sink.

We ate the pizzas and watched 1949’s Cinderella.

cinderella

I didn’t touch my phone. I didn’t touch my Nook. I didn’t even go upstairs to wash my face and change my work clothes into comfortable clothes—a habit my mom has and one that she has passed down to me.

I bathed them in a pool of bubbles, read them bedtime stories, and fell asleep with them on my bed; we were tucked away like a bed of Savannah Smiles under the same blanket.

For me the beauty of mom-guilt is the resolution I inevitably make to be present—to watch myself outside of the scene and feel proud, a reflection that’s really hard to award sometimes because working motherhood—motherhood in general—puts us on emotional fractals, sometimes peaking us at the height of fulfillment and other times on the ridges of disappointment in ourselves.

So we cooked, ate, giggled, watched, and enjoyed the start of a wonderful weekend.  

fun 2

Memory Lane

It doesn’t matter that over 4 years has passed since this moment. It still invigorates me when I read anything about this heightened time in my life. In spirit of doing things I haven’t done before, I’m going to paste some journal entries from when Layla was born:

Saturday, November 21st, 2009- 5:14 am
When we first brought Layla home, I was greeted by both my mother who I am very close with and my aunt who flew in for 8 days hoping that she’d be present for both the last days of my pregnancy and the first days of my parenthood. On the fourth day of her visit, she got just that. Already insecure that the baby looked like a rag doll with a floppy neck in the car seat, and angry that my husband thought that he put her in perfectly and didn’t take my warning seriously (hence why I held her neck up with my hand for 45 minutes on the way home), and that I was a bad mother for not knowing how to fix her or trust that my instinct was right, I was greeted by two good-willing women who had 4 kids between them and a lot of well-meaning advice.

My aunt was in the doorway with “esfand,” Iranian incense that Persians burn to ward off the evil eye, and I start waving at her and asking not to burn it. Trying to mask her migraine and her exhaustion from cleaning the house and cooking several meals for us, she nervously went back in the house.

My mother, who had just pulled up at the house at the same time we did, doted on the baby as we walked in the house. As soon as Khaldoon put the baby’s car seat on the bench for us to unload her, my mom told me that Layla’s neck was resting poorly on the seat. Then when we took her out, they told me that I had dressed her too lightly. Yes, Layla was drowning in her newborn outfit even though she weighed an average 7 lbs 4 oz when we left the hospital, and yes I only put her in a hat, a long-sleeve full-length onesie with mittens and socks, but that is what all the books said to put her in. Dress her like you’d like to be dressed is what they said. And on this 75 degree sunny day, I thought I picked the right thing.

They touched her feet and hands and said oh, poor thing, she is so cold. I’d find out later that this is normal for newborns and that their circulation doesn’t work so well in those places just yet, and that it’s normal for their hands and feet to feel cold to the touch. I immediately broke down into tears. Between my exhaustion and insecurity, I was faced with criticism, well-meaning at that, from the most influential women in my life. Two minutes earlier, my husband conceded that I was right and that her neck looked wrong. I was mad that my maternal instinct kicked in before my confidence had a chance.

So between the last words, my exhaustion, and my medicated-induced delirium, I broke down. Boldly but brokenly, I told them to just leave me alone for a minute and not criticize. I tried to ignore the confused and hurt look on their faces, and they tried to remember how nerve-wracking it was to be a new mom. As I was getting myself together, they quickly and quietly changed the baby’s outfit and swaddled her in one of the thickest blankets I had received at one of my baby showers. They put her in the sunniest part of her room and let her soak my mistake away.

I’m remembering this as I wake up at 5 am to feed Layla. Khaldoon assumed the milk-warming and feeding today, and I took to the breast pump. Whereas 7 weeks ago I could hardly coordinate getting Layla on my breast for feeding—-two pillows behind me, a pillow on each side, a pillow on my lap with a baby on top, a boob in her mouth, and an insecure mother with an insecure milk supply-—I find myself much more coordinated now.

I’m sitting cross-legged in Layla’s room with two carefully positioned breast pumps on the fleshy part of my thighs, pumping liquid gold into narrow bottles and typing out a memory. It occurred to me last night to start documenting some of my experiences even if it’s just for doing something out of the ordinary during the new but ordinary routine. I can now pour a glass of water while holding the baby in the other arm. I can pick her up with confidence and not worry that I’m breaking her. I can make the decision regarding what she wants by hearing her cries, and I know that she has gas every morning at 4 am when her farts wake me up before her hunger cries do. I still have plenty of insecurities, but I think a small package of confidence that lagged behind my blooming maternal instinct has finally been left at my doorstep.