Georgia on My Mind

Graduation

Last week around this time, I was on stage under bright football-stadium lights at our high school graduation. I’m amazed every year that despite this day being one of the longest days of the year for teachers, I’m always incredibly charged. It must be the excitement and energy that walks in with every eager mom’s dressy heels and every male student in his dad’s suit pants. I even drive away after the ceremony bursting with the powerful sense that I couldn’t be part of anything more rewarding.

Quick snapshot of the ceremony

Quick snapshot of the ceremony

The biggest advantage with being on stage this year was my vantage point. I got to see every student line up near the principal, adjust her cap a bit, try to nudge away that flutter in her stomach, have her name called, and then…walk. I swear to God that there is a moment, like a mirage, on each of those students’ faces where he looks like the man he will probably be in ten years, the man who will one day start a family and have a career. The same student who was in my club as a sophomore, in my class as a junior and then again as a senior, is now—in the matter of 1 day and a minute—an adult.

This idea moves me every year as the student evolves into a peer of sorts, as a reminder of where I was, and now more than ever, a glimpse into the day when I will adjust Layla and Zade’s graduation robe with shaky hands and a trembling chin as I say to them, “I remember your first day of school like it was yesterday, baby.”

Layla escorts Zade to his first day of preschool

Layla escorts Zade to his first day of preschool

The Next Day

The next morning, I treated myself to an episode of True Detective with no interruptions and left to pick up the kids at their grandparents’ house. On the drive to their house, a chemical reaction of sorts happened. A bunch of things mixed together that left me awkwardly trying to type words on my phone behind red lights so I could remember that moment.

1) Ray LaMontagne’s “Roses and Cigarettes” played on my Pandora mix.

2) I was keenly aware of how folky, plaid, rustic, and southern I was feeling; I could have sipped on a pitcher of sweet tea at that very moment. I know that’s cliché, but anyone who has secretly craved sweet tea when ordering Pepsi in Chicago knows how meaningful and iconic that cold glass is really.

3) It set in that summer vacation was close.

First "summer" date

First “summer” date

Summer vacation. A symbol of rest before the onset of something big and new. Much like I add new flavors to my mother’s delicious zereshk polo recipe, the summer offers the beauty of something new added to something familiar. Heat and popsicles. Sprinklers and the swoosh of a ceiling fan. The grainy memories of our childhood mingled with the intangible hopes our future. “Acres of afternoon” meets images of wonder: the girl looking out the window and lazily tracing her fingertips along the window screen and imagining the next thing. For a while that next thing involved buying school supplies off the list that was sent home, and then it changed. And then it changed again.

Kids chilling in summer-adventure Ikea buy

Kids chilling in summer-adventure Ikea buy

The Ah-Ha Moment

When I’m driving alone and have had some time to myself, I remember summers that were about me. Now I busily plan and unplan my kids’ calendars. The undercurrent of all of it is that I want them to have the wonder of the summer. I want that beautiful boredom to mix with all the other stuff. It is through my own reflections I have become comfortable in The South, but it’s through my kids’ eyes I am offered a renewed perspective. Oh South, you’ve been patient with me, and I can’t deny that outside of craving Baker Square’s French silk pies and saying, “Ha, you haven’t even seen snow if you think this is bad,” I don’t long for my mid-west so much anymore.

I’ve anchored here. It’s here I became a teacher, a wife, a mother. After almost ten years of watching students graduate, I feel I’ve grazed the stage along with them. Yes, I’ll still look out the window and still wonder, but I’ll wonder even more about the “in between”–between how my babies in my arms became adults in others’ eyes, between my memories of my little southern children and how they will end up shaping their own.

Goofing around

Goofing around

Layla experimenting "secretly" with lip gloss (and smearing it everywhere)

Layla experimenting “secretly” with lip gloss (and smearing it everywhere)

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Preparing for No Expectations

Since this is Mother’s Day evening, I really intended to share a story about these adorable cards Layla and Zade made for me.Image

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Talk about this sweet picture of Zade squishing me first thing this morning…

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Share about this charming cooking class on Saturday that taught me how to make Lebanese kibbeh and ataif …

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Or talk about how glad I am we had leftovers of my favorite cake from Alpine Bakery.

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Instead, I want to talk about an idea that parts between the commercial appreciation of Mother’s Day and my conscience.

I’ve heard from more people this week that Mother’s Day depresses them or stresses them out more than I’ve heard people who’ve been excited about this day of recognition. This happens every year, and every year I am incredibly grateful that my life’s circumstances hasn’t made me feel this way, but it also makes me wonder if I need to bow out of an occasion that has the potential of making single moms, mothers without mothers, or mothers who’ve lost their children feel pain (not to mention the pressure everyone feels to equate their love for their mothers into how much money spend). These thoughts lead me to a single memory almost every year:

I used to take Mother’s Day very seriously; I still do it today. One year, I locked my mom into her room, dug out pictures of my mom in all of the old family albums, taped them in chronological order to the wall leading from her bedroom into the kitchen, and trailed rose pedals to the breakfast table—stocked with breakfast and gifts. I remember being so excited, thinking she will really feel my love for her and truly feel special. I can’t remember her actually walking the trail or what I cooked for breakfast, but I remember how I felt preparing it for her. Frankly, I don’t even remember who put the pictures away or who washed the dishes. My experience as a mom now makes me certain that I probably left more of a mess for my mom to clean up, put pressure on her to expect and react a certain way, and involved her in the preparation more than I want to admit. And this realization hits me every time: Sure, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is a way of making our parents feel appreciated, yes, but it’s more about allowing the kids to feel special about having paid attention to their parents. While beautiful, this can lead to some minor hiccups.

Layla has been making me Mother’s Day cards all week and bought me flowers on Wednesday for the occasion. She gave me a ton of hand-made cards today and a gift from the family, but just an hour ago, she was complaining, “Why isn’t Mother’s Day every day? I really want to do more special stuff with you.” I told her that something every day makes it less special, that every day is Mother’s Day, that I am thankful for both my kids and how I wouldn’t be a mother without them. She continued to pout despite our day and exchange.

How can I blame her? I’ve tried not to fall into the hype or to compare “what did you do for Mother’s Day?” stories, and yet inevitably, it happens; and if I don’t feel my husband has planned enough, somehow I allow myself to momentarily forget that he’s a supportive and wonderful husband all the other days and that he’s always disliked Hallmark holidays but does his best to make me happy.

Therefore, I took matters in my own hands this year. I bought myself my favorite movie trilogy, started the weekend with a fantastic dinner with one of my best friends, arranged for a deep housecleaning, and made an appointment for a facial.

I prepared myself not to have any expectations. I gave myself what I wanted in order to reduce the ridiculous burden so many of us put on this day, and I allowed anything else to be what it is: a time for kids to feel good and husbands to get a gold star.

I’m writing this post wearing something new, with manicured nails, and neater eyebrows than I had yesterday (thank God! Some time alone to groom and roam was built in to this day because my husband is wise!).

I woke up with no expectations and didn’t mind if this Sunday would turn out to be like any other Sunday. All the gestures after this realization made me feel sated and appreciative, and this was exactly the mood I wanted to be in when my family humbled me with their own ideas of today’s celebration.

Earning a Lazy Sunday

    Some days you try to do it all at once, and it looks like this (Zade napping on my lap while I try to grade) at the end of it.

    zade on lap while I grade papers

    And some days you miraculously do a whole bunch at once, and it feels pretty memorable.

    We’ve had some fun over the last two weekends. Between having family in town and Georgia’s sunny –in-the-70s weather, we’ve been busy. Roswell Cultural Arts Center’s production of Beauty and the Beast last week made a great mommy-daughter date, and the show was entertaining and perfect for both mom and daughter.

    Layla and Mommy before B and B

    I asked Layla to take her hat off before the production started, and I let the subject go when she refused to do so; I was happy that her tiny stubborn act got her some attention as “Beauty” in the play opened up the show saying “Hi sweetheart, I love your hat!” in front of the audience, which left Layla filled to the brim. She looked over at me excitedly and said, “Hey Mommy, did you hear that?”

     

    Layla watching b and b

    We left the play, picked up the rest of the family, and went to the 9th annual Arab Festival. Kids played intensely on anywhere they could bounce and slide, and then they painted pottery and ate sweets. Alif Institute impressed many visitors and got us mentally signed up to attend the event next year.

    Festival

    We attended a family dinner after the festival. By the time we got home and got the kids to bed, I had to make pasta salad for a last-minute picnic at Anna Ruby Falls with the kids’ friends from school and their parents. Got to bed at 1 am; woke up early to get the crew ready for the picnic.

    It was well worth it. Kids played in the river, went on wagon rides, climbed up to the top so they could see the Falls, and played with their friends the whole day. We even chilled a watermelon in the river–old-school style. A stop through Dairy Queen at the end of our Helen experience sweetened the long and sleepy drive home.

    Kids in Helen

    You’d think we’d be exhausted. I defied my own rule to keep it slow the day after we kept a fast pace (if Saturday is fast, Sunday is slow), but this acceleration felt like a fantastic way to seize the warm weekend by its rays.

    So, fast forward to this weekend. Saturday echoed the same 3-tier day with one activity following another as the previous weekend did, but today the train has stopped. My phone is tucked away. The patio door is ajar to let in some breeze. Kids are playing with colored rocks on the patio, spraying water on the plants, popping popcorn back to back, and coloring in their books (all this = making a meaningful mess); this has mixed well with mommy grading in spurts and warming up leftovers in her pajamas. All of us are appreciating the sunny day, but we’re doing so from the inside of the house this time.

    Zade on sleepy day

    Outside of laughing at the kids’ funny conversations and lazily folding laundry, I am looking forward to a new episode of Mad Men tonight. I think we’ve earned a special day of nothing too special.