The New Generation

Canada kids

It was on the third day of visiting family in Toronto when Layla dropped my phone in a 12-foot deep pool at my aunt’s house. She was as devastated as I was.

Without my phone, I didn’t have much of a connection to my normal world, which was sadly more unsettling than it was liberating. On the photo gallery of various family members’ phones, however, there is evidence of the family reunion. Some of the most significant pictures are of the moments aside from the big ones. For example, there are pictures of a trail, one that befriended me and absorbed my thoughts as I jogged solo some mornings during a few sacred moments to myself. I’ll always see that trail in my mind’s eye with sepia tone and with the frayed edges of an old photograph one finds in a box many years away from now.

There are pictures somewhere of my cousin Parissa’s new house, a location that felt like a cottage, warm with a beautiful family who received us with open arms and with the equal intention of fostering something precious for our children, something akin to what our parents did for us in those years filled with family trips. Parissa and I grew alongside each other in different countries, and since I don’t have a blood sister, she’s filled in that space for me especially as our lives have settled on similar courses.

One of the best pictures I don’t have right now is when we made a crackling fire, a background to which my cousin Shahab played Grand Optimist on his guitar for us under a horizon of vivid stars. The sky, my mom mentioned one day, seems so much lower in Canada. Just like when you were a kid and felt you could reach out and touch a cloud, on so many occasions, I felt the constellations at night or the passing clouds during the day were just in my reach and casually bearing witness to what was going on.

Maybe it was because visits to Canada hold so much of my childhood that this whimsical quality felt so real to me. Either way, the closer horizon was a perfect setting to what I witnessed on this trip: My kids were making relationships with my cousin’s children, my uncles and aunts, and my past. A past that is filled with significant memories and ghosts of my pre-marriage years is now a new past for them.

Yesterday at the airport and for hours before we left, Layla cried and cried; her big conflict was that she missed her dad and her home, but she really wanted to stay and would miss her cousins, and in particular, Shahab, who taught her tic, tac, toe and rock, paper, shoot, and gave Layla her first Pez dispenser. Zade felt sad to leave sweet Lilly and charming Michael (and their pool he loved so much!). They were listing out names of people who’d affected them, and I could feel small sunlit beams building inside. I felt like my parents must have felt when they saw my brother and me bond with our extended family.

A few favorite aunts and an uncle along with "Khaleh Par Par" and "Uncle Bobby"

A few favorite aunts and an uncle along with “Khaleh Par Par” and “Uncle Bobby”

Parissa and I loaded the kids in the car before beginning the journey to the airport, and we just looked at each other and began crying. It’s funny how young we all look when we cry, quivering lips and sad eyes don’t change much over the years. I feel overwhelming gratitude that she feels the same way about my family as I do about hers and that we both feel each other’s absence today. That in itself is filled with years of experience and so many ideals we both still have for our future.

My kids know me better now because they know more about some major figures in my life. Somewhere out there, Zade and Layla have pictures with their great-grandparents; I have pictures with my cousin’s kids. Generations of ideals twirled their way down to these moments captured somewhere on someone’s phone but mostly ingrained in the railways of our minds, storehouses of black and white associations, and stored away photographs with varnished, yellowed edges. 

Shahab playing guitar for the kids while they enjoy their moment.

Shahab playing guitar for the kids while they enjoy their moment.

Advertisements

NYC Revelations

A few weeks ago, I was packing for a pivotal week-long seminar on the Empire City at Columbia University in New York. I had a list on my phone of things I wanted to prepare for the kids before I left and an equally long list of things I needed to do for myself (order Zade’s eczema cream, get a backpack for the trip). To prepare for my sojourn, I found myself hiding notes and making a scavenger hunt for the days I was going to be away from the kids so that they’d have something to look forward to in my absence. I wanted them to have moments away from me which would make it easier for me to have moments away from them.

My week-long adventure with my friend Tally was filled with historical sites like visiting presidents’ homes and adventurous sites like walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. And some tourist attractions like the beautiful central park. Oh, and let’s not forget a blissful moment while reading on Columbia’s beautiful campus.

3 Reading Age at Columbia

7 Walking B Bridge

5 Samira and Tally at Central Park

5 Historical Site

6 Lincoln's House

But it’s so hard to slow down without revving up and preparing to do so. To enjoy the moments ahead, it may take me months of mental preparation to allow myself to get in the zone, and the same goes for an upcoming trip with my kids.

We have a family trip approaching to Canada to see my extended family, and I’m struggling to allow for current, organic, centered moments when I’m meticulously prepping for an international trip.

Like so many, I’m both comforted and discouraged by the noble goal: live in the moment. Reflecting on the moments once they’ve passed is just easier (makes sense since I like to write about them later). I’m so proud of myself when I’m in it though– having that conversation, cozying up in the present glow of it all. “Here it is,” I think. “There’s that look I’ll always remember; I’m so glad we are playing hide and seek instead of folding laundry; look at how they are both holding my hands while we walk across the street, how they fight just to be with me.” These are the sentences I exchange with myself when I’ve clicked in and have felt, even briefly, completely in the moment.

14 Chelsea

I picked up a book by Jennifer Senior called All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood in a bookstore in the Chelsea Market. I was reluctant about the title (no fun, really?), but I felt so much comfort in the few revelations I read before decidedly walking to the cashier. Her voice will dominate this post, but I hope it helps anyone who reads it the way it has helped me.

Senior leads to bold ideas. She states, for example, “Not all that long ago, mothers and fathers did not have the luxury of controlling how large their families were, or when each child arrived. Nor did they regard their children with the same reverence we modern parents do….Today, however, adults often view children as one of life’s crowing achievements [and approach them as] they would any other ambitious life project…We have heightened expectations of what children will do for us, regarding them as sources of existential fulfillment rather than as ordinary parts of our lives.”

Her laying it flat out like this unsettled me a bit at the first read, but a greater part of me enjoyed reading this helpful criticism of the modern parent. Yes, being a parent is dichotomous– maybe just as selfish as it is selfless. What a thought. What a juxtaposition, offering so many areas to consider.

She gains my trust because she’ll balance a deduction like that with emotionally intelligent observations like this: In one instance, she describes a mother who tries to play a game with her child right after his nap, but when her child is resistant to what usually works, she just tilts her head and adjusts. Instead of continuing her pirate game or tickling her son, she “holds her son in a koala hug as she finds a beautiful Spanish ballad. They start to slow-dance. It clicks. The music forms a cocoon around them, as if I’m not even there. Abe melts onto his mother’s shoulder. She breathes him in.”

I feel I’ve been on the both sides of this about thirty times a day—the side who is just trying to make it and feels tremendous guilt for not being a perfect project leader, and the side who has a glimpse of what it’s like to savor that hand on the cheek or that burst of choral giggles.  I find genuine comfort in the idea that we modern parents put so much pressure on ourselves, a pressure that wasn’t always there when the idea of having a family was more of a reality of life than a choice in life.

Senior acknowledges why so many of the moments we have with our small children feel so “hard-won, so shatterable, and so fleeting, as if located between parenthesis.” Quoting Daniel Gilbert,  a social psychologist at Harvard, Senior justifies, “Everyone would like to be in the present…The difference is that children, by definition, only live in the present, which means that you, as a parent, don’t get much of a chance. “Everyone is moving at the same speed toward the future,” he says. “But your children are moving at that same speed with their eyes closed. So you’re the ones who’ve got to steer.”

Sigh. Relief. Thank you for sentences like these that comfort the anxious side of me that is planning dinner or writing a mental email when my kids are doing something memorable. Thank you for reminding me that I’m just steering, and sometimes I really can’t do that with my eyes closed to feel the breeze.

I can’t predict spontaneous and beautiful moments. That would defeat the point.

But I won’t forget the sound of my kids excitedly screaming, “Mommy!” when they picked me up from the airport last week, or the way that I dropped to my knees to greet them. I won’t forget that I needed intellectual time away from the grind of daily tasks and that I enjoyed my time as a student; the equal best part of that is the renewed way I sunk myself into that moment.

12 Greeting Kids

11 greeting kids

So here it is, folks. My confession: Preparation is often the biggest factor in helping me enjoy the moment. I’m glad to know that it’s just a version of me steering. Yes, I’ll catch a look Layla makes when she’s engrossed in a story, and I’m floored by how good it feels to witness it.

2 Layla thinking

But on the other days, on the everyday days, I’ve found it’s the moments I literally carve out that give me the freedom to embrace them.