Spring

  It’s official. Our cars have a blanket of yellow dust on them by the time we leave work. We don’t know if we have a cold or if it’s just allergies. But we can’t stay inside even if we know we will pay for it later–Georgia allergies are intense. But, man, Georgia is gorgeous in the springtime. 

Despite the sniffly consequences, we have set into a new routine here. As soon as we’re all home, the kids are outside. Layla and Zade found some old bricks and have been making mud castles and forts. My kitchen utensils keep going missing; I found my soup ladle in an old strawberry patch bucket filled with their mud-water concoction last week. I want to pinch myself when I open the side door and say, “Kids, it’s time to come in! Dinner is ready!” They resist and act like I’m about torture them. Feels like a scene from a movie I’d watch as a kid as they take off their soaked, muddy clothes at the entryway and run straight to the shower (getting a few smeary, muddy handprints on the walls on the way). 

We’re settling in here and finding our new spring routine. Feels like the birds are nesting up, too. We have found three new nests in the last few weeks. It’s a marvel at how fast the outside is working. 

 As I sat on the steps and watched the kids play yesterday, I saw a tiny ant carry a sprig of straw three times its size. He was so busy at work, carrying it from one side of the sidewalk to the other. We’re definitely not alone in our rush. 

Seems like we’re all trying to get something done and get to the next all the time, but there is such rejuvenation in new seasons. In the spring, a familiar restlessness cloaks over the early evenings and long car rides. It’s got me buying new books and watching reruns of True Blood Season 1, the season before kids, the season of being the center of my own attention. 

The daylight savings has messed with our bedtime routine, but it’s given us more time together and lots of swirly, sherbert sunsets, so I’m not exactly complaining just yet. Layla grabbed my phone and took this picture last week and said, “you will love these later.”So much of this season seems two-fold. Beautiful blossoms have us using allergy meds; trees are fluffy pink and white and then turning light green just days later; it’s like watching a butterfly wiggle out of its cacoon. Artists become restless and want to leave the real world behind to follow the hum in their minds. Stirring. 

I’m appreciating how fast things are changing outside. Feels like the energy outside and our busy daily lives are sharing secrets as they watch me stare outside a little longer and whisper as I try to sneak a few more hours to myself before going to bed. 

Either way, I’m comfortable closing my eyes this new season and remembering how it felt just the year before. You already know I’m a sucker for the nostalgic. Happy Spring, friends (And if it hasn’t felt too springy where you live, just know it will happen soon enough).

Welcome the stir.   

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A Millennial’s Norooz

Right after the last red and pink bag of Hershey’s kisses goes on clearance at Target, you’ll start to see the pastels of Easter come out. It’s around this time that Persians in America remember that Eid Norooz, otherwise known as Persian New Year, is on its way.

Norooz means “new day” in Farsi, and it’s always celebrated on the first day of spring. It’s the day I call my grandparents and extended family and wish them a Happy New Year. The I-don’t-have-time-to-talk-on-the-phone generation, which includes my cousins and friends, send text messages with stars and emojis; we’ve morphed the obligatory call into a text, and we’re cool with that.

Despite its roots in the ancient Zoroastrian religion, Norooz is a symbol of heritage and culture for Iranians of all faiths around the globe. For the Persian combo (Persian-American, Persian-Canadian, etc…), it’s one of the fun and accessible traditions that we millennials can get right, even our woven recognition of the holiday is similar to making a cake: it’s okay if we just add fresh ingredients to a Pillsbury mix–the result is always rewarding because at least we did it.

Firstly, Persians love a spread, and its evident if you’ve ever attended your Persian friend’s mom’s house for dinner. We even go all out for weddings with our sofreh aghd, a spread filled with crafty traditional symbols of which the bride and groom sit in front. Here’s my wedding sofreh from ten years ago:

For Persian New Year, though, the spread is called a sofreh haftsin (sofreh-ye haft-sinn (“cloth of seven dishes”); Figs and Quince explains it very well.  This type of sofreh needs the following seven items (thanks, Huffington Post):

 

  • sabzeh: lentil, barley or wheat sprouts growing in a dish, symbolizing renewal
  • samanu: a thick, sweet pudding made from wheat germ, symbolizing affluence
  • senjed: dried fruit of the lotus tree, symbolizing love
  • sir: garlic, symbolizing medicine
  • sib: apples, symbolizing health and beauty
  • somaq: sumac berries, symbolizing sunrise
  • serkeh: vinegar, symbolizing age and patience.

 

I was aware I needed to start making my fancy sofreh spread. It wasn’t until my friend posted a picture of herself jumping over a fire, another symbolic event that wishes enlightenment, happiness, and luck in the new year, that I got to work (all young Persian Millennials have this awkward moment when they tell their elementary school friends about jumping over fires. It’s especially strange because we don’t understand exactly why we’re jumping over a fire. Our parents just took us to the picnic, and we did what they did).

Every year since having kids, I modify my sofreh. One year it’s super traditional. One year it’s super small. This year, since I’m feeling very cottage in our new woodsy space, I did a basket-themed sofreh. I got my inspiration from here and did my own version.

Sofreh Basket 1Sofreh Basket inside

The finished product, however, began with a school-night adventure. 

Once we got to the crafts store, the kids had to use the restroom. Zade kept picking up huge, fragile glass eggs. Layla wanted every colorful spongy toy she could find and threw random items in the cart. Zade was running up and down the aisle and asking me if he could have the pez dispenser, then the candy thing with a fan on it, then this pen that yelled, “N0! NO! NOOO!” when he pushed the button. 

At the register, I had to walk away from the cashier to collect Layla, and then Zade, and then Layla, and then Zade again. Finally, I paid and got the receipt from the patient cashier, and Layla moaned for the sixth time, “Mommy, I’m sooo hungry. I’m just so hungry…” I ended up scolding in Farsi whispers (she didn’t understand me, but she knows Farsi always comes out when I’m mad or embarrassed).

We had a drive ahead of us, so I got them Chikfila on the way home. I was driving with one hand and passing back ketchup with the other. I looked at the seat next to me; it was crowded with bags and Chikfila sauces and straw wrappers, and I thought, keeping up traditions is freaking messy job. 

shopping sofreh

I tried to grin and bear it and begged the kids to smile for a quick car picture behind a red light on our way home. This was the only good shot I got out of lots of straight faces.

grinning through it

Then, we got stuck in awful traffic for an hour.

traffic on way home

We came home late, threw bags on the table and painted eggs for the table setting.  One of my Persian friends laughs at me because I feel wasteful to boil eggs only to paint and display them for two weeks. I always buy wooden eggs from the crafts aisle instead. This way I can keep eggs from previous years like some people keep special ornaments from their Christmas tree. 

Painting eggs

They painted their eggs. They got paint splatters over our newly-painted walls and globs of paint around the protective cover underneath them, so I had to scrub the hardwood floors when they finished. But we did it. There is a triumph in that, I think. Once the eggs dried, I placed them in the basket. My sofreh doesn’t have all the “s” items, but the fact that something is up and a memory is there is enough for me.

Our immigrant parents kept tradition alive because that’s all they knew; they missed their home; and they needed us to have some part of their past so they could recognize a part of themselves in us when we got older. Their millennial kids aren’t so different with their own children, but we don’t feel we have as much at stake. We’re comfortable celebrating Halloween and Christmas; it’s almost easy to forget about the stuff our parents snuck in there. It can feel like a real effort to make this pre-Easter event actually happen. Ultimately, something that’s not profound feels so helpful to remember: traditions take effort to make happen.

Sometimes holding onto culture when you’re far removed from its origin, and in my case having never been to the orient, is bittersweet. It doesn’t feel like you’re doing enough of what your parents did, but you try. We multicultural millennials have to remember that even salt has sugar in it. Both essential ingredients are distinct, but one cannot be without the other.

Happy weaving and trying. Happy Old and New, friends.

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Different

train

When it was time to return to school after a long Chicago summer, my mom would have the same ritual: she’d have my brother and me walk underneath a small, old Koran as she wished us safety in our day. That same pretty book would come out and rest on the Persian New Year sofreh. Often, we’d hear my parents say “khoda.” We heard them recite the beginning of the fatiha when we closed the car door and got ready to drive for the first time. But I didn’t learn about religion growing up.

Our culture carries religious elements, but like so many immigrants who left Iran during the time of the revolution, my parents were not exceptional to their distaste for religion and how it can be warped. Instead of religion, they taught me morality and consequence, and none of it was backed up with stories from a holy book. Fear and love that motivated them gave Soheyl and me enough to balance our moral compass. But as I get older, I feel pressure to have my faith more defined.

I’ve always felt something greater than us is out there. I believe in God, and after Layla was born, I remember telling Kal that if anyone wants to believe in such beauty, he or she can see it in the birth of a child; it’s utterly fantastical. Believing in God doesn’t fix an insecurity I have, though: my connection to religion is dubious and murky, like walking up close to a rippling lake, sunlit and energetic, and finding mud and sediment in the water at the shoreline. It invites you with beauty and then leaves you wondering if you should put your feet in.

I’ve had no religious classes, and my attempts at reading the Koran leave me both intrigued and confused. I feel it would have been easier to believe in the stories if I had learned them as a child. I’m too skeptical, too literal now. I’ve taught literature for 10 years and live in the world of figurative. I see how words give soul to material things, and yet reducing religious stories down to the didactic still isn’t enough for me; the details just don’t penetrate–not palpable through my thickened walls.

On the other hand in our family, Kal grew up in a household with religion, but not really a religious household. He wants at least the bare minimum for the kids—for them to believe in God and regard themselves as Muslim. He grew up knowing what to do after someone died, the mourning period and the washing ritual. His mom who once wore bold designer sunglasses and had long dark hair that grazed her waist since Kal can remember eventually covered in deference after his dad passed away, and since she has since completed the pilgrimage and devoted her life to charity. He lived in a predominately Muslim country for half his life. Even though he attended private Catholic schools, he came home to a Muslim family.

Kids complicate your beliefs though. They don’t let you just be in your mind about them.

We’ve had to figure out a good way to marry my background with his. A year ago, through a connection with an awesome non-profit cultural center, we found out about a grass-roots deen, religion, program run by a few good-natured women. The class felt like it was a natural response to a question I didn’t know how to answer: how do I expose my children to religion when I find myself squirming talking about “absolutes.” Like us, a range of parents–intellectuals, professors, and doctors, all of whom have probably had their own version of skepticism, some possibly aligned in, “let’s try to do this and see how this goes so we don’t regret it later”–drop off their kids and hope for the best.

Sometimes after class, it’s interesting to hear my kids ask questions like, “Mommy, did you know there is only one God?” It makes me so happy that they’re learning and that they’ll have a place to seek if their souls are troubled and a place where they can share their gratitude. But when they ask, “Mommy, did you know God made Adam?,” I squirm again, thrust into a conversation riddled with insecurity.

I didn’t enter into a mosque for the first time until I was in my 20s for my relative’s wedding. I had to Google customs and rules so that I wouldn’t mess up and make a fool of myself. Also, I wanted to own up to something I should have known more about.  I’ve worn the hair, the eyes, the skin tone, the empathy, and the culture of someone who should already know this stuff, but I didn’t. And I still don’t, not in the way people expect that I would, especially in the South.  I don’t want my kids to have a similar ambiguous foundation–to say you’re one thing but not really know what that thing is.

On Christmas Day, we had Chinese Christmas with my Jewish friend at Waffle House with giddy kids and warm syrup; when the His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama visited Georgia Tech, my Buddhist friend and I lined up in a mile-long line to hear him speak; when a young Imam spoke to students at my high school about Islam, I sat in the student desks and raise my hands alongside them; when my sikh friend talks about taking her Christian-Sikh kids to temple, I’m intrigued by her story and how she balances it. The beauty of deference, good thoughts, goodwill, patience, and understanding is what I find relatable. I want my kids to be inclusive and confident alongside all these positive pillars.

Every night after I read my kids the fatiha before bedtime, the only verse I truly know, I kiss their foreheads and add without exception, “May you always have an open heart and an open mind.” This is my balance and my belief; to be good is also to be open, always open. I just want my kids to be good, educated human beings. Alongside that, I need them to have inquisitive minds who make up their own opinions. I hope to make some elements easier for them as they go on their own journey, and surely their journey will help me as I go through mine.