Mostly

My house is mostly quiet today.

Subconsciously, I must have whispered to myself, “Today, you need not over-parent.” Before virus news became in-home U.S. news and before it became Georgia news, the act of parenting turned on before drop off and after pick up. I don’t miss the stress of getting out the door with the right bags and the right shoes and the right lunch boxes, though I recognize I will soon pine for versions of that normalcy. What I mean by parenting here is that off-brand parenting that generally includes encouraging good behavior, mitigating sibling bickering, and—the biggest one—controlling screen and device use. Today, I didn’t want to decide yes or no. I didn’t want to be border patrol.  The sky is gray and cool, giving me the option to let go a little. Maybe I’m resetting, not to inflate obese screen time, but, instead, for all of us to stop affecting each other, thereby, we can focus a little on this favorite grandparent saying, “Bezar rahat bashan;” let them be comfortable.

I have a plaque on my fireplace that says the following: Love grows best in little houses with fewer walls to separate. Where you eat and sleep so close together, you can’t help but communicate. Oh, if we had more room between us think of all we’d miss. Love grows in little houses just like this.

I saw this in small neighborhood shop a few months ago and teared up. By the time I instinctively reached up to bring it down closer, I knew it was coming home with me. I love how this reframes. Think of what we’d miss if we weren’t up close to each other as we are now. It seems fitting to apply this reframing here as uncertainty passes through us in strange ways behind closed doors. Strange because we’ve had the luxury to observe this pandemic from afar; then we saw it get closer with swirling green, yellow, and red on screens like that of a weatherman forecasting a winding storm. Strange, too, with highly juxtaposed social media and news posts, horrifying and terrifying with numbers and personal anecdotes, to then absolutely hilarious ones that are coming from all around the globe—a testament to our humanity; when we can’t take anymore, we have to laugh. The big world is in this thing together.  We’re not dealing with it perfectly, and there is plenty that is not funny. But in my own home, we’ve been socially responsible, and we’ve been in it together.

Mostly, week one of home schooling has brought me closer to how my kids learn. Though I created schedules for all of us on Sunday night, by Wednesday, I knew they needed to be adjusted or we’d all burst under pressure. Something as simple as allowing Layla to start the school day later helped Thursday be a better day. She likes to stretch her morning with an episode and some lounge time; Zade, though, likes to start right after breakfast. They tend to do their creative and outdoor time together, and they are so far not doing a horrible job at being kind and fair to each other. I guess the most surprising is that they want to stay up late and talk to each other even if it is about gaming equations and trades I know nothing about. The days are super long; I’m pretty wiped by 3 pm, but I’m also a little proud of us.

Mostly, I know this is luxurious because the ghost of the storm hasn’t knocked on my house directly. I have read stories and felt deep pangs of empathy for those who have suffered and those who suffer in the effort to help. So far I’ve been able to receive second-hand information and prepare as a result. Of course I will fortify; of course I’ll do my social best to stay inside patiently as I have for the last 12 days. Of course I’ll follow role models around me who are doing the same in their own way and hope that everyone else does the same.  Of course I will extend so much admiration to people working through the knots with all they have. This is not a snowstorm. We won’t just watch the screen, buy some extra milk, see the snow fall, get candles ready, watch it pile up, then watch it melt, and go back to school. Unfortunately, all of that will be figurative this time around.

Mostly, what I do have some control over is the world of my home. Today. I’m letting them graze the pantry at their own will, play devices at their own will, talk to each other at their own will, go outside for exercise (or not) at their own will, and come to me at their own will. I’m going to say yes because today, mommy doesn’t feel like giving the right answer; I just want to give a good one. One certainty is that tomorrow is Monday, and, really, anything after that isn’t in my hands.

_____

things I appreciate about social distancing time

(a version of an idea I’m borrowing from Porochista Khakpour at her substack page that you should check out and maybe make your own list on your phone’s notepad or add more here):

-some moments of being in sync with my kids

-home gym stuff (mat, weights, bands, bosu)

underarmour “the only way is through” amp up videos

peloton app (Oliver Lee and Robin Arzon have been my go-to)

-free Calm stuff

-seeing how creative people are getting with their talents to help educate and make changes; a great friend of mine became a youtube and facebook star even though she’s so friggin’ humble and would hate for me to say it that way.

-sending random gifts to people via amazon

-sitting on my porch

-using facetime even when I look ridiculous (even though I did not like it, it was fine)

-writing some/ reading some

-watching 3 episodes of Outlander

-sleeping later/sleeping in

-kids facetiming their friends and watching their faces light up

-not making the family master calendar because there isn’t much to add

-receiving an unexpected act of love from close friends

-sitting on the couch; I rarely allow myself that luxury

-group chats

-and more…

things I’ve struggled with so far

-watching enough news; not watching enough news

-worrying about the future

-worrying about my parents who work

-worrying if i’m overscaring/underscaring my kids

-having any kind of hype for Persian New Year since it feels empty to celebrate

-do I have allergies, or am I getting sick

-am I washing my hands enough; is this even going to work since everything is a surface

-parents, please stay home (I’ve struggled finding patience for people who can make better choices but don’t; I know we all react differently, so I’m trying to be fair about it).

-cooking all meals and not ordering food (a personal choice, and so we miss pizza and convenience)

-calling more people; I still have some real malaise about actual phone-talk time

-feeling FOMO about how this time “at home” should look like

-screen time for the kids

-wanting to do everything but not feeling like it

-feeling like an effective teacher; upholding standards was harder this week

-worrying about whether we have enough at home; worrying that I’m silly or selfish for overthinking it

-staying off my phone; it’s currently powered off so I can reset my attention. been doing this more

-being moody sometimes; I love home time, but I know people bring out a part of my personality I like

-feeling guilty for feeling anything good when a lot of bad is out there; and vice versa

-and more…

A Quick Hello in Case Layla is Looking

Layla and I were hanging out on my bed last night. I was scrolling through my phone showing her videos of our friends who have taken two years off to travel and sail the world. “So, where is St. Lucia?” she asked.

Swiping up through images of the Caribbean and chatting sleepily about sailing, she got me sidetracked.

“You haven’t written much on your blog lately.”

I got up on my elbow and said, “How do you know that?”

She said, “Every few days, I google your name to see if you’ve written anything else.”

Incredible, this daughter of mine searching the Internet to see if I’ve written anything new. To her, that I write is something she knows as if it were always there in her life like my long hair or my dark-rimmed glasses. How I have created this identity with her, and how this is vastly different from my own experience with my writing fascinates me. What is natural to her, that mommy is writing this post or that mommy’s office door is closed, isn’t natural to me.

“That is so sweet, honey. I didn’t know you did that. I haven’t been writing there on purpose because I’m trying to write that novel.”

She nods. “The one about Ellie?”

“Yes, baby.”

The best creative writing course I took in college was the only creative writing class I took in college. The classroom had two big windows that looked over the main street at Georgia State.  A baby-writer-me wrote an essay on Persian tea cups, on the process of tea making as a metaphor for the culture, one that in retrospect was pretty satirical. I was exhilarated at creative non-fiction. Surely, we had an array of assignments, but I just remember that essay and that zing I felt when words came out of form, out of turn. I think the best word for this is delight; I was delighted by my submission and its reception in the class.

I remember the day I decided, no, I think concentrating on literary studies is better since I am good at writing about writing. I don’t regret that decision anymore, but for a long while, I assumed that this choice divided me from the realm of creative writing in the real world. So many of my life steps since then negate this truth, yet impostor syndrome overshadowed the little glimmer of something else. I recognize, now, though that if you stick at something for long enough, you may end up proving to yourself that you’re not half as ill-equipped as your inner asshole (a Pastiloff copyright) told you that you were (dang, do I have to censor that now?). What I’ve learned recently about fiction and life is a line half-borrowed from someone else: fiction makes sense; real life does not. Fictional stories about lives make sense partly because the writer spends a decade considering them and learning to tie pieces together practically; but real life, though true, is too linear to do all that fiction can do. We make sense of real life, but we create fiction.

In 2014, my best friend encouraged my story idea by asking me leading questions and writing swiftly in a notebook I had in the kitchen. I have those notes in my desk drawer still. A few years later, I took a class with UCLA and turned that into a solitary short story that is far beyond that place now. I needed a class to stay committed. In this incarnation, and in a more advanced ULCA course with a phenomenal writing instructor, I am currently writing the first draft of a novel. If anything comes from this experience, it is respect for anyone with the endurance to finish, truly finish this art.  While taking this course, I’ve learned that I can’t know the full story until I write it; that all first drafts are shitty; I have to listen to my instincts (and try to stay away from fatal writing flaws so that my first draft is not as shitty); that I am super serious a few days before deadline, refusing to take off my work clothes or wash makeup off my face until my post-work writing is done for that night; and that I feel a little melancholy a couple days after each submission, like maybe I explored so far that I have to find a way back.

I notice that the kids don’t knock on my door as much when I am working. I hear them in the kitchen. “Don’t ask her for that now. She’s going to get mad.  She’s writing now!” I have to fight the urge to go see what’s going on because I’m recognizing that somewhere inside, I’m taking this seriously, and maybe, too, I’m setting a precedent. Maybe my real life and my fiction can get along and make sense so that I can see what I’m made of when I go forward in time to when I don’t ignore the hard-won delight.

My word for this new year was control, to take control over things I let slip away. I know control can only lead to loss of, yet I’ll try anyway. Even now I’m trying to control myself from checking email as I work alongside my creative writing students, a promise I made them that every Friday, we’ll freewrite together. That we won’t focus so hard on the outcome, just let the ideas flow. Our keyboards are tapping away while others write or doodle in square notebooks. But the solidarity of it makes us do it. Yes, we write alone, but we don’t work towards something alone.

Layla’s question yesterday became, for me, a memorable act of solidarity, an innocent reflection of a truth she sees, one of which I will continuously strive to fit.