I bought four Zwilling, double-paned tea mugs I loved at my aunt and uncle’s house as soon as we returned from Canada last year after my cousin’s wedding. Every time I pull one out of the cabinet, they remind me of that last visit, when we cheered for bride and groom alongside my belated grandfather who was like a king in our family. During that wedding timeframe, at the end of each day with family, we’d return to their house, get into pajamas, and talk to each other with our glasses full of hot, garnet tea, fiery enough to make parts of your tongue red, the only color suitable for the proper sip.
The reunion of cousins and their children compared with our retired parents and elderly announced, as though from the older generation’s mouths, I’ve been where you are; I know what this is like. I wonder what you’re doing with it? It. This true adulthood where I remember my parents when I was a kid my kid’s age, the adulthood that is recording. The internal red dot is on, and we are where they’ve been, which also means we will be where they are looking at our youth and then thinking of our own time as parents. This makes the sum of all parts the goal, and I find comfort in that since it’s impossible, though we try, to remember all the little things.
My aunt and uncle have a chef’s stove, and the hood sucks out any scent nearby. I liked walking by the kitchen and seeing a glimpse of my aunt leaning in to light her cigarette in the gas range, smoking quietly while the tea brewed. She’d blow the smoke up to the hood, and the house wouldn’t know any different. “Hi, Khaleh,” she’d say. Each day and night, we’d meet this way in the kitchen.
Like the smoking she cared not to be lectured about, her quiet sense of style, and her unique tea mugs, she’s been her own woman distinguished from in-law and other roles for years. She handled and supported her family discreetly and strongly, perhaps coating against my family’s side full of well-intended, strong opinions by protecting her own—keeping to her own way of life without fuss. In spending time with her, I realized that what I always considered her quietness was actually a strength of preservation. Discreetly, perhaps, she has protected her mind and family from ways big families have the influence to demand sacrifice for the whole.
At this stage, I see that this is often what we need to do to be ourselves in our middle eastern culture: we are our own selves alone and we take shape of what we should be when we are with family. As I get older, I see this less of a bad thing and less separatist. Sometimes, our alone selves are insufferable—hard to please, restless, vulnerable. But our families and our responsibilities force us out of that comfortable solitude and rely on culture and sound to replace that internal rattle. Where I’m learning to make that work is by strengthening my own cartilage. I want my individual self to say “Hi Khaleh,” when you pass by me doing my own thing, and I want to feel at home doing it.
My other aunt, one of my favorite never-to-conform women on this planet, just swept my 83-year old grandmother off her feet by taking her to Turkey and Greece. Recently widowed, my grandmother hasn’t travelled anywhere for years as she cared for my grandfather. This aunt is vibrant, independent, and a pillar of womanhood in my eyes. Her sister, my mother, recently retired, couldn’t go with them on this trip because she felt guilty to leave my dad alone that long. She has her own rhythm of life miles away from her family’s and her own unique limitations. In that distance and in her circumstance, she has strengthened on her own. She wouldn’t have considered herself a strong woman years ago, but I see her that way. As an artist I met recently said, Eastern ways of strength and healing look differently than the typical Western norms. Our hero’s journey isn’t the same. The women of my family alone write a book about this that their children revisit inside our minds.
In front of me, I’ve had a gallery of women whose art I recognize the more I turn my gaze inside and see them. And in my life of women, I take note of the roles they fill where I lack. Since turning 40, changing work, and being vulnerably waiting on submission, I’ve had to make choices to further strengthen my boundaries for my own mental health. But yesterday was a good example of how strengthening inside needs a village, too. I chose to go to a class for my own sanity over going to my son’s game, and my husband got delayed at a meeting. My son, alone, had a scary incident at the game, and my friend and another soccer mom helped by standing in as moms. I felt so guilty. There’s no talking myself out of knowledge that when I make a choice that is not for the whole, I don’t feel great about it. The consequences of individuality within a family can’t always be dressed up. But I need that chef’s stove, the hood, the ways of being my own self in order to be an authentic member of a whole. It doesn’t come easy, but I’m committed to working on it.
2 thoughts on “this woman”
Samira, what a gorgeous piece! You always see so deeply into relationships and into yourself. I have been spending time around my family too and am searching for a way to be in community and also keep myself sane. I found myself in a panic last week, wanting to help my little sister, then realizing it’s only by staying peaceful inside my heart that would help! (I ended up writing a blog about it, which kept me above board. And I have YOU to thank for that. You ARE one of the women under the stove hood, carving out a little piece of the world for your soul!) Thank you for this lovely reminder. Happy Mother’s Day!
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Leslie, this is very generous of you. I’m so glad it resonates! You know how much I appreciate your work; I’m so happy to be on this path with you!