Unrounded thoughts on the way things line up

IMG_8629It takes a certain patience to watch women speak in different stages. This weekend at a crafty and beautiful baby shower, I heard the voice of a young lady sitting next to me, and it went up and down with a higher frequency, filled with a pattern I’ve heard before and probably abided by myself. That equally heartfelt and feigned adult. That voice represents a smaller waist, a confidence that looks over her shoulder, and a youth that makes me want to swear I never sounded my age.

But the truth is that girl–kind of a symbol of all of us when we were in our 20s–really wants to be 26, talking in a steady voice about the career she’s started right after college. And even that curious girl at 26 will still wait for things to happen and be glad she’s not 19 anymore, barely remembering details that were once important to her.

To my left sat a great grandmother, poised with nails painted red and wedge heels crossed at the ankles. We talked intermittently–exchanging dessert recipes and inappropriate jokes–and then we just sat and looked around at people engaging at the party. I couldn’t help seeing myself trying to forgive myself at 20. I wondered how all my exuberance and practiced maturity sounded to all the older women around me then.

At the same time, though, when I was 12, my mom had a friend in Chicago who would ask me to come over to hang out, which sounded so adult (and maybe a little weird out of context). She’d make me tea and she would vent to me about the disappointments in her  life. She had three kids and was probably in her late 30s.  I loved our conversations. Like many of my mom’s friends, she said I was so mature for my age, and that made me feel grown. My listening ear is sharp, but what about the things I said and felt when I was younger? Did I embarrass myself? Did I not embarrass myself enough?

It takes a lot of patience and empathy to remember how it is when you’re younger.

I wished I could talk to the great-grandmother about what she sees when she looks out at all the chatting women. How do you lean over someone at a party and say, “Hey, how does this all look to you now that you’re so much older from it?”  I imagine she is far removed from the young ladies and sees it all as stages she passed without realizing she was in them. Her generation’s popular culture didn’t insist so much self-awareness.  

In light of the solar eclipse heading our way, NPR’s science correspondent Nell Greenfieildboyce wrote a captivating article on umbraphiles, or shadow lovers, who are a “part of a small community of people whose lives orbit around total solar eclipses.” Many are captivated by its “otherwordly” or “emotional” charm. I was instantly captivated by this idea of shadow lovers roaming continents for this experience. One man says, “You may intellectually understand the workings of our solar system, and the vastness of time and space, he says, “but a total solar eclipse makes you feel it.”

How much about that sentence captures your own world? Don’t we intellectually understand how things work–college, marriage, divorce, childbirth, sacrifice–but a particular moment, most often after it, that makes you feel it.

I think back on most of my 20s–mainly before I had kids–not with a view of superiority like it may seem I’m referring, but with a sadness for moments I didn’t understand. The times I felt I understood what I didn’t, like trying to fix a family feud that I had no business doing or giving up control over my life over to others, and I feel like there is a sliver of me who was acting the part instead of truly chasing authentic emotion for the wonder of it.

The most fulfilled I am is usually when the moment has passed and I have quiet to think about it. I’m not busy engaging, preparing, entertaining, or adjusting. 

 The eclipse we may stand in a shadow to feel next week is a symbol, too, of the gift of experience. 

This “cosmic quirk of geometry” feels so intriguing to me because it’s impossible to remove the timeliness and the wonder of it; for most of us, this is a once in a lifetime experience. Isn’t that with every moment in our life? Every night I tuck my kids in, every show I watch with Kal at night; they are unique despite their ordinary.

With this eclipse, we are responsible for knowing the time is now. It makes me want to put the hype and energy for the moment in a bottle, ready to down it when I’m caught up with everything else. It also makes me want to go back to that younger self–voice of higher frequency and all– and visit for awhile. I’d want to wake her up somehow, maybe even urge her to be young a little longer without worrying about how things may line up. It will have beauty either way. 

The men in Greenfieldboyce’s intriguing article agree that the trouble of seeing any eclipse is completely worth it; it’s only the ones they miss that they regret.

Mexico

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I looked down at my bare feet coated in sand while we waited on the small speedboat that was to take us to the two jet skis Kal rented for us. We were at a truly immaculate resort in what felt like sleepy Cancun. The Yucatan Peninsula made the blue water near the beach almost as still as a lake, and when after midnight I stared out of the window of our hotel room open to Isla Mujeres, the low and bright moon cast a white pattern on the Caribbean. I knew taking a picture would disrupt the moment, so instead I just watched.

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It was daytime and bright now, and we all wore our hats and sunglasses. I didn’t realize we would be taken to another pier to ride the skis or that we’d take a shuttle back barefoot to the hotel a couple hours later. A day before that I didn’t realize that I like to kayak until Layla, who learned and ventured off on her own kayak daily, taught me how to do it. And I didn’t think I’d get on a paddle board and stand while wading through the ripples until Layla said, “Hey Mommy, you need to try it.”
_DSC0069A 2-minute tutorial and an engine start later, I was on my own with Layla on a jet ski. She begged me to go fast at first, and I was terrified. I knew if I went too slow, we’d fall with the ski, and if I went too fast, the risk may not be worth the reward. So for the first 15 minutes, I held on with white-knuckle concentration as my daughter urged me to speed up. She was the main reason I didn’t want to speed up, but she was also the main reason for when I did.  

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Kal and Zade rode on one like pros, forming circles of white foam in front of us. But when we finished and the instructor waved us back to the pier, I thanked God that we never tipped over! Kal said, you guys actually went faster than us. I told him that while we were on the jet ski and Layla’s hands were holding on to me, she yelled out like a mini sage, “Mommy, just close your eyes, open your heart, and go fast. Don’t be afraid.”

There were these hidden moments I jotted down in my journal. Right below notes about my core gratitude that my health picked up and didn’t affect the trip, are notes of relief that everyone loved the resort and that we were able to make this memory together. Below that is a list of things that randomly stood out. One of which was that when I was on a kayak earlier that day, I learned that to direct your kayak to the right, you have to paddle left. To row faster, the current had to face me instead of behind me–a perplexing situation that was true for me over and over again. Another one is that the sand, though traditionally beige, had these flecks of red in it, probably a keepsake from the coral but nonetheless surprising.

And there were other things not so pleasant on there that come from travel with family in those tough moments: that sometimes family takes the fun out of the family vacation. You want your kids to see from your tall perspective, but their perspective only starts at your hips. Zade knocking over tienda-bought fruit loops at the fancy Japanese infusion restaurant; Layla’s dramatic reactions when she’s not getting what she wants, a contrast to her otherwise maturity. We are the gatekeepers of their fun; and they are gatekeepers of our sanity. The opposite of what we expect often is the story that lingers, whatever it is. 

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What took us to Mexico was a promise made a year and a half ago that we’d go on a family vacation with my parents to celebrate my mom’s birthday.  What brought us to more adventure is Kal’s refusal to let fear, an emotion that was the backbone of my parents’ and their generation’s parental handbook, stop our kids from certain experiences. In fact, my mom wouldn’t leave her chair until we returned safely. My parents are perfectly content with watching the ocean from the shore, and I’m sort of there somewhere with one foot on cozy sand and the other foot itching to push past myself.

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This time last week, we came home. My mom, who had to have been a palm tree in another life,  says she stills sees the lit resort at night and the crystal ocean when she closes her eyes. While in the hotel lobby, my kids sat on top of our luggage filled with sandy, damp clothes.  I remember leaning over to my dad and saying that I’m 34 and my kids have done way more than I did at their age, that they are under 8 years old and have already gone to Central America. My dad said, “Honey, I’m almost 70 and this is my first time.” We laughed really hard at that. 

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Stones

I’ve avoided coming to the computer because I don’t know the end of the story. It feels like ten minutes ago I stepped out of a speeding, shaky car of which I had no control, and now my feet are on the earth again, as if I’m walking away from an experience that just minutes ago consumed my grip and took prayers out of my mouth, but I’m steady now. I’m kind of just relieved to be out of it, a little stunned from the experience, one part effected and another part ready to move past it.

Over a week ago,  a pain in my side I thought I got from working out too hard turned into a monster. It wrenched my gut, caved in my back, had me throwing up in the ER, ripped the soft June rug from under me, and stuck an IV with morphine in my arm. Out of nowhere, it turns out I had a kidney stone that went rogue and another hiding in the shadow, just waiting.

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It took close to a week before I could get the rebel stone shattered, and that waiting time is the sandwich of this story: a slowly trickling outpour of club members, or really family veterans, came through to commiserate and share either their rogue-stone stories or magical remedies with me.

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After the ER, my dad took me to the doctor and entertained Layla for hours; my mom, who pulled a muscle just the day before, limped around my kitchen to feed and care for the always-snacking kids for the weekend while I stared out, high on medicine and disgusted with food and myself; and Kal stayed with me as much as possible, like the days where he was near me more often for long stretches of time, taking care of the stuff I normally do.

Before surgery I truly wondered at how people with long-term illness function in daily life–how can you remember dates, raise kids, pay bills, or function when you’re just trying to breath without throwing up? You need help and the hope that you can come out better enough to thank the people who stepped in to run your world or give you steam while you suffered.  

While in the thick it,  I tried to think about how I’d write about the experience. Philosophy had little room in my pain fog though. I was so scared at what my body felt so violently that I could only grasp at moments. I lay in the bed trying not to excite any senses. I’d hear thumps of my kids’ feet running patternless across the hardwood. I’d grip the handlebar in the car and crack the window open to get through the ride.  I’d talk slowly and try not to let the sound waves exhaust me. I’d apologize for all the trouble I’m causing.

I remember what I used to think about kidney stones–you hear they are worse than childbirth and know some vagueness about how stuff goes down when they occur. But this stone situation has made me feel bad for any time I haven’t been a better friend to someone in pain or someone unsure about their health. I’m in the club now. It’s made me wrestle again with that thin line that freaks out this capricorn all the time–how do you live without the trust that the life you try with all your might to build won’t be blindsided by some unforeseeable pain or change? It’s a reminder of all the stuff out of our hands. One day you’re forgetting what day of the week it is because you are nestled in the glow of June, and the next day you are counting the hours to see which pills to take.

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Today, I felt relatively normal. We drove home from gently celebrating the 4th with friends, and I leaned closer to who I felt like before the last two weeks. My body and I are going to have to trust each other again. I have this new thing to deal with, a new thing to check off on medical history forms. But pain is a necessary evil to rattle us. I’m listening to music again, and tonight Amber Run sings, “It’s all a fickle game. Oh life’s a fickle game we play.”

I won’t wrap this up with a metaphor or advocate with any certainty because I’m not there yet. If anything, I’m closer to the reality than the reflection. The only certainty I have tonight is that while the last of the fireworks beat on outside our house, I consider today’s health and the possibilities it has offered–however ephemeral–and the kindness I’ve been shown as a personal celebration. 

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A Cousin

6 hours ago, the room I’m sitting in now had a playpen to my right and two turquoise suitcases to my left. My favorite cousin and her kids visited us from Toronto this week, fulfilling a tradition: trying to get all of us together at least every year or two. I remember when I left her house two summers ago. I was filled with genuine satisfaction, the kind that can only come when kids are full and I feel understood.

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A trip to to the airport began the inevitable sadness that begins lukewarm until it catches on that the new pattern is soon changing. At the security gate, Layla clutched onto Lillian while Zade and Michael took the impending trade in stride. Lillian left Layla a message on my phone promising a splash party with lots of candy, and almost-3 Michael invited us with his little voice to his “bo-day” party, his sweet way of approving of us. The visit was totally centered on the kids–their 3 meals guiding the day, their fun event centering it, and the bedtime routine leaving us spent.

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There is so much to write about their moments at the roller skating rink or at the pool,  but I’m staring out of the window over my desk and thinking about us–Par and me, the girls and the women.

When my family lived in Chicago, we’d drive 10-hours every year to visit my relatives in Canada. For the week we’d be there, I’d see their world with rose tint. My cousins’ life felt rich with freedom, familial support, and wealth. It was glamorous, and I didn’t feel like I fit in at all. I tried really hard though and loved even harder than that, spending so much time amongst my other cousins who all grew up near each other; I constantly searched for the right words and the right outfit, eager to get them to love me as much as I was in awe of them. When I finally grew out of my incredible ugly duckling stage, things inside me started to change, and right around that corner is when I also noticed I may have something to offer to someone I felt already had everything–friendship. And she gave me the same right back.

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at 19

Par flew in when I changed high schools my senior year to help soften the impact. She visited me in college and helped try to understand me through lots of heartache. She was actually there with me the night I met Kal; in fact, she was the reason we all went out in the first place and happened to meet him. What we both had in common as our lives adjusted more to each other is that we both hid stuff deep down, and we both had this unreasonable sadness that seemed to connect to our good old radio-voice Delilah, making us cry to all the Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Richard Marx, and Bryan Adams songs before we even had anything to cry about, or really before we could truly share the underbelly of our teenage hearts.

With slow glimpses into each others’ lives, born only 6 months apart, we’ve seen the truth, seen the real stories behind the awkward representatives we became around family.

Our moms are the only sisters in their family. In many ways, they are completely different–both showing their love and commitment in opposite ways. And Par and I have grown out of them and into our own version. We took the kids to the park yesterday and kept looking at each other, our faces looking the same to each other as they were when we were single and 20, then looking at our kids running around together and kind of wondering how it all happened–how we became mothers. We spent a lot of time talking about our odd place at 34, wondering about love and marriage, being a person and a role, how small things are adding up, how our reaction to our roles have these jagged edges. 

My brother said something to me the other day that made me think that so many of us claim that one cousin that is more like a sibling than any other member in our family. 

It’s not uncommon for either of our departures back home to not leave a stream of surprise letters in the guest room or unexpected gifts. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that Par, heart clean and deep, slipped in a note in between the bookends she bought for me at my favorite antique store. The letter started, “To My Dearest Sammy” (I was already crying by now); she wrote, “I am sitting at the desk you will write your first published novel” (so now the tears are hot and rolling), and then signed her thank you note with, “Love you with all my heart, Par Par” (and done–an ugly sob for a good quiet minute as I walked back and forth in the kitchen).

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So many times I stared at our daughters this week and wondered what part of the karmic leaf falls on each, or if it’s possible that one of them will be in tormented awe of the other and the other will be misunderstood and maybe even lonely? Will they suffer a scrambled version of our adolescence? Will they find each other by it and through it? Will Layla confide in Lillian her most coveted secrets, and will Lillian lay out her soul for Layla to see? I know there are boys involved in all this, but they are not the girls we are or the pattern we wonder about, not now anyway. We both wonder about our first-born girls and about ourselves.

Before they left, Kal took the kids out for a couple hours, and Par and I had two cups of tea and a brief time to relish in the last few words facing each other. After having listened to each other through the week, we prescribed each other a few things to help carry our young hearts through the phases of the woman, mother, marriage, and back to the woman. 

So I guess this post is just about how two girls can become two women, and how those women can then have two girls. And maybe it is about how this world will shape them, clouds and clouds apart, and makes them need to look at each other, hard and sweet, and remind each other that they are in there somewhere and we remember them, so that they can–together–honor the past honestly and prepare for the future soulfully.

 

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This busy life of [non] fools

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In “Vienna,” Billy Joel sings that “only fools are satisfied.” He played this song at his recent performance in Atlanta. My mom and I swayed, glancing over at each other between verses, and wondered how the piano man’s voice preserved, how his voice “played [us] a memory” both “sad and sweet.” Blue light and warm April breeze nudged my hair off my face and left my mind doing what it does best–wander.

In the 6 weeks since I’ve posted, I’ve witnessed beginnings and endings.

Yesterday, I attended a funeral service for a member of many communities in both Atlanta and abroad. He was a man who contributed manifold–along with his remarkable family–to each endeavor in life. The eulogies made it even clearer that the person we lost at least 30 years prior to his time is what the word legacy represents. His family and age are similar to mine; his circle of influence overlaps ours; impacting so many personally as their story reminds us of how nothing is certain, how good people don’t have a shield from the bad. And at whichever angle I look at it, I end up staring out as I open my palms and then bring them together up to my mouth, sighing.

As life would have it, the truth is that things continue on like a river running its course among the rocks.  Like everyone I know this month, we’re all zipping around and stretching across the acres of expectations. Life shows its other characteristics: our family members and friends are announcing their pregnancies while others are celebrating birthdays; my best friend has relocated and reinvented her life 700 miles away from me; I’ve congratulated nearly a dozen people on either retirement or school changes; one friend is getting married and another is going through the challenge of fostering a child; one is celebrating her new book while the another swells with new opportunities overseas.

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And through all this I witnessed some of my most beloved students graduating, which always brings me back to my world with some new light. Those kids remind me of my own kids. Zade’s last year in Montessori marks the beginning of both kids in public school, a general marker of no more babies in the family; my daughter is going through the 7s with baking as her therapy, a reminder that she is maturing in so many ways.

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My friend sent me an article this week because, well, the article applies to almost everyone I know. This busy, non-foolish life has unabashed plans for us.  No one I know has been unscathed by May’s madness. In The Disease of Being Busy, Omid Safi advocates that we should share how we’re doing but also delve deeper into our heart and see how it fares amongst it all. He ends his article with this call to action:

Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”

On the same shoreline, in a recent article about tending to our inner life, Safi echoes what has been on my own heart this year (thank you, Laura):

“Who we are now is not the same person we were a few years ago. There may have been nourishing at one point in our life. There may no longer be nourishing at this phase. What sustains us now may evolve a few years down the road. That task of self-care will grow and evolve.”

That’s another truth about this life. This life, with its frontier unannounced, is humbling. This life with its clusters rolling over the myriad, this life with each breath blessing us to move forward with ambition and grace, this is the life that satisfies me most when it is in between the pause and the potential. Only fools are satisfied, he says, and I’m with him on this one. I enjoy my foolish times as a break from the lust of the rip current where I think life.

At the lake a few weeks ago, a person I met only a day before said her co-worker signs each email with two words, which I’ll share here because they say it best: so many of us here are still searching…

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The [my] Truth Behind Family Photos

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My son’s school offered family portrait sessions yesterday. I signed up for a slot a few weeks ago because we hadn’t done a family portrait for three years, and the kids have changed a lot since then. Last week, I hastily ordered $250 dollars worth of white clothes online so that I could decide on outfits later. Kal wanted us all to do the classic all-in-white photos, which always looks beautiful in pictures but feels so far from a color I’d associate with a real family.

I arranged the outfits and put away the ones I’d return late this week. Kal has been working exhausting hours, and I’ve been working overtime with other hats to fill in the blank. On Friday, he dropped off the kids with me after school so he could return back to work, and I took Zade to get his hair cut, then to get a gift for a birthday party, then to a party, and then to a playdate. If you’ve been following my life or my posts, you know that my duo has challenged me more than I’ve ever been challenged before.

I know that this statement is sweeping since with kids, one thing gets easier while the other thing gets harder. When they finally start walking and you no longer have to hold them everywhere, you’re then stooped over all the time because they can bump their head on something; when they start eating solids, and you’ve just had your fit over washing that last yellow Medela bottle, your bottle brush is replaced with worry about how small or chewable food is so they don’t choke. Something goes away before you notice it’s gone, and then another thing replaces it, expanding like a prism inside a circle.

The night before family photos ended like this: with me staring across the room as I sat across from a plate of food. I probably looked crazy, absently staring at the blinds over the kitchen sink. Kal asked me why I wasn’t talking, and I said it’s because I know everyone’s response. Life has become routine, the arguments, the grocery shopping, the work, the house. Even the excursions feel predictable sometimes. It sounds utterly insensitive in the face of so many people’s uncertainty. And yet there it is. My own truth.

What he didn’t know was that Friday night ended with Layla’s ice cream on the floor, ketchup all over the shoes, more sibling bickering, total greediness, watching my friend fill out an incident report at Chikfila, and a near vow that I’d never take both my kids out at the same time.  By the time we got home and I was staring at that plate of food, I was totally undone. The word I found in my head was stunned. When words made sense again, I had that metaphorical serious come to Jesus talk with the kids and hoped that their little, unclouded memories would last longer than those small flies that only live for one day.

The next morning, I scrubbed the kids and made them shiny. Blow dried hair, styled outfits, and even repainted nails. Kal was away all morning, and he called and said he may not be able to make the photo session. I about lost it, and then he wisely reconsidered. I got the kids into their shiny, white clothes.  I remembered I’d forgotten to set out my own outfit and put something together. I reminded them not to spill anything on their clothes and frankly, not to move. For the first time, I got myself into the car first because the effort to get out of the house was about to push me over the edge. I sat and waited.

We arrived at the session in two cars so Kal could return to work. As soon as we walked in, Layla started bossing Zade around. She didn’t want to smile in pictures unless she was doing it on her own terms. I was trying to find my smile, and the boys were just doing as they were told.  The kids had smuggled in their most bootleg toys and wanted to put them in the pictures. Writing this now, none of this sounds like anything but kids being kids.

But listen–the me that will read this in five years and want to shake myself and say you missed a great moment or you’re over-reacting–I promise you that life in any circumstance is hard and that the common words we use to depict something can’t do justice to it when we see those same things in a whole new angle. Like when you remember that saying, “time heals all wounds” after a time it applies to you. It doesn’t sound cliche anymore once it does, right?

This morning I woke up with the real sense that God has answered my prayers for authentic experience by giving me this vast thing to sift through: what about that picture is real? What about this life at 34 feels more than what it is? And how do we move forward knowing that the stuff that we control, we can make hard and make routine, and the stuff we can’t control makes us afraid and cautious?

And why are all the little things adding up to so much hard?

By the time we left, I’d had enough of my own looping thoughts. I drove over to my parents’ house. I walked in and the house was warm as always. Persian parents love warm houses; it’s like the AC is their nemesis. We sat at the plastic-covered table, and I vented to my mother. I told her that I know my recent dwellings on marriage and children sound so selfish, but it’s just where I am. I’m not sure why I feel such weight now. Maybe my friend’s melancholy shaded or colored my own, and maybe this is the butterfly effect that happens sometimes. But it’s real.

Mom gave me food for the soul and words to the heart. She took me out to run errands as my dad watched the kids. Before I knew it, I was being sent home with food and my kids were going to spend the night–no toothbrush, just the picture day clothes they came in with.

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My mom’s hand under Layla’s hand

A few hours later, Kal and I had an evening out where we got to hear each other speak to each other while we spoke to others.

I woke up to an upside down house, but I don’t feel as flipped like I did yesterday.

When that email comes and I see the family portraits, I’m going to distinctly remember this year. I pledge I will not diminish the challenges I’m facing now because the pictures are beautiful, inspiring an inevitable nostalgia for a time when things looked easier. I pledge that the truth behind the photo is the parents who helped nurse me back to face reality last night, the effort it takes to wear white, the truths we share with each other every day so that we can continue absorbing, refracting, and spraying light like a prism, where white light sorts out its different components, producing these wavelengths of this life we construct, flowing out colors that we lean back and study.

Quiet

Quiet feels so good right now.

For the last 72 hours, there’s been a lot of good noise–Persian-festival noise, cousin- reuniting noise, sibling-rivalry noise, and parenting-head noise.

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I picked up the house that was overturned, putting back decorative letters and returning items back to the pantry and such. The house did its duty and now needs some rest while the sun goes down, getting hotter each hour as it makes its grand departure.

I am doing this now and sitting here. The warm sun is softening the moment. 

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My shoulders eek up and tense around the blades and my mind goes a little blurry in the presence of my kids’ arguments. They were so happy playing with their cousins just hours ago, but they argued with each other at every other increment; they can be so bad to each other in the middle of so much good, so many significant memories. I try not to worry that their small age difference (hence, maturity) is hurtful to them when we truly hoped it would be the opposite.

To top off the hours of back and forth, sometimes the steadfast oscillation throttling my own parenting voice, I decided to blast Shakira so loud no one could think above it. Unfortunately, it only worked for a few minutes until they had a climactic exchange in the car.

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We saw Boss Baby last night, and the film involves an only child who has to grapple with having a new brother. A few minutes from home,  Zade, seeing how something sounds to him, told Layla that he wants a little brother instead of her as a sister. And Layla, the mothering sister with quirks and big feelings of her own, sank even more into sibling fatigue.

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She had a day of some well-deserved no’s mixed in with some brother meanness, especially when he made a show of not letting her into his fort. She looked so grown staring back at him in her long, patterned skirt and denim top. Pain hurts more when you’re older.

So now they are in their own spaces. I tell my kids, “I need 20 minutes by myself,” and though it takes ten minutes of interruptions to get it through sometimes, a version of what I need gets across. At this moment, in this time, it feels like the breeze through a hammock. Returning back to me is my place of peace.

Before posting this message, I walked back into the house to check on the kids. To my surprise, at the center of the living room, Layla has made a huge fort of her own, even bigger and better than the one her brother excluded her from this morning. On the seat of the chairs that pillar the tent, she has lined up provisions: paper plates, utensils, a box of cheese crackers, gatorade, and cookies. A propped-up device and cascading sheets seclude her and offer her some time of her own. She let her ankle come out from the wall sheet as she said with satisfaction, “I love this fort I made.”

If I didn’t do anything else right today while hoping to squeeze the most love out of moments with family, at least I’m seeing something I think my kids will grow up knowing, something I think my patterns show clearly: you’ve got to have some quiet time, some space away from all of it. It’s unapologetic time that all of us–kids and adults–need to face the current.

Sometimes you just need a fort of your own. 

Retrospective

I’ve emerged from a restless funk sullied with heavy questions. I like restlessness when a story comes from it or when it circles the rim of a tea glass. I feel it coming on like the still of the grass before the rain or the taste of spring like yellow dust on my tongue. But this bout left like a visit from your mother–seeing through you, leaving you with knee-jerk reactions, then stuff to work through, and then sharp awareness. I wrestled with it through all these real snapshots that I want to share for two reasons: they belong in the memory box because they are real, and they show that women–for real–are always in two places at once (in the mind, and at the moment).

watching

I got to see this from inside.

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The stars aligned, and I got to watch my brother get his first tattoo. 

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We got to take 16 pictures in front of the Persian New Year sofreh.

Adventure

I got to (try to) capture my favorite glow coming through the windows.

 

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I visited the past with new eyes.

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And I stopped for the thousandth time to feel what the sky was offering me.

I’m short-posting it tonight. Since I’m figuring out my words, I’ll leave it to my girl Lindbergh to do what she always does for me. She wrote it before I knew I felt it.

“When we start at the center of ourselves, we discover something worthwhile extending toward the periphery of the circle. We find again some of the joy in the now, some of the peace in the here, some of the love in me…But there are other beaches to explore. There are more shells to find.” 

My Cup of Water

Just a hot second ago, I walked out of the living room to look for my cup of water. That cup that I filled a few hours ago and stuck a yellow straw in. I used my phone light to check around the sleeping kids’ rooms. Checked Layla’s forehead to make sure her cough hasn’t turned into a fever, touched Zade’s cheek because how could I not, and then made my way back through the living room again. I threw my right hand in the air, a gesture you’d see from an angry pedestrian who just got cut off.  Where is that cup, I asked myself. I walked to the end of the house. Could I have put it in the guest room before dumping clean laundry in it? I clicked on the light. Nope. Maybe it’s in my bedroom near the phone charger. Nope, not there. Oh, maybe it’s near the oversized chair. Nope. Finally, I walked to the bathroom and clicked on the light, and there it was–on the counter where I put it before bathing Zade.

I must have walked past that room 3 times before looking into it. The answer was practically right in front of me, and I kept missing it. In the meantime, I asked myself if I had even poured the water in the first place; maybe that was yesterday and I’m confusing the memory; and why did I just remember to drink water when I’ve been thirsty?

These questions and this moment are hardly worth writing about except that they are; in fact, they are entirely representative of the last few weeks. The water quest was simple: I went searching for something that I knew I needed. The answer was pretty close to my face. I doubted myself in the process, and then when I found the thing I needed, I took a cool sip.

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Yesterday, Andrea and I went to a long-awaited City and Colour concert. We had brief spurts of quiet time to chat since we only had one full day together, but our talk gave me the place to exhale about some shadows cast on the last few months. Over hot tea and with some road time, some of my words came out clearly, slicing fog with each syllable, while other words sought the safety of friendship because they were of a different kind–that kind where we speak ideas out loud so that we can uncage them and see how we feel about them, giving me a chance to examine each with the perspective of my own third party.

In fact, I’m trying to help a friend and also myself by listening to this on audible. There is an exercise that advocates instead of pushing away the multiplicitous thoughts that may affect you negatively, you identify them, or dare I say, classify them. My interpretation has been that when the cluttering thoughts stream unannounced through your mind, you may say the following back to yourself: “I notice you’re thinking about the way you think she may be judging you again, ” or, ” I notice you’re replaying what you said at the meeting again.” It’s strange at first, but then it can be just the right shift in thought.

I’ve been doing some of this type of listening and filtering, and it’s been so interesting to see how things take shape. For example, I’m nearing the conclusion that my mind-thieves love to create a person’s expectations of me and then let me judge myself against them, which is neither fair to him nor to myself. It’s going to take work to bring that bad habit to a minimum. Like so many motivated people around me who wonder, where does all this effort go, I want to make it count, making my way–whoever else that satisfies–authentic.

Of course you can’t be happy all the time, but you can aim for that beautiful, ephemeral high and land among the peaceful. I feel deeply the last words of Girls tonight: “Kids are super-easy. It’s being an adult that’s hard.”

I can see the answer right in front of me: satisfaction comes from peace of mind, and there are only so many things in our busy lives that are worth our precious time. The stuff resembling water, and the stuff that complements our shared experience. I am working through how I can be better about putting this to practice in my world of ever-stretchy expectations.

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February

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I’m sitting on the deck while Zade dips plastic figures into a concoction of warm water, grass, and mud. It’s breezy and in the low 60s, perfect day for a run or a hike, but I’ve propped up my legs, one with a bag of frozen peas at my ankle. I’ve got a 10k coming up soon, and I need these ankles to work right.

It’s unseasonably warm outside. Stuff is in bloom. Every time I see something fluffy white, or bright yellow, or low lavender, I have to remind myself it’s just February. Instead of having spring joy, I feel cautiously aware at how forced the weather feels, blooms confused, opening like a confused bear out of hibernation to a fickle pretense–that it will stay warm enough to sustain its glory. These spring buds have a weird edge to them, a reminder that when you’re not ready for something, we’ll look awkward as we build trust for it.

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This last month has been an unseasonable race as well. The election started the year with an earthquake, and then life has to go on, radio dialed up on the way to Publix, hosting meetings for students while making doctor appointments.

Our life, with my mischievous calendar, is up to no good, and it’s burning me out.  I’m legit trying out breathing exercises and having moments of rebellion so I can rise to responsibilities. It’s not that my world is unique; we’re all busy. It’s that I feel hyper-aware at how fast days move to the next. My friend got me a dreambook planner that reminds me what so many of us come to over and over again:

“Your energy flows in the direction of your attention. What you put your attention on grows and becomes a theme of your life–whether you mean for this or not…As you take your last breaths, what do you want to have done with your life?”

Reading this the other day made sense and also freaked me out a bit, especially the, “what you put your attention on grows and becomes a theme of your life” part. I had this freakish image of my life being a series of working at the same school for 30 years, folding crumpled heaps of laundry Sisyphean style, telling my kids to stop yelling at each other. Would those tasks represent big thematics in my life? It fed into some major insecurities.

But looked at from a broader lens (after I calmed down and walked away from the crumbs on the floor), I guess, the lines could suggest a different version of those statements: that I’m shaping and getting shaped by a good community; that I’m taking care of my family the best way I know how; and that I’m trying to teach my children to respect each other. The minutia (and the noise) absolutely feels gargantuan in these unseasonable Februaries. I know I have to continuously work on letting the unimportant stuff go, but like my mom says, this is life. What is part of our life right now, filled with stuff that busy our lives that we hope are filled with the right, the optimum, the real, the raw, the meaningful, and the loved–this is life.

And if you’re like me and have 9,000 photos of this messy life on your phone, watch this commercial, give its advertising team major kudos (they nailed it), and get a “magazine subscription to your life.” I finally did it and feel like it was the right decision, and those certainties in this flip-flop February are hard-earned.

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