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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15 stronger

I’ve been writing a story that involves a lavender thistle, and last week at a café on Broughton St., I sat at a table with numerous lavender thistle centerpieces.

Photo by A.I

I wrote a story that begins with a careful observation about cemeteries, and then two weeks later, a tour guide explained to me how Abercorn St. was built over hundreds of graves, that cemeteries, like Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah, shrunk under concrete.

Photo by A.I.

I’ve listened to Maroon 5 to motivate most afternoon runs the past 7 weeks, and then last Sunday their latest hit was playing as I approached the finish line of the Hot Chocolate Run in Atlanta.

These didn’t happen for me. Like Emerson says, I recognize that what dresses as happiness today can be mournful tomorrow. But I thank their coincidence. How things interact can heighten a mood or bend a thought. I’m down for that.

What’s not a coincidence is my friend asking me to do 15k with her. I stammered out a yes, willing that I’d try. It would be my first race. In the last few years, my commitment to running has been intermittent. Knowing I was going to run at a distance I’d never run and knowing I’d do it alongside a fit, competitive woman motivated me to commit to training for 7 weeks thereafter.

Every single time I went for a practice run, I’d be at heel of how incapable I was, how I’d probably end up steering to the 5k route instead. For some reason, that talk also pushed me—not in the way you see in movies. This push was thick with sometimes lead feet and down-talking nerves. But it also got me into running stores to get the right shoes or talking to runners around me for advice on shins and cadence and such. In short time, I built a small wardrobe and toolkit for how to make this work. And since I hadn’t run 7.5 miles straight, the suggested mileage to practice before a 15k, I was super nervous about dropping shy of my goal. What I didn’t suspect was that it wasn’t my ability that would bring me to the finish line; it would be my determination not to fail.


The early morning of our race, runners in their race bibs and running gear gathered at Centennial Olympic Park. The quiet energy followed us in the morning dark. We walked to our corrals and waited. We moved forward as waves of runners were released to the run. As our hoard got closer to the start line, I squealed at my running partner and pulled her close for an excited hug.


In that 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 moment, I caught my breath and recognized that when you’re an adult, it’s less common to become sharply excited about something in that way. For instance, when it snowed earlier this month, my kids screamed and charged out the door to play, carried away on that lightning expectation of fun. I think adulating can suck that out of us. Instead of high-heartbeat excitement, we may instead choose to get carried away with the opposite energy—the calm, curled up and sedentary moments of quiet where we can decompress.

But when the MC yelled, “GO!” and our time started, I felt raw, uninhibited excitement even though I knew there was only work ahead. I think it’s because I was about to figure out something about myself.

There’s something to be said about getting to mile 2 when you know there’s so much left to go, and in that instant you’re aware that there is nothing else to do but to move forward, to push beyond what your body is used to doing. The race path yields such truth about life.

What is a coincidence is what happened the day after the race.

In Farsi, when there is irreparable, grimy damage between you and someone else, you may say that there is “shisheh khoordeh,” which means broken glass. Over two years ago I got hit with a really negative situation that I won’t go into too much to respect members in my family. In short I was misunderstood and mistreated, and it has taken me [is still taking me] too long to loosen its grip. I would think about the incidents in the shower, on drives, over too many personal moments. Its memory made my hands feel numb; it created these electric shocks in my stomach. This situation affected my marriage and took a lot of self-control and friendship to endure that first year.

I still have those uncontrollable aftershocks that run through my stomach, or “del” in Farsi. The beauty of it in Farsi is that “del” is, in matters of emotions, interchangeable with heart. Breaking your heart or your stomach carry a similar weight—“delamoh sheekoondy” (you broke my heart). The phrase both represents and captures the core.

Early in the evening after race day, I was forced to face a true catalyst of that time I try so hard to let go. I hated that the old and awful shit once again infected such a triumphant day, but I felt too strong to be passive yet again. I didn’t want to feel hurt; instead, I wanted to take charge of it. In Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Manson talks about taking responsibility for anything that happens in your life—even if you’re a victim, you are responsible for the decisions you make afterward. In his own way, Manson encourages that something good can be done with those aftershocks.

The following day, with that feeling of shattered glass, I took steps to help control part of the dilemma that affects my family the most in the form of uncomfortable but open conversation. I’ve decided to move forward without the ghost of unworthy causes, without the loss of precious energy, but with, instead, the grab and plump of boundaries. And now I feel there is a chance for that.

And where we place our energy is the big life question.

My friend is gearing her year towards a specific word, one that will draw lines that will help her claim and enact her vision. To do the same task, I would say that my pinpoint word is Stronger. I feel a might inside that I want to protect. I think my biggest fear of the year, then, is anything that will make me disappointed in myself, that will diminish that strength, because I know now—for miles and miles—that it is determination matched with coincidence that helps me be more capable than I thought.

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There is a light purple rose in half bloom near an entrance to my house. It caught my eye tonight.

I had just put pajamas on Zade and tapered the bedtime routine. I opened my laptop and set my mug of hot green tea next to it. I looked out the window and saw what we’ve been waiting for today: snow. I yelled “Snow!” like a sailor at sea who just spotted land, and the house went a blur. Kids put boots and coats on faster than I’ve ever seen. Socks became mittens; pajamas became snowsuits. And off they went.

They played with Kal outside while I took the warmer approach and made hot chocolate for them. When the kids came in, they were utterly exhilarated. Layla said it was one of the best endings to a night. Zade was so excited he knocked over his drink. Frost still in their hair–with the kitchen looking like a chocolate crime scene–the kids jumped about undeterred by anything less real than the magical effects of that first lain snow.

Just minutes before, it was Zade who called to me so I could see his makeshift shovel (red solo cup) filled with snow, and that solo bloom and I stared at each other for a minute. She was handling the snow like some of those dried Georgia leaves still swinging on their trees. Maybe she opened up when I was wearing flip-flops just 3 days ago. Maybe she’s part of those hybrid minis that is ever-blooming.

Last year brought us four new seasons with different windows to look out of. This month marks the end of that one year of new.  In fact, we were snowed in last year around this time. I was in another world of excitement then. But other natural things have happened here, too.  We’ve tenderly broken in this new place. The dishwasher broke and the kids cracked the new sink in their bathroom, for example. I think I wrote less in my favorite room with the view. But I wrote more in a leather journal I keep near me instead and started taking ideas in different rooms comfortably. The house became a home, the relationship changed. My year-long date has now changed its status.

I’m trying out new relationships as well, and this includes new books that feel so right, people who I’ve spent quality time with, this first-ever Mac I’m typing on now (total self-discovery adjustment coming from PC world; even scrolling up and down is somewhat painful right now), a newly-fitted pair of running shoes to which I’ve proposed marriage, and a deeper look at Georgia’s breadth (which includes a small town and a real and true train ride that my friend made happen).

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I want to be like that free-blooming flower who figures, what the heck. I’ll give this a try because, well, it feels right to do so right now. A little more present, a little less inhibited, and with the wisdom to let it roll. I tasted this last year, and now I want more.

All commitments in life should give us the freedom to make wider and wider snow angels like the ones I’d get lost in under the gray Chicago sky spread over my backyard. I’d raise my arms up and down, up and down. The feeling alone spun outside me for a minute. I’d look to the side and exhale. I’d hear silence and feel seen. It was a purposeful magic.

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Reading Countdown

The alchemy of the school year has simmered down now. English teachers are in a pressure cooker the last month of any semester. We’re assigning and then grading and then upset at ourselves for not leaving that one last essay out of the curriculum this year. I had nightmares that last week during final exams. They woke me up in bed and had me saying the old and true: it was just a dream; go back to sleep. Let it go.

I don’t envy being a student during finals, and I’m sure being a teacher is not any easier. But in the context of how so many careers work, teaching rewards us with long breaks which keep us at the pulse of our own high school days. That ensuring rhythm keeps an aging part of us connected to youth through its pattern and exposure.

Crazily, I’ve experienced two novels as an escape when I couldn’t squeeze any more time from a turnip to devote to social and work commitments: Camus’ The Stranger and Morrison’s Sula. Both texts have me looking at the fire glowing and steaming in the fireplace a little longer, a little deeper. 

Even as an English teacher, I appreciate this reminder of what I tell my students all the time: we read to be human. It’s through a gifted artist’s perception and patience that humans get a private chance to become better humans, to understand where our judgments come from and how at a tip of an angle, they can change distinctly, offering just enough pause that can redirect our lens just so. 

If you’re still out there shopping today and don’t know what to get, consider two things: one is any version of this keyboard (which I’m using now as one tributary-goal to be more tech efficient), and second is this short list of texts, mostly oldies and some of which I’ve referenced here before, to complement your generous heart:
1) Ann Morrow Lindberg’s Gift from the Sea. This is hands down one of my favorite ones to share. It’s perfect for a woman to read, and it’s even better for a man to know. I’ve written with it countless times. Buy a thousand copies. 
2) Albert Camus The Stranger. This is not for the friend who likes to read books on how to increase revenue, although maybe he or she could use a break in thought. This one will take you through a philosophy by way of man, murder, and indifference. 
3) Toni Morrison’s Sula. There’s a reason why she won the Nobel Prize. This book distinguishes between a writer and a writer. You’ll be thinking of her language for acres and acres. Buy a copy for yourself, too. And then buy Song of Soloman, and…
4) Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. This one is perfect for neutral readers who maybe didn’t know they like a little science mixed in with their literature. If your recipient lives in The South, this could be another connection. Beautifully written, one of a kind. 
5) Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club. This one is random and complicated. If you have a friend who enjoys somewhat obscure world literature or who has a tinge of certain literary snobbery, this could be a treat. I read this in grad school but found myself more preoccupied with the autobiographical nature of this text and with the author himself, who committed suicide in 1968., after reading it. It’s memorable even if you read it only once. 

6) Alice Munro’s Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You. This a collection of 13 eloquent short stories. This can be a one-short-story-at-a-time read. Read and savor. Savor and repeat. Each story leaves a distinct scene in your mind. It’s yet another Canadian contribution to art and wonder. 
This list could easily spiral into disseminating rings, all shining in different categories. 
What is your go-to gift book? What have you read recently? 
That’s all I got today, folks. I hope to come back with some experiences to share, one of which includes a cabin, another includes a changing savannah, and the last one includes new running shoes. 
Happy Holidays, friends.