Wonder

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For a million years when I was a young girl, I thought my mom was 36. If anyone asked me her age, I’d kind of glance about for a second and say, “I don’t know, 36? Something like that.”

It’s possible when I dressed as a business woman at my elementary school’s Halloween party, I raided her closet for a button down jacket in an effort to look grown, like the 36-year old she was. It’s possible when I saw her in her long nightgown, slightly pink from the pattern of faded country flowers, I looked at her as the woman with reigns, like the gatekeeper of all the milk and all the honey, and she was 36. It’s possible when I wrote that I hated her (an awful teenage blemish) in my plastic white diary, its shiny key hidden under my pillow, she was 36. It’s possible when I raided the family albums, carefully peeling plastic away from the yellowed adhesive, to find old photographs of her for a Mother’s Day gift, she was 36.

How strange is it, then, that I recently turned 36. The sliding scale of what I remember about my mom when she “was 36” is inching closer to my reality now. A magical mirror is held up against my perception of this number now.

There are incredible caverns unveiled each time a woman blows out a birthday candle. Somehow, that breath blows away the dust and sand covering the blocks of untapped strength and beauty. It’s strange to recognize that it took 35 for the threadbare puppet strings to release me mercifully into a new space.  Walking through last year reminds me of the slim gorge leading to Petra, a marvel I visited over 10 years ago when I went to Jordan.

In The Condé Nast Traveler’s Book of Unforgettable Journeys, Edmund White describes Petra, one of the world’s wonders which was once ruled by Nabataeans to Romans to Byzantines, and then somewhat forgotten by the outside world for about 600 years, as a place where at ” every turn you’re hard-pressed to distinguish between natural and human creations.” 

At the time, I didn’t know of White’s advice in his travel essay: “Be prepared for lots of walking.” What I remember, though, is that walking and sweating, walking and wondering, mostly with absent-minded appreciation, and finally getting through the Siq, or the main entrance. At the end of the gnarled hallway, I gasped with surprise at the sheer architecture that unfolded under the sunlight. I was so taken by it that it took a few seconds before I realized I was crying.

Like my friend says, I caught the surprise. I hadn’t researched where we were and what to expect from Petra, but I trusted it would be worth it. I feel maybe I meandered this way when I first became a mom, something so many of us do. Like then I have blind trust in future attractions–both as a parent and as a woman.

I’m convinced that the women I’m lucky to have in my life are consistently folding out of rocks and sand and emerging a little stronger, a little wiser, a little more interesting to even themselves. And with this beautiful nod to the women ahead of me and before me, I want to marvel at their magic. When I see a woman standing at the rock of her 40s, I imagine her strength even if its only coming from the soft place of acceptance of herself.

Sometimes I wonder if these are the middle years, the formative years that we’ll need as the next big stuff in our lives change–not only as our kids grow into and out of things but also as we attend more funerals or get more midnight phone calls or get surprised by others’ life changes. I wonder if women have been created from the strongest bones as I am convinced we are, in many ways, the superior gender.

Maybe looking older is worth the swap for intelligence, camaraderie, and subtle self acceptance that comes with it. Maybe what White says about Petra is similar to our own journey: “As we pushed farther into the valley, the strangeness of Petra overwhelmed us. Everything here is improbable–the remoteness, the mineral force, and especially the bizarre juxtapositions of color, which sometimes looked like watered silk, sometimes like batik, sometimes like old rag rugs.”  What was improbable was the most surprising.

I laugh at my naive assumption that mothers of 14- year olds were always around 36-years old. No matter my appreciation of my mother, I likely considered her a flat character of our lives during that time. It makes me wonder about my kids’ impression of me and what they will feel when, one day years from now, they may have the magic mirror held up to their beautiful, older faces.

 

Sitting on the plane after landing. Unedited. A cut and paste note to myself.

It’s almost immediate. I’m on the plane to Ohio, and I’m reading Mary Oliver’s Felicity. I want to have all her words and let them spread over me. Or gulp them. Anything. I’m smiling at the poems. Clever, true, open. Unpretentious. Natural and wistful. Whimsical. Nostalgic. Yellow.

I can’t remember which teacher long ago said you always have to read a poem twice, that rule I say to my students as casually as, “the sink is over there.” The person viewing casually over my shoulder is probably wondering what’s taking so long to read a few lines.

I want to take three of her books and spread a blanket on the ground under our oak trees at home. I want to call Layla out to me so we can read poems together. She would love that. Why don’t we do that? Why let the baggage I’ve packed weigh down so heavily that we can’t travel anywhere? Time is running out; she won’t way to lay there with me for another 15 years, and by then she’ll have to schedule me in.

Samira, please remember to take an hour to do this. The house is a vacuum. This imagination is not. Do more of the latter than the former. Making a home is more about the mess, about the grass blades decorating kitchen floor when you come in, not the grass blades you have to wipe up later.

Samira, wake up. Be inside it more. Carve deeper; go past what needs doing and do what you actually want to feel.

I’m in your rip current, Mary. Can you tell?

Accepting the Magic

I haven’t wanted to write another post after Chile Part 2. The canvas of that trip has become the image I see when I close my eyes, and I can’t figure out how to create another. I recall those 4 nights in Chile when I need to remember magic. When the background noise is a jagged jutting of nonsensical You Tube kids videos and kids arguing over who gets the remote while I’m trying to pick up after everyone, I have found myself closing my eyes and channeling that magnitude.

Each night when we walked out of our hotel room, I would gasp audibly when I looked up and saw the brilliant stars existing up there. I wonder if they see us with the same awe, stars looking down on us while we look up at them, both of us angling our necks and wondering what is going on over there. Just like I haven’t been able to make a mark here on this site, having a strange fear that writing something else will erase the imprint of the trip, I haven’t been able to take but just a cursory glance at the night’s sky in Georgia since returning. My capricorn sign says I’m a loyal person, and so perhaps the loyalty has stayed firm in my commitment to the blessing of that magical trip and that Chilean sky.

It was only yesterday that I looked up at the night’s sky on my way home from dinner and thought I’d love to smoke a wayward cigarette on the porch and wonder with the sky like I did on so many cold nights last year. I figured then that I have preserved the luggage tags long enough and that it was time to return to the magic of the continent of the real world I live in.

Through magic, I’m having the novel of the owner of the Libreria translated to English so I can continue to dig my hands in the mysterious and story-filled sand. I can only grasp the literal words when I try on my own. Spanish seems to be the breeze in my life these days, and I’m trying to figure out if it’s a sign of something I need to pursue or just something I’m observing more now since my senses are heightened. For example, I went to the land of llamas, and I see them in every holiday display these days; Allende came out with her latest novel, and true to Allende’s birth country, the protagonist is from Santiago. Just seeing the city’s name on the page is like remembering a nestled romance. I just went to a show where Spanish was everywhere. Andrea and I joke that, basically, Chilean anything seems to be the new black. My gift to myself tomorrow is both to stay at home since we’ve been busy all week and to watch this incredible documentary, Nostalgia for the Light, for the second time, post-trip, since I’m still pretty nostalgic in a different way myself.

The magical doesn’t just live far away in South America though. Magical is defined as something “beautiful or delightful in such a way as to seem removed from everyday life.” Chile was removed from my everyday life and entered into a realm between spiritual and supernatural. What took me there transformed into marks like an invisible constellation tattooed across my forearm. And now that I’m back, I’m still observing inside and outside of things. I’ve had some unusual magic here in reality, too.

As a teacher, I get a week off during Thanksgiving break. I don’t ever remember this week as a truly restful break; it usually isn’t. We’ve had the sweet company of aunts and cousins, and while pictures of us all together show fun, coordinated outfits, red lipstick, and poised selfies, I have to be honest and say that I can be a total monster behind all of that. Before guests come over, for example, my pleas for help to pick up the house escalate, and I become the worst version of myself. I am disgruntled and even resentful that things aren’t the way I want them to be. I don’t need to have a neat house because it makes me look like a better human than anyone else; I need a neat house because there are so many other small messes and decisions in life that I feel the foundation has to be clean for my brain to handle the other stuff.

So on Monday, I was racing around even more than usual to clean corners. I was up until 2 am stuffing shells and rolling kofta meatballs and preparing dinner for 20 guests. I know they are the most forgiving audience, but I wanted to show them I appreciate them by making the event as elegant as I could. The whimsy of all of this is the big-bulbed, yellow lights strung up over our deck, the cousins putting on dance contests with their own bluetooth speaker—independent of the music we played inside the house—and the fun they giggled at outside. I looked outside at one point and saw kids sliding down the zip line we have up between two tall trees while other kids were eating cookie cake and joking kid jokes probably about emojis and poop, two favorite topics of discussion it seems.

Inside the house, we played old Persian music videos like Hamsafar while my cousin and I used plastic forks as microphones, reenacting the video as two young loves in front of an orange fire, Kal’s crackling masterpiece every evening. Guests cracked walnuts and devoured butter cakes and sang along. Something picturesque was stirring through it all. The preparation monster inside me subsided, and I finally had fun while they had fun. Even though my food may have been a tad under salted, it was made with desire and seemed truly appreciated. Even though I forgot to get little toy tokens for the kids; they didn’t seem to need anything else but their independence outside. And even though I drove myself nuts over details, it seemed to pay off in laughter and in family.

The biggest magic of my reality is my children’s forgiveness. They are like the beach in the morning. All the marks in the sand are erased at night and by morning, the sand is renewed. My kids didn’t even skip a beat at my own shame of being more of the kind of host I want to be rather than of the kind of mother I want to be. They may just have to accept this part of who I am, and I’m working on that acceptance myself.

The truth is, my children who may read this one day, I’m a preparer. My heart is full of desire, and I want to be all the things at once despite my humanity. I sit at Starbucks for an hour or two longer so I can write. I know you’re sad that I am not sitting next to you watching You Tube videos, and I hope you can magically forgive me for that, too.

And the final magical imprint I’d like to share with you of my continent’s reality is this picture of Layla taking polaroids during our nature hike up Kennesaw Mountain on Thanksgiving morning.

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The boys went ahead of us because what was important to Layla was to take photos and to take everything at her own pace. I resisted my urge to speed walk up the mountain.  Layla took her snack breaks. She was proud of what she’d packed for the short journey; she ate granola bars every 15 minutes, which I laughed at inside since she called it “refueling” when we’d hardly burned any fuel.  And I was patient. I gave her what she needed, and she took little rectangular photos and chatted with me about every little thing on her mind.

Both kids had their little cameras. Zade wore my scarf around his neck, looking Parisian (in a NYC hat, nonetheless) while he walked with his hands in his pockets.

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So that’s where I want to end this message, post-canvas. I began it with the memory of my faraway, special place, and I’m ending it here with the magical clearing that’s there when I am able to open my eyes and be what I need to be when I need to be it.

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Lilac

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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Love Language

It’s a rainy Sunday morning. I’m sitting cross-legged on my couch, the fancy one I won’t let anyone eat or drink around. I’m breaking my rule and have a few last drops of coffee shallowing out my cup on the table next to me. My feet are feeling a little numb because I don’t want to detangle just yet. My laptop has set small lines on my thighs.  I woke up in the dark because I couldn’t sleep and have waited quietly for the yellow to come through, but all I’m seeing this morning include dull whites and greens because the rain has got some work to do.

I got to working yesterday as well. After a conversation that spun about spouses to fictional characters to stories, I found myself staring at something I’d read five or six years ago when my friend was trying to figure some things out about her life: websites on love languages. If you’re like me and could use some brushing up, here’s some quick info on it: Gary Chapman wrote a book in 1995 that has been on bestseller lists for some time. In it he describes the five ways humans experience and express love. It’s broken down and clarified into these expressions: physical touch, acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation, and quality time.

I had dropped off the kids to enjoy freedom with their grandparents for the night. Kal was working, so I treated myself to a pedicure. While I waited to get seated, I took two online tests to figure out which love language I spoke. Don’t we all want to know more about ourselves by clicking on a few questions?

I don’t know how truly accurate they are, but this one and this one were of the first to pop up on my search, and I was anxious to figure out what love language I was without having to read the book (reading will have to resume after the school year lets me up for air). I did both tests and figured out that generally, one of these is my primary and one of these is my secondary love language. 

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I was not surprised to find out that words of affirmation was a big one for me. Of course that makes sense. I was disappointed, though, to figure out the one about my loving gifts. It makes sense though. I think I show love in this way and maybe my friends could attest to that. Looking back on it, I could never understand how Kal would get uncomfortable receiving gifts or how he’s not the gift-for-the-occasion person that I certainly am. I guess if I look back deeply enough, I get it–not the materialistic side (ah!), but the side of having someone think of you and just do something concrete with some forethought.

Before 8 pm when we were surrounded by date-night plates of sashimi, I read questions aloud to Kal as he drove us to the restaurant. I clicked his answers to some interesting questions. With the advantage of knowing him for 14 years, I read questions like, “After a long and tough week, what do you want most from your partner?” or “When you’re in an emotional place, you want your partner to…” After two tests, we figured out his love language.

Having a partner for over a decade gives you the advantage of knowing them up close and personal. It doesn’t mean variables won’t change you or that people won’t disappoint you, but there are basic things you just kind of know. It’s validating to know that I probably could guess at his language but didn’t know exactly how to break it down or how my way of expressing was different from his way.

I asked him to guess mine, and instantly he said words of affirmation. When I told him about the gift one, he laughed and said, “yeah, I can see that.” All of this online quizzing brought us to some open and new conversation. That type of talk is truly refreshing in marriages when life operations consume most of our conversational energy. We got this small glimpse of how things can be reframed and adjusted like a painting that you move from one wall to another. You notice something you haven’t seen before even though it’s been in front of you for years.

As we walked into the restaurant, I told him that I’d most definitely hug him more and be enthusiastic about cooking dinners, something that because it usually falls on me feels like a chore those nights I just want to not think about taking out the chicken. In turn, I kidded, he may want to praise me, get me a small gift, and then maybe load up the dishwasher.

Take the quirky quizzes yourself and see where they take you. It’s a perfect Sunday morning thing to do, and it can teach you something about how you express and receive love in any type of relationship.

fireflies

A couple hours ago, I had that 8:30 pm moment I’ve watched on the horizon for the last month. I sat on the porch. I didn’t bring anything to write with or a book to read. At first, I just sat, and then I just listened. The birds in the tree to my right had a lot to say to each other tonight. One bird would call the loudest, 4 whistling curls, then pause, then 4 whistling curls. I thought it was his pattern at first, but then he stopped one short at 3 oscillating calls outward. A bird from the tree to my left seemed to respond to him with a few matching sounds. I wish I understood their conversation.

The ground in front of me was dirt not long ago. When we walked into the house just 5 months ago, we’d bring in dusty brown-red dirt that could only be swept with a broom and then wiped with a damp paper towel. Now the ground has grass on it from seeds we planted and tended from infancy. In our landscaping feats, we have raked up some of the baby grass in place for decorative mulch at the front of the house. While I was scraping the grass down and out, I felt like this action was a sacrilege to its recent birth. Although this section with new plants looks more polished now, underneath the fresh black mulch are sprigs of grass that grow up sharp. Each sprig has found its place in that dirt; therefore, there are sporadic, declarative intervals of grass popping up from underneath– disrupting the new look, yes, but ideating natural strength.

In front of me, the kids have escaped their beds and are running around with pajamas on and wet hair in the dark. They are chasing fireflies they saw from their bedroom window. In unison, they came out running with a blue plastic container from my cabinet and a sheet of white paper—kids inventive contraptions. I told them can chase the fireflies and hold them for a bit, but they have to be gentle and let them go and glow. Layla has made a bed of grass for them and is saying, “come here, little fly. Don’t be scared. I just want to see you and then let you go.” The flies are putting on a show for her, it looks from here. It doesn’t matter that these lightning bugs may light up as a signal to predators or that they may be looking for some bug romance; they light naturally, and we look at them with dazzle and wonder.

fireworks at graduation

At graduation this year, I had the good fortune of hugging my favorite graduates on stage. Something about this year satisfied me more than ever. Perhaps it was venturing into something new like the literary magazine class or getting recognized in a significant way, or maybe it was magnetizing to what my friend calls “the circle” of people at work. Maybe it’s where I’m at in life now, whatever that means.  Either way, when I walked off the stage at graduation and surprising fireworks erupted for excited families, I recognized how often I’ve been part of this ceremony, but I haven’t felt this way about it before. Something inside me has settled.

One friend at work reminded me of how we live so much of our life in increments, 4-year high school, 4-year university, 1-year engagement, 3-year grad school, 10-year marriage, 10-year career. The increments are getting naturally longer and no longer accompanied with a stage and certificate. Moving into my house felt like this long-awaited giant step, like I couldn’t act on any ideal more grandiose than that until it happened. Now, I’m here, and I’m able to look out at the next thing, but this next thing doesn’t come in the form of increments. It’s not a 9-month pregnancy, and it’s not a distinct goal. It’s a feeling that has some patience behind it, both looking out and wondering what the new stage is, and looking within and wondering what I’m capable of next. It’s both the recognition that this is a golden stage and that this is the forming of something new.

What it’s not is the foozling about of ten years ago when I looked straight to the inevitable stages that come after marriage. I’m in that place of it now. Figuratively and not, I’ve come inside and I’m sitting at the desk. When Tally and I walked into this bare-bones house; I told her to watch her step because there were nails poking out from the raw-wood walls ripped floors. There was no electricity, so we used our phone lights to look out into the dark and picture this very image I sit in right now. Right now, sitting at this desk, I feel I’m the pause between grateful and next.

I’ve never sat still, really. I’ve always “kept myself busy,” as my dad likes to call it. Even on a day where I’m sick and vow to rest and do nothing, I’ll manage to finish all the laundry and cook a warm dinner so that my day feels earned. More than that, I’m not the octopus who trails her arms behind her, mine tend to find somewhere to go. I used to feel guilty about it, especially when the means to the end were out of my control. But I think I’m recognizing this tendency is just a part of me like the way my grandfather always buys ten of everything (you could find enough butter in the freezer and paper towels in the closet to help a small village), or the way my mom will always err on the side of caution.

It’s recognizing our patterns that help us figure out who we are, and if we pause long enough and porch-listen inside of our own chatter, we may be able to catch it, that thing distinct and predictable in us, and we can claim it before it comfortably disappears back into the world, flickering on an invisible string swaying incautiously in a warm field.

Happy Aunties’ Day

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This is a fast, quick-write post for all my chosen aunties out there.

I’d have to write an 11-page post about the influence of my mom’s sister on my life. She’s a kindred spirit. She’s the one who got me my first razor to shave my legs (Persian girls, you know!), first one to arch my eyebrows stealthily as my parents set up for dinner, made me feel like a teenager when I wasn’t there yet, told me about her little secrets, and then let me tell her mine. My mom is the nurturer, and for me, my aunt was the sly, naughty aunt who made me feel I was looking fabulous wearing a metaphorical mini-skirt every time we talked.

I’m a mother now, and I still cherish my aunt. In fact, she witnessed first-hand my first child be born into this world.  As a mother now, though, I am lucky to have friends in my life who make up my motherhood.  

To the friends in my life that are like aunts to my children, I wish you and everyone like you a Happy Aunties Day! So many of you don’t have your own children but loves ours just the same.

Andrea is my best friend. My friends have heard me say her name a thousand times. For my baby shower, she got me a Coach bag to store kid’s stuff so that I could have some style through it all. For Layla’s first gift, she got her a build a bear and recorded her voice inside the paw. I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve honestly memorized it: “Hi baby Layla, it’s your auntie Andrea. I just want you to know how much I love you, and I wish I could be there with you right now.” I’d neglected to make a wedding album for myself and only did one for the set of parents, so she found my photographer and made me a 500-page wedding album as a surprise, over 5 years after the wedding! She listens to my mom-rants even though she’s had her own struggle with the idea of motherhood and doesn’t have children of her own.

I’m lucky to have a fortress of women around me who support and appreciate each other.

Chosen Aunties are the people who make mothers sane, listening to us and doing your best to navigate us back to the center. You remind us of old stories and make us laugh at some decisions we make. You say things like, “don’t buy the light fixture for the house; take that writing class you’ve longed for instead, or take that adventure you’ve been craving.” You get our kids ladybug rain coats with matching umbrellas. You open up your house to us on Thanksgiving and let our kids take over. You pick up our babies and throw them in the air, catch them, change their diaper, and hide your exhaustion from our eyes.

You’re the chicks who buy the impractical gifts for the kids that they love. You visit, play card games, buy MASH notes, read book after book, listen to your names be called ten thousand times, get stolen away, and become entertainers instead of guests. You offer to our kids the stuff we often can’t offer to our kids since we’re in the thick of it. We trust you, and we rely on you. Our kids will tell you about their first cigarette before they tell us. They’ll figure out their secret dreams because you’ve shared yours with them and made it possible. You’ll be their confessional, and we’re just happy to have you as our chosen sisters.

You guys keep us sane and help raise our kids. Happy Mother’s Day to all the aunts—blood and not–out there that care deeply and do things to show their solidarity selflessly.

I wish this was more eloquent and all-encompassing. But you chosen aunties understand how it is, and we thank you for it.