Window

IMG_2376

I wrote this really gentle paragraph about a spider a few weekends ago. With my legs resting on the chaise in a quiet hotel room, I unfolded my laptop. I figured out that the window cranks open, so the cool morning air kept me company as I listened to Amber Run Radio.

IMG_2456

Kal was sitting outside enjoying the last hour before checkout. He sat in a little nook where the day before I had propped my feet on a wicker table while reading The AJC.  I’d snuggled under the spa robe guests were encouraged to wear everywhere throughout our stay, and I’d read a grainy newspaper–from its obituaries to the Dear Abbey column. I even read the comics since I didn’t have anywhere else I had to be.

SubstandardFullSizeRender 8

In the small weekend of luxuries, we celebrated his birthday and remembered what adult quiet feels like.

So my paragraph was all about this spider I encountered on the other side of the restaurant’s glass during our first breakfast.  A dried leaf had fallen onto the invisible web, and the spider wrestled with the trapped leaf for a little while. Spiders creep me out, so I didn’t stare for long. By the time I finished eating, I looked up to see the spider release the leaf. She was indifferent about it. The leaf fell gracefully down to earth, and the spider went quietly about the business of living.

I’ve tried to figure out why this image stood out to me.  We were at a vineyard, an old, hidden treasure; I had a few moments to write about gratitude, about the tipsy dinner the night before, about how it takes a full day to get the kinks out, and about how commitment can take you somewhere new.

IMG_2430But my focus included this independent spider who untangled something out of its careful design.

Maybe to look up and see something release a burden so swiftly is what intrigued me the most. Sometimes it can take us giants years to release just fragments of the matter that doesn’t serve us.

Reading back on the writing now, spider and all, I recognize how much I want to hold on to that temporary calm; a weekend of both shared and independent experience that count in our business of chasing after life.

IMG_2451

Spikes


Seems to me on the days when the grind gets the hardest, I experience everything in spikes.

I drove to work this morning with one hand on the wheel and the other hand inside of a box of Oatmeal Squares. Cereal was all I could grab on my way out of the house. It was mercy I even managed that before I wobbled to my car with Layla’s breakfast, slippery water bottles—one tucked under my arm and the other balanced on a plate, two backpacks, and my make-up bag. It was 6:45 and I couldn’t squash my defeat. It’s so early, but I’m still so late, I thought dejectedly.

I tried so hard not to be—begging Layla the night before to sleep early and wake up without constant nudging; putting everyone’s clothes out and packing lunches; making dinner and ensuring enough for leftovers the next day; doing work for an hour after everyone else was asleep. Preparing. I tried to get it all done, but it wasn’t enough.

In fact, the last few weeks have piled on top of each other so much so that I have been glued to each monkey bar—aware of the metal lines to come but also only able to reach out so far.  Tasks are getting done, and lists keep piling up. Judging from people around me, it very well could be just that time in September.

Last night after everything was undone and done (maybe not even in that order), I had a hoarse throat and a weight on my chest. I was upset at how the kids bickered on and off all night, causing spikes of tension that hit me the way it feels when you stop abruptly after running fast, your body all confused and breathless.

My body couldn’t handle a single more argument. By the final time I told Layla to stop coming out of her room, that enough was enough, especially since I’d read the story and fixed the light and fed that last snack, I had nothing left to give. And then just as I had quieted, I saw her run out of her room. I was afraid that if I nagged or yelled one more time, I’d unravel. Instead, I sat angry, transfixed on why I couldn’t just let it go. She’s being a kid. I’m a working mom. This is how it is. You know this. Just put on Downton Abbey and screw doing the dishes.

Thirty minutes later, I found her asleep on the guest bed. I walked towards it to carry her to her own room, but a feeling spiked up on me. I sat on the edge of an ottoman in my living room instead and just cried.  So many women are familiar with that good-cry-in-the-shower moment, only this time I was just sitting in a quiet room, grateful for some relief.

So that was last night. And my Oatmeal Square morning was this morning. The rest of today brought me to a better place. It’s the last official day of summer, so maybe there’s something to that.

Vox hands-in pic.jpg

My student editors made smart calls; my classes are liking The Crucible.  I found my groove, so I felt the power to walk into the house with blinders on. We hung out in Layla’s room and loomed bracelets. Kal did his own thing while we held onto the moment.

Zade asleep 2.jpg

At bedtime, I told Zade stories about when he was a baby. His new orange and black bracelet glowed against his blue LED night light, causing curiosity and joy—so sweet on his face. I leaned against his little stomach and laughed genuinely with him. Parents’ emotions are insanity. I am so tired, but I want to wake him up and relive how he laughed, an extended laugh that pleasantly surprises me when coming from a child.

This morning I was certain this post would be only about how the struggle catches up with us some days. But then just a few hours ago, I put the kids, skin shiny from a bath, to bed and felt tired, yes, but also better. A spike of affection and appreciation replaced what I felt 24 hours before.

layla-asleep

So, I’ll leave you with this last anecdote if nothing but for my own memory:

My kids’ exuberance to see me come home from work is is really touching. They’re naturally loving greeters until it becomes a competition between who can run for the hug the fastest or hang on my neck the longest. Usually, my arms are filled with the same things I loaded my car up with in the morning, so the greeting becomes an awkward mashup of good intentions, the necessities, joy, and disappointment.

I decided two weeks ago that I’d walk into the house with only my car keys in hand. Arms open and able to reduce my own frustration with trying to make the scene what I want, I am able to give them what they need from the second I walk in. I gave up telling them to hang on and adjust. I just added a couple trips to the car. Something so simple solved one small element of the evening for me.

Tonight, I’m grateful to not end the night sitting on the edge of an ottoman. Those nights happen, and that’s life. But I’ll keep searching within for small adjustments that can help end the evening with an LED glow,  some time to write, and a little more peace.

Rain Outside Myself

I’m sitting on the living room sofa, sinking beyond its 11-year lifetime with us. The kids are bathed but not in bed.

Less than an hour ago, the kids and I came home from a track by the house. It’s a simple track, not intimidating, enough trees and breeze to drift off some stress. I’ve enjoyed running there so much that each time I load the kids in the car to get there, I nearly forget the constant bickering that scratches at our experience. The kids bike, fall, argue, play, make up, roll, skin, laugh, stall, and bicker. There’s a lot of this lately–gratifying mixed with grating. I’ll breathe, then pause and appreciate, deal with some crisis, and then try again to get into the zone.None of this buoyancy is uncommon to any parents I know; I suppose it’s all relative.

I think I’ve noticed a pattern with me. When I’m overwhelmed in one area of my life, I work exceptionally hard and practically invent minutia to do (I did the paperwork to set up annual memberships not due until August instead of grading 70 research papers clumped on my desk), but my physical exhaustion does not shut down my wandering, amorous mind.

My mind amps up and gets dreamy, almost tortuously so. I try to find a match for the longing in a book, show, or good conversation. I’m trying to spill out the angst on other forms of writing late at night so I can do something productive with this feeling, a recognizable restlessness mixed with a surprising ennui given the time of year and a busy calendar.

I read an article today called “Its Raining All Over the Universe” where Adam Frank, an astrophysics professor and author, talks about waking up one morning to the sound of rain. He is “suddenly struck by the realization that Earth is not the only world that knows rain. There is rain falling in many other places in the cosmos…Venus, Titan, Saturn…And all these rains matter.”

Frank concludes that “across the galaxy, on countless worlds, there will be rain. It will fall across as many windswept plains as you can imagine.” Frank says the rains matter; they help show us that despite our notion of conflicts, we “don’t really understand what is happening to us at all…we are part of something much larger than ourselves, and our ideas about ourselves.”

Initially, I wanted to read this article because it was about the solar system, a system I feel belongs to my best friend Andrea since she’s been obsessed with the moon’s world as long as I can remember. I’m sharing it here because Frank sees something like rain and uses it as a unifying element, one that can flay our vision of ourselves and recognize something bigger.

I’ve been occupied in my own head space even if I’m physically moving and reacting and doing; I have been retreating above the neck as a cozy yet squirming defense.

I like being inspired to see beyond that.

I haven’t turned on any lights since we came home. The green outside has befriended the windows and given it less work to do, but there is a pale glow coming through, silencing the room in this moment. I’m going to go sit outside and look up, and then I’m going to release some of the build up of thoughts to the sky above and let its truth advise the rest of my evening.

 

 

 

 

Different

train

When it was time to return to school after a long Chicago summer, my mom would have the same ritual: she’d have my brother and me walk underneath a small, old Koran as she wished us safety in our day. That same pretty book would come out and rest on the Persian New Year sofreh. Often, we’d hear my parents say “khoda.” We heard them recite the beginning of the fatiha when we closed the car door and got ready to drive for the first time. But I didn’t learn about religion growing up.

Our culture carries religious elements, but like so many immigrants who left Iran during the time of the revolution, my parents were not exceptional to their distaste for religion and how it can be warped. Instead of religion, they taught me morality and consequence, and none of it was backed up with stories from a holy book. Fear and love that motivated them gave Soheyl and me enough to balance our moral compass. But as I get older, I feel pressure to have my faith more defined.

I’ve always felt something greater than us is out there. I believe in God, and after Layla was born, I remember telling Kal that if anyone wants to believe in such beauty, he or she can see it in the birth of a child; it’s utterly fantastical. Believing in God doesn’t fix an insecurity I have, though: my connection to religion is dubious and murky, like walking up close to a rippling lake, sunlit and energetic, and finding mud and sediment in the water at the shoreline. It invites you with beauty and then leaves you wondering if you should put your feet in.

I’ve had no religious classes, and my attempts at reading the Koran leave me both intrigued and confused. I feel it would have been easier to believe in the stories if I had learned them as a child. I’m too skeptical, too literal now. I’ve taught literature for 10 years and live in the world of figurative. I see how words give soul to material things, and yet reducing religious stories down to the didactic still isn’t enough for me; the details just don’t penetrate–not palpable through my thickened walls.

On the other hand in our family, Kal grew up in a household with religion, but not really a religious household. He wants at least the bare minimum for the kids—for them to believe in God and regard themselves as Muslim. He grew up knowing what to do after someone died, the mourning period and the washing ritual. His mom who once wore bold designer sunglasses and had long dark hair that grazed her waist since Kal can remember eventually covered in deference after his dad passed away, and since she has since completed the pilgrimage and devoted her life to charity. He lived in a predominately Muslim country for half his life. Even though he attended private Catholic schools, he came home to a Muslim family.

Kids complicate your beliefs though. They don’t let you just be in your mind about them.

We’ve had to figure out a good way to marry my background with his. A year ago, through a connection with an awesome non-profit cultural center, we found out about a grass-roots deen, religion, program run by a few good-natured women. The class felt like it was a natural response to a question I didn’t know how to answer: how do I expose my children to religion when I find myself squirming talking about “absolutes.” Like us, a range of parents–intellectuals, professors, and doctors, all of whom have probably had their own version of skepticism, some possibly aligned in, “let’s try to do this and see how this goes so we don’t regret it later”–drop off their kids and hope for the best.

Sometimes after class, it’s interesting to hear my kids ask questions like, “Mommy, did you know there is only one God?” It makes me so happy that they’re learning and that they’ll have a place to seek if their souls are troubled and a place where they can share their gratitude. But when they ask, “Mommy, did you know God made Adam?,” I squirm again, thrust into a conversation riddled with insecurity.

I didn’t enter into a mosque for the first time until I was in my 20s for my relative’s wedding. I had to Google customs and rules so that I wouldn’t mess up and make a fool of myself. Also, I wanted to own up to something I should have known more about.  I’ve worn the hair, the eyes, the skin tone, the empathy, and the culture of someone who should already know this stuff, but I didn’t. And I still don’t, not in the way people expect that I would, especially in the South.  I don’t want my kids to have a similar ambiguous foundation–to say you’re one thing but not really know what that thing is.

On Christmas Day, we had Chinese Christmas with my Jewish friend at Waffle House with giddy kids and warm syrup; when the His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama visited Georgia Tech, my Buddhist friend and I lined up in a mile-long line to hear him speak; when a young Imam spoke to students at my high school about Islam, I sat in the student desks and raise my hands alongside them; when my sikh friend talks about taking her Christian-Sikh kids to temple, I’m intrigued by her story and how she balances it. The beauty of deference, good thoughts, goodwill, patience, and understanding is what I find relatable. I want my kids to be inclusive and confident alongside all these positive pillars.

Every night after I read my kids the fatiha before bedtime, the only verse I truly know, I kiss their foreheads and add without exception, “May you always have an open heart and an open mind.” This is my balance and my belief; to be good is also to be open, always open. I just want my kids to be good, educated human beings. Alongside that, I need them to have inquisitive minds who make up their own opinions. I hope to make some elements easier for them as they go on their own journey, and surely their journey will help me as I go through mine. 

A Day

I was the first one to wake up this morning. I hit the kettle and looked around the quiet house. I started to think about how motherhood comes with a certain awareness, like a light shadow capable to cast on all the decisions you have made in the day. Most evenings after work, I’m concentrating so hard on what comedian Maz Jobrani alludes to—the hours before bedtime. Dinner, homework, bathing–when that all needs to start to get them to the finish line. I try to aim for a balance in the day; I think so many of us do. Sometimes I have enough energy to recognize and try to remedy when being a sous chef overshadows my time with the kids. In a small quiet moment, I ask myself, did I even play with them tonight? Did I look at them in their eyes, or was it just over their heads as I knelt down to pick up the toys, or when I set down their dinner, or when I unpacked their lunch boxes to get them washed and packed up again.

I go to bed hoping they didn’t notice. When I play back the day in my head, I try really hard to reel in some of the good I did: making them fresh food, being home on time, hugging them hard when I got home, packing their favorite treats for lunch, getting their art out of their binders and into our memory trunk. I hope they would see that, remember that. Not the times I wasn’t sitting with them or playing on the floor.

A series of cool moments happened yesterday as the day elongated to hold up a morning birthday party. Layla had a donut morning with her dad while I took Zade to his friend’s birthday party. Without really planning it, it became a day with Zade alone for me. I got to watch Zade’s excitement unfold as he fed ducks and played dinosaurs with his friends.

Getting duck food

img_9246img_9247

A few times, I observed his friends playing quietly until Zade came around and stirred up excitement, making up silly words and taking his friends from one corner of the party to another: he reminded me of both Kal and me, my desire to make conversation and encourage a party and Kal’s desire to lead the and be subtly mischievous. After the party, Zade and I picked out a mirror for their bathroom and a couple of toys. And then we had a very impromptu lunch with a great friend and hostess who opened her house to us and our crazy.

Zade leading

img_9274img_9264

When we got home, I got to the task of cooking because I thought we’d have company. When they cancelled, I still made two times as much food so I could avoid cooking today. Three and a half hours later, I practically limped out of the kitchen. Sure, I had one task done that would free up some time later, but then I felt disconnected from Layla, someone I hadn’t really seen all day. It’s easy to see the bigger picture and recognize that a small day is okay; however, when you have that light shadow creep up that makes you aware of what’s been left out of the balance, you can’t ignore it easily.

So I balled up loads of laundry I had intended to fold, hurled them off of Zade’s bed, and threw them onto his train table. I told the kids they could stay up; Layla was so pleased. She made play stations for us involving pencil erasers and puzzles. We put on Kung Fu Panda and laughed, Kal and I looking at each other during the moments only adults can appreciate.

Layla's maze

We rolled and got comfortable under soft throws. After 20 minutes, I looked at Layla: she was fast asleep, content and warm under her pink Valentine’s Day blanket that her grandmother bought her.

And balance was restored. A few minutes after that, with Zade in my arms, I fell asleep.

There are many days where I don’t feel that equilibrium, where the orange level stick’s bubble and line we’ve relied on to hang pictures and frames would be way off if used as a lens against my idea of what I want us to remember at the end of the day. I’m thankful today for yesterday, and in the wise words of Kung Fu Panda, I’m grateful for the present, which is why it’s called a present.

It’s true that you so often can’t see it while you’re in it. About my kids, I have to have faith in my general weight towards balance. Maybe this is similar to the promise of the sun before you actually see it, when the sky lightens up from charcoal to gray, and you know she’ll come into view soon. You just have to make the effort to stare up long enough to see the gradient balance in the sky.