Flow

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Today one of my best friends, D, had her second baby. She sent us a picture of her second little girl, bundled dry and clean, held up by a nurse. Baby girl looks like she is certain of the camera in front of her. I wish I could share it with you here, but if I remember my own commitment to privacy the first few months my kids were born, I know it’s not my picture to post. My mom described the image just right: you can’t help but see it and not laugh a little because there she is, a new baby girl all surprisingly alert and with the perks of a smile saying, “I’m here, guys.”

The ripple effect of hearing the news of a new baby inspires conversations along many households. My parents probably said something to each other like, “Remember when these girls were just kids sleeping over at our house? Laughing in the basement? Now they have two kids.” D, dressed in a blue hospital gown, still looks like that young girl in my memory. Maybe it’s because I didn’t consider my mom as a woman in her 30s the way I am today that I’m still in awe of my childhood icons being real adults.

In another household, maybe someone wonders if or when this type of moment will be one of her own memories or if there are other joys that are waiting to be born. In my household, though, the news created electricity as my kids stared eagerly into my phone. They loved seeing the baby held by their cousin, who Zade said with marvel is “not a baby anymore. She’s a kid now, Mama!” Their reaction brought to surface sincere memories of when Zade was born.

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For example, D sent me a picture of herself right before getting to the hospital. I could tell she’d been crying; her adorable chin looked like it housed small rain drops beneath the skin. She said simply, “I’m excited but also feel bad. I can’t explain it…lots to process.”

If you’re lucky enough to have the chance to say bye to your first child before you leave for the hospital, you know that feeling. You know in your head that you’re doing something good for the family, that she won’t be alone in her life, that you’ll be back in a few days with memories. And yet you may fear you’re choosing something else over your child or that something so big is happening, and she is innocently left out of it; or even worse, you wonder if you’d been worrying about the wrong thing all along and that maybe things won’t turn out right.

When I left Layla to deliver Zade, I felt a hollow carve up inside, like when you swallow water too fast and there’s a bubble trying to force its way down. Like so many mother guilts, it’s not logical, but it is an ache you don’t forget.

And life goes on after those hospital days. It did for us, and now the kids are approaching birthdays. Layla will be 7 soon; she’d barely turned 2 when her brother was born.

Before my maternity leave was up in the winter, we went to Rosemary Beach. We snuggled in a green and white carriage house, all of us in one king size bed, the smell of steak still coming through the cool cracks. Beach winters are the best kept secret.

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Last week we went to Panama City, which is close to Rosemary. Needing a family trip in the worst way, we rented a huge minivan and drove toward a tropical depression that was incredibly merciful to us.

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On the only rainy day we had at the beach, we took a day trip back to Rosemary and visited our usual spots: the park at the town’s peripheral, the nooks between each unique, designer home, and a coastal book shop (it’s one of my favorites and never disappoints). The kids looked like kids and like grown people at the same time.

Seeing them up against the scale of memory, the scale of the swing Zade looked like a giant potato in a few years ago, made Kal and I start talking in tongues of the future. That type of talk where you plan and say God willing, where you try to face realities of what could be while also chanting why you’re so appreciative of what is.

Time is moving us forwards in whichever way it wants. Seems like I’m swinging backwards here in this post. I’ll keep that momentum going and end back to the first day at the beach.

After nearly 2 weeks that tested the Murphy’s law adage,  we thought we’d barely make it on our last-minute trip. We were so sick the night before our departure that we couldn’t pack or clean the house in preparation. Instead, we did all that in the morning and didn’t leave until the afternoon on the next day. Finally, we arrived to Florida at familiar surroundings. We dropped our stuff in the condo and went down to the beach. The kids who’d begged for the beach the whole summer were short of shrieking with joy when they felt sand.

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Even though we’ve done many things as a family, this year felt different. As Kal drove, I crossed my legs out in front of me above the dashboard and looked out the window over familiar bridges, familiar long-leaf pines, familiar road stops, familiar faded homes. I told Kal that we used to sit in the back seat with my parents driving at one point in our lives, yet here we are in the front seat, making our way. I handed kids their snacks; he put gas in the car.

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In this life of constant work and rotation, I’m grateful beyond measure for what the new brings and what the familiar holds. I can say with certainty that I’m curious about how things will look against today’s scales, markers that show us so much during the rippling ebb and flow of our lives.

 

 

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

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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

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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.

When the Fog Clears

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I have friendships and relationships, not so old and not so new, that transcend beyond the most central ones to my life today. My imagination harbors a special few. Sometimes I dismiss them as ghosts, but mostly I feel them through me when I’m moved by a quiet beauty, as if the culmination of all that energy and passion rush back magnetically from the sky and flow into my personal space like tiny particles reuniting. When they hit, they are painfully beautiful. They blanket my current frustrations and dissatisfaction, offering a harmless, quiet exit from the mold. Recently, I spent a great deal of a car ride back from a breathtaking waterfall in this restless head escape.

My childhood friend D graciously arranged for our two families to have a family photo shoot on our recent vacation in Seattle. The drive up to the falls was enough to set the stage for a remarkable day. But when we got there, the kids didn’t want to wear coats, and then they did, and then they wanted to splash in the puddles and flail excitedly around tourists, but they refused to smile while facing the camera. It was as if they conspired to push while I tugged; I said right, they went left. I felt like the ragged mother unsatisfying her kids and unsatisfying the moment. I’m sure the pictures will turn okay in the end, and that will erase a memory of feigned grace, but as always with my reflections, I feel guilt.

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Instead of focusing on how I should let the kids be kids, take the moment for what it is, accept and appreciate the present, I wanted to get my hands dirty with a truth: I fear I’m losing my humor in parenting. I know without a doubt what I give my family, setting up the foundation for their daily and future lives, but I’m in a tough stage now. November craze isn’t forgiving of my ever-growing responsibilities, and hearing, “Mom?!…” followed by a litany of problems to solve is grating at me.

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I wonder if my kids notice when I stare off into space. When I’m showing them something wondrous like this passionate waterfall, when the mist gently clings to our hair and slowly soaks into our coats, puffy and slick with cool black, do they notice I’m traveling back and forwards in time, staring at my life and wondering about my place in it? Are they vulnerable to absorbing my own inner wars?

I remember quiet car rides with my parents en route back from a gathering of Persian families or long rides to Toronto with the radio playing easy listening tracks, and I swear I could sense what my parents were feeling. I sense my dad’s tension or my mom’s sadness (almost always masked by her dedication to shield me from it); I felt like such an old person. Despite all the love and goodness they have unconditionally given my brother and me, my parents couldn’t shelter me from the unsaid. I was emotionally in tune with them even if I didn’t have the contextual maturity to process what I felt. Often, they didn’t expose me to the real, but I’d find out about it anyway.

Until the fog clears, I am dazed by the present. I’m guilty of zooming to a place that is thick with imagination, lustful for a place where unfinished, unfulfilled worlds are real. I’m even thankful for this sway, this rhythmic consolation. Adele has a song called “A Million Years Ago” on her brilliant new album; she says “I know I’m not the only one… Sometimes I feel it’s only me, who never became who they thought they’d be.” I’ve been sinking into this place in stark reaction to the very real stresses of being a parent and making a home. I will get through it because I know inherently that the place of frustration holds a secret promise that I’m not just one thing, that I can be a barnacle clinging onto something breathtaking just to survive through it to see what it all really looks like when the fog clears.

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Panorama

I am not a night owl. The closest I get to one is in the summer when I’m not exhausted enough to want to sleep just yet. I love the dark sky on the way to work and the promise of the eventual sunrise. There are some hectic mornings where I’m just lucky I didn’t forget to put on a bra and that I got all the lunches made in time, but there are other smooth mornings where I may even stop to get something warm to drink, those mornings when I walk to the school building not looking forward to the doors but looking up past them, noticing the trees changing and the sky lightening up.

I set four alarm times on my phone before I go to sleep at night. After I get up, my mornings are often filled with checks, my eyes darting from my task to my phone, a consistent check of the minutes, counting backwards to see how much time is left before Layla’s shoes need to be tied. The inevitable rush to be somewhere that yanks us from side to side can make us blind sometimes.  I’m consistently aware that I’m taking something for granted. I want to gently scold myself with lines from that beautiful Lauryn Hill song, “It could all be so simple, but you’d rather make it hard…you let go, and I’ll let go, too.”

It reminds me of the seasons and how unconsciously nature handles its responsibilities— so similar to how I feel I handle mine, doing what needs to be done for the next phase, but I struggle at times to see the full beauty in it all. I’ve found myself exhausted at the never-ending clutter of life. It’s like the more I do, the less I do.

The fall checked me this year. It’s been quietly waiting for me to see that it’s arrived. Patient like a great grandmother who has seen it all, autumn calmly sensed I wasn’t appreciating its brilliance. It tapped me quietly on the shoulder on a rushed trip to a pumpkin patch. A Halloween custom nodded in its direction as well.

Kids and Dooney at Big Springs

Kal and Kids on a hayride

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Layla enjoying the fruits of her labor

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Zade enjoying his pumpkin design

I took the day off on Friday to be a volunteer at Layla’s school. I helped over 140 kindergartners make black cats out of paper plates. Afterwards, we ate lunch in the cafeteria amongst electric personalities, and I read to the kids before the end of the school day. We surprised Zade and picked him up early from his school. We got home in time to rest a bit and get costumed up again to attend a big Halloween party at her school. The day turned out just how I envisioned it when I first decided to devote my time. But by the end of the night, I needed complete silence.

I felt like I did all the right things: I showed Layla I care about her environment at school and connected with her in her new world. When I got home, though, I felt depleted. I didn’t feel fulfilled. It’s so hard for me to write this because it feels dismissive of how deeply I love my children.  It’s not fair to say that I didn’t feel lucky to see Layla so happy or so grateful at her excitement to share her space with me. I tried so hard to tap into the moment, to not feel tired or even regretful that I didn’t share some of that daytime with just myself. How can we live in the present, I ask myself, when it takes so much to get to the present? Truly though, the most frustrating aspect of that day is that all of it—all that effort—wasn’t enough for me to just be full.

On my last day in New York this summer, I gasped for the moment to be with my kids again.  I know that my happiness relies on their happiness. But that’s the biggest part, not the only part, right?

Trees line up in Athens

Thank God for the trees. I saw fall recently, trees going from green to red to orange to yellow. Nature is the vast and infinite landscape that can either mirror or correct my blurry vision. It’s when I look up that I feel I’m talking back at myself and remembering me, the wistful girl who stared out so many windows, romantic in how she saw each person, and felt engaged in her daydreams even when she was alone, or the woman who still embraces these qualities and has some life experiences to deepen them.

Window in Athens

At the end of the day, my way home from work is the small pause from mother, wife, and teacher. The moment I’m by myself for long enough has no role. It takes some time to quiet my mind from the first draft reactions to the day. And after 20 minutes, I take a few deep breaths and breathe out a loud exhale and slowly start building my way back up to me.

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I saw the fall because it made me see it. It caught me like those slender mornings. Leaves fall off trees and the earth gets cooler, but it all looks so beautiful standing outside of it. I have to trust that my own realities look just as poetic when I take big steps back to see the panorama. I have to forgive myself for not feeling full when I don’t.

I have to see the human nature of it all.

Earning a Lazy Sunday

    Some days you try to do it all at once, and it looks like this (Zade napping on my lap while I try to grade) at the end of it.

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    And some days you miraculously do a whole bunch at once, and it feels pretty memorable.

    We’ve had some fun over the last two weekends. Between having family in town and Georgia’s sunny –in-the-70s weather, we’ve been busy. Roswell Cultural Arts Center’s production of Beauty and the Beast last week made a great mommy-daughter date, and the show was entertaining and perfect for both mom and daughter.

    Layla and Mommy before B and B

    I asked Layla to take her hat off before the production started, and I let the subject go when she refused to do so; I was happy that her tiny stubborn act got her some attention as “Beauty” in the play opened up the show saying “Hi sweetheart, I love your hat!” in front of the audience, which left Layla filled to the brim. She looked over at me excitedly and said, “Hey Mommy, did you hear that?”

     

    Layla watching b and b

    We left the play, picked up the rest of the family, and went to the 9th annual Arab Festival. Kids played intensely on anywhere they could bounce and slide, and then they painted pottery and ate sweets. Alif Institute impressed many visitors and got us mentally signed up to attend the event next year.

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    We attended a family dinner after the festival. By the time we got home and got the kids to bed, I had to make pasta salad for a last-minute picnic at Anna Ruby Falls with the kids’ friends from school and their parents. Got to bed at 1 am; woke up early to get the crew ready for the picnic.

    It was well worth it. Kids played in the river, went on wagon rides, climbed up to the top so they could see the Falls, and played with their friends the whole day. We even chilled a watermelon in the river–old-school style. A stop through Dairy Queen at the end of our Helen experience sweetened the long and sleepy drive home.

    Kids in Helen

    You’d think we’d be exhausted. I defied my own rule to keep it slow the day after we kept a fast pace (if Saturday is fast, Sunday is slow), but this acceleration felt like a fantastic way to seize the warm weekend by its rays.

    So, fast forward to this weekend. Saturday echoed the same 3-tier day with one activity following another as the previous weekend did, but today the train has stopped. My phone is tucked away. The patio door is ajar to let in some breeze. Kids are playing with colored rocks on the patio, spraying water on the plants, popping popcorn back to back, and coloring in their books (all this = making a meaningful mess); this has mixed well with mommy grading in spurts and warming up leftovers in her pajamas. All of us are appreciating the sunny day, but we’re doing so from the inside of the house this time.

    Zade on sleepy day

    Outside of laughing at the kids’ funny conversations and lazily folding laundry, I am looking forward to a new episode of Mad Men tonight. I think we’ve earned a special day of nothing too special.

Mommy Guilt

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Wednesday and Thursday this week left me feeling detached and frustrated. And guilty. Zade got his spotlight at the expense of our sanity, and Layla, who I count on to follow logic and order, resigned her rock status and joined her brother. I found myself nagging on the kids, begging them to listen. Trying to plea at them with “Can’t you tell Mommy is really tired after work and truly needs just 20 minutes of uninterrupted silence?” eyes.

The worst of these days is that I walk away as though I’ve done nothing good. When I tuck them in and tell them I love them, I say it with remorse and with a desperate attempt to wash away anything I didn’t do for them that they will remember later in their lives.

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Will my impatience tonight outweigh our pancake mornings?

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Will my need for a few minutes of quiet replace my morning love notes to you? Can the memory of me yelling at Zade for purposefully smearing his dinner on the floor supersede the fun arts and crafts we make?

So Friday I took charge. It was prom day for my students at school, which put a happy lull in the air. I left work with resolution. I put my car windows down and let the spring breeze and sun gradually dissolve my week’s remorse. I went to the grocery store and placed pizza-making ingredients in the cart and threw in an instant pudding mix. Wanted something fast and friendly. When I came home, the kids greeted me like lost loved ones at the airport, and I brought to them the energy and clarity they’ve been wanting from me all along.

I used this method for a new way of making mini-pizzas, and I let the kids go to town.

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We were so excited that I even forgot to take a picture when they were all done! While the pizzas were in the oven, Layla and Zade took turns whisking the cold milk into the pudding, and they discovered the marvel of licking the wire whisks before placing them in the sink.

We ate the pizzas and watched 1949’s Cinderella.

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I didn’t touch my phone. I didn’t touch my Nook. I didn’t even go upstairs to wash my face and change my work clothes into comfortable clothes—a habit my mom has and one that she has passed down to me.

I bathed them in a pool of bubbles, read them bedtime stories, and fell asleep with them on my bed; we were tucked away like a bed of Savannah Smiles under the same blanket.

For me the beauty of mom-guilt is the resolution I inevitably make to be present—to watch myself outside of the scene and feel proud, a reflection that’s really hard to award sometimes because working motherhood—motherhood in general—puts us on emotional fractals, sometimes peaking us at the height of fulfillment and other times on the ridges of disappointment in ourselves.

So we cooked, ate, giggled, watched, and enjoyed the start of a wonderful weekend.  

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