Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Affogato or Café Glace

The French chef on public TV is making an affogato, which apparently in Italian means “drowned”.  It is a tall glass filled with a scoop of vanilla ice cream dunked in espresso coffee.  At first I am fascinated by how he makes the vanilla ice cream right on the spot with liquid nitrogen but then I realize:  I know this drink!  It is no affogato; it is café glacé and it was my favorite treat when my father would take me to the movies as a child.  And a bittersweet sensation brings back a slew of memories.  Sweet, because they are reminders of a happy childhood, bitter because my Dad passed away eight years ago.

My father was a hard-working man.  As long as I can remember, he worked two, sometimes three jobs at a time.  He was the chief appraiser for the government’s mortgage lending bank in the country.  He did that job from 7:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.  Then in the afternoons, he free-lanced for two or three other banks, surveying and appraising.  He was an honest man and people knew that he would give them the fairest estimate possible, no matter who they were.  His client ranged from simple blue collar workers trying to get a loan to buy their first home in the capital, to the most powerful men in the country trying to buy and sell their properties and gain the highest profit.  He worked on weekends and late into the nights.  But somehow, he was always there to help with homework, stock the refrigerator with the best fruit in season, make up bed-time stories, prepare a bowl of pomegranate seeds on cool autumn night so our hands wouldn’t get stained, take us to the beach every summer and on short outings to watch daredevil motorcyclist jump off dirt hills outside of the crowded capital. 

Born and raised in the countryside of Khorasan, he had to get his country fix every weekend, so he would drive us on hikes and picnics on a regular basis.  In the winter, it was tubing on a snow-covered hill using the floor mats of our VW bug.  In the spring, a day on the banks of the Karaj river, sitting on Persian rugs and drinking tea.  A hard-core trip involved carrying pots, pans and a camping stove across a rickety rope bridge to make lunch on the other side of the river because it was less traveled and more idyllic. 

Another treat and a weekend ritual was chelo kabab for lunch.  To give my mother a break from cooking, my Dad would take one of our cooking pots and bring back food from this hole in the wall restaurant that catered to the working men but wasn’t a place you took your family to.  The kabob would sit on top of the basmati rice, which would sit on top of a layer of bread at the bottom of the pan.  By the time that pot would arrive at our house, the juice from the meat had seeped through the rice, carrying with it the flavor of saffron from the rice, and soaked that bread to an exquisite deliciousness.  My brother and I would fight over that bread, as my mother would set the table.

Every summer, we would go to the Caspian coast for a week.  Sometimes my father could not stay with us the whole week, so he would take us to Darya Kenar, drive four hours back to Tehran and return the following weekend to pick us up.  It was enough for him to dip into the grey waters of the sea a couple of times to let go of the stress of his drive and his work.  A creature of habit, you could set your clock by when he ate, when he took his obligatory afternoon nap and when he went to sleep at night.  But at the beach, he would take off his watch and just enjoy the few days of relaxation and time with his family and friends.

Anything I know about math, I owe it to him.  When I would get stuck with geometry, trigonometry, or algebra I would leave my unsolved problems on the dining room table at night before going to bed.  Sometime between getting home from work that night and the next morning, he would have solved the problems and given me the most clear explanation that no high school or college math teacher ever could.

And on those occasions when my mother had a volunteer committee meeting or a get together with her friends, my father would take me to Cinema Cinemond, a theatre dedicated to showing Disney movies dubbed into Persian. It was right next to Cinema Paramont and in between the two was a little café.  That is where we would sit while waiting for the movie to start and he would order me a tall café glacé.  More than the exoticness of the treat, it was the rarity of the opportunity to be alone with my father and have his full attention that makes this memory so precious. 

All that my father had built materially disappeared practically over night when the Islamic Revolution confiscated his belongings because of his Faith in the Baha’i religion.  By then we were living in the United States and there was no going back.  But the spiritual and moral inheritance that he left my brother and me are immortal and no earthly power will be able to diminish them.

The vanilla ice cream and the coffee in Café Glace, or Affogato, treat your taste buds to this contrast of the bitter and the sweet. And isn’t that what life is?  Aren’t we all a contradictory bundle of opposites?  But how wonderful that when all is said and done, what I remember are the sweet moments that my father spent loving me and showing me what really matters in this life.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Loving Lessons

Staring at them, I feel my heart swell.  No other trophy, medal or prize has ever given me as much satisfaction as my children.  I am humbled to be the mom God chose for these two beautiful babies.  I give them each one last kiss good night without waking them, and drudgingly head to what awaits me.  Dishes, laundry, a moody husband, and the dreaded drawer I have been putting of tackling all summer that is full of pretty much everything.  I read somewhere that you should always do the hardest task first on your to-do list, so here goes.  I make my way to the drawer of doom, and I can’t even open the darn thing without some receipt jumping out at me.  I grab the trashcan and start to dump.  Broken pencils, pens that have seen better days, and have written their last words fill the trash bag like a piñata.  Forgotten journals, decorative notepads, and legal pads line the bottom of the drawer.  I notice a red Steno pad that has “personal stuff” scribbled across the bottom.   Not being my usual choice for a journal, too plain for my liking, it intrigues me.  I tentatively flip it open to the first page, and gaze at the title:  “Things I want to teach my son.”  A list of some of the things I wanted to teach my unborn child in my belly stares me in the face.  I run my hand across the page, and my eyes fill with tears as I playback memories with my beloved son.  From the first time I found out I was pregnant to his latest report card.  Every since I knew I had a child to care for growing inside me, I had no doubt I would dedicate my life to his well-being.  I read the list through blurred vision:

1.     God, family, everything else. (In that order)
2.     Never hit or disrespect a girl.
3.     God loves him
4.     He is precious.
5.     He can be anything he wants to be.
6.     Reach high because even if he falls he’ll land among the stars.
7.     Never give up.
8.     Don’t be shy.
9.     Say hi to everyone.
10. Can’t is not in a man’s vocabulary
11. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try and try again.  If it still doesn’t work, try harder.
12. Work hard.
13. Listen to your parents.
14. Respect your elders.
15. Open doors.
16. Say please and thank you.
17. Thank God everyday for what he has and has not given you.  Be grateful.

I continue with entry by saying how there is so much more I want to teach him, but being pregnant, I am too tired to write more.  I add how excited I am to be a mommy.

I sit back. 8 years later.  So much has happened since that idealistic young momma first wrote that list.  This woman is different.  Life has thrown some curveballs, and what’s left is a stressed out, emotionally worn down woman.  The thought makes my held back tears finally spew out like a faucet.  Amazing how choices I have made, and decisions my husband’s made have affected my demeanor and attitude so much. How my unmet expectations have transformed me into someone I didn’t want to be.  I pick myself up off the floor, and creep into my son’s room again.  I can’t help but smile to see my son’s own face lit up with a smile.  What is he dreaming about I wonder?  What project is he creating in his mind?  How many goals has he scored in this dream?  I realize at that moment, that I am still the same idealistic young momma.  I still want nothing but the sky for my son, and now also for my princess sleeping in the next room.   The list created by that young mom, still remains as things I would like to teach my son.  With the addition of a few:

18. He is his father’s son, but he is NOT his father’s choices.  (or his mother’s)
19. Happiness is a choice.  CHOOSE IT!!  Regardless of the curveballs.
20. Life is such a precious gift.  God gives it to you.  Along with the talents that you have.  LOVE LIFE!  Use your talents to honor God. 

I bend down, yet again.  Give him another kiss on the forehead.  Walk to my daughter’s room, and do the same.  This time, the walk to my still-waiting-to-be-checked-off to-do list feels lighter.  I look forward to having the opportunity to check things off, but even more, I look forward to the love lessons I, myself, learn everyday. 


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I hope we dance forever . . .

For Miranda, on the occasion of her graduation from the University of Texas at Austin, May 2012

On the second day Miranda was born, I sat looking at her asleep in her little bassinet and I felt like crying.  I couldn’t understand why at this most joyful moment of my life, one that I had waited for, for so long, I should want to cry.  Seventeen years later as I said goodbye to her at an airport in El Salvador, I realized why.  Somehow my heart knew, way before my head, that I could hold her (or any of my babies for that matter) close to me only for so long; that the day would come, too soon, when I had to let them pursue their own calling.  It is the ultimate act of trust and detachment and as mothers we will play this dance of tug and throw from the moment they are born and for the rest of our lives.  Motherhood becomes a delicate balance between putting them to our breasts to fill them with all kinds of love and then letting them wiggle away to practice that love in the real world.  As they get older, the rhythm of this dance changes.  Early on, we lead.  Then there are those years that they not only want to lead, but may not even recognize us as their dance partner.  But if we are patient and detached and cognizant that they were never really ours to begin with, they come back dancing, now so much more polished in their steps and on a much more equal footing.

When she was 6, Miranda told me one day that when alone by herself, she really wasn’t alone, that there was always someone with her.  "Do you have an invisible friend?" I asked.  She looked at me like I was crazy and said: "No, the person who is always with me is God."  I asked her where she had learned that, to which she replied: I thought it myself.  But I want to believe it was really the effect of all those prayers I sang to her as I rocked, walked and drove her around so she would fall asleep. That’s why she was brave enough to go to El Salvador to serve for a year when she was 17 years old and now she is embarking on another great adventure as she graduates from college.  She knows she is not alone.

When she was a toddler, her part of the dance was her constant questioning. Once I counted how many questions she asked in a 10 minute period:  20.   That’s 2 questions/minute, 120 in an hour and 1440 in a 12 hour day.  Sample questions:  Why don’t clothes have bones? What is the moon for?  How did Cruella Devile’s parents know she was going to be cruel when they named her that as a baby? And If God doesn’t have hands, how did He make everything?  Encouraging children to question also makes it challenging to keep them close by.  Once they have answered all the questions nearby, they want to venture further.  Any attempt to keep them from pursuing their quests will make the music of our dance scratchy and dissonant.  

When my babies were born, I whispered these words from a Baha'i prayer in their ears:  "Verily, thou hast come by the command of God.  Thou hast appeared to speak of Him.  Thou hast been created to serve Him Who is the Dear, the Beloved." Yes, one can and should, live a life of service wherever one lives.  But when children are braver than their parents, they hear the call when it comes from far away places and arise to answer it.  Holding them back will also spoil the dance.

Miranda, I have never been a good dancer but thank you for teaching me my first steps.  I am grateful that I get to keep practicing with your three siblings.  I know each one of them will be dancing to a different beat, in a different style and at a different speed.  I will try to keep up.  It's the best and only thing I can do.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Inspired by Adoration by Andrea

Three Girls

Color of pecans,
Almond eyes,
Lovely faces

Quick witted
and joyful
Driven and sure

One talkative,
One quiet,
One in-between

Free- Spirited,
Conscientious and true

Same fabric, same essence
One girl in three
Yet each one unique

And Equally
And Differently
Loved by me


Friday, May 18, 2012

Bake Sale Baby by Carolyn

     "Hey, would you hold the baby?" asked the young mother. She wanted to take a look at the baked goods we had spread out on the folding table in front of the K-Mart. That was a good thing, since we were hoping as many people as possible would buy from our bake sale, which was a fundraiser for my church youth group.
     I was surprised by the request, but I willingly reached out to take the car seat she was holding, which contained a beautiful, chubby-cheeked, curly-haired infant. I cooed and jabbered at the smiling face, eager as always to spend some time interacting with a baby.
     The young mother surveyed the cookies, brownies, and muffins laid out on display. Apparently she found something that appealed to her, for she began digging through her purse for spare change to make a purchase.
     Just at that moment, our attention was caught by the wail of sirens coming closer and closer. As the police car screeched to a stop just in front of us, a harried-looking man in a rumpled button-down shirt tucked (more or less) into a pair of dress slacks bustled out of the K-Mart. He was the very image of the lower-level store manager we assumed he was. He rushed up to the police officer who had stepped out of the patrol car.
     Those of us gathered around the bake sale table (several young adolescents like me and our youth group director) could not hear what the store manager was saying to the officer, but we could clearly tell he was chattering excitedly, accompanied by wild gesticulations (including pointing fingers) and frequent glances in our general direction. We watched the exchange between the store manager and the officer with mounting curiosity.
     We were not kept in the dark for long. In just a few minutes the two men headed toward us. The officer began to question the young mother whose baby I was still holding in its car seat. "Where did you get the car seat?" "When did you purchase it?" "Do you have a receipt?" The mother had initially looked calm and confident, but soon enough began to look more and more apprehensive and defensive. She began to stammer and lost most of her aplomb in the face of the policeman's questioning.
     As my friends and I watched in slack-jawed disbelief, the police officer pulled the woman's arms behind her and slapped a pair of handcuffs on her wrists, apparently unsatisfied with her responses to his questions. He walked her to his patrol car and matter-of-factly installed her in its back seat.
    The store manager, noticing our very obvious astonishment at the proceedings, and probably feeling quite smug, finally told us what we were dying to know. He explained that the young woman had strolled into the store sometime earlier with her infant, but without a car seat. She had shopped her way casually to the baby goods section of the store and neatly slid her baby boy into one of the car seats featured in a display. She then nonchalantly continued with her shopping, eventually exiting the store and stopping to patronize our bake sale.
     Her sweet tooth proved to be her downfall, as it gave the store manager time to summon the law to the scene before she had made good her escape with her infant ensconced in the purloined car seat. . .The very infant in the very car seat that I was still holding in my arms.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Into The Labyrinth

When I pick up Safaa from pre-school at noon, he has paint on one of his cheeks.  “Our teacher painted our faces for Halloween!”  It has already been several hours and the paint has dried out and is cracking.  You can’t really tell that it was a pirate’s head at some point.  When we get home, I encourage him to wash it off.

“I want to keep it to show Daddy,” he says.

“But Dad won’t be home until late tonight.” 

A thought comes to my head and I am headed into that labyrinth again.  What if he doesn’t make it home tonight? How long will Safaa go without washing his face?

Ben is away on business.  Just a short trip to Caracas for a meeting with some government officials.  He works for an American mining company that is exploring a gold mine here in the Guayana region of Venezuela and often represents them at the meetings with the Ministry of Mines, where permits are negotiated.  I love living here.  I have adopted it as my home and have no intention of ever going back to the U.S.  My three children have been born here; I have found my best friends, my “sisters”, here and it is only a five- hour plane ride from my parents’ home in Texas, so I can visit any time I want.  Life here, however, can be precarious.  When we leave the house, we run a 50/50 chance of either getting mugged on the street or coming home to a break-in.  But instead of living with constant anxiety and fear, I have learned to truly trust in God and He has protected us so far. 

“You’ll be asleep when Dad gets home,” I repeat, but my 4-year old son insists on keeping the face painting.  What if there is an accident, a plane crash, and I lose Ben, we lose Ben?  What will I tell the children?  In a flash, I see them at their father’s funeral.  That is how quickly I go from washing my son’s face to him being an orphan.  That is how slippery the entrance to this labyrinth is. 

In case of a tragedy such as that, what would I do?  My parents will have me not tell the children at all.  We will just pretend he has gone on a long trip.  That’s the Persian way, keep bad news from children as long as possible.  Never mind the future ramifications, the mistrust and the shaky confidence.  My mother-in-law, on the other hand, will hand each kid a little shovel and have them throw dirt on their father’s grave.  It will be more dramatic that way.  I shake the thoughts from my head and get back to fixing lunch.  Thank God for Joyce, our loyal housekeeper, one of the perks of living in Latin America.  She has been with us since Miranda, now 6, was a baby and she is part of our family.  She anticipates my every thought, which makes it easy to work with her.  I don’t feel like I ever have to give her any orders.  If I am widowed, would I have to go back to the States?  How will I live here?  What kind of work would I do?  We are getting deeper into the labyrinth now.  There is no going back.  My parents will not let me stay here by myself.  I know that.  My mother-in-law would offer to move here and live with me.  I imagine myself starting a day care or pre-school.  I like to have a plan.  It helps me calm down. 

When we are done with lunch, the baby goes down for a nap.  Miranda and Safaa sit down to watch old Sesame Street tapes that my mother sends them periodically.  I lay down for a nap too. 

I awake disoriented.  It happens a lot; I feel I have slept for hours, but it has only been five or ten minutes.  I wish we had a phone in the house so I could call Ben on his cell phone.  When we moved to this apartment three years ago, the owner promised that he could get us a landline.  Getting a phone in this country is close to a miracle.  Even with his palancas in the phone company, the landlord has not been able to get us a phone.  Last year, cell phones were introduced to Venezuela and they have been selling like hot cakes.  We have one, which Ben carries with him.  If I need to call him, I go to my neighbor’s apartment and use her phone.  I decide to do that, to reassure myself that Ben is fine and will be coming home tonight.  I cross the hallway and knock on her door but there is no answer.  I will try later. 

If I lose Ben, I will not re-marry.  I know I am young and my children are small.  But I will not bring another man into our lives.  I will keep his memory alive and continue to do all the things he does for them.  I will split my parenting style between mine and his.  I will read history books to them and talk to them about languages.  I will put on his shirts and stuff the children inside them.  I will let them sit on my feet and walk around with them, shouting: “Fee Fie Foe Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.”  I will continue the story of the pirate Jaques Rouge and tell it over and over again, until they are too old to want to hear it.  But I cannot imagine loving another man.  We are now in the middle of the labyrinth and I am confused and don’t know which way will lead me to the exit.

It is time to take Miranda to her ballet class.  I will stop at my friend Edi’s store and use her phone to call Ben.  I load the three children in my little Fiat Uno and head for the ballet school.  I love living in a town where everything is five minutes from my home.  The ballet school is actually a little building attached to the teacher’s house.  Ana Maria is from Spain, but has lived in Venezuela for most of her adult life.  All the little girls in this town who want to learn ballet, come to her school.  I wait with Safaa and Niku in the tiny waiting area, while Miranda does her lesson.  Will Ben be back to see her dance?  Will she want to dance if she loses her father?  Will children this young get over a tragedy like that.  The baby won’t even remember him.  I must get a hold of him.  Hear his voice and know that he is fine and is coming home soon.

As soon as Miranda is out, we drive a few blocks to the shopping center where my friends have a papelería, a book shop/ stationery store.  They have two kids, the same ages as Miranda and Safaa and they have been playmates since the day they were born.  Edi and Ziegler have raised their two children in the store, which is their life.  They open at 9:00 a.m. and close at 9:00 p.m.  They do take a three-hour break at noon to go home, eat and take a siesta.  The children are at school in the morning but spend the afternoon behind the counter in the store.  Miranda and Safaa run to the back and meet up with their friends, while I ask Edi to borrow her phone.  I lift the receiver and there is no tone.  It is not unusual.  Actually, it has gotten much better.  When I first arrived here, sometimes I had to wait five or ten minutes to get a dial tone.  I would just leave the receiver off the hook and check on it from time to time.  Today it only takes a minute.  I dial Ben’s number but it goes directly to his voice mail.  I leave a message to let him know I am just calling to make sure his flight is on schedule, but realize that there is no way for him to call me back.  I am no less anxious then.  This is where I feel the walls of the labyrinth closing in on me.  To take my mind off of my anxiety,  I offer to take all the kids for an ice cream.  This will give the parents a chance to run their business without distractions.  I pile all four children in the car and strap the baby in her car seat.  We drive to the new McDonald’s.  The kids each eat an ice cream and spend the next hour or so in the playground.  In a town where public playgrounds are vandalized and neglected as soon as they are built, this place is a hot spot for families with children who can afford McDonald’s prices. 

I drop Margarita and Ely back at their parents’ shop and head home.  Before entering our apartment, I knock on my neighbor’s door again.  She is home and happily lets me come in and use her phone.  Voice mail again.  It is possible that the phone is dead, but my mind chooses to go the route of a holdup as he gets cash from an ATM, or a taxi hijacked while stuck in traffic.  These are the way outs I try but realize they are dead ends. 

The sun will set any minute.  Our apartment looks over the Orinoco River.  Our small balcony is the best spot at this time of the day.  A cool breeze blows from the river.  Most people here live in apartments.  But our apartment is really as big as a house.  We just don’t have a yard.  We do have this balcony though and thanks to Joyce’s green thumb I have a nice little garden growing here.  I sit with the baby in my lap and keep a lookout for Ben’s car.  I will be able to see him turning into the complex from this vantage point.  Sunsets here happen quickly.  You may miss it if you are not paying attention.  In a blink of an eye, it is dark.  His plane should be arriving in about 30 minutes.  Another advantage of a small town is that I can hear the airplane approaching the airport, which is about five miles from our apartment.  No plane.  It is not unusual for them to be late. 

This is the loneliest time for a mother who has been home all day with three small children. It is when you have reached the limit of your energy and are ready for someone to come and relieve you, only if it is to cook dinner undistracted.  When relief doesn’t come, I feel my heart squeeze as if it wants to burst out of my chest.  Today it feels worse, because in addition to the normal dusk induced edginess, I am stuck in this labyrinth of worry.  The children go about their normal lives, asking questions, fighting with each other, wanting their dad to be home already.  But my mind is too wrapped up in the worse case scenarios to be able to answer or react to any of it.  If he doesn’t show up tonight, where would I even begin to look for him? I guess I would go to his office here and ask them for help.  Who would stay with the kids, if I have to fly to Caracas to identify his body?  If the plane crashes over the river, will there be a body?  I have to physically shake my head to banish these thoughts.  I wave my hands in front of my face to erase the image.

“Who are you waving to, Mommy?”  Miranda asks. 

I must keep my sanity.  I have to be strong.  It won’t do for these children to lose their father and have their mother go crazy as well. 

The kids are hungry.  I should fix something.  Pasta with ketchup and mayonnaise.  For picky eaters such as these two, it is a perfect dish.  The baby eats anything.  She loves to grab for food from people’s hands and plates.  I think after two finicky eaters, I am finally rewarded with the “perfect” baby.  She eats well and goes to sleep by herself.  When Miranda and Safaa were babies, I would have to walk, rock and drive them around for hours to get them to go to sleep.  I also sang a lot to them, which made my voice sound really good.  Niku wants to be left alone when she is sleepy.  So it has been a while since I have sung and I think I am losing the tone in my vocal chords.

After dinner, the kids put on swimsuits and take a communal bath.  That takes up some of the time.  But if the Caracas plane came in, I didn’t hear it with all the noise in the bathroom.  I sit by the bathtub and supervise the pouring and emptying of containers and the “pretending we are at the pool” games.  Once everyone is bathed, the baby goes down pretty quickly.  Miranda and Safaa gather around me to read.

I hear a plane and look at my watch.  It is 8:30 now.  If this is the plane from Caracas, Ben should be home in the next 45 minutes or so.  My mouth is reading a Berenstain Bears book, but my mind is going round and round in the labyrinth, hoping to find a way out.  I believe that when you love someone, you are reunited with their soul after death.  But is there a minimum time limit for this bonding to take place?  Have we been married long enough for our souls to find each other in the next world?  I am at peace with death on an intellectual and theological level, but how do I explain these things to children as young as mine?  Last year when Minnie Lee, Ben’s grandmother died, Miranda was devastated.  At first, I couldn’t understand why.  She had only seen Minnie Lee, who had been confined to a bed in a nursing home for the past twenty years, once, maybe twice in her life.  She definitely did not have a relationship with her.  Minnie Lee had not talked coherently or walked by herself as long as I had known her.  But Miranda was beside herself.  I tried to explain death to her as best as I could.  But she continued to be distressed.  Finally, after many questions, it came out that if Minnie Lee died, that meant anyone could die, including me.  It was the thought of losing me, or her father, that was disturbing her.  So, what if she did lose her father? Ben has this theory that when the parent of a very young person dies, the child is prone to depression, alcoholism and all kinds of other problems later on in life.  I hope he is wrong!

We pray and Miranda and Safaa crawl into their beds.  All three children sleep in the same bedroom; two twin beds and a crib.  It makes bedtimes so much easier, because two out of the three refuse to go to bed by themselves.  I turn off the lights and sit in the rocking chair.  The breeze coming through the open windows makes the gauzy white curtains dance.  Cars go in and out of the complex, opening and closing the creaky gate.  I get up and look through the window to see if one of them is Ben’s. 

I used to have my life all planned out and, until I moved here, everything did go according to my plan.  But about seven years ago, I realized you don’t grow much as a person if everything always goes they way you want it.  Another one of Ben’s theories is that if all things turn out the way you envision them, how will you ever recognize God’s hand in your life?  So, I have learned to rely on prayer.  As I stand in the dark looking out at the street, I whisper the same prayer, over and over again: A prayer for mercy.  That’s all I dare ask for.  It has now been 45 minutes.  It is possible that the plane was not the one from Caracas.  Every night about this time, a couple of other flights come in from Valencia or Barquisimeto.  I sit back in the rocking chair and try to focus on my prayer:  Mercy, mercy, mercy.  I hear a key turn.  It is opening the iron safety gate on our apartment door.  Another key opens the top lock, then a third one the bottom lock.  “I’m home!” Ben sings.  Miranda and Safaa spring from their beds and run to greet him.  I finally let out my breath and step out of the labyrinth into clear ground again.             -Susan

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What time does that wedding start?

Well, that depends.  Let’s say you are invited to a wedding at 7:00 p.m.  In America, that means the bride is going to walk down the aisle at 7:00, so you better be in your seat a little before that.  If you are an Iranian, a 7:00 o’clock invitation means you can start arriving after 7:00 but the bride and groom will not arrive until 8:00 or 8:30 p.m.  If you are in Venezuela, don’t expect the bride before 9:00 p.m.  No one is being rude or inconsiderate here.  It is what is understood by time in each culture and as long as we all speak the same language, we are not frustrated or insulted.  It only becomes a problem when Iranians or Venezuelans get married in the United States, or Americans attend a wedding in another cultural setting. Or better yet, when an Iranian marries a Venezuelan in the United States. It helps, however, if you are a cultural anomaly, as my husband and I are.  I am Iranian, but born to a family that was uncharacteristically punctual.  Thank God my mother and father both had the same urgency about being on time.  So we never had any problems begin at places five minutes early.  My husband Ben is descended rom Europeans who immigrated to the United States in the 19th Century and left their sense of time and their inherent respect for the clock somewhere between Minnesota and Texas.  They always act so surprised and little bit indignant when they realize that time has moved on without their permission.   What Ben and I have learned as a bi-cultural couple is to not take anything for granted.  Before we fly off the handle and accuse each other of being either too self-centered or too controlling we check to make sure that the issue is not more about a cultural difference rather than a character flaw. 

This difference in what is meant by time on an invitation, became apparent to me when years ago an Iranian did marry a Venezuelan in America.  The invitation was for 5:00 p.m., so Ben and I and the rest of the American guests were sitting in our seats in the room where the ceremony was to be held at 5:00.  Around 5:30, when the American guests started to get worried about the wedding actually taking place, we reassured them that it wasn’t unusual for the bride and groom to arrive an hour after the indicated time.  The family arrived around 6:30 and I was sure we would begin by 7:00 p.m.  I had not counted on Latin time being even more flexible than Persian time.  At 7:30 p.m. the groom came through and greeted everyone and finally at 8:00 p.m. the lovely bride entered.  A good time was had by all, despite the initial misunderstanding.  I was glad Ben and I had been able to serve as cultural mediators and point out that no insult or lack of consideration was intended on the part of the bride and groom, just a different chrono-vocabulary was being used.

It helps to be married to someone of a different culture to realize that we are more alike than different and when we stop and give each other the benefit of the doubt, we not only notice the similarities, but grow to appreciate the differences.

So what time does that wedding start?  It depends: Who is marrying whom and where.   Susan

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sixth-Grade Graduation by Carolyn

"Melted Ice Cream and Googoosh" reminds me of the time I was in 6th grade and about to "graduate" from elementary school. My mother spent hours and hours making me a beautiful white dress, covered in scarlet ribbons threaded through rows of white eyelet lace. For some obscure reason no longer in my memory, I had decided to ride my bike to school with a friend that day instead of riding the bus as I usually did. Being the klutz that I am, I had a wreck on my bike. Later that day my mother arrived at school to watch me walk across the stage to accept my elementary school "diploma" in the pristine, snowy-white, ribbon-bedecked dress she had so lovingly made. What she saw instead was me walking across the stage in a less-than-pristine, used-to-be-snowy-white dress with a huge smear of mud and axle grease across the front and several of the rows of eyelet lace-encased scarlet ribbons dangling forlornly from it! My pantyhose (a supremely exciting first-time privilege for a young girl) were ripped in shreds, and the T-strap of one of my once shiny Mary Janes was flopping up and down as I walked, the button fastener having been another casualty of the bike accident. No doubt she was as mortified as I was. I can only hope that she still felt some pride in my academic accomplishments, even in the midst of her irritation with me at my shabby treatment of the beautiful dress she had expended so much time and energy creating for my special occasion. Because she was a woman of infinite love, I feel sure she did.

Living Legacies by Andrea

I heard it said that everyday, everywhere we go, we will make an impact.  It is up to us as to whether the impact is positive or negative.  Nowhere is this truth more obvious than in our families, with our children.

I have had several encounters lately that call me to consider what kind of legacy I am leaving behind.  The word legacy conjures up images of good things in my mind.  But what is left, as a spiritual, emotional and social inheritance, may not always be positive.  Negative legacies can actually be destructive. There are many people walking around today who have been left an endowment of pain, confusion and emptiness.

I have to believe that most people do not plan to leave their offspring with scars that can ruin lives for generations, but it happens.  Maybe because time was not taken to consider the question:

What am I giving to my children by how I am living today?


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Melted Ice Cream and Googoosh

Arriving at the wedding, staying close to my charge.
Here I am trying to get my little companion to get back to her post.  There is the ice cream being served.
Googoosh circa. 1967

I remember the moment I learned that ice cream melts!  I was 4 years old and it was my uncle’s wedding.  My mother had used the fabric from her own wedding dress to sew me an outfit. It was a special occasion because as the only niece of the groom who was old enough to walk, I was chosen to help carry the bride’s train; the Persian equivalent of a flower girl.  I was sharing the job with the bride’s cousin, who unfortunately, was not taking it as seriously as I was.   She kept looking at the crowd and waving to people as we walked in.  Also, I was under the impression that we were on call all night and stayed close to the bride to help her with that bulk of fabric at any moment.  The little cousin disappeared as soon as the ceremony was over. At some point during the reception, we were served three scoops of ice cream in a glass dish.  I had eaten some of it and left the rest sitting on a ledge near the dance floor.  I don’t think I was dancing; I was probably watching the bride and groom dance and ready to jump in and hold that train if necessary. There was a live band and the teenage lead singer had everyone mesmerized.  We did not know at the time that she would go on to become Iran’s most famous singer, Googoosh, a classy mix of Marylin Monroe and Madonna.  Years later we always bragged about how Googoosh sang at our uncle’s wedding before she was famous.  Eventually I returned to my bowl of ice cream, picked it up and tilted it towards me to get another spoonful when the melted mess of chocolate and strawberry spilled all over my beautiful dress.  As a young perfectionist who never did anything to displease her mother, I was horrified and felt the ruin of the night in the pit of my stomach.  Did I go find my mother or did I try to hide from her, afraid at how displeased she would be that I had ruined the precious dress?  I can’t remember.  The next memory is of the two of us in a bathroom, trying to rinse out the mess.  After the party, the dress was put away and I never wore it again.  I don’t know whether it was because it was stained permanently or because I outgrew it before the next special occasion.  But the night of my Da’i Siavash’s wedding, will forever be associated in my mind with melted ice cream and Googoosh.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Legacies by Carolyn

     We hear it said so often that our children are our legacies. I was vividly reminded of that as I listened to my nephews talk about their father at his memorial service. Each of the three young men spoke about the life lessons they had learned from their father: taking responsibility for your actions, telling the truth, making your mistakes right, and so on. He taught them those lessons by the way he lived, not just by what he preached to them. I know first-hand that through the years they have not always appreciated the lessons their father tried to teach them. I also know that he was not a perfect man, nor a perfect parent. He was a real human being, subject to the foibles and mistakes that condition brings. However, his sons sifted through all of those imperfections and found the golden nuggets in his parenting. They will be able to carry that wisdom with them forever. Tucked in the midst of their memories of their father - the often-repeated funny stories and the family vacations and the wrecked cars and the major mess-ups and the minor irritations - will shine those golden nuggets of his wisdom. That will be his proudest legacy.
     I am a parent, too. So now I am wondering if I am in the process of building the legacy I someday hope to leave. While my sons were young boys, did I show them by the way I lived that I valued integrity, honesty, godliness, responsibility, and family? I am sure that I preached those things, but did I live them? Even now, in the busy-ness of everyday life, am I showing my grown children the traits I feel are so important for them to develop in their lives? It is a sobering thought that as I live my life, so my children will live theirs, and maybe so  will my grandchildren live theirs. I fervently hope that my children will be able to sift through the rubble of my mistakes, my shortcomings, my less-than-perfect parenting, my poor decisions, and find the golden nuggets of the legacy I wish to leave behind me. My job as a parent is to make it very easy for them to know what values I want to leave with them tomorrow by the way I live my life today.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Love and Commitment by Carolyn

One of the most difficult - and most valuable - lessons I learned in my adult life is that love is an action verb. During one of the times I was not feeling much love for my late husband, I read in a Bible study that love is not a feeling, it is an action. That the times when "that loving feeling" is not present are the times that it is most important to behave in a way that shows love. That seems counter-intuitive to our modern society which prescribes that if the feeling of love has gone, or if your spouse is not making you completely and totally happy, or if your life together is not easy, you should cut your losses and end your union. I once subscribed to that way of thinking and ended my first marriage without much thought to the commitment I had made. I was determined not to give up so easily the second time. So I was willing to try the idea that I should act as if I loved my husband in spite of how difficult it had become and see what happened. I won't go into the details here, but suffice it to say that when I acted as if I loved him the feeling of love returned, stronger than ever. That feeling of love brought on by my actions of love enabled me to live out my commitment to him through some very difficult circumstances. That feeling of love now allows me to look back on the last months of our marriage with the knowledge that, at least in the end, I lived up to my vows of "for better or worse, in sickness and in health."

This week I have seen the idea that love is an action verb come to life again. My sister's husband has been very ill for a while. Through his illness, my sister has devoted herself to caring for him completely. She has fought his battles, endured unpleasant situations, and ministered to his needs unselfishly. His wish was to see the end of his life at home rather than in a hospital. She made that possible for him. In the last few days I have had the privilege of seeing my matter-of-fact, no-nonsense sister caring for her dying husband in ways that she would never have dreamed she would have to do, and doing it with love and tenderness. Her love for him was spoken more clearly in her actions than it could ever be in any words. She has demonstrated her commitment to him and their 33-year marriage by her tender, ferocious care of him even in these worst of times. Throughout their life together, and especially at the end, she lived up to her vows of "for better or worse, in sickness and in health".

That is what love is - not a feeling, but a commitment to action.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Set Free by Andrea

"I must write it all out, at any cost.  Writing is thinking.  It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living."-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

For most of my young adult life, I was a guilty prisoner of the ideology that one had to journal daily for the process to be meaningful (to whom exactly, I am not sure).  I unconsciously subscribed to some unwritten rule that one had to record the minutia of everyday life- to do anything less would leave an indelible mark of being undisciplined for all to see. At this I failed.  I just could not keep up. From where did these unrealistic beliefs and unattainable practices come?  I do not know.  I do remember, however, the day I was freed.

Unlike the rest of the first world, I was not a member of the Order of Oprah.  I rarely watched television and The O Show even less.  One day, for whatever reason, I turned on the show just as the star was sharing about the catharsis of journaling, a practice in which she had engaged since her teen years.  I felt a heaviness come over me because I once again felt that urge to be more deliberate about capturing life in words.  Then a guest therapist commented that one ought to write, and to write as needed.  In those few seconds, I was set free!  I was given permission to create my own habit of writing.  Why had this not occurred to me?

The more I read and learn about the teaching of writing, the more I learn that all writers- those who do it for publication and those who write for their own sanity- have specially crafted habits of mind and practice.  There are as many ways folks go about the art of writing as there are folks writing.

I have journaled "consistently" for almost two decades now.  It is my catharsis (as well as cleaning, but that's a post for another time). I am able to purge or to cultivate.  I am able to delve deeply into my thought life.  I am able to see my life from outside of myself. I am able to temper my zeal, contain my anger, work out my anxieties. I am able to care for myself.

I knew the power of the pen despite my attempt to fit into the proverbial "box".  I know what it is to live under the tyranny of ought to and should, to fear getting it wrong.  So I write and teach to free other would-be journalers, writers, authors.

Live free and write!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Word Nerd by Carolyn

Call me a nerd. A word nerd, even.
Words have always held a fascination for me. They call to me from a printed page. They lodge in my brain and sing to me when my thoughts should be focused on something else. Most of them are orderly and well behaved.
I can manipulate them as I wish, making them do my bidding. I can craft them to inform, to amuse, to exhort, to narrate a story, to evoke a feeling. In fact, I puff myself up, thinking I know all the rules about words and that I am an advanced word handler (sort of like a lion tamer with a whip and a chair). However, words occasionally refuse to play by the rules. They jump up and down to get my attention, but then run away, just out of my reach. These words taunt me with my total lack of mastery over them. They take on a life of their own in my mind, running in circles, doing back-flips, and playing freeze tag with each other.
I profess that I want to conquer them, to bend them to my will. But is that true? Would I really ever want to be able to totally control words? Don't I secretly enjoy being mesmerized, befuddled, and intrigued by them? Don't I revel in the power of words to make me laugh, cry, gasp with amazement? I am guessing that words will continue to hold sway over me as long as I live, and I secretly wouldn't want to have it any other way.

Friday, January 27, 2012

An invitation to be bold

I learned early on that words were powerful.  I knew it when I saw the locked doors of the libraries at my school and in my community.  I felt it the first time I saw an anti-Shah slogan on the walls of a London Tube station.  I believed it when a story about a little fish who wanted to see the world was banned and its author censored.  So when I got my first journal, I was afraid.  I was afraid of putting down my thoughts and feelings, lest the words get me in trouble or worse, get someone else in trouble.

It takes courage to write, no matter the genre.  Every thought put into words has the power to rearrange the molecules in the universe.  If it is a positive, constructive thought; if it has the potential to change even one mind for the better, then it is the responsibility of the writer to put it down on paper.

I haven't filled any journals yet but I too love the feel of the fresh, clean paper and the touch of the exotic cover.  All an invitation to be bold.              -Susan

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Blank but full of possibilities

I walk past the aisle filled with my favorite chocolate cookies, the evidence of them still being carried in my midsection.  The vitamin aisle causes me no pause, and I ignore my moms advice ringing in my ears to buy the Women's One a Day I ran out of a month ago.  Being pulled past the aisles full of make-up, although I am in desperate need of some new blush, maybe even some new eyeshadow.  I can't fight the force.  My feet know where to go, I don't even have to think about it.  I arrive and stop in front of my destination.  The colors blend together like a a precious work of art belonging in a museum.  My fingers caress the delicate fabrics, the beautiful images, and the strong bindings that hold everything together. My chosen gem is sitting on the very top shelf.  The smell of the blank pages fills my mind with words, stories, poetry, images of things and people I want to hold on too forever.  I don't know why the blank pages of a journal call to me as strongly as they do.  I do know, however, that more than the keeper of my secrets, it opens a world full of wonder and possibilities.