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Shaking the House

Most mornings we eat breakfast all together on the couch. My husband makes a big batch of oatmeal, portioning out some with mashed bananas and a swirl of peanut butter into a neon plastic bowl. We eat our breakfast in the living room because—why not? We’re living through a pandemic and it’s nice to have simple traditions—and also because our kitchen is chilly this time of year, the circular vent in the window letting in a draft from the balcony that leaves the room freezing by morning.

Oatmeal for breakfast has become a little symbol of our intercultural relationship. My husband had only eaten oats in savory Persian soups and stews before we got married. His breakfasts consisted of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, soft cheeses, olives, honey, crusty bread, and hot tea. When we were first married, I introduced him to cold cereal (which now looks pretty dismal compared to the bounty that comes with Middle Eastern breakfasts). Once, after watching me pour milk over Special K, he looked at me expectantly and asked—a now-famous line I’ve never let him live down—how long we had to wait until it was ready to eat.

We head to the couch with the oatmeal and a baby on our hip. In between sips of coffee and catching up on the news, we spoon breakfast into our daughter’s mouth. She’s always sans bib these days because we can’t seem to find one she’ll tolerate. Even the most intricately clasped bib she’s figured out how to rip off her neck. Every time, without a doubt, oatmeal ends up everywhere.

She’ll scoot across the couch and reach her hand into my husband’s bowl, fingers scooping up sticky oatmeal before we can stop her. She’ll swat a loaded spoon away from her mouth sending oatmeal flying. She’ll reach for the couch’s armrest, rubbing oatmeal into the upholstery. She’ll swipe her gluey hands across her forehead, into her eyelashes, on her ears, and somehow the back of her head, a spot we won’t discover until bedtime.

This happens almost every day and we’ve come to expect it. We have baby wipes strategically stashed around the house for these sorts of things. When we’ve finished our oatmeal, we rise like soldiers on duty to wipe off the baby, the couch, ourselves. And we do it all again the next morning.

My husband, a certified neat-freak, likes to tell our expecting friends that having a baby is like a bomb going off. Bringing home a tiny infant from the hospital is a head-whipping sort of thing. It’s no secret they come with mountains of unfolded laundry, piles of dirty diapers, and never-ending dishes. We’ve had to surrender to the chaos to save our sanity. So it’s not unusual to see my husband let our daughter reach for his nose during dinner, her hands caked with spaghetti sauce, smearing his face with her mashed-up food. Yesterday we casually wiped away squished strawberry remains that had somehow found their way on top of our bedspread. Today I was throwing toys into a basket while she napped and spotted soggy Cheerios under the coffee table. Without a second thought, I popped them into my mouth (gross, I know). 

I think this is how the last year has felt for a lot of us, like an explosion. New baby or not, certainty, predictability, routines—taking ours and our loved ones’ health for granted, even—has gone out the window.

Uncertainty tends to leave a mess in its wake.

This trauma we all have collectively felt this year mirrors pretty closely what my family and I have felt over the last four years. Our plans have been at the mercy of government mandates. We’ve had to share more milestones and celebrations over video calls than we’d like. After giving birth to my daughter, a phone call was placed across the world to my parents where they witnessed the first moments of their grandchild’s life through a tiny screen held in my husband’s hand. Our hopes of being reunited with family feel like it’s slipping further and further out of reach. We wait as the ending of our grief continues to feel uncertain.

It’s no coincidence the first day of spring coincides with the first anniversary of the pandemic. As we limp toward twelve months of living through a long, cold winter (some longer and colder than others), the light stretches out just a little bit later after dinner these days. There are blue, cloudless skies, the chirp of birds—but maybe old patches of snow are still sitting around, too. It feels a little messy, this in-between time.

In Persian culture, the celebration of the first day of spring is called Nowruz. Those who celebrate, spend weeks leading up to the Spring Equinox deep cleaning their home. This ritual is called khoneh takooni in Farsi, which translates to “shaking the house.” In the neighborhoods where many Iranians in our area live, large carpets are lugged out of homes, waiting to be scrubbed clean and left to dry while hanging out of third-floor windows or draped over gates and stone walls. This tradition, among many others for Persians, celebrates spring conquering winter, light squashing out darkness—order overcoming chaos.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could shake out our homes and things would be set right? The fractured parts of our routines would come back together with a snap of a rug, a swipe across a windowpane, a broom over a floor. But life is messy, and not everyone gets a tidy story. I’ve learned that lesson over and over again.

Superstitions are common in this part of the world, and it is said that if something breaks—a plate, a carton of eggs, a glass pitcher—it’s a sign of good luck. Bad news was coming your way, but the shattered pieces have pushed the misfortune out. The accidental mess laying at your feet has protected your home.

I’m not sure oatmeal smashed into every crevice of our couch counts as something breaking according to the superstition. It is a mess though. As we stagger on towards another year of living in a pandemic, and for our family, another year across an ocean from loved ones, waiting for policies to change, we lean on each other when our steps began to falter. We give grace when we feel tattered. We work to understand when we’re bruised.

As I forge ahead in motherhood, shouldering layer upon layer of uncertainty, I will not stop looking for evidence of a life well-lived. There are beautiful moments tucked away in this messy story, broken pieces that when put together form something new. And maybe that something new will turn into something good.

Sticky breakfast food is a sign of life—a good life. So are piles of diapers and laundry and dishes. In this in-between time, may we work to acknowledge both the broken and the beauty. And who knows? Maybe the mess will bring a little luck, too.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Make a Mess”.

Photo by Orlova Maria on m

8 thoughts on “Shaking the House”

  1. I love this! You and Afshin are so patient and loving with Esther. We are so proud of how you both have embraced parenthood and also the daily, long stretches of waiting. Oh so many prayers and blessings to all of you! Good news is coming!!

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  2. Hi Sarah, I can’t wait to read your posts. You uplift my heart. This post I can feel your frustration, of Covid, of a messy baby, and the government that has not allowed you to enter your home in far away North Dakota. The last is one we have no control over.
    We are at the mercy of God…and our President. It’s one we all are praying for and continue to wait. I look to your moms posts hoping today is the day you are confirmed to travel to the USA. They are waiting just as much as your family. I love how you and Afshin continue to overcome the feeling of frustration. Your faith is strong, like the broken plates bring you luck, God will bring you peace and hope. “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength…..they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). I admit, Waiting is hard!
    Ps. I “shake” my house every spring and my girls think that is crazy! I still do the shaking!

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  3. Dear Sarah. I found your blog through scrolling through Instragram and finding Women of Welcome’s post there. I am sorry for what you and your little family are going through in trying to have your husband’s immigration status approved for travel here. I pray daily that we would treat refugees with dignity and respect. Somehow there has to be a way to balance our desire for safety with compassion. I look forward to following your and Afshin’s story through your blog and Women of Welcome and will certainly keep you in prayer.

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