Our Story

Spring, Interrupted

Our town has a weekly outdoor market for locals to buy fruits and vegetables. Every Friday morning, trucks full of fresh produce back into an empty parking lot and vendors begin unpacking their inventory. Once set up, there are sections for endless fruits and veggies but also areas for spices, nuts, cheese, butter, eggs, and olives, and a place for clothing and household items that spills out onto the surrounding streets. At the busiest of times, shopping at the bazaar is loud, crowded, and chaotic. It’s not unusual to hear an amusing “HEY-LADY-HEY-LADY-HEY-LADY” shouted from the vendors trying to entice buyers with their products for a good price.

This past year, in an effort to keep Esther and me safe and healthy, I’ve stayed home from shopping at the bazaar. Instead, Afshin goes, carrying with him a collaborative grocery list written in both English and Farsi.

He comes into the kitchen armed with bags of tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, and apples, and hands me a coffee. Fridays are also the last day we can be out of the house until Monday because Turkey is back under weekend lockdowns. To help quell the sting of the approaching lockdown, he’s gotten into the habit of swinging by Starbucks each week after grocery shopping—a custom I am 100% okay with.

I start putting away the produce and rinse some of the herbs in the sink. Afshin begins making a Persian omelet for an early lunch with eggs from our neighbor’s chickens. The omelet is more like scrambled eggs but made with tomato sauce and cumin and served with crusty flatbread from the neighborhood bakery.

Lest anyone thinks we live in a Martha Stewart catalog, the strange neighbor out our kitchen window is once again setting small fires to unidentifiable piles of trash around his driveway. Why he periodically does this? No one knows. And a mangy street dog is sniffing around the perimeters of our building, hoping in vain that Afshin will throw down a bone or two from last night’s dinner. Esther is asleep across the hallway, so we’re putting the food away in silence, moving slowly, and sending a dirty look when the other makes too loud of a noise. Quaint and rustic it is not always.

I give the herbs a final shake in the sink and place them in empty pickle jars filled with water. Stirring the sizzling eggs with a fork over the stove, Afshin says a snowstorm is on its way and will hit this weekend. I glance outside while rotating the jars so the old, worn-off labels face the window, trying to make the parsley and dill look like intentional bouquets of greenery. The neighbor has gone back inside, leaving behind small blackened piles of mysterious ash along the pavement.

Pink blossoms bloom on the branches of a spindly tree that had somehow made its way out of the dirt ridge in front of our home. No one specifically planted the tree at the location—a mound of sandy dirt fortifying the neighbor’s wall. But deep in the dirt the seeds germinated anyway and the roots grew.

It’s well into spring. The flowers are blooming. The temps are rising. The mourning dove in the evergreen laments. And now the snow is coming.

April showers bring May flowers, but what do April snowstorms bring?

•••

Three years ago, Afshin decided to grow out his hair. I thought he was joking when he said he always wanted a ponytail but soon realized how committed he was to the growing out process. Ever a supportive spouse, I taught him how to use a hair tie (a skill I thought was innate in all of us but, boy, was I wrong), put his hair in a messy bun, and even how to french braid. But what started as a bucket list kind of thing—seeing how long his hair could grow—took on a deeper meaning.

In what I assume was a nod to the Old Testament, growing out his hair was a vow of some sort. And that once a visa was in hand, once God allowed the doors to open, once he could leave, only then would he shave his head.

Hair is a powerful thing. It’s something only the person it’s attached to can control—choosing how and when and why to cut or not to cut. This feels especially important now when the comfort of certainty and choice has been taken away. To be able to cut it once we were in the U.S. represented a dream, something for a time to come. It became a symbol of stepping out in faith, trusting that better things were ahead.

But the hair got heavy and too much to maintain. Showers took too long. And then there were the strands left all around the house. More than that though, the months rolled on and there was no visa or updates on our case. Emails to congresspeople and video calls with lawyers led to more dead ends. So, in a Samson-esque fashion, we buzzed off the long hair together.

***

I don’t know if it’s because I’m a mother now, but the impending snowstorm had me worried about the fragile pink blossoms on the trees, especially on that skinny tree growing out of the dirt hill. Will someone protect them? How will farmers fair with the late spring frost? Are they concerned, too?

This is maybe a little embarrassing to admit, but I spent nap time researching what happens to fruit trees when an unexpected freeze comes in the springtime. Hey, we were under a weekend lockdown and didn’t have much else going on. And did I mention I was worried about those tiny, baby blossoms?

So as the snow fell over the weekend, juxtaposing the fresh, green grass and the chirping of songbirds, I learned about spring freezes. The untimely dip in temperatures can kill the blossoms, much to my dismay, affecting fruit production.

I thought about the apricot trees growing on the side of our building and the cherry trees in the yard behind us and the retired couple who spends hours outside tending to their garden. The snow blew sideways Saturday and Sunday and the flakes gathered on the ends of tree branches. And I wondered if the blossoms would survive or if they’d die before they ever got a chance to produce fruit.

***

The same weekend we buzzed his hair, Esther began trying to pull herself up on the coffee table and the couch. Much to our excitement, our little potato (who’s rolled over exactly three times in her life) was finally becoming interested in exploring her surroundings.

Time staggered forward as she turned 10 months, soon to be a year—a whole year of her life in Turkey, still an ocean away from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins she’s never met. Life was growing here, but our dreams were dying. The hope of living together with our family felt like it was slipping further and further away.

We’ve had to bury a lot of dreams over the past several years. Some were big and some small, but losses nonetheless. For us, the last four years of our marriage are not how we imagined. It’s not how we would have written the story. We’ve had to get used to living in the infinite present. Today, then today, then today, never flipping the calendar to tomorrow.

We didn’t ask for this. We didn’t imagine it to be like this.

These strange days filled with uncertainty seem to echo the same sentiments of the unseasonably cold weather. Like a dam bursting, the sky broke open months after winter announced its goodbye, disrupting the order of things, tipping the balance. Winter screamed when spring should have been there breathing a steady sigh of relief.

Maybe that’s why I was so fixated on the blossoms surviving the spring freeze. Here was something beautiful growing, bringing forth the promise of fruit, of sustenance, of sunny days and life. Hope was blooming—until temperatures dipped below freezing until large flakes of snow blew sideways.

***

When Afshin cut his hair, it was the day before Easter, traditionally referred to as Holy Saturday on the liturgical calendar. It was the day after Christ’s death on the cross and the day before the stone rolled away and he stepped out of the tomb, alive.

I can imagine that particular day felt despairing and disorientating for Christ’s followers. Maybe it was heavy with stillness, questions, and waiting. Maybe it felt like all the hope that had been growing died right there on the cross. Maybe it felt as if life had been sucked away before it had a chance to grow.

These days feel a little like that, where there is no movement, no growth, no life. The fragility of hope has been interrupted by freezing temperatures, killing off any dream before it even has an opportunity to grow. Sometimes I wonder if losing a dream—something we never got a chance to have—stings more than if we’d had and then lost whatever it was we wanted.

But what I also learned while researching spring freezes over the weekend lockdown, is that healthy, well-established foliage can grow back. If roots are dug down deep enough, the tree has the strength to fight against the cold. It’s only a temporary setback. Once the snowstorm passes, the surviving blossoms will continue to grow and bear fruit in the coming weeks and months. Order will be restored. One needs only to wait.

On Holy Saturday, resurrection was at work and something glorious was happening, even when it was hidden. Now, we can only hope that underneath the brown mush and frozen branches, life is growing. Things are moving.

And rest assured, it’s still spring—and thank goodness for that. We need the spring.

Uncategorized

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

Uncategorized

Notes from Lockdown

The sun beats on my skin, causing my upper arms to turn light pink. We had just finished watching a movie from start to finish and it wasn’t even lunch. We can’t leave our home for the next two days, so the three of us spend time on the balcony, soaking up the unusually strong sun, and trying to get that vitamin d and fresh air any way we can.

It’s been three months now of full weekend lockdowns, part of strict precautions Turkey has taken to decrease COVID cases, although there are rumors restrictions will lighten with the onset of tourist season next month. For my Enneagram 3 husband, Afshin, being forced to stay inside for the weekend has handed him a convenient excuse to disregard any semblance of routine and trash the to-do lists, knowing everyone else around him is forced to do the same (as a 9, I’ll take any excuse to chill). Saturdays and Sundays, we throw out any sort of agenda, graze throughout the day, don’t cook dinner, and watch every Mark Wahlberg movie on Netflix (there’s a million and also they’re all the same and also maybe I’m getting him mixed up with Matt Damon).

We spread out a baby quilt—one that made the trek from my parents’ home in the US to our home in Turkey, tucked into the bottom of a suitcase—on the concrete floor of the balcony. My daughter, Esther, sits and plays with an assortment of things: a fridge magnet from a local restaurant, a couple of toy rattles, a near-empty baby wipe packet, and a pacifier we paid entirely too much for only for her to reject. I’m next to her cracking open walnut shells, two pounds worth we received from our landlord last fall.

February so far has brought temperatures that feel much more like late spring than the bleak winter. While winter’s in Turkey are mild compared to what I’ve experienced back in the Upper Midwest, typically a thin layer of white would have blanketed the ground by now, the quiet stillness settling in for just a while longer. But this year we’ve only had snow once or twice, each time melting before morning. Our daughter’s only experience with it was standing by the window watching the large flakes fall before going to sleep. But with temperatures well above freezing these past couple of months, the grass has already begun to turn green, birds chirp, and we bask in the sun.

“We should lower her crib soon,” I say, eyeing our baby who’s leaning forward, anxious to crawl. Afshin sits next to us eating last night’s leftover rice and chicken straight from the frying pan. “The whole crib needs to be taken apart to do it, so I need your help,” I continue, taking a hammer to another walnut.

“There are no shoulds,” he says in mock seriousness as he hands Esther a piece of shredded chicken. “This is a democracy. We can do what we want.”

He’s teasing me, exasperated by my American paranoia and obsession with safety. Middle Easterners take a much more relaxed approach to parenting I’ve come to (mostly) accept, and if it were up to him, our baby would probably be trying her hand at hammering open walnut shells right now.

It’s a joke, but I know his underlying thoughts: We could leave any day now.

And more than that, the lowering of the crib marks the passing of time. What was once a newborn is now an infant who sits and will soon be a crawler and climber. Time rolls forward in a place we don’t want to be.

I inhale deeply, feeling the sun on my eyelids. Setting the pan aside, he picks up Esther and they go to the edge of the balcony to watch the neighbor kids play in their yard below. She blows raspberries—a new skill she’s learned that soothes her teething gums—and Afshin mimics her sounds. The streets are quiet, save for a lonely police car or city truck rumbling by. The clothes on the line blow lazily back and forth, the sun’s rays bleaching out the tomato stains on baby clothes.

Afshin has described the tension in our house like the drums from Jumanji. Suddenly, with the recent rescinding of unfair immigration policies, we have found ourselves thrown back into living in the short-term, the war-like drumming intensifying as each day passes. We lustily eye the suitcases on top of our wardrobes, scour job listings in the US, and research how much rent we can afford.

Many family and friends have asked if we are feeling more hopeful now than we have in the last four years. And we are. But I also know hope can be a tricky thing. In an instant it can grow big, ballooning up in our hearts, putting a spring in our step, causing us to lean forward in anticipation. But just as quickly as it swells, it can burst when we dare to take too big of a breath. It can shatter and deflate, forcing us to slump back in our seats, completely gutted, as each week passes with no news or updates on our immigration case.

Hope slips and slides, and I never know how tight or loose my grip on it should be.

I suppose that’s why we do not put our hope in elusive things, in principalities or politicians, but the one, true Hope, firm and secure. And yet I’m realistic enough to know that life isn’t always so simple, that canned answers (even when they are wholly true) don’t always solve the problem at hand.

I read once that the opposite of hope is desperation. I won’t argue whether or not that’s true, but hope and desperation are more intertwined than we think—like two twisted vines from the same root. Where one ends and one begins doesn’t matter. And yet it is there, in the nuance of life, in complications and competing emotions, the Creator resides. God, the Divine, works in these crossroads.

Afshin goes back inside to start a second movie, presumably where Wahlberg (Damon?) plays another manly-man American hero. I bounce the baby on my lap, her babbles echo off the walls of the neighboring home. She blows more raspberries. I crack open more walnuts.

There’s a handful of hot air balloons suspended in the sky beyond our balcony, although I’m not sure why, as there are no tourists, and we’re supposed to be on lockdown. We watch them for a while. Maybe it was the rhythmic cracking of the walnuts or the lack of any sort of routine, but life felt okay for the moment, despite the drum beats and uncertainty vibrating in the background of our home. Being surrounded by the balloons and the sun and a baby who needs her crib lowered, I felt peace—something that isn’t always so easy to find these days.

A friend once sent me the song Time by John Lucas. I’m thankful that when words fail during prayers, we can live on the borrowed faith of friends and writers and thinkers who have walked similar paths. The lyrics to this song bounce in my head while on the balcony, waiting out the lockdown, grasping at hope and peace.

My heart has known the winters
And my feet have known the snow
But mine eyes have seen the glory
Of a seed begin to grow

There is a time to uproot, darling
But most days just hold on tight
For there’s a time for darkness, honey
But dawn will always beat the night

Sometimes death will come calling
When you’ve been good and warned
And other times its cold hands will cradle
Dreams yet to be born

There is a time to dance on sorrow
And a time to kiss her cheek
There is a time to mourn in silence
But justice aches to hear you speak

And I don’t know the end, or tomorrow’s story
But I have found the one who gives me rest
And I will make my bed in His promises
For He holds true when nothing’s left

There is a time when laughter will echo
Through your halls of peace
But war is known to change your locks
And carry off the family keys

There is a time for healing and pain
A time for drought and a time for rain
There is a time for everything
Until we crown the risen King

So crown Him in your mourning
And crown Him in your laughter
And crown Him when it all turns dark

Crown Him when you bury
And crown Him when you marry
And crown Him when your faith finds a spark

Crown Him for He’s faithful
And crown Him for He’s worthy
And crown Him for He is good

Crown Him for His promises
Cut through the blindness
Of children that have barely understood

The beauty that has come
And the beauty yet to come
And the beauty that is yours and that is mine
And that death produces life
And that we are made alive

By the King who paints beauty with time


Photo by noah eleazar on Unsplash

Uncategorized

The House Surrender Built

one day we’ll tell her about the way light
through the bedroom window
danced
across
her cheek

how it looked
a little
like Hope

but first

how the four concrete walls of this house felt like a cell
a place we didn’t want to be
in a country we didn’t want to live

how we unpacked our suitcases
reluctantly
and made room
for an ever-present, never-leaving, uninvited guest
named Waiting

how it was only a house
a place we slept and ate and buried our dreams

how we memorized the creaks in the floors and cracks in the ceilings

how we dug our nails
deep
into
leaving

how we bled
desperately ignoring
Waiting

and then

we will tell her how we brought fresh life
through the doors of that house
not at all like we imagined

how a baby caused us to relax our grip
and to make room for Hope

caused us to lean forward
with every fiber of our being

caused us to speculate
who she’ll be
where we’ll be
now, a mystery

how we brushed off dormant dreams
and replaced them with flowers
dug deep into the dirt

with picture frames
and books
and tiny toys
all the while still looking ahead

how we stepped over the creaks
as she napped
took notice of the sunrise on one side and the sunset on the other
of the kitchen
balcony
and mountains

welcomed it
accepted it

how we saw the speckled light
bouncing off the mirror
creating a rainbow swirling across the cheek
of our chubby
ray
of
Hope

how light caused us to breathe

to Surrender

to make a home here
Hope here
while we
wait
here


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 “280 Words”.

Uncategorized

Playing with Fire

There’s a saying that most of marriage is shouting, ‘What?’ to each other from other rooms. If I weren’t reading this text message at such a serious moment in my marriage, I would have laughed at the tired relationship stereotype coming true, like leaving the toilet seat up or the inability to agree on a restaurant.

I repeat the immigration attorney’s text to my husband as I stand outside the bathroom of our Turkish apartment, my voice competing with the gushing shower head’s echo bouncing off the tiles. I had taken my first positive pregnancy test a few days earlier, and my hand inadvertently touches my stomach while I struggle to push down the anxiety creeping over my chest and up my neck.  

“He wrote,”—I take a deep breath to steady my voice—“‘You will most likely NEVER be able to immigrate to the United States.’” I stare at the glowing screen and the five capitalized letters. Each word from the attorney’s message punctuates the darkness of the hallway. The finality of the sentence chills the air despite the steam coming from the shower.

For the entirety of our relationship, my husband’s immigration process has attached itself like an extra appendage. It’s been an unwanted shadow following us everywhere we go. Marrying someone from a country banned from entering the U.S. meant finding ourselves thrown amid bureaucratic limbo. It meant being at the mercy of politicians who see others like chess pieces used for their advantage.

Resting my forehead against the bathroom door frame, I wonder why we can never feel joy with no other competing emotion. I think of the new life I’m carrying and of the celebratory calls made to my parents on the other side of the Atlantic. Grief always seems to thread itself over and under life’s happy moments.

With my eyes closed, I brace myself for a response from the shower. When there is none, I’m half-convinced he still hasn’t heard me but I know he has. The little shred of hope deflates from within us both and circles down the drain…continue reading on Coffee + Crumbs

I am so honored to have this essay chosen as the first place winner in Coffee + Crumbs Love After Babies contest.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash