Uncategorized

The Awkwardness of Holding Both, the Permission to Do It Anyway

There are thirty-one boxes of mine taking up real estate in my parents’ home, much to their protests. Isn’t that what inevitably happens when children grow into adults? They don’t have room at their place for sentimental keepsakes or items not needed at the moment, and so it all makes its way back to their parents’ basement.

In any event, I have boxes of all sizes sitting like pieces of Tetris on storage shelves there. I know the exact number because I counted and made a list the last time I was home. None of the boxes are opened. A brand new set of kitchen knives, baking dishes, blender, rice cooker, espresso maker, cheese grater, and more wait to be cut open, taken out, and used. Almost everything was bought with gift cards given to us when we got married four years ago and again as graduation gifts when my husband finished his master’s last year. 

It is there, deep in a basement in North Dakota, where our imaginary future lies—one we had envisioned together even before we got married. Those boxes were meant to be used in our life in the US, a sort of nest egg put together by bits and pieces over the years, representing our dream of a life no longer overseas: a Kitchen-aid mixer placed on the counter in a just-moved-in apartment, begging for someone to mix a batter of cookie dough; a spice rack filled with tiny glass jars, a colorful representation of our bicultural family; a coffee machine waiting to be brewed faithfully every morning. 

But then a travel ban happened, barring my husband from entering the US solely due to the passport he carried. It forced us to get married in a country that was home to neither of us, our lives coming to a screeching halt. During four years, deadbolt after deadbolt was installed and latched, pushing us further from our future. After the implosion of the US immigration system, we scrambled to find anything that might be a key. The dream of living in the US was a shore that drifted just out of reach, a place of refuge that we could never quite grasp. We remained in Turkey.

Over time, those boxes became buried under plastic totes filled with photos taken decades ago and other boxes containing childhood stuffed animals, Christmas decor, and china sets. My mom would add a cloth shower curtain, and my sister a picture frame and some coffee mugs, signs they hadn’t given up hope, even though our imaginary future began to collect dust. 

For so much of our marriage, we have been living in the short term. This is seen in how we’ve furnished our apartment in Turkey. Most things were bought second-hand or were used items passed on to us from friends. I can probably count on one hand how many items we purchased new and at full price. If we had to leave at a moment’s notice, we could easily shed this current life for the one we desired because none of the pieces held much sentimental or monetary value to us.

It took us well into our daughter’s first year of life before we even considered putting together a nursery for her. We had the spare room, that wasn’t the issue, but the emotional energy it took to put down even shallow roots was a lot. But as she neared her first birthday, we did it anyway. We needed to and she deserved a space of her own. We didn’t paint and we bought very little, if anything, new. This helped quell the sting of making our house a home here and not there. What was once a dream reserved for our life in the future, was altered to fit our life in the present.

***

The other night, Afshin and I sat on the floor of Esther’s room, getting her ready for bed, something we tag team each night. He was reading a book in Farsi to her, one where daddy animals kiss their babies. He read a line: “Daddy giraffe kisses his calf’s neck,” causing Esther to squeal and run around the room, anticipating kisses from her dad.

I sat cross-legged leaning up against the wardrobe with a sippy cup of warm milk in hand, watching as they finished up this part of the nightly routine. I must have had a strange look on my face because Afshin lifted his head from the floor where he was now laying, curious to know what I was thinking. The book had ended with smooches all over and somehow Esther had gotten herself on top of him, each leg straddling his stomach, no doubt retaliating for the kissing. If the effects of my husband’s life of displacement had touched her in any way, it didn’t show. She forced him to lay back down with a shove and a mischievous smile and continued bouncing. 

I didn’t know how to describe what I was thinking, watching my family play and laugh together in this room in the middle of Turkey. It was this realization that life was happening right here, right now. Our tiny family of three was all under one roof, growing and blossoming, making memories, and settling into a calm pattern. These are the good old days. I felt a pinprick of guilt needling its way in as soon as that thought crossed my mind, like, if I acknowledged that this moment was good—a joyful little morsel amid hardship—that it would somehow seem as if I’m dumping aside any hope for the future. 

When I do spot a sliver of delight while living here—whether it be posting a photo of our family on the beach or a video of us at a playground on a warm day—I’m met with well-intentioned friends commenting on how it seems we are blooming where we are planted or how we’ve let God use us in this hard season. I cringe at these comments. Is this what our life looks like from the outside?

I think of how one-half of my family is living in displacement. When I post videos of our weekend vacation, what people don’t see is the stress it took to make that happen. No one sees the permission my husband had to get from the police to leave our province—something never guaranteed for a refugee and is a stark reminder that they have no rights here. My mother-in-law applied three times and got denied each time. No reason was given as to why and she had to stay behind. There was also the stress of evading police check points along the way to the beach. Police are notoriously fickle, even with the right papers, and could send my husband back to our city at any point. No one sees how he’s missing half an eyebrow in those seaside pictures—an outward sign of how he copes with the inward turmoil and trauma of being displaced.

Blooming we are not.

It takes a special kind of privilege to be able to bloom where you are planted, to grow and thrive and accept your circumstances. In fact, you cannot bloom where you are planted if your feet are being violently forced into the ground by great powers above you. You cannot bloom where you are planted if the soil is poor and shallow.

What good is a weekend vacation when the waiting is indefinite and no country wants you? To make someone wait indefinitely is one of the most twisted abuses of power, is it not? This is the life of a refugee.

And this is the source of my guilt.

***

Every day after her nap, Esther and I walk to the park behind our home. It was unusually windy this particular afternoon, while we squatted under a group of trees, examining the dried leaves already on the ground. Autumn had made itself known and the trees were a smattering of golds and scarlets that weren’t there a week ago. 

We fell into a simple game of me picking out a leaf (the crunchier the better) for Esther, where she then crushed it in her hand and disposed of the little pieces in a pile by her feet. Back and forth we went. But we’d stop our game each time the wind picked up. The already fragile leaves clinging desperately to their branches could not withstand the gusts of wind, causing a flurry of color to rain down around us. The leaves came alive, collectively chattering as they skittered across the pavement, creating a welcome mat on the ground for the coming colder, barren months.

I’m not one to use the word “magical” to describe everyday things often, but I’d use that word now. To watch my child’s eyes in wonderment, her hands outstretched, as a great whirlwind of leaves circled us, was magic. 

Maybe this was autumn’s way of laughing even though it was grieving summer’s end. Maybe each time the wind picked up, the swirl of leaves, dropping like pieces of confetti, was a gift from a season before and a gift for a season to come. 

Whatever it was, I found myself thinking those guilt-drenched words again: These are the good old days.

It takes a lot to face this monster head-on and shout that the good and the beautiful are happening right now. But I’m learning I can spot a sliver of good now while still honoring the grief I carry for our imaginary future. My hope for a life beyond this one still clings to me, like a child to his mother’s hem. Those thirty-one boxes aren’t going anywhere. They’re stacked in a basement an ocean away, waiting for our homecoming—a gift for a season to come.

Looking for the good doesn’t mean you’re blooming or that you’ve given up hope for a better tomorrow. It may mean you’re only surviving, remaining dormant until conditions change. Like the crunchy leaves raining down on us, it may look like a tiny spark of magic in a desolate season.

It feels scary to acknowledge the good during the hard, but here’s your permission to do it anyway. May we not overlook the magic in the everyday as we stretch our eyes forward. But may we also not lose hope for a future safe and secure. 

Hold both the good and the hard in all their discomfort and awkwardness. I’ll do the same. While yearning for a world that has yet to exist, we’ll be over here, making room for delight to thread its way in.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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 the series “Unmaking Fears”.

Our Story

Red Light Green Light

A little finger pokes itself into my eyelid causing me to fully wake up. The thick blanket I threw over the curtain rod does a pretty good job of blocking out the sun, but with a cloudless sky, the morning light still finds a way to push through the window.

Before having a baby, I swore I wouldn’t bed share. I read in a book how French parents never let their kids into their bedrooms much less their beds, something about creating a sense of mystery about adulthood I think. I didn’t totally catch the reasoning but it sounded great to pre-kid me. Of course, I’d do that. Why didn’t everyone do that? Keep those babies far away from me in the early mornings. Let that mystery abound…or something.   

But here I am at 6:45 am with a chubby finger pinching my eyelashes and a wide-eyed baby staring at me. She glued herself to my side for the better part of the night forcing me to sleep in one position on the very edge of the bed. I remind myself that I am solo parenting this summer and she did spend the first few hours of the night in her crib at least and that makes me feel a little better. 

“Eyes. Those are mommy’s eyes,” I say drawing out the last word, my voice still groggy. I try to remember the Farsi word for eyes, feeling guilty for all the English commands she’s starting to understand. But it’s too early in the morning for a bilingual lesson. She paws my face away and laughs, quickly growing bored of naming body parts.

What was supposed to be a six-week trip back to the US to visit family has turned into a whole summer. For various reasons, the departure date changed three different times—first to the beginning of July, then to the middle of August, and now to the beginning of September.

Since marrying Afshin, who holds refugee status in Turkey, we have lived in a way where the endpoint is continuously moving. Maybe we’ll be gone by Christmas, maybe the New Year, for sure by the summer. Like a single cord, the shifting conclusion constantly pulls us forward, and before I know it, five years have passed. 

This summer was no different. Six weeks turned into two months which turned into over 100 days. When Esther and I left Afshin at the airport this May, we’d only expected to be away for a short time. We hadn’t planned to be gone all summer. Hence my concern over Esther’s lack of hearing much Farsi and only seeing her dad through the phone. 

I wish I remembered where I read this, but someone likened this last year and a half to the children’s game of “Red Light Green Light”. Stop go stop go. Freezing for who knows how long on red then sprinting as fast as one can while on green. The writer was referring to the pandemic but I think it aptly describes our family’s reality over these past several years. That tiny thread drags us forward, stops us in our tracks, then yanks us into motion again. 

“But did you see the video of the baby?” I ask Afshin who is on the other side of the screen 6,000 miles away. I’m curled up on the couch in my parent’s basement with the video monitor next to me. He is in our apartment in Turkey, his phone propped up on the desk, his focus on his computer just off screen. Esther is napping in my high school bedroom where there are still picture frames of teenage friends lined up on the bookshelf and magazine clippings of sappy quotes tacked to the wall, remnants of my life from over a decade ago. Now I’m back with my own child this time. But my husband has stayed behind, still waiting for his allowance to enter the US, still waiting to see my life here, still waiting for stability and certainty. 

“A baby. Someone gave them their baby.”

I’m referring to the video circulating the internet where desperate people crowd US soldiers in Afghanistan. In one clip, an infant is offered up above the crowd. A soldier reaches down over the barbed wire and takes the baby in his arms.

I bristle at my husband’s cavalier response to seeing the video and I am once again reminded of how we function as a couple—half US citizen, half refugee, always one foot on each, straddling that messy middle.

After seeing the video of the baby right after watching throngs of people holding onto a military plane taking off, I had to delete Instagram off my phone for the weekend. I thought of Esther napping a few feet away from me. It was all too much for my heart to take. More guilt seeps in as I know how privileged I am to be able to shut out the horrors of the world just by the press of a button.

But he’s seen this before. His own people have gone through this. He’s living this now. The desperation, the willingness to do anything if it meant safety. The agony and fear running so deep that handing over your flesh in the name of security is the only option. He can’t shut it out. 

We video chat throughout the day, as much as an 8 hour time difference lets us. Through our conversations over FaceTime, I am struck by how we can jump so easily between topics these days, shifting from the good and the not-so-good without missing a beat. In one breath we chat about the size of diapers Esther is in now and when she napped that day. In the next, we wonder how long we’ll be in Turkey and the absolute injustice of being displaced. We talk of the sadness of leaving my family coupled with the goodness of the three of us being back together.⁣ 

I fill up Esther’s sippy cup and buy ranch-flavored puffs while thinking about being a wife and mom and what it might be like to raise a daughter in Afghanistan or Iran. How lucky we are. And I say things like, “You should have seen her eating her rice last night!” and a minute later, “You should have heard the things they said about refugees.” 

There are video calls showing Afshin the inside of Walmart, discussing our uncertain future while putting salad kits and rotisserie chicken in the cart. I send videos of Esther taking her first independent steps and then footage of people’s bodies falling from the wings of a plane. Pictures of a Starbucks cup, freshly painted nails, cities under siege, fleeing on foot. Giggles and horror. The everyday and the unbelievable. It’s a pendulum constantly swinging or maybe it’s just a chaotic swirl of everything, too complicated to pick apart.⁣

It’s never just joy and nothing else. These days, there’s never a time to savor joy, really savor it, letting it roll around our mouths without any other competing emotion. It’s tiring feeling joy and _____, both/and, always juggling the two. Always swinging back and forth just like we jump back and forth between topics.

Because I’ve lived in on the corner of bitter and sweet for some time now, I’ve learned the importance of looking for even just a speck of good. In her weekend blessing, author Lore Ferguson Wilbert writes, “I hope more than anything else that you found goodness. Sometimes it’s hard to see through the fog of what surrounds us, but I just keep reminding myself that it’s there, somewhere, just through that fog, waiting to be gathered by the handful when the time is right.”

I think about that—the fog that surrounds us, the hard and the heavy—as I hold Esther’s hands up above her, walking in tandem around my parents’ front yard. We stop to examine a damp leaf, crouch down to touch the rough gravel, stomp our feet in a leftover puddle. She’s getting over a cold and her nose is a faucet and her tissue is my pant leg. I think about how our neighborhood aunties in Turkey would be clicking their tongues if they knew Esther was outside in the cool air with a cold. The sun shines through the trees casting dancing leaves across the siding of the house, catching Esther’s attention. A swirl of light—such a hopeful, beautiful thing. Goodness through the fog.

Maybe I can’t fully savor joy all by itself. Not right now. But the little moments of abbreviated joy, uninterrupted for only a second, are worth noting too. 

I wish I had the words to share about what’s happening in the world right now and in our life. I wish I knew where we are in the story, when the conclusion will come. I wish I knew how long this chapter would last and if I should buy blackout curtains or make do with a blanket over a curtain rod, if I should pack Christmas decorations or if we’ll be gone by then. I wish I knew when the light would turn green and stay green. 

But all I have is a sleeping baby one room over who pokes my eyes and laughs when I blow raspberries on the back of her neck, who naps with her bottom in the air and a fuzzy blanket grasped in her fist. Peaceful and simple and settled. And maybe that’s life. Everything and all the things. The hard, the good, the ordinary, and the unknown.⁣ I don’t know when the conclusion will come, but in the meantime, when it’s right, I will try to gather the goodness—by the handful.

Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash

Our Story

For Some Things There Are No Wrong Seasons

Hefting the damp fabric over the line taut across the balcony, I secure the freshly washed bedsheet the best I can with the clothespins between my teeth. Our landlord and his wife are down in the garden below. He’s tilling the dirt inside the perimeter of freshly laid pavers, preparing for a summer garden, while his wife watches him work a few paces back. No doubt she’s throwing a nagging comment or two his way.

Before moving to Turkey, I’d never hung clothes on a line. I was strictly a dryer girl back in the States, but dryers are hard to come by here. After years of living here, I still wonder if there’s some sort of unspoken rulebook for hanging laundry among the Turkish housewives. Is there an official way to hang bedsheets so they don’t flip over the line when a big gust of wind comes, twisting everything together? What’s the etiquette when said wind blows your pair of jeans off the line and they land on your neighbor’s balcony (something that may have happened to me more than once)? And what is supposed to be done with underwear? Are they ever clipped to the line? Where else do they go? Lord help me if one of them ever blows off onto my neighbor’s balcony.

“Many refugees got their flights scheduled yesterday,” Afshin says. He’s on the other end of the balcony, holding Esther as she waves to a passing police car. It’s a new skill she’s learned but she only really waves to cars and dogs. We always try to get outside for some fresh air in an attempt to squeak out a few more minutes before her morning nap. We’re under lockdown though, so the balcony will have to do.

I’m crossing my fingers the landlord’s wife doesn’t notice me three stories up as I struggle to clip the wet duvet to the clothesline, possibly breaking one of those unspoken rules. I can imagine her tut-tutting at the foreign girl who knows nothing about keeping a home. The duvet makes a loud snap in the morning wind as the bottom hits against the wall of our building.

It’s mid-May and already the dry, arid Middle Eastern heat has made its presence known. Our landlord’s grapevines are just beginning to produce small leaves and even smaller grapes, creeping along the backyard trellis. The kittens born from the mangy street cats are mewling; the line of fuzzy ducklings follows their mother. As if on a cue unbeknownst to me, all the neighbors lug out their heavy carpets, musty from the months inside, and beat out the dust with a sharp, solid crack of a wooden pole.

I don’t say anything to Afshin’s announcement about the refugees going because what is there to say, really? Desperate people are getting their tickets out of Turkey, in part thanks to Biden’s raising the refugee cap. And thank God for that. After years of living in precarious limbo and weathering four years of an anti-immigration administration, they can finally move on. Relief for them is coming. But, as things would have it, we’re still here.

I continue pinning pillowcases to the clothesline—easier than the duvet and easier than responding.

I read once that the feet of displaced people are shoved into cement shoes when they flee. That may sound like a paradox, but when one runs from the jaws of the shark of war, persecution, and violence, they soon become stuck in the nearest country. And they are forced to stay there until another, third country maybe accepts them. This can take years. Sometimes this never happens. The feet that carried them away from danger now glue them into a place of instability and uncertainty. It’s difficult for roots to grow in instability for the ground is never solid for those who flee.

It’s been seven years since my husband fled his home, running from the hands of the monster of a government, seven years of wearing cement shoes. It’s been seven years of watching the light of his dreams flicker as he finished his 20s and now approaches his mid-30s this summer.

We feel left behind, my husband, daughter, and me—even though two out of three of us are U.S. citizens. But we cannot move back home without breaking up our family. And so, the anxiety mounts as we watch those who came before us leave, watch as our community shifts and moves on, as others put their dreams into action, get to flourish, and grow. But we are here. We’re still here, balancing carefully on a tight rope with an ever-shifting endpoint up ahead.

Mary Oliver has a poem called “Hurricane” that pops into my head while clipping the sheets to the line. The poem is about how a hurricane left devastation in its wake, and yet, towards the end of the summer season, the trees that had been decimated began to grow and blossom. It was the wrong season, yes, / but they couldn’t stop.

“That’s a good thing,” I finally tell Afshin as I gather up the leftover clothespins after Esther had enthusiastically tipped over the container. She loves to dump anything and everything out of baskets these days. “It’s a good sign that refugees are getting their flights scheduled. Things are moving in the right direction.”

Our time hasn’t come yet. I wrestle with that grief now more than ever as we raise our daughter oceans away from family—not like I ever imagined. This hurricane has slammed into our life, cutting down our branches and assailing our plans. But maybe we are not behind, not just yet. Maybe new things are happening and growing but we just can’t see them. Maybe that fragile cable we are balancing on is leading us to hope. In fact, I know that to be true. Maybe we are measly little sticks right now but somewhere deep down, green is growing, waiting to burst forth.

The closing line of Mary Oliver’s poem goes like this: “For some things / there are no wrong seasons. / Which is what I dream of for me.” May this be a prayer for those who feel left behind, for those weathering hurricanes, for those in cement shoes, for us all.

Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

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