A visit. Some self inquiry.

The Drive over Mountains in the Winter

Today I am visiting my parents’ home.  The kids and I made the 6 hour trek together over

foothills of the Appalachians           IMG_1917.

At one particularly guardrail-free mountain pass, the sky darkened and we were pelted by icy snow and mama’s knuckles were white.  We kept going in and out of little flurries the whole drive.

When the sun was out, the drive took us through some beautiful countryside.  Rolling hills, cows nursing calves, old red barns, and country homes that made us all say, “I want THAT one!”  (Sufyan and Laila are onto the house hunt).  It really was beautiful.

I’m proud that my kids have learned to travel well.  It’s a huge relief.  As any parent knows, packing for a trip can be a lot of work, but worrying about the meltdowns and pitfalls is equally exhausting.  I just don’t worry anymore.  I pack as well as I can (I over-pack) and then head out into the unknown.

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running some “doots” out at a rest area

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stopping to play makes the drive so much easier.

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we stopped at the same place on the way home.

After the experience last summer where I basically got sick in the middle of our trip and couldn’t drive or function and had to leave my kids with strangers while I puked, I was a bit nervous to take a long road trip alone with the kids again.   But I reasoned that I can’t let my fear stop me from traveling.  After all, we moved here just to be close enough to my parents to drive for an easy visit.

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we arrived just ahead of the snow.

We are visiting with a twofold purpose.  Well, threefold if you count seeing grandparents (which of course I do):

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drawing with Nana

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Laila is IN LOVE with this kitty. Her name is Chole. She is about 24 years old and Laila pretends to be Chloe at least once a week.

First, to meet our new cousin Emma.

Emma!  I’m so glad we got to spend time with this little girl!  She’s an amazing little person.  What a spark she has.  I don’t think I have ever met a baby quite as sure of herself or as happy to do new things.  She is bright, like her Mama.

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She seems to love her big cousins, too.  And it’s mutual.  There have been dance on the bed parties, splash in the bath parties, rise and shine giggle-fests and many sweet moments of just being family together.

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Sufyan dressed for bed in his Mardi Gras beads. They played so much they even played while going to sleep.

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Laila the big cousin

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Laila in particular is reveling in her role as big cousin.  She is so sweet to Emma!  This morning as Emma crawled over our bed, Laila silently got up and left the room.  She returned with a toy she picked for Emma and the 2 proceeded to play together with their airplanes.

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Laila has a care-taker streak that I knew about, but hadn’t seen in action with a little person before.  It’s great.

Second, to reintroduce myself to a dear friend whom I have held in my heart all these years

This trip was about something else big for me personally, too.  Emma’s mom is my cousin and childhood best friend whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years.  Growing up, we spent every possible moment together until sometime in late middle school.  All my childhood dreams, mischief, thoughts about life and who I was and would be…all of it is connected to her.  We had stables of imaginary horses, scads of bad ideas that got us grounded but made us laugh.  It was the kind of friendship that is only possible when you grow up with someone.

Then high school hit us…hard.  Like I said, we haven’t spoken in 20 years.  Isn’t there some saying about how the people who are closest to us are the ones with the most power to hurt us and vice versa?  Oh, I remember it now.  It goes, “High school sucks.”

There was a time when I thought the mountain of baggage between us was insurmountable.  But it turns out there is no solid obstacle between us.   All that stands between us is what we aren’t willing to understand about those really difficult years of adolescence, or what we aren’t willing to see with adult eyes.   The beauty of having her back in my life is that we can decide what we carry forward now.  And whatever we haven’t grown past and forgiven in ourselves,  that’s the work.  No great unknown.  Nothing insurmountable.  Lots of love.

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I couldn’t get over seeing my cousin, this person who I’ve known all my life but last saw when I was a teenager, playing with my son!

For me, all of the crap fell away as soon as I saw her (and the baby in her arms).  She has been the friend that I have unconsciously measured so many friendships by.  She was always there in my mind, in the way I look at the world and in the way I relate to other women.  She and I are long past achieving our goal to grow up and work together as vets or in a zoo, but we have the chance to be moms together now.  That’s a zoo of sorts, anyway.

When the visit ended, we said our goodbyes and made promises to see each other soon.  It’s hard, because we are separated by such a lot of miles (we each had to travel 6 hours to see each other and we each had a kid or 2 in tow).  But the miles weren’t what was keeping us apart all these years so they seem relatively small in terms of obstacles now.

Here’s to a new beginning of an old friendship.

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Laila says goodbye to Emma

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Sufyan gives Emma a serene little goodbye hug

Who am I, and what am I to me?

I am lucky to have several good female friends in my life, though they are all over the world (Amman, England, Ohio, Germany, Palestine, Texas, Pennsylvania–which is in fact another country, right Ki?) and it is with these women I am the least self conscious and the most “me”.  With my cousin, I have never been anything but “me”, although the “me” has changed somewhat since we last talked.   I kept wondering if what I am now is enough.  I haven’t had a moment of subversion or deviancy for years!   Am I as interesting as she hoped?  It’s making me wonder if what I am doing or not doing right now in my life is enough for me, too.

These are questions that in motherhood are hard for me to answer.  Am I living my life for me? Am I allowed to live for me right now when I am so needed by my little ones?  On the other hand, if I want them to know how to be themselves I should lead by example.  In that light, I feel pretty hemmed in.  It’s late.  I haven’t danced in the moonlight in a long LONG time.  Moonlight has generally meant that I should be asleep because sleep.  But how asleep am I?

I haven’t gone skinny dipping in years.  I never did burlesque and it’s clearly too late for that.   Did you even know I have a massive tattoo on my stomach?  And 2 others that also aren’t small?   How long since tattoos were even part of my “who I am” equation?

I never became a DJ (stop laughing!).  I haven’t designed those shoes.   I never painted my walls with art created by that special strange place in my head that turns on when I light candles and listen to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.  Or The The.  Or whoever.  When am I ever going to have intrigue again?  Maybe never.  Is that ok?  Is it shopping at J fucking Jill from now on????  Oh god. Get me to the nearest Goodwill.  Or not.  Am I even interested in vintage finds at Goodwill anymore?  WHO THE HELL AM I NOW THAT I AM A MOTHER?

These are questions and issues of timing I can’t quite lay to rest right now.  It’s good to question.  Do other moms feel like this?

Some pics of our trip:

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loving his new hat!

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Laila’s new hat!

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out for a walk in his new Eagle hat

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visiting good friends. I adore being in their beautiful, sweet space.

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quiet morning that only happens when I am out of my normal routine.  Need to do this more!

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His first hidden word puzzle!  He did it
all himself.  No help from Mama.
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“Mama, I’m feeling a little sad. I wish Baba was here.”

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exploring the town with Nana!

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exploring the town without Nana…or anyone else! Wait up, Laila!

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Hat Shopping at a Vintage store with Laila

We had so much fun trying on old hats.  Laila loved it as much as me.  She would put one on my head and say, “I like it.  Actually, I LOVE it Mama.  But it’s not quite the right style.  Let’s see…” and put another one on my head or on hers.

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she had to hold the mannequin’s hand!

Single Parenthood post #3

It’s bathtime.  Two zaluta kids in the bath beside me.  How I did I get lucky enough to be able to write right now?  How is my guilt allowing me to take a break from staring at them lovingly or uttering encouraging words or giving “helpful” directions on non-violent problem solving?   It’s called getting a grip.

Single parenthood rule #1:  I don’t have to be uber mom every second of the day.  My kids are perfectly happy (and totally safe) playing in the bubbles and arguing a little without my constant intervention.  Give it a rest, mom.

Single Parenthood, a story of numbers

It may only be 1 minute of happy play without my intervention.  Or 2.  I don’t care.  I’ll take it because in about 15 minutes there will be 1 parent and 2 bodies to dry and dress, 2 sets of teeth to floss and brush, 2 bladders to empty and 2 bums to wipe, 2 noses to blow.  After that there are 2 books to read, a bunch of hugs to give, 2 bedtime wishes and at least 4 versus of “All the Pretty Little Horses” and then 2 sleeping children.  Nope.  1 child will sleep within 10 minutes, and the other will toss, kick, laugh, talk, and otherwise avoid sleep for another hour or more while I try different techniques to be patient (it’s minute 45 lying in the dark when she is biting the toes of one foot while bouncing her other heel on the bed while humming where I start to unravel).  THEN there will be 2 sleeping children.  And 1 tired mom.

2 children will sleep until around 11pm when there will be 2 kids to gently wake (one at a time), 2 kids to quietly carry to the potty with bed-heads lolling on my shoulder, 2 bums to wipe, and 2 sleeping children to re-tuck into bed.  At which point I will be really tired and will consider taking a bath, then decide it’s too much work, and head to bed to get (4 hours?  5 hours?  7 hours?) of sleep.  I will turn the white noise machine down 3 notches, turn the monitor off with 1 click, and creep into bed between my 2 kids.

In the Night Kitchen

Then comes the night.  It’s become my favorite time.  My two little ones sleeping beside me,  I listen their soft breathing before I let go and sleep.  It’s a habit, and I bet a lot of moms do it.  We listen to make sure.  Just to make sure.

I’m there for their wake ups, their bad dreams, their sleep laughter.  My son is the waker-upper.  He will wake, realize I am not in the room and come storming out with his arms straight down at his sides, his eyes squinting and his face scrunched up in indignation.  “I keep telling you!  Don’t LEAVE me!”  When I hear him coming, I quickly get ready with a hug.  That’s all it takes.  He melts into tired tears, and is happy to be comforted back to sleep.  Lately, though, he’s been staying up with me for a while.  He’s hungry.  He’s sad that Baba is not here.  He’s awake.  We go down and get a little snack in the late-night kitchen by the light of the stove fan.  We have a tiny little “just us” party where everything feels draped in the importance of a future us looking back and remembering how sweet it was.  I adore these wake ups.  I treasure that little bit of time alone together with our own silly jokes and sleepy child hugs.  I’ve come to almost (almost) hope he wakes up.

Disposable? (note:  this entry is an observation of my own personal viewpoint changing and is not necessarily meant to reflect Palestinian attitudes or culture as a whole)

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It was a cheap, collapsible box (the kind that are covered in thin nylon) that highlighted a fundamental change in me.
My friend had been lining the cheap, collapsible box for use as a car trashcan.  I had been using her car, so I was changing the trash.  I noticed the box had a little mold growing at the bottom.  “Scrub it and put it in the sun”, I thought.   On the way to the sink I told my friend what I was doing and she said, “Oh, that’s ok.  Just toss it out.  I’ll get another one.”
What?
Toss it out?  Toss out a perfectly good, cheap, collapsable (and now moldy) box?  Scrub it!  Put it in the sun!  A little fresh air…right?
Is it possible that I would have said “toss it” before my life in the West Bank?  Yes.  While in Ramallah I had an inkling that a change was happening in me.  A change from “the world is my disposable coffee cup” to “I will wash that paper cup”.

Everything we acquired in Ramallah took a massive amount of effort.  It took me weeks to find bobby pins.  I searched everywhere:  at drug stores, the personal grooming aisle in the grocery store, a few we-sell-everything (except bobby pins) stores before finally finding them thanks to a friend’s tip at a tiny corner shop that sells scarves, sparkly make-up, slippers, Disney movie buttons, umbrellas…and bobby pins.  The effort of acquiring is not just due to the non sequitur stock of Ramallah stores, it’s also that things are just not as easy to get or replace over there.  Especially things that are made well.  When you find something that is just as you like it, the right granola or the perfect underwear, you’d be well advised to buy a few because you may or may not ever see it again.   We found a brand of toilet paper that we preferred and when there was political unrest around us, our supply of Turkish goods diminished.  Our toilet paper would disappear from shelves for weeks, which was how we figured out it was Turkish toilet paper.  The tiny grocery store in our neighborhood carried organic rice milk once, then organic instant oatmeal once, and then organic toddler snacks once and never again.  Nothing else in the store was organic.

Easier is not always better
Setting up a household required a huge effort.  When we first set up our house in Al-Tireh, we needed rugs in our kitchen to cover the shiny stone floors where liquid spills would make the kids slip and fall.  So we packed up our 2 kids, the baby carrier, and snacks, and went into the busy center of town called Al-Manara.

We parked and walked into the congested, smokey, loud streets of downtown.  We passed seemingly hundreds of shops filled to the brim and overflowing into the street with things:  candy, toys, socks, dresses, foodstuff.

Sufyan was overwhelmed and tired and nearly in tears when we reached the store that sold rugs.  After perusing the inventory and making a selection, price was discussed (I don’t say we “haggled” because the shop keeper was a friend of the family) and by now it had been about 2 hours and Laila had to nurse.  So we were invited to climb up the 3 foot wide staircase into the store room for privacy, where Laila fell asleep at the breast.  We paid and set back out into the crazy traffic and crowd.  My senses were inundated: other people’s shoulders nudging us, the noise of honking cars, the broken sidewalks, the smell of cigarettes and refuse, the unfamiliarity of it all.  When we finally got home with our 2 rugs the day was nearly gone and we had 2 relatively unattractive rugs that would serve the purpose.  It was an ordeal, with an investment of time and energy unequaled by ANY trip to Bed Bath & Beyond.  So over the year I washed those rugs.  I repaired them.  I cut strings off when they frayed.  Whatever we paid for them in shekels we tripled it in time and energy.  I did the same with other things.  I washed glass jars to use as storage, I carefully cleaned “disposable” ziplock plastic containers for reuse, I kept take-out cups for bath toys and second uses.  I duct taped toys rather than throw them out.  Come to think of it, there was an inordinate amount of duct taping of toys…one of the joys of everything being “made in China”.
Here in the states, however, if my kitchen rug falls apart there are a zillion cheap replacements waiting.  No special rug store required.  I can get a cheap kitchen mat in the same grocery store where I get my fru-fru organic peanut butter.  I could…but I won’t because now it kind of galls me to see all this disposable-ness.  While I fully admit that I like the convenience of life here (hot water on demand, for example), I am now more aware that just because I can throw it out doesn’t mean I should. Easier living isn’t always better living.  And while hindsight often makes things rosier than they were, I can tell you that having that story about getting rugs seems better to me than having just gone to BB & B.
The collapsable box, by the way, is clean and is serving as a trashcan again.

Parent Thought for Today: on making space (thank you, Carrie Contey.)

Sometimes we need actual, physical space. Stroller, books on tape from the library, kid safe headphones from Nana. They LOVE it, and I can have a little space for myself, too.

I have been struggling with what to do about the huge emotions and acting out that my kids are going through.  All the upheaval and change has been hard on them, and the manifestation of their difficulty is not always pretty.  In the last 3 weeks, since I am their only available parent, it’s been entirely my job to help them navigate these emotions.  I think I have erred on the side of over-parenting most of the time.  I am constantly coaching their reactions, offering them reflections, giving them alternatives, redirection their actions, and then sometimes losing it and barking at them.  Then my favorite parenting coach (see link above) gave me this gem:  make space.

Leaping Laila

It changed everything.  It’s more than just taking a deep breath, it’s getting the hell out of their way and letting them have their ugly emotions and unpleasantness.  Or it’s not talking immediately when there is a problem.  It’s the silence that says, “I am listening instead of telling”.  I started to think about what I would do if someone followed me around all day and coached me about how to feel my feelings and what to do with my anger/frustration/sadness.  I think I would want to punch that person, which is just about what my kids have wanted to do to me.  Of course children need more guidance and assurance, but even so.  Make some space.  Open up a little room for things to be said, to come out without being shaped and held without being instantly commented on.  I have learned so much more this way than I was learning with my constant coaching.

Flying Sufyan

Yoga Thought for Today:  on the power of making space in my practice

I was in a lunge, and Laila came stumbling in after her nap.

I have to make space for my kids in my practice.  I have to make space for my breath, my organs, my aching feet, my tired and anxious mind…and my kids.  I once again find myself making the playroom into the yoga space.  Which is funny, because I (and most yoga moms I know) gave up my yoga room for the baby when my first child came along.  Now, the kid’s space is giving a little back to the yoga space.

Single Parenthood post #2. Not so bad…

New Appreciation

magnolia tree in full bloom. For my friend C, back in Austin with her new baby.

Tonight I am sitting in the dark of the playroom.  The new playroom.  Actually, the 6th new playroom my kids have known in 2 years.  Last week was abysmal.  This week has been pretty damn good, all things considered.

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Laila and Mama on the plane on the way to this new life. Also travel weary.

On a morning last week, after posting about failing as a single parent and crying myself into a tears-hangover that lasted the entire next day, I got an email from a friend who is a veteran of single motherhood.  In the email she gently reminded me to cut myself some slack in certain areas of life.  Then a flood of comments with a theme:  be more gentle to yourself.  And also:  This time is fleeting and you will have good memories of your season as a close-knit family of 3.   So true.

Since landing here, though things are difficult given that we miss Baba and Mama is taxed by trying to make things feel light and childhood-like while not dismissing anything this family has gone through, life has actually been easier than it was in Ramallah.  Easier here in someone else’s house, thousands of miles from my husband, living with an inordinate number of animals in various stages of old age and sanity, life is easier.

I might as well admit to enjoying American life a little more than I remember.  I have a totally new appreciation for the perks of life here:  hot water on demand.  Well tended roads.  Traffic laws.  Municipal systems to turn to when you need a system (who operate with a feeling of urgency in returning things to normal when something goes awry—like if the power goes out).  Public parks.  Recycling.  No Israeli Military check points, no occupation, I have not seen a dude with a gun standing on my street in nearly 2 months.  I have not seen sewage.

Deserving it?

I don’t deserve these perks more than people I left behind in Ramallah.  It’s not about deserving, it’s about access (among other things).  Access to money and political power.  Palestinians and their situation might as well be invisible here.  While cleaning in the first days here, I came across a photo from a few weeks ago that was in the NY Times, maybe even the front page.  It was of 2 Israeli soldiers firing automatic rifles.  The note under the photo simply said that Israeli soldiers had fired upon Palestinian stone throwers in the village of Al Ram.  Ho-hum.

Wait, wait, wait…they fired AUTOMATIC RIFLES on STONE THROWERS.  This is not apples to apples, or tit for tat.  This is not 2 parties at “war”.  This is automatic weapons on people wielding stones.  On a playground, if kids throw sand at other kids and the other kids retaliate with metal baseball bats, we’d say that was uncalled for, unfair and even PSYCHOTIC.  To say nothing of the fact that the people wielding stones have been living at the mercy of the power of the Israeli military and political machine for generations now.  And still, no one was talking about the incident around me.  You would think that people would be concerned about the use of such force against essentially unarmed captive civilians, particularly in America where a huge amount of our tax money pays for those weapons.  You’d think that people might be concerned enough to mention it to us, fresh from life in Palestine.  All this talk of Palestine around us ought to jog someone’s memory…but no one mentioned it.  I saved the picture for a while before it got too depressing and I tossed it.

Back off the soapbox

When I was living in Ramallah not so long ago (and a lifetime ago), I felt strongly the lack of play spaces for my kids.  Maybe that’s an understatement.  Let me rephrase:  I never shut up about the trash, dangerous playground equipment and unpredictably locked private playgrounds.  Particularly I felt the lack of outdoor play spaces that were safe enough to just let kids roam, get dirty, jump and fall without much fear (of broken glass or things that poke or things that are just too icky to mention).  We are making up for lost time it seems!

Playing outside in the mud and rain?  Check.

wet foot print art. we've had some awesome rainy days.

Beautiful nature preserves and outdoor exploring?  Check.

waterfall over a recess cave

exploring off road with grandpa.

she's so tiny.

us behind the waterfall in the cave.

of course, the outhouses left a little to be desired...here they are NOT braving the outhouse. We braved the leaves behind a tree instead.

Family neighborhood for walks and bike rides?  Check.

first real bike!

Playgrounds with a distinct lack of broken glass and/or inherently dangerous equipment?  Check.

running!

However, even with all that American life has to offer, I finally miss Ramallah.  There is always a wall of sound here, for example.  No quiet nights with echoes across the wadi.  I miss it.  There is a sense of personal freedom to do whatever you are interested in doing, but no common cause to unite people.  No occupation (good thing) but also no instant common ground (not so good).  People stay wrapped up in their own lives more, and are not as close to family.

In a way this feels like homesickness.  But as always, I am hard pressed to say where exactly home is.   I am still wondering where we belong as a family and where I belong as a person.  Luckily my kids keep me too busy to wonder for long.

Yoga Thought for Today:  on starting over

no asana photo...just this peaceful scene.

It was only 40 minutes.  My sacrum ached, my shoulders were grumbling.  I felt like I was made of lead pipes filled with cold water:  unbendable, off-balance, heavy.  But it was a yoga practice… and that’s where it starts.  It’s the fact that I have started again that matters.

Parent Thought for Today:  sleep routines that don’t match.  Soliciting advice.

sleeping Laila. It took 2 airplanes to do this.

I am currently trying to figure out what to do for my daughter.  She will not go to sleep.  After brushing and flossing my 2 kids teeth, I read books then kiss them goodnight.  I turn off the lights.  My son is asleep within 10 minutes.  My daughter stays up for another hour or more whispering to herself, talking to me, rolling side to side and up and down the bed, laughing, kicking the bed, telling jokes.  It’s super sweet…but it’s really hard to be amused instead of frustrated when the night is literally the first chance all day for me to have a moment to myself.  By which I mean clean, do laundry, put away toys…you know.  Real “me” time.  HA.

I am thinking of buying her a little tent and filling it with simple, soft toys and books and a little flashlight.  I am thinking that she might need a more time to stay up and read or play quietly while I wash my face or put away laundry nearby.  Or maybe while I wait/sleep in the bed until she is ready to sleep.  That’s my best idea.  Anyone have a better one?