Saturday, January 14, 2017

Welcoming Gloria

Gloria Leigh Sabera entered the world on January 9th, 2017 at 9:09 AM. It was 9 degrees outside. So our midwife, Robin, said when she arrived an hour earlier. I was aware only of bright sun on white snow. Of candles flickering in a row, given to us hours earlier at our blessing. Of kind hands and gentle, encouraging voices. Of quiet laughter and loud wails. The occasional thunk of wood falling in the wood stove. The sweet relief of hot water being poured by the potful into the birth tub. Of bones descending and a head full of hair making its way into the world.

On Sunday, 12 days before her due date, after returning from children's class, my water started leaking a bit. I've never been this early before, nor had this happen, so I was wholly unconvinced that this was the beginning of labor. I fixed lunch, tidied the house (just in case), laid down for 20 minutes to put Isaiah to sleep, and went downstairs for the blessing my mom was hosting. In lieu of a gift, I had requested a reading to add to our blessing book, a candle to light at the birth, and a bead to contribute to the baby's first prayer beads. It was a sweet and beautiful afternoon- a reminder that we do not raise (or even birth) our children by ourselves, nor do they belong to us alone.

A reminder I desperately needed--I have had a lot of anxiety during this pregnancy fueled by a hyperthyroid diagnosis at week 30 with potentially dire but unlikely consequences. Still, once fear is introduced, it is hard to eradicate. And because such a condition technically disqualified me from a home birth (though not literally since my midwives placed their whole trust in me), it did require a heightened level of monitoring and vigilance. And so, leading up to this birth, I have been humbled again and again, constantly reminded of the delicate balance between placing my whole trust in God and trusting wholly in my own ability to grow and deliver human life into the world. It is a strange place to live- between powerlessness and absolute power. But isn't that life? Realizing over and over that we are standing, yes, but standing because of and in the shadow of something greater than ourselves.

I was in a good place. I could do this. The baby could do this. And the roomful of women--mothers and mothered--were a reminder that alone is just an illusion.

But then I came upstairs. I was having more signs. Labor was looking more and more like a possibility. I grasped desperately for that confidence from earlier, but found fear instead, flapping its wings in the shadows. So I did the only logical thing: swept and mopped the floors. Lined up the candles on the window sill. Made space for the birth tub. Channeled the adrenaline. It took Sisay a while to take me seriously, but before going to bed he pulled the birth tub in from the porch and cleaned it out. (We had just picked it up two days prior, and almost hadn't at all.) I gave our midwife, Lindsay, a heads up, told her I wasn't sure yet where this was headed, and tried to get some rest. Unsuccessfully. My anxiety was mounting. My heart was racing. There wasn't enough oxygen in the air. There were lots of feelings and none of them were, 'You got this.' I asked Lindsay to come. Even if this wasn't it, I needed her. She arrived around 3 AM. We chatted, she took my blood pressure. It was so high she wouldn't even tell me what it was. I drank some chamomile tea, tried to lay down again. Finally I crawled into Sisay's arms and asked him to hold my heart 'so it wouldn't come out of my chest.' He did. For two hours. 'Safe' started to seep in at the edges. I dozed in and out of sleep.

And then it was 6 AM. Like clockwork, all three children woke up. Sisay got up to deliver them to the grandparents downstairs. And suddenly a weight lifted off of me. I hadn't realized that having them in my birth space had impacted me so strongly. Immediately, a strong contraction pulsed through my body. I smiled. I almost laughed. Finally, labor was a reality. With each contraction, a wave of confidence rushed in, taking with it wave after wave of anxiety. As soon as Sisay came back in, I asked him to fill the birth tub.

'So this is it?' he asked. 'Yes,' I smiled. 'This is definitely it."

There wasn't space anymore for worry. My body took over and I gladly surrendered. I spent time on hands and knees on the bed, hung out in the living room while Lindsay put her magic hands on exactly the right spots.

At 8 AM the tub was ready and I eagerly slid in. Our second midwife, Robin, arrived. We had just met her at our last appointment two days earlier, as she was just coming back from maternity leave. But midwives--good midwives--possess a certain ability to be both unobtrusive and fully present. She quietly and gracefully stepped in as my subtle cheerleader.

By now, bright sunlight flooded the room. I was both acutely aware yet oddly removed from my surroundings. With each contraction, I felt for my baby's head, marveling at its journey through me. When my water broke, I felt my bones reconfigure as she descended through my pelvis.

"I'm going to push her head out now," I announced. And with both tremendous effort--and restraint--I did. As soon as her head was birthed, she opened her eyes wide under water and swiveled her head all around to get a good look. I could still feel her kicking inside. And then out came a hand, waving at us. I held it until the next contraction. Lindsay wiggled her arm out and the rest of her followed. We pulled her up onto my chest together and suddenly I was staring into the face of our fourth child. Our perfect, tiny daughter. Sisay had been recording the birth in front of me and I quickly called him to the other side. "She's sticking her tongue out!" I laughed. I cried. I sighed. I did it. She did it. And we had not done it alone.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dear Samaya: 6

A little late...
Dear Samaya,

You turned six this week. I love six. Six is so rational. So independent. So mature. So completely unaware of time. Your last day of kindergarten was yesterday. Which means that Grandpa spent most every morning for the last 10 months biting his nails while you moseyed, sauntered, lollygagged, c.r.a.w.l.e.d your way to his car at your one and only speed. On Friday last week, I found you in the bathroom thoroughly flossing your teeth ten minutes after you should had already been gone. You’ll be damned if anyone attempts to interfere with your priorities. 
At school you are smart and social. You are most in your element surrounded by a gaggle of girls, effortlessly and invisibly directing the play. A boss without the bossy. (I hope!) Back at home, you often go straight to your room for some top secret six-year-old stuff. You’ve started to read, but haven’t found your confidence yet. Your inventive spelling is killer. You love math. You like gym, art, and library and dislike music. You recently founded ’The Cuckoo Club,’ whose mission it is to make people laugh. I get daily updates on the current membership. One friend in particular can’t decide whether she’s in or out. You adore this girl, so her enrollment status is of particular interest to you. 
At home, Auntie Aynit and Mena have been staying with us. Mena has been carrying around the doll you just got for your birthday for the last three days and you just take it in stride. You were born mature.
On Fridays when we have our toddler playgroup, the mothers hang out on the deck in confidence, knowing you are lovingly and diligently shepherding the littles somewhere just out of sight. Isaiah is forever screaming at you for this very same shepherding.
Most nights, after Violet has fallen asleep, I pull you out of bed to read chapter books together. Currently, we’re reading ˆThe Penderwicks. It is one of my most favorite moments of the day. Yours too, I think.
The day before your birthday, we had gone to a pow wow and you had begged and cried for a Native American shawl to no avail. So you made your own costume, dubbed yourself Singing Bird, and wore it to school. You gave out honey sticks to your classmates, then Daddy, Violet, you and I went out to lunch to your favorite restaurant, Loco Cocos. For a usually picky eater, you polish off a plate of nachos like nobody’s business.
Yesterday we had your friend birthday party--the first time you insisted on inviting all the girls in your class. It was lovely and sweet- four girls from your class swinging on the rope swing, playing on the slip and slide, making rainbow fruit necklaces, eating rainbow cake and ice cream.
You fill your own hours, take your own showers, write your own stories. You are my collector of treasures, my aspiring vegetarian, my lover of water, my expert eavesdropper. Always the optimist ('this is the best day of my life!')
Sweet. Sensitive. Six. 

*"Wunts a pon a tim thar was a flawr shee was lonlee shee was the onlee flawr the nd.” 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dear Violet (4)


Dear Violet,

On Thursday you turned four years old. You have known for a while now that you will start Pre-K when you are four, so on that morning when Samaya went to get dressed for school, you promptly followed her.  "Me too, right Mama? I have to get ready for school now, too. I'm four now."

And that is when you broke my heart a little bit. again. You do that rather frequently, and I think I finally realized why. I'm never prepared. I've known you your entire life. You lived inside of my life for nine months. But you, of all my children, are my greatest mystery. To the world, you are strong-willed and strong-mouthed and strong-armed. And even though this outer layer is paper thin, it is enough to fool even me. I know better, I do. I watch how when your little brother pulls your hair, you whip around in fury, arm cocked, and then melt into a puddle when you see him. Scratch at your surface, and a whole mess of raw, unfiltered love comes spilling out.*

The thing is, sometimes I forget to scratch. I see you hit your sister or wrench something out of your brother's hand and I see exactly and only this. On the days when I've had enough sleep though, remembered to say my prayers, and forgotten about the all-important to-do list,  I might take a second look--and see something else. A stab at justice. An over-tired/ hungry child. A tiny person who is feeling disconnected from her loved ones.

These are the moments when I march you to your room and, instead of slamming the door, I follow you in, cover you in kisses and tickle you until you beg me to stop. That outer gritty layer? Dissolved beneath my very fingertips.

It's not that I am surprised by your goodness. Rather, I am repeatedly in awe of how good, how pure-hearted, how thoroughly honest you are. Just this week when I asked why you had hit your sister, you replied matter-of-factly, "I didn't hit her. I punched her. It's not the same thing."

You offer others your food even though you LOVE food. You take away Daddy's headaches with a gentle massage. You stop mid-tantrum to comfort someone else in distress. And you give killer hugs.

You carry that big heart always in front of you, looking for other hearts to love. Everything else is irrelevant. For weeks, I tried to coax you into telling me what you would like to do for your birthday. All I could get out of you was a trip to the Kittery Trading Post to see the taxidermy moose. (Unfairly, you are also the funniest person in the family. Samaya and I frequently wet our pants.) As your big day approached, you repeatedly exclaimed, "I'm so excited!" 'What part are you excited for?' I asked. "The birthday part," you answered with absolute incredulity.

Right. Of course. Life is about living. loving. Not about doing. And that is why you are my precious gift.

Happy birthday, Violet Olivia.

*How fitting that you were born just two days before Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Class Valentines

 Samaya's kindergarten class is exchanging valentines on Friday and we made shrinky dink heart key chains for her classmates. I only do things that are crazy simple and this fit the bill. I cut out hearts on shrink film (4 per page), then the girls decorated one side with sharpies and wrote the names on the other side. We punched holes in each one, baked them for a few minutes, and attached the key chain rings. Finally we tied them to a simple heart valentine inscribed with Abdu'l-Baha's words on love: ..."let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ayyam-i-Ha 2015!

The adoption of a new calendar in each dispensation is a symbol of the power of Divine Revelation to reshape human perception of material, social, and spiritual reality. Through it, sacred moments are distinguished, humanity’s place in time and space reimagined, and the rhythm of life recast. 

So I'm pretty fascinated by how a manifestation can come and completely 'reimagine' our place in time and space. I'm not going to pretend to understand the implications of this, but I can at least rattle off a few facts about the Baha'i calendar...
  • There are 19 months in a Baha'i year, each named for an attribute (virtue) of God.
  • Each month has 19 days; hence the Nineteen Day Feast, or just 'Feast,' occurring at this interval.
  • To account for the solar year, the period of Ayyam-i-Ha occurs between the 18th and 19th months. Otherwise known as February 26 - March 1.
  • Quite literally, they are the days outside of time reserved for gift-giving, acts of charity, and celebration. 
One of the loveliest things about Baha'i holy days and festivals is that there are no traditions. Each individual/ family gets to hand-tailor them for their own specific situation. There have been a few religions before this one, so in addition to creating new traditions we have lots of tried and true traditions to draw inspiration from*. Right now, Baha'is around the world are preparing to celebrate Ayyam-i-Ha, and though there are certainly common elements, the celebrations will be as varied as the celebrators. We have been using this 'advent' calendar to count down the 19 days before Ayyam-i-Ha. Each morning the girls run to the calendar to see what the Ayyam-i-Ha fairy has left them.


And while treats are lovely and certainly serve to mark this time of year with sweetness and joy, I am even more interested in using this time to cultivate habits of the spirit in my still-small, still-impressionable children. I want them to wake up each morning and think, "How can I be of service today?" Because I know that if they can do this, they will have stumbled upon the secret to happiness. And if everyone can do this, we will have stumbled upon the secret to world peace.

Enter the kindness elves. 

Originally inspired by this idea, Matilda and Oscar arrive from Sweden each year to help us spread kindness for the 19 days (1 Baha'i month) before Ayyam-i-Ha. And during the actual days of celebration, they present the children with clues for finding their gifts hidden around the house. Everyone knows that the kindness elves aren't real. Everyone also knows that they are quite partial to chamomile tea before (our) bedtime. 


Their suitcase got delivered to our door the night before our countdown began, and in the morning the girls opened it up to discover their old friends and a suitcase full of Ayyam-i-Ha decorations. This year's list for spreading kindness and joy:

1. Decorate the house
2. Make 9-pointed star decorations.

3. Go Ayyam-i-Ha shopping for Daddy with Mommy.
4. Go Ayyam-i-Ha shopping for Mommy with Daddy.
5. Learn a new prayer.
6. Sing 'Happy Birthday' to a very special sister and shower her with love today!
7. Bake a cake for Violet's birthday party.
8. Help clean the house and decorate for the party.
9. Order seeds for your very own flower gardens in the spring.
10. Take a walk in the woods and feel gratitude for all that God has given us.
11. Make pinecone birdfeeders as gifts for our feathered friends.
12. Make Ayyam-i-Ha gifts for our friends.
13. Make gifts for Grandma and Grandpa.
14. Have an Ayyam-i-Ha-themed story time.
15. Listen to a story about Abdu'l-Baha giving cloaks to the people of Akka every winter, and donate some of your own clothes to the local homeless shelter. 
16. Make Ayyam-i-Ha cards for your cousins.
17. Have an Ayyam-i-Ha dance party!
18. Make gifts for Samaya's class.
19. Shovel a pathway through the snow in our backyard for a lantern walk tonight.

*Actually, I'm pretty convinced there's really just one unfolding religion

Saturday, January 31, 2015


We've had epic snowfall this week. I haven't written poetry in forever, but sometimes the world is too beautiful for 'so beautiful.'

Outside, faces up, powder dusts our lashes
and we blink them into drops,
changing winter into spring over 
and over. The black lines of
bushes flicker in and out of
so much white like television
and trees stand still so 
as not to disturb their 
perfect icing, a testament
to winter’s sweet tooth.
Where sky meets earth, 
a most delicate peach glow,
the only color in a world of snow.

Monday, January 19, 2015

(How) We Shall Overcome

--> Today was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As I'm sure it has in many families, the occasion has given rise to a number of opportunities for dialogue. Early this morning, Samaya and I found ourselves alone in the kitchen, everyone else still asleep. As she watched BrainPop's movie of the week on Dr. King, I stood over the pancakes at the stove marveling at how even a kid's app portrayal of this man can move me to tears.
"Why did they kill him?" she wants to know.

We've had this conversation repeatedly in various forms: the 'why do people do bad things to good people?' conversation. I’m not very good at it. I never feel like I nail it. If I can barely wrap my mind around it, I'm pretty sure my five-year-old is mystified. But sometimes the universe gives you answers to questions before they are asked. And occasionally you notice. 

Last night I was listening to the first episode of the new NPR show, Invisibilia. A freelance IT guy was talking about how, after his wife left him, he really struggled to be around people. He was becoming more and more of a recluse. It struck him one night that he was afraid of was rejection. He decided that if he was going to overcome this debilitating fear, he would have to face it head on. And so he made it a personal goal to get rejected at least once every day. It was harder than he thought. 

“There just aren’t as many no’s out there as you might think.”

“We’re always, always telling stories to ourselves about the situation we’re in and about other people. And that story becomes a reality for us. And that’s the problem,” he concluded.

This really resonated with me. Assuming my husband is thinking and feeling things he absolutely is not is our single biggest source of contention as a couple. I have been repeatedly made aware of the fact that the stories I tell myself are OFTEN inaccurate. I don’t think I’m alone. 

So when Samaya asks me why Martin Luther King was killed, I say: “Because a man told himself a story about how white people were better than black people. A story that his father probably told him. And he wasn’t willing to listen to any other story but that one.

The only reason why someone would do something bad to someone good is because they got the story all wrong.

We talk about how we all tell stories to ourselves constantly. And not all of them are true. For instance, she tells herself elaborate stories of monsters coming into her room at night. She’s terrified of cats and dogs. Of her brother falling down while walking, knocking out his teeth, and having to go to the hospital. And she can choose to believe these stories and be full of fear, or she can choose to challenge these stories and find out if they are true or not. And keep finding out. Because the thing about stories is that they are a product of the past. A new story is constantly being created. And it will never be exactly like the last story.

Abdu’l-Baha unequivocally asserted that, “the root cause of prejudice is blind imitation of the past.”

And it's anecdote:
“Among (Baha’u’llah’s) teachings is the independent investigation of reality, so that the world of humanity might be saved from the darkness of imitation and attain to the truth; might tear off and cast away this ragged and outgrown garment of 1,000 years ago and put on the robe woven in the utmost purity and holiness in the loom of reality. As reality is one and cannot admit of multiplicity, therefore different opinions must ultimately become fused into one.

How do we overcome prejudice? We investigate reality. Get to know each other. Become FRIENDS with one another. Realize that we are far more alike than we are different. And that those differences allow us to view more sides of the same truth. Like the blind men and the elephant, all our differing points of view, as if by magic, will fuse themselves into one reality. One human family.

On her way out the door to go to an indoor play place with the grandparents, I call to Samaya, “Make a new friend! That’s what Martin would have done.” 

She did, by the way. Her name is Lindsey.