Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Darkness of the Womb

It has been three months since Gloria's birth. Three months since she emerged from the darkness of the womb. I wonder what she was thinking during that long night. Her last night in the only world she knew. As the walls of her home closed in on her, literally forcing her out, was she conscious of hope? Or at least wonder? Or was it only fear?
In the early stages of labor it was me who was consumed with fear, blood pressure through the roof, heartbeat racing. But her heart, perfect and steady, calmed me. My husband calmed me. Later, fear having left me, could she feel the fierceness of my love, my unshakeable trust in her and me and Him? I hope so. When she emerged, head swiveling in all directions, certainly then she felt wonder. Followed by the fear of finding yourself in a foreign country and recognizing absolutely nothing. Her cries felt panicked and incessant. But her cries also felt victorious. It meant that what we had just done was scary as hell, but we had done it anyway. We learned that we can do scary things. We can do hard things. Together. 

And isn't that what life should be about? This exchange of hope. The constant dance of reassuring whichever one is in need or reassurance in order to keep going. We seem to find ourselves at a major crossroads at this particular point in history. The place where all 7.5 billion of the world's people suddenly find themselves merging onto the same road, faced with the impossible task of crossing one bridge. Together. It feels dangerous. It feels highly unlikely. It feels terribly uncomfortable to be shoved up against so many who are so different from ourselves. But the momentum of an entire planet's worth of people makes us powerless to stop this process.

The Sikh Activist and lawyer, Valarie Kaur said in her recent speech

“And so the mother in me asks, what if? What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead, but a country that is waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor? What if all of our grandfathers and grandmothers are standing behind us now—those who survived occupation and genocide, slavery and Jim Crow, detentions and political assault—what if they are whispering in our ear today, tonight “you are brave”? What if this is our nation’s great transition?
“What does the midwife tell us to do? Breathe. And then? push. Because if we don’t push we will die. If we don’t push, our nation will die. Tonight we will breathe. Tomorrow we will labor in love. Through love. And your revolutionary love is the magic we will show our children.”
So let's push across this bridge together, holding the hands of whoever happens to be nearest. Let us hope that bridge will hold us, since there is no other way across. Let us reassure each other along the way. Comfort one another. Love each other across. Because on the other side, we will see that there are no more lines in the sand. We will have arrived in the land of oneness. It still won't be easy. Neither is getting along with your family. But they are family. We are family. And in a family, there is no more 'us' and 'them.' There is only 'we.'

Baha'u'llah said:

The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye. 

I think, if we look with the 'eye of oneness,' we will see that we are all 'His glorious handiwork.' We are all family. In the truest possible sense.

Justice will follow.

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 Λ†The 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

snow

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
static
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.