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.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

How to Thrive When the Third Child is Born

A number of friends are expecting or have recently had their third child, and it got me thinking about exactly why the birth of our own third child felt so incredibly...easy. This is not meant to be boastful in any way. It is more a testament to the family, friends, stars, and gods that aligned to make the sweetest year of my (our?) life possible. So forget surviving. Here's how to thrive when your third child is born:

1. Accidentally have the first two way too close together. Preferably of the same gender. Then wait long enough that they play (and fight) really well together. When baby comes, it will be almost like having an only child again, without the obsessive worrying/urge to constantly entertain that came with baby #1's territory. Plus periodic conflict resolution.

2. Especially at the beginning, but for as long as you can manage, let your agenda consist of nothing. Not even food. Let other people do that. I would do anything, ANYTHING, to wake up again and have no other thought besides, 'I'm alive! I LOVE being alive! And I love my babies!' For the rest of my life, I will be on a mission to be as fully present as I was those first months.

3. Speaking of food, make sure a friend has organized meals for your family using MealBaby or Meal Train. If they haven't, make your mom do it. Graciously accept the food at the door and kindly tell them you will let them know when the family is ready for company. Unless you're one of those folks that prefers to be surrounded by a constant stream of visitors the moment the baby pops out. I have met this mother. She does exist. For the rest of you, I give you full permission to hibernate. 

3. Have a husband who takes a month off from work and wakes up every morning to cook pancakes for the big kids. And then have the presence of mind to realize how awesome he is and tell him so.

4. Realize that you've had a partner all along who has been helping and who is happy to help even more. Now that you don't have a choice, let him, you control freak. Who cares if he uses too many dryer sheets and he does the girls' hair funny.

5. Don't ever for a second feel guilty that the other two are in any way deprived. If they are acting like hellions, act appropriately (ie. tickle torture them.) But if they are fine, be fine too. Actually, they're way better off because you're less helicoptery and they have each other.

6. Don't bathe them too often. That's what wipes are for. I can't tell you exactly how often I bathe the baby because Child Protective Services might pay me a visit.

7. Forget trying to get the baby on a schedule. I'm going to let you in on the best kept secret in the business: Babies sleep when they're tired. Despite quite a few (one might even say 'many') people actually having had a baby, this is a little known fact. I tend to believe this is because the American Academy of Pediatrics, hundreds of baby sleep books, and thousands of articles, blog posts, and parenting forums brainwash parents before they even have a chance to hold a real live baby and come to their own conclusions. The sheer number of voices on the subject drown out the only two voices that really matter: the baby's and yours. It is true that if your goal is to produce a baby that sleeps through the night in her own private nursery flat on her back as dictated by said books/articles/AAP, you will most certainly have your work cut out for you. It will not be pleasant. And depending on the method, many believe it is potentially damaging. Even if you succeed, your baby will start teething a week later and you will be back at square one. And then she will get sick. And then you will go on vacation. Just don't. It's not worth it. Listen to your baby and yourself. Maybe you have a baby that loves being snuggled in a wrap for daytime naps. Maybe you have a baby that prefers to sleep in her own space. Maybe you have a baby that hates being on his back but loves being on his belly. Maybe she just needs to know you're right there next to her all night. Maybe she's in agony because of whatever you're eating. Maybe he thinks he should have a nipple in his mouth at all times because every time he so much as squeaked when he was a newborn, you put one in his mouth. Pay attention. They'll let you know if you're willing to listen. If your baby barely naps one day and insists on taking a nap at 5 PM another day, roll with it.* You don't have to understand. You just have to accept that they have some say in the matter too. So relax, perfect the nursing-while-sleeping, and stay out past their bedtime occasionally. There won't be any schedule to ruin.

8. Figure out which standards you're willing to compromise on, and lower them all. This applies to screen time, food choices, cleanliness, housekeeping, and the number of pinterest activites you organize for older children each week.

9. Take that newborn and go on a babymoon. To your bed. Stay there for a week straight doing nothing but gazing into each others' eyes. Potty breaks are allowed.

10. Finally, live upstairs from the grandparents. Ok, ok. Now I'm boasting.

*Do not EVER let your toddler nap at 5 PM. In this case, you would not be respecting the child. You would simply be stupid.

Saturday, January 3, 2015


At some point along the way, I received the advice that, when it comes to difficult subjects, take their lead. When they ask, answer their questions (and only their questions.) I've realized though that the hard part is actually hearing their questions, from their 3 or 4 or 5 year-old point of view. What's not such a great idea? Hearing the topic, and spewing out everything I know in relation to it. I may or may not have this propensity. Especially with my first born, who, by virtue of being born first and born wise, can trick me into forgetting that five is actually quite small. Not all of her questions lead me down this slippery slope.

Some are just impossible: 'Where did the first strawberry come from?'
Some are simply beyond me (it doesn't take much): 'Why does the earth rotate on a tilt?*

It's the questions I have at least partial answers for that require that delicate balance between being honest and age-appropriate. And when the one asking the questions regularly appears at my bedside in the middle of the night to anxiously whisper that she's 'dehydrated' or that her newly emerging molars are most definitely causing pieces of her gum to fall out, or (like last night) that she can't feel her heartbeat(!), that balance becomes even more crucial.

The first time she asked why a friend from pre-k had two homes--one with her mommy and one with her daddy--I almost found myself attempting to explain the dynamics of love and the causes of divorce. First of all, unqualified. Second of all, she did not even ask about divorce. Instead, we had a brief conversation about families coming in all shapes and sizes.

After the twentieth time being asked about the sanitary napkin dispensers in the public restrooms, I gave it my best shot: When a girl grows up, her body is capable of growing a baby. Every month it releases an egg and the uterus prepares itself in case a baby does come along. It develops a thick lining made of blood and tissues which can nourish a baby and provide a cozy home. If the egg doesn't get fertilized by the sperm, then that lining comes out each month. The sanitary napkins absorb that lining. She was unalarmed by this information. A sign that I had achieved that balance.

But then there was the time that I found myself explaining how x-ray machines were used on pregnant women to see the unborn fetuses. It was new, exciting technology; mothers could see their babies before they were even born! It became very popular very fast. During this time, a female scientist noticed that many children were getting cancer.
(More questions: 'What is cancer?')
The scientist discovered that the x-rays were the cause of the children's cancer.
('How did she know?)
It took 25 years for the practice to stop.
We discussed how people are slow to change. Slow to accept a new manifestation. Slow to accept the equality of religions, of races, of genders. She kept wanting more. So I told her about her partner, the statistician, who did everything in his power to prove her wrong by looking at the data from every possible angle. And how grateful she was for him. She was interested only in the truth--even if it proved her wrong. Only he didn't prove her wrong; he confirmed her findings. By asking questions from every possible angle and welcoming others' questions, she arrived at the truth.

That was the easy part. She had to take that truth and do something with it. For 25 years she worked tirelessly to change the way x-rays were used so that no more children would be harmed.

Yeah. I'm pretty sure this one got away from me. She didn't seem too traumatized, though I'm quite sure most of it was over her head. Oh well--I just hope she got the impression that questions are good. Never stop questioning.

Maybe we'll revisit this later. If we do, I'll tell her to be like the statistician: Ask your own questions. Find your own answers. That if enough of us stop imitating the past, we'll have a chance at remaking the future. One in which we decide for ourselves whether the color of our skin, the name of our God, our gender, or sexual orientation actually mattter at all.

"By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor."  -Baha'u'llah

* I didn't have a clue, but encouraged her to hypothesize. Without so much as a pause, she said, "I think a piece of a planet from outer space knocked into it and made it crooked." Well, duh! I'm just going to assume from now on that she already knows the answers. She's just seeing if I do too.