Inheriting the Fun-damentals

13 12 2009

When I was a kid the whole “Reading is Fun-damental” campaign was pretty much unnecessary for me, as were the summer reading programs where kids could earn a pizza or some other treat for reading a certain number of books. Or any of the other incentives adults came up with to teach children to make reading a habit. I loved to read. I still do. By the time I was in high school I would sometimes read up to 2 or 3 books a day. Yes. I meant “per day.” I’m not exaggerating.  One of my coworkers insisted that I must be lying about this statement. I’m not. I know you’re doing the math right now — how many pages per hour?

Well, I can read pretty fast. I actually read slower now than I did in high school and college. But I read so much because I quite simply couldn’t put books down. Once I started a book I had to finish it immediately. This means that I was frequently walking around with my nose in a book, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to stay up in bed reading only to discover that the sun was once again rising. Luckily, I have  always been able to survive on very little sleep (a trait that has been very handy to me as a mother).

One of my sisters also loves to read as much as I do. We both still read constantly, and many of our conversations revolve around what we’ve read recently. My other sister is so very different from us, however. She does not enjoy reading. In fact, she’s not really very good at reading and was nearly illiterate for most of elementary school. It is this fact that breeds internal conflict in me.

See, I love reading so much that this is the one trait of mine I deeply hope Azita will inherit. If she has no interest in science and math, I won’t care. I won’t mind if she does not inherit my musical ear or artistic capabilities. I could care less if she looks like me. I want her to be a reader, and I want her to love it. I want her to be intensely curious about the world around her and to want to read everything there is to know about it. It is this trait of mine that has not only made it just about impossible for me to ever get bored, but it has made it possible for me to learn quickly and adapt to almost any situation.

I once had a professor who professed admiration for the fact that I learned new things by throwing myself into the deep end and learning as I did. It is true that I do this, and the only reason I am able to do this is because I feel confident that whatever I don’t know (and I don’t know a lot) I can learn from what someone else has written. I lack confidence in myself so frequently, but it is my confidence in learning that holds me together and brings me any success I may have in life. I want Azita to always feel secure in this way. To know that the great unknown is not so scary, because it is learnable.

I desire this so much that I obsess about it. I watch her every action around books. How can I tell if she will love reading as my sister and I do, and not dislike it as our youngest sister does? I mean, we all grew up in the same  household, and yet we are so very different in this aspect. How much of the love of reading and learning is nurture?

I frequently talk to my sister about my fear that Azita will not love books. Considering that Roger and I both love to read, it may seem irrational. But until very recently Azita would not let me read to her. Books were things to rip up and throw and chew on. On rare occasions I could make it through a couple pages of Goodnight Moon or Olivia before she would lose interest, but those occasions were very rare. My sister assured me that my worrying was for naught. “Just exposing your daughter to books will teach her to love to read,” she said. I had my doubts.

Then, this morning as I was feeding Azita her breakfast, she leaned over the side of her booster chair and pulled her “Colors” book over so she could flip the pages as she ate her mangoes and waffles. She was actually eating with her nose in a book. Just like I did at the dinner table when I was a child. Maybe all is not lost after all. We may yet be a family that reads together.


Crossing my Fingers and Knocking on Wood

19 11 2009

I believe in science and mathematics. If I have a question about why something is the way it is, I know science holds the answer. I’ll admit that I have a problem with faith in that I need a scientific explanation for everything, and I’ve just never been able to reconcile faith and science.  I’m definitely not the superstitious type.

So explain to me why motherhood has completely knocked the pragmatism out of me? Explain to me why I actually really believe that if Azita eats breakfast one morning when I happen to be wearing my blue pajamas with the red apples on them and I’m holding a squeaky toy with my left hand, then the way to get her to eat breakfast the next day is to wear the same pajamas and hold the same squeaky toy. With my left hand. At the same exact time as the day before.

Why has parenthood made me so superstitious? I really think it’s the desperation of being so utterly out of control over just about everything in your life just about every day of your life. Especially when it comes to getting Azita to eat or sleep or do any of the other things that, you know, keep humans, specifically my little human, alive.  It’s not that I really believe that any of these superstitious rituals will work. It’s just that it’s 11:30 on a Monday night, and I really, really need Azita to fall asleep so I can go to bed because I have to wake up at 5:30 in the morning tomorrow damn it. Or maybe Azita has refused to eat anything for 3 days, and I just know that next time she goes to the doctor they’ll tell me she actually lost weight and somehow grew shorter. Or Azita will not let me buckle her in to her car seat and I’m late for work but I obviously can’t drive her to daycare until she is safely protected against all the crazy drivers out there. Or she’s doing any of the fifty other things she does that I fear will damage her for life, and there is nothing I can do to make her stop.

I read the books. Books based on science. I know all of these things are completely normal. I know how to handle most of them, and I know that sometimes just riding these situations out is the only way to handle them. Still, what I wouldn’t give for some kind of ritual that would actually get Azita to eat or sleep.

Goodnight Kittens and Goodnight Mittens

18 11 2009

Like my sister and me before him, my nephew Danyal has a tendency to be painfully shy. When we were children, my sister and I were so shy that it even took us a good half hour to an hour to warm up to our closest family members whenever we would see them. Even my aunt. My aunt who is basically a second mom to me. My aunt whom I saw several times a week, sometimes nearly every day. If that’s not shy, I don’t know what is. You wouldn’t know it if you met either of us today. We’ve managed to work on these issues in adulthood so that we are now passably sociable.

So, when my nephew reached an age where he could interact verbally with other people, I wasn’t exactly shocked that he was rather reticent to actually interact. Even with me, his aunt. I understood where he was coming from though and I didn’t push the issue even though I was dying to hug him and talk with him and play games.

I remember my first visit to North Carolina right after my sister and her family moved there. When I excitedly ran to my nephew for a hug after a long drive, he hid behind my sister’s leg. He stayed there for much of the day. The next day, as I sat on their couch looking through his favorite board book, Goodnight Moon, Danyal slowly crept over from the other side of the couch until he was sitting next to me. And when I asked him if he wanted me to read to him, he nodded his head up and down. If I had any doubt in my mind that I had made some headway, it was soon gone, right about when we got to “Goodnight kittens and goodnight mittens.”

When I flipped the page to say goodnight to the clocks and the socks, Danyal stopped me and pointed to the mittens. “Mittens,” I said. Then he pointed to the kittens, prompting me to say “kittens.” And again he stopped me as I tried to flip the page. We continued that way for some time, and spent many hours that weekend with him pointing to the page and me repeating, “Goodnight kittens and goodnight mittens.” And there you have it, the moment we bonded. To this day, Roger and I will without thinking say “Goodnight kittens and goodnight mittens” whenever we thinking of Danyal.

This past weekend we bought Azita her first copy of Goodnight Moon. Excitement was bursting up through my throat as we got through the first couple pages. Then “Goodnight light and the red balloon.” I’m really getting excited for the payoff now. I just know we’re going to have that moment. The “goodnight kittens, goodnight mittens” moment. Instead I had a little moment of truth. Azita is no Danyal. She’s a rambunctious 10 month old with the attention span of a flea. Instead of mittens and kittens I had baby laying on her belly across my lap, reaching for a dust bunny under the couch. So much for recreating a perfect moment.

One day, hopefully soon, Azita and I will get through the book in one sitting. And the lesson has been learned — when that day comes, it will be a perfect in its own way.

There’s Something About Saeedis

14 11 2009

I love my family. They are crazy and joyful and beautiful and wise and kooky and all sorts of other things. Every human characteristic can be found in nearly every family member, and for every characteristic they each exhibit they have an equal but opposite one that balances it out. We are all individuals. Our get-togethers are seriously insane and can make even the most adventurous person feel a little bit uncomfortable, but they are also full of warmth and love. You may feel a little awkward in our presence, but you will also be well-fed and embraced as family. My family is a giant paradox and a very extreme one at that. Like many Iranians, we are a passionate bunch and our moods can be extreme. A small disagreement can turn into a month or even year long falling out, but when we get back together our affection for each other is equally extreme. We really will go to the ends of the earth for each other, and I am very aware of how special this is. Believe me when I say that I am so very grateful to have had and continue to have these people in my life.

Azita’s birth has made me even closer to my family. I want her to love them as much as I do and to feel as safe as I do when I am around them. I already know she is there.

10Months 074

Can’t you see the love in her eyes as she looks at my dear daee Mahmoud? He is my favorite uncle. I hope she learns from him how to enjoy life and really live it. Kind of like my uncle’s children have.

10Months 037

My cousin Bardia snuggles with Azita

10Months 029

My cousin Taimoor, the artist. He is a brilliant musician.

10Months 044

My cousins Maryam and her husband, Mersad

I love them, and I know Azita will, too.

Ending the Cycle

10 11 2009

Lately I’ve returned to my pre-pregnancy early morning workout routine. While it may suck to wake up at 5:30am and it definitely sucks to be physically active at that time, it is great to be able maximize my time with Azita in the evenings. This means that I have been able to go for walks with Roger and Azita in the evening after Roger is done with his run.

Tonight, we combined our casual evening walk with a chore and walked to the supermarket to pick up some items that were missing for dinner. It was a pleasant walk. The weather was beautiful and not too cold or hot. All of the street lights were working, so we could actually see where we were walking. Azita was in a good mood. Then the night turned sour.

We heard a child scream and start crying. When we looked towards the racket we saw a man with a little boy, and something in his behavior was clearly not kosher. He was just a little too rough with the child and his tone of voice was just a little too malicious. Both Roger and I had the same thought. We needed to keep an eye on this situation. And, I was glad that we did, because not two minutes later when we had gotten about halfway down the block, the man smacked the child on the head. Not just once, but a few times. The child’s crying just agitated him more and culminated in him yanking the boy by the arm so hard that the boy fell forward onto the ground.

That was the last straw for us. Roger was already calling 911 before I could even ask him to get his phone out. Luckily another good citizen — a man biking home from work — noticed the distressed child and also stopped. He talked calmy to the man and explained that we were concerned about the child and just wanted him to wait until the police could talk to him and clear things up.

Long story short, the police came. They explained to the man, who said that this was how you handled children in his native Honduras, that this was not acceptable treatment of a child in the state of Virginia — “You can spank a child, but you cannot hit a child.”

It wasn’t long before we were back home just a block away from the incident, feeding Azita dinner and drawing her bath. Yet, even after an evening of cuddling and playing with Azita and relaxing conversation with Roger, I am still shaken by the whole ordeal. I mean really shaken. As in, my insides feel like they are being rattled about in a rock polisher.

It is an upsetting situation and one that hits close to home. See, when I was growing up, I was the kid who sometimes prompted people to say something to my mother, but I was usually the kid that people tried to ignore rather than cause a scene. In hindsight looking back on things as an adult, I know that somebody should have stopped and paid attention and done the right thing.

I say this as a person who can understand both sides. Because as much as I still feel the shame and hurt of being the recipient of this kind of treatment, I don’t think my mother is an evil person. And I really don’t think the villain of tonight’s saga is really an evil person either. Some of this behavior may be cultural — different levels of physical violence are accepted forms of discipline in many countries — and some of it is borne of the frustrations of being a stranger in a strange country with very little to your name and a life of very hard work ahead of you. Much harder work than I will ever know. And, I will never really know how hard it is to make it in that situation, because my parents took that on themselves for our sake. I have empathy for them and their situation in life.

Still, sometimes all it takes for someone to realize the very real ramifications of their actions is for someone else to give them a little wakeup call. I hope that tonight we were the wakeup call this man needed.  I hope that I was able to do for that boy what no one did for me or my sister.

Because I really just can’t bear to think otherwise.

Christmas in November

9 11 2009

I know we haven’t hit Thanksgiving yet, and normally I would be the loudest complainer in the room should someone jump the gun on Christmas around me. But have I mentioned how excited I am for Christmas this year? I love Christmas. We never celebrated in my youth due to the whole us not being Christian thing. I always felt like I was missing out though.

During the winter break from school I used to scrounge up whatever I could find around the house that my classmates had never seen, so I could return to school like everyone else triumphantly displaying my loot. I made up stories of the Safavian household’s Christmas traditions. The glorious meals. The music. The family bonding. My imaginary Christmas was more spectacular than anything Clark Griswold could come up with.

When I finally got my own place as an adult, I began my own Christmas traditions. I’m still not Christian, but let’s be honest, the Christmas of today is a lot more secular than religious anyways. It’s not even on the real day of Jesus’ birth, and it’s pretty well-established that the early church basically marketed an existing pagan holiday as a Christian one in order to make it easier for their converts to be ok with the whole conversion thing. But, this isn’t a post about religion.

It’s about Christmas, specifically Azita’s first Christmas. I’ve already mentioned that I love Christmas, but I haven’t really established just how much I do. I love Christmas movies. I know all of the songs from every Christmas movie, and I regularly try to convince Roger that we need to pull out the Christmas movies when we’re still sweltering in the D.C. heat and humidity. I love Christmas music. I love the decorations. I love the baked goods, the warm drinks, the sweet and spicy smells of candles and pine trees and poinsettias. I love it all.

But I also love Thanksgiving, and I really believe in it. Being thankful is important. At the very least it makes us all a little more tolerable to ourselves and each other to be grateful for what we have no matter how little it may seem at times. So there is absolutely no Christmas celebrating or mention of it in our household until after Thanksgiving dinner. Roger is pretty firm on this rule also. Believe me when I tell you, however, that Ralphie has already shot his eye out while we’re still digesting tofurkey and pie.

This year is different obviously. This year we have Azita, and I am way too excited to wait until after Thanksgiving. Last week we bought some unfragile Christmas ornaments, and last night we — gasp! — watched White Christmas. It gets worse. Today I found out that Santa Claus is at the mall already, and Roger and I promptly decided we were taking Azita to get her first Santa pic next weekend.

I’ve broken all my holiday rules, and Roger has joined me in my crimes without even blinking an eye. I guess now that we’ve broken the seal, we may as we may as well admit that Christmas now starts in November in our household.

I Did It!

29 10 2009

One of my favorite things about Azita and all little humans really is that the littlest things are such great achievements for them, and they know it. Not only do they recognize this, but they are not afraid to toot their own horn.

9Months 028

Or wave their drum around in the air. Look at that face. There’s no doubt about it. She did something great, and she wants the world to know it.