When Michael and I started our life together, we knew that being close to our family was a priority.
In my family's culture, it's not uncommon for Grandparents to actually live with their children, and help them raise their own. When I was younger, the 6 of us - My Mom & Dad, Grandma & Grandpa, my sister and I all lived together. Sardined in University Housing apartments, as my Dad attended college. The sound of the train running through the heart of town is still a memory I feel in every part of me. After we moved out, we moved to a tiny 2-bedroom home on Berry Street. The house is long gone - torn down years ago to make room for half a million dollar homes. But when I drive past that part of town, I always remember our little house.
Set on a large plot of land, it backed up to the creek. We had a cherry tree, a fence covered in grape vines, and a huge garden. We also had two large white rabbits that kept me company, and a couple chickens and a rooster (before Grandpa ate it).
Our neighbor was Mister Powers. That's what our (barely English speaking) family called him. Dad was in school, submerged in the language. Mom was....not as great with hers :) Grandma and Grandpa only left the house to go with us on trips to the lake, picnics, and camping trips. So their English language never grew. And my sister and I were still speaking our first language - Farsi. In pre-school we started to learn our second language - English.
I think about Mister Powers, an old farmer. In his plaid shirt, white hair, and glasses, walking with a cane. Every farmer and 80 year old man I see is Mister Powers, to me now. 25 years later, his memory is still a print on a portion of my mind. I wonder if it made him laugh to see us....odd and brown, in the middle of a town picking chicken eggs and backyard farming. Sometimes I think that's what he liked about us. And the fact that those words, the sound... the sound of his name, on our unfamiliar tongues....mister powers, were our first words.
Together, we lived in that house on Berry. A strong unit, where one of us fell short, the other stood tall. And there, I learned what a babysitter was. I learned that it really does take a village to raise a child, and our village was family.
When we decided to have children of our own, I knew that I wanted my own little village to raise this child. There are things only I can offer Elodie, as her Mother. But there is another world of opportunity, learning, and love she will receive from my decision to go back to work part-time.
Every woman chooses what is best for her family, and that is a personal choice that no one is allowed to judge. I have never felt guilt over what I have decided to do for her, and us.
And on Thursday, I went back to work.
On my last day home with Elodie, I wished for peace. For leaving her, for my sanity. I wished for sleep, a calm baby, and learning to balance the new change that was about to wash over our family, like a changing tide.
Instead, Elodie woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
For three days and nights, the three days and nights before I went back to work, she was up all night, screaming during the day, and demanding to be held. It wasn't like the Elodie I really know in our quiet moments. Watching the birds fly over her, closing her eyes in the breeze. My baby finds peace in her heart, easily.
And she cried, and cried, and cried. And I cried. And begged. And nursed her and rocked her, wore her all day, sang her her favorite songs, showed her the new blooms in the garden. Still, she cried, and she didn't sleep. And I cried.
On my last day home, I took her to visit Grandma, and find my own peace in my heart.
She fed me hot tea, dried fruit & nuts, saffron rice&chicken...trying carefully to hide the chicken underneath the rice. Insisting it was good for my milk, insisting that I hated meat from the time I was a little girl. We laughed as we remembered Grandpa in his "babysitter" days.
He watched me during the day, and one day, as he tried to feed me some of his meal - dried chunks of meat and bread, I demanded as much as a 3 year old really can - "so you're some kind of babysitter, now?" Then he taught me a lesson - my Grandpa, always one of my fist teachers of life. He said, "this comes from the chickens in the backyard."
For years, I struggled with my relationship with eating meat. And even though Mom and Grandma are still pissed that he taught me a hard lesson of life so young, I was never angry at him. He was indeed, just teaching me life...and he wasn't such a bad baby sitter, after all.
25 years later, my Mom and Grandma still throw their voices in a high pitch, and repeat this, as we laugh and remember our tiny house on Berry Street. Mister Powers. The chickens.
The day before I went back to work, Grandpa split open a watermelon for us to share, as they told stories of life in Iran - watermelon and bread for dinner some nights.
I watched Grandma with Elodie, amazed by a woman who reared babies in a time and place of little resource. Still showing her innate ability to calm a baby in no time flat, I have been photographing her doing this quite often. One day I will show Elodie and she will learn the story of Aubibi-Bozorg, Great-Grandmother.
Grandpa ate his lunch by the South window, where he always sits in the sun. Bits of dried meat, and bread. Twenty five years later, an 88-year-old man is still a creature of extreme habit.
The drapes danced in the late Spring breeze.
We looked at old photos, and found this one of my parents in Germany, right before they moved to the states in '78.
Grandma, and my Mom.
A photo my Dad took of my Mom, on one of their little dates to the Caspian Sea.
....and our house on Berry Street. It catches my breath in my chest, to see the orange drapes under that window. Only a child, I realize the photo I am holding is just the way I remembered it...always printed on a piece of my mind. Every day I would rush behind the curtain to find the eggs that Moghky-joon (darling chicken) had left for me.
And in that photo, I was in the lap of my second babysitter. My teacher.
While Grandpa taught me about the parts of life that stung my skin with their reality, Grandma taught me to find love. "Chouk-Chouk, Chouk-Chouk," she called after the hens as she threw handfuls of rice and bread for them to eat.
She is holding Elodie in her lap, and somehow, she is fast asleep. For me, on my last day home before I went back to work, she cried. And cried. And cried. And I cried.
Today, she is fast asleep on Grandma's lap as she tells me a story.
After my sister was born, they left Iran to come live in tiny University housing and become a village, so they could all raise that child. And when my Uncle needed them, they left everything they knew for a second time to become his village.
In Nigeria, Africa, where my Uncle was living with his wife and two babies, they lived in a small house next to the jungle. Grandma still feels her own stings on her skin, telling me how terrified they were of where they lived. On the edge of a town surrounded by no one they knew or could communicate with, they were sandwiched between Nigeria, and the open jungle. She softens her mouth into a frown and lists the wild animals she would hear at night.
She tells me "Your Grandpa has always been a bad babysitter. One day, after our kids had gone to work, we were home with the babies and I was washing dishes. I asked him to watch them, and before I knew it, they had disappeared." She shoots him an angry glare, and he keeps eating his bread and dried bits of meat. She goes on.
"I found him sitting on the porch in the sun, drinking his tea. And they were gone. I ran into the street after them, terrified that they had gone into town. Even more terrified that they had wandered into the jungle."
She stops, and I watch pain take over her body. She rocks Elodie, and tells me that half a mile down the road, she finally found their shoes. Collapsing into tears of desperation, a little African boy came to her and pointed down the road. No lines of communication between them, she saw hope in his eyes. He ran down the road and came back with my two cousins.
Telling me this story on my last day before I went back to work, Grandma feels gratitude, all over again. She said she ran home, grabbed the little money she had, and took it to the boy. Thirty years after the day she lost her grandchildren to the jungles of Africa, she is still begging her God to bless the little boy who returned them.
My Grandmother, Elodie's Bibi-Bozorg, is the type of woman that loves any child with her entire being. When they hurt, she feels the sadness in every part of her own body. And in happiness, her heart sings to the rhythm of their laughter.
When I got back home, Elodie was calm. We watered the flowers, walked through the garden, and both soaked in the Spring air. Every May, the air in Oklahoma turns thick. And before the wave of heat washes over us and Summer comes, there are a few weeks of absolute bliss.
I spend every evening in these sweet weeks, outside.
The trees bend and warp as our evening thunderstorms and tornadoes roll through the Midwest. There are not many things I love more than the way that feels on my skin. So much that I immediately stripped Elodie down on my last evening, before I went back to work. For the first time, she will feel our late Spring roll through into the heat of Summer - she'll learn that this feels like home.
And instead of finishing my list of things to do before work in the morning (I'm learning To-Don't) we spend the rest of the evening out there. Swinging on the patio, where she fell asleep to that sweet breeze, and felt the damp night rolling through on her naked skin.
And I thought about tomorrow.
And if going back to work was right for us.
And in that very second, I remembered our house on Berry Street.
The ones that would teach Elodie, while I work part time to support my family. How could I ever be so stressed about a decision that suddenly seemed so right?
And I realized not only will she be just fine, but she will be even better for it. There are things that as a Mother, only I can give her. But it truly does take a village to raise a child, and I can't take that experience away from her.
She will be in the arms of a beautiful woman with a free spirit and dirt under her fingernails. One who had her picture taken by her best friend, next to the Caspian Sea.
In the arms of a teacher who taught lessons about the reality of life.
And one who would run into the streets of the jungle, crying out for babies so precious they could have been her own.
Thursday I went back to work, and the world didn't end. I felt amazing, put on makeup and a cute outfit, and caught up with clients so dear to me they've become friends almost a decade in the making. I walked to lunch, turned my radio up really loud in the car...and I felt like me, again.
And that day when I came home, Elodie was still waiting for me. On the porch we swung, and it's like we never missed a beat.
When the weekend came, we celebrated our new life. We had friends over and drank beers & wine on the patio, watched the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs, and spent time with family. We went to the first Summer Breeze concert series in the park, and we danced and felt Oklahoma Springtime rolling over our naked skin.
And she didn't cry. And I didn't cry.
And for the last two nights, Elodie has slept.