Category Archives: Unconditional Love

Dear Boe…

Dear Boe…

IMG_8085

I just wanted to write to you and tell you how much I enjoyed our play date this weekend.  I had been looking so forward to it ever since your mommy set it up for us.

I think I’m in love with you.  Oh my…

I especially had fun this morning when we were crawling on the floor together, exploring all the ins and outs and unders of your living room floor.  You were quite interested in the plugs and cables.  Perhaps you will be an electrician when you grow up.  Or a deep sea diver.

Or a secret service man.

You’re such a good crawler.  You get around with finesse.  Remind me to invite you to my house next time I need someone to get that thing that rolled under my sofa.

I’m home now doing my laundry.  And I’m giggling at the combination of dog hair, snot and mashed bananas on my nightgown. Good thing I raised three sons and have lots of Shout It Out and I know how to use it!

I’m reminiscing of our time together.  Sigh.  And I’m thinking of you. ♥♥

You’re the avocado on my sandwich.  You’re the frosting on my cupcake.

You’re the garlic in my baba ghanoush.

This kind of JOY is new to me.  It’s wonder, awe and rapture all wrapped up into one.

It’s a little boy with eyes of blue.  Oh, how I love you!

Your Sitti

 

 

Fearfully and wonderfully made…

Fearfully and wonderfully made…

IMG_0235

in the secret of darkness

before I saw the sun

in my mother’s womb

        ~Psalm 139:14

Dear little Boe,

You are a miracle.  A gift.  Someone new to love and long to hold.  A bundle of sweet smells and warm cuddles.  You have us all in awe and wonder.

How beautiful you are.  A blank slate.  A crisp white page to be filled with lovely lyrics.  An empty vessel within which we place all our hopes and dreams.  Your innocence is compelling.  I feel absolution in your presence.

I know that some little parts of you have been etched from my own body.  That in itself is mind blowing.  I look at you and feel such love and connection- and at the same time, a sense of mystery.  Who are you?  Who will you become?  How will I fit into your life?  What will we do together to build our relationship?

Little lovey, the day you were born we all experienced a life changing transition.  Woman and man became mother and father.  Mother and father became grandmother and grandfather.  It may take some time for us to learn our new roles so please be patient with us.

I hear other grandparents brag that they can spoil their grandchildren and then send them home.  All the fun and none of the responsibility.  Then they laugh!  But Boe, I have a little secret for you.

I would do it all again.  The pain of labor, the sleepless nights, the diapers, the desitine, the sticky kisses, the million and one soccer, basketball and little league games, the waiting up for teenagers, the “sex” talks, and the endless and painful letting gos- witnessing three little boys traverse their paths into manhood.

But there would be do-overs.  I would clean less, order more take out, play more games and be more attentive to the ebb and flow of raising a family.  And most of all I would allow myself to enjoy it all.  Not be so stressed and insecure. Not be so hard on myself.  Not compare myself to other moms who appeared to be doing it better.

Little Boe, when your daddy was growing up, I wrote him letters on his birthdays and other occasions so that he would know how my love for him unfolded and developed as he grew up and became a young man.  When he graduated from high school I gave him all those letters.  It was a labor of love.

I want to do that for you, little Boe.  I want you to see what I see in you.  And in those moments when you are feeling insecure or a little blue, I want you to know how much you are loved, fearfully and wonderfully made, and carefully knit together in the secret of your mother’s womb by an even greater Love.

My heart is full.  My life has taken on a new meaning with your birth.  I have so many things I’d like to share with you.  So many songs I want to sing to you.  And I have all the time in the world to listen to you.

Stay sweet, little boy.  Take in all the love you can.  Learn honesty and integrity.  Be generous and kind.

Grow up to be a man for others.

I love you,

Your Sitti

 

IMG_0570

The Mom Void

The Mom Void

It’s Mother’s Day and it seems appropriate that I would be channeling my mother in the kitchen this weekend.  Tabouli, Hummus, Baba Ghannouj- salt, allspice, cinnamon, garlic, tahini, eggplant, and parsley dripped and splashed everywhere!  You can’t make Lebanese food without making a mess, using your hands and taste testing along the way.  The sterile kitchen police would have me under arrest.

My daughter in law is craving Lebanese food for my little Lebanese grandson still nesting just under her heart.  A new little Shaheen boy in the works.  My mom would be beside herself!  Another man to cook for!

I found my place very early in life next to my mother in the kitchen.  I had no choice really.  I just grew up in there with my own apron and stepping stool, stirring the rice pudding, chopping the parsley and washing the dishes.  Sometimes all at the same time.

I never complained.  With a family of eight and so many brothers, it was the only way I could sneak something to eat before the food hit the dinner table. It was also my special time to be with my mom.  To smell her perfume and sing songs with her.  At a very young age, I wanted to be just like her.  She was so loved and admired by everyone.  And she was a fabulous cook.  I think she invented that idiom about the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach..

She always knew just what to do in every situation.  What to cook for every ailment.  How to take care of her family.  She could have written the book on mothering.

I watched her as a young mother wrap up my babies and sing to them.  When my youngest, Peter, was born, I found her playing in the sandbox with Patrick and Robert and their trucks.  “Whose mother is that??” I wondered!  My mother never got dirty.  My mother had her nails and hair done every week and wore heels and hose.  My mother didn’t own a pair of jeans until she turned 50!

As I recuperated from each pregnancy and birth, she cleaned my house and did the laundry and cooked delicious things for us in the kitchen.  I just held my babies and watched.  I wanted to get in there and chop and stir and wash dishes but clearly our roles had changed and I was no longer the little girl helping.  I was the mother. Still learning from her.  Still needing her advice and expertise.  Still wanting to be close to her in the kitchen.

Now on the cusp of being a new grandmother myself, I’m feeling a bit insecure in the transition.  What will my new role be like?  What are the expectations?  Will I know what to do with a new baby?  After all, it’s been 30 years since I had Peter.  Things have changed. Mothers are more enlightened due to the internet.  Information is dispelled easily through a quick Google.  Does anyone call their mother for advice anymore?

The new parenting trends bring natural fibers and toxic free toys.  Gender fluid nurseries and neutral color schemes.  Babies sleep face up instead of face down.  Bumpers are no longer safe in cribs.  There’s something called “sleep training”.

Maybe I will Google “gramma training”.

So I find myself in the kitchen where I feel safe and smug.  I know the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.  Or through his mommy’s stomach.

It’s a start.  The rest will come in time.

As I chop the parsley and squeeze the lemons.  Smash the garlic with the salt just how she taught me.  Mix the Tabouli with my unsterile hands- I haven’t killed anyone yet with my cooking- I feel her standing next to me and I smell her perfume.  I am infused with her wisdom and her strength and her confidence in me.

“You got this, Sissie!  You’re going to be a wonderful Sittie!”

Feeling the Mom void..

218714_10150183593448449_6136620_o

 

The Church of Soul Cycle

The Church of Soul Cycle

We mount our bikes and get ready for a hardy workout.  The room is dim but the stage is elevated and illuminated to spotlight the empty bike from where our instructor, Ian, will be leading our 45 minute session of blood, sweat, tears and redemption. We are warming up, adjusting our seats, and preparing our souls in anticipation.

Enter Ian left stage.  He is ripped and torn and fit as a fiddle with a dashing smile and a charismatic personality.

“Who has not been to Soul Cycle before?”

“Who has not been to MY class?”

He makes a mental note of who might need some extra attention in the room.  He is like a prophet bringing the good news to the flock who long for health and fitness.

And off we go.  The music is pounding.  My daughter in law inserts her ear plugs.  Ah, those thirty something kids! They can’t handle loud music?  Me, on the other hand, after raising three sons with a drum set and other accouterments of a noisy household- including broken windows and baseballs thrown through doors- can find peace at any decibel.

“I know you didn’t come here to just exercise!  You came here to push your limits!  To see what you can do!  To be all that you can!”

Yes, I want what he’s selling! But I glance briefly at my 25 week pregnant daughter in law and say quietly to her not to push yet!  She can’t hear me above the din of the rock music and of course the ear plugs.

“Get rid of any negativity.  People tell you it can’t be done!  You might fail!  They fill you with doubt and cloud your dreams!  Well, I have three words for you!  THREE WORDS!”

I’m thinking “get behind me Satan?”  No, that’s four words…

“STAND YOUR GROUND!  Don’t let people tell you who you are and what you can do!  STAND YOUR GROUND!”

We’re out of the saddles now climbing the imaginary hill of our challenges and struggles.  The room is moving in synchronicity.  Bodies up and down and up and down on cue.  I am pretty sure that if Ian told us to do a flip over our handlebars we would all cooperate.  We are mesmerized by his words and his commands.

“What are you holding on to today?  Let me hold it for you!  Let it go and BE FREE.”

I’m beginning to wonder if there will be a crucifixion at the end of class..

“Look around you.  You don’t know what burdens people have in their lives.  You have no idea what the person next to you is going through today.  Perhaps the biggest challenge of their life!”

I move my sweaty hand and gently touch Breezy’s hand.  I’ve been so cavalier about her being pregnant and having a baby.  Women do it all the time.  But this is her biggest challenge right now!  Pregnancy, nutrition, getting enough rest, knowing when to stop working and start nesting, moving into a new place- maybe even being married to my son, Peter!   Did I raise him to be a good enough husband and father?

We are heading for the climax of the class.  We are sweating and panting and letting it all go and feeling free.

“I want you to leave here with an open heart!  A heart ready to love!”

I’m thinking about how fortunate I am to have this wonderful relationship with my daughter in law.  There is an intimacy that continues to grow between us.  I couldn’t be more delighted with the woman she is and the mother she will soon be.  And I love her as if she were my own daughter.

Cooling down now and stretching.  The lights go on and I realize we are at a spin class- not a revival.

There have been so many changes in my life this past year.  A new home.  A grandson to look forward to.  My new role as a Sittie.  I have considered going back into weekly therapy with my 80 year old guru, Lucia.  But now I’m kind of thinking that all I really need is this quality time with my beautiful daughter in law, Breezy, a positive attitude and an open heart from which to love, and perhaps a weekly visit to the Church of Soul Cycle.

Do I hear an AMEN?

 

 

 

 

 

 

You want how much for that refrigerator??

You want how much for that refrigerator??

French-Door-RefrigeratorsYup.. she’s a beauty.

And everyone knows that food is love and the bigger the frig the more food and the more love!  It would be a huge splurge.  It’s what I love to do.  Entertain.   Make food. Food Is Love.

The stainless steel doesn’t turn me on.  But I’ve been told that it’s time to join the real world and stop being a hippy.  I’m still not sure this refrigerator fits my lifestyle. I really loved my magnetic door white frig with the 100 pictures plastered on it and magnets broadcasting everything from what wine to drink with dinner all the way to the phone number of my favorite appliance guy, Kenny.

I guess those days are over… sigh.

“So, can I have your address?” says the nice man at Lowe’s.”  He’s about the age of my sons and tall and skinny and I’m thinking maybe I’ll invite him over sometime and try to fatten him up.

“Oh..  I don’t have it with me.”  I’m embarrassed that I haven’t memorized my new address yet.

“OK.  You can just call it in with your credit card and we’ll do the transaction over the phone.”  He didn’t seem the least bit suspicious.  “Now when would you like this delivered?”

“Um…  I don’t know.”   Now I’m sounding like a crazy lady.

“I bought a new townhouse (friggin’ 10 months ago) and it’s not done yet.”

“Oh.”  he said with a raised eyebrow.

Yes, OH!  That’s what I say!

Now, I don’t know my address.  I don’t know when I’ll be in my new place.  I don’t know how I’ve survived this transition without going a bit nuts.  But I do know that I’m going to need that big ass frig so that I can have a lot of food and do a bunch of cooking and have people over and show them how much I love them and make my new house into a home so stop asking me all these silly questions and let’s get on with our business, shall we?

I thought to myself…

It’s been said that if you build it they will come.

Maybe if I buy the frig the townhouse will be done.

One can only hope…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ya’aburnee.. you bury me.

Ya’aburnee.. you bury me.

Sittee and Bobby Blur2

I was quite saddened when I read about Vice President Joe Biden’s 42 year old son, Beau, who just died of a brain tumor. This poor man has been through more trajedy than one could imagine.  First losing his wife and infant daughter in a car accident with his two small sons fighting for their lives.  Then years later having one of them succumb to cancer after not only surviving but also thriving with an enviable life, a successful career as an attorney and a fulfilling marriage with two beautiful young children.

Fate is twisted.

Ya’aburnee means “you bury me” in Arabic.  It means wanting to die before a loved one so as not to have to face the world without him or her in it.

This was the prayer on my mother’s lips when she received the news that my brother, Bobby, at age of 31, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  “Let it be me.  Not you.”

She fought for her third son from the very beginning.  He was born premature weighing only four pounds.  Just big enough to fit in a shoe box.  In school he was the class clown and the ring leader among his friends, often getting into trouble with Sr. Dolores, the principal at St.Philip Neri, in our small town of Compton.  He would lead kids twice his size around the neighborhood, looking for mischief.  He teased  me endlessly about being chubby and offered to pay my membership to Vic Tanny’s Salon.

After nine years of Catholic school Bobby  begged to be set free to attend the local public high school where most of his friends went.  He was a rebel.  A contrarian.  A master of debate.  How he convinced our ultra- Catholic parents to transfer him to public school remains a mystery to us all.

Years later while waiting to be accepted into Law School after earning a degree in Psychology from Loyola Marymount University and a Masters Degree in Political Science at American University, he would bide his time sitting on our couch at home reading through the encyclopedias from volume A through Z.  By now I was taller and not so chubby.  But he would still find things to tease me about.

Bobby went on to become a successful attorney.  He fell in love and married Christine. Together they had a family, Matthew and Katherine.  I’m sure my mother stopped worrying about him at that point.  (If mothers ever stop worrying..)

Until the evening when she got the news of Bobby’s brain tumor.

“Ya’aburnee,” she gasped in fear.

She got her wish.  My brother, Bobby recovered after several years of treatment.  He was healthy and back to work as an attorney, just long enough to be the Executor of my mother’s will after she succumbed to ovarian cancer in October of 1986.

And I imagine she was waiting with open arms at the gates of heaven with St. Peter when the cancer took my brother Bobby’s life in July of 1991.  For a brief moment, they would embrace and she would comfort him.  After which they would move on to join the Communion of Saints, their lives on earth but an ethereal dream.

My father was not so lucky.  He buried my mother.  And then he buried his third son. Dad died of cancer and a broken heart almost exactly a year after my brother died.

All these painful memories come back to me as I read the article about Joe Biden losing first his wife and infant daughter, and then years later, when it looked like life had self corrected, he lost the son he fought so hard to save.

Ya’aburnee.  You bury me.

My new mantra.

Ya’aburnee.

 

 

When life seems unpredictable, it’s good to remember that…

When life seems unpredictable, it’s good to remember that…

When I began the process of selling my home several months ago, I asked a Realtor to come over and assess the situation.  We talked marketing and the best time to list and then we walked around my house and he gave me ideas for “staging”.

“The lions on the front porch have to go.  Take those pictures off your refrigerator.  Replace that entrance rug with something more neutral.”

And then he stopped  in his tracks at this framed quote on my wall- “Everything Belongs”.

“That’s nice” he said.

Everything Belongs.  A quote from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who advocates for living simply so that others might simply live.  A reminder to me every time I walked from my  kitchen to the front door that no matter what happens in my life, it all belongs.

This morning I am up early to do some last minute packing.  I am having my coffee on the floor of my office.  No desk.  No chair.  No potted blooming orchid.

The emptiness belongs.

The excitement of the next chapter.  The heartache. The anticipation.  The moist fragrant morning garden.  The anxiety.  The hopefulness.  I take it all with me.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin stated it most eloquently: “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”

The lessons learned in this beautiful home and the woman that I’ve become in the last 17 years- those things can never be left behind.

And tonight when I revisit my beautiful home in my dreams, I will remind myself.   That life changes and the lessons continue and I take it all with me.  And not one experience in life is out of step or out of sync with the other.

And the future is ripe for new experiences, new gardens to plant, new people to meet and new lessons to learn.

And in some unpredictable and unexpected way,  it all belongs.

When you have a garden you have a Future and when you have a Future, you are Alive. ~ Frances Hodgson Burnett

When you have a garden you have a Future and when you have a Future, you are Alive. ~ Frances Hodgson Burnett

I’m caving.

I’ve been so very strong about selling my house, downsizing, entering a new chapter of my life, blah blah blah…

This morning I worked in my garden.  The wisteria and the jasmine are in full bloom.   There are birds hanging on to branches everywhere and Ethel is stalking a very naive squirrel.  I’m pulling weeds and pruning roses and raking the gravel in the paths.  There are pots of flowers and window boxes that need watering.  I give St. Francis a little cleansing shower as he stands at his post, keeping peace among the wildlife.

I know I should start dis-assembling things in my home.  I need to start packing and getting my head around it all.  But this morning in the garden I am mourning.  Everything is in utter bloom as if to say in the sweetest way they know- goodbye.  And thank you.

Thank you for releasing lady bugs and dousing us with homemade compost.  Thank you for knowing what is a weed and what is a wildflower lest we all get pulled in haste.  Thank you for the great music you play when you are here with us bending and lifting and pulling and gently watering.

And I want to say in return…  Thank you for being there for me when I was stressed or anxious and nothing would sooth me except being outside with you.  And thank you for the beautiful canvas you created for all the great parties we’ve had here.  For my sons’ graduations from high school.  For our annual birthday theme parties.  For engagement parties and wedding showers and the random get togethers with friends and family.  For quiet meditation when I couldn’t sleep at night.

You’ve brought me such peace and tranquility.

And hundreds of plums!  Oh Lordy!  Not to mention all the birds, squirrels, raccoons and random neighborhood cats who came to enjoy your beauty.

I will have another garden.  As much as I bitch and moan about dragging around 20 pound bags of mulch and throwing out my back hoeing stubborn weeds rather than spraying them with roundup, I would not be the woman I am today without you and your unconditional love, your fragrance and your dramatic seasonal whimsy.

You will be the last part of this house that I begin to pack.  Both literally and figuratively.

I will miss my home and its’ cheerful sunlit rooms.  But I will miss you more.

 

Street of Dreams

Street of Dreams

 

 

My neighbor around the corner used to walk her little boys by my house with their big wheels.  We would chat sometimes and she mostly complained about the people who lived behind her who were constantly annoyed by the noise wafting from her back yard when her family and friends were in the pool or just out BBQing.   And she always punctuate the conversation with “But I will never move!  This is my dream house!”

Imagine my surprise when a couple months ago, her sons now graduated from high school, I spotted a big fat For Sale sign on her property.  Now they are gone- to where I have no idea.  Since her sons were old enough to travel the neighborhood independently, our only communication was a wave as I drove by her house.  She was usually outside meticulously manicuring her yard and garden and/or washing down the entire street in front of her house in her bathrobe.

When doing therapy with children, a very common assessment tool is called “House, Tree, Person”.  The child is asked to draw all three on a blank piece of paper and the idea behind this is that they will “project” into the drawing aspects of their inner world.  I’ve always loved doing this with my little clients, allowing both of us to relax and get to know each other.  (And of course, I love any opportunity to color with my set of 64 Crayola Crayons-Burnt Umber and Brick Red being my favorites..)

In my quest to “let go” in 2015, I threw away all my notes and paraphenalia from graduate school, including my very first House, Tree, Person drawing.  But it doesn’t really matter.  Every one I’ve ever drawn looks just like this one.  I did this the other day sitting at my kitchen table.  You might ask if this is my “dream house”.   Not really.   I think I’m the only woman on earth who has never longed for her “dream house”.

Rather, I have many houses that I dream about.

Shortly after we moved from sunny California to Portland Oregon, my son Patrick, then 9 years old,  had a vivid dream about our family home we had sadly left behind.  He was outside playing with his brothers and the neighborhood kids with squirt guns.  Out of water, he attempted to charge into the kitchen for a refill but found the front door locked.  A stranger opened it and promptly announced “you don’t live here any more”.

Pausing here for a brief meltdown.

I grew up on Halo Drive in Compton, California.  I had my babies on Tedemory Drive in Whittier.  I sent my first son to high school from SE 31st Street in Portland, Oregon.  And I launched all three of them into adulthood from my current home on Del Monte Avenue.   Each house was a “dream house” to me because the people I loved the most made it just that.  And in each house, a part of me was projected on to the walls and floors and empty spaces as my own personality and inner being grew and developed, magically displayed like a crayon drawing on a clean white piece of linen paper.

I’m moving, downsizing, cleaning, sorting and putting up for sale once again a house I will someday dream about.  I’m feeling both excited and sad and several other emotions in between. But I am holding the tension of the opposites deep within as I go through this process.   It’s time to make a change, to grow in a new direction, to take a chance, to redirect the energy in my life.   It will be a bittersweet journey.

I will take this home with me.  Every house I’ve ever lived in has taken up permanent residence in my heart and soul, carefully placed on my own personal Street of Dreams.

And I can revisit them any time I like.

 

Strength in Numbers

Strength in Numbers

Anyone familiar with the Shaheen family knows that it is a male dominated clan.  My dad is one of five brothers.  My parents had five sons.  I have three sons.   Four of my brothers all have at least one or two sons.  One of my brothers married a man!  Gee whiz!

Females are a rarity.   And we stick together.

We are not the perfect family by any stretch of the imagination.  We’ve been through some tough things and have come out on the other side, strong in the broken places.  Each of us has a story to tell about the Shaheen men we have lived with, supported, nurtured and loved unconditionally.

I have learned so much about life from these brave women.  They have inspired me.  They have taken me shopping.  They have given me wardrobe and home decorating advice.  They have buoyed me up in times of despair and sadness.   They are the bonuses of my life.

Katie, Mojgan, Susan, Catherine, Christine, Adrienne, Adele, Aimee and Elizabeth.  We are missing Charise, Annamarie, Katy, Sarah, Jessica and my new daughter-in-law Brianna.  God willing, next year we will all be together for this picture.  It will be the best Christmas ever.

I am very grateful for these women.  They bring so many unique gifts and charisms to the Shaheen family.  My life would be very one dimensional without their strength and femininity, compassion and nurturing.  Not to mention our  collective cooking skills!

We no doubt have challenges ahead as every family does.  But we will navigate both the good times and the difficult times as they come.  We are sisters and friends.  We are united by our shared history.

We are strong together.