grad school, parenthood, identity crisis. welcome to the rabbit hole.

Monday, September 28, 2015


Mikey only calls me now for one reason.

Friday afternoon, on my way to pick up Lena, I see his name on my phone, and I ask myself, do I want to have dinner with Mikey at Cinco de Mayo? The answer is yes, and I answer the phone.

When we get to the restaurant Mikey is half a margarita ahead of us, which really if you think about it is kind of how he lives his life, half a margarita ahead of everyone.

Over dinner, Lena asks Mikey, "Have you heard about the three holes?" And Mikey says, "Yes." Lena blinks at him, and Mikey laughs apologetically, "I mean, no." And Lena's eyes light up and she gets to finish her joke, "Well, well, well."

There's a pause, and then the ridiculous head shaking laugh that you give at puns. The laugh you give when you don't want to admit amusement.

Mikey leans over the table earnestly and says, "You know what I wanted your mom to name you? I wanted your mom to name you 'Amirah.' What do you think about that?"

Lena doesn't say anything so she probably doesn't think anything of it.

Mikey continues, "And then when you came out, your mom named you Lena. And that is a great name, you know why? Because you are such a Lena!"

She is such a Lena though. Right? Like look at that kid. She just looks like a Lena!


A friend that I absolutely love and respect is having a baby and she's fortysomething and she's kind of worried and in my twentysomething way I tell her that it's all going to be okay. And then she tells me she wants to have a natural childbirth and I say,

"I had a natural childbirth! It was great!"

She looks at me. "Great?"

"Well, ok, maybe great isn't the right word. It was horrible, but it was really great!"


Like two weeks ago I wrote about being articulate and boy that has just fallen by the wayside.

Look at this Lena. Look at this life. How great!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

out of context

In a college creative nonfiction class I wrote about the banalities of being pregnant. I wrote at lengths about the bathrooms in all of the buildings. I remarked on which ones always seemed to be out of soap, which were the most crowded, which ones had the green, water-saving flush handles.

In a writing workshop the professor leads the discussion. "What is meant by this detail," he asks. "What is the author saying about the green, waters-saving flush handles?"

I remember the class staying silent. Me thinking, nothing. I meant nothing about the green, water-saving flush handles.

The silence is broken because it will not be broken until someone breaks it, and someone, I don't remember who, says "It's because she had to go to the bathroom a lot?"

I don't remember the ensuing conversation on my bathroom habits, instead I thought of the intention of words, writing, speaking, sharing. How great it is, how terrifying to let go a part of you, let it float around. What it is like to have your words in someone else's mouth. To hear them with a different accent, different emphasis.

(A word is dead//when it is said//some say//I say//it just begins to live that day.)

But to be misunderstood, to be taken out of context, is this not the worst thing you can do to a person? To judge someone, unfairly, to take a piece of them and construct a picture based only on that? The greatest injustice! To take someone's skin color or religious affiliation or political party (or words said in the dark, words in response to a gaze) and to judge them based solely on that?

Oddly enough I find myself echoing the sentiments of this New Yorker piece, about the lawyer Judy Clarke, who has most recently defended the Boston Marathon bomber, and generally defends, to borrow from the title "the worst of the worst." What she does is to ask the jury not to judge the defendant on their worst moment, but to consider them as a whole.

Consider not, only, the green, water-saving flush handles, but the whole toilet, if you will.

It turns out I meant a lot about the green, water-saving flush handles. I was trying to say, look at the small ridiculous details of life. Look how much we miss, going through the motions. Look how many things are right in front of us.

Y'all. I have so many goddamn stories about bathrooms. Because when you're pregnant you have to pee all the time and literally someone asked me what I missed most about not being pregnant and I said being able to expel everything from your bladder at one time. LITERALLY. Also this is still the most satisfying feeling in the world, it's up there with an orgasm. Be pregnant, and you will never take peeing for granted ever again.

And also the green, water-saving, goddamn motherfucking flush handles. (In Greenlaw and Peabody but not yet in Saunders.)

In my preliminary examination I was told to be more precise in my language, and I get that now. And again. Be intentional with your words, I learned in writing, because they are they one thing you give to the reader. (Or the audience. Or the boy, in the dark.) And those words, those are all you can give, and it is all you can do to hope that they live on without you.

It is unfair it is unfair it is UNFAIR, I used to scream at the world. For my decisions, for my life, it is unfair. And then something flipped in me, a switch, a green, water-saving flush handle if you will, and I started to live my life with intention. With precision.

Now I am taken less out of context. Less is taken from me without my consent. But some things still are. And to them I whisper, this is unfair. And I gather my words in my mouth, and turn and walk away.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

the time of our lives.

Growing up is funny, ain't it? Filled with lots of learning and growing and...learning and growing.

In high school I learned about poetry. The stage. Sharing and performance and reading. And poets. Oh, oh, the poets.

In college I learned about And the importance of protected sex. 

And now. Graduate school. Graduate school is this amazing combination of paralyzing insecurity and exciting ideas and one minute you're flying and the next falling but the best part, the best part...the best part is the friends.

Between the falling and the flying there's someone that's right there next to you falling and flying with you. 

I passed my preliminary exam today, so I'm officially a PhD candidate. (oh that reminds me gotta go change my email signature...brb....ok back.) And the best part, the best part...well. 

Aspen sent me a pie, a pie! From Pie in the Sky! From WOODS HOLE. Aspen sent me a PIE. from PIE IN THE SKY. 

When I opened the air mail box from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, I immediately then ran back to lab to grab my phone to inform Aspen that she had in fact, sent me a PIE, and throughout the lab I sang/squealed, PIE. ASPEN SENT ME A PIE. 

And Firas. Firas got me DIPPIN DOTS, because you know they are the MICROFLUIDICS OF ICE CREAM. And samosas. Because 90% of the time I talk about indian food. 

Pie. From PIE IN THE SKY. Dippin Dots. And samosas. 

Oh yeah, and friends. Those too. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

i hope you remember this

In the hot tub, Mikey asks Lena, What do you think you will remember about this time in twenty years.

I hope it is this. The endless joke telling. The laughter. Late summer nights. The five people on a three-person couch and the singing and the dancing and Lena, this is what it is liked to be loved unconditionally. To be accepted unconditionally. Lena this is true friendship and I wonder if you will remember this.

And for me, on the way home, after Lena has fallen asleep and the windows are down and I slowly turn the music up, up, up and it's Kendrick Lamar singing I love myself and I hope that I remember this. This unconditional self love. This acceptance. And this is the way home. However hard it gets however angry or sad or frustrated or scared, this is the way home, and even though it's been a long time, even if I've been away for a while, I have never forgotten the way home.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

the elusive "all"

My parents didn't watch a ton of TV when I was a kid, so unlike a lot of my friends I don't have these nostalgia moments about Tom Brokaw or David Letterman. What I have a lot of nostalgia for is the opening bars to NPR's 'All Things Considered' intro music, to 'I'm Terry Gross, and this is Fresh Air.'

Yesterday on Fresh Air Terry Gross was interviewed by comedian Mark Maron, and she briefly discusses that she chose never to have children because she wanted to love her work and for her work to be her life.

And there's that trope again, that women have to choose between family and career, that it's impossible to have both, that we never can have it all.

I'm in graduate school. I love the project that is turning into my thesis project. Another student and I have dreams to start a company. We're thinking about ideas and names and sometimes it feels ridiculous and silly and other times incredibly real and serious. (Except I still really like the name 'Cuppa Bio' and Firas doesn't so idk.)

(Wait I can't let that go yet. Cuppa Bio??? That's like the best name ever. Cuppa Bio. Cuppa Bio. Like cup of bio? CUPPA BIO.)

Lena is seven. I have to run some ridiculous errand that takes me across town to a UPS hub. (Yay grad school!) Lena hovers at the counter, and is ridiculously chatty. For the first time in three years she brings up my ex: "I really miss that restaurant we used to go to with Alex." "The chinese buffet?" "Yeah, that one." I make orange chicken from Trader Joe's and over dinner we talk about whether or not evolution is 'easy,' and Fresh Air is on in the background. And giving my daughter Fresh Air? That's all. Sharing Terry Gross with Lena? That's having it all.

Our start up is a possibility, because I think we can do it. And Lena is so so so so fun. And I think this, this is having it all. This is it! This is all! You just have to have a kid when you're twenty and then everything will work out PERFECTLY. You love your work and be married to your work and have the best kid ever and that is having it all!


Except it's not. Because I don't have a partner. I love Lena and she loves me but every now and then, that's just not enough. I want to be loved loved. I still want to be loved.

I guess the crux there is the 'want,' right? It's not 'need.' It's just want. So still. Life is pretty sweet.

I used to think, "Let's just remove 'having it all' from our vocabularies." "Let's just be satisfied with what we have and not worry about living someone else's idea of what a perfect life looks like."

But I can see it. I can see this impact and I can see Lena and I can see it all and I want it. I want it all, I want it all so so so bad, and I don't even care. I don't care that it's a myth and that it's unattainable and that it doesn't exist and it's all in my head or it's all in someone else's head, I am going to have it all.

Work that I love, a kid that I love, and I'm going to be loved.

That's it. That's all.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

mother's day

I spend all day, every day, being constantly humbled. By science, because there is always something to learn, by people, who are so different from me and filled with so many ideas, and by Lena, because what is more humbling than a kid, who doesn't care what kind of day I've had, how I feel, she’s always there, there, there. Always Lena.

I am in an amazing place, and every day I recognize how grateful, how lucky, how blessed I am. And I am humble. So filled with gratitude, marveling at this life that I have stumbled in to.

Lena is an amazing kid. As a scientist, I get that this is 80% luck, 15% me not being an alcoholic while pregnant, and 5% prenatal vitamins. (Those are really accurate numbers btw because SCIENCE.) But today, Mother’s Day, I want a little credit.

We (women, mothers) so rarely take any credit. There is no time in the day to be selfish, to marvel and say I did that. Today I'm giving myself that gift. I'm letting myself say it.

Lena is amazing. She sits through Seders with grad students, and while reading the four questions, I hear one girl whisper to another, “She reads so well!” My heart swells with pride. We read together every night. I have filled our house with books, and reading is a joy. We share stories out loud each day so that Lena greets new words like new friends: open and excited to learn from them. Today I can think to myself, I did that. 

Lena is not fearless, but she’s brave. She tries things, and she conquers them. She jumps in the pool, she crosses the monkey bars. At the doctor she gets shots like a champ. The first time at the dentist she walked back to the procedure room without looking back. While I cook dinner with the windows open I hear her counting her pogo stick bounces. 99, 100. She catches fish and plays in the ocean. Today I think to myself, I did that.  (Ok---so I’m taking some liberties here. I hate fish and you could not pay me to touch one so I did not literally contribute to that aspect of Lena. But like, I try not to act like a baby in front of her and I encourage her to do different things so like metaphorically I did that. But eugh, fish. No thank you.)

I’m not sure I know what kindness looks like in a seven year old, but Lena is starting to be kind. She says nothing that she doesn't mean with her entire heart. She has never told me that she hates me, in anger. She’s never told me she likes Nana and Pops’ house better, even though she does. She doesn't complain when I tuck us into bed at 7:30, because the world is just too much for me. Lena does not sneer at the choices of other children, how they look, what they read, what they eat. Today I’m letting myself think, I did that. 

Lena is polite, smart, and funny. She wakes up happy. She doesn't complain when we have cereal for dinner. She greets challenges with a smile. She is kind. She is curious. She picks up frogs and worms and fish. She runs, she doesn't walk. She loves. Oh, oh oh, she loves, and she is loved and I did that. 

Ok, so I didn’t do all of it, humble, grateful, village etc etc etc. But today, Mother’s Day. I am being selfish. Today I’m letting myself say it: I’m a damn good mom.

But oh yeah, it’s mother’s day. So what about my mom?

Your daughter is trying her best. Your daughter is learning so much, what it means to be kind, what it means to be brave. Your daughter has been through some hard stuff, sure, some of it of her own doing, and she has made it through. Your daughter is a good mom, which makes you a great one.

I love you, Mom, the unsung hero of our family, the most selfless, the most generous. The one who gives and gives and gives, and who we do not give enough in return.

Happy Mother’s Day, Nana. You're the greatest.

Monday, March 30, 2015

scratching the surface

I don’t think I was drunk, but I could not have been sober. I keep waiting for all of the memories to come back, but they don’t. Instead I have to reach for them, screw my eyes tight and really reach, and I never do.

I met a bartender that in my past life was a busboy, and he says things that made me dig deep within myself to find my corresponding stories. Did I remember the bartender with the kids, the line cook with the lisp, the one with long hair that is at a new restaurant, that time he had a seizure in the kitchen and woke up with Mickey holding him. Mickey...which one was Mickey, oh he was the nice one, the tall one.

I don’t remember being drunk, but I hate being drunk. I get tipsy so easy so I even try to avoid that. But there was always beer, and harder, in styrofoam cups. For a while there was always red bull and vodka, so much red bull and vodka, the thought of which makes me want to puke, so I must have, once. Right?

Do I not remember, or did these things not happen?

Now on my way to pick up Lena I drive by restaurants that we used to have friends at. The owners have changed and I wonder if the bars are the same, remember the time we took a bottle of tequila and drove off. Remember the laughing, filling our styrofoam cups with margaritas, drive away, laughing.

I couldn’t have been sober, so I must have been drunk.


Lena has been gone one day, and my days are empty, without structure, without purpose.

Was this my life before her?

This is not to say that people without kids have no purpose, but I have found so much purpose with Lena. I think this is a reflection on me. I’m a little weak, on my own. I lack direction and motivation. This must be how I floated through a year not sure whether I was drunk or sober, most likely somewhere in between.

And maybe I would have found something to hold on to---poetry, writing. Maybe science. I hope science. And yeah, so I cheated. I didn’t have to find something to hold on to, find something to ground me. I’ll never know if I would have been strong enough to find it myself. Instead, it was handed to me. Wiped clean and swaddled in blankets, Lena.