Zen and the art of buying za’atar

I have always struggled with an ongoing internal narrative about the wrongness of the way I am doing things and the potential negative outcomes of my ‘mistakes’, glass half empty behaviour that is learned not innate but nonetheless difficult to rid myself of.

As a parent it has often felt like warding off a hostile universe as I desperately hold onto my children’s hands so as to not risk them running in front of cars or fall off the path into the pond.
When I measure my parenting style against that of the children’s Father, it looks pedantic and paranoid and I have viewed his way of doing things as uncautious and inattentive. The result is that parenting has always worn me out as I struggle to implement the things I thought necessary, imposing my very middle class two child style family vision onto a family twice the size and grown within entirely different circumstances.

My negative internal narrative has fed into other areas also. I have had an almost pathological fear of being late because it is ‘unorganised, disrespectful and disruptive’. Even ten years of attending functions on time only to discover that the advertised time is just a marker for ‘starts three hours after this’ has not beat this fear out of me. I hate being late and I hate others being late. I have not adjusted to Muslim time.

Until this morning, when a house devoid of lunch materials forced me to agree to buy it.
‘I will drop you off at homeschooling club and then go and buy it and then bring it to you’, I said.
And this met much displeasure as the house was also devoid of breakfast materials.
‘Mum, please’
I found myself experience a familiar tightening of the chest, we will be late. And then it hit me, it doesn’t matter. I am not going to make a regular habit of it. It doesn’t matter.
So I pulled up outside the Za’atar shop and left the children in the car. Disregarding the voice that told me it is illegal because the oldest is only ten and they were out of vision. Without looking for hidden Today Tonight camera’s, without seeing newpaper headlines flashing across the sky ‘Irresponsible Fundamentalist Muslim leaves four children alone in a car.’
I walked those ten metres without looking back.
At this point you may be wondering what a half gluten free family is doing in a Za’atar shop, but we are half Lebanese too and what can I say but ‘maktoub’.
I placed my order and sank into a chair and then suddenly, semi satori amongst the man’oush. A deep peace washed over me as I just ‘was’ . Five minutes passed with barely a thought, to just be, on a plastic chair, no children and the scent of oregano and sesame.

Life will clearly never be the same again.

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Wafa having her own satori moment.

Silver moon buttons

It’s dusk on this cool Winter evening yet the wattle birds might deceive us into thinking Spring has come. As my children assemble Bionicles in the other room I sit here poised between remembering and the bittersweet loss of not being able to hold images and sounds in my head for long enough to assemble something tangible. There is no one to remember with me so in a sense it may as well have been a life that belonged to another.

Perhaps I won’t ever stop grieving for the eyes and hearts that reflected back to me my conception of self. The loss of that stage of my life is too inextricably linked with the breakdown of friendships that took the place of family, one and the same thing now. I do not lament the transition into another way of being, it is just an aching for recognition of my roots. Otherwise it seems like being transplanted into a strange soil, before and what was is gone.

In the later stages of my Grandmother’s dementia she told me stories from the first decades of her life. Things I had never heard before detailing her experiences as a young woman growing up after the First World War were spoken about as if they were present events. Unable to make the present coherent she had retreated into things fixed safely in her mind.

It is only a one hour flight separating me from Hobart but it is fifteen years separating me from the Hobart of my memory. Sometimes I try and isolate the focus of this longing, what are the ingredients for the hold it has on me? Familiarity or the ‘freedom’ of youth? The safety of cultural belonging? It’s hard to know. I don’t want to go back in time or be elsewhere just sometimes to sit by a hearth with someone who knew, to unify then and now. It will happen eventually, the seemingly disparate threads will be woven into a whole.

It is strange the things that take position as memories.

Anna and I are running across Bathurst Street at 2am. We both have shaved heads and we are wearing halo’s made from silver star wire. Like awkward zebras our legs emerge from velvet skirts tamed by cherry coloured boots. A car drives past and it is her father, we laugh hysterically.

It is December 1992 and I am lost in Fairfield, Melbourne. Somehow the taxi dropped me off in the wrong suburb. I have no idea how to get to where I am staying in Northcote. I finally knock on the door of a nearby house despite the fact it is close to 1am and I look like a banshee. Two hours beforehand elated that I passed for eighteen, I stood in the front row at The Palace in St Kilda and sang every word of every song Nick sang. Now, dreary and cold and sober they shut the door in my face.

I’m at the Raven Moon Festival at Roaring Beach and I’m wearing a crocheted beanie with an elf pointed head. I am very thin and my favourite corduroy pants fall low around my hips. I am sitting on a hay bale drinking soy chai. There is a pressure on my legs and I pull up my pants to discover I am covered in leeches, I run into the ocean and the salt water pries them from my skin.

It’s an art school benefit night and my flat mate is tracing the shape of my kiss curl on my cheek. I’m somewhat uncomfortable but not really sure what to say so I sip mulled wine and listen to the band. Later when we get home my other flat mate won’t speak to me, I don’t understand what I have done and I ask. She is standing in front of the mirror taking off her make up with pursed lips. ‘It doesn’t matter’, she says and then upon my persistence ‘you are being so aggressive.’

His name is Adam and he owns just about every album I have ever wanted. He tries to make himself look like Morrissey, long narrow face and quaffed hair. My bedroom window is curved Art Deco and at night I sit in its nook and smoke hand rolled cigarettes and listen to The Jesus and Mary Chain. Sometimes I think I could just merge into sound and lose my edges completely.

We are straying from the edges of the path in Ferntree, air like damp soil. Later on blue lipped we cavort in the playground at Fitzroy Place. The entire landscape is like a Miro painting and it is both inside and outside me. I have never felt such joy.

Eventually when itemised like a shopping list these shadow thoughts become opaque and capable of telling me nothing. There is no deep offering to be made, they can give me nothing of me then and tell me nothing of me now. At most they tell the story of a subculture in a particular place and time, meaningless to anyone outside it, meaningless even to memory.

As I write there is a knock on the door and a woman I don’t know comes inside carrying a small baby. Her English is limited but better than my Arabic. A scarf frames her face and I hazard a guess at her age, early twenties maybe. I make her a coffee and we scramble together a conversation made of odd words and phrases. I talk to her as a mother and a Muslim and in the corner of my eye I glimpse a zebra leg, a fake fur coat with silver moon buttons. These lives that do not fit together and yet are unified in my experience. I am the common denominator, now bony hips turned matronly folds.

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