My Good Friend

I was rummaging through some old stuff, looking for a birthday card, when I found this paragraph below. It was written sometime when I was in fourth grade. This essay wasn’t dated, but the one right before it (on how to make an ice cream sundae) was dated February 2, 1987. That means I wrote the “essay” about six months after we moved to the U.S.

Honestly, it broke my heart a little. And I can’t imagine what my teacher must have thought when she read it. That’s all…no deeper thoughts for now.

The Princess and the P

I know it’s a bit too late for a post-Halloween post (all the on-the-ball mamas probably did it by midnight of the 31st), but I’m definitely of the better-late-than-never mindset.

This year, P, along with every other girl in her preschool wanted to be a princess. OK, I take that back, I remember seeing a mermaid. And a Princess Leia (Disney’s newest princess?). When I saw the gaggle of children at the Halloween “parade,” aka children wildly running to their parents in excitement as teachers tried to make them walk in a line, my first thought was: why don’t any of the boys want to be prince charming? They were probably having too much fun being firefighters,  Humpty, and Dumpty to worry about rescuing all the girl preschoolers from the clutches of evil stepmothers.

I’ve already chronicled my own issues with Halloween elsewhere, so I’m generally pretty determined that P will have a different Halloween experience. So, donning her Cinderella dress and tiara, she ran around with the other kids, and ate her treats.

I’ll be honest: I had tried my best to have her pick another costume. Super Girl? Doctor? Anything else? The idea that someone of my flesh and blood could be so princess-centric is completely foreign. No one who knows me, even remotely, could ever ever in a million years call me a girly-girl.

Not being a girly-girl is practically unheard of in Iranian culture. Almost every Iranian woman (and I only say almost because I’m thinking of my sister as the other lone exception) wears gobs of makeup, is always immaculately put-together, wouldn’t dare sunbathe in order to keep a clear complexion, is always wearing incredibly trendy clothing, and more likely than not, has had some sort of surgical enhancement, and looks YEARS younger than her husband, even though they are probably the same age. I realize that I’m making incredibly huge generalizations, but I know a lot of Iranian women who fit this bill.

My lack of girly-girl-ness, however, came as a result of growing up in Iran. We moved from Iran when I was nine, and from the time I started school when I was six, I had to wear headgear to cover my hair. My solution, completely endorsed by my parents, who thought having to cover my hair at such a young age was completely ridiculous, was to cut my hair really short and pretend I was a boy outside of school. Minutes after the school bell would ring, I would run out of the building, tear off my headscarf, and sprint home. Ahhh what a heady feeling of freedom.

I got to be so good at pretending I was a boy that a second cousin, who was in the military, was able to sneak me into the military stables and have me hang around with the horses. The obsession with horses, a staple of all girl childhoods, was definitely not lost on me.

Once we got to the U.S., I tried to shed the tomboy tendencies, but it was difficult. I distinctly remember holding the door for an elderly couple at a restaurant, and being thanked in this way, “Thanks, son.” My English was still rocky, but I was shocked at not being recognized as a girl.

So I figured the next step to becoming a “real girl” was acquiring a Barbie. So I shamelessly begged for one. The only one I was allowed to have was Astronaut Barbie, since my mom was not too keen on the whole princess thing.

She did see the error of her ways at some point, though. I may have been the only teenage girl who was begged BEGGED by her mother to wear makeup (this generally happened in a frantic tone in the car as we were going to visit relatives, who were generally really well-put-together Iranian women). I was probably not the first teenage girl to be begged to wear lighter colors (I was no goth, but somehow she thought I was). All to no avail.

What I find fascinating is that my parents are now the princess enablers in P’s life. My mom is getting an early start. There’s no need to pretend P is a boy in America. My mom is definitely getting all the girly-girl potential she lost with me in P.

I generally find it pretty amusing, and despite half-heartedly trying to get P to wear a different Halloween costume, I try not to be too militant anti-princess. P has a pretty healthy curiosity, likes kicking and throwing balls and rolling in dirt as much as any other toddler–boy or girl.

And the following picture also gives me hope. Image

Any girl who goes to an indoor playground, dresses up as a princess and then proceeds to put on a hard hat and play with the Black & Decker toy tool set is probably going to be OK.

On Music

If you thought that you couldn’t be moved to tears (tears of pain, not laughter) by a cartoon, then you’ve never been an Iranian expat watching Persepolis.The movie-length cartoon, based on the graphic novels (or comic books?) of the same name, tells the story of a young Iranian who lives through the Revolution, moves abroad, moves back to Iran, and goes back abroad again.

There are many poignant and unbelievable scenes, but the one that always makes me dissolve in a pool of tears is the scene in which Marjane is walking around, trying to buy some music illegally on the streets. If you’ve never seen it, here it is on YouTube:


Anyway, many things in the movie seem surreal, but none other than the sight of a teenager on the prowl for some Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder, and “Jichael Mackson.” The scene may be comical (it is), but it is also a really painful snapshot of how things really were in Iran.

For my sister and her cool friends (and by extension, moi, because what little sister doesn’t annoyingly follow everything her older one does?), it was always A-Ha (you may remember my post about Iranians’ obsession with blonds). However, my parents wouldn’t DREAM of having their 13 year-old (my sister, not me) go out and get in trouble by prowling for illegal music. So my mother would take it upon herself to head to the seedy parts of town, asking for any new A-Ha tapes. Little did we know that A-Ha released very little new music after their huge hit, “Take On Me.”

So my mom came back one day with what I believe was a U2 tape…Joshua Tree maybe? You know the song “With or Without You”? The part where the chorus goes “with or without you ahhhhhh haaaaaaaa, I can’t liiiiiiiiiiiive”? Well, I (or was it my sister?) pretty much convinced myself (ourselves?) that the “ah ha” in the middle of the song really meant that the band singing was, indeed, A-Ha. And we would sing along without abandon, with our nonexistent English skills, while my parents (who, you know, actually knew the language) would try to correct us by telling us the real words. All the while we’d continue singing phonetically and declare that they were the ones wrong in their word choice and pronunciation.

That is a very long trip down memory lane, and all things I’ve been thinking about as P gets more and more excited about singing and dancing, and music in general. At this point, I’m leaving all the preschool songs to my parents, while I slowly indoctrinate her in all things Beatles.

This has been surprisingly easy, since there are so many animal-themed Beatles songs. She loves “Octopus’s Garden,” but isn’t that crazy about “Piggies.” “Blackbird” is a bit slow for her, but she tolerates it pretty well since I insist on belting it out at the top of my lungs. Her favorite though? Definitely a non-animal themed song: “Michelle.” She requests it every other day, and insists that I sing it to her every night to say goodnight.

She even knows the words and sings along. Sometimes, she sings by herself. One time, we were walking in San Francisco, and she was singing “Michelle” with very little help from me. We passed a cafe, and a woman looked at P singing, and couldn’t contain her excitement. “Yes,” she said, “start them early!”

She even tries to sing the French parts…you know, “sont le mot qui vont tres bien ensemble, tres bien ensemble.” (Forgive the incorrect spelling, but I’m working on high school French here.) Her French sounds like you would expect a 2 1/2 non-native French person sounding: pretty rough. She basically just mouths the words really theatrically, looking at me with wide eyes to see if she’s saying them correctly.

She probably sounds like my sister and me about twenty years ago, as we tried singing along to U2. The obvious big difference being that instead of going to horrid parts of town and risking arrest to get some music, I just turn on my iPod.

Strange how seeing your child do something triggers a whole flood of different memories from your own childhood. And makes you respect what your parents did when you were growing up.

I’ll try introducing P to A-Ha (maybe) and U2 (definitely). And have my mom tell her stories of what it was like trying to find those tapes in the seedy parts of Tehran.

I’ll Put it on My Eyes

My family had been living in the U.S. for just over a year when we moved into an incredibly cute duplex in a working class town 20 miles south of San Francisco. The house had a front yard filled with wood chips, a sunny eat-in kitchen, and hardwood floors throughout.

We had moved to Northern California from Irving, Texas, not too long before. In Texas, we first lived at my aunt’s house (for…two months? Three? The details are fuzzy) and then a hopelessly depressing apartment.

So the duplex in San Leandro was definitely a step up. And we had an awesome view: the house across the street. It was one of those beautifully refined Craftsman-style houses–incredibly well-kept and sporting a fantastic yard.

The man who lived there was, in every sense, quite neighborly. He was always out in his yard with a huge sun-hat, perfecting the garden, waving hello as we walked or drove by.

We hadn’t been there very long when he knocked on the door one day, presenting my dad with a huge basket of vegetable-garden bounty. I remember there were zucchini, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

My father, already an emotional man, was over the moon. He started praising the vegetables, our neighbor, America in general, and ended with “Thank you so much. I’ll put them on my eyes.”

Our neighbor wasn’t really sure what to make of this, and said something to the effect of, well, I guess you can do that, but it’s probably better if you eat them.

You see, my dad was literally translating a common saying in Farsi. The phrase, which is said when one person gives another something of value, literally means “I’ll put the [insert gift here] on my eyes.” But the real meaning is that the gift is so precious that I’ll put them on my most precious possession, my eyes (well, something to that effect anyway). It’s just a very flowery way of saying thank you.

That little sentence has fueled my love for all things involving literal translations. They are a fantastic, albeit nerdy, source of amusement.

Fast-forward 20 years, as I try valiantly (and often fail) to sing P lullabies that are actually lullabies, and not Tori Amos or Simon & Garfunkel songs. This is how bad I am–until recently, I would finish “Hush Little Baby” in this way:

If that looking glass don’t shine
Mama’s gonna buy you a concubine.

Every night I would think, what if she asks me what a concubine is tonight? So when I remembered, I would use “porcupine” instead. I pretty much learned how to correctly end that song while watching Skylar singing it to her newborn baby on Breaking Bad. (Ohhhhhhhhh Daddy loves you and so do I!)

So when an Italian friend and his American wife, back from a trip to the Ye Olde Country, gave us a book of traditional Italian nursery rhymes and lullabies, I was super excited. If I can’t teach P all the right American songs, at least A can teach her Italian ones.

And then I saw the songs and rhymes.

And they are ripe for a literal translation.

Here’s the first (please excuse my shoddy translations and lack of rhyming. It’s been a while):

Under the Baracca Bridge,

Little Gigin is pooping.

His poop is really, really hard,

So a doctor came to measure it.

He measured thirty-three,

Now it’s your time to count!

It needs to be said: wha? A nursery rhyme about pooping? Really hard, worrisome poop that needs doctor intervention? This may be the best nursery rhyme ever!

Well, that’s what I thought until I read this next one:


Three little owls on the dresser

Were making love to the doctor’s daughter

The doctor got really really mad


OK. WHAT? This is a nursery rhyme? About three owls having sex with the doc’s daughter? Who, rightfully so, gets mad? I mean, wouldn’t you if three owls were having sex with your daughter? All I can say is, leave it to the Italians to come up with a nursery rhyme that involves sex.

A laughed hysterically when he saw these rhymes in the book. I guess it’s one thing to hear them said over and over again, and it’s completely different to see them written on paper.

Well, K and M, friends who brought back the book from Italy: I love it. I’ll put it on my eyes.

As American as Peanut Butter

Photo by BrianC

I have no idea who came up with the phrase “as American as apple pie,” but I can assure you that no one outside of the U.S. considers apple pie to be as American as Americans think it is.

Peanut butter…well, that’s a completely different story. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world that uses as much peanut butter as the U.S., if they use it at all. Or if they even know what it is.

On our trip back to the Olde Country, my brother-in-law’s girlfriend was trying to figure out what the heck peanut butter is. Mind you, she’s an intelligent woman, with her own law firm and all. The woman can even cook, but the whole concept of peanut butter was beyond her. The conversation went something like this:

BIL’s GF: “So, what exactly is peanut butter?”

Me: “It’s just ground up peanuts.”

GF: “Just peanuts?”

Me: “Well, if you’re making it yourself, you may want to add a tablespoon of peanut oil to make it smoother…but yeah, it should just be peanuts.”

GF: “So there’s absolutely no butter in it? Well I guess it can’t be that bad for you then.”

Apparently, the term “butter” throws people off. Outside of the U.S., it’s not seen so much as a texture, but as an ingredient. It made me wonder what foreigners think when they see apple butter or pumpkin butter in the market.
Until recently, I was not such a big fan of the PB myself (that whole cleanse thing I did about a year ago changed that–it was big on nut butters). I still have this theory that no one born outside of the U.S. can really really love peanut butter. A. isn’t a big fan. He’ll pretty much eat it if there is nothing else around and he is famished.

It’s probably like Aussies and Vegemite. Or living in Rome. You just have to be born into it or else it’s never going to feel natural.

So it shouldn’t have come as a total shock (though it kinda did) when I discovered that P was crazy about the stuff. But not in a I-will-have-a-PB&J-sandwich-everyday type of way. More like peanut-butter-reminds-me-of-home type of way.

When we were in Italy, we visited some friends who had just moved away from the Bay Area to live in Venice. They missed some American yumminess, including (but not limited to) dried mangoes from Trader Joe’s, Mexican food, and of course, peanut butter. They were super excited because they had just made a batch of PB using a very powerful food processor. They brought the jar out of the fridge, and P’s eyes just lit up.

Vigorous nodding was happening when I asked if she wanted to taste some. I took a spoon and started scooping some out. One spoon led to four, at which point I gave my friends the jar back. Poor things, I didn’t want P to devour their tiny jar of prized PB in five minutes.

Moments like these always come as a surprise to me. Logically, I know that P was born here and is growing up here. Emotionally, it’s still strange to be bringing up an American girl.

She probably won’t be a completely all-American girl, but much closer than an all-Iranian or all-Italian girl. She will most likely like chocolate more than lavashak (the original fruit roll-up…but without sugar and SUPER tart…what all the Iranian kids want as a treat) and know the names of all the Sesame Street characters (I still don’t know Bert from Ernie).

She’ll like Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak books, and wonder why I gush about Tintin all the time.

Will P really be as American as peanut butter? We may have to start her on Vegemite soon, just to stir the pot (or jar) a bit.