Thursday, July 29, 2010


I don’t know how we managed to do it, but our son is hooked on books. Maybe it’s because we’re both teachers. Maybe it’s because we never forced books on him, but they are everywhere in our house—in his playpen, all over his room. My own collection takes up three large shelves. Books for school and work clutter the dining room table. Maybe it’s because we’ve been reading to him since his first week of life. Maybe it’s just … luck!

Zade’s appetite for books can best be described as voracious. He literally devours what he sees. Literally. He’s been known to chew up brand new board books beyond recognition within minutes. He tears flaps, wrinkles pages, bends spines in ways they’re not supposed to be bent.

His tastes are not entirely discriminating, though he does have his favorites. He keeps trying to sink his teeth into the novel I’m reading, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I tried to tell him there’s no pictures, that it’s not age appropriate, that it just doesn’t taste good. “Gaaa!” he yells in protest.

Haz has been reading Dr. Seuss’s Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can you? to him since he was a few weeks old. We’ve both read it so many times that we have it memorized. There’s Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, I Love You Through and Through (by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak), I’ll See You in the Morning (by Mike Jolley), Peek a Who (by Nina Laden), My Animals by Xavier Deneaux, and of course, others. The latter two books are the simplest (no plot whatsoever). Peek a Who contains rhymes of the popular phrase and colorful pictures; My Animals is simply a black and white illustrated collection of animals and their names. All of the above have been thoroughly chewed (an entire corner is missing from Zade’s original Peek a Who; the cover of his more recent copy is about to fall off ).

This morning I woke Zade up a little early in order to get him on a more normal sleep schedule (he’s been going to sleep close to midnight and sleeping until 10am all summer). As his eyes reluctantly opened, he looked at me and rolled over. His crankiness continued as I pulled him out of his crib and started to change his diaper. He seemed to wake up as soon as I gave him a book to flip through on the diaper changer (hey, we read magazines on the toilet, so why not?). “Gaaa…. Da da dush… dush…” He pushed the book into my face. You read it, Mom.

And so I read In My Meadow (by Sara Gillingham), complete with bunny finger puppet. As soon as I finished changing Zade, he wiggled in my arms signaling that he wanted to get down and play in his room, which is filled with blocks, too many Fisher Price toys, talking cars, stuffed animals, and puzzles in addition to books.

He went straight to the bookshelf and pulled out Mr. Brown Can Moo!

“Da da dush….!” He yelled, waddling over to me and shoving Mr. Brown in my face.

I realized that he still hadn’t had his morning bottle or any breakfast.

“Dushh!” he yelled.

“Ok, ok!”

Oh, the wonderful sounds Mr. Brown can do, he can go like a cow, he can go MOO MOO!

I read the entire book and Zade sat, crosslegged, transfixed. As soon as I finished, he fussed. “Da den, dush!” (I swear it sounded like, “again, rush!”)


And so the morning of one of my last days of summer vacation began. I read Mr. Brown about four times in a row, followed by Peek a Who and My Animals at least three times each. Sometime after that I managed to get Zade to follow me into the kitchen for a bottle. He brought My Animals with him. My Animals with the simple words: “Cat. Rabbit. Elephant. Crocodile. Sheep. Cow. Dog.”**

Whenever we get to the page with “dog” on it, Zade exclaims “gog.” He also stops listening once you pass the “gog” page. He has limited patience with most books. Often he’ll hand you a story—such as Mr. Brown—and a few pages in he’ll hand you another—such as I’ll See You in the Morning. Maybe he prefers the colors of some, or the feel of the pages of others. Maybe he gets bored with the rhyme and seeks another rhythm. Maybe it’s the excitement and anticipation of what to look at next. Maybe he simply enjoys the feeling of control.

Zade has always given his attention to books. He loves looking at them while riding in the car, pulling them off of bookshelves, and standing on them in his playpen for better leverag. But his latest quirk—reading the same few titles over and over again, is quite new. So are his emphatic demands—which, for the non-acquainted, might be a little difficult to decipher—but his pushing of books in your face definitely is not.

Tonight, right before bed, the trend continued. We read Mr. Brown, Peek a Who, My Animals, and I’ll See you in the Morning nonstop, on demand. If little Zade were demanding video games, candy, rides on the carousel, or piggy backs on demand, nonstop, I would not give in. But because this is books, I cannot, you know, stop. At least not as easily. I tried to introduce some new books (such as Hurry! Hurry! by Eve Bunting) but he was not interested. “Da dush!” he yelled, pushing I’ll See You in the Morning into my nose.

I’ll see you in the morning, now it’s time for sleep… I’ll stay and watch a while until you are counting sheep…

As I put Zade in his crib, he demanded an encore round of My Animals.

I pulled out the book. Cat. Rabbit. Horse. Pig. Cow.

“Gog!” he said, through his pacifier, sleepily. I kissed his cheek as he started to fuss and left him with the book (the pages are too thick to devour so there’s no danger of him eating paper and cardboard with this one).

“I’ll see you in the morning, Zade. Now it’s time to sleep.”

I smiled as I shut the door, realizing this was the only form of poetry I had read in weeks.

**This is not the exact order of animals included in My Animals. I can’t tell you the exact order because Zade is currently sleeping with the book in his crib. I do know that the “gog” page is about halfway through the book, however.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Two Years Later

Two years.

It's been nearly two years since I posted an entry on this blog.

To say a lot has happened would be quite an understatement.

I'll attempt to summarize where I've been:

Let's see. After Gustav, I settled back into my job as a second grade teacher and tried my best to get my students back on track after a week of hurri-cation. I unpacked and reorganized everything we evacuated with: my wedding dress, our photo albums, random mementos from Japan, dirty laundry, canned foods, random journals, cat food. During this process, I found out I was pregnant.

Seeing the blue, capitalized word, “PREGNANT” on the clear blue stick sent a shock of pure elation and fear through my entire body. We had both suspected I was, in fact “PREGNANT,” but were not prepared for the finality of it. The “what? No way” of it. I took another pregnancy test, a different brand, later that day just to be sure. Yes. Two pink strips. Not just one.

So I began carrying a little bean in my body, a bean that began growing amidst the confusion and calamity of Gustav, in the insipid nothingness of Tallahassee. A bean that grew with me throughout the entire school year. A bean that was born a beautiful boy we named Zade Andre Dayeh on May 14, 2009. He just turned 14 months old a few days ago. He just started walking a few weeks before that.

Zade has drastically changed our lives, and completely enriched them. Until now, I struggled to write—no, wait, I didn’t even attempt to write—about the experience of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. It’s all been too beautiful, too special, too all-encompassing to put into words. The hardest part of all is to describe how I truly feel about Zade, and how Zade has made my marriage to and love for Haz so much more complex and deep.

In the first few months of my pregnancy, I continued to work on my attempt at a novel about an adolescent girl who struggles with her parents divorce. Haz and I continued to go out to eat, see movies, hang with our cats, and travel (we went to Vancouver in October 2008 and New York in December that year). As Zade grew larger inside me, these activities became more and more infrequent.

In February 2009, as I became 7 months pregnant, we bought a house in Gentilly. A house whose character and soul were hopelessly buried beneath rat droppings, hot pink and purple paint, rotting carpet, old sticky whisky bottles, and empty bottles of Viagra. A house whose detached garage was infinitely more livable. I still don’t know how we convinced ourselves to take the plunge. We got a great deal. We saw the potential. Our teacher/helper/do-gooder selves wanted to help it. Our good friend and new neighbor said we could do it. But our 1940s blue cottage on Spain Street needed drastic, dramatic, near total renovation.

The next few months were a blur of racing the baby clock to get it all done. We hired our new next door neighbor Gerald’s (not to be confused with our other friend Gerald) son-in-law as a contractor to completely gut the house’s only bathroom and scary, cave-like kitchen. Haz put his heart and soul into painting the entire interior. I helped where I could, mostly focusing on painting doors and baseboard so I could be off my feet. So many friends, good and worried friends, helped us. Isabel, Andy, Noah, Dave, Tiffany, Katherine, Jenise, Gerald & Gerald: thank you, thank you, thank you. The Westbank Dayehs were there too: helping us pack up our Lakeview apartment, install the microwave, paint the picture rail. Thank you!

In those few months before Zade (a time we now call “B.Z”), glass was shattered, walls were smashed, new appliances were purchased, toilets and laundry rooms were moved, floors were refinished, granite was installed, rats were chased out, several truck loads of us stuff was relocated, and tons and tons of baby furniture was all put together.

The night I went to Touro to start my labor (or continue it, depending on your perspective) was the night we were supposed to finish painting and arranging the guest room. Zade wouldn’t allow it. He arrived, crying, and then my Mom arrived, on a plane, tired with no bed, blinds, or curtains in her room. But there was painter’s paper, paint trays, spackle, and some random fire-bellied toads in a tank from my second grade classroom. Haz and Isabel miraculously moved this stuff while I struggled to nurse Zade and stay awake.

I pretty much stopped writing altogether once we bought our house, and the not writing continued with the arrival of Zade. Writing will never have the importance for me that it once did. My family, my Mom job, is number one. I’m also a wife, a teacher. Oh yeah, and a student. Sometime after that I still consider myself a writer. It’s something I like to do, maybe love. But it’s definitely not the same love I attach to MOTHER. Mom. Wife. Teacher.

Perhaps this blog will help me bring it all together. Maybe Zade will let us sleep tonight interrupted. Maybe it won’t, maybe he won’t. Either way, I’m having fun, I’ll be writing more soon, and sleep is overrated.

But naps on the other hand….

I always need more!

Saturday, September 6, 2008



September 4-6, 2008

“It was like a brief intermission,” one stranger said to another when describing Hurricane Gustav in a Mid-City wine bar on Friday night.

“I know!” the other said. “One week later and all the same faces are back, as if nothing happened.”

New Orleans felt so much the same— so slightly changed— when we returned from our “Gustavaction” on Thursday evening. So our neighborhood had a few fallen trees. So what if one neighbor’s “For Sale” sign flew across the street and under my Corolla, covered with muddy cat prints. So what if one of our window screens flew into his yard and got tangled up with the fallen tree limbs. It was no big deal that our roof lost a single tile.

New Orleans as a city was lucky—incredibly lucky— and among its citizens we were the especially fortunate. We returned to a house with fully operational air-conditioning, lights, a pleasantly un-fragrant fridge, cable, and Internet. Inside, the only sign of a storm was the presence of our porch furniture in our kitchen, our bikes in the bedroom, and some cherished books and shoes stacked ridiculously high. We had left expecting a Katrina, or worse, and we returned to the aftermath of a mere tropical storm.

Our landlord estimated that we lost power for as much as a day, or as little as a few hours. Even the milk and cheese in our fridge was still edible.

Wow. As we drove around the city Friday night, we continued to say this word.

We drove through dark neighborhoods, neighborhoods without working traffic lights, maneuvered around more fallen trees and tree limbs, and counted the number of houses and businesses still boarded up from Katrina— not to be confused with the many still boarded up from Gustav.

Though most restaurants were closed, almost all bars were open. We stopped in for a free wine tasting at Swirl, a dog friendly wine bar in Mid-City. As the strangers I overheard observed, the place filled with thirsty patrons as if nothing had happened at all. The only clue was the word “Gustav,” heard every minute or two.

After sampling wine, we passed the unmistakable smell of rotting meat at the Market on Esplanade, whose doors were still fully shuttered.

“That could’ve been us,” Haz commented.

We drove around looking for food, figuring that something had to be open— after all, this was a city where going out to eat can almost be considered a vocation for some. Add to that the lack of electricity and groceries available, and you have a very hungry group of restaurant-needy ex-evacuees.

Some restaurants had their lights on, others just had doors open, perhaps to air out the stench. Still others were boarded up. Random passers-by sat at sidewalk tables as if eating, but really they were just passing the time. Downtown, National Guard troops took the place of tourists as they guarded department stores with M-16s. All over the city the streets were still surprisingly empty, quite unlike the average Friday night.

We passed a lot of pizza joints that were open and stuffed with patrons. Five Happiness, a Chinese restaurant on Carrollton was open too, with a jam-packed parking lot. All the bars we passed were also stuffed to capacity. So far our options were pizza, Chinese, or bar food.

On Magazine Street we found a few other options, most notably Nirvana, the best Indian cuisine in town. We pulled up to the curb and happily found a seat inside. Nirvana was serving their lunch brunch for dinner, which was a symbiotic situation: we were desperate to overeat and save a few dollars, they were desperate to get rid of their over supply of curries, breads, and salads.

After dinner we headed to Haz’s brother Hasan’s house on the West Bank, the side of the river everyone expected to heavily flood. The neighborhoods leading up to Hasan’s house were dark and largely vacant, though his street, like ours, was full of lights.

We stayed for a few hours and talked about the things evacuees talk about— the car ride back versus the car ride there; how this was so much better than Katrina; how to make a FEMA claim; can you believe Nagin really said that; did you actually watch the Republican National Convention; and what about Ike.

These were the same things we talked about with our landlords and our good friend Gerald the night before. Our landlords were spending a night at their old house on our street because their new house was without power; Gerald was also joining us because his apartment was in the dark. One of our landlords, Consuelo, came up to our porch in her pajamas, holding a cup of coffee. She was laughing as she re-told her horrific Katrina story, of how she and Dan, her partner and our other landlord, swam in five-feet deep toxic water to the railroad overpass. From there they walked 17 miles to safety.

Dan had wanted to stay for Gustav; Consuelo couldn’t face another disaster. They had evacuated at the last minute to Bogalusa, where their hotel lost power anyway.

Next topic? The convention. Sarah Palin. John McCain. We all vowed to move to Canada if Obama didn’t win. That would be one storm we could never recover from.

Such is life in our double recovering city, a city still heavily bruised from Katrina, but freshly battered from Gustav. There’s not much to do besides talk on your porch, go to a friend or family member’s house, go out for a quick bite or a drink, and make sure you return before curfew.

Ours is still at 10 p.m.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


by Hazim Dayeh—featured writer

Nineteen and a half hours. The trip from New Orleans to Tallahassee normally takes about six. But, this was not an ordinary trip. Once again, and on the third anniversary of the storm we continue to live with, we found ourselves threatened by another major hurricane. For nineteen and a half hours, we drove through sometimes-squally weather, kissing the rear bumpers of vehicles that stretched ahead of us seemingly across the length of an entire nation. For nineteen and a half hours, home lay behind us, abandoned, deserted, and left again to an uncertain fate. And when we finally arrived at our hotel, travel-weary with two very confused cats, we had the rest of our time to watch alarmist news stations again spreading false information, this time about breached levees that hadn’t breached, as if willing something catastrophic to happen so they can keep a tragedy-obsessed nation watching advertisements. There was the one with the insurance companies’ favorite make-believe couple “Harry and Louise” once again attempting to kill health care reform. Then, there was the one with a cute cat who was partial to a new kind of cat food. An unidentified woman was selling me laundry detergent just before yielding to Wilford Brimley, who was saying something about “diabeetis.” One after another, television spots hawked everything from repetitive headache relief products to miraculous stain-removing goop sold by the loudest man on Earth. “More on Hurricane Gustav after the break.” And, when the levees didn’t fail, the networks turned to the old standby human interest stories – babies born during Gustav’s visit to the Louisiana coast, residents who rode out the storm and lived to tell their tale, and the ever-popular, ever-wishful mantra of “Will the levees hold?” America is alive and well and invading my hotel room as if it were a nation in possession of phantom weapons of mass destruction.

So, after another evacuation ordeal, after living under the threat of losing everything I deliberately left behind, along with more important things I forgot behind, several friends and family members have asked, “Why return?” After all, it’s just bound to happen again. In fact, as I write this, a storm named Ike is looks to be taking aim at some unfortunate place along the Gulf of Mexico. So why return? It’s an excellent question to someone who doesn’t know the city like so many of us do, and a stupid question to those of us who love our city so unconditionally. You see, New Orleans is our collective bad boyfriend, and we are its battered but adoring lovers. Time and again, he has given us reason to leave. And, just as often, we have forgiven him, succumbing to his mysterious and inexplicable hold on us. He is mean but charming, temperamental yet beautiful, spiteful though loving. The simple fact is that we love our city like no other. And, when we leave, however briefly, flirting with other attractive and not-so-attractive cities across this nation, we cannot help but feel a void that no other place can fill. We are New Orleans’ bitches, and we’re (mostly) ok with that. To those who cannot comprehend our love, we say, to know New Orleans is to love New Orleans. And, when we’re away, we know what it means to miss New Orleans.

For me, I miss sitting on my front porch, listening to talented high school marching bands spiritedly playing their instruments during a Friday or Saturday night football game. Sometimes, I could even hear major recording artists performing at Voodoo Fest in City Park. I miss the unbridled energy of the Rebirth Brass Band bringing down the house at Tipitina’s and leading a second line down Napoleon Ave. I miss the ferociously talented musicians who fill the humid late night air with music – Trombone Shorty, Irvin Mayfield, Charmaine Neville, Kermit Ruffins, Irma Thomas, Ellis Marsalis, Marva Wright, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, and so many others. I miss Mardi Gras with its pageantry, revelry, and weirdness, Jazz Fest with its many reasons to take a day or two off from work, Voodoo Fest with its eclectic mix of musical talent, French Quarter Fest with its unparalleled (free!) entertainment, and all the other festivals that celebrate our unique culture – Seafood/Creole Tomato/Satchmo/Just-For-the-Fuck-of-It Fests. In short, there are many cities in the world with plenty of culture and entertainment. But, in New Orleans, we live and breathe it, as though entertainment were an extra appendage attached to us, and culture a vital organ within us.

To those of us who love our abusive city, New Orleans is not merely another interesting American city. In fact, as a friend recently opined, New Orleans is not at all American. Its culture, its food, and its people are its own. We couldn’t possibly be less American if we spoke another language (and with the city’s colorful accents, one could argue that we do). This is the point that many outsiders cannot reconcile. To the city’s naysayers, we are an awkward, backwards people who do not seem to know how to operate a city efficiently. And yet, we are good enough for their conventions. On any given week, one can find these New Orleans critics walking our streets. They are the doctors, lawyers, and business executives who stumble and stagger along Bourbon Street, then return home to share pictures with their friends of their visit to “N’awlins.” To these platoons of America’s army invading our bars, we are good enough to party with, but too backwards to befriend. Thanks for the money, folks. Our beer taps will always flow for you.

Of course, like all bad and misunderstood lovers, New Orleans is not without its major flaws. Our crime is, indeed, bad enough to qualify us, technically, as an American city. Our poverty is legendary among other cities in this nation. And, of course, we are susceptible to tropical storms and hurricanes, some of which leave indelible physical and emotional scars, and some that scare us out of our comfort zone, then leave like a polite, if unwanted, guest. But, while we have weaknesses, we are strong. While our spirits sometimes suffer, we are resilient. While we have our share of insecurities, we are confident in our recovery. And, while our fair city is American, we are and always will be New Orleans.