Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Angels, Babysitters, Boyfriends, and Bahá'u'lláh: My Early Experience as a Single Parent

     In 1993, as Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, and Dinosaur, Jr. dominated MTV and the airwaves, I became a single parent for the first time. I was 29, and my twin boys were not quite three. Dating was a bit of a crapshoot in those days. Because we had no cell phones, PCs or internet, the options were limited to being fixed up by your friends and co-workers, answering a singles ad in the newspaper or meeting someone at a bar. Aside from the fact that guys in the 30-35 age group generally weren't jumping at the opportunity to date mothers of young children, there was the issue of child care. Not only was it complicated and costly, there was a degree of guilt associated with having someone sit with your kids so that you could enjoy a few hours of male companionship.
    As a single parent, I was fortunate to be blessed with a live-in babysitter. Prior to our separation, my husband worked the 3-11 shift at a mental hospital in Atlanta, and when I started my 12 hour night shifts as an RN in the neonatal ICU, we scrambled to find babysitting coverage. Believe me, finding a babysitter who was available from 6:30 pm-11:30 pm was no easy undertaking. My older sister, Edina, an English as a Second Language teacher in the Cobb County school system, inquired at her high school's guidance office about students looking for babysitting jobs, and was given a number to call. The student turned out to be a 17 year old girl named Vida Vaughn. She lived in an apartment, close to our house with her parents, Mavis and Paul, and her sisters, Ferishteh and Bahi, all of whom became involved in the boys' care. Vida and her family were followers of the Baha'i faith, a fascinating, forward-thinking religion which originated in Persia. Unlike the majority of so-called religious observers I've encountered, this family truly seemed to lived by its faith. They were deeply compassionate, demonstrating great empathy for me as a single parent and toward Nick and Rory, both of whom had cystic fibrosis. The entire family quickly learned how to give Nick and Rory their pancreatic enzymes and breathing treatments, including chest percussion, and they took wonderful care of them. It was such a relief to be able to go to work at night and trust that not only were the boys well cared for, they were cherished and loved. Nick, Rory, and I became part of the Vaughn's extended family. Vida and her family went out of their way to help us, especially after I got separated. If Vida wasn't able to babysit, either Mavis or Ferishteh would come over or I'd bring the boys to their apartment. Somehow, we always managed to work it out. After my separation, Ferishteh came to live with the boys and me. She was 20, and she had a day job, so when I returned from work in the mornings, she'd have to leave soon afterward. It was a rough transition at first. Coming home after working all night, and then having to stay awake to take care of two very active toddlers with special needs was exhausting. Once the boys were a little older, I enrolled them in Mother's Morning Out at a local church, which made it possible for me to get some uninterrupted sleep before returning to work in the evening.
     With Ferishteh's blessing, I started dating again. I met a guy my age named Barry at King's Head Pub, a dive bar in Marietta with bathrooms that smelled like vomit and a house band that performed surprisingly decent covers of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains. We were both serial monogamists, and ended up being together for close to a year. Barry was a construction worker who had dropped out of high school. He told me that his mother abandoned him and his brothers when they were very young, and this made me feel sad for him. His dad didn't sound like a nice person, either; he'd kicked Barry out of the house when he was only sixteen. Despite his lack of education and troubled family life, Barry had a good heart. He treated me like a queen. He refused to let me pay when we'd go out for dinner or to the movies, which I found unusually chivalrous since I earned quite a bit more money than he did. On our dates, he always greeted me with a single rose. I was a little nervous about how he'd relate to Nick and Rory, partly because they were so young, but mostly because Barry did not possess what I considered to be fatherly traits. In the past, he'd spent some time in the slammer for possession of an illegal substance, and his older brothers, Larry and Jerry, were both detainees in the Cobb County jail. He still smoked a good bit of pot, as well as Marlboro menthol cigarettes, the latter of which was a turn off to me, as well as a health hazard for the boys. He had fathered a child with a sleazy old girlfriend named Ronda and this child had a mouthful of rotten teeth from being put to bed with a baby bottle filled with Mountain Dew. My parents, especially my father, did not approve of my relationship with Barry. Dad actually had the nerve to accuse me of using Barry for sex, which couldn't have been further from the truth. Yes, I was lonely, and yes, Barry was cute and convenient, but he was also a lot of fun and we got along splendidly, albeit on a superficial level. I didn't see any harm in that, especially since his contact with Nick and Rory was so limited. Although the attraction was mainly physical, my relationship with Barry was also meaningful: he helped me get my mojo back. Being with him rejuvenated me, awakening the carefree side of me that parenthood, my children's chronic illness and years of marital discord had suppressed. It was like being born again. I felt desirable, young, attractive, and confident. Barry used to compliment me, telling me how intelligent he thought I was, and it was during the time I spent with him that I decided to begin the process of obtaining my bachelor's degree and applying to medical school. Shortly after seeing Alice in Chains at the 1993 Lollapalooza show at Lakewood, I determined our relationship had run its course, and Barry and I broke up amicably several months later. I've often wondered what became of him. I hope that wherever he is, he's happy.
     I'm venturing a guess that most of you have probably never met a practicing Baha'i. It is an independent monotheistic religion, founded in Persia about 200 years ago by Bahá'u'lláh, a philanthropist and divine messenger who was the son of a wealthy government cleric. The basic tenet of the Baha'i faith is that the great prophets such as Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, Abraham, and Zoroaster, who are widely regarded across faiths as having established separate religions, shared the common goal of preserving human rights and unifying mankind through the principles of universal education, elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth, abandonment of all forms of prejudice, equal opportunity for both men and women, harmony between science and religion, and the establishment of world peace. They believe that there is one God and that all major religions come from God. The oneness of religion does not imply that all religions espouse the same creed; instead, it reflects the belief that God revealed himself to all people through a diverse series of prophets whose purpose was to educate and guide humanity. As a spiritual but not religious person myself, I can see the appeal in this ideological framework. In comparison to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, the Baha'i faith seems the most progressive, especially with respect to human rights, religious persecution, and the treatment of women.
     In Persian, Ferishteh means "angel." I'm convinced that Ferishteh and her family were my angels back then; I don't know what I would have done if they hadn't come into my life. Aside from being able to continue working at night, safe in the knowlege that the boys were in capable hands, Ferishteh's domestic presence and her family's ongoing support afforded me with other, equally important opportunities. They made it possible for me to find love again and to re-discover my sense of direction. I recently learned that Mavis died of a brain tumor. She was a lovely woman, so full of joy and love, and was a wonderful mother to her daughters, as well as a surrogate mother to my sons. Oddly enough, Barry turned out to be an angel of sorts, too. In recognizing our mutual incompatibility, I caught a glimpse of my future self, catalyzing the convoluted chain of events which ultimately resulted in my entering the field of medicine. In a weird way, my relationship with Barry helped crystallize my own vision of who I was, who I wanted to be, and what I needed to do to get there.
     
    

2 comments:

  1. Fantastic!
    Well said Kris!!!
    I see a book on it's forth coming...
    "You have many talents and gifts my dear lady..."
    You continuo and have always been on my mind & heart.
    You are very beautiful, inspiring and you persevered in all aspects. You have been admired by me for years, for all the hard efforts in which you have grown throughout your life. With "Angel" and "Life" by your side, you and your family were also a true gift in which we have to thank you for. You and the boys are the greatest treasured in which we have been blessed to receive. Thank you again for trusting your angels with our family and given us the opportunity to grown within this present life we all live in. We have grown together and worked together to understand the value in which God has put us here on earth... The power of gratitude has a huge role in this beautiful adventure our families have experienced. In striving to seek value of our purpose in life, our paths has granted us an abundance of joy. We have clearly understood the power of God's favor, and discovered the competence to just "Love". This too, for me, is the true meaning of the universal language we all seek. Thank you Kris for given us so much and If may say this... when ever our family would say... " what has come of the Landt family... We always knew that we looked for "Angel" to tell us of the outcome of your family and continuos growth in your life.
    You are a true Inspiration and a very successful lady in which have great respect for. You are a valued as a true role model for all single women out there!!! continuo with your journey, because I see a knew beginning to something big in your future... keep giving! Thank you for letting us be "ONE FAMILY" MUCH LOVE, LIFE.

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  2. Kris: Vida shared this with me, otherwise I would never have seen it as I'm one of those "old" guys to whom blogs and the like are some sort of alien creatures. You are truly magnificent! How could I have known, 19 years ago, what a wonderful and productive soul you turned out to be. Yes, I remember, now, your house, your boys, but I had no idea, then, of all you had to contend with; you handled it so well. What you write of our family brought tears to my eyes. Yes, my Bomh, 'Beloved of my heart', ascended to the Abha Kingdom, January 11, 2010. Your kind words resonate within my heart. Her mortal cage lies in Sierra Vista, AZ. Ferishteh lives with Bahiyyih and her husband, James Malo, a Nigerian, in Baltimore. Vida and her mature daughters, Ijhanne and VaKheda, live here in Tucson, AZ.
    Your explanation of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh is beautiful and clearly manifests a pure heart. God bless you even more.
    BUT!: You didn't write of what has become of Nick and Rory.
    Should you write more, please be so kind as to email me at least a notice of your posting or I may never see it: pv9@earthlink.net. Again, God bless and preserve you from harm. May your life continue to be, and to grow, within the embrace of His joy and protection. Sincerely, Paul.

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