Sunshine and Shade: Summer In Chicago



Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.

-Antoine de Saint-Exupery


In the summertime, when the sun wakes up – so do all us brown kids.

I love early mornings – feels like a fresh page:

Another chance at “once upon a time.”

But Mamaiay? Not so much.

She always huffin’ and hustlin’

Talkin’ bout she runnin’ late for work…

Like she don’t hit snooze five times when the alarm rings every day.

She says all I got is one job:

Stay out the way and get ready as fast as possible.

I wash the crust out my eyes and brush my teeth.

While my Mamaiay oils down the frizz between my braids,

I plan out which socks I want to wear –

You can’t wear shoes at the Ali’s, so the socks gotta match.

They have one of them fancy rugs –

You know, the type that feel like pillows for your toes.

Say they brought it all the way from Iran,

Couldn’t bear to leave all of home behind.

Mamaiay takes so long to get ready,

I dunno why cuz she always look the same.

I mind my business,

Focus on eating my Honey Nut Cheerios.

Ugh – Mamaiay stays yappin’ bout me not chewing enough and swallowin’ too fast.

She don’t understand –

I’m not tryna break the Cheerio family up – they all gotta go out quick together

Like –

How you gonn’ buy cereal that helps the heart

N then get mad when I use it?


The Ali’s live in the same building as us,

But you’d never think it.

The higher up you go; the nicer things get.

All us poor kids,

We live on the first few floors.

We could kiss the concrete,

The Ali’s could lift the sky.

The worst days were when the elevator broke:

Mamaiay and I trekkin’ up more stories than I can count.

She says, “the way up isn’t always easy,”

Always tryna turn everything into a lesson.

I loved being at the Ali’s,

With all them other kids who were too wild be to left home alone

And whose parents couldn’t afford daycare.

The Ali’s were our parents’ alternative

To letting us roam into the devil’s arms.

The Ali’s got windows instead of walls,

When my Mamaiay drops me off I run –

Press my nose against the glass.

The world looks different when you lookin’ down,

As a kid, you always lookin’ up.

The air tastes sweeter up here.


Mama Ali says taking care of her family is her job,

Baba Ali’s job is to pay all the bills.

Having two parents feels greedy, when there are kids with none.

How you gonn’ grab seconds,

When there’s someone that doesn’t have one?

When it’s lunch time Mama Ali makes us set the table,

Says it’ll teach us to serve others before ourselves.

All us kids –

Sitting around a table,

With parents who’re digging for gold in the same mine.

Singing out each other’s names like melodies,

Names most others would choke on.

The first generation of the American Dream,

Feasting on curry thicker than the melting pot.

I ask for seconds –

I learn Halal isn’t a seasoning or sauce.


Mama Ali don’t let us out much – says it’s not safe.

Our playgrounds are our imaginations.

One day Mama Ali shows us a gift from Baba,

It was my first time seein’ a computer.

She says it’s the future,

I reach towards it…

Mama Ali swats my wrist – You can’t touch it!

Baba Ali is alright,

On good days,

He likes to teach us Farsi:




Says learning numbers will help us count our blessings.


On bad days –

He grumbles:


Curses us back into the earth.

Baba Ali can get too friendly,

Mama Ali pretends not to see –

We pretend to play dumb.

Not havin’ a dad,

Don’t seem so bad after all.


Mama Ali always talkin’ –

Bout someone named Shaytan.

I don’t understand why she lets ‘em control her life.

During nap time,

I pry one eye open and

Watch her as she prays.

I wonder who she prays to

What she prays for

Who she asked first

And whom didn’t give her an answer.


Saturdays are filled with Saturday morning cartoons,

I plant myself in front of Doug, Recess, and Hey Arnold.

Mamaiay sleeps in past lunch time –

Two doses of sleep for working two jobs.

Mama Ali got a good life,

Maybe her Shaytan is kinder.

I go into my Mamaiay’s room and drape myself in her netsela.

I grab a rug from the bathroom,

Lay it flat facing the window.

I fall to my knees,

Raise my hands,

Bend my body over,

Kiss the ground.

I rise and repeat,

My throat runs dry

From humming.

I feel my mom’s piercing glare:

“Rahweetay, enti ti gebri aleki?”

Mamaiay, shhh I’m praying.


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