On having a slow year

As I lay in bed last night listening to the pop of fireworks I thought back to the year that was 2018. Of course, no New Year’s Eve is complete without a reflection back to the events of that year, and usually I write an entry in my diary, processing all that happened and looking forward to the new year with new perspectives and goals.

I didn’t do that this year. In fact, I don’t think I’ve done it for the past few years because… kids (a most convenient excuse for everything I “can’t” do anymore). Instead, my yearly reflection was spurred by watching other people’s IG stories sharing their “best moments” or achievements throughout the year. Welcome to the new age right?

What watching these stories did for me though was ponder on what I myself had achieved through the year. What were my “best moments”? I didn’t travel extensively as others did, I didn’t start a new job, I didn’t complete my degree. We started homeschooling but I struggled to establish a routine or any consistency due to my efforts of juggling three young children, one of whom was breastfeeding for most of the year.

This year, I felt like I was constantly on the cusp of something happening, but I couldn’t quite get there. It was endless days spent overwhelmingly alone at home navigating the world of motherhood and raising my young children. It was me, constantly grappling with myself, my frustrations of not being able to do all the things I wanted to do in the way I envisioned myself doing them and trying to come to terms with my sense of disappointment and ultimately, a sense of failure. It was the year of some hurts settling and easing and making their way out of my heart, to experiencing new griefs and losses. I turned 30 this year, entering a new decade of my life and wondering if I was the person I had envisioned myself to be at this age. It was the year that my children pushed me to question my perceptions of who I was, of what my character was made up of and what my values truly were. Was I a worthy example for my children to imitate? Were my actions reflective of the values I proclaimed I ascribed to? It was a year of constant mistakes… every single day was as full of mistakes as an egg is filled with yolk. I made mistakes up until the very last day of the year…

This year could be described with one word: slow. It was slow, but it dawned on me that it was not stagnant. I may have not taken great strides in a worldly (shareable) sense, but all the struggles I just described have set me on the path of progress. Progress in the form of self actualisation, of inward growth and for the first time in my life, a deep understanding of who I am.

Because staying at home with my three young children grounded me to one physical place which became our battleground, our haven, our fertile plain for growth. Sometimes it may have seemed like we were stagnating in the four walls of our home, unable to step out into the wider world, becoming too comfortable in our safe space, but on the contrary we were breaking comfort zones. Being forced to spend every single minute of every single day together ultimately resulted in a deeper understanding of each other, of our characters, of our weaknesses, of our faults, of our strengths and therefore, of how to love and nurture one another in a way that was sensitive of the other’s unique personality. It forced us (parents AND children) to learn how to put our self aside and prioritise the other.

When day by day I found the reality of life reshaping my former dreams of what life would look like, of what homeschooling would look like, of what I would look like as a parent, even as a person, I felt keenly the paradox of choice and destiny. Of not being the One who has ultimate control. I learnt to recognise signs, to respond to them and allow them to shift my perspectives. And that doing things differently to what I had envisioned was not failure, but a sign of growth, of being flexible and responsive to my reality.

I learnt that navigating loss and grief and hurt demands to be talked about. With the right people. With people who will listen without judgement and offer the right advice at the right time. I learnt that hurt is a prerequisite for growth. It takes time for the lessons after loss, anger and betrayal to be learnt, and therefore, we should afford ourselves that time. Sometimes though, some hurts are so great that we, in our limited capacity as human beings simply cannot understand the wisdom behind that hurt. Such as having a miscarriage, or witnessing practically your entire race be thrown into concentration camps, ahem “re-education camps”.  And sometimes we are not supposed to know the wisdom behind such things. They are beyond our capacity as humans to fathom. We leave it to God, and our faith in Him and His Wisdom carries us through the hurt. I was reminded that hurt is universal. That suffering a miscarriage for example is not unique to one person. Even witnessing the genocide of your people is not unique. And it helps in those times to remember that you are not alone in your suffering. It may not take the hurt away, but not feeling alone in your hurt helps.

And finally, I felt that this was the year that I learnt to stop falling back on excuses and to simply act. If I felt lonely and unable to find a community that I felt comfortable in, then instead of waiting for one to fall in my lap, I should go out and make my own community. Instead of railing at the lack of a village, I should form a village of people around me by making the effort to be in contact and be a support for them. Instead of constantly thinking “I can’t do this or that because of kids etc.” I should do what I can within my confines for my health, for my spirituality, and that ultimately, working on bettering myself as a person will naturally make me a better parent and result in healthy, happy children.

It’s impossible of course to fully explore all that I have learnt this year. And no doubt every year will serve to teach me more with new experiences, losses, hardships and hurts. Before I used to fear future challenges, uncertain of whether I could face them with strength. Now I am comfortable with the idea of meeting challenges, knowing that challenges and mistakes and failures are inevitable, that the lessons to come from them take time, but that ultimately, this is what growth looks like, that having the freedom to experience mistakes and lessons is a treasure in and of itself and that this is living…

If you are scrolling through Instagram watching other people’s highlights of their year and feeling inadequate because you have nothing to share, know that you are not alone. If you have had a great and successful year, hats off to you. I am truly happy for your success and achievements. But know that some years are slow, some years you feel stuck in the same place, seemingly unable to move forward. And that’s ok. It’s a long life (insha Allah) and there will be many many years ahead of you, all different to one another. And sometimes, those “slow” years (that actually whipped right on past and left you behind) are sometimes the years that sow the seeds of true growth and progress.

So that’s the recap of my year. Not exactly something I can share on an IG Stories Highlights Reel, but necessary for me to put on digital paper, so to speak. After all, we do live in the new age right?

 

A birthday present idea for your MIL

It was my mother-in-law’s birthday recently so I put this gift basket of self-care items together for her. It was easy to put together, the process was enjoyable and the end result, quite lovely.

The photos aren’t styled the best as I had to capture this quickly because three kids + had to head to the birthday dinner + trying to get ready + real life isn’t perfectly styled, BUT! it captures the process well enough.

So here goes…

What you need:

Medium/Large sized basket

Various gifts that the MIL will love. I chose self-care items that she could easily use, a baking book (because she loves baking), some beautiful V&A gardening gloves and a calendar/organiser for next year.

Two sheets of cellophane

Newspaper

Ribbon

Faux flower

How to put it together: 

  1. Gather the contents to fill a medium-large sized basket. If you’re going to do this, go big or go home 😀 I got every single item from one store so that I didn’t have to run around curating them from various shops because let’s be real, ain’t nobody got time for that.

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2. Grab basket. I got mine from Target.

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3. Fill the bottom of the basket with newspaper.

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4. Place cellophane in the basket. It was biodegradable folks, don’t shoot me for using plastic. Sometimes the plastic is necessary.

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5. Arrange items in the basket with the biggest items at the back and work your way forward with the smallest items at the front. Throw in a faux flower for extra prettiness.

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6. Place a second cellophane sheet over the top and secure to the basket by tying a ribbon around the front, like so. And voila! You have a beautiful gift basket, with hand-picked items especially for the MIL. It’s bound to earn you brownie points 🙂

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I am not enough…and that’s ok

Practically everyday at some point, the thought will cross my mind that, “I am not enough…” that “I don’t know enough…” or that “I am not smart/knowledgable/wise/patient enough…” That I’m not doing enough outside of the children. That my ‘career’ is not progressing, that I’m not doing enough for the community, that I don’t maintain connections with my friends enough, that I’m not helpful enough for my parents, that I’m not showing my care and concern for my husband enough… ETCETERA.

I worry that I don’t do enough for the children. That I don’t spend enough quality time with them, or that I don’t organise enough activities for them, or teach them enough (I want to homeschool them, but haven’t really started doing anything homeschool-y yet).

I face up to the gaping holes in my knowledge and wonder how on earth I am even going to homeschool my kids.

And with a third on the way, I wonder how I’ll find the time to organise a homeschooling curriculum for them, or even lessons to do with them.

Beyond just the homeschooling though, I often find myself questioning whether I can even mother them properly. So many times a day I catch myself in ‘bad parenting’ moments/ACTIONS and I feel that guilt.

Oh yes.

That ‘mum guilt’. That creeping sense that I am totally traumatising my children with my horrible parenting, with the impatience, with the shouting, with the harsh discipline that I can mete out…

I also have major control issues. I totally overthink many aspects of how to parent them, and I struggle to let them go, to be carefree, to be easy with them…

For example, my eldest (she’s 4.5 years old), does not go to a childcare of any sorts, at all. She hasn’t since she was around 1.5 years old.

I struggle to take on help from people outside their grandparents. And even with the grandparents I’ve spent years trying to control how they are looked after by them, when in their care.

It’s exhausting, you know.

Knowing my controlling ways, I wonder if I’m constricting my children too much and possibly stunting their development, character-wise. Am I giving them enough opportunities to learn things on their own?

Another part of my strongly believes that although children should be tested, and allowed “out in the world”, that this also has its own time and place, and if it happens too early, the consequences on their development can actually be harmful. You have to know your child well enough to decide when they are ready to exposed to certain things.

So I vacillate between trying to control their surroundings and allowing them *limited freedom to experience different things, and be exposed to different people.

When J (my eldest) was around 10 months old, I decided to go back to work. Full time high school teaching. It was a difficult decision. I panicked for weeks before I started work. I drove my husband crazy by being concerned about minute details of how J would be cared for. I was an emotional wreck at the thought that someone else would be caring for her, feeding her, playing with her for long hours. My mind conjured up horrible scenarios where things would go wrong and she’d suffer short and long-term impacts of being separated from her mother, or from watching too many hours of tv, or eating foods that I had not “approved”.

At the time my husband took it all in his stride and his advice is one that I still try to remind myself of today.

He patiently told me that first of all, I needed to calm down lol. Then he told me that the reality is that I could not be everything, and teach everything to my daughter. That her being looked after by her grandparents, extended family, even childcare could teach her things that I had no capacity to, simply because I am just me, and not them. That every person who cares for her has their own unique qualities, knowledge, life experience etc. that J could benefit from. That they all make up the patchwork of life lessons for her.

And most important of all, my husband reminded me that she would be in the care of those who loved and cared for her dearly, completely and sincerely. And that therefore, she would not be at risk of any major harm. That in fact, she will grow to be a more rounded, fuller individual having been exposed to this love.

Armed with this advice, I threw myself back into teaching, and I do not regret it. Sure there were challenges, but all in all I could see J flourishing, I could see that she was happy, she had no major anxiety or stress, or problems adjusting to the fact that I was no longer around full time.

Ultimately I did make the decision to quit work at the end of that first year of going back. The reasons were myriad, and not all connected to my child, but one major consideration in relation to her was that I felt it was important for me to look after her full time at a time when she was approaching 2 years old, a time that would require an emphasis on disciplining her, on dealing appropriately with her tantrums, and in establishing a diet that was nutritious and quite frankly, low in sugar.

I did not want the grandparents to have to take on this burden, when they’d already raised children themselves and I knew that what they really wanted with their grandchildren was to simply love and enjoy them. Not to raise them.

As her parent, that was my responsibility.

So, I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that as parents, particularly as mothers, we need to find that balance between doing our part as being our children’s primary source of parenting, discipline, love and so on, especially in the first 7 years of their lives, but also of fully understanding the importance of reaching out to extended family and trusted community members for help.

To admit that no, we can’t be everything for our children by the very limitations of who we are. That no, we can’t do it all. We can’t juggle our households, our jobs, our children, ourselves, on our own.

We need help.

The very nature of our existence is hinged on dependence on others. We could not function in this world without other people. From the rubbish that gets taken out every week, to the roads that we drive on, to the shopping centres that we shop from, the maintenance of our suburbs…everything requires us to depend on others doing their bit.

Why do we try to function as mothers on our own?

We need to let go of the fallacy of perfection. Perfection lies only with One Being, and for us to strive for it is a form of arrogance.

Knowing our own innate limitations as human beings, in comparison to the Absolute Perfection of our Creator should comfort us. Not cause us anxiety.

So yes, we should reach out to our family to play a significant role in raising our children. And we should do this with tact, with wisdom, and with trust. We shouldn’t be giving our husbands (yes, I totally went there) instructions on how to look after our children, or hold them, or feed them, or play with them… We shouldn’t reprimand him for doing things differently. We should trust him to do it in his own way because hey, he is also an intelligent, thinking human.

If we have extended support in grandparents, aunts and uncles, we should be grateful for this support system and also give them the opportunity to teach our children that which we cannot. For our children to experience and grow and be nurtured with their love as well.

And if we are fortunate enough to have a community beyond family, we should also reach out to them and be honest enough to admit that we may need help, and to be humble enough to ask for it.

Being a mother can be an incredibly constricting experience, because of the depth of our love for our children, because of the nature of our concern for them, and at times, this can make it difficult to sustain over years of parenting. It may manifest in controlling behaviours, it may prevent us from taking on the advice from other concerned and sincere people who should have a role in raising our children as well.

We, on our own, are not enough… ultimately, left to our own devices, we will do something wrong…but this is how it should be, and we should respond accordingly and reach out for help.

We should allow people around our children to contribute to the richness of their lives, and to help us nurture them.

Not only will it result in children who are better rounded in their characters, but it will also go a long way to help ourselves do this thing called parenting…

On love…

There is much to say about the consequences of the individualistic, self-centric world that we live in today.

One consequence is the impact it has had on relationships and people’s views of what a relationship should look like.

More specifically, people seem to have a keen idea about what a relationship should offer them, not what they can offer in a relationship.

What many seem to frame their relationship around is what it can do for them, how their partner will make them feel, what their partner should do for them.

I don’t think this only applies to a marriage-relationship though. I see that most relationships, friendships, even filial relationships are based on need, rather than sincere concern for one another.

Where people will only give you a call when they need something from you. Or when they will only reach out to you when they want to call you to something that they are organising, and need your support for.

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And these days, it’s barely a phone call. Mostly it is a text message. Or a Facebook message. Or WhatsApp. Or Telegram. Or… God knows what other form of social media we flood our phones with to ‘stay connected’. Forget actually visiting each other, or just dropping in to each other’s homes, unannounced, without fanfare or giving people the heads up.

When we were kids, our pantry was always stocked with sweets and biscuits for the guest who unexpectedly dropped by, or my mum would always make extra for dinner because it would either be eaten as leftovers the next day, or in the that case somebody dropped by close to dinner time.

We would often drop by friend’s homes as well. If they lived close enough, we’d take the opportunity of a soft, summer evening and walk to their home to share a cold drink and eat some fruit. The parents would chat whilst the children ran amok in bedrooms with toys and played games outside, being eaten by mosquitos and trying to catch our breath in the hot air of summer.

But beyond just the visiting and dropping in, I think we’ve also lost the skill of knowing how to go above and beyond to help others in need. We are so busy and caught up with our own lives, that we wouldn’t even know if somebody was in need, unless they shared it on their social media. When a family member falls ill, a mother has just given birth, when someone has injured themselves, when they have lost their job and have a family to support, or even simpler, if their car broke down, if their children fell sick, how do we as a community rally to support them?

Let’s bring this back to individual relationships, such as a husband and wife. Do we enter such a relationship with expectations as to what the other person can do for us? Give to us? Do we enter the relationship with visions for what it will look like for us, rather than ask ourselves what we will be bringing to the relationship… Do we ask ourselves how we will support our partners in their times of need, or just generally? Do we take the time to figure out their needs, their unique quirks of nature and do our best to aid them, to support them, to be patient with them, but even more than this, to intentionally set out to do our best to enrich their lives? To put aside our own ego when say, we’re arguing, and just let them have it out? Do we do our best to SEE the other person, to see what they are experiencing, to pick up on the fine detail of their emotions day to day, and how it wavers? Do we take the time to devise ways, gentle ways, soft-hearted, fun and caring ways to aid them? To uplift them?

Don’t try to constantly seek your rights, your wants, your needs from others.

Love is doing for the other person what THEY love.

This is Love…

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An Open Letter to All My Concerned Aunties

I am so excited today to bring to you all our first contributor post. This is a stunningly honest and  poetically written piece addressed to all the aunties who are “concerned” about your marital status.

Written by Sevgi Yildiz.

Recently, my sister four years my junior got married and at 28 in a community of 19 and married, I found myself subjected to the oh’s and aww’s of every single one of my mother’s friends or ‘Aunties’ as they are known to me. They expressed such concern for my singledom, from serving advice to offering their sons and the sons of others looking for a ‘good girl’ like me. But all offerings came with warning. ‘Don’t be too picky- you’re older now.’ ‘If you just lost a few kilos, who could resist you!’, ‘He’d never let you dress like that, he’s very jealous.’ And my very favourites ‘Don’t be so ‘talkative’, he’s a quiet boy’ and ‘He earns good money so you won’t have to work anymore!’ Yay me!

I smile and nod graciously and tell them I’m fine, only to their disbelief and silent ‘yeah right’s’. But with my being so expressive and having opinions and all, much to the dismay of all my potential suitors, I decided to write an open letter to all my worrying Aunties from myself and on behalf of all my sisters subjected to the same rhetoric. This is not directed at my beautiful aunties who take my hand and make a little prayer from the kindness of their hearts so that I may find my soulmate, no. This is to the whispering, the side-glancing, the judgemental aunties. The ‘change yourself or perish alone’ aunties…

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I’m tired. Of all the sighing aunties who say ’28 and single, oh my!’ And the thoughtless girls asking me ‘Not him? No? but why!?’ I’m sick of being looked at like I’ve lost a limb or lost my mind when I tell them I’m happy and just fine.

Aunty, is he really that wondrous, this boy you speak of? ‘He owns a house!’ ‘He owns a car!’ ‘He was chosen at birth!’ Oh what a charmer! He prays to a god and gives his alms, doesn’t gamble oh and how well he treats his mother! That’s great, I get it, he’s unlike any other… He’s nothing like ‘N’ who promised me the world. Nothing like ‘D’ who ‘cherished’ my every word. Nothing like ‘M’ who took my heart and soul and nothing like the rest of them who leave women weak and cold.

I’m tired. Of being told I’m fussy or too picky because I refuse to be whelmed, neither over nor under, by the simpletons I am presented. I’m tired of being called weird or odd because I don’t fit their mould. You see, I am the brights in a sea of fashioned nudes. I am the bookworm who’s heard it all before you’ve said a word. I am the know-it-all who knows it all before you have a clue. Do you dare try pulling the wool over my eyes, to try and block my soul? By God there is more life there than you could ever hold.

I refuse to be taken or kept, by neither man nor woman. I refuse to shy away from being unapologetically human. I refuse to pretend I need him, this boy, this man, this son of yours. Is he art? Is he music? Is he the whisper of my soul? Is his the voice I’ve heard, over and over, in the stillness of my core? Telling me ‘I’m here, always have been, it’s just not time for me to be your all.’

I get it. I’m older now. My body ain’t as tight. The twinkle in my eye ain’t as bright. The crows are landing on the sides of my eyes, a little more love hugging my thighs. My hands a little tougher now, my voice a little deeper. A girl like me could never compete or be considered a keeper.

Aunty, you want me to find a husband, but are you not the one who deemed me bygone? Put me in your pickle jar and placed me on a shelf, now a little too bitter, a little too tart, a little too sharp to be your precious boy’s wife?

Aunty, is it not you who fed your boy like a prince and washed his feet like a king? Telling him he’s the best looking boy whilst keeping him under your wing? Did you not laugh it off as he broke toys at three and played rough at four; chanted ‘boys will be boys!’ as he flashed the girls at school his pee-pee and threw tantrums on the floor?

Now he breaks hearts like he did toys. Expects to be showered with praise for every anniversary he happens to remember. Expects reward for existing and all the cheating he’s resisting and a pat on the back for not committing whatever heinous act he is thinking and foregoing all the horrible things he didn’t end up saying.

Oh Aunty, don’t cry for me in my lonesome state for I am more than enough for me. I’ve learnt to heal my wounds and guard my heart without a Mr. I’ve learnt to earn my keep, work for my bread and build my little empire. I’ve learnt to sleep humble and sound with a smile and peace of mind.

Cry for the betrothed yet lonely, the oh so phoney, the cheated on, the beat, the voiceless but so sweet. Cry for the aged and never loved, never travelled, never romanced, never hugged. Cry for the tired, the withered, the weathered, the unappreciated wife, the with-child and retired from passion and from life.

He knows not my roar, my power, my strength, my hunger or the passion for life I’ve drawn. I was crafted upon the Lord’s example; I am no bite, no tester, no sample. I am the mouthful of words he could never conjure, the strength he could never muster, the earth that grounds me, whole, complete and wonderfully full of wonder.

If he is to be my half, then let him be full. Let him place his glass beside mine and we can sing and dine and share our breath and our time. We can dance in the aether, sing in the rain, and when our time is up, we can go at it again.

So Aunty when you see me head high and happy, think not I am too fussy or too picky. Cry not for my state at 28 or for my sisters at 39. We refuse to settle for your son’s car, his house, his ride, his unillustrated mind. Don’t judge me for not accepting his expenses at the expense of all of mine.

Oh Aunty, perhaps in me you see the woman you could never be. Look in the mirror and ask yourself when the last time was you were happy? With all your hopes and dreams placed in the pocket of a man at 19, perhaps unkind, unloving, narcissistic and perhaps blind? Perhaps I choose every day to be happy, hopes and dreams not left behind. I live. Day by day, I live. I create, I play, I grow. And with every day passed, I need him less and less, less than you’ll ever know.

I’m sorry I haven’t joined your club of married bliss, I’m doing all I can. I’m sorry you think this bothers me and that it’s a reflection of who I am. Don’t get me wrong, I truly hope one day I do; I’d love to find my man. But he won’t come until I’m whole as I know I wouldn’t accept or have him broken and only when I’m absolute will our ‘I love you’s and I do’s’ be spoken.

Please don’t sell me short, dear Aunty, with offerings of half-baked men. Their weak will and half-cast minds aren’t worth my life well spent. I’ve learnt that some meat is best served well-done and when he is good and ready, I’ll sharpen my knives and feast as he will upon me, a relationship soulful, a relationship carved in God’s name, a relationship true and healthy.

But thank you for your concern, I’ll take it and keep smiling. I just wish for just one second, you’d see what your focus on my life is hiding. How about you do you and I do me and we wish each other well. Let’s celebrate my wins, my career, my successes and the crazy in my whims. I’m more than just my surname. More than that ring. Look me in my eyes, read between my lines, tell me now if I really need that bling. Don’t cry for me, don’t sigh for me, don’t pitch your easy buy for me. I won’t rummage through your clearance sale bin so keep it far away from me. I’ll travel the earth far and wide to find my treasure; well-polished, well-kept, slightly rugged and most importantly, free.

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*click images for sources.

Featured image source.