How I Miss The Rain

It even rains differently here. It’s like the heavy sob of the skies; shaking and thundering as the tears pour down, drenching the earth with a hard drawn soaking. In London it was a tepid soft rain that hung in the air, constant and glistening, an ever-present, yet less impactful, vexation.

We are in a constant moment of change. Whether it is a slow awakening of spirit, or a descent unto death, it is a certainty in life – much like death and taxes.

I am writing about this now, after a hiatus in posts, because I have been overwhelmed by an ocean of change these last few months. I must admit, I am not particularly good in the face of change, and I don’t particularly like sharing myself when I am not at my best.

The funny thing about these last few months is that it was very much a choice of mine to participate in it. I moved jobs, homes, continents and consequently friends circles willingly. I chose to be a parent before that, accepting the lifestyle transformation I would inevitably incur. And yet, these changes, all rolled into one mass body of change, forced me into an ugly place. My temper was short. My steady pining for my last home was tedious (I still fall into this habit). My loneliness was debilitating. But I was there, watching it happen. Knowing, cognitively, that it was counterproductive: and yet, unable to stop myself from feeling and behaving this way.

If you have felt this way or feel this way, you probably know that at the crux of this is a very simple truth. Life is change, and change is hard. If you are in this space, give yourself a break. Moving from comfort to the unknown is scary. There is nothing wrong with feeling scared. And it is exhausting. Change tires you out because it forces you to use muscles and brain cells that your habit loving mind and body all but forgot existed. I had almost forgotten how much of an effort it can be to make new friends, to not share yourself completely because you don’t want to scare them off – that comes later!

What is wrong is behaving like a douche for longer than necessary (guilty as charged). I am at that point now where I raise my head, quite weary from the pummelling of change, and somewhat regretful for some of my more nasty turns as a victim of change; quite ashamed of the ‘I told you so’s’ and the ‘if we were in London’s.’

The thing is I was not always so resistant to change. There was a time in my life where the scent of a new opportunity, a new place, a new continent got me revved up like no other. I would stare out the window wide eyed and dreaming of a fresh start as the border lines of countries flew by. And it was always hard to find my place in the new jungle, but never a real problem. Now, I’ve realised, it’s harder because I am more committed to what I know. I am more reliant on the comfort of routine and belonging. Change is difficult because of what you are leaving behind.

I don’t think that this only applies to large continent moving change. I think this is about the changes that occur naturally and daily. We don’t like that our favourite barista has shut down, or that there is a new manager at work. Even when it is so obviously good for us: we struggle when our supermarket goes plastic free and we need to remember our bags from home.

But, the thing about change is what lies ahead. Change drives us. It is the inevitability that forces us to rethink our equilibrium. And sometimes, we need that to be rethought. Static can be devastating to our own growth. I was listening to Zadie Smith in an interview with Lena Dunham on a pod cast called Women of The Hour the other day, where Zadie suggested that change highlights our vulnerability. It forces us to face what we are lacking or what is weak within us. And it hit a nerve in me, because this whole blog is about addressing vulnerability and celebrating just being as we are. It is not about being when the going is easy or being when we are at our best.

So, I wanted to share that I am on the cusp of leaning into this immense change. Allowing it to percolate, so that I can recognise the opportunity it holds. For that is the other blessing of change, it opens a world of opportunity, often that which we were unaware of, or didn’t open ourselves to in the past.

The thing is I actually really love rain, regardless of what form it takes. Rain is so beautiful because it makes the earth really come alive.

I am on the cusp of making the most of this change, and I look forward to sharing more on this blog as I do. In the mean time have a wonderful festive season, may it be filled with the pleasure of just being.

 

Advertisements

On Coming Home

My child and I were both in a terrible state as the flight touched down in my hometown. If anyone has travelled long distance before with an infant, you know that your whole body is in a perpetual state of tension as you try and ensure your child is comfortable and quiet. Multiply that tension at least ten fold when they aren’t well in the first place. We had been sick with a virus for about five days by the time we flew, but after confirming everything was ok with the doctor we decided to take the leap. The first part of our journey was relatively smooth, but it was the second leg after an over night journey, a much shorter flight, that left us both exhausted. All I can say is that the airport had never looked so good to me before.

Landing in my hometown has always been an emotional experience. I went to boarding school when I was quite young and after every term the journey home meant reuniting with our parents, and the all the comforts of home. We had been away from home for at least 3-4 months at a time, and in the life of a student, it seemed the world had changed in that short period of time. It was always a long journey, and at the sight of the green plains and the relatively small airport that never seems to change, I would always feel the pleasure rising from the depths of my belly. A warmth that tingled in my chest. I would turn to my brother as the plane touched down, and we both would be beaming from ear to ear. We would rush through customs and baggage control desperate to see our parents. It didn’t matter how far the journey was, or how exhausted we were because of it, we always managed to find that extra energy to regale them with stories of the last few months as we drove home, attempting to fit in everything we could possibly think of as though we might forget if we waited any longer.

The sheer pleasure on my parents faces was always enough to make us feel safe, wanted and comfortable. On top of that, we would come home to a busy household with all of our family and friends, pets as well, our favourite foods on the table and comfortable beds waiting for us to be tucked in. Our home was beautiful, and we would point out every slight change, with a painting moved or a new bed of flowers. There was always so much love in our lives. We had no idea how lucky we were. No concept of how rare it is to have so much pleasure and comfort waiting for us. No idea how much work it takes for a parent to build such a beautiful home. Coming home was always the best day of my life.

It has been ten years since I have come home for more than a week or so. Ten years is a long time, and I am blissfully aware of how lucky I am to be able to do this. In the Indian culture when a girl gets married there is a terrible and poignant tradition called the ‘Kanya Daan’, which is where the parents of the daughter pledge their child to her husband and his family, literally giving her away. This is then followed at the end of the wedding by a moment where the daughter says goodbye to her family. Without fail, this ceremony is filled with tears. And, as possibly every married Indian woman will tell you, just being present at it evokes emotions of the time it was her turn. In actuality it seems somewhat strange that women like myself, who have been so independent living away from their families for so long, are so troubled by a ceremony of this sort. After all, I had left home to seek my fortune a long time ago. However, for us, these ceremonies have taken on less of a literal meaning and represent more of a figurative separation. It is the recognition of the transition from being a child, a responsibility of sorts on the parent, to a woman and adult who now builds her own life and unit. It was recognising that when I came home, it was no longer supposed to be home in the way it had been before.

And so, as miserable as we were, as the flight touched down and the pilot welcomed us home, my heart lifted with the sheer thought of coming home. I picked up my poor sniffling son, hugged him close to me as we descended the steps of the flight, and shut my eyes as the African sun beat down on us. This, I whispered, is home. What that home meant after ten years was still an enigma, and I couldn’t wait to find out.

It all began exactly the same. The same car ride home, the same comfort, family and friends. The same beauty. The same being taken care off, and the feeling of being spoilt and loved. It’s sheer bliss. It’s such a pleasure being able to share it all with my child.

But, creeping in next to it there is another emotion too. I can’t quite put my finger on how to name it, but it is the feeling of knowing something is missing. It has dawned upon me that, somewhere in the last ten years, I have built my own home with my husband. It’s where I hope to create that same beauty and comfort for our next generation. It’s where I am the one picking them up on the car ride home. It’s where my husband and I create the life we want. While the premise of the ‘Kanya Daan’ still doesn’t sit right with me, I understand there is a reason to recognise the transition of a child to their building a life of their own, because coming home, as wonderful as it has been, just isn’t the same any more.

Changing The Narrative

We are all the protagonists of our own narratives. Our lives are a plot that we weave, hoping one day our epitaph will read as a list of great accomplishments. We are in the centre of this plot, and yet, we often forget that we are, in fact, very much a part of the authorship as well. The sheer power we have to define our lives, to take responsibility for the story we are telling, is often forgotten about. In fact, we can go the complete opposite way and don a pair of blinkers, limiting our vision to a tunnel that we insist is the only option.

A few years ago I signed up to do a hundred mile hiking, biking and kayaking challenge weekend in support of an organisation I love and believe in. It was quite an undertaking for me, as I don’t participate in a lot of outdoor activity. In fact I would say I am more of a city girl. I like cultural activities like the theatre, fine dining and nights out with friends. If I mention camping, I imagine my friends would smile indulgently, ask if there was a corkscrew for the bottle of Prossecco which I would surely take with me while I reclined on a comfortable glamping bed. However, when I proudly mentioned this out of character endeavour to an old school friend, she said, “oh, going back to the way you were in school.” I can’t tell you how much this comment surprised me. She was absolutely right! I had been quite an active sporty girl, and I had forgotten all about it. I had loved the outdoors, ridden horses, played sports and even enjoyed some cross-country running. I used to pride myself on being the first to reach the top of the mountain. And now, all of a sudden, I couldn’t remember this part of myself. I couldn’t imagine that had been me. I had managed to rewrite the character I was without any consciousness of doing so.

Do you remember making a massive effort when you joined a new school or entered high-school, or even college, recognising that that initial perception was the way the people would view you for the rest of the year, if not your entire time there? We were so busy trying to define who we were, that when someone, anyone, commented on us, it could trigger a belief that defined us. No? Just me? Well, in the eighth grade a teacher mentioned to my parents that my English wasn’t as proficient as she felt it should be. Given that she wasn’t my literature teacher, who conversely believed I was doing quite well, I don’t know why her comments affected me so profoundly. But, they did. In fact I stopped reading and writing as much for years. I stopped trying to do well in English, and focussed on other subjects. I just believed wholeheartedly I wasn’t good enough to write. In fact, the first time I was truly able to find confidence in my communication skills was in in my working career years later. It is only in hindsight do we recognise how our lives are charted if we allow ourselves to be swayed by the subjective perceptions of others.

I bring up an example of when I was young, because that is when we are most impressionable. However, as we age, we do not always build a thick skin, or an ability to whether criticism positively. In fact, for some of us, we develop a defence mechanism, where we shun criticism entirely. Unable to welcome positive suggestions, we root ourselves down into an unchanging mass, stoically finding self-righteousness in our beliefs, unable to evolve or find empathy for other ways of being. Of course, it is not always that extreme; for some we are merely ‘set in our ways’, but do not mind that others are different. Either way, are we not limiting ourselves? Are we not forcing ourselves into a box, too afraid of growing as everyone is meant to? Recently, we were on a boat trip abroad, snorkelling in the Mediterranean (yes, it was spectacular), when we met a gentleman well into his late sixties who had never left his home country before. We do not know what his reasons for never having done so were. Perhaps he was afraid of flying, or had financial troubles, or perhaps he had someone to care for, whom he could not leave. We didn’t ask about why. What we did ask was how he found it now. As he looked around in wonder, his answer was that you just don’t know what your missing out on until you do it. And that is the simplest way to talk about life in general. Don’t limit yourself because you are afraid of what you do not know. Surely, your perspective will change because you know what the alternatives are. And, perhaps, you will choose what you already have, but the point is that the choice is yours. So there you have it. We limit ourselves because:

  • We author a story of our own lives, in which we are an unchanging character, and then forget that we are the author.
  • We allow others’ subjective perceptions to define who we are.
  • We are afraid of the unknown and therefore limit the choices on what we actually know for sure.

The point is, however, that the narrative is definitely ours to mould, so why then should these limitations have any part to play in our story? Now, I am not saying I do not recognise that life is full of hurdles. For some it may be financial, others it may be health, and so on. But without doubt, the choice is ours. We may choose to accept the hurdle as impassable, some may choose to see it as a hurdle to overcome, others may see it merely as sign to try a different direction. However you choose to view it, you are the author of your narrative. Take off the blinkers. You choose how the epitaph reads. That is your responsibility. No one else’s.

A cousin of mine, whom I have not seen in a very long time, has unknowingly affected my belief in this. He faced a debilitating injury many years ago. I was far away from him, and so never really knew him before his injury. Though I have heard, through the family, how devastating this injury was for him. But, what I have always seen is the amazing fulfilling life he lives today. He has embraced his life with the injury, building upon it not only to find fulfilment for himself, but to educate and fulfil others. I truly hope that one day I have the chance to spend some time with him and learn more of his story. I hope to introduce him to my son, so that one day my son realises that the measure of person is not what happens to them, but how they deal with the inevitable happenings of life. In the meantime, however, I shall continue to admire from a far the man that he is.

Maa

As Mother’s Day, in the US and Australia, approaches we spend an all too brief moment in our collective conscience celebrating the women that have built us into the people that we are. Through hard work, love, humour, nagging, guilting, and pure passion, our mothers grow us into the people they hope for us to be.

My relationship with my mother has, like a lot of others I know, been a rollercoaster of emotion: with extreme highs of pure love, and pretty poor lows of miserable behaviour on my part in my young adult years. I have finally reached an age where my mother has become one of my closest friends and I am able to recognise the phenomenal woman that she is. I would hope that most people are far smarter than I am and get to this point a lot quicker in their lives. So please indulge me as this Mother’s Day I recognise eight of the greatest life lessons I am trying to learn from this woman of wonder.

Lesson 1: The drive to always better oneself is the very essence of a happy life. My mother learned to swim in her forties, learned to ride horses around the same time, learned to play golf even later, and learned the game of Bridge, which she is now obsessed with, in her late 50s. If she doesn’t know something she will ask you, or anyone who may know, to teach it or explain it to her. She doesn’t care who her teacher is, nor whether they judge her for not knowing it already. She recognises that everyone has a valuable skill. This is a surprisingly rare and powerful attitude to life, because it not only ingratiates you to those who are impressed with your humility, but it also keeps you suitably entertained for a very fulfilling life.

Lesson 2. If you are lucky enough to be given a gift or an opportunity, grab it, work hard at it, and prove yourselves worthy of it. How often have you taken the job you have for granted? We rush for promotions and shift from company to company, desperately trying to get ahead. It is as though the world owes us something. The truth is nothing is owed, everything is earned, and sometimes things are worth taking the time to earn. Maa has always worked hard. But, what is especially telling, is how much the people that work for or with her respect her. This is because of the attitude that the buck stops with her. If she wants to get the job done she would go out and do it, and she demands the same of her colleagues. It isn’t common for women in her particular community to work. In fact, she has worked mainly with men throughout her career. But as she strode in to meetings in her beautiful saris armed with knowledge and tact, slowly but surely, she has undoubtedly won their respect. There have been days when the women she knew were gathering for a luncheon or a tea, which, I know, she would have loved to attend. However she prioritised her work, knowing she could not take it for granted. I am proud of the example she set for us, and lucky to have such an accomplished female figure in my life.

Lesson 3. We are all flawed; criticism can be the key to unlocking something spectacular in our lives. No one really likes criticism. I mean, why would we? It’s irritating to have someone pointing out your shortcomings or flaws. And yet, this has got to be the most annoying thing I do to my mother. I am continuously correcting her, or ‘advising’ her. And you know what? She takes it like a champ! She will genuinely ask why I think something, and will make it a point to find a way to better it if she feels as though it is genuinely constructive. She initiates conversation around bettering ourselves, but it is important to realise that in order to fix something, or better something, there has to be recognition of the need and the space to do it. Essentially we need to be able to see where we are lacking, and my Mother has the humility and the gravity to see that and change it. This does not mean she has the patience of a God, after all I do have some of her genes, and I can share that she has snapped when I am at my most annoying! 🙂

Lesson 4. There is beauty at every age. My mother is beautiful. Perhaps I am slightly biased! 😉 She takes care of herself, choosing her outfits carefully each morning, and wears them with pride. She is often described as elegant. I think she is undoubtedly so. I, on the other hand, am not so great at taking care of myself. Not have I ever been that picky about my clothes. It just never was a priority for me. But I truly hope that one day I will be as graceful as she is. I hope that I will find the strength and wisdom to age with the grace she has, and find my beauty no matter my age.

Lesson 5: Generosity to others = generosity to one’s self. As far as I can remember both my parents have been givers. Maa has been generous to a fault with not just her children, but also our extended family, everyone who has ever worked with or for her, friends and members of her community. And it has come back to our family with exponential interest. Not because we necessarily needed help but, as my father so eloquently puts it, through the blessings of those who love us. She has hopes of teaching those who need help in her retirement, and I truly hope this comes true, because as you can see here, she has a lot to teach!

Lesson 6. Keeping up with the Joneses is an endeavour in failure. Maa always pushed us to do better. She tried to instil in us an appetite, ambition to achieve. But, with a few minor exceptions, she was never a person to compare herself or her children to others around her. She never needed us to be like anyone else. She gave us every opportunity in life to find what we were good at, and encouraged us on that path. Oh, I am certain she worried about our comfort and security. But, the purpose was always for us to find the happiness within ourselves. There is no point in comparing ourselves, because without fail, there will be someone who is better at something, achieved more, has more than us. Rather than begrudge them their successes, she has always encouraged us to admire and emulate them.

Lesson 7. Being self sufficient is an essential attribute, but if you do have to ask for help ask it with your head held high. My mother is a skilled networker. Not in an overtly corporate way, but because she genuinely enjoys company and meeting new people, and wants to keep in touch with old friends. If you need help and my mother can help you, she will be more than happy to. She is a loyal and generous friend. Alongside this, Maa has always believed that one should live within their means and stand on their own two feet. Don’t ask people for unnecessary favours, and take a hint if someone doesn’t want to do give you that favour. But, if you know that something would make a big difference, or that something is needed, or that there are those who are willing to help, there is no harm, nor loss of pride, in asking for that help. As the old adage goes: you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Lesson 8. One must take action out of love and not obligation. As a woman who was always doing for others, there have been times that I know Maa has done things because she felt she had to, rather than because she truly wanted to. Without fail those occasions have been difficult not just for her but for those in proximity to her. There is not doubt that life thrusts these moments on us all, and sometimes we just have to bite the bullet. There is no harm, however, when you feel you are being cornered, in finding your assertive side. There is a difference between being assertive and aggressive.A line I’m often quite bad at discerning (and will write a whole blog post about). But, if you are able to find that balance, bring it on out, so that you can live your life doing things because you truly want to. Live your life through actions born of love and most things become somewhat pleasurable. As the mother of a young baby, I can promise you that even wiping a bum, or waking up at 2am, is almost a pleasure when your action is originated from love.

So there you have it, lessons from a woman I wholeheartedly admire. Don’t get me wrong, she is still my mother, and I will still annoy and argue with her. Then again, what else are daughters for?!! 

P.S. I love you Maa

It’s Time Now

This has been a devastating weekend for a lot of friends of mine either situated in Nepal or with family and friends in Nepal. The impact of a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 is still being ascertained as a combination of aftershocks, damaged infrastructure, and poor weather hamper relief efforts in the areas most affected. What people seem to know for sure is that the impact will be far greater than currently known, not just in loved ones lost, but through those displaced and in desperate need for basic essentials, that a relatively poor country, with nearly 40% estimated by the UN already living in poverty, will struggle to support.

It seems that often we hear about a country, a people, those that we don’t know much about, those that seem distant to us suffering from an emergency, or from war, or from corruption and dictators, or purely suffering because we as a world cannot cope with what we have done through population implosion and pollution. We take in what the media has to say and shake our heads briefly thinking about how sad it all is. And then we continue on our day.

I feel more deeply for Nepal because of the friends I have who have stirred in me an affection for their home. It affects me because my Facebook feed, Instagram and Twitter accounts are filled with friends checking in to let us all know they are safe, or sharing stories of their difficulty in passing the night, or requesting our prayers. The minute I heard about the devastation I had a number of faces flash through my mind. And yet, when I heard about the earthquake in Nepal, I had an initial thought: if I was wealthier or had more time, I would be able to help.

This is not an uncommon thought for me. Another one I have heard from others is: when I am older and have less responsibility, or when I retire, I am going to make a difference. The problem with tomorrow, as the old saying goes, is that it never comes. And if you are reading this, it is very likely that all these excuses are pure rubbish for you too. Because, if you have the wealth to access a computer, or you have the time to peruse social media and read this sort of thing, you have both the time and the money enough to make a difference. Not just for Nepal, but for whatever matters to you.

We talk to our friends about living a balanced life. (I am particularly fond of this phrase.) We want to be successful at our jobs, but have a life outside of that work. Some of us want travel, others family, others spirituality, and some all of the above. We attempt to take care of our bodies, meditate, socialise and bring together our families. We push ourselves to be better in all these areas and yet, when it comes to the really big picture there is always something missing.

There are a million reasons to participate in charitable endeavours. Giving is perhaps the most fulfilling form of spirituality, meditation, socialising, and, simply put, betterment that I can think of. As human beings we yearn for community. Giving allows us that community. It makes us part of something far greater than ourselves. It gives us a sense of accomplishment. It gives us activity and socialising when we volunteer or participate in fundraising with others. It challenges us to face some uncomfortable truths about what the world is like, and then inspires us as we watch individuals overcome great adversity, miracles on a daily basis. It educates us on things outside our daily lives. It educates our children on the importance of gratitude and on how lucky they are. It gives us an awareness of our place in the world. It pushes us to care about something more, and often to take a point of view.

On top of this the act of giving could have practical benefits of an economic nature. If you’re building a brand or a business of sorts, aligning yourself to a specific cause, joining a board, joining a group that allows networking within a charitable program, all can be hugely beneficial. It looks good on your CV and it looks good on your website. If you’re a small business or even a big corporation it is an excellent way of attracting and motivating the right team.

So giving really is, somewhat paradoxically, a selfish endeavour. We give not because we are altruistic but because of what we get in return. Whatever our reason for giving it is important that it become part of our lives now!

There are other excuses I hear about not giving, mostly because people don’t know how to give, whom to give to, or whether it makes a difference. As a fundraiser, here a few tips I’ve shared with some of my friends to get you started:

  1. It always makes a difference! Every $1, £1, 1 of any currency adds up if a few thousand/ million people give. We need to recognise this and be happy to be a part of the difference, not purely because we want to make the biggest difference.
  2. Organisations value, above all things, monetary donations. This is because it gives them the ability to hire the best people, professionals, to get the job done well. This is in no way because they do not appreciate your time and efforts, but because by running a charity efficiently they can make effective and powerful impact.
  3. Find a charity or a cause that matters to you. There is nothing wrong with supporting a number of different causes. But I have found that the greatest inspiration and impact for an individual is when they align themselves with a cause that profoundly inspires or matters to them. Also, if it matters to you, think about the practical implications for your ‘brand’ of supporting a charity. Does it have the opportunities you want it to have?
  4. Stop focusing on how much money the charity spends on administration and instead focus on the impact they make. When you buy any product you don’t spend your time checking their administration costs but rather value the product as it stands to you. A non-profit organisation’s outcome should be valued similarly. Of course you don’t want them to be using your donation for personal gain, but most reputable organisations have a level of transparency that will allow you to find confidence in the management team driving it forward. Research organisations online and find out as much as you can about them to give you that confidence. Another way to find out information is reach out to friends, you’ll be surprised by how much gets done through word of mouth.
  5. The most meaningful way of giving to a person is when they give their time and effort. This is because when we volunteer our time we are actively including ourselves in the greater good and not just writing a cheque. While I said that money matters most to an organisation, volunteers matter as well. Just make sure you are using your skill set to make the difference. Do what you want to do, and commit to it! Treat it as a job, as something you can’t just do as a whim, because when you say you’re going to be there it means people are relying on you. Volunteering can include everything from hosting an event to introduce your network to the cause to painting classrooms, or even updating a database because that is what your skillset is most aligned with. Others are motivated by personal interaction and so volunteer to read, educate, treat depending on their comfort level and abilities. Start by contacting your organisation and perhaps asking what they need. It costs money to organise volunteers effectively, so make sure you are being used where it is most useful.
  6. Question your charity. Make sure you are constantly pushing them to give you clear answers. If you are giving your money to an organisation you should have confidence in them and the work they are doing. There is nothing wrong with asking the questions that will give you that confidence. It also ensures that the charity is kept on its toes, being innovative and effective.
  7. If you have the capacity to, put something aside for moments such as the Nepal emergency. These are important times that require all of humanity to reach a little further than we normally do to help those in their greatest times of need.

Please feel free to message me if you have any questions on the above. I have experience working with charities, and have a number of friends who do, so would be very happy to elucidate.

If you are as profoundly impacted by the Nepal emergency as I am here are a few organisations that are on the ground already making a difference:

Local Charities: An old school friend’s brothers living in Kathmandu are pulling together funding and directing it in the most effective way. Please feel free to fund them directly.

Save The Children: Has been in Nepal since 1976. 10% of the funding is going to prepare for future disasters. They are initially focused on the basics such as water sanitation and blankets for babies on the streets.

The Red Cross: You’ve heard the name because they are experts in emergency support. They know what they are doing.

Dear Preggers

Over the last two months I have had an inordinate number of friends and family sharing their news of pregnancy. I guess one just hits that age when your entire Facebook feed is taken over by pure cuteness, and a little too much information on digestive happenings and the insides of humans in general. It’s also taken over by those asserting their absolute right to choose not to have children, and I could not agree more. I read in a cheesy book once, (this is becoming a theme on this blog, I must try limiting the cheese I absorb!!), that choosing to have a child is like getting a tattoo on one’s face, one must be certain! So taking the time to make the choice, deciding whether it is the right thing for you, (and I mean you, because no one else has to wake up every 20 minutes, pop their breast out, or choose diapers over Prada!), is phenomenally important. Because this is a no take-backs kind of situation.

Making the decision to actually have a little person join your life is a completely exhilarating and daunting experience. Having gone through it quite recently I wanted to share my thoughts thus far in the whole process. My first piece of advice to impending parents, is take everything your read/ hear/ watch with a healthy dose of salt. As Dr Seuss so wisely once said “You have brains in your head, and feet in your shoes”, peoples’ advice is born purely of their singular experience. Sometimes it’s helpful, sometimes it’s complete and utter nonsense, and most times if you look or wait long enough, completely contradictory advice will come your way. So please feel free to stop reading right here if you choose, but if you continue, do keep the above in mind.

Once I was pregnant, I promptly forgot all the excitement and reason behind having this child, and my brain was taken over by a parasite of worry. All I could think about was how much we had to get done before this thing showed up, both in preparation for it as well as because we would never be able to do anything fun EVER again! Well dear preggers, I was consumed by worry for no real reason. Yes, it is important to look at what you’re going to need, but please don’t go out and spend gazillions on things you think you may need, because there’s a high chance you will not need it. You may buy the most beautiful of bassinets trimmed with lace and stuffed with a foam bottom to ensure that it moulds to your baby’s weight, only to find out your baby hates it! REALLY HATES IT, and will not sleep a wink in it. There are all sorts of lists floating around, what to take to the hospital, what to have at home, what to buy for the dog… I would recommend getting one from a friend, a friend who will tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, (I had a very good friend and a cousin who were kind enough to share their lists with me). Barring that, your hospital usually will have a list of what to take there, and there’s a fantastic website (also recommended by a very good friend) called AlphaMom, which gives you a list and much much more. They have an amusing and quite realistic pregnancy countdown calendar as well.

As for life changing, it may come as no surprise it definitely does. It’s bizarre but it both slows down and speeds up at the same time. On the one hand it slows down because you now no longer have plans every night, but the days fly by as you watch your baby grow in new and fascinating ways. You still get a chance to go out for dinner, watch a play, or meet friends; it’s just a lot fewer times and a bit more expensive because you add on babysitting costs. Travel also happens. My partner and I have been to three continents with our little one, it’s just that you tend to make the most of your days and stay in a little bit more at nights. Make sure you have an excellent subscription for television or a few great DVDs, because you will watch the show you always wanted to. If you can, join a mom’s group. In the UK they have the NCT antenatal classes where you have a group of parents to be in your neighbourhood who are all due within a month of you. This made a huge difference to me. Seeing these mothers weekly with their babies, made me feel like part of a wonderful gang. Actually, motherhood feels like you’re joining one large cult. All of a sudden you know a lot about things you never even thought of before, and strangers see you with your little one and give you an inside smile. They KNOW what you are going through. Instead of looking at cars, you start recognising brands of prams on the street, and there is pure joy when you smile at the person who has the same one as you. You is part of the da club!

As for the actual birth, I know I spent many hours worrying about it. I’ll put it plainly: IT HURTS! But you know, you get through it. From the dawn of time humans, and every other creature in the world, has gone through it and survived. You will too. You also forget the pain quite quickly. The only thing I would recommend is make sure that if you have a partner in crime, ensure they are in the room, because they need to see what you go through for your family. They need to support you through it. They need to be part of what is surely a miracle. And they need to spend the rest of their life appreciating you for it 😉

And when I held my miniature us in my hands I was lucky enough to feel pure joy. I love being a mother. Even when he couldn’t smile back and just seemed to just sleep, poop and scream; I loved cuddling and holding my little bundle. It takes a lot to not want to constantly hold them. And each week you recognise something new: perhaps a smile not purely because he farted, or a spark of recognition for a song you sing. It is wonderful to witness. But, this isn’t the way it always works, sometimes, the connection takes time. Sometimes, we are exhausted and we can’t see past that. Sometimes, we can’t feel the connection and we are mourning the opportunity cost of going through this. And sometimes, we just worry we made a mistake. And it’s fine to feel this way… no really it’s fine. Your body goes through absolute chaos, there are chemicals and hormones playing havoc with you, and you cannot change the way you feel, nor should you be ashamed of it. Just make sure you tell someone. Tell someone you trust, someone who will help you find the help you need. Help you take the break you need. Help you take care of you. Because there is absolutely no point in staying miserable, and there is ALWAYS something you can do about it.

My body is definitely showing the signs of having gone through pregnancy and birth. I wish I was that chick with the six-pack abs all the way through her pregnancy, but then again I am thoroughly glad I wasn’t. In my last few weeks it was quite hot and we found the tastiest gelato place, I can’t tell you how much salted caramel gelato I ingested. All I can say is don’t worry about it. You are a fearless woman, and your stripes just show how fearless you are. You are still the same person. If you were an exercise fiend before the monkey arrived, you will be after as well. You will get the chance at the appropriate time to do what needs to be done. The world doesn’t change. It’s just you that has your mini world completely turned on its head. Give it time and give yourself a break.

I wish I had created a sign, and put it up in every room in my house, telling me to give myself a break. Because, you will inevitably have a list of 20 things to do in a day, and only get one done. And that is absolutely fine. Heck, it’s more than fine… in fact, give yourself a massive pat on the back, because on top of feeding, changing, loving and keeping a human being alive, you managed to survive yourself AND get one thing done! You will wonder whether you are doing things right as a parent, you will question your choices, (natural birth vs. caesarean, breastfeed vs. bottle feed, firm schedule vs. baby led schedule. etc.), and you will try and convince everyone else your choice is right. I assure you, your choice is right, because you made it and you are now a parent.

You will find strength you never knew you had, you will find patience you never knew you had, and you will find a reason to love yourself even more. Because there is another little person in this world who loves you just as you are.

So in summary, all I can say is welcome to the club preggers, and get ready for the adventure of your life!

On Belonging

The question of where I come from has always been fraught with confusion.

You see, I was born and lived in a country entirely different to that of where my parents were and what my ethnicity is. Later in my life this got even more confusing as I lived in a number of different countries. A very lucky life indeed. But, as you can imagine, when someone asked me where I was from I didn’t understand the question. Did it mean where I was born, where my family lived, where I spent my childhood, where I went to school, what my ethnicity is, or where I currently lived? I imagine, as the world gets smaller, I am far from alone in this dilemma. As a teenager it was easier, coming up with a long-winded answer was a sign of how impressive I was, or so I thought. Now I think it can come across as just pretentious, even when we don’t mean it to.

Don’t get me wrong, it has been a world of wonderful opportunity, and I know how immensely blessed I am to have had this #firstworldproblem! The question is, however, how much does the answer really matter? And does this confusion belie a more troubling uncertainty about my identity?

Have you heard of a coconut? Brown on the outside but white on the inside. When I was much younger a person used this terminology for me. I remember being insulted by this. I wanted to be brown all over. I thought I was. I thought my ethnicity was that of a relatively progressive nation that had a plethora of behaviours and beliefs, and that it did not matter where you stood on the kaleidoscope, you still belonged. But as a teenager, trying to find my way, the term stung. So even amongst my ‘own’ I did not belong.

Conversely, when I first moved to the United States as a student, I was overwhelmed by how much I had to explain of myself. My accent, my dress sense, my choice of food, I could not be more brown if I tried. So there coconut caller, I am brown! But I took some comfort in my foreignness. It made me unusual, and it gave me a reason for my uniqueness. To be honest I used the term ‘In my culture’ so much it became of fall back excuse for pretty much any and all behaviour.

In my country of birth my family have been ‘expatriates’ for 35 years. How is that possible? We are immigrants. We belong now. You do not have to be the same skin colour to belong. You should not be able to just kick us out because it suits you, as they did in Uganda. But even though I was born there, even though my family live there, people look at me funny if I say I am from there!

In a few weeks I will be taking an oath and pledging my loyalty to a new country. It’s a wonderful country, a country that has given me a lot of opportunity and friendships, and will give me access, support and freedom in the future. But, this newfound loyalty comes at the price of another. I have to give up a belonging, and there is some sadness in it.

I have so easily embraced a new passport because it makes my life immensely easier. It gives me access to a whole continent to live in. It gives me access to securities that others take for granted. It gives me access to travel without expensive and tedious visa processes.

But, I give up a passport that has been my identity for 30 years. A country whose beauty I have touted so much that people say I should be paid by the tourism commission for it. A country whose failures embarrass me to the core, and whose strength is my source of pride. Will you no longer want me India, because I have so easily cast you aside? Or will I always be Indian? Where will my children say they are from? Will I care?

In high school I was introduced to the term Third Culture Kid. It essentially means a person who has spent their formative years in a culture different to that of their parents and therefore build a new ‘third’ culture as an amalgamation of the two. Boy am I a third culture kid?! This term gave me so much comfort, simply because I knew there is a name for me. And the name exists because there are many of us. I belonged. I belonged to those of us who always fight to belong. I belonged to those of us who are confused. I belonged to those of us who belong to the world.

I have always celebrated my culture. A culture made up of a number of cultures. I have always taken pride in the belonging my parents so painstakingly built for me, teaching me the cultural elements they had left behind to build a better life. But there is definitely relief in sharing the confusion.

And that’s the crux of it. If you ask me tomorrow where I am from, I will still dither a little while giving you a longwinded answer. I might still ask you to clarify what you mean. But I know the answer doesn’t define me. Because I know I belong, because belonging is about sharing, and what I have is shared. And as the world gets smaller there are more and more like me.

“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald