When I was 15, I had my whole life mapped out.
I’d be married by 25. Within a couple of years, I’d have a daughter, and then a son.
When I hit 30, I’d go back to school to get my Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. By then, I should have already gotten enough writing experience, and gone through enough life experiences, for me to be able to fully appreciate the program. Then I’d go on to publish my first novel before hitting 40.
I was a little girl with big dreams who grew into a teenager with a plan.
In a few days, I will turn 33.
True to my expectation, I have indeed gotten married, but that didn’t happen until I was 28. The baby came first, when I was 23. And I had a son. I have no daughter, but that’s fine. I’m enjoying being mom to a boy.
My pot of life experiences is filling up fast, which is great because that means that life has been great. My writing resume isn’t too shabby. I know for sure that I’d be able to appreciate the Creative Writing Master’s program that I’m gunning for, if only I could afford it.
One thing that I failed to consider when I was 15 was how much it would actually cost to send a child to school, and how expensive a Master’s Education can be.
And then, there are all of these other things.
At 15, I had no idea how hard it was to be married. I didn’t know what it meant to meet halfway. I thought that there would always be a clear winner in each argument. I didn’t think that not going to bed angry could mean tearful discussions that would last until 3:00 in the morning.
I didn’t have a clue that parenting would be as challenging as I now know it to be. I thought that it would be so cute to have two children who are close in age, just like my brother and I. I didn’t realize that having one child is challenging enough already. I had no idea that I would someday find myself at the receiving end of eye-rolling and snide remarks that just happen to sound a whole lot like my 10-year old self.
I believed back then that if you were good at something it wouldn’t be difficult to find a job in your desired field. I never thought about how much of success comes from actual hard work, that luck actually plays a huge part in it all, and that being easy to work with sometimes matters more than what you can actually do.
I went from being a naïve teenager with a plan to becoming an adult with (at least a little bit of) wisdom.
I’ve learned a lot about life in between my 15th and 33rd birthdays.
I know that you should always expect the unexpected. And I mean, always. Life is full of curve balls and somewhere along the way things won’t go as planned.
I believe that the trick is to keep moving forward, and to always look on the bright side of life even when there seems to be no bright side. I understand now that the tough times are there to make the good ones shine even brighter.
Our hearts can handle infinite amounts of heartache brought about by people whom we truly care about. I know this for sure. I also know that these same people, if they love us as much as we love them, will be the same ones to mend those little breaks in our hearts.
I may have proven my teenage-self wrong on many different counts, but I do still believe in dreaming big dreams and planning for the life that we want for ourselves.
We may not be able to accomplish all that we want to do within the deadlines we set for ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. Things may not happen the way we want them to all the time, but that doesn’t mean that we should stop working on becoming the person we’ve always known we could be.
In spite of it all, and despite life’s struggles, the one thing that we ought to do is never give up on ourselves.
Based on the plan I had set for myself all those years ago, I still have seven years to get that book out. How that will go remains to be seen…!
How has your expectation differed from your reality? Are you close to where you thought you would be at this time of your life?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Mrs. P. Cuyugan. Photo credit: Jurgen P. Appelo. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
I have relationships on the brain. I think many Americans do. In the aftermath of a highly contentious election, I observe people from all sides publicly and privately sorting through the complex ways this political cycle has affected their relationships. It got me thinking further about the mindset I bring to my own interactions.
As a child, I was incredibly sensitive with an overwhelming need to be liked and included. I would often take things personally and want to find the path to acceptance with everybody. Through the years, I learned that we are drawn naturally into friendships with some people, and less so with others. I also learned that there are people who most likely will never be your friend. The key to that sentence is “most likely.”
There was a time when the open-ended implications of “most likely” would stress me out. I like things tidy and compartmentalized. If it isn’t working, I want closure. I prefer to know where I stand with someone. However, relationships are a two-way street, and I can only drive the car in my lane. Plus my need for definitive boundaries does not supersede the natural fluidity of relationships over time nor does it allow room for change. Real life relationships are layered, and two people may connect on one level but completely miss on another. And the more time people have together, the more intricate it can become.
These days, I am finding freedom in allowing relationships to come and go, wax and wane, without feeling the need to define the who/what/why. There are friends whom I cherish that I haven’t seen in years, and there are people whom I would love to get to know better. I am always intending to schedule time with these folks, yet life gets in the way. Putting in effort is important, but I am accepting that just because things aren’t happening now doesn’t mean they won’t happen again someday.
Then there are the people with whom I share messy and contentious experiences, and we aren’t as close as we once were. There are also those I intentionally walked away from to escape toxicity. These packed the biggest punch for me personally, and I still mourn each break.
Rather than beating myself up or blaming someone else, though, I am recognizing that there are seasons to all relationships that don’t have to have a definitive beginning or end. I want to allow the distance, the dissonance, or the lost time to be what it is and doors to remain open for whatever the future holds while I try to grow from each experience and gain new perspective.
This really hit home for me after touching base with someone with whom I share a tumultuous history. We have had moments when I think there will be no reconnection, and then life circumstances come along to bring us back together in a meaningful way. It seems new phases bring possibilities for relationships to be reborn or evolve. Not all will, of course, but you never know.
This may sound incredibly obvious to most, but it takes practice for me, especially as I watch things play out for my children. I have seen friends come in and out of their lives, and I have witnessed situations that make me hurt for them. We have discussed how it’s OK to have different seasons for their relationships. Maybe connections need time to be rekindled, or maybe things will always have a hard limit because that is the healthiest choice. But there have been some rocky starts that have turned into great relationships as all parties have matured, and a big part of this is due to the forgiving nature of children and the willingness to start again.
In the effort to build up a child who has suffered a broken friendship, it seems easiest to say ,“It’s their loss”, or, “Who needs them?” Sometimes, we as adults do this too. But the reality is that paths often cross again. Maybe nothing will bear fruit, but what if it does? If we are open to new beginnings or willing to go back to old conversations with a fresh perspective, perhaps those relationships can grow again. And if they don’t, we can allow things to play out without cynicism knowing spring will come again someday with someone else.
How do you navigate changing relationships in your life? How do you help your children do the same?
This has been an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. Photo credit: Chalky Lives. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
My Parenting Anxieties as an Expat
Right now I have a lot of parenting anxieties. One is over our transient lifestyle moving from one country to another every few years with our young children. Another is over my absence from my children as a full-time working and studying mom – when I’m not home, I’m at work; when I’m home, I’m studying.
Can anyone else relate?
My twin children are in 1st grade and about to finish up their second (and final) term. A new teacher has come into the picture…(thankfully) with very structured daily homework assignments and weekly quizzes…Quizzes?!…and a very clear goal of getting the children to 2nd grade level reading and spelling by the end of the term. All of this is wonderful, makes a lot of sense, what a blessing, terrific….and time to PANIC!!!
How am I going to spend enough time with my kids to go through their homework? Will I have enough reserve of patience to be encouraging? How am I going to impose the strict rule about no tablet time until afterhomework when they are with the housekeeper? How am I to maneuver between two very different personalities, learning styles, and confidence levels when the kids are constantly comparing themselves to one another’s abilities (one can spell and is excited about school work/one can’t and doesn’t want to; one still needs to do math with fingers/ the other is a natural whiz?)
Anyone else have similar issues with parenting anxiety when raising twins or between siblings?
Walking in the Shoes of the Basotho
Meanwhile, throughout Lesotho, where we live, there is a large migrant adult population who must leave their families behind to go work for long stretches of time in the mines or textile factories in another area of Lesotho, or even as far away as South Africa or other countries in the region. Sometimes, they move around with their families and are transient depending on job availability. Sometimes they go away on their own and are absent for months and years from their loved ones.
For the Basotho, they mostly leave their families behind in the care of other family members, mostly with the paternal side of the family given their patrilineal culture. As I imagine what life would be like in the Basotho culture, as a wife and mother I would be living with my in-laws under the authority of my father-in-law for all family decisions. I imagine that parenting anxiety exists, albeit, very different. Here’s how…
My concerns for my children would be challenged not only by the quality of their education, but also by their access to adequate healthcare; the family’s limited income to pay for daily necessities (until the next time my husband comes home with more money); the home garden suffering from drought; and the decision to send my daughter to school, but not my son because we need him to be a herdboy and tend to our livestock until we can sell them. Time to PANIC?
If I take this exercise further, I begin to imagine how can I convince my father-in-law to agree for my child to see a medical doctor instead of a traditional healer. And even if he agreed, how will I get my sick child to a medical facility when it’s a day’s walk away and there is no public transportation even if I had the money to pay?
If there is no work for me, should I trade sex for money or goods to provide for my family? What will we eat if the garden is dead? Will it rain soon? What will happen to my son if he doesn’t get the education he needs to become more than a herder or a laborer in the future?
Can anyone else relate?
Parenting anxieties are indiscriminate across the planet. We all have them at one time or another and for many different reasons. With each location my family and I live as expats, I learn to walk in many different shoes (or bare feet) of the people whom we share our community. With each day, I gain a greater understanding of the challenges that parents face around the world. And, these varying experiences are often on my mind.
Do you or others in your community relate to these two experiences living side by side? What are your current parenting anxieties?
Over the past 7 years I have lived in 10 different homes on 2 different continents. To some this will sound like the ultimate adventure, to others it will seem like a nightmare. Even I can’t decide how I feel about it.
At the moment, having lived in temporary accommodation for over six months with a baby under one, it’s feeling more nightmarish than adventurous. My heart aches for a more permanent home, a place to unpack all our boxes and finally set up a room for my baby boy. I’m sick of sitting on someone else’s couch, using the oddly sized cutlery someone else picked out.
It feels like my life is on hold, that I can’t make any real plans until I’m sitting at my own dining room table.
Another part of me knows this is ridiculous. My happiness does not depend on a piece of furniture from IKEA. My baby makes me acutely aware that time is passing every moment and if I don’t enjoy the here and now I’ll suddenly wake up to an 18 year old son and wonder what happened.
And sometimes I can appreciate the adventurous side of it all. When my husband and I look back over the past few years there are so many stories to tell and so many experiences to remember. “Look at where we were last year and where we are now”, we often say. In retrospect our life seems so full. And that can’t be a bad thing.
I do wonder how our nomadic lifestyle is affecting our baby boy. He has moved house 3 times in his short life and it is clear that this does not go unnoticed. For the first few weeks post move he is clingy, unsure of himself. Who could blame him? Every reference point bar his parents has been changed.
Since I cannot provide him with a constant physical space to call home, I focus on making this family, this life his home. If our little family is together that should be enough. Or rather, my dream house in the perfect location wouldn’t feel like home without my two boys in it.
And then again I feel guilty about getting stressed about something as futile as the lack of shelf space or not liking the colour of the walls. I might feel displaced in our rented house but that is nothing compared to the thousands of migrant and refugee families who literally have nowhere to call a home. I often wonder how they do cope, how hard it must be to create a space that feels even just a little bit like a home in a refugee camp or when you’re being shipped from country to country hoping someone will take you in.
So I take a big breath. Everything is okay. This unsettled period in our life will soon pass and be turned into stories. And my baby is still so small that just being close to his mummy and daddy is home enough for him.
What does home mean to you? If you’re living abroad how do you make your house feel like home?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Julie from Portugal.
Two months ago, I travelled back to Arusha, Tanzania as part of my work with Mom2Mom Africa. Each time I am in Arusha, I make sure to stop by a local outdoor restaurant frequented by many tourists. The restaurant resides on a beautiful piece of property, and offers free Wifi to connect back home to loved ones. I consider this to be a real luxury in the areas I work in Arusha so take full advantage of this establishment whenever possible.
On my last trip, I decided that I would take several of our Mom2Mom Africa students to this restaurant as a “treat”. What was originally planned as a small group outing with 5 or 6 children, ended up turning into a van full of children, and my colleague Aloyce. It was absolutely priceless to see me walk through the grounds followed by 12 little Tanzanian children, and Aloyce at the rear to ensure we didn’t lose any along the way! The other restaurant patrons could not stop staring!
I had questioned this dinner outing for days before making a decision to go ahead with it. Many believe that exposing those in poverty-stricken areas of the world, to ‘luxuries’ is unjust; a tease. I didn’t want to be that white foreigner.
But, after much thought, I decided to go ahead with our big dinner date. What influenced my final decision was the fact that the same holds true for my three little girls in Canada. As a mother, I often treat my girls to little extravagances. These are not every day occurrences, and in fact are more rare than common. And my girls understand that. If they could be treated each and every day, there would be no argument on their part. But, they know that even though that might be the reality of other little girls their age, it is not their reality. And they are ok with that and simply choose to enjoy the times that they do get to experience trips or dinner at fancy restaurants. I used this experience with my girls as the deciding factor in Tanzania. After all, everyone likes to be treated!
Seeing the kids eat pizza until their bellies were full, drinking pop, and laughing with their friends was one of the highlights of my time in Tanzania. When they noticed the playground with swings and teeter-totters, I lost them in play for 2 hours! They were beyond happy. And, that made me beyond happy. And, at that point, I thought to myself that I had made the right decision. I left the restaurant on cloud nine, with twelve happy little ones singing all the way home in the van.
All had gone as planned, until one little girl said out loud in the van…”I now know how mzungus (white people) live”…and my heart broke.
The restaurant is staffed with locals but caters to tourists, most of whom are white. Instead of this being a fun night out for all, Canadians and Tanzanians alike, the take home message was that white people deserve and live in a world of luxuries. My plan back-fired on me with a vengeance. It has been two months since that night, and that little voice from the back of the van still haunts me. I guess my mommy instinct was off this time. We all worry about making decisions that may negatively affect our own children’s lives. I now worry constantly about my decisions and how they may impact the lives of so many who call me “Mama Alison” in Tanzania.
Do you think it’s better to know what you are missing or not?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Alison Fraser. Photo by Alison Fraser.