Today’s post comes to World Moms Network by Lura Elezi of Albania. Lura is an activist, mother, writer and thinker. The piece below first appeared on Lura’s personal blog, Lara, Lara! in April 2020. It is a reflection of a similar time in a different place when a young Lura Elezi was also fleeing from pending war. She dedicates this post to all women and girls facing similar challenges today.
As an Eastern European, I relate to the Ukrainian people in so many ways. But that is not as relevant as the most important fact that we are first and foremost human and we should lock all wars in history books, as they have no more place in the present world.
As I sit hoping every minute that this war will not become even one month old, I would also like to point out that on top of various donations, my home is open to any Ukrainians reaching for my city: Tirana, Albania.— Lura Elezi, March 15, 2022
Fleeing from Danger
Like many fellow Albanians during the 1997 quasi-civil war* of Albania, after several adventurous attempts, my family and I managed to flee the country.
My sisters and I were clueless. My parents told us to pack some of our valuables because we were leaving the city for the village—we were less likely to be hit by a stray bullet there. On the way to the airport, their story changed.
I was a young girl going through puberty and all the unrest that comes with it. Having seen and collected stray bullets on our balcony, I decided to channel all my unease by worrying about our cat Lara. We had left her with our downstairs neighbors, whose daughters were our friends. What if they fled too? What about Lara?
To Lands Unknown
Four flights later we had reached my uncle’s home…in Beijing, China.
No more stray bullets indeed but we were not here as tourists either. The culture and language was strange and very different from ours. We would only leave the premises about once a week; we had no clue whether our apartment back home was still intact; and we could barely get in touch through landlines with our friends and family left behind. I remained worried about Lara.
My parents were glued to the news. They were probably suppressing deep depression, of which my sisters and I were oblivious.
I spent my time reading, playing Super Mario or out in the yard—an inner courtyard surrounded by high walls—when the weather allowed it. After one sweaty session of play, I ran inside straight to the bathtub only to see that…
The communists had arrived!
Or as some say, “auntie paid a visit.”
Or to be more clear—something society did not seem too fond of doing at the time—I got my first period.
I felt the panic creeping in, so I acted accordingly. My need to hide it from my older sister and my mother was intense. I started throwing away my underpants, concealing them well so no one would see them in the garbage.
I left Albania as a child but now—according to tales passed down through generations—I was a woman.
What did that even mean? One thing I was sure, I was not ready for it!
Things Got Worse
Two or three days went by, and panic got worse.
I felt like excitement about everything was coming to an end.
That maybe they wouldn’t let me play outside anymore.
That vaginal blood was something to be ashamed of and it was foreshadowing a world less amusing than the one I was in.
Now I would have to act like a grownup. And what grownup girls did, is whisper about your biology maybe in the kitchen corners. Leave all fun behind, as those are privileges reserved for men and children only.
Eventually I started running out of underwear to throw away and I was exhausted. So I told my sister first, and then my mother. They congratulated me—my mom even laughed at my worries—and they gave me hygienic pads to wear.
The next day I rode the bike in the courtyard and no one seemed to care that I had a pad glued to my underwear, and it was turning redder by the hour.
For years I pondered why I had so much dread surrounding this biological event.
I do not recall my family telling me fearful tales; but certainly everyone else had managed to taunt me as a little girl:
About the fateful day when my period would find me.
That girls cannot do what they please after a certain point.
That girls are the sacrifice to the society, so it moves forward.
The Tale of Rozafa
Just like unfortunate Rozafa, a local legend that still turns my stomach, but which many seemed to find so meaningful.
Rozafa was the new wife of a third brother and she had just given birth to their first child. The brothers were building a vital wall and after a few futile endeavors, the wall required a blood sacrifice to be able to stand. So the brothers put Rozafa in it alive, and left her eye, breast and hand outside the wall, so she could take care of the baby in the crib.
Hundreds of similar horrid legends, where women are so dispensable, are passed down around the world.
Fear of Growing Up
I did not want to turn into a woman. As I thought about how boys play: they have fun; grow up to be businessmen and politicians; are told legends where they are heroes; continue to play video games; can be bosses; get to sit with legs spread out all their lives
“boys will remain boys!”
While girls have to: cast their eyes mostly downwards; never sit with spread legs; stand a lot; AND the moment your nipples start growing and you get your period…then the kitchen becomes your new hangout area. With other women, some much older, and with very unpleasant stories.
And if later, as an adult, a girl pursues her ambitions, she is called a b!tch and she better thank god several times a week for finding a husband who wants to bear children with her.
At least this is how it is for many.
Across much of the planet.
Two-and-a-half months later, we returned to Albania from our exile and waited patiently for the country to restore. I learned to buy pads myself and the sales clerk would wrap them with newspapers.
Lara the Cat lived 15 wonderful years with us.
* A few years into a young democracy that followed one of the harshest dictatorships the planet has known, in January 1997—after being deceived by fraudulent pyramid schemes that took loans from individuals and returned it at 150-300% interest rate—Albanians rioted. Eventually, all these schemes collapsed, and common people, who lost a great deal, broke in the ammunition warehouses across the country and a civil war almost took off. A few months later, things were calmer but it took Albania about a decade to recover from the financial losses —totaling about $1.2 billion.
The image used in this post is the author in 1997. It is used with her permission.
As one phase of motherhood is coming to an end, another one is beginning. I still remember his huge brown eyes looking up at me and smiling when we would play peek –a –boo., and he would belly laugh when he was a baby. I remember how he went through separation anxiety when someone else would hold him and how he told me he was going to marry me…
Somewhere along the line, that baby grew up into a little boy and that little boy has grown up into an eleven year old pre-teen. When once there was a time when he would beg me to help out; now it seems I need to ask three or four times before he claims to hear me…
He used to love to give me hugs and kisses before going into school, but now we need to give hugs and kisses before school when no one can see us. He still wants to sit and cuddle on the couch during family movie time, but just not in front of his friends.
I admit, at first, it made me sad that he seemed to pull away from me more. He was my first baby, and the thought of him not needing me anymore frightened me. I knew about babies and young children. I was comfortable with young children, and the thought of him slowly going down the path of becoming a teenager was something I almost couldn’t comprehend.
Now, the reality of him journeying towards his teenage years is not a decade away but right on the horizon, I realize how lucky and privileged I am to have had those early years with him. I am choosing to look forward to all the great memories our family will have with him as we enter into this new and unchartered territory together.
He is able to help me carry luggage and understand my crazy jokes now. He can talk to me and discuss one of the many novels he has read. I can see the progress he has made playing soccer since he was four years old. I am able to witness first-hand the compassion and empathy he feels for his friends and those around him. In his short life, he has lived in four countries and visited eleven. Our family has been able to experience so much with him, and I know there are so many more exciting things we will be able to experience with him.
It is a little scary for me to enter into these pre-teen and teenage years along with him. And I know after he goes through them, my daughter will be right behind him.
I feel, as a mom, I am caught somewhere between parenting a baby and a young man who is trying to find himself.
The realization that I have fewer years with him living under my roof now than I have already had with him is setting in. I think he is feeling a type of confusion too: wanting his mom around, but not in the same way as before. I always thought when my children grew up, it would get easier. It doesn’t get easier…it gets different. My children need me but in different ways than when they were small. When they were small it was easier to figure out what they needed: feeding, changing, holding, etc. and I was physically exhausted. Now, they still need me, but in subtler ways,
which are mentally exhausting, and I am learning to take my son’s lead.
I am learning that I need to take a backseat sometimes and let him go. I am learning to respect what he wants like his need to have his hair longer than I would prefer. And, I try very hard to listen intently when he describes the latest saga in the video games he loves.
Sometimes, I feel like I am walking on a tightrope. If I lean too far to the right, I am not happy, and too far to the left, he isn’t happy. It takes such mental stamina to balance on that tightrope.
It does get annoying sometimes, though, with his phase of remembering every single word I say and being able to twist it in a way to benefit him. I think that goes along with the territory of arguing that he is always right and everything can be blamed on someone else. We all went through that phase in our lives when we were trying to figure ourselves out. This time is a rite of passage, and I know it is just that…a phase. I know on the other side of this phase will be an adult. One whom I hope will have had the proper guidance to be a happy and well-adjusted adult.
It is interesting how quickly our children absorb what they have been taught in their short lives. I can already see glimpses of what he will be like as an adult.
There are so many exciting adventures and memories ahead of us on this unknown journey of parenting a pre-teen boy. For the first time in my life, I don’t have a “lesson plan” for parenting. I am learning (slowly) how to go day by day and understand what he needs from me at the time.
I read somewhere that you know you have done a good job parenting your children when you have worked yourself right out of your job. Although I am not ready for that yet, I do understand what it means. I want him to grow to be a happy independent adult. I want him to experience happiness and success in his life along with the failures. But, maybe I also want just a little bit of him to still need me in his life when he grows up. I know there is plenty of time until that happens, and until then, I am going to continue to walk the tightrope of parenting a pre-teen boy. As my Dad says, time is fleeting, and I want to try to enjoy these years as much as I can. And, also, I am going to call my parents and thank them profusely for putting up with me during my pre-teen years!!
Do you have a pre-teen? How did you feel as your children entered into the pre-teen years? Was there anything you did to make the transition easier for both of you?
This is an original post to world Moms Network by Meredith. You can read about her life as an expat in The Netherlands on her blog, and her life as an expat in Nigeria at www.wefoundhappiness.blogspot.com/
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
The other day I went to my teenage son’s soccer tournament, and because his game was delayed, I watched a girls’ match finish on the other field. Actually, thanks to the British history in Abu Dhabi, I should say that I went to the “football fixture,” watched the girls play “on the other pitch,” and then at the end of the day took my son to the sports store so he could buy a new pair of “boots” (not cleats). Who knew when we moved here five years ago that one of the ways we would adapt is learning to speak a different version of our native tongue?
As I watched the girls’ match, two girls maneuvered the ball across the pitch, their teammates shrieking encouragement. One girl—a headscarf covering her hair, and leggings under her athletic shorts—passed the ball to her teammate, whose long ponytail was streaked light blue. They brought the ball down the pitch—passed left, passed right—and then Ponytail shot for the goal. The ball bounced off a goal post, looked like it was going to go wide, and then sank into the back of the net past the goalie’s outstretched hands.
“Nice shot,” murmured my son. “Really good pass, too.” Neither of us knew the girls who were playing, but his comment made me happy nevertheless. As the mother of sons, I collect “girl power” moments like this one to remind my sons that they do not have the market cornered on sports excellence. Now that he’d seen for himself, I wouldn’t have to risk being Tiresome Mom by pointing out that those were girls playing pretty kick-ass football.
It’s easy to see in this little episode a lesson about hijab not being the symbol of oppression that so many non-Muslims are quick to assume it is. This girl left her opponents in the dust as she raced down the field, and she pounded her thighs in elation when the ball went into the net. Her war whoop as she ran to the sidelines to celebrate with her teammates would be recognized anywhere as the screech of a happy athlete.
But that’s not really the point. The point has to do with the fact that my fifteen-year-old son didn’t notice the headscarf or the leggings—or the blue ponytail, for that matter—he noticed the football. He noticed what the girls were doing, not what they looked like. As my son moves closer to manhood, a process that seems to be unfolding faster and faster despite my attempts to keep him “my boy” as long as I can, I wonder if my feminist politics have rubbed off: will he become a man who sees what women can do rather than how they look or what they’re wearing?
Isn’t that the question we ask ourselves as our children—those firm little packages of flesh that seemed at one point soldered to our hips—move out into the world: we want to know if our lessons have sunk in, if they’ve been listening even as they seem glued to the Snapchat world in their phones. Does my darling son talk about girls as “hotties” when he’s with his buddies; does he chime in when the conversation turns to which girl has the best body and why?
I don’t know. All I can know is that the other day, what he saw was two people playing great football.
Who knows. Maybe if enough children grow up appreciating what people can do, rather than what they look like or what they do (or don’t) wear on their heads, the world might become a more level playing
How do you create awareness about gender equality for your children?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Deborah Quinn, Mannahattamamma of the UAE. Photo credit to the author.
My son turns 10 years old this fall. At the start of the summer, I told my husband that before school reconvened, I intended to have the talk with my son about Santa. While my son has never pushed for answers regarding holiday magic, he is in a multi-age program at school with older, brainy kids. My gut has been telling me that this is the year that Santa’s cover would be blown. I also know my son well enough to know I wanted to control the conversation and not have a big talking fifth grader accidentally ruin Christmas at the last minute. I wanted to work through this far enough away from the holiday so we could all get used to the idea. I knew if I framed things the right way, my son would still be able to welcome the upcoming holiday season. I was resigned to move ahead. (more…)
I remember when we brought my son home, he had the squishiest face, the most delicious chin, the chubbiest thighs and the most beautiful brown eyes that had every looked at me. He was the most precious thing I had ever held, touched or seen.
I remember his “clingy” phase of not wanting anyone else but me. I was so exhausted, but he was so happy to just have me with him. I remember his first days of preschool and the crying fits he had when I left and repeated to him over and over, “Mommy always comes back.” It broke my heart to leave him, but I also knew that it was part of him growing up and that it was time.
It’s funny when you hear that phrase…It’s time. It always means that change is coming… (more…)