I’m sitting in a café right now, tapping away at my keyboard, fully embracing the cliché of a struggling writer punching out yet another piece of their soul while surrounded by the wafting aroma of Aceh Gayo coffee being slowly extracted, and swatting at the occasional mosquito I’ve come to accept is part of life in the tropics. The window to my right overlooks a stream of sputtering motorbikes, punctuated occasionally by large SUVs with glossy, tinted windows. Even on an early Sunday afternoon, there is no reprieve from the tightly packed traffic on Jakarta’s roads.
Like many of you, today I’ve been reading about an upsetting, extreme example of what clinging to the oversimplification of identity can result in – and it got me thinking about my own sense of identity, and what identity even really means to me; what it might mean to my children one day. And now I see that this piece has been wanting to burst out of me for a while.
Roughly a week ago, while I was still on holiday in Egypt with my family, I went on a grocery store run with my father to pick up some last minute items for the journey back home. Like a bona fide Egyptian girl should, I always stock up on big, sturdy jars of tahini to take back with me to Indonesia because there isn’t a guarantee that it’s always in stock at my usual store. Continue reading
I’m not going to tell you that you’re a good mother.
I won’t even tell you that you’re doing a good job.
Because when I do, you’re going to think back to this morning when your toddler threw that sticky clump of oatmeal at you, and you snapped. You just snapped. She’s small. She’s frustrated. You’re the adult here. But you didn’t recognise your voice as the anger and helplessness rumbled in the pit of your stomach and you growled furiously at her. You didn’t feel like a good mother then.
Of all the questions a modern woman expects to be asked when meeting someone for the first time, “So, what does your husband do?” is not one that would’ve been on my radar. In fact, it would have grievously offended my pre-expat-wife self.
What do you mean, what does my husband do? How is that relevant to who I am as an individual? How does his career, his role, his position – define me?
And yet, after expat-wifing for 5 years now, it’s a question that no longer causes me to bat an eyelid. In fact, after being asked my name, my kids’ ages, where we live, my often-spoken, almost pre-rehearsed line about his position at X company dances at the tip of my tongue, waiting for its inevitable release.
I am a dependant. I am someone else’s Plus One. I am so-and-so’s wife or so-and-so’s mother. The homemaker, the baby-caretaker, the healthy-toddler-muffin-baker.
Here I sit, between them on my bed, the toddler on my left and the baby on my right. They’re fast asleep, peacefully dreaming of the things little ones dream about. If I listen closely, I can hear their steady, soft breaths, and see their little chests rising and falling almost in unison. In this still, quiet moment, I beg the universe:
Don’t let me forget.
Don’t let me forget the way her fine, silky baby hairs tickle the tip of my nose as I breathe in her perfection, or the way she giggles as I bury my head into the cushiony folds of her chubby neck. She smells like milk, soap, and baby powder, even though I didn’t put any baby powder on her. She smells like love and hope and some magical, mysterious ingredient that only babies possess. Continue reading
If you’re a sleep-deprived mama that stays up late for no reason, I get you.
No, really. I get you.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that at one point, someone has said to you: Okay, you’re sleep deprived – it’s essentially all you ever talk about, so why are you still up now that the kids are in bed?
My very logical, rational husband doesn’t understand why, despite the fact that I haven’t slept for longer than a two-hour stretch over the past couple of months, I still stay up well past the kids’ bedtime. You say you want ‘me-time’ – but isn’t sleep the ultimate ‘me-time’? he asked me once.
Before I had kids, the concept of ‘me-time’ was pretty stock standard. I’d take the full hour lunch break at work and walk through the shops with no agenda whatsoever. On the weekend, I’d set off to the gym on my own for an hour and then stop by my favourite cafe and grab a cappuccino. Sometimes I’d get more than one bout of ‘me-time’ in one day. It was great.
Me and myself had the perfect amount of quality time together.
I wanted to run away from my kids yesterday.
Everything just kind of came crashing down all at once. There were several factors at play. Suddenly, I just felt tired. I felt alone. I felt like everything was on me, and that I had no way out.
Motherhood has this way of consuming every atom capable of feeling love in your body, and then multiplying each and every one at an exponential rate. It can make you want to sacrifice everything, and anything, for another, without having to think twice. It is exhilarating, beautiful, fulfilling.
But motherhood also has another side, which we feel guilty talking about. We shouldn’t really talk about it, right? I sound ungrateful. I’ve been blessed with the privilege of raising these amazing children. I shouldn’t complain. I could have it a lot worse. I should focus on the positives, because the negatives will just bring me, and others, down.
The truth is, at one point or another, you’ll feel it. You will. You’ll feel trapped. You’ll get tired of being so completely depended upon. You’ll miss your freedom. You’ll think back to when you were just you, and only really had to take care of yourself, and you’ll miss that. You’ll miss the luxury of thinking to yourself, “I think I’ll go to bed now”, and then rest assured that you will only wake up when you decide you’re ready to do so. You’ll miss sitting in a cafe reading a book for three hours. You’ll miss shopping alone, without any time restrictions and without having to do the mommy-jiggle-shake-bounce while you try and lull that ticking time bomb baby to sleep as you hurriedly examine ingredients lists and price tags. Continue reading
The question “where are you from?” is a difficult question to answer.
“Yes, of course, sir. If your daughter is Egyptian, then your granddaughter is also Egyptian.”
The immigration officer greeting us at Cairo airport warmly assured my father that neither my daughter nor I needed a visa to enter our country of origin. He handed back the crinkled copy of my birth certificate – a document which, despite me having only lived in Egypt until I was three and a half, and despite the fact that I had not set foot on Egyptian soil in over 18 years, was all that was required to legitimise my, and apparently my daughter’s, claim to Egyptian heritage.
My husband and I had decided to surprise my parents and accompany them on a trip to Egypt, my place of birth and my first nationality, in October 2014. Our first daughter was 7 months old at the time. It was a significant trip for me, not only because it had been so long since I’d been back, but more so because I found myself constantly asking the question:
Am I really Egyptian?