Friday, October 15, 2010

Nostalgia and Lost Hopes - The "H" Exchange

It’s 2.15 pm. Tam finally slept and even in her sleep she tried to cling merciless to my arm. I have one hour of freedom (within the confinements of my home of course unless I want to risk arrest by ignorant macho NYPD guys who never had to deal with a clingy and very cranky child for any length of time). What do I do?

I could catch up on HOUSE, or Desperate Housewives. I could finish my book. I could browse the internet and look for fall fashions I would never buy. Not because I hate shopping. Not because I have no money. It’s because I would never find the occasion to show them off!

So much to do and so little time for me, that like every day of my life these days… I sit and stare at the walls and watch the precious hour fly me by.

It’s weird because I usually sit downstairs where I could see the boys as the bus drops them off. I don’t want them to arrive just yet. But I do waste my free time away sitting aimlessly on my comfy leather couch waiting for them.

Today, I master all the courage and energy I have and move from my downstairs couch to my upstairs desk. You’d think I live in a grand chateau where marble stairs keep winding their way up to heaven. I actually live in an attached condo unit in a small community that hasn’t been constructed yet. So my neighbors consist of skeletons of to-be very pretty condos, a bunch of Mexican workers till 4 pm and a few leftover tractors parked in my (supposedly very cute) cul-de-sac.

I’m upstairs and I check my mail. Here is an interesting one from a good friend of mine. She’s far away from home on a work mission, in one of those godforsaken lands that look impressively huge on the map but are actually vastly empty once you set foot on them. Not a single landmark to see, a culture to taste, or a souvenir to bring back home. Her e-mail is quite alarming!

See, H rarely complaints. Like all of us she questions her decisions a lot. But when she moves forward, she doesn’t just walk in strides, she leaps. That’s what I love about her, her zest for life and living her dreams.

H and I go back a long time. We finished university a year apart, both majoring in communication. We weren’t friends back then but we shared a common professional passion. Years later we met in NY, both newlyweds and both finishing our Graduate degrees in Journalism & Middle Eastern Studies. If that didn’t bring us immediately closer, our little boys sealed the deal when they were born only one year apart.

I read her mail and my heart goes out to her. Homesick and nostalgic for her kids, H is miserable she missed her flight (tech issues). For one moment, stranded in a bug infested airport, she feels lost and confused. She wants to get home to her kids and 24 hours later is simply unfathomable.

As the minutes unfold, our email and FB exchange gets deeper.

I find myself sharing with her a similar moment I had a couple of years ago when I got stuck in fancy Dubai airport (because I slept in front of the gate and missed my flight).

I was so exhausted and so eager to go back to my kids (was still breastfeeding so some parts of my physique were just as eager to go back to Amman) when somehow I woke up to see my flight moving away from the gate and my lone bag standing there on the tarmac.

It was compounded by the fact that I had this sudden sense of loss. My husband had just informed me about the move to NY (he was leaving three weeks later) and I lost all sense of achievement and reality. So my first instinctive reaction was: "Why the hell did I come to this conference.. I've never left the kids before, and now what? In a few months I'll be a useless soccer mom and this conference will not equip me for suburbian life in NY!"

I was right about all the above, including the pain that two unplanned missed baby feeds induced!

But H and I have since forked away from our common path. She stayed in NY, and the seeds we both planted for a meaningful career (we had grand ideas on how to educate journalists around the world and write life altering stories) have quite yielded in her little backyard. So it is imperative for me to remind her of her goal and how fast she’s leaping to achieve it. It is also imperative to explain to her that her kids will be fine without her for a few days. (yes, we complain and complain but the two of us can’t really deal well with parental separation).

I want to add that I actually long to be in bug infested nowhere land now than have my arm so tightly woven into my daughters dress as she peacefully naps through my hour of freedom.

But I don’t!

If I do, I would have to admit that I have failed to achieve my dream and that I now live it through her life.

Where she stays on to work on the seeds we planted, I have to uproot myself every time I start reaping some results and start all over again. Until a certain moment - which happened a few weeks ago - when I suddenly declare failure. I give up!

The fact is, I’m sitting here and telling HER story. What does that say about me? I’m out of my own stories to tell so now I’m borrowing from my friends’ interesting lives! That’s scary!

It’s 3.15. My time is up and I have to go take position on my leather sofa for the boys when they come in looking for me.

A final thought crosses my mind: “What will I do with my life when the day comes and they stop looking for me?”

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Coffee Talk - Interfaith Friendships

Mix 6 ladies, who have just met, yet know that they have at least a whole school year to look forward to together. Add coffee, milk, tea and a homemade Pumpkin cake. Start a neutral conversation about kids, school life and adapting to a new home and BAM! You’ve just planted the seeds of at least a couple of budding friendships, the kind that lasts a life time despite cultural, geographical and sometimes language cleavages.

That’s how we survive as expat wives with school age children!
We look for companionship everywhere we go: at the Gym, with other spouses of our partners’ colleagues, wives from our native countries. And we’re often told to find the most meaningful interactions in the most unexpected places.

I didn’t!

I mean, I do go to the Gym, I hang out with Egyptian ladies and I occasionally socialize with my husband’s peers. But it’s in the kids’ school parking lot where I found myself as a mother, a woman and an expat wife.
I was taken in by a warm group of friends, all expats from different origins and all united for one simple goal… ROCK NY while we’re at it :)

And we do.

In a few months we had conquered the streets of Manhattan… on bikes. We have danced the night away and went home in style in a stretch limo and champagne. We got dressed in the wildest 70s fashion and danced silly to a full house of school families and teachers. We received standing ovation, not just for our choreography, but for our spirit and positive vibe.

This was last year. It was my first year in Westchester.

Last Monday we gathered around my dining room table, 8 ladies whose children frequent the same school. The same girls who rocked the city last year minus those who have left but plus more who have just landed in Westchester.

We sipped our coffee and had our cake. We talked about school and the activities that await our lot this coming year. It was sweet, formal and easy conversation….. For about an hour!

But then we found ourselves unraveling our most inner thoughts about faith, religions and coping with our own hypocrisies. As layers of our values were peeled one after the other, our true characters suddenly came to light. None ashamed of her belief or the lack of it! None really caring if the others agreed or thought her weird! Because as expat wives we can afford the luxury of honesty. We appreciate the true values of kinship, acceptance and respect. We know that in a matter of 1, 2, or 3 years, we will be hugging each other good bye probably to never meet again. And that is the core of what we have together, a true and honest appreciation of each other and of the challenge we face to be happy, content and fulfilled no matter where we live.

Last Monday my friend Alex concluded as she was standing at my door: “I’m glad we can talk so freely about ourselves and know that we will be respected for the difference and diversity that we bring to the table!”

It’s funny, because a year into this great friendship and after a series of deep conversations, and even after last Monday’s coffee talk about faith, I don’t think I know which sect of Christianity she belongs to, or where exactly I can find any differences between Muslim me and Christian her. I never asked. It never seemed to matter. Somehow, our core values are more similar than the published gaps between our religions. And that’s what matters!

It seems to me that every new post is also a new chance to reinvent myself and explore the world beyond the realms I grew up within. So far, I like most of what I see. And I find it quite comforting that a bunch of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Non-Believers ( I didn’t know that people in Japan don’t generally follow a dominant religion) and maybe others can gather around my coffee table on a Monday morning and enjoy a cup of coffee together.