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?”


  1. The Male Perspective, taken from a private FB feedback I received. (names have been omitted)....

    Hi Laila...
    I'm not in the habit of reading blogs and even less commenting, but I found myself reading your latest one. So, pls bear with me as i try to compose my words and translate my thoughts.
    I know we haven't known each other long and actually don't know each other well enough... but between the friends we share, and the parallel lives that we've lived, we actually do have a lot in common.

    I sympathize with you ...but also identify with your kids too.
    About being a committed mom of 3 youngsters: that is the toughest job on earth...hands down! While it may not be (physically) a life endangering one, the personal tax it requires is for sure a life long lasting one. (Some wise ass once told me: Marriage is not forever, jobs are not forever...but kids are).

    We learn as we go...every step of the way. Sometimes I wish that life and kids came with an instruction manual. I also wish that kids came with a monitor or a dial (or maybe a USB port), any means where I would be able to tell about their happiness, self confidence, thoughts and general emotional well being. Because sometimes, as much as parents mean well, they can be a good part of the damage too.
    Worry not ya Laila.... It WILL get better and you know it ... it is just a matter of time.

    The reason why I identify with the kids of traveling parents is because I was once one of them too. Having to uproot on average every 4 to 5 years, relocate in a new country, go to a new school, make new friends, speak a new language and try to fit in a new culture every time. What complicates the equation was that every time it was at a different stage of my life. However enriching and valuable it has proven to be, it was a huge burden for a child. We spoke Arabic at home, the language of the country in the street and French at school. No child wants to feel he/she is the "other" kid. Now, in your children's experience so far, they haven't lived in surroundings that completely alienate them, which I think may lessen their strive to fit in. For me the only constant, the rock, was home. Mom and Dad represented the safety and security. And I am forever grateful to them and my Mom especially for making a HOME wherever we had to relocate.
    I remember well that even at the age of 10...11...12... I used to love sneaking into bed next to my mom in the middle of the night (under false claims of a nightmare) just to get that warm womb like hug that lulled all fears and made everything better.
    So... However clingy little Tam may be now... Be sure of one thing.... she will never forget those soothing moments.

  2. The Male Perspective.. #2

    As for you... i totally sympathize with how you feel. Remember, our kids are barely 11 months apart... and for the biggest part of their life I could see my wife literally losing her mind...From the peppiest, happy-go-lucky sexy girl, I helplessly watched her falling into the everyday routine of the kids grind and depression slowly but surely getting a grip on her even in the most seemingly trivial of ways. Like the excessive need to sleep, constant feeling of exhaustion, unexplained allergies etc... A general sense of "bla" and gloom was omnipresent. Even when the kids were out with me for the entire day... She just could not get out of those PJs. (I'm sure you're smiling at this).
    Even going down to the Cilantro (literally) around the corner and grab a coffee, skim through a magazine and puff on some cigs was unthinkable.
    Your dreams and career hopes are alive...and must be kept alive. But maybe they'd need to be re-adjusted or channeled/implemented differently, at least for now. What i believe is more important for now is to do as many little things for YOU. Selfish little things that bring instant gratification. It is (INMHO) vital for your sanity...and also for the health of the family.
    Like it or not (malgre toi) you are the pillar of that nucleus... not Walid. It's like being instated as president of a country without having sought after such position (mabrouk)... Walid (ma3a kol e7teramaty we taqdeeraty :-D ) being the vice-president.
    So the dynamics of the single, smart college girl, married woman, mother of 3 are light years apart from each other. Yet they can still be made to work.... Just the timing will be different.
    In the process of all that, my wife was not losing her sanity.... we were losing "us" . From being the "man", the "dude", I suddenly found myself demoted to the rank of "3rd class citizen".
    As macho, and cool men like to appear. a woman's 1st baby is her husband. THAT, my friend, is a FACT. And it takes tapping in all the maturity and wisdom that one has gathered to make IT work. The road is a winding and uphill one... with the occasional reprieves. But it eventually leads to where you want. Just don't lose sight of the goal. Don't lose sight of the "US"... Never forget the excitement of being together in LBC (Life Before Children) ... But most importantly be careful of not losing yourself ... So that when those rats don't come home looking for you, it wll be OK and you'll know what to do :-)) .

  3. From Iman on my FB wall:

    This is one thoughtful very sensitive male perspective , i couldn't ask for more. someone out there actually gets it and not only understands but also sympathizes. i'm grateful but would've loved to see more. not necessarily as eloquent but at least who GETS IT! AS for the loss of US it is also collateral damage along with the loss of our own identities, goals forsaken for the family best interest . i sure hope that all these losses are temporarily and maybe we can win all back when life deals us new cards !

  4. Response to Iman from The Male Perspective!

    LOL... I'm shocked :-o .... I see nothing special in what I wrote you besides common sense and tapping into my own experience... but anyway long as the girls are happy :-))

    AS for what Iman said " the loss of US it is also collateral damage along with the loss of our own identities, goals forsaken for the family best interest . i sure hope that all these losses are temporarily and maybe we can win all back when life deals us new cards !" ... I beg to disagree ....
    While sacrifices (mutual) are part of the rules of the game, I have a fear that what she means is that by foregoing the "US" and calling it "collateral damage" she's adopting a passive attitude. What happens as a result of that is that resentment keeps building up, slowly but surely rotting the very foundations of the relationship. It is so because both parties have expectations... whether met or unmet ones... desires, hopes & aspirations ...and expectations are a set up to disappointments.
    Unless there's a constant, mature dialogue (even with the occasional flare ups) and as long as the goal is clear..... you never know who's gonna snap first.

    Life doesn't always deal cards.... at least in the most part.
    We also deal our own cards...1) We chose who we wanted to marry... 2) we chose to have kids....
    Let's not forget #1 :-)
    I am not a supporter of parents that choose to erase who they really are "for the kids sake" and considering it a sacrifice... and then we turn around and see the kids whose parents maintained a minimum of selfishness.... taking the time to do things together as a couple... so as not to loose that sense of closeness. And guess what... their kids are
    What is more common though... is parents who grew older...together...yet miles apart... becoming strangers. And when the birds fly off the nest.... they realize that they have very little to say to one common interests.... and... "F@#*K ... now what?"
    I hope I am not one of those .