When I first arrived in South Africa in 2004, I refused to heed the safety warnings of friends and strangers. Of course, I had been told repeatedly not to walk around by myself, but walking the five blocks from the University to my guest house through a residential neighborhood in broad daylight seemed perfectly safe to me. A few days in to my time in Pretoria, however, a man in a pick-up truck pulled up beside be and insisted that I get in and let him drive me home. There was no way I was getting into a truck with a strange man – I wasn’t that naïve! The stranger was persistent, however, and followed me even as I picked up my walking pace. Finally, I agreed to ride in the bed of his truck to my guest house.
Not long after, I moved in with my boyfriend’s family so that they could keep an eye on me because my nonchalant behavior made my boyfriend (now husband) fear for my safety. I was jogging in their gated and guarded community one Sunday morning when a family stopped me on their way to church and begged that I please let them take me home. It seemed ludicrous to me, but I relented, and in the car they explained they were concerned I might be killed for my discman (remember those?!?).
A few weeks later, my boyfriend and I went to a BBQ (“braii” in South Africa) at his friend’s house in an affluent suburb. That evening, his friends were neither surprised nor terribly upset to discover that the car we had driven there in (belonging to someone’s mom) had been stolen out of the driveway. When I demanded that we report the theft, the police were similarly blasé and simply told my friend they’d keep an eye out for her mom’s car, but not to hold her breath.
Suffice it to say, while I fell in love with the people, culture, foods, and nature of
South Africa, I never did get comfortable with the general sense of constant insecurity that hangs over the country (and particularly affluent whites). Despite my half-dozen visits over the thirteen years since, and the improving security situation in the country, I continue to find the preoccupation with safety off-putting.
During a prolonged visit in January, my husband’s friends, now all young professionals with mortgages, nice cars, and retirement accounts, spoke of little else. One dreamed of moving to a community where the homes, shopping center, school, and other amenities were all contained within multiple layers of guarded gates. Another mulled whether a much longer commute would be a reasonable price to pay for a home on the outskirts of town rather than potentially expose her family to theft and violence in one of Pretoria’s most affluent neighborhoods. While my friends brag about their solar panels, in-law suites, and smart appliances, my husband’s South African friends were proud of their multi-layer alarms, video surveillance systems, and comprehensive insurance policies. The South Africans gave my husband and me a lot of grief about the current political situation in America, but I came home with a renewed appreciation for the many things we do not need to worry about on a daily basis – like our cars being stolen or our children being kidnapped.
The weather and wildlife were spectacular, but yet again, another adventure abroad has reaffirmed what I discovered long ago: The more I travel, the more patriotic I become.
It is almost automatic to wish friends, family, even strangers “peace and joy” at this time of year. These conditions (for they are more than fleeting emotions) are universally regarded as among the most desirable things in the world. More than just a Hallmark greeting, even the Bible repeatedly refers to these as the ultimate blessings in life (i.e., see Romans 14:17: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.”). But what do we mean when we casually toss out these well wishes? Read more…
As with most things in my life, this post is late, but I still felt it was worth writing. There are many, many things I love about living in Washington, D.C. (or, since we moved to the ‘burb last year, “the greater D.C. Metro area”). On a fifth-grade field trip, I fell in love with the grand buildings, world-class (mostly free) museums, abundance of open space, ease of movement, wealth of cultural and social offerings, diverse and driven population, interesting work and volunteer opportunities, and general sense that important things are happening here. I don’t even mind the weather – autumn is so beautiful!
Living in Washington, D.C. has one major downside, however – the dearth of family nearby. My parents and sister (and her family) live within a few minutes of each other in Southern California (almost 3,000 miles from me), while my husband’s sister lives outside London (more than 3,700 miles), and his parents are on the tip of the African continent (8,000 miles away). For my daily life, that means there’s no one to watch my kids sleep while my husband and I attend a parents’ meeting at my son’s preschool, or invite us over for dinner to give me a break from cooking, or pick us up from the airport after a long flight. Yes, I know there’s Urban Sitter, Grub Hub, and Uber, but paying someone for a little extra support is just not the same. Read more…
Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint (although it definitely feels like running at full speed most of the time!). Even so, there are moments that stand out as being particularly difficult – like a steep hill around mile 19. These “moments” can last for days, as in a painful new tooth or stomach bug, or even weeks, in the form of a new baby or major relocation. In those trying times, we parents need to dig deep to maintain our perspective (and sanity!) to hold tight to the values we care about and let everything else slide. Sometimes, however, a rough patch is merely a moment in time, a fleeting instant where we are unexpectedly faced with a choice about what kind of a parent we want to be.
Last week, I was on my own with both kids after a long day of work. They had both been truly delightful evening – watching a new roof go on our neighbor’s house, reading books, playing nicely together and independently, and finishing their dinners without a fuss. When my 3-year-old asked if he could practice writing his name, I was proud of his initiative and quickly got him settled with a piece of paper and colored pencil. Of course, when his 1.5-year-old sister saw him drawing, she wanted to do the same. I duly chose a crayon for her and taped a piece of paper to a drawing board on the floor for her. With both kids scribbling furiously, I felt safe leaving the room to call a friend while washing the dinner dishes. Read more…
Forgive me, in advance, for this brief rant about my frustration with our American need to feel guilty about things that bring us pleasure. I’m not talking about activities that could hurt yourself or someone else – adultery, violence, gossip, stalking, etc. Rather, I mean those people who always say, “My Sunday evening bath is my guilty pleasure,” or feel the need to justify their love of Justin Bieber’s music. Even if you find joy in a morning croissant or an after-work martini, which are technically not healthy for your body, if they help you get going or relax, then why feel guilty about it? Life is too short.
To lighten the mood on stressful days, my boss likes to bring up pop culture – a new TV show he’s hooked on, a popular song that’s stuck in his head, or some celebrity scandal. I don’t have cable and watch almost no TV, I listen to podcasts rather than the radio, and for the most part, I am oblivious to celebrity gossip (except those tidbits covered by The Skimm, which I am addicted to). For a long time, my boss was frustrated that he could not connect with me on these “water cooler” topics. “How is it possible that you’ve never seen ‘Homeland’/ heard twenty one pilots / watched Jimmy Kimmel?!?” he’d exclaim with exasperated incredulity. In response, I would calmly explain that I only get 60-90 minutes a day to myself, and that I try to be judicious in how I spend that precious time.Then one day, my boss started telling me how upset his wife had been about a twist on the previous night’s “Bachelor” episode. I frantically plugged my ears and begged him not to spoil it for me, as I hadn’t seen that episode yet. He was flabbergasted to discover that I am a diehard fan of “The Bachelor” franchise (I have watched every single episode since it started in 2002). Since then, my boss loves to try to shock our colleagues and clients by revealing what he calls, my “guilty pleasure.” I protest, however, that I do not feel at all guilty about it and do not see it as incongruous with who I am or how I live my life. Read more…
Last year, during National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I wrote about the business case for supporting “nursing mothers” at work. Two years before, just six months into my (now 3.5-year-long) journey in breastfeeding, I wrote that “[o]f all the new baby myths, one of the most harmful (in my opinion) is that breastfeeding is an easy choice.” As the mommy blog universe lights up with posts extolling the virtues of breastfeeding and those who do it this month, I feel compelled to again offer an alternate (though not contradictory) perspective on this issue that is – literally – near to my heart. Read more…
“[T]he advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.”
– Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948
I have been thinking about this post for a long time. I was going to title it “Nightmares,” to reflect the horrors from recent current events that haunt me, day and night. The first inspiration for this post was the March 22 terrorist attack on the international airport and train station in Brussels. I have always been deeply affected by the suffering of others, no matter how far removed they are. Even when the distress is only imagined, my emotional / psychological response is very real. That is why I do not watch many movies, or even television dramas. I avoid news broadcasts and read The Economist to learn about current events, so that I can just turn the page if things get too intense. But the Brussels attacks seemed to be everywhere; I could not escape the despair and terror that those explosions provoked around the world.
One particular video that was doing the rounds on the major news networks kept me up at night, and still crosses my mind regularly even now. A cell-phone camera scans a smokey check-in area where luggage has been hastily abandoned. Crouched against a wall are a sister and brother, not much older than my own children, clinging to each other and crying. What must have befallen their parents for these small children to have been left alone? I tried to tell myself that the photographer was their father, and that as soon as he stopped recording he scooped them up and brought them to family therapy to process the traumatic experience. But even if that optimistic interpretation is true, I know those children’s lives will never be the same. They will never be as carefree and innocently happy as my kids. How will the hate of others stifle their joy in the short- and long-run? Read more…
I have always felt blessed to have been born an American, and to be a beneficiary of the best this great country has to offer – beautiful landscapes, decent public schools, a diverse population, the ability to travel the world, and seemingly endless educational and employment opportunities. I realize, of course, that not everyone is able to enjoy these advantages, and to some, America is a very difficult place to live. At the moment, there are a lot of things that embarrass me about America (our complete failure to control guns or corporate lobbying, our presumptive Republican presidential nominee, our hypocrisy on racial and human rights issues, our culture of fear, …). Still, while I can find things to admire in every country I have ever visited, I remain very patriotic about my home. Similarly, I daydream about living overseas, but I wonder if I am willing to give up all that I have here, particularly in our nation’s capital. Today, after watching a joyful local parade surrounded by my children and their friends, and a boisterous block party with my eclectic mix of neighbors, I am very grateful to be an American.
I am all too aware that my babies are quickly growing up into little kids (see Growing Pains). It seems like almost every day they can do something new, and they are increasingly asserting themselves as independent people (which terrifies me). I spend far less time considering my own growth. While it is easy to note a child’s progress from sitting, to scooting, to crawling, to walking, non-physical growth is often only apparent in retrospect. It has been one year since I had a major growth spurt, and only with the perspective of time am I able to fully appreciate it.
Five years ago on Mother’s Day, my husband and I were enjoying a romantic weekend away at a spa in the Virginia countryside. I had been feeling kind of off for a few days, so I’d brought along a pregnancy test, figuring that if it was negative, at least I’d be relaxed and have lots of other fun stuff to do to take my mind off it (we were planning to go to a wine tasting that day), and if it was positive, I could make some Hollywood-esque announcement to my husband on the morning of Mother’s Day. As it turned out, when those two pink lines appeared, I just started crying hysterically, waking my husband, who had to spend the next few minutes trying to figure out what was wrong. After I recovered from the initial shock, the rest of that day passed as if it was a dream. I still remember it all very vividly, just like the day I found out I’d been accepted to my first-choice college, the day I interviewed for my first “real” job, and the day I realized I would spend the rest of my life with my now-husband. Each of those days in my life represented a clear turning point; even at the time, I understood that from that day on, my life would never be the same.
Although I knew everything was about to change, five years ago I could not imagine what motherhood would mean for me. Being a mother is the most challenging, exhausting, rewarding, and meaningful thing I have ever done. It has made me doubt myself, but also helped me grow into a stronger person. Having kids has helped me appreciate my own mother in ways I had not anticipated, and continues to shape my relationship with her. My children have also brought me wonderful friends – other mothers who are my support and my inspiration. Most of all, becoming a mother has brought two beautiful souls into my life. They make me laugh, they give me hope, and they teach me valuable lessons about myself and the world. I told my family I did not want anything for Mother’s Day; since becoming a mother, I have already received more than I could have ever asked for. Happy Mother’s Day, All!