Debunking a few Parenthood Myths

This is my third year into motherhood so I feel morally obliged to share some insights. It has changed my life immensely and it has been by far the biggest blessing I ever received, but I wish there were more sincere aspects of the hurdles of first time parenthood on the web to prepare women for this life-changing experience.

So here it goes, debunking some myths:

“Balancing career and motherhood will sort out itself ”: The African saying “It takes a Village to Raise a Childprobably sums this up best.When you decide to start a family and you are a professional person, the first thing you need to do is look around you and identify what is your support network. Are your parents or your in-laws retired and willing to give you a hand once you return to work? Can your salaries afford you a nanny or daycare, and would you feel comfortable leaving your new born with strangers for nine hours per day? Obviously these are questions that should be addressed beforehand.

Breast is Best. Ok, this is such a sensitive topic. Obviously breast is best. But sometimes I feel I agree with the French on this one. You should always do what keeps you balanced and sane. You are an intelligent human, not a feeding machine. Couples today, eager to be the best parents possible, go to extreme lengths to prolong breastfeeding, and are very proud when little Sofia, that has a mouth full of teeth and can speak sentences,pulls mom’s blouse down in public to drink milk. Stop feeling a failure or guilty if breastfeeding did not work out or you simply did not enjoy it.

Early Potty Training. Just like breastfeeding potty training is another topic that sparks lively database and attracts the most condescending and smug  comments from parents that trained their baby as soon as he could hold his head up. Enough with this madness. Sooner or later they will learn, and rest assured, they will not go to school wearing nappies.

Playdates: As a new mother I felt obliged to take my daughter to playdates way before she was interested in engaging with others or even inclined to liking others. I would say that toddlers from the age of two onwards are likely to look for the company of children but earlier than that, I am sorry to say, but it is a waste of time. Yes, it can be also a social opportunity for the mom to meet other moms but don’t expect to get a second for an adult conversation,let alone an intelligent conversation of any kind. Most of the time you will be either pretending to tell off your baby not to scream, cry and throw things down (and pretend in front of others that there is some logical explanation for that “This is totally because she didn’t have a nap today”) and, secretly planning your escape when she gives her best and loudest performance. “I ll take her home for that nap that we were saying”.

I take care of my baby while I work from home. Since I became a parent I came across this urban legend of the professional (usually a mom) that works from home while she takes care of her baby. Even though I am not familiar with the specific working arrangements of every person this sounds like the equivalent of trying to write a text when you are driving a motorbike at high speed. When I work I need to be able to focus on what i am doing, which is virtually impossible with an awake baby in the house. If however someone offered me the kind of job that you can do while taking care of a baby, and paid me with real money for it, i would take it in a heartbeat.

The second one will be a breeze. I left my favourite for the end. In life you can never keep people happy. When you are single people want to know when you will tie the knot, and when that happens they regularly interrogate you when are you planning to get pregnant. Just when you thought you have ticked all the boxes and they will finally leave you alone, there is the question of the second baby.I once had a mom that tried to convince me that having two kids is easier than having one just because they keep busy playing with each other. As a new mom of one, I thought it was one of the most outrageous arguments I had ever heard.  Even if it holds true for some part especially when the children are older, the popular idea that the second baby is a breeze and it will simplify your life is ridiculous. Sure, you already have all the know-how but that does not make the 3am feeds any easier, or lessens the overall responsibility of raising another human being.

So have more kids, but because you welcome the joy and the hard work, not only to provide the first one with a play mate.

New Year reflections

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This year feels a bit different. I am more reluctant to make New Year resolutions and I don’t care to spend time spent wishing and liking Facebook posts. I have eaten a shameful amount of cakes and sweets and strangely that does not bother me either.

The only thing that have started getting a bit on my nerves is the amount of times I have been told that I should have a second baby or asked when I am planning to have a second child (because apparently  now is the time),  or had people compare my weight to last year (especially to tell me that I look “healthier” now). I  reached the unheard of point of stop smiling and nodding politely  when someone is annoying. I experimented a couple of times by trying to be less social at family get-togethers just to see how the others manage without my oh so appropriate comments. Even uncomfortable silences bother me less now.

So yes, this year I do feel that i am getting older. And naturally my criticisms and observations extend to my own faults and the negatives of my character which i try to acknowledge fairly.

But I guess this is just part of the annual Greek family gatherings,for which i am thankful. All the great home made food and wine, loud comments, gestures and grimaces make a great evening if you manage to navigate the conversation away from politics, the financial crisis, people’s children and unnecessary gossip, and instead dig out some interesting story from the past or a family anecdote of beloved family members that are no longer here.

And laugh off the Christmas family dinner tension with a glass of wine and another piece of baklava. One should be grateful to have a family that annoys and embarrasses them. (Provided that you fight back firmly, stoically and with a slight touch of passive aggressiveness).

Happy New Year everyone!

A small rant about things I miss while living in Sweden.

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Being a parent in the suburbs of Stockholm is probably one of the least fancy things you will ever do. In fact life in Stockholm in general is not the most glamorous experience. Unless of course you belong to that special breed of the really affluent, who own an apartment in Östermalm and spend your weekends in your fancy neighbourhood bars, sipping champagne cocktails and nibbling on mussel and salmon canapés – with old school European charm.

I remember when i was a newbie, in town just a couple of months. I and he decided to join and Internations event to meet people, which on that occasion was a movie followed by dinner at a restaurant nearby. I remember I was wearing a  black winter dress and my super comfy 3 inch Camper boots. (Campers in other societies equal orthopaedic shoes). Just before we head to the restaurant which was two blocks away the girl who had organised the event scanned me from head to toe: “Are you okay to walk on those heels to the restaurant?” she asked

My goodness, where am I? I thought.

That Winter I spent it in the most ugly square light brown snow boots, no doubt designed for Hobbit feet. The snow which lasted for several months and crystallised on the sidewalks would not allow any other type of shoe sole, unless you were willing to risk spraining your ankle or worse.

Since then I have made several lifestyle adjustments but if i were to make a list of the things I just can’t help missing the last years, here is the following:

I miss going out to socially interact with people without having to remove my bloody shoes every single time at least once. (often more times.) Whether it is a playground where I take my baby, or a house where i am invited, social interaction in Sweden is often shoe-less. I have given up on looking good in shoes.

 I miss dressing up a bit to go out without feeling that it is “too much” to put on a pair of earnings or a necklace . Or just making a small change to my casual look without having someone commenting on it as if I am dressed to go to the Opera. Which ends up making me feel overdressed again and going back to my “I ‘ll pop to the store to buy some milk” look.

 I miss spontaneity. I want to be able to buy a bottle of wine whenever I feel like it instead of feeling like a dirty alcoholic restocking at Systembolaget from 9am-3pm while pushing a trolley with dozens of bottles of booze for the next two weeks.

 I secretly miss the times and place of the happy non apologetic pub drinking, where everyone was too cheerful to bother about anything. And here is a secret dirty thought: During those times, I dreaded evenings with couples. In fact whenever I saw a couple among a group of friends I was overwhelmed by a feeling of boredom even before i spoke to them. Nowadays we all come in twos.-oh-my-holy-god- and we fight each other for the last baby chair in the restaurant.

Finally, I miss not feeling stressed because the day might not look like the day and the night might not look like the night for half of the year.

Thinking about relocating abroad as a “trailing spouse”? Some things you should know.

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I may use it in the title but I dislike the term “trailing spouse”. To me it describes someone who lets her or himself be carried abroad like a another piece of luggage and from there lives trapped in a semi-stigmatised existence, confined in the role of the housekeeper and the emotional supporter. It might be true that once (you know in the olden days) when couples relocated, the wife was not expected to do much other than support the husband’s career, volunteer in the local community with women in similar situation, and attend weekly get togethers with expat women so she can vent about her expat life.

Nowadays, however, with globalisation having transformed completely the international work dynamics, a spouse should be able to do better than that. First of all, finding work abroad is much easier and much more common. People can work remotely with a laptop and a good internet connection. There is much more mobility, diversity and flexibility. So theoretically the life of the “trailing spouse” has become much easier and uncomplicated.. Right?

In my experience I have met some pretty amazing people living abroad, trying to support their partner’s career while they work hard to find their own decent place in the new society. It usually takes a lot of courage, strength, and dedication to make things happens. Often it is a huge blow to the pride. But you have to work with your self and the personal issues that every one has and find your way.

I know because I am one. Having lived abroad several times for my own sake and ambitions this was the first time I let my partner’s career goals decide where I will be.

Here is the list of things that in my opinion you should consider before deciding to take the leap:

Your motto: good research.

The Country: The country where you relocate can make or break your success story. Being “abroad” in one part of the globe will not be the same as being “abroad” in another. In short, don’t just jump with excitement in the prospect before researching the place. If you move for example in Paris, France you will have a completely different life from if you move in Oslo, Norway. Which means that if Paris is what you have fantasies for and you move in Oslo to have a similar “european” experience you will be disappointed. (the opposite is true as well, desiring to live in the woods and find yourself in the middle of a big chaotic city). Of course in this example i use extremes, Parisean lifestyle is lightyears away from Scandinavian. I know that it does not depend on the “trailing spouse” where the relocation will be but I am only highlighting patterns you should avoid. At the end of the day the connection you personally have with the country and its people will determine your willingness to work hard to integrate.

The Country: Romantic Ideas vs Real facts. You may have already visited the place and find it charming, romanic, refreshing… Only because you have seen it as a tourist. You have done all the cool stuff and somehow that makes you feel that your life there will be like that, a constant amazement. Almost every place in the world can look charming when you are a tourist. But think that once you move there you might not live in the cool city centre because the rents will be just out of reach. You might find yourself in a suburb away from amenities and attractions. When the initial newcomer’s excitement fades, would you like to live in THAT place permanently? Will the transport be convenient to use on a daily basis? What do the people do for entertainment and does that match your expectations? Are you attracted to the culture, people and society?Remember you will be a newcomer there, you need all the conveniences you can get. Is this place what you think it is or a beautiful holiday memory?

The Language: This one is a HUGE HUGE factor. Do you speak the language of the country you are going? If not ,are you willing to learn it? I mean really learn it, beyond ordering “a big cappuccino please”. Your partner will probably be fine speaking in English at work but the same unfortunately will not be true for you. In certain parts of the world many people will look at you in shock,bewilderment and even contempt if you don’t address them in their language. Think that learning the language is not optional when you relocate and especially when you have not already secured a job.

The job: Getting a job in the new country might be easy or difficult. it depends on the place you are, the language, your own field and skills, and in many cases nationality, ethnicity, race etc. (Sad but true. ) If you plan to work asap try to find out what people in your shoes generally say about their experience. Don’t take things for granted. You might be hot stuff in one country and in another get constant rejections. Be prepared, disappointment might come. While volunteering at a swedish shelter I met a girl , a rather fierce go getter from Spain who had moved to Stockholm because of her Swedish boyfriend. She wanted to get a job the next day. You could see she was like a lion in a cage, she was not ready to take the blow to her pride and surrender to the new hard reality where her CV did not get her any interviews. Even the simple task of handing food to the homeless had become for her a competitive task where she had to prove herself. Only a few months later she moved to Germany to work in her field. Having said that there are many well educated professionals who endure much longer than that in order to be with their partners. The reason why I think this example is important is because many people today, especially if they have invested a lot in education and personal growth, lose their sense of identity and self worth once they are removed from their jobs and careers and thus feel lost and disorientated.

Money. This is something you will probably need to sort out with your partner. His or her salary might sound alluring in dollars or yuan but once you calculate your expenses according to the cost of life in the new place you realise that your lifestyle might actually worsen. Plus his salary, if you have no job will be used to support the whole family. Will you be happy to live in a smaller apartment, have no car and depend on your partner for pocket money?

I don’t mean to sound too discouraging. At the end of the day each of us is different and will take the decision considering what they have to give up and what is important to them on a personal level. But you have to be well informed-know what you are in for.

Living abroad can be a very rewarding and unique experience. Plan your “escape” wisely.

And if you try and fail don’t beat your self up. Always kudos to you for having tried.

thinking life as a sitcom.

The Cooper Extraction

Life has taken me to very different places. When I was much younger I used to think that moving countries around the world would always be fun, challenging and exciting. I remember someone telling me before my last move “Yet another move, I wonder how you cope!”

At the time I thought the comment was funny. Lately I think I get what it implied. But the truth is that life is journey whether you decide to relocate or not. There are always times coming and going, things forgotten and things imprinted forever in your heart and mind. There is always people you meet, you connect and travel with. A human relationship reaches its climax and then subsides, transforms or fades.

In many ways other people are my personal journey as my life’s “setting” has been ever changing. The people I have met and shared moments with. And the people that have made a deep impression or impact on me, and of whom I think about almost daily even though I never see.

I think now I understand why people get so hooked with sit-coms like the Big Bang theory or Two and a Half Men. (just to mention two of my own favorites). Life happening in the same unchanged snug setting of a Malibu Beach House or in a book swamped PhD student apartment (with a surprisingly pleasant upmarket living room view), creates the most beautiful illusions for the human mind: the security of consistency and purpose. Personal conflicts, challenges and dilemmas all in the end resolve with a shared order in Thai meal and the company of the same gang in that same homely living room. There is nothing that can shake or challenge the existence of that ideal space: It is in fact the center of life itself: it feeds and keeps relationships alive.

“I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it’s like…. It’s like Tiffany’s….” Holly Golightly says in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That vague ideal place that Holly dreams about is where you simply live. It is your aesthetically compatible microworld where life simply happens and you lose the desire to relocate or travel. In a certain way you are that place.

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This ideal permanent space serves as a point of reference. It might be difficult to understand this if you have not relocated a fair number of times. In our little rented furnished apartment in Sweden for example, (where the majority of things are not ours and where we listen to four languages throughout the day) I realized I used Peppa Pig as a point of reference for my daughter: Every morning while she eats her breakfast I put Peppa Pig on (the original British, no funny dubbing). Very often it is the same episodes where I already know all the dialogues. It can be very boring for me. But strangely enough I am rarely happy to change the show. I want it to be one of the things that do not change in her baby life, at least I can guarantee that as long as I am there and as long as an internet connection exists, Peppa Pig will be playing on the tablet in the mornings.

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Life is not a sitcom. But just as we allow our babies to immerse themselves in magic worlds where everyone is happy, loved and cherished (and who it return loves and cherishes everybody else) to delay the hard truths of adulthood, so we as adults need from time to time to allow ourselves some of this fleeting feeling of consistency. Consistent love, joy and magical transformation.

Life is not a sitcom, but it would be nice if it were.

If I don’t see you again before Christmas Merry Christmas everyone and have a magic holiday!

Thoughts on Motherhood

Lately I have spotted on the news various opinion articles written by women who confess having no regrets about deciding to stay childless. They are usually accompanied by numerous congratulatory comments from other women who have felt the pressure to become mothers for years.

I feel like this leap in human evolution has been the elephant in the room for the last decades but finally women are free to speak out the truth behind desires of motherhood. For one thing, motherhood has been regarded as a natural purpose that is manifested for every woman at some point in her life. If it doesn’t, she is seen as a person “with issues”, someone who is lacking an intrinsic part of femininity and womanliness. Women who declare they do not want children are patronizingly being told that they will change their minds when they get older and then it is going to be too late. I too know women who have regretted their decision to stay childfree. Except that they faced this dilemma a good sixty years ago.

One cannot help noticing that in today’s highly competitive world with unstable economies and relationships as well as a plethora of choices and stimulants, staying childless is something that comes naturally to both men and women and not something they have to fight off. Today’s society after all, celebrates the individual and through the social media encourages self centered lifestyles. The things you do about yourself, in short, and your career achievements are the only things you will be really congratulated for, admired or respected. Sadly nobody will ever appreciate you for the years you spend in dirty sweatpants washing bottles and cleaning like a maniac while humming the tune of Peppa Pig.

There are those of course who use children as a way to enhance their own image. These are usually women who have enough money to pay nannies to raise their children while they pursuit their careers and continue their lives as usual. In that case, the “maternity halo” make them look better in society: they make them look less self-centered and less self-absorbed, more giving and more sacrificing. But these women who experience motherhood mainly through the impression they create on others are not the women I would like to talk about.

Instead I speak of the modern woman that has too many things on her plate. Pretending career and family is an easily manageable choice, like for example my parents’ generation did with the full time voluntary help of their hard working housewives mothers and mother-in -laws is no longer an option. The new grandmas are often either still working or newly retired with little patience and little desire to babysit.

I am a mom and I would not change my daughter for the world. She filled my life with hard meaningful work, sleepless nights and despair, strength, courage and truth. She has been my comrade in this physically and emotionally difficult journey and she has rewarded and punished me with hard all consuming absolute love.

I have however only respect for the modern woman who has also made a courageous choice and has proudly declared she wants to stay child free. As a woman and a mom I understand every single why she might want to challenge the hypocritical over-romanticized idea of motherhood as a life purpose or validation of self worth.

After all that’s the kind of pressure I would never want my daughter to face.

Highlights of parenthood: Confessions of a Gerber mom.

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Since I became a mom I began noticing a million things I never cared to notice before. For instance, all these women walking around pushing baby strollers, wearing sweatpants and make up free faces, carrying heavy bags with milk bottles, baby wipes and who knows what else… none of it was flashy and glitzy enough to make me look twice. For both sexes, the image of these women evokes only one word in mind. Mom. And the interest in them as persons and individuals ends there.

Now that I walk the streets pushing a stroller 99% of the times I realize I too look like a mom. I too didn’t have the time to put make up on (or did not care), and my sweatpants have milk stains on. (which I notice after I leave the house and decide not to go back). And that’s ok. I know nobody will really care, simply because everyone will simply think I am a mom. There is nothing enigmatic or mysterious about me, my milk stains or the bags under my eyes. Everybody can guess how they came into being.

So life has changed dramatically. Sometimes friends ask me if I now feel complete if I have found the meaning of life. I find the question a bit annoying but always refrain from saying out loud how naïve it is to think having kids will sort you out. They are likely however to change the nature or focal point of your problems and worries (your original neurosis staying the same).

I could not quote all the ways life has changed. The question should not be “what has changed?” but rather “what has remained the same?” The answer would probably be only my personal thoughts and things going on in my head.

Among random things I discovered while being a mom and highlights of parenthood are:

The bathroom can become a refuge. We no longer wonder why we feel bliss when we want to use the loo. Very often we take a tablet or a book along to have a few minutes of peace.

I am ready to scream “no more” and cry in frustration and then she does something and I cry from laughter. She is capable of manipulating my mood within seconds and I find myself in awe over my own feelings.

I appreciate going out more. There were times before the baby when we were feeling bored or tired to leave the house and preferred to stay in a watch a movie. If we get a baby free night nowadays we head to a nightclub.

I have embraced an energy saving lifestyle. Control freaks like me find themselves in a situation where they have lost control of things. Life has not gone exactly as planned or imagined and that’s ok. Fretting over it takes up a lot of energy, which is needed for other things.

Healthy stuff for the baby If only I had a penny for every time a parent proudly tells me their child eats “only organic”, “loves broccoli” and “has never used a milk bottle cause he/she is always breastfeeding”. I seriously believe that it is not that all parents have turned into health freaks but that for some reason only health freaks have children nowadays. (The rest of them -you know, the Gerber type- are too busy doing other things. ) Now I never cook broccoli because it stinks and the bedroom is next to the kitchen. I also use formula since day one. But I try to make food as healthy as possible and mix foods and tastes.

Finally, secretly fantasizing about owning a Japanese robot nanny that will do all the hard work: change the diapers, prepare baby meals, entertain the baby with songs and activities, etc. Tired parents can give orders from the sofa with a remote control in hand. What an amazing invention would that be.

Parenthood Lessons Chapter One

Parenthood begun for us four weeks ago when our daughter was born. Four weeks and thirty sleepless nights later our lives are completely changed. Feeding and burping the baby around the clock, as well as changing nappies every other hour is a way to practice hard core military style Discipline. It is safe now to say that if you raise kids you know what discipline is. Also, it is a good time at this moment to take the opportunity and squeeze in our sleepless lifestyle other kinds of long postponed tasks of our previous procrastinating childless life: cut down on coffee, food, time wasting on the web and the luxury of being negative. Even taking offense in each other’s words feels like a luxury.

In that sense staying at my parents’ house for the last month has not been as hard for Skywalker as perhaps I would expect it would.

“I feel so relaxed” he says one day sipping some wine while sitting at my parents’ cluttered old kitchen table, his sweater permanently stained with something that could be anything from milk to poo, his tired sleepless eyes with black bags underneath. I look at him in surprise, Skywalker never complains about feeling relaxed. In fact, he is likely to complain about feeling stressed at a five star Lavender smelling spa resort. Normally I would expect that living under my parents’ roof and having to adapt to their compulsive hoarding habit, their reluctance to modernize their ancient kitchen and bathroom appliances or their insisting to never throw away yesterday’s food would put him off somehow.

Miraculously this has not happened. To be fair, there is an ocean of booze available in the house that would make happy any man who for the last year had to take a bus in the snowstorm to go to Systembolaget just to buy a six pack of decent beer.

Children dinner is ready” My mother will shout in the evenings. I see his eyes sparkle with joy.

So far our ascetic post-partum holiday lifestyle has worked out fine. It will soon come to an end and we will have to move on to be just the three of us. Not that I intend to try to imagine how this will be like.

Parenthood Lesson Chapter One: Life is a Journey and we are only travelers.