How Advertising Trained Me For Parenthood*

madmum

Impossible is nothing.

That one line got me into advertising. I didn’t own a single Adidas product until last month (Dem Superstars got me), but that tagline blew my mind (as did the whole speech by Ali).

And advertising is everything it promised to be! The ideas and the mental blocks, the little wins and the epic crashes, the stress and the drinking, the stress drinking, the exhaustion and the exaltation, the imagination, the lies and the promises, the celebrations.

No segue needed.

How Advertising Trained Me For Parenthood* 

Mr. O, the Art Director.

“I can’t wait to start working with you on the awesome puzzle that we’ve both been dying to start all week.”

Open the box. Too much excitement.

“Wow, that’s a great idea! How about this? No, let’s try my way. That doesn’t make sense.

Hate the colours, hate the design, hate the puzzle. Your opinion is shit. It’s all shit anyway.”

Done.

“Wow, I’m a fucking genius.”

Mr. O, the Creative Director.

“Yay! You have a story for me. I cannot wait for you to blow my mind.

Aha aha. Hmm. Ok I see what you’re trying to say. I love it. But maybe a dragon comes and drives an ambulance over the seahorse. I want fire-breathing dragons. And dying seahorses. Unexpected, but believable.”

Mr. O, the Account Manager.

“I love you so much. You’re my favourite person in the whole world. I would trust you with my eyes closed, but my hands are tied. I simply cannot eat this meal you’ve painstakingly prepared for me. I want to. Oh how I believe in it, but I just can’t. My hands. Damn these shackles. Love you, though. The best.”

Mr. O, the Producer.

To mum: “Dude. I’d pick you over him (dad) any day. You’re so much more fun. He just doesn’t get it like you do, ya’ know. Let’s be besties. OMG LET’S DO LOLLIES!”

To dad: “Dude. I’d pick you over her (mum) any day. You’re so much more fun. She just doesn’t get it like you do, ya’ know. Let’s be besties. OMG LET’S DO LOLLIES!”

Mr. O, the HR guy.

Casually strolling down the hallway after bedtime.

My brain: HOLYFUCKINGSHIT WTF IS THIS GUY DOING HERE OUT OF THE BLUE? I should just go clear my desk.

Mr. O, the Supplier.

“Ohhh you wanted to me shower today?? Oohhh see I thought you said next Tuesday. Oh no. I can’t do it today. Trucksninjasbikes. Maybe be more clear next time? I’ll still have that bribe cookie though, thanks.”

Mr. O, the Copywriter.

“Yes, that’s e before i, 2 comes after 1, and B is for butterfly.”

To himself: “Geez. They wouldn’t survive a day without me.”

Impossible is a toddler.

*Nothing trains you for parenthood. Not even parenthood trains you for parenthood. Also, Title Case Because Advertising. 

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Yo’ mama needs a break.

He’s a skinny boy, with nary a growth spurt in sight. He’s crawled into our bed sometime between deep sleep and morning dreams, and has now taken over my space and sleep.

I carefully slip his warm weightless arm off mine and pick up my cold weightless phone. It doesn’t take a new-age embrace-your-child-or-ruin-them-forever mama to point out what was wrong there. So I toss my phone aside and pick up his little arm again.

Why stop there? Look at the little guy lying there, curled up beside me. All trusting and cushy. So I nudge closer and scoop him up in my arms. Oh his little frame so close against mine makes it feel like he is in my womb again. All mine, and mine alone.

He promptly kicks me in the groin and rolls away to a less needy pillow.

Little turd. Doesn’t he know I made him? And that I know several other mummy clichés?

  1. I wake up with bumps along my brow and cheekbones, because for a puny 2 year old, he head-butts like a pro-wrestler.
  1. Every muscle in my body aches from changing his clothes. It’s like trying to slip 4 pairs of wet tights on a wriggling octopus – blindfolded – with one hand tied behind my back.
  1. These days, when I gather him up after a fall to “take the pain away” with the age-old remedy of mama’s kisses, suddenly it’s: “Yucky. Too much kisses, mama. Don’t dooo that.” (While I thank M for passing on his ability to crack everyone up, I very proudly take credit for his witty comebacks. And oh how it has come back.)
  1. My body is a bean bag (put that in your song, John Mayer), and not just in reference to the shapelessness. When it comes to my lap, my son has called shotgun for eternity. Once seated on me, he proceeds to squish and squirm and jump and curl and stretch and wildly trash about as if possessed by the devil. His elbows, head and knees have a way of giving me a deep tissue massage from hell.
  1. When I try to reflect on my life and where I’m headed, the thoughts come unbidden to me. What’s for dinner, what’s in the pantry, what’s in the laundry, what should we do tomorrow to keep his mind active, all the ways I could be stifling him, all the ways I’m not nurturing him, everything I’ve not done for my husband that I used to and vice versa, all the free time I have that I don’t use…was that the baby crying?? I should go. I shouldn’t. Maybe just this once. One time can set a habit. Aaarrrgghhhhhhh.

Hence, this post.

Hence. This. Post.

There comes a time in every parent’s week. When you’ve been smacked, kicked and yelled at. When the naughty corner gives them enough time to come back with an apology, but doesn’t give you enough time to calm down. When all the cuteness in the world becomes a blur. And then, you lose it when they accidentally drop a pen.

You know you can’t be angry with anyone in particular, but you want to be. You know you’re not a victim, but every bit of you hurts. You’ve got a mostly calm and independent child, so saying you haven’t had any me-time just doesn’t feel right. Even when the most well-intentioned partner, parent or friend offers to help out, your brain cannot detach.

Which is why, even when the baby has been an angel, you still need an out. Except, you’re guilty to even say the words.

Come on mamas say it with me: I need time away from my child and that’s okay.

Even when my child has done nothing but sleep all day, I still need time away and that’s okay.

I’ve had a relaxing weekend and an easy week at work/ home, I still need time away and that’s okay.

I’ve spent all day at work, and come back to a whiney little sook. I momentarily wish I was still at work, and I hate myself for thinking that. That’s okay, too. On both counts.

They’re cute as hell and bottomless pits of love and adoration. The joy they give us is pure and overwhelming. And we still need time away and that’s okay.

In 2 days when it’s Mother’s Day and they make cutesy hand-drawn cards, but we secretly wish they gave us some solid baby-free, chore-free time – that’s okay, too.

Because if I’m not okay, they’re not okay.

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Happy Mother’s Day, ya’ll.

(Mostly to my mum, who’s had to endure us, and now our kids, without a minute’s break.)

Un-settling down.

As kids, right when we were in the thick of running wild and having the time of our lives, an adult would walk in and ask us to settle down.

Settle down, or you’ll hurt yourself.

Settle down, and stop making a mess.

Settle down, it’s getting too loud in here.

Just. Settle. Down.

Settle BB

When we left our home in Melbourne almost a year ago, we were very excited to start a new adventure. It took a record-breaking 3 days for the question to burst out of tightly clenched lips: When do you plan to settle down?

We had no plans whatsoever. We just wanted to enjoy being free. But as responsible adults, we simply must not feel free for too long. We must settle down.

For someone who doesn’t have commitment issues, I have major settling-down issues. There’s something very permanent and dreary about that word.

Yes, I’ll set up our home, get our lives into some semblance of a routine, and maybe even plan ahead for our next meal (I’m not making any promises). We all need to do that. It’s called being an adult. But settling down simply cannot be the only way to adult.

Nope. Turns out, it isn’t.

My Facebook feed is rife with stories about “This Couple Travelled The World With Their Toddler” and “Follow This Amazing Family As They Drive From Your Neighbourhood To Where You Don’t Have The Guts To Go.”

They’re farking heroes, these people. Why can’t I be part of The Couple That Visited 20 Countries In 6 Months With Their Babies?

Not gutsy enough? Perhaps.

Not my cup of Carpe Diem? That’s more like it.

I’d love to see the world, but I’m not an impassioned traveller with a wanderlust tattoo on my ankle and a world map as my screen saver. I’m fascinated with the world, and I hope to live in different places and visit many more. In my own sweet time.

On one end, it’s been drilled into us that we need to find a comfortable spot and stay. So we work hard every day to get to that glorious finish line; some days, we question the finish line, but persevere none the less. Because for many, success equates with happiness.

On the other end, it’s is being drilled into us to drop everything we’re doing and go live our life! Because for many others, experience equates with happiness.

But who’s to say what my life should be? I’m not settling for someone else’s dream. And you shouldn’t have to either.

Stay where you are. Pack up and leave. Buy that house. Take a one-way ticket to the other end of the world. Make a baby. Throw a rooftop party.

Just. Don’t. Settle. Down.

Settle JL

So my answer is: No. Even if we find our dream jobs, perfect home and stay for 20 years, I hope we don’t settle down. I hope we’re still restless and looking forward to our next big adventure.

Not that kind of friend

As kids, we had to move countries thanks to the child-friendly pastime called war. I lost a few friends while the adults who lead the world squabbled like adults who lead the world. Many other friendships were lost in translation, literally; it wasn’t easy to learn 3 new languages to keep up with the other 7 year olds in India.

While teen years are the most confusing to most people, I was at my cockiest best. I was making friends while walking from the water cooler to the library. Back then, conversation came as easily and frequently as awkward silences do these days. I could write a whole post on my school friends! Oh wait, I did.

If the number of ‘Miss Friendly” sashes I had earned by the end of my school years was anything to go by, life was going to be a breeze.

And as promised by my tone, it was not a breeze.

The rules of adulting were chucked at my face in quick, migraine-inducing succession.

Once you cross 18, tomboys are called butch. There’s no such thing as just texting. There’s feminine and there’s masculine, and you need to choose – now. You’re either politely submissive or an ice queen bitch; you need to choose – now. Pick a clique. You will be judged, adored and despised for reasons beyond your control. Just don’t be a bitch about it.

Fark me, these are the rules against which all of us get measured. Lucky for me, I stopped giving a shit.

Needless to say, I haven’t been winning any “Miss Friendly” sashes in the last decade.

Grown-up-ness also marks the switch from multiple best friends to multiple friend circles. Work friends, family friends, husband’s friends, old friends, mama friends and miscellaneous.

Even within these circles, I sometimes find myself trying to find my self. My fellow former refugees and move-ers may correlate. We don’t have much in common with a large group, our interests are as flaky as our thoughts, and we intermittently drift far, far away. When the friends are great, the place isn’t. When the place is good, you miss the friends. It’s not that we’re dissatisfied, we just want everything. Is that too much to ask for? We honestly want to belong, but seem to have misplaced the ability, somewhere in transit.

Fitting in was never easy for me. Perhaps I wasn’t trying hard enough – or trying at all. It’s not that I didn’t want to; there were several times in my life where fitting in would’ve made life much easier. Instead I invariably, and inevitably, turn into a bumbling, awkward and confused mess with incomplete sentences dribbling out of my gaping mouth.

Luckily, I always find a fabulous bunch of misfits. Our rough edges, broken corners and missing parts make us a noisy bag of spares.

I don’t meet them regularly, don’t share my deepest darkest secrets and don’t know their families like my own. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy their company like a dehydrated person enjoys an ice-cold Slurpee on a wildly hot day. (Yes, it needed all those adjectives.)

Our complete lack of rules and structures of traditional friendships means that no one feels let down or left out. We discuss to great depths our current joys and trials. We celebrate each other’s lives without reflecting on what it means for the future or past. We laugh, cry and over-share. We drink, dance, and then return to our best friends and soul mates and childhood friends.

Every day I miss these ridiculously kind and funny people I call my friends. The very thought of them makes me feel pure happiness of having known them.

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Then, there are people you can’t call friends, because as heart-warming as the word is, it isn’t big enough to carry your love for them.

No matter how distant I feel in a room full of friends, I know I’ll never be lonely because I have 2 of these people. My soul people. I’m the best version of me, when I’m with these beautiful humans.

I must confess something at this point. While this post is an xoxo to the fantastic friends I’ve made over the years, I do have an ulterior motive. This post is also an ad for new friends, of the face-to-face variety. (I have a head-start with my school friends; but we bonded as 17 year olds, and are too busy reminiscing. Leave us alone.)

So here I stand. 32 years old, and starting all over again. I’m calling all misfits and crazies. Old friends and new. I’m open to coffee, frozen yoghurt or all-you-can-eat buffets. I’ll talk, listen, laugh and cry – not necessarily at the appropriate times, but I’ll work on that. I won’t break any promises if you don’t make any. It’ll be a breeze, I promise!

I want my “Miss Friendly” sash back, goddamnit.

Confessions of a smug new mama

Just over two years ago, I was a new mama. Not much later, I was a smug new mama. And here’s why I’m now eating humble pie behind closed bathroom doors.

For a few weeks after my son was born, I was tethered to the bedpost like a cow to a milking post. I envied the cow for all the time she got to graze around freely for the rest of the day.

I was sore, sleep-deprived and so in love. And no matter what the woman kissing her child in the meadow says, the love didn’t make the rest of it ok – at least not until it was in hindsight.

So I pulled the plungers off me, brushed my teeth for the first time in weeks and decided to sleep train the little guy.

5 days of letting him cry it out (Put the phone down. Child services are sick of this call. Besides, 2 minutes of crying isn’t going to hurt them. Neither is 5 minutes, apparently), 5 days of learning how to duck if he squirms when I’m in the 3k radius, 5 days of absolute sleeplessness and heart-steeling.

5 days later, I had the whole thing down pat. Feed-Play-Sleep. No “snacking”. Proper nap times, only in his cot. Let him fall asleep on his own, do not give in to big eyes.

And I was free. 5 days of hard work for pain-free parenting. Or so I had planned.

See, my whole theory was: I’m not very maternal. I know this. But I’m feeling a bit maternal now, and I know that feeling’s not going to get any stronger. I know I’ll want to go back to work at some point, and I want to do all the right things before I introduce him to popcorn for dinner in front of the TV. So while I’m home on my maternity break, I’m going to be the maternal-est mother there ever was.

I followed his routine to perfection. In one and a half years, I hardly ever switched on the TV. I never showed him the phone or iPad. I only fed him homemade, sugar-free, salt-free food. I even baked.

Early motherhood is a time when everyone lovingly tells you to look forward to sleepless nights and cold meals, if you ever have the chance to eat.

Oh I slept and I ate. I also caught up on all the Netflix that Netflix had to offer. In my son’s first year, I was up-to-date with Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, Parks and Recreation and New Girl. I re-watched parts of Breaking Bad and 30 Rock.

Hey, don’t hate me. I was working against the clock (and I got one o’ dem sleeping babies). Once the feeling wore off, there was no saying how far I would run.

I was smug as a bug in a smug-land.

The plan was that by the time the maternal cloud moved on and I was back at work, he’ll know his bedtime routine, he’ll have a healthy eating habit and will be quite independent. The awesome people at the Early Learning Centre can take it from there.

Except, we changed the plan. We decided to move countries and jobs and lives and routines.

We decided to take a well-settled 18-month old and turn his life upside down.

Now, 3 time zones and 4 different homes later, he’s slept in a portacot, toddler bed and our bed. He’s eaten at the dinner table, on a couch and in a car. He’s played with his elder cousins’ toys, grandfather’s toolkit and in dirty puddles.

That’s our new feed-play-sleep.

See, what I missed was that all the training and routine works only for responsible adults. Not for us, gypsy folk.

Not that it failed. Oh no, I wish it had! But it worked and that’s what’s screwing me over.

Sleep train, and they’ll go to bed and wake up like clockwork. So when I sit up till 2am to eat chocolate, blog or reply to emails, he still wakes up at 6am saying, “Minish seepin!”(that’s “finish sleeping”, for the unacquainted). I’ve only slept for 4 hours.

Teach your child to eat independently, they said. He’ll never depend on you to feed him, they said. But THEY DIDN’T HAVE THE DECENCY TO TELL ME THAT HE WILL ALSO CHOOSE TO NOT EAT A DAMN THING FOR 3 DAYS STRAIGHT AND REFUSE TO BE FED, BECAUSE I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-C-E.

“Use your words” was probably the first thing my poor, military-raised child heard from us. And uses his words, he does. For a little guy who isn’t sure what life without a suitcase is, he’s figured out that M & I are his only constants. He adores his gramps, uncles, aunts and cousins, but he needs to know one of us is around. I’ll let him have that. He’s only 2.

Here we are now, 9 months later. Semi-back to semi-reality. And he’s semi-not-having-any-of-it.

M started work last week and the tears were out of control. But the promise of me being there softened that blow, and our independent son clung on to me.

Until I got a freelance gig (oh yeah, I got a job! Yay!).

After 2 years of trying (and miserably failing, at times) to be the hands on, stay-at-home, maternal-est maternal mum, I’ve realised that a toddler who misses bedtime is a crazy party animal, co-sleeping is addictive for adults, eating chocolates and junk every now and then is still the best, and the smart device can save your sanity.

Another important lesson: mollycoddle them, helicopter-parent them (whatever that is) or military train them, babies will be babies.

On my first day at work, I got a call from my breathlessly teary little boy. He used his words.

“Only daddy work. Mama no work.”

 

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Let’s talk about talk, baby.

A few days ago, O told me he wanted a “peena budda sanmit”. I almost died of cardiomegaly. That’s an enlarged heart, FYI. That’s also more Grey’s Anatomy than general knowledge, sadly.

The “peena budda sanmit” in question was reduced to crumbs before I could establish a proper timeline detailing the name’s lifespan in my head. From cave-baby-esque banging on the pantry door to calling out for “peela balla”, it’s been a long, tongue-twisty journey to “peena budda”.

I constantly talk to him, about our day, our dreams and pretty much everything in between. Apart from developing his communication skills, I’m giving him a heads up that if he doesn’t start reciprocating right away, he may not be able to get in edgeways with me. That’s motivation, right there!

This may come as a surprise to you, but I talk a lot. Yes, it’s true. I know, I know. Take a minute to digest that, if you must. Take two.

Done? Ok, where was I? Yes, so I talk a lot. But thanks to years of writing for a living, I’ve learned to edit myself before spitting out every word that comes into my head. Except during a fight, of course. Or when that awesome human comes to talk to you. Then I may as well be banging on the pantry door, yelling “peela balla” repeatedly.

Talk.png
I’m just as bad when I’ve been hurt. I analyse, overanalyse and then abuse my analytical prowess. I prepare speeches in my head and perfect them down to the parting words, to go with my dramatic exit. A few hundred different perspectives, inner reflections and devil’s advocating later, I’m ready for the confrontation. Except, all that tossing and turning took roughly 27 years and no one else gives a damn anymore.

At the other end of the spectrum, get me in front of, or on the phone with, an old friend or one of my closest people, and I can talk till the cows come home with their grandcalves. I will share and sometimes over share. It’s like I’m drunk on words, and I cannot hold my drink. Hashtag no regrets.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not alone in this.

Clearly, the vocal chords fail us when we’re angry, intimidated or hurt. Clearly, there’s nothing ground-breaking in that statement.

When I started writing this post, it was along the lines of teaching my little guy the importance of tone and the power of kind words. But now I’m wondering what happens to the words that we hold back?

Is that what we talk to ourselves about? Unresolved anger, hurt and embarrassment?

What?

Hold that walking the walk bit, we need to start talking the talk.
For a second, let’s forget the tones and intentions, length and brevity, sharpness and bluntness in our speech. For a second, let’s go back to our first words. Our “peena budda” moment, per se. When we had a basic need to communicate our basic needs.

Now let’s flip the conversation inwards.

Let’s train our tongues to frame compliments for ourselves. Hard as it may be, try telling yourself you’re awesome. It is, after all, the basic kindness we show other people. Let’s talk positive to ourselves and vent out the negatives. Not by whinging, but by flushing it out. If it can’t be fixed, flush. If it’s about people who don’t matter, flush. If it’s about the past, flush. If it can’t be flushed then take a minute to think about what you can learn from it and move on.

Wake up tomorrow – nope, why wait? – start now. Talk yourself up. Whisper sweet nothings to yourself. Be kind, adoring and inspiring.

I’m also starting to think that it’s ok to cheat sometimes. I mean, you praise people when you don’t mean it, so as to not offend them. How about not offending yourself for a change? I say, bring on the butter and lay it on thick.

Truth is, you’re pretty cool. Someone, somewhere wants to be like you. Someone, somewhere wants your home or your job or your friends.

You’re trying just as hard as everyone else at this life thing; some days are just harder than the others. You string together words to express your feelings, and you string together feelings to make sense of it all. It’s not easy, and yet, you’re here.

You’ve come a long way from your first words; now it’s time to talk nice to yourself. You’ll be surprised at what flattering things you’ll hear in return.

Old is the new New

2016, going on 1993.

 

In early 1993, I boarded the flight back to Kuwait after the Gulf War with such excitement that I thought I would be sick. My cousins, uncles and aunts came to receive us at the airport with loud squeals of joy and big jackets (we were travelling from 35 degree Indian spring to 15 degree Kuwait winter). I took in all the squeals and hugs and familiar Kuwaiti air. I shrugged off the jacket. I wanted to feel everything.

Through chattering teeth and quickly-freezing toes, I asked all the important questions. Were KDD juice boxes still available? Was Funny Face chips still the best? How soon could I get my hands on a Snickers bar? Were Hardee’s burgers still as big as my face?

Yes, yes, right away, yes.

I swear, I did not blink during the ride home. The water towers, Kuwait Towers, my school, our first home. They were all there.

We were all home, together.

q8

Photo cred: As always, m @rnanoj

When the war chased us out of our homes and lives that fateful August day, we thought we’d be back before the summer ended. That was innocence.

A few months into our refugee life, we accepted that was going to be our future. That was adaptation.

Two years later, in the middle of all the excitement that glorious cold, winter evening back in Kuwait, I knew that wherever my past or my future took me, I would never let go of the heart-aching happiness in that moment right there. That feeling of being exactly where I should be.

That was conviction.

Since then, I’ve loved Kuwait and hated her, I’ve left her and scrambled back to her, I’ve missed her and avoided her. I’ve moved, married and made a baby. But I never let go of that memory.

I went looking for new, and came right back to old.

We landed in Kuwait on a cold, wintery morning few days ago (M got a job! Yay! We’re working members of society again). All of the cousins and uncles and aunts were at work, but the phone calls were loud with squeals of joy. I took the jacket this time. Adult.

I got home to my KDD mango juice. Funny Face only comes in a multipack now, the only way to eat it (them). Snickers are not a rarity anymore, but I scoff one down, all the same. Hardee’s burgers are now as small as my palm. Budgets.

We’re all home together, again.

We left Melbourne in search of a new adventure, and I cannot think of an adventure greater than a second chance. Here we are, where I was born and raised. I know the people, the roads and the life. Now, I get to put aside everything I know and do it better and do it with my own little clan.

And if there’s ever a sign of weakness, I’ll always have that moment in ’93 when I sat on my uncle’s couch, shivering with excitement and from the cold.

Just like back then, I’m unsure about the future, but can barely conceal the blind faith that it is going to be the best days of my life.