This is the year I lose friends.

Crabs have been crawling out from under my son’s blanket and pillow at approximately 2 am every night, pinching him with their “pinchers’. He wakes up screaming.

We assure O that there are no crabs, and tell him that maybe they’re lost and looking for their friends? We calm him down saying we will never let anything hurt him, and that we’re right there with him.

Did little Aya’s parents tell her that moments before she lost sight of them in Aleppo? Is that why she was being so incredibly brave?

Almost as an echo in my head, I can hear parents all around the world promising their little ones the same thing. In Aleppo, Mosul, Sudan, Peshawar, Sandy Hook.

I started writing this post around the fourth anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre. I was sitting in the back of a cab, reading an article written by a father who lost his child on that day. My vision blurred and cheeks burned with something more than rage.

It wasn’t a blinding sense of helplessness like I’ve felt these past few years when living beings have been reduced to dispensable numbers, through power struggles, cowardly terrorism and blatant intolerance towards a different race, gender and opinion. It wasn’t helplessness or rage or sadness I was feeling.

It was failure.

Absolute, crushing, suffocating failure.

I failed. As a thinking, breathing person of the world, I failed. Because I didn’t act when I had the chance. I researched all the perspectives to make an “informed decision”, but these children and people didn’t have time to spare to educate me.

But now I see it. There are no good guys or bad guys. There are no oil pipelines or terror groups. There are no ifs and buts.

There are dead bodies, orphans, rape victims. Parents who will never kiss their child’s toes again. Dreamers who will struggle to close their eyes again.

And then there are heroes. Women, men and children who rise above fear and differences, every day. Who stand – at frontlines, rallies, shelters. Who stand – for equality, compassion, peace.

This is the year to take a stand. From world peace to workplace sexism, we cannot take this shit lying down any longer. We cannot wait for someone braver, smarter, richer to come sort it out. It’s up to us. You and me.

I understand keyboard warriors make more noise than action, but if the biggest election upset of our generation was stirred and spurred on by social media, then I’m sure as hell not going to stop spewing strength, support and positivity.

Nothing major has changed in my life to suddenly make room for activism, but there has been a big shift in my mind. So from here on out, I will be loud; I will be outspoken; I will be relentless. I will continue to feel the pain and weep openly, but I will not give in to hate. I will be optimistic and see the best in everyone. I will be happy and spread cheer when I feel it. I promise to be an insufferable feminist and opinionated pain-in-the-arse. And I take courage in knowing I’m not alone. (Even if it means I will be left alone because I’m being a Debbie Downer and taking the “fun” out of casual racism and sexism. Sorrynotsorry future former friends.)

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If support seems biased to you (there’s more #prayforparis than #prayforsyria), then please shout louder to balance the scales without tearing the other one down. Shout until we silence the very idea of hate and intolerance.

Here’s to a future where pinching-crab-nightmares are the only things that keep adults and children up at night.

Let’s do this, 2017.

“The whole world wants to save Tibet. Don’t worry about saving Tibet, don’t get caught up in trying to save the world or trying to affect what is not in our direct control. You will grow old and the world may not be saved. Dream big, but instead change yourself and affect people directly in your realm of influence, and soon it will have a rippling effect.”

                                      His Holiness the Dalai Lama

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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.)

The refugee crisis within

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We’ve been in transit for seven months now, in search of our next big adventure. I keep trying to document my feelings about it, and I keep coming back to the same thought.

Imagine stepping out of your comfort zone, away from all that is familiar and routine. Every morning, you wake up not knowing what’s in store for the day; whether this is the day you fulfil your dreams and live to tell the tale.

While we’re venturing out into the unknown to live out our dreams, it’s gut-wrenching to see people forced to run away from their homes in search of life. Not a better life, but life.

Now re-read the second paragraph.

I’ve been moving around so much it’s been hard for me to follow the refugee crisis on the news, but I follow Humans of New York and somehow HONY’s stories of the refugees is all that I needed to see. No political games, no war machines, no power struggles. Just people like you and me, real and unedited, scared and lost.

We were labelled refugees once. When we fled from Kuwait during the gulf war.

I was born and raised in Kuwait, it was the only home I had ever known. It was my normal. My parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. My friends, teachers and home. All mine. All tossed aside like some inconsequential childish fantasy.

Two months into our 3-month summer break, I remember waking up to see my family standing outside the apartment, staring and pointing into the distance. We’re not a quiet bunch, my family, and yet that morning you could hear the smoke rising in the distance.

After that, everything was a haze. Spending nights together with family and friends couped up in a deserted top-storey apartment. Playing cards and board games, watching movies, reading books and eating junk – it was a week of slumber parties. It was the only place my parents could find to hide their little girls.

I remember my last glance into the home I was born into. The soft brown carpet, the cream wallpaper and my Barbie refrigerator filled with Barbie shoes that didn’t make it into any bag. There was a big warm glow in the middle of the living room, like sunlight that got trapped inside when the windows were sealed shut. To me it was a ball of pure happiness and that didn’t make it into any bag, either.

Too young to grasp the weight of what was happening around us, this was an adventurous road trip. The men with guns along the roadside were there because something serious was happening further up. The vacated apartment complex we stayed at overnight was just a break from the long drive. Its long, empty corridors were perfect for roller-skating with the cousins. The hoards of people lined up along the border just didn’t get hotel reservations yet and would probably pass through within the next few hours.

We drove from Kuwait, through Iraq to Jordan in a convoy of 3 cars; 3 children, 2 women (1 pregnant) and 4 men. We were some of the lucky ones who knew someone who knew someone else who could help us out with a work permit of sorts. The little piece of paper made all the difference. Our own car instead of a bus. A room instead of a tent. Canned food instead of handouts. A bathroom instead of a hole. (Except for those few times we went on the side of the road in No Man’s Land between the borders. Not a person, not a light as far as the eye could see. Just a billion stars and eight frightened refugees.)

At every checkpoint (or soldier-with-a-gun point), my sister and I pretended to be asleep as a game, and maybe as a defence mechanism to avoid having to look a man with a gun in the eye. Not like they were looking for our approval or for our consent.

I always imagined that the hardest part for my parents in all this was getting us to safety. But now I see that that wasn’t the hardest part, that was the prayer.

Imagine getting in a car or a bus with your family – your world – and driving into a war because it’s the only way out. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get out, but if you stay, you’re in the war. You become collateral damage.

What if the only way out is by a rickety old boat? Stay and hope for a painless death or leave and give your children a chance. Even if it’s a slim chance.

But what do I know? We were going back to our motherland; our parents were taking us back home. To our families, ancestral homes and open doors. To India. And there she stood, strong and loving as the day when we left her for a better life. Now we were back, running for our lives, and she welcomed us with a kindness only a mother can have.

Not the refugees of today, they’re not running back home, they’re running from it. Begging someone to show a little kindness, to make the world a safer place for their children.

It’s not boats that arrive at our borders, it’s lives. Daughters who were saved from rape, sons who were shielded from mutilation. Men and women, desperate to breathe and love and sleep one more time.

I remember my parents knocking on a stranger’s door somewhere in the middle of war and peace. The kids needed a glass of water and to use the toilet and to get out of the car that was now a portable oven. I can only imagine their relief when the woman who opened the door greeted us with compassion.

I now know that there was a government order to not entertain refugees. It was a punishable offence.

That day the Iraqi woman, in her floral dress and loving home, gave us bread, water and a lesson in kindness.

Yet we find it hard to trust these men, women and children knocking at our shores. To open our borders, to share a meal, some space and maybe a kind word. We worry that maybe war changes even the good people. Creates monsters out of men.

I’m not a monster, but war did change me.

I learnt about rape before I learnt about sex. I knew what torture was before I knew what bullying was. I feared smoke rising from a distance more than a monster under my bed.

We found our way to safety soon. Parents tried to shield us from pain and horror as best as they could, but these things have a way of seeping into your very fibre. Through ashes in the air and fear on the faces around you.

I wasn’t a child anymore, but I was frightened like one.

Of things I couldn’t fathom, couldn’t believe and couldn’t even spell.

And I was one of the lucky ones.