Exactly one month ago I embarked on The Fulfillment challenge where my aim was to express gratitude for all that I have as well as to demonstrate that life fulfillment is found in the things we already have. To be honest, when I started I knew that it would obviously impact my life positively but nothing could have prepared me for the literal turnaround these past 30 days have had in my life.
You see, since my new beginning late last year, where I went out in search of fresh challenges, I had not really settled down or made much peace with where I now was in life. I’m a doer and resting on my laurels quite literally threatened to drive me insane. This challenge turned out to be tougher than I imagined, not only because it was public (I was being held accountable by all of you) but also because some days were really tough and I still had to show up.
Sad love songs. We all love them. They break chart records and make millions for their composers. Have you ever noticed that you are more likely to relate with the lyrics of a song when you are going through a tough time? I bet that musicians never write great songs when they are happy; the really great lyrics come during times of heart break and tragedy in personal lives. Those are the songs that people love.
We tend to be obsessed with fixing broken things. Broken hearts. Broken lives. Broken minds. Broken bodies. If you look at society today, there exist all kinds of doctors ready to offer a fix for anything you feel might be broken. There’s a stereotype about people who we perceive as “not being ok” and we steer clear of them till they are “fixed”. Till they are more like us and fit in to what we define as being acceptable.
In reality though, is there really any among us who is not broken in one way or another? And if truly, great things are born out of our brokenness then why our haste to fix ourselves all the time?
Late last week as my husband and I were taking our evening walk, we happened upon a heart wrenching scene. Right in the middle of the path lay a semi-conscious middle aged woman flanked by her two young children. The woman was on her way back home following an unsuccessful day of job hunting in a town center 40 kms away. According to the children the mother had not had anything to eat for two days and had not taken any water the whole of that day. She had collapsed from extreme dehydration.
Lately I have been mulling over some of the choices we make and ultimately how they mold our future. A lot of things happened this year that seriously changed the way I viewed life and happiness in general. What seemed so important before suddenly seemed so trivial and the little things that we tend to overlook became the pivotal points of every single thing I did. More and more I found myself confronted with messages about people who had made drastic changes in their lives and chosen happiness and fulfillment over the mundane. Even my own sisters (yes all of them) have over the past 5 years or so, each made changes in their lives that can only be described as drastic but ultimately altered the courses of their lives for the better.
On a whim, I decided to seek out an old friend of mine whom I hadn’t spoken to in a while. I actually used to work with her till she did what a lot of us can only fantasize about – she chose to leave the corporate world (and all its endless politics) in favor of staying at home and taking care of her three kids. She was even interviewed on national television to speak about her experience. In addition to being a stay-at-home mum, she also runs her own small business; most importantly, she works on her own terms.
I was very interested in finding out what had driven her to make such a drastic change in her life when she seemingly “had it all.” Basically the gist of it was that her work hours had become crazy, leaving home at the crack of dawn and not returning till late at night. She basically never got to spend much time with her daughter (her only child at the time) and it really hit her how bad it had gotten when one day her daughter called her “Aunty!” You can only imagine her horror on realizing that she was no longer recognized as the mother but as the “Aunty” who appeared occasionally. It was at that point that she began to question her choices and the cost to her loved ones. Her work increasingly became unfulfilling to her as her priorities became crystal clear in her mind. She battled with indecision till one day she simply sat down and penned her resignation. At this point, her face literally lit up as she recollected how she felt after submitting her notice – a weight literally lifted off her shoulders.
Lucky for her she has a very supportive partner who had her back and she was able to walk away from the corporate world without so much as a backward glance. That however did not make her journey easy. In as much as she was confident in her decision, she found herself surrounded by people who thought she was insane to quit just to stay at home. This is when she realized that our society has little to no regard for housewives or stay-at-home mums. We are basically defined by our jobs, titles and how much money we make, the cars we drive, the neighborhoods we reside in….you get the drift. Have you ever noticed when you meet someone for the first time, right after the greeting is the ever definitive question – “So, what do you do?”
In her own words, people immediately lost interest the second she told them what she does. It didn’t help that she also got a lot of negative pressure from people close to her who did not understand her decision and she even lost some friends in the process. She had to develop a really tough skin to get through and even now she feels like she has to keep justifying her decision which felt and still feels perfectly logical to her. The biggest stereotype she had to overcome was the myth society has sold us; that being a mum just isn’t enough. It’s seemingly not enough to take care of three children and a household. Not in this day and age.
During my bed rest leading up to my maternity leave I got to realize a lot of things. Every day was a full day – taking care of the kids, my husband, the kitchen, the house in general. At the end of each day I would still feel like I needed more hours in the day. One day it suddenly dawned on me. How had I been managing all this with a full time 8-hour job not to mention at least 2 hours in traffic daily? At that point I realized that I had probably been neglecting something and it was painfully obvious what I had compromised in my daily membership to the rat race. Just looking at my son and how much he thrived in those 5 months was answer enough. I had been focusing on the wrong things, thinking that my family would just get by. How many of us (both mums and dads) have relegated the role of parenting to the nanny and the teachers? Who do you think is the biggest casualty of the choices you have made to put your career first? At the very least, stop living in denial; wake up and smell the coffee.
As we winded up our catch up date, I told my friend that she was my inspiration. She was visibly shocked by this; I suppose she never expected anyone to think of her as inspiring. She had simply made a decision for the good of her family and learnt to live with the criticism that came with it. I told her that she had done what many of us long to do and genuinely wish we had the luxury to do. She is viewed as a pariah simply because she went against the norm falsely defined by a judgmental society. Because she was brave where we are weak. Because she knew she could choose, and made the choice. While we are still hiding behind masks showing the world how happy we are yet behind those same masks lie disillusioned dead hearts just existing. Not living. Desperately unhappy and on the verge of depression, but unwilling to show the world how our choices have failed us. Since we genuinely believe we have no other option, we trudge on in the rat race. Making more money just to spend more in our desperate attempt to “Keep up with the Joneses.” Most of us will go to our graves with our dreams unfulfilled, unspoken even. Some of us know that they have a choice, but believe that choice to be unrealistic or not enough. Who defines what is Enough anyway? Isn’t it us at the end of the day or have we allowed someone else to set rules by which we must now abide? Is there another way to make money while ensuring that those close to you do not feel neglected? Is being employed really the only way? Can you be your own boss and keep your own hours and define what is really Enough for you?
Obviously I cannot generalize and state that everyone should follow their dream. Some dreams are unrealistic for sure. What I can say however is that, you need to be happy with the choices you have made. Not all of us will be fortunate enough to realize their dream, for one reason or another. Everything in life is a choice after all. Just make sure that whatever you choose, you can actually live with. Not exist; LIVE with.
And for heaven’s sake, stop criticizing those who have been brave enough to make the choice and live their dream. You know what they say about people in glass houses.
About a week ago I bid a very heart-wrenching goodbye to my baby – Bruce. Being a very integral part of my life, it broke my heart to see him go. While being one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, it was also time for me to move on, no matter how difficult it was.
For the clueless, Bruce was my first car. (Yes, I got that attached to a piece of machinery so there!). And if you’re wondering why a he and not a she, there is no space in my life for two divas and I am definitely a diva.
I still remember the first time I laid eyes on him. It was a yard in Mombasa and the pictures I had been sent did him no justice; the minute I saw him, I just knew – he and I were made for each other. The drive back cemented our relationship and I knew I had found a gem. He represented so many firsts for me other than just being my first car. He brought true independence into my life which, up to that point had always been subjected to limitations of cab guys and public transport. He also brought a profound sense of responsibility because I was now literally responsible for his maintenance and upkeep which made me seriously re-evaluate my priorities. Owning him opened up my world from its previous shell to numerous opportunities and possibilities that I had never even considered before. So when I say giving him up was like the end of an era, I truly mean it.
As I struggled with the decision to sell him, I was overwhelmed by memories of the journey that he and I have been on for four years. Bruce literally brought Fun into my life! I don’t think I was a very fun person before to be quite honest. With him I indulged my travel genie and every other weekend was an opportunity to just drive and explore this amazing country with my fun-loving friends in tow on some very random road trips.
On the few occasions that I was in town I became the default chauffeur for my family and friends to run errands, drop people off, provide transport etc. Even at parties or while out partying I was the default driver and none of my friends ever had to worry about taking a cab home. Thanks to these numerous trips I became a rather adept driver and even earned the nickname “Sheka Meta”. (I really want to believe that the name was based on skill and not just speedJ).
Bruce represented so many things for me. Reliability and dependability – I knew I could always count on him no matter what. He never failed me, not once, not even a flat tyre. And trust me, I went all over this country with him! He represented independence – I finally didn’t have to be at the mercy of other people or psv’s to get around. Most importantly he taught me that opportunities were there for the taking, if I could just start believing in myself and just grab them without constantly questioning if I was capable. Before I bought him I never believed I could afford a car; yet the amounts of money I splurged every weekend were astronomical. All I did was rearrange my priorities and boom! I had Bruce.
Just like all things in life, when he had taught me all that he needed to, it was time to let him go. I did hang on to him in denial for as long as I could, just the same way we hang on to things or people in our life who have served their purpose but we refuse to let them go. In letting Bruce go, I acknowledged that I was simply moving on to the next level in my life which was ultimately inevitable.
How many things are you holding on to right now that you need to let go off? Is it your job? Is it time you changed careers or started a business? Is it a person, a friend who once was in sync with you but is now dragging you down or holding you back? What are you hoarding in your life right now that you need to spring clean? Many of us are often reluctant to move on because we tend to be creatures of habit and enjoy our comfort zones much longer than necessary. It’s important to pick the lessons and learn from them and then move on after that. Do not stay on for longer than necessary and know when to walk away.
Last week I was having a chat with my sister who recently got pregnant with her first baby. She was narrating an experience she had had with some ladies at a function. You know the typical ones where all the men segregate together and the ladies are left to themselves? So as they chatted, the topic (inevitably) turned to babies, motherhood and pregnancy. The interesting thing, or should I say shocking, was that none of them had anything positive to say about the entire experience. Now my sister found this very alarming, to say the least, considering that they all had more than one child. At some point, she couldn’t take the negativity any longer and gave them a piece of her mind. Of course they castigated her (as expected) and told her that her lack of experience was distorting her opinion and that she should wait till she got her baby to know just how “bad it was”. At this point, she decided that the men were better company and moved away from what she termed as “negative energy”.
Which brings us to our chat; she wanted to know if it was really as bad as it was being made out to be and why someone like me still remained positive about pregnancy despite having gone through what can only be described as a horror story in my pregnancies. (Yes there was more than one; story for another day). My response was my standard one; that some people will always choose to see the negative side of anything; it takes a lot of energy to always try and see the positive side. Which a lot of people do not have the time, nor energy for. It’s actually a lot easier to be negative.
To be honest, though, I have a much more profound perspective when it comes to parenting. I am a single mum, and I can honestly say that without my son, my life wouldn’t have that much meaning. Despite everything I went through to have him, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Because there is no greater blessing in my life than my son. I would give my life for him. I look at him every day and thank God for giving me the honor of raising him.
You see, children belong to God. A mother is accorded a special, divine responsibility to care for one of God’s children. How do I know this? Because in all my wildest dreams and fantasies, I could not have fathomed how this tiny being, so adorable, so innocent, so perfect, so loyal, so pure (I could go on and on)….could possibly have been my own creation. I’m obviously just a humble guardian; to take care of him till he can stand on his own two feet. Another reason I know this? He came laden with God given blessings! A lot of struggling mothers can relate to this; you will always somehow manage to feed, clothe your child no matter what your circumstances. It’s said that God will never give you what you cannot handle, and this is especially true for children.
So, when I hear mothers being all negative about pregnancy, children and parenting in general, it breaks my heart. Yes it’s not easy at all. It is however, the greatest blessing that will ever be bestowed on you in your entire life. Not your career, not your fancy house, not your spouse, not your annual holiday; Your Child is the greatest blessing. Straight from God.
You may have had a difficult pregnancy. Why focus on it? Focus on the amazing tiny being that resulted. Focus on the amazing milestones – opening his eyes, learning to crawl and walk, his first words, the first time he said “I love you mummy”, his first day at school, his first love, and how you will always be his mum no matter what. That’s what I choose to focus on. Because my son changed my life. For the better.
Always speak positive of your child no matter where you are or who you are with. Your children need unconditional love. They need affirmation and encouragement. They need their parents’ counsel. Always appreciate your child; do not take them for granted. Discipline them in love when they do wrong and celebrate them when they do good.
And the next time someone starting out on the journey asks for your counsel, choose to give the full side of the story. That yes, it has its ups and downs. That yes, child birth is painful. That yes, your child will challenge you on a daily basis. That ultimately, all things considered, it will be the greatest and best experience in the world, filled with daily blessings. That your child will be the best thing that will ever happen to you.