A good friend of mine asked me to guest post him and I will be featuring his story in a 3-part series. In his own words, he has suffered it in silence for long enough and hopes that telling it will help someone out who could be going through a similar situation.
Let me tell you about my smile. It’s not a particularly pretty smile. I have chipped teeth. Several of them. Others have decided that they will pose like Instagram models by turning a little to the side so that you can see their curves properly. It may look sexy in my mouth, and to one or two randy dentists, but to the rest of the world, it’s just crooked. Then there is the yellow. I brush my teeth until they feel like porcelain when my tongue glides over them. But I can never quite get the yellow out. I sometimes consider whitening them but, I am not one to make changes to things which work perfectly fine. After all, I can smile.
A couple of days ago I was catching up with one of my former clients and she was relating how strange life is as she took stock of her achievements against what she had set out to do. What was particularly interesting was that she had met some of her goals but through channels she had vowed never to follow. What she found strange was her altered perspective on things she had previously fought and resisted so hard back then but was now embracing.
The whole thing really got me pondering about whether we are really open minded when it comes to what we want and how we hope to get it. A lot of people have an idea of what they would like to achieve this year for instance. Most have a generally solid plan on how to go about it. But what happens when your plan doesn’t go the way you expected it to? Or within the timelines you set for it?
As my first post for the year, I am featuring a guest post from a reader who requested anonymity. Her story is deeply introspective and a great testimony to inner strength. I found her story especially moving as I have realized that the greatest success stories of triumph often arise from the ashes of countless failures, disappointments and shattered dreams. As a great man once coined, Though a righteous man falls seven times, he will get up. I hope this post inspires you as it did me.
I spent the early morning hours of January 1st stumbling into the house and subsequently crying about life. It would be a normal drunk episode if the things I was saying out loud to myself didn’t sound so bloody true. There I was on the dawn of a New Year and I was exactly where I was the year before – drunk and about to go to bed before battling the worst hangover I had ever had. Hadn’t I said that this year would be quiet? Hadn’t I said 2016 would begin differently? I had. But, as these things sometimes go, I had fallen into the same old routine.
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 one of my neighbors dropped by to see my little princess and inevitably as she “ooo-d” and “aaa-d” at the baby, she confessed that she had very serious baby fever. For those who have no clue what that means, it’s basically when a woman’s ovaries figuratively start clamoring for utilization based on the purpose that our creator intended. I laughed encouragingly and asked her what she was waiting for, urging her to join my club. This prompted a very lengthy vent session from her about all the challenges of the current dating scene and how she was finding it very difficult to meet a guy who met her – to use her own words – exceedingly high standards.
For me this was like déjà vu; it reminded me of myself about 3-4 years ago when I was still dating; no, actually trying to date and getting quite frustrated in the process. I have never believed that there is one particular right place to meet your ideal mate or one wrong place for that matter. It all depends on where both of you are in terms of readiness for commitment. For example, people always say you would never meet any one serious in a bar; however two of my close friends met in a bar (thanks to me) and are now happily married with a child. Point is, they were both ready to settle and just happened to meet as they were both out having a drink. No harm in that right? I also know people who meet in church (the most supposedly ideal place to meet a partner; allow me to have a face-palm moment) but their unions broke up faster than you could say happily ever after. I’m sure you get the gist of it.
So there I was. Determined to settle with the ideal man. (As I later learnt, therein was my problem and why I was attracting all the wrong men). I dated all varieties of potential partners and came up dry. Why? They all had one thing in common. They believed that my standards were too high and unrealistic for an actual man to meet. This perturbed me to say the least. Why? As I explained to each of them, I did not develop my standards from a steamy fiction novel, or those Mexican soaps that all the local channels are now pummeling us with. For the record, I am not a fan of those soaps but if you were born in the 70s like me (yes, I’m proud of my age and the fact that I look almost a decade younger) you know all about “No one but you” and all the girls had a not-so-secret crush on Antonio Garcia (swoon)! So just to clarify, that is not where I developed my high standards from.
Back in the day, when I had just completed high school I was just like any other teenage girl. Carefree, party going, totally unserious about life, you get the drift. I’m also a little ashamed to admit that I didn’t have much of a standard; I could go out with practically any guy. So I can relate with some of the young girls today. I would probably be pretty much the same if fate hadn’t brought into my life two men who changed the way I view men forever. The first one was my campus boyfriend. He was a gem to be quite honest; I just don’t think I appreciated it at that time. He was (and still is actually) the perfect gentleman and treated me like a lady. He was responsible and dependable and honestly, way ahead of his time in terms of maturity. He was the guy who taught me that there is distinction in how real gentlemen treat women. Unfortunately for him I was not yet ready for such serious intentions and we went our separate ways, remaining good friends.
After I finished campus and got a job, I met the second man who would impact my standards permanently. All my girlfriends actually used him as the benchmark of an ideal man. He treated women with a deference that was rare even then, and that went for all women, not just me. He believed in the traditional definition of being a man. Opening doors, pulling my seat for me, provision & protection…..he basically treated me like a queen. And spoiled me for all others in the process. Unfortunately yet again life had something different planned in the cards and eventually we split up.
Needless to say, those two men taught me something very important. That I deserved to be treated with respect. That I deserved the very best that a man could offer. That I was worth it for the man who would meet, or even surpass my standards. That it was ok to be treated like a queen – because I am a queen. That I should not settle for callous, fleeting relationships ending in disappointment. Or God forbid, one night stands. That it is ok to walk away from a man who does not treat me the way I desire to be treated. Those two men were the ones responsible for the high standards that I developed as a result of my interaction with them.
So when I was trying to date and all those other guys would mock my standards, saying that I couldn’t possibly get a man who would meet them, I would simply smile and walk away. Those poor guys never stood a chance because subconsciously, my mind and heart would never entertain being treated at a lower level than what I had become accustomed to.
After a while of seemingly meeting all the wrong men I simply decided one day to stop dating. I was rather frustrated and figured that I might as well get on with other aspects of my life instead of searching for what seemed like an impossibility at the time. So when my neighbor was complaining about how hard it is to get a decent partner, I could really relate having been there and done that. What really irked me though was how much both men and women would mock me for maintaining my high standards. It’s almost as if it was a sin to know exactly what I wanted and not to be afraid of going for it. I was actually an outcast. A dreamer. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to abandon my standards and just make do. But I stuck to my guns. Dug my heels in. I resolved that I would rather be alone than be with someone who would disappoint me.
It wasn’t easy though. I was constantly plagued by the thought that maybe I had missed my shot. I mean I had dated two great guys – what was the chance of getting a third? For a while, I was so terrified of being alone that I went out again and again with men that I would not normally have even given a second look. I had begun to buy into the narrative that there were no longer decent guys left out there. However I was never settled and my conscience constantly pricked at me; reminding me I was better than this. That’s what eventually led to me leaving the dating scene completely. I actually sat in my house for three months and this was when I started to enjoy my own company. I actually found solace in my solitude and finally got over the fear of being alone.
Ironically as fate would have it, this is also when a really great guy just appeared. Ok, that’s not entirely accurate. I had known him for a while; I just never knew he was available. And in case you’re wondering, he literally blew my standards out of the water. Thankfully, this time I was more than ready to settle down. Till today I smile at the thought of all those people who told me that there was no living human being who could meet my standards.
The point to this whole narrative is that it’s ok to have standards. And it’s perfectly ok if the bar on those standards is high. It’s ok to want more, as long as you’re realistic in what you are looking for. Your standards ought to be based on experience and facts and not on fiction or fantasy. You need to believe in your standards and not give up at the first sign of failure. Most importantly, you need to have patience and will power to wait. People with standards do not go desperately searching all over as I later learnt; they wait for the right opportunity to present itself. They are not afraid to stand out from the crowd and are often very comfortable in their solitude. They do not seek affirmation in pointless company just for sake of fitting in. And the best part is that eventually, they do get what they are seeking. They eventually end up with a person with an equally high, if not higher standard.
There is nothing more attractive than a man or woman with standards.
I have always been a bleeding heart. You know, the kind of person who is excessively sympathetic towards those in unfortunate circumstances. I have been known to give in to emotions on frequent occasions and take up charity causes for people I don’t even know. Some people (read cynical people) find this naïve and a little foolish but what can I say? I’m just wired that way.
Parenting is the art of carrying your heart outside your body. Most parents know this. For those who aren’t parents allow me to explain. Imagine if you had to carry your heart outside your body (in a bag or whatever) and keep it safe from any harm so that it continues to keep you alive. Do you get the picture now? It’s a nerve wracking, heart tugging situation. Pun intended. Kids have a way of softening even the hardest of hearts, whether you show it or not.
Before I had my son, I had pretty much mastered the ability to hide my bleeding heart from most with the exception of those who know me pretty well. From the moment he was born, that situation negated itself and to add insult to injury, I realized that I had become excessively emotional. Anything even remotely sad made me cry. Movies. Novels. Articles in a magazine. Animals dying. Well that last one has always reduced me to tears to be quite honest, from the time when I was old enough to understand that animals do not have the same life span as humans. We even had a pet cemetery growing up. The stuff of Stephen King novels. It’s a wonder our house was not haunted by the spirits of all the cats and dogs that we buried there in shallow graves that were later dug up by wild pigs. In case you’re wondering, we lived right next to Ngong Forest.
Where was I? Oh yes, parenting. If you’re a parent you know how sad you get when you see a poor little homeless kid on the street begging for a meal. You know the way your eyes well up when you see those features appealing for medical assistance for a child who has some never-heard-of life threatening ailment. You know how angry you feel when you see a child being mistreated by someone who should know better. You know how helpless you feel in all these situations because while you can only do a little to help, deep inside you always wonder, what if that was your child?
That’s the craziest thing about parenting. You see your child in every situation involving a child. Even when you’re not with your child and you hear a little voice cry out “mum’” or “dad”, you’re bound to turn towards the sound; a second before you realize that it can’t possibly be your child calling you. That’s what having a child does to you. It makes you crazy vulnerable and impossibly soft as marsh inside. That’s the feeling of your heart being outside your body.
Now that I have my second baby, a beautiful graceful princess, I find that my bleeding heart has imperceptibly gotten worse. I suppose with my son being older I had toughened up slightly but I now find myself back to the fears of having an infant sorely dependent on me for her every need. If you have a small baby you can certainly relate to the constant checks on them to see if they are still breathing. Almost as if we don’t actually expect that they will successfully do that on their own. I tell you, babies are undeniably over dependent. Incredibly instead of driving you up the wall, this just makes you grateful every day for the blessing of your little baby. Especially when you hear the story of someone losing her precious daughter to a choking incident. Or another to an unfortunate school bus accident. Or yet another whose child is missing and is presumed kidnapped. It literally breaks your heart and all you want to do is go home and hug your child as tight as you can.
Because that’s when you realize, as you have always known that your child is your heart. Literally and figuratively. You are carrying your heart around outside your body and praying desperately that no one rips it out of your hands and hurls it to the ground, smashing it into smithereens. I imagine that’s what it would feel like, multiplied by a trillion, if something ever happened to your child. I can only imagine because even though it happened to me, I’m still pretty sure that I cannot adequately capture the pain that a parent feels when that heart is ripped away from them. I cannot put into words the fervent prayers of the parent whose child’s life hangs in the delicate balance between medicine and divine intervention. Words cannot describe the gap that can never be filled where once there was a child but a parent had to bury them.
In a nutshell you will never be the same again. Once you become a parent, it changes you. It defines you. It grows you and makes you the best person you could ever be. You could literally give your life in a heartbeat in exchange for your child if it was required of you. I still cannot watch Denzel Washington in John Q without wailing from beginning to end.
Incredibly with all the stuff I’ve said so far, it’s still the biggest blessing that you could ever experience. Like I said, you will never be the same again but for the coolest reasons ever. My son changed me forever and already my little princess has made her unmistakable imprint on my heart. It’s literally the best thing that will ever happen to you and the greatest, most rewarding journey you will ever walk. Just make sure you find a good strong bag for your heart.
P.S. If you’re a bleeding heart like I am, please go to Baby Ivannah Alusa Limo and help if you can. Whether or not you are carrying your heart around in a bag.
Update: On 15th July God decided that Baby Ivannah was too beautiful for this earth and took her with Him to dance with the angels in heaven. We rejoice, even amid our streaming tears, that she touched so many hearts and brought so many together in a common cause. We pray for strength for her family, that they may celebrate the precious measured moments they shared with their beautiful angel whose smile and gorgeous eyes we had all come to adore. Ivannah, we know that you are in a better place.