Category Archives: Parenting

Open letter to my son for his 18th birthday

Go. Fly. Don’t look down. Don’t look back. But if you do, I’ll be here.

You’re not ready. I understand. You’re scared. I understand.

And I’m glad.

Because you’re being called for the biggest adventure of your life: that of being on your own. And if you were ready, if you weren’t scared, then it wouldn’t be an adventure.

Go on, be scared. Embrace the fear, what’s the worst that can happen?

Over the past 18 years you have grown. You now stand over six foot tall. But now is when you need to start to grow on the inside. Now the learning starts. Now the adventure begins. Now you fly.

Go. Learn to dance. Learn to use your own voice. Learn to be independent, it’s the best thing in the world. Learn to play. Learn to cry. Learn to live.

Go. Fly. Go while we can still catch you. Go while we can still fix your wings.

Get uncomfortable, it’s where the growth starts.

You’re scared. I understand. Who knows what will happen? Who knows what’s at the end of the journey? No one. There’s the beauty of the adventure. You will come out of it transformed. You will be different. Your outlook will be different. The world as you know it may look stranger, or more familiar. Maybe it will look bigger, or maybe smaller. But it will change and so will you.

And that’s scary. I know.

So, go. Fly. Don’t look down. Don’t look back. But if you do, I’ll be here. I’ll be watching.

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Letter to my nieces

As blessed as I am to live with boys, I am equally blessed to have nieces, five of them. Fierce, beautiful, bright young warriors forging their way to womanhood. And, having surmised that boys do not listen—or at least do so only sideways—I figured I would dedicate this post to the girls in my life.

Without intending to preach, here is what I wish I was told in my late teens and early twenties, and spent the next 20 years learning:

Love, but stay emotionally independent. Do not be scared to love. Love with all your heart, with all the fire in your core, unconditionally and unreservedly, but walk away when you need to and leave no strings behind you. Do not be subsumed. And yes, someone out there does deserve you.

Manage your money.  No one, and nothing, will give you the self-worth that making and managing your own money will give you. Start saving early, start investing now, and before you know it you will be on your way to financial freedom.

Do what you love…When you work at what you love, you live. When you don’t live what you love, you work. Cultivate your interests, develop them. Be curious, only this way can you tell what it is you really love to do and what makes you happy and fulfilled.

…And become really good at it. When you discover what you love, be the best at it. Become an authority on the subject. Let no one be better than you. And even if you feel you’ll never be the best, keep trying. After all, someone has to occupy the top spot, why not you?

Shut out the noise. Do not let people’s fears and insecurities derail you. Live your life, they can live theirs. We are all looking for a purpose, find yours, do not take someone else’s. And when you do find it, take it, hold it high and run out of town like a bear on fire was chasing you. And scream your lungs out on your way.

Be productive, not busy. Set goals.Measure the steps you need to get there. And when you’re done for the day, put your feet up. Why run on a hamster wheel when you can run on the road and actually get somewhere? Measure your productivity by your achievements, not by how many hours you are putting in a day.

Focus. It is the only sure-fire way to get anywhere. Focus on your goal, focus on the road. Don’t let insignificant events hinder or block you.

Practice a sport. Preferably outdoors. Practicing a sport gives you a sense of purpose and a goal to work towards when nothing else is working (and believe me there will be such a time). A sport is the faithful friend who will never leave you, stick with you through thick and thin and never ever tell you you look fat. It will move with you wherever you go and see you through the sad and the happy times. And the kicker? It forces you to breathe.

Never stop learning, never stop growing. When you stop growing, you start dying. The world is constantly changing and at exponential speed, be a part of it, engage in it, change and grow with it. Don’t be left on the sidelines. Do not die while you live.

Follow your gut. And when in doubt, say no. Don’t overthink it. If that niggling feeling in the pit of your stomach is telling you something, listen to it no matter what anybody else says.

If you think you hate your body now, wait 20 years. Appreciate your body, your face, your hair, your little toenail even. Now. You will never look this good again.

Be as kind to yourself as to an orphaned puppy. You deserve it. Nothing good can ever come out of chastising yourself, except feeling bad.

Why wait? This one is from my sister, your other aunt. The future is now. Don’t wait for when you have more money, more time, more energy. Chances are it won’t happen. Take what you can. Seize the day.

Admit your mistakes, say sorry, move on. We. All. Make. Mistakes. Leave the perfectionism behind and wallow in the mud. You’ll be a better person for it. And if the person does not accept your apology, leave them with their anger and move on. It’s them, it’s not you.

You are special. You are unique. But so is everyone else. Take yourself seriously. But not too much.

Do not be sad about losing or breaking anything that money can replace. Don’t get attached to things but cherish the memories behind them. You can fix the item or buy it again but you cannot recreate lost moments.

Everyone needs a helping hand, and everyone loves to help, just ask nicely. Whatever you do, do not walk solo. There is no glory in braving it alone. There are people out there who know more things than you, use them, learn from them. People love to help, so make them feel useful.

Be kind. Generosity is not about giving money. Give your time and attention, they are more precious than objects. Go out of your way sometimes if it tells someone you care about them, even at a minor discomfort to you.

All things can be taken away from you, except your dignity, and your word: don’t give them away for free. Stand by your word. Say what you mean and more importantly, mean what you say. Your word should be your strongest bond. Spoken words cannot be erased.

Be stubborn, but only where it matters. If it won’t make a difference in ten years, drop it. Fight the battles that are worth fighting and know when it is time to lay down your sword. Some things are just not worth it.

Raising kids is the loneliest, scariest thing you will ever do, which is why you should do it. A child will challenge you, make you doubt yourself, leave you traipsing dark, lonely corridors at night, make you question and second-guess yourself, over and over. But they will also bring out the best in you.

Do what scares you, get lost on purpose. True character shows in adversity and grows only when challenged. See how you behave when things are not going your way, when you are not in control, when you do not know where you are or where you are going. You will learn a lot about yourself.

Find your truth, and live it. Be authentic. Be true. Engage in what makes you happy regularly. We all want to please, we all want to belong but in the end, we are born and we die alone. Be your own best company. Stick to your values.

And music. Always music.

Of motherhood and self-awareness

Oh mother, know thyself.

I never liked children. They’re noisy, they move too much, their hands are either up their nose, or up their butt or in their mouth, they eat sloppily, their breath always reeks of chocolate, they touch themselves in public and they kick the back of your chair in an airplane. There really is very little to like. And I really am not sold on this innocence shit,  I believe that children are, essentially, at their very core, deviant creatures who are out to make you regret you ever thought, in your selfish egotism, to procreate, whether willfully or by accident.

And then I had my own. I know you’re probably thinking that is where I say that I changed my mind and started thinking that children are the best thing that could ever happen to anybody, but you’re wrong. As a non-drug user, I would say that orgasms are probably the best thing that could happen to anybody, up there with a good plate of pasta, or a great glass of wine, or a cigarette, or best yet, an evening that encompasses all of these things…the downside being that you may end up fat, with a hangover, and probably pregnant.

Now, children are not for the faint-hearted. You have to be physically and mentally strong enough to withstand not sleeping for days on end, not faint from the sight and smell of poop, and not get embarrassed by the endless puke on your clothes. And I am pretty certain that I am not the only woman who has walked confidently down the street, reveling in the appreciative stares of passers-by only to discover that their smiles were not directed at her dazzling beauty but rather, at the muslin cloth still hanging on her shoulder or the two circles of wetness on her boobs that mirror the shape of her round sunglasses, now conveniently used to hide her shame.

No, there is nothing to like.

Yet despite all the indignity, discomfort and embarrassment of motherhood, I loved my babies. All of them. I couldn’t resist holding them all the time, hugging them, kissing them, just generally coddling and being close to them. I fed them, bathed them, changed them and lulled them to sleep happily and without complaint but I didn’t think this was anything special. Mother cats feed their young and groom them, birds look for food for their kids and even teach them to fly! Elephants stay with their young, lions teach their cubs to hunt. I didn’t think myself too different from any cow or pig out there. In fact, as mothers, I think we would do well by learning from animals to let our children free once they are autonomous.

For most of their childhood, I set out to distance myself from the role of mother to my children. I set out to define myself as anything but. Yes, I had offspring, but so did my neighboring dog. I was first and foremost a writer, an editor, a blogger, I even described myself as an athlete in order not to be brandished as simply “a parent.” Any free time I had was spent reading, doing crosswords, exercising, all in the pursuit of eternal progress, endless advancement, fighting against the inevitable corporal and cerebral decline that escorted parenthood.

I ran a marathon, did a triathlon, wrote a book, started a blog, even got myself a very boisterous dog and became a failed quasi-dog trainer, all in the pursuit of new challenges. Children are what stood between me and greatness. Now all I had to do was wait for them to leave home and resume my path.

And then one summer they started leaving. One by one they started going out, traveling to summer camps and taking summer jobs. And I realized that instead of slowly resuming my life, I was on hiatus. Paused. Waiting for them to come back. I rarely wrote, exercised less and was generally unable to take a difficult argument from A to Z because I could not focus much. Even books lost their appeal. Candy Crush became my friend until my kids came back home.

The moment I had dreamt of, fantasized about, played over in my head time and again while changing, feeding, running after, nursing and lulling to sleep had come. And I had no idea what to do with it.

That is when I realized that in the long, arduous journey during which I was to become a writer, a reader, a thinker, an athlete, a dog trainer (I even tried Bridge), I had in fact, become a mother.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m having tea with the neighbor’s dog.

Open letter to my three boys

Notwithstanding that you are a miracle from heaven and that there is nothing in this world I care about more than your health and safety and happiness, notwithstanding that I would rather die than see any of you in misery, I feel it is nevertheless necessary that I share with you these few tips that should make for smoother relations in the years to come.

Tip #1

You will not ask the same question twice. Ever. Listen to the answer the first time.

Tip #2

“But why Mom?” is now officially banned lexicon.

Tip #3

You will not, ever, complain about the food on the table. You may choose to eat it or to leave it, but you will not complain about it. You will not play with it either.

Tip #4

You will finish your homework, it is a favor to yourselves, not to me.

Tip #5

“In a sec” will, from now on, be replaced by “yes sure.” Preferably “yes ma’am.”

Tip #6

I have a face and it can make expressions, so please address all talk to me and not to your screen. It doesn’t love you as much as I do.

Tip #7

Trips abroad are a luxury and not a given. So is eating out.

Tip #8

Yes you will have to work, save up, and buy your own car.

Tip #9

You will stop using my plugs, wires, pens and everything else that belongs to me. Should you need something urgently, you will ask me. More importantly, you will put it back.

Tip #10

You will learn to rely on yourselves and take care of your own affairs so you can become able, confident, young men.

For the night is dark and full of terrors.

Tip #11

I will tend to your issue as soon as I possibly can. I am ignoring you only because I am trying to focus on something else right now.

Tip #12

I am able to carry two conversations, talk and listen to two people at the same time, but I choose not to.

Tip #13

You will go after what you want, you will not wait for it to come to you.

Tip #14

The answer to “Why Mom?” is “Because.” The answer to “But why Mom?” is still “Because.” But anyway if you go back to tip no.2 you will see that “but why mom?” is banned anyway.

With love,

Mom.

P.S. No I will not be writing a similar letter to the dog because the dog cannot read!

On raising dogs…and boys

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like dogs and those who don’t. Some would claim that they are indifferent, or ambivalent, but that is not true. They just haven’t bothered to really sort through their feelings on the subject yet. I used to think that I was indifferent to dogs until I had my own—not too different from my boys actually–and then I realized that I liked them. I like them a lot.

Then there is a small splinter group: those who say they like dogs in general, just not my dog. My dog, apparently, is too boisterous, too big, too brown, too friendly, too intrusive, too jumpy and too talkative. They would rather, they claim, that my dog kept a safe distance from them, better yet, ignore them.

I had even had the occasional claim that I let my dog, a female chocolate Labrador, get away with things I would never let my kids get away with. That is true. Naturally, I would rather my boys not chew bones, eat dead rats, rub themselves against slugs or sniff other people’s butts in greeting.

My point is this: a person is a person and a dog is a dog. It would be better and easier for both species if hey were not equated. Yet if you were to read Karen Pryor’s excellent book Reaching the Animal Mind, you would understand that there are many similarities when it comes to communicating with animals and people.

And yet so many people still do not know how to communicate or interact with dogs. They either fear them, causing their heart rates to rise and the dog to run to them in aid, which further raises their heart rate, or they run away from them, prompting the dog into a much-loved game of tag. Or they keep looking at the dog and telling it to go away, engaging the dog in conversation—dogs, as you know, cannot talk. They bark.

One thing that people, in my environment at least, do not seem to understand is that you simply have to ignore the dog—not engage with it in any way. Keep going about your business and it will understand. Believe me.

Because when dogs are communicated to properly, they understand. They understand faster than people do. They certainly understand faster than my kids do! For over ten years now I have been trying to teach my boys to say please when they want something, to eat properly and to raise the toilet seat when they need to pee and lower it back down again of course. Ten years and they still have not learned these basic skills. My dog, on the other hand, who is only three, knew from the age of six months to sit for her food. She slurps her whole plate clean without making a mess and knows not to pee except in certain places!

But there is another secret to dogs. Dogs have no shame, no pride and no ego. That makes dealing with then a lot easier than dealing with people. And most of the time they are more fun.

The problem my dog seems to have is that she is too friendly. She believes that everyone she meets either wants to be her friend or they need rescuing because they are in distress. Her only fault, it seems, is that she is being herself. An ideal that, according, to Caroline McHugh, founder and CEO of IDology, a movement dedicated to helping individuals and organizations be fully deployed, original versions of themselves, we should all be striving for. You can watch Caroline’s excellent TED talk here.

My dog, it seems, is not as well trained as my kids. Therefore she has not yet learned to think, and judge, and be critical and cynical. She is still primitive, asking for, and giving in return, love, companionship and comfort. My dog lets me be (except when I’m on my home trainer, in which case she runs to help!), accepts me for who I am and I, indeed, plan on returning the favor.

Although I will concede that her habit of snatching scarves and jackets is very annoying. We are working on that.

Of boys and falling down

The mother of boys has to be very fit. She needs to be fast and have quick reflexes, with enough mental stamina and explosive power in her arms and legs to get to the uncovered plugs before her crawling dumpling does. Or to skid fast enough to cushion the fall of a miscalculated jump, catch a vase that has just been shot off the shelf, or to simply pick her little boy up every time he falls. Because boys fall a lot. Physically and mentally.

And so it was, that at the tender young age of 45, I took up triathlon training. I had always been relatively fit, I had already trained for and run a marathon, worked out in the gym, dabbled with yoga and pilates and spinning, but this was serious s**t, with a coach and a training program that covered most of the hours of the day, most days of the week. There was no room for excuses, exceptions, justifications or pretenses. Here’s the program, shut up and do it.

And so it was that with a runny nose and a blocked ear (from the previous day’s swimming workout) I picked myself up early from bed and went running. Naturally, I was feeling very sorry for myself, I wanted to be in bed with my books and my box of soft tissues, not out here battling it on the streets of Beirut. I cursed myself, I cursed my coach, I cursed my boys and was thinking how perhaps this Christmas, as a way of getting back at them, I should teach them about the art of giving instead of receiving by donating some of their gif…

Then I fell.

Or more like thudded. Thumped. Clunked.

Crashed. Smacked. Clomped.

It wasn’t very elegant.

But whatever I did, I seem to have tripped over a piece of badly paved road and I found myself kissing the ground with a bloody nose, scraped knees and hands, a lot of pain and naturally, a bruised ego.

I think it was providence’s way for punishing me for feeling sorry for myself. But it went the extra step because I was still a mile away from home. With no money and no phone.

And that’s when the mental stamina needs to kick in.

I must have looked bad after my trudge home because it took my youngest only 20 seconds to realize something was wrong with me.

“I fell,” I whimpered.

He gave ma a quick reassurance hug before running around in a few circles and shooting off to grab cotton, disinfectant, ice and a towel, all neatly displayed on a tray. My middle one had by then got wind that I was hurt and, very un-teenage-like, also started fussing and looking for any sleeves we had for sprained knees, ankles and wrists. They fussed and swarmed around me with such tenderness and love and affection that I started making my Christmas list again.

After my shower and unending enquiries as to how I was feeling from all the boys in my household, I started tidying up the mess they had made while looking after me and thanking providence for allowing me to salute the street so intimately and being at the receiving end of so much tenderheartedness, compassion and care.

Tomorrow I may just fall off my bicycle.

Of hearing and listening

I always knew that there was, in theory, a difference between “hearing” and “listening” but it was only after I started living with boys that I understood that difference. To be precise, it was after I took my eldest son, who was three at the time, to the otolaryngologist worried about his lack of response to my requests, that the doctor assured me that he could hear just fine, maybe he just wasn’t listening. The doctor, a boy himself, had a big grin on his face.

And in that moment my thoughts spiralled back ten years to when my husband used me as a human alarm clock, which he would snooze every five minutes until the day he snoozed me once too often and I had to leave and he had to be late for work. (From that day on he moved to a much more compliant electrical alarm clock that wasn’t as nasty as his wife was.)

The thing is, I never really understood. I knew that he could hear me, so why wasn’t he acting upon it? Fast-forward sixteen years and my boys have the same affliction. I, on the other hand, am expected to have eight ears and four brains to process what they are saying to me, all at the same time.

But the epitomising, ah-ha moment, had to be when, getting very cross with my son (the same one with the non-non-hearing problem) that he wasn’t going to the shower, I was interrupted with “Okay okay! Why are you shouting? You only told me three times!”

So I decided to do some research.

“Do boys hear less than girls?” I asked Dr.Google and I stumbled upon this brilliant study by William McBride, Ph.D. about brain-based gender differences. If you cannot be bothered to read the study, which you can link to here, I will summarise a few points for you.

It turns out that in girls

“Stronger neural connectors create better listening skills, more detailed memory storage, and better discrimination among the tones of voice.”

It also turn out that

“The more words a teacher uses, the greater chance a boy will quit listening.”

Personally I don’t agree with that one, I think he wasn’t planning on listening in the first place.  

“For many tasks, brain imaging studies show that women use the most advanced areas of the brain…whereas men doing the same task use the more primitive areas.” 

Advanced, primitive, his words, not mine.

Boys have less blood flow to the brain.”

 You only need a rudimentary knowledge of science to understand the implications of that one.

“The male brain is designed to go into rest states in which it renews, recharges, and reorients itself. Girls do this without going to sleep.” 

No comment. 

And for enhancing teaching and parenting for boys, Dr. McBride recommends:

“Keep verbal instructions short. Don’t layer instructions. Write layered instructions as numbered steps on the board or worksheet.”

In other words, keep it simple and speak very slowly.

“Surround boys with reading material they will enjoy, such as real life nonfiction, adventure, sports, or how-to books.”

Or porn.

“Boys in groups do stupid things. Begin any new physical activity with lessons from a trained teacher.”  

In groups?