My thing to do when I am cleaning is to sing. I sing very loudly and probably very warbly, but I love to sing. I like to pretend I am an opera singer, or just a regular singer. I like to sing low down to the floor and high high high as a kite. Deep as a ravine, roaring in an echoey bathroom.
When I was a teenager my cousins recorded me singing loudly while I cleaned the bathroom, when I caught them they fell over themselves giggling as they tried to run away from my furiously brandished sponge. Was I embarrassed, then? Oh, terribly so. They mocked me for weeks afterwards, but then I realised I enjoy singing for the fun and the good mood more than I am embarrassed!
My mum sings when she is happy. When I was a child, hearing her sing made me feel relieved, it meant she was in a good mood.
Singing while she washed dishes, singing while she changed nappies, singing as she blew raspberries into my baby brother’s chubby little tummy. She used to sing ‘Video killed the radio kill’ which I later learned was ‘Video killed the radio star‘, and ‘Kookobara lived in the old plain tree‘ which was actually ‘Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree‘.
So that is something my sister and I inherited from our mother.
I think my kids may have inherited it too. They both sing with great gusto, in public and at home, feeding off each other, instigating each other, louder and louder, opera style, until people turn to look at them and I try to shush them because they might ‘disturb other shoppers’ even though I myself do not mind their singing.
It’s a zeal, I think, for life, when you can sing. Loudly and freely.
I look at a mountain and I ask, ‘Am I a people pleaser?’
Only the mountain is not in real life but in my memory. I would never look at a mountain in real life and have such a thought. Can you even control your thoughts? I saw some real life mountains this week and my heart was sucked out of my chest. I could breathe fine, but something strange clouded my mind.
Reading Jane Eyre reminds me of warm sweet tea and hot buttery toast. It reminds me of a square pattern pink carpet, faded by the blistering heat of the desert. It reminds me of hot days, curtains billowing in dusty wind, burning air on my cheeks as a rattly van full of sweaty children speeds along shiny wide roads. Breaking necks, lives hanging on edge.
I saw some mountains this week, and waterfalls cascading down them. Not as impressive as Niagara Falls – small trickles falling over rocks and mossy branches into lakes. Fresh air, cold noses, babies with red cheeks.
I took my babies to the Lake District – well actually my husband took us. He booked everything when I was away with the kids staying with my mother, and when I saw him again he said he’d missed us and he wanted to take us somewhere. My son loved his first ever holiday. He kept telling me he was having so much fun. He slept so well, as did his baby sister. Better than they do at home.
Am I a people pleaser? I ask the mountain in my memory.
What a beautiful mountain it was. Snow-capped, green and brown, sitting in the biting storms for centuries. People coming and going. Fashions changing – what does it care for fashion? – ages and wars and the slow, sweeping turn of the millennial tide.
And it sits there, holding the earth together.
I asked my aunt if I could come visit her and her ‘text tone’ scared me so I called her sister – my mother – and said I was nervous about her answer and my mother rolled her eyes at me.
Well, I didn’t see her do it but I know she did.
‘Why are you nervous?’
‘She sounds so cross, I don’t know what will please her, I asked her if she could do Friday as Saturday would be too hard for me and she strongly hinted that although she was free both days, she’d rather I come on Saturday.’
‘Ok then stay with her Friday night!’
‘I can’t ask her that!!!’
‘Why not!? She is your aunt!’
‘I know but…’
‘If L (my daughter) called you about staying with E (my sister), what would you say?’
‘I’d say you’re crazy, E loves you to pieces, of course she would want you to stay with her!’
‘Your aunt has such a soft spot for you’
‘But she sounded so angry!’
‘Yes CALL her then, nobody sounds how they mean to via text’
Sometimes I read back on old posts to laugh a bit about how young I was. How NAIVE. This post about Nicholas Sparks’ ‘The Notebook’ had me cackling. Did I genuinely believe an old man would not remember his sexual encounters with the love of his life, during their young love? I didn’t know what love was, back then.
Anyway. I don’t celebrate Christmas. For many many many reasons, of which they are numerous.
I don’t get hats either. I just get gloomy family gatherings and depression. But that may be because I am suffering from late-onset PPD. It’s either that or SAD… where we all get a little mad and sad and bad this time of year.
I am too afraid to go to the shopping centres to see all the decorations because of the dreaded Omicron. I also don’t relish lugging two kids around all day, and dealing with their layers of clothes and irritation and all the other things that come along with two babies.
I allowed my sister in law to take my son to the museum today. You hear that? ALLOWED? Because previously I was so scared of letting him go anywhere without me, in case something should happen while I wasn’t around. He was fine. He loved it. He had a hot chocolate from his aunty and he didn’t want to know me.
‘Go away mama, I am Aunty’s boy, not Mama’s boy’. See some may feel insecure when they hear that but I know he is Mama’s boy. He knows it too. He is just having the time of his life and being with his Mama is not as fun as getting FULL SUGAR hot chocolate with his Aunty!
I am happy he was happy. It brought me joy to hear his laughter. And to see how well he enjoys the company of his extended family. I missed him but I need to learn to relax and let go.
I watched a Youtube video on 15 minute dinners. Ways to cook dinner quick. Mad rush in the evenings to fit an entire life in. A life put on hold because of working during the daylight hours. Quick, quick, make dinner. Eat it. Hurry. So you can put the kids to bed. Or relax. Or do anything but cook and eat.
Some folks like to take their sweet time whilst cooking. Slowly chop and onion. Feel the satisfaction of a sharp knife sliding through the crisp layers. The gentle sizzle of cut onions in a pan. The creaminess of sauce coating spaghetti.
Why is it always a mad rush?
Where is intentionality in living?
Why does life feels like a horrible race?
Even when not racing?
I bought a really lovely book called ‘Slow Down’. It’s full of little stories. The story of a snail making silvery trails across the garden. The story of a bee collecting nectar from dahlias, and pollinating an entire garden as it buzzes about drinking from it’s straw-like tongue.
Gorgeous little illustrations.
My son and I pored over the book today.
He is ‘scared of the big snail’.
You see, we were collecting snails in the garden yesterday. Well, no. I was weeding a border and I kept pulling snails out with the weeds so I lined them up for my toddler to collect. The snails were small and green, and fit nicely in the palm of his hand. I pulled out a larger brown snail, and he gazed at it in wonder. I watched his eyes flit from his line of little green snails, to the big brown one. Light up. Make to go put it at the front of his little snail army… but just then the snail decided to peek out and see what was going on. Two tentacles for eyes grew out of the shell and my son threw the snail in horror.
‘Don’t like that one, mama. Put it away.’
‘Okay lil chap. I’ll put it away’
So I tucked it away in the weeds again.
That night he kept waking up and saying he was scared of the big snail.
And the next morning as I was leafing through my ‘Slow Down’ book, he noticed the page on the snail and he was fascinated by it. We looked over every inch of that page. Every illustration. The snails looked exactly like the big scary snail we found in the garden, so we talked about that too. We talked about how it leaves a trail, and how it comes out when it rains and hides away when it’s sunny.
We ‘slowed down’.
And I just thought that was meaningful in some way, but don’t quite know how yet. I feel like I want to slow down more often.
Slow down in the kitchen.
Wash the dishes and enjoy it, maybe. Allow little hands to help me hang out laundry. Make a fifteen minute dinner, but observe my pasta. Relish in the gentle simmer of a tomato sauce. Ladle some soup into a bowl. Nice and clean ceramic, smooth hot liquid. Brush hair softly. Feel the locks in my fingers.
Why rush the kids to bed.
Go upstairs slowly. Listen to my boy telling me stories. Even ones where he says he wants to squish all the woodlice. Listen. Breathe.
Yesterday was our seven year anniversary and we both forgot.
I don’t know what we were doing. It was a Monday so D was working. In his office. Slash second bedroom. Slash nursery.
I was downstairs with baby. Who is not a baby anymore. He was sliding his teddies down his little slide in the living room and I was sitting on the sofa trying to get work done. And getting interrupted, so really nothing was done. It’s ok, I told myself, as I got up for the millionth time to do something or other, I will work once he is in bed.
Then it was lunchtime. For baby. I gave him leftover pasta from the night before. And then hustled him upstairs for his nap. As he fell asleep, I did too. The exhaustion of being 8 months pregnant, working, caring for a toddler and doing the million other things people have to do just took over.
I woke up at 3pm, and baby was still sleeping, so I stumbled groggily and in a bad MOOD to the office slash nursery slash second bedroom where D was still working. I grumbled about not doing any work, dragging my laptop towards me. We started talking about things one talks about when they are parents and trying to make a life together.
And then five minutes later a small voice called from the other room, ‘Mamaaaa! Mamaaa!’
We laughed, because it’s the first time he has done that. I got up and went to him. He was sitting up on the bed, smiling at me.
D closed the office slash nursery slash second bedroom door, as he had a meeting.
I sat on the floor, feeling heavy and deflated. Baby ran around the bedroom making a mess and being joyful. He grabbed all his books from the windowsill and made a little hill out of them which he attempted to climb. Then he picked one out and spread it open on his little legs and began to read in gibberish. Some real words made their way in there too.
‘Ann done!’ he clapped for himself, slamming the book shut. All done.
My friend called. I debated whether to answer. I had to work, I had to cook dinner, I had to sort out the baby clothes, I had to clean the room.
I answered. We hadn’t talked in weeks, so it was a good catch up.
Then it was 6pm. The room was messy. I’d been playing with the little one. D finished his meeting and took over. I was still on the floor, feeling achey and tired.
I pulled myself together, got up. Went downstairs. Made cauliflower cheese and mashed potatoes, with a side of fish fingers. D and our little came down, tidied up downstairs. We had dinner. We cleaned up. Baby boy ran around. D played tag with him. Then he began running up and down the stairs, in the slow and stumbling way little toddlers do. Lots of chuckling ensued.
Then it was bedtime. Wash, brush, PJs, books. Left him with his dad, closed the door. Sat down to work. Baby boy crying for 15 minutes straight before I went in there. He was sitting on his dad’s chest, looking at me with tears in his eyes.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.
‘He wants you,’ D said, looking drained.
Ok. It wasn’t my turn to put him to bed so I felt stressed out and irritable. NO WORK was done. That means an all nighter which, in my state, I am not equipped for.
‘Ok.’ I said. ‘Let’s switch.’
‘Are you sure?’ D asked.
‘We can’t have him sobbing himself into a state. He won’t sleep. Then we’re really screwed.’
I put him to bed. It took two hours. At 10pm I stumbled out again, and sat at my laptop. I tried to work until 2:45am. Not much got done. I felt groggy and achey.
At 3am I fell into bed. D was sleeping soundly.
At 7am the alarm went off. D got up in a rush to start a meeting.
At 8am he popped his head downstairs where I sat, trying to work while the little ate porridge around me.
‘Hey’, he said, ‘We were married seven years ago yesterday.’
‘Is that so.’ I said, absently.
‘Yeah. Have to run.’
Up he goes to another meeting. Tap tap tap I go on my laptop.
Crash, goes something in the kitchen. The little one is pulling saucepans out the cupboard.
When I was little and my grandmother used to visit, she would get her mixing bowl out, a bag of atta (which is chappatti flour), and begin mixing the sticky dough she would need to make parathas.
She wore gold bracelets on her hands, and a couple of valuable and sentimental rings on her arthritic fingers, not marriage rings because she was divorced. As she rolled out balls of dough ready to make into patties, her bracelets would jingle. It’s a sound I can still hear today when I make my own parathas. I would stand next to her and watch her, my head just reaching above the kitchen counter, and she would tell me of her childhood in Pakistan, where her father worked as a lawyer and they lived in a large house with sprawling grounds and mango trees. She was born in India in an area of Punjab called Jalandhar, but escaped during the night in a tarpaulin-covered cart to what was now Pakistan, to a city called Multan. This was during the extremely disruptive time post-colonialism which is now known as the Partition.
She said the maids used to make the parathas and she would watch them, just like I am now, and when she asked them if she could help, they said to wait until it was the last one and then she could do it.
‘So now you must watch me carefully and wait till it’s the last one, and I’ll let you make it’
She took a blob of dough, and began to roll it into a ball, bringing the outsides into the middle in an expert way, until it was a fine smooth ball. This is an important step, she told me. She then began flattening the ball out into a patty with her fingers, from the inside out. Her bracelets jangled comfortingly as she took her rolling pin and dusted it with atta, and rolled it out on the counter. Nice and thin and round. And then a small piece of butter on her fingers, spreading it around the flat roti so it melted into the dough. Then she slapped the roti from her right hand to her left to flatten it further before placing it neatly into her cast-iron flat pan that already had a drizzle of oil heating on it.
The parathas are large, round flat shallow-fried breads. They are not dry like roties or heavy like puris. Sometimes they are stuffed with spiced potato and onion, or minced meat made with spices and coriander, or any other vegetable like cauliflower. They can also just be eaten plain. My favourite kind of paratha was the plain shallow fried kind with lots of butter, and a side of scrambled eggs made with milk and whipped so they’re as pale as can be, sprinkled liberally with ground black pepper.
Coming from such a mixed heritage as I have, you often feel as though you don’t belong. I experienced this very real aspect of Pakistani culture at the hands of my grandmother, but equally, when my paternal grandmother used to visit, I would be immersed in a rich Moroccan culture. The pronunciation is very different. The food is a great contrast. But both have an incredibly strong affinity for patriotism and pride in their heritage.
My maternal grandmother did her masters in Pakistan before coming to the UK in the ’50s, to continue her studies. She met and married my grandfather, who was an abusive man, and she divorced him after five miscarriages and three children, the oldest of whom was my mother, who was 13 at the time. My mother remained estranged from her father until my grandmother died in 2011, upon which she located him in a town not far from where we lived at the time. in 1993 my mother met my father, a Moroccan student who was in London at the time studying for a masters degree, and married him. Nine months later I was born in a small London flat above Streatham High Road.
I grew up hearing, “You’re a beautiful curly haired Moroccan girl”
I grew up hearing, “You’re a true Pakistani. Be proud of your Pakistani heritage”
I grew up hearing, “You’re a very British person, you don’t fit in with us.”
I grew up hearing, “You’re intrinsically Arab, aren’t you.”
I grew up hearing, “You speak English very well for a Pakistani.”
I grew up hearing, “Your Arabic is excellent for a British girl.”
I grew up hearing, “You’re too white to be a Pakistani.”
I grew up hearing, “Your Arabic is not Moroccan enough.”
Last week I made parathas with my son. Just the way my grandmother taught me. I know how to make them just like any Pakistani would. I have been making them for years and years. My friend, who is originally Pakistani, popped by and saw them, and she marvelled at them.
“Wow,” she said, “Well done! I can’t believe you made our food!”, and her attitude was full of surprise. The ‘our’ in her words did not include me. It was more like, wow a foreigner can make my cultural food, I am impressed.
It’s so petty I know but I felt so irritated.
It annoyed me when Mona said well done about my parathas. It felt patronising. Like I had no business knowing how to make them well, and that by making them I had achieved something extraordinary.
I don’t think she meant to be patronising, but I took it that way. Instead of saying ‘well done’ she could have said ‘that looks good’. But she doesnt think that. In her head I am an amateur and I just achieved something great. Nevermind my Nani spent hours with me teaching me how to roll the paratha balls just so, how to get nice round rotis, how to fry, how many I helped make with her over the years. No. This experience is saved only for ‘experts’. Part-Pakistanis like me have no business knowing how to make something so desi as parathas.
It’s the same when I made something Moroccan, my own Moroccan cousins explaining foods to me that I grew up eating. Explaining cultural habits to me that I grew up with and which are intrinsically part of my lifestyle.
It’s the same when I am in England, and my family explain British things to me as though I never grew up knowing them. Or act surprised when I understand references and customs.
It’s nobody’s fault.
It’s just part and parcel of having a mixed heritage. You don’t belong anywhere and nobody accepts you as part of them, not truly. They say it but their actions say something entirely different.
I shouldn’t be annoyed about it, but sometimes I am. People often don’t like to listen to you or who you are, they believe their prejudices and what they ‘see’ over what a person tells them. I can scream about my Nani and parathas till I am hoarse but all Mona will hear is, ‘this foreigner learnt how to make parathas like us Pakistanis and wow let me show off more of my culture to her so she can learn.’
The background music to my shower is that of a crying baby, and yet when I turn the faucet off, and stand dripping in the sudden ensuing silence, I hear no baby crying.
I tiptoe out and drip on the carpet, peering into the bedroom.. baby sound asleep on my bed, ne’er a stir.
Back to the shower it is. Rubbing shampoo through my sparse postpartum hair, trying my utmost to ignore the anguished imaginary cries of my baby.
I towel myself dry and watch that peaceful little face, large soft peachy cheeks, eyelashes gentle on the roundness below, small deep breaths under the covers, a contented little sigh.
My eyeballs are burning. I am beyond needing a nap. My body screams for a good weightlifting session at the gym. I flutter about the house on my toes, doing only chores that are silent. Brooming, mopping, dusting. No hoover. No dishes. Never boil a kettle. And set the washing machine to start when nap time is over.
If I am too tired to do that, I sit on the sofa and eat ice cream. Noodles. Doritos. And I watch reruns of Gilmore Girls. Not focusing on the story, really, just mindlessly staring into an abyss.
Daily things are done as and when I can manage them. I want to kiss my boy inside and out, but don’t know how to. I live for the little gurgling laughs and the huge shy smile and that soft little double chin. I knew I would love him but never realised how much it would hurt and what sort of worry it would cause.
I miss my mother. My mother in law doesn’t like it when I visit her. She gives me the silent treatment and yet acts normal when my husband is around. She complains to my husband that I am disrespectful and always act like I am itching to leave. She doesn’t let me leave. And when I try to she asks ‘why’. Even though I spent the entire weekend at her house, and only a few snatched hours with my mother. I am not allowed to stay the night with my mother else she gets very upset and her husband shouts at my husband and calls him names and stresses him out until he fights me to the death so I give in and stay in their horrid, horrid depressing house. My father in law wouldn’t have cared if his wife hadn’t pushed him to. He told my husband that she comes first before anything and he must never upset her.
I am shocked. I didn’t think she had it in her.
What about me and my sanity and my mental wellbeing?
I miss my mother so sorely and yet when I am with her I am stressed because I know I will be ‘in trouble’ when I go back to my husband.
This time is meant to be special, and I am making it so, I really am. I am treasuring my child so very much. I just wish family was easy also. I feel trapped, because I don’t actually have a choice. I feel anxious all the time and on the verge of tears.
My husband makes it very hard for me to see my family as he prioritises his mother, and causes trouble when she causes trouble. So I have to pick my battles, and that means much less time with my parents.
I miss them so much.
Having a baby makes you need and value your mother in a way you never did before.
When I am a mother in law, I honestly will ensure that I am not so selfish and insensitive to my daughter in law. People need their mothers, while they have them.
Well I flopped hard at writing a post every day in May. We went to stay with family for a week and a half and I just got so depressed there to be honest. There is a particular member of my in laws who is excessively controlling and I just felt so anxious and upset in her presence the entire time. I had a stomach ache every day and every single thing I did was wrong.
When I visited my own mother I was told off when I got back to my in laws’. I am appalled and disgusted and am feeling hatred and disappointment and entrapment and at this point I don’t care who knows.
Which is a shame really because family is supposed to be fun and supportive.
Makes me hate visiting that side of the family to be honest.
So I gave up writing every day in May and there. That is all to say to be honest. I think said person is affecting my mental health now. Some mothers are just obsessive about their sons and some sons listen to their mothers and put their wives through hell and expect their wives to be ok with it because one must never upset a mother.
Well I am a mother now too and this is MY son and not hers and I am sick of being a doormat.
I am challenging myself to write a post every single day in May, to kickstart my writing again. I will be following some prompt words that I ‘stole’ from somebody on instagram. Here is my ninth post.
When my brother and I were very small, our parents moved us away from rainy England to Dubai, where it barely ever rained and the sun shone down upon the barren desert with a beaming ferocity that unrivalled anything we had ever known.
You see, if I were to describe England to you using only the colour spectrum, I would say it was ramaadi (grey) and a thousand shades of green, with a few splotches of brick red thrown in for good measure. Clouds here are stunning, and seemingly perpetual. When it rains it does not rain as it does in Malaysia (there it POURS). It is a slow sort of rain, seemingly innocent and gentle, but viciously incessant, soaking you through in a matter of minutes all while apologising meekly and drizzling away.
The green is of all hues. Dark sultry evergreens, pale shoots, regular green of birches, the humdrum green of privet, cheery green of oak, green hills rolling away into the distance and grass that just grows and grows and grows. Green ivy creeping over beautiful homes and driveways fringed with neatly clipped grass. An abundance of green and all looking like it came out of a picture book – which I suppose it did, for Beatrix Potter did base her paintings on the Lake District!
When you fly above England it’s all neat little squares of varying shades of green. It’s similar in France I suppose but there is a foreign vibe to it there and lots of browns creep in.
When you fly above the United Arab Emirates the land is brown, a hundred shades of it, and you can see the winding marks on the earth where rivers and mountain ranges signify a land that barely changes. It’s always changing in England, for we have seasons. In Dubai there is summer and winter and a week or two of rain and that’s it.
So whenever we came back home to England for the summer holidays, my brother and I relished the rain and the greenery like a pair of mad children. We ate buttercups and yanked all the dandelion seeds off their stems, blowing until we were blue in the face. I naughtily picked the neighbour’s flowers because they were pretty and sobbed inconsolably when my mother gave me a good telling off about it.
My mum bought us two children’s umbrellas one summer, darling little things, coloured like a rainbow, and we would rush into the garden when it rained and stand out there like a pair of wallies under our umbrellas. The neighbours thought we were bonkers and their dog barked at us.
Those odd children standing out in the wet under umbrellas!
It was such a novelty, you see. The pattering of soft rain on the umbrellas, splish splash of water by our wellies, tap tap of heavy drops on wide tree leaves.