Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I'll Have My Wine and Drink it Too

My husband is in a Ph.D program working toward a degree in biomedical neuroscience. This means he's under a lot of pressure to spend endless hours in a lab conducting experiments and publish in medical journals. I teach three days a week at a respectable university in Philadelphia. I can't take on a full-time gig, because the few hours I teach, my husband stays home with our baby. So, when I finish teaching for the day, I hurry home so my husband can go to work.  While my husband is at work, along with taking care of our baby, I lesson plan, grade papers, respond to student e-mails, clean the house, cook dinner, and prepare for the next day.  I do it lovingly. I enjoy having the ability to teach and be home to take care of our baby.

At the end of the day, when my husband comes home, the three of us sit around the dining room table, and eat the dinner I had prepared for that evening. It's a time for us to wind down and talk to one another about our day. Sometimes, we enjoy a glass of wine with our dinner. Sometimes, after we put our baby to sleep, we watch our favorite shows with a glass of wine. Our friends enjoy good food and wine, too. So, on certain Fridays and weekends, we have dinner parties where we open a bottle of our favorite red or white wine and have long and relaxing dinners. We make each other laugh and talk about our lives. It's our only luxury since staying out late with a baby is out of the question.

As I'm writing this, I can almost hear certain people passing judgement on our decision to drink at home or around our child. After all, what kind of a mother or father would drink around their children? Aren't we supposed to set a better example for them? I mean, why would any parent glorify alcohol consumption? Do we want your child to become an alcoholic one day? Why can't we wind down with tea? Usually, these comments and judgements come from people who aren't yet parents. Better yet, they're the people who've never learned to drink responsibly or met anyone who drinks responsibly. Even worse, they're the people who think that any amount of alcohol consumed leads to alcoholism. You see, my husband and I don't need to drink wine. We choose to enjoy a glass of wine or a pint of beer during the week or on the weekends. We never drink ourselves to stupor where we can't take care of our baby and wake up with an urge to have another drink to ease the hangover. We don't put ourselves or our baby in danger by having even just one drink and getting behind the wheel to drive ourselves home. Alcohol is not a lifeline for us. We don't use excuses like, oh, parenting is hard, drink, I'm so stressed, drink, baby doesn't want to eat, drink, baby is teething, drink. From the very beginning, we were prepared to face the challenges parenting would present us, and we have always known that the solution to life's challenging times isn't found at the bottom of a bottle.

Also, lets not forget that some of these people who pass these judgements are those who entertain the notion of treating parenting as if it's a religion. There is a constant one-upping contest between parents, especially mothers. It seems that many people are self proclaimed experts in parenting and they will always find the need to give you unsolicited advice about what's right and what's wrong. It is impossible to avoid coming across viral blog posts and videos shared by supermoms who do it all! Of course, that level of perfection doesn't exist in any parent's universe. Sure, many mothers might feel inspired and empowered by the social media moms who do it all, while the rest feel inadequate for not living up to such perfection. I get it, really. No one wants to feel like a bad parent. Because of this, many people have a hard time admitting that they despise the less than glamorous moments of parenting. New parents are often made to think that it's not okay to long for a part of their life they thoroughly enjoyed before becoming parents.  In the parenthood religion, expressing a single negative sentiment toward being a parent will make other parents ostracize you. After all, children should always be the most important part of our lives. They're a priority. They need constant praising and a pat on the back. They're always winners even if they don't always succeed. They must be awarded for every little thing they do. They're little gods and we must worship them!

Naturally, some parents will crumble under these pressures our society places on them.  While they frantically search for that lifeline, they will employ problematic habits to block out the expectations they think they have to fulfill. There are many parents who've written about their worsening drinking habits after becoming parents. There are parents who've written about alcohol being their lifeline in helping them feel present as a parent while not being wholly there. They talk about their dysfunctional pasts prior to becoming parents and how parenthood pushed them to drink more to numb their pain. While I feel terrible about the unfortunate stories of these parents, I also feel lucky. I feel lucky that I don't need to ease life's challenges with the help of alcohol. Perhaps, it's because I'm able to admit that it's okay to not enjoy every single step of raising a child, while still loving being a mother to our baby. Perhaps it's because I don't compare myself to other mothers, and care about what they think or say about my style of parenting. Perhaps it's because I don't strive toward perfection. Perhaps it's because I know that I don't always need to have all the right answers.

Our goal as parents is to display a responsible consumption of alcohol to our child and not hide it from him like it's something that we're guilty of doing. We want him to know that when he's old enough and away from home, it's okay to consume alcohol in moderate amounts. We don't want him to think that alcohol is something one must drink in secrecy or in excessive amounts. I firmly believe, as a society, our attitude must to change about alcohol consumption in order for our children to act responsibly around alcohol when they're no longer living under our supervision. While I was in college, my French roommate couldn't fathom why everyone in the dorms drank themselves to a point of blacking out or getting hospitalized from alcohol poisoning. After all, she was from a culture where people found a way to pair up a glass of wine with their meals to bring out the flavors of the foods they eat. For her, it was something they did in the background while they enjoyed the company of their friends and family. I find it that in this country we are made to think alcohol consumption is bad, especially if you're a parent. Sure, alcohol is bad in excessive amounts but it's nothing to be ashamed of consuming as a parent if you consume it responsibly and in moderate amounts. 

For me,  it's about asking myself the right questions like, do you know your limits?, are you aware of the consequences of the decisions you make?, will your decisions harm you or anyone close to you?, will you regret anything you do and say tomorrow? I think these are the right questions to ask yourself in any given situation and not just while consuming alcohol. Of course, we will teach our son to ask himself the same questions when he's old enough to evaluate the situations in his life. Passing judgement and making passive aggressive comments aren't helpful. They're hurtful. It's okay if it's against your principles to enjoy a drink in front of your children just as it is okay for you to drink moderately in front of your children. Parenting is hard enough and it is incredibly draining to deal with outside opinions that aren't always aligned with your ways. Everyone can make their own choices, and we must respect that. So, whatever it is you choose to do, as long as you do it responsibly without causing harm to yourself and those around you, I support you.


[Pictures: From this past summer. My husband and I in Turkey enjoying local wines and dinner with family & friends]

If you are concerned with a drinking problem, wish to learn more about Alcoholics Anonymous or want to find A.A. near you, click here.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Growing Up Bilingual

After I gave birth, Jeremy and I decided that he'd speak to our son in English and I'd communicate with him in Turkish. It wasn't a formal agreement, really. It's not like we sat down around the dining room table and said, we should do this. We didn't conduct an extensive research about being bilingual. We didn't set strict rules. It sort of happened. It just made sense that if our child was going to be exposed to two different cultures, he would learn to speak in two different languages.

As someone who has learned to speak English after the age of eleven, I know the challenges of acquiring a new language. It's mentally, emotionally, and at times, physically exhausting and stressful. Many of my parents' friends, who didn't want their children to go through the stress of switching back and forth between Turkish and English, avoided speaking to their children in Turkish. In their minds, their children were yet to master the English language and there wasn't a point in speaking to them in Turkish, a language that their children had already figured out. My parents on the other hand set their rule straight: we had to speak to one another in Turkish at home and outside of our home. At the time, my parents were criticized by their friends for setting this rule. Oh, they're children. They won't forget to speak Turkish. Speak to them in English, so they'll learn. That way, you guys can learn to speak English through your children, they'd tell my parents. Of course, years later, my brother and I speak and write fluently in Turkish and English, and the children of those parents cannot form basic sentences in Turkish.

To this day, my immediate family and I still talk to one another in Turkish. It makes us, or at least me, feel closer to them. To be honest, there is something wonderful about speaking two languages. It makes me feel unique. Being bilingual makes me feel confident, outgoing, and show initiative in many social situations. It helps me analyze language in a way so that I dissect every word and meaning which, in turn, enables me to connect and communicate in a deeper level with those around me. There are many other advantages to being bilingual or multilingual. Many studies show that, 'a multilingual brain is nimbler, quicker, better able to deal with ambiguities, resolve conflicts and even resist Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia longer.' 'Bilingual people learn concepts and ideas faster, and they often perform better on tasks that require attention and conflict management, as well as with better memory, visual-spatial skills, and even creativity.' In addition, 'Bilingualism appears to provide a means of fending off a natural decline of cognitive function and maintaining what is called “cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve refers to the efficient utilization of brain networks to enhance brain function during aging. Bilingual experience may contribute to this reserve by keeping the cognitive mechanisms sharp and helping to recruit alternate brain networks to compensate for those that become damaged during aging. Older bilingual people enjoy improved memory and executive control relative to older monolingual people, which can lead to real-world health benefits.'

When other parents witness me speaking to my son in Turkish, they ask questions, because there are many myths about raising a bilingual child that concerns parents. Some of the questions I get are: Wouldn't growing up with more than one language confuse him? Is it true their speech will be delayed? What if he mixes up the two languages? What if he doesn't speak English well? Do you think it's too late for me to raise my child bilingual? Of course, these are the most prevalent questions regarding raising a bilingual child, and I had the same questions before I became a mother. After all, I began to acquire the English language at eleven years old which is a much different style of learning than being raised in a household where the parents speak different languages. When I'm faced with these questions, I try to tell them that there are many myths about raising a bilingual children based on poor studies that lack strong support and evidence.

Research proves that from days after birth, babies can distinguish the differences between languages. By the time babies are 6 months old, they're much more aware of the separate languages spoken around them. Children with or without speech delays are known to learn languages at the same rate. So, being in a multilingual environment does not cause speech delays. Naturally, a child who is learning two languages at the same time will temporarily resort to mixing the two languages together. They will form sentences in which they use words from both languages. This is called code switching. I do this often when I speak with my brother, because he speaks Turkish and English just like me and I know he will understand what I'm trying to say. I don't do this with my friends, because I don't expect them to make sense of the Turkish words I insert into English sentences. I also don't do this with my baby. I try to form clear Turkish sentences to communicate with him. Babies mimic what they see and hear. If the parents don't mix up two languages, their child will learn to be consistent in not mixing up languages. Also, it's never too late to raise your child bilingual. The challenge is that raising a bilingual child takes a lot of conscious and consistent effort, especially if you're trying to teach your child a language that isn't your native language. It requires patience. It requires talking to your child as much as you can, reading to them, and find other ways of exposing them to learning a second language in fun and interesting ways.

I hope one day, TS can appreciate how lucky he is to have been exposed to two languages from the day he was born. I'm certainly appreciative of my parents' efforts in not allowing us let our ability to speak Turkish slip away. I feel happy that whenever I visit my family in Turkey, I get to speak to them as if I had never left. It makes me feel good that I can understand and respond to the stories my grandparents have to tell. Similarly, we want TS to be able to communicate and get to know the members of our family effortlessly. He already knows many words and their meanings. When Jeremy comes home after a long day at work, with excitement, I say, "Baba eve gelmis!" which translates to, "Daddy's home!" he immediately looks at the window and quickly walks toward the door to greet his daddy. He's incredibly smart! I can hardly wait for him to blurt out words in Turkish and English and watch the continuous progress he makes.What about you? Were you or you children raised in a multilingual household? How do you feel about raising bilingual children? You can always join in on the conversation at our Facebook, (new) Twitter, BlogHer, and Instagram pages! 

[Photo: TS watching his Turkish cartoons]

Friday, August 29, 2014

Fresh Start

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult. - E.B White
Last year around this time, I couldn't see straight. TS was only a week old and life had taken a speedy turn into something my husband and I had never experienced before. During the hectic postpartum stages of being a new mom, I couldn't imagine finding a calm routine. I thought I would never have the energy to do all the things I loved like teaching, writing, reading, cooking, traveling to new places, meeting new people, etc. 

Now, exactly a year later, I couldn't feel more energetic! Of course, I owe this energy to our recent vacation in Turkey. I mean, we needed the time off to relax, make new plans, and set new goals. My mind, heart, and soul are in peace. Professionally and personally, I've so much to look forward to during the upcoming school year. I can't wait to write more for Contemporary Mother and connect with you! I can't wait to write more fiction. I can't wait to cozy up on my couch and read new books. I can't wait to start teaching again. I can't wait to spend the holidays with my little family at home.

Also, thank you for reaffirming that what I write about resonates with you through your encouraging e-mails and support on social media. Thank you for connecting with me beyond this blog on facebook, twitter, instagram, and blogher to share your stories with me. Thank you for reading!

While I'm getting ready to share new posts with you, you can catch up on some of my recent and older posts like this, this, this, this, and this. I hope you're enjoying the last few days of summer (I'm not going to lie...I'm looking forward to everything pumpkin!)

[Picture: The day we went sailing on Aegean Sea in Turkey]

Monday, August 18, 2014

Happy Birthday, TS!

It seems like it was only a few months ago I was packing my hospital bag, making to-do lists, and anxiously waiting for TS’ debut.  I couldn’t wait to kiss his little feet and hold him in my arms. He’s now one years old! A whole year. Now, I can't get enough of kissing his little feet at every chance I get. I say at every chance, because he’s on the move. He’s unstoppable, I tell you. He wants to walk and climb everywhere. He’s incredibly social and loves playing with other babies. His favorite foods are tarhana soup and chocolate and he likes to drink water out of a water bottle like he’s a big boy. He loves swimming and taking long baths. He’s amazing in every way and we are beyond lucky to have this healthy baby boy fill our lives with joy and laughter.

Everyday, my husband and I are continuing to learn so much about being the best parents to our little boy. It comes with its challenges, but we wouldn’t change any of it.  When TS came into our lives, Jeremy and I realized even more that we wouldn’t want to go through the adventures of parenting with another partner.  He’s a loving father and an incredibly supportive husband. This past year has taught us so much and we couldn’t have done with out our parents, TS’ grandparents. They’ve been an incredible source of moral support and inspiration. They’ve taught us so much about parenting and relieved us when we were feeling the pressures of being new parents. Their words of wisdom will never leave us and we’re so happy to have such wonderful parents with extensive experience in parenting.

He’s a lucky little boy, especially because he gets to spend his first birthday at my parents’ shore house on the coast of the Aagean Sea in Turkey. Everyone loves him to pieces here and in the states. He's like a little rockstar! Today, we’re going to do all of his favorite things: Eat a bowl of tarhana soup. Go for a swim. Take a long bath. Then, we will help him put on his special birthday outfit and eat cake and chocolate.  Happy birthday, TS! My beautiful baby boy. It’s going to be a great day. It’s going to be a great year.

[Photo: Birthday photoshoot in Oren, Turkey]

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Dark Moment in Time: Postpartum Depression

It was early October, about a month and a half after I gave birth. Before I went to sleep, I had set my alarm clock for a 4:00 am gym session. Waking up before most people, getting done at the gym, brewing a pot of coffee, and planning my day out is something I’ve always enjoyed. Since my gynecologist had given me permission to start going back to the gym, I was excited get back to spinning and lifting. Although I had only been back at the gym for less than a week, it felt good to be active again. After all, I had spent the last trimester of my pregnancy barely being able to move with the edema that not only gave me carpal tunnel but made it impossible for me to stand up without feeling a shock of pain traveling from my toes up to my back. But that particular morning, I couldn’t get out of bed. My eyes were heavy and my body felt sore. My chest felt tight. It was as if something horrible had happened the night before, and I felt the kind of sadness that takes over your body right before you’re about to cry. You know, when you feel your tears travel from a place between your ribs up through your chest and get stuck on your throat like a ping-pong ball. I couldn’t breathe and my heartbeat felt like someone was punching my chest over and over again. I thought it was because I was still trying to get used to waking up multiple times during the night to comfort TS. I thought maybe it was one of those days where I just wanted to stay home because I was exhausted from the day before. 

It only got worse. I had trouble sleeping at night. I woke up with unreasonable fears. Will my baby start crying? Does he need a diaper change? Is he breathing? Did I make sure to write down his next pediatrician appointment? Will I be able to get back to sleep? Will I have the energy to take care of him when he wakes up? Although I loved taking care of our son, it was excruciating to hear him cry. I felt too worn down to look after him.  I didn’t want to look after him. I wanted to hide under my comforter and cry. I didn’t want to prepare to go back to teaching. The thought of creating a new syllabus and contacting my students felt like tremendous and unachievable tasks. Receiving and responding to e-mails became an overwhelming and unending chore. Everything on my to-do list seemed hard to accomplish. Doing simple things like grocery shopping, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, washing the dishes, and taking a shower became a growing source of anxiety. Of course, I had better days, too, but more often, I didn't have the energy to tackle the chores of the day ahead of me.

I started to wonder if the problem was within my life. I tried to find ways to figure out exactly why I was feeling so sad. I started to evaluate my life and career. I had great relationships.  I had a loving, supportive, charming husband, parents, in-laws, and friends. A few days earlier, I had a successful thesis conference with two of my favorite writers. I was putting together a short story collection I absolutely loved working on.  In a month, I would be a graduate of a highly respected university in New York City and one of the best writing programs in the country. I was teaching at two incredible universities and I absolutely loved my students. We weren't in a financial hardship, and, most importantly, we were all in good health. 

You see, that's the thing about postpartum depression or depression in general. It's only after depression you realize that it was the depression itself making you feel sad. There doesn’t necessarily have to be another factor that pushes you to feel a certain way.  My husband, Jeremy, who is a Ph.D candidate studying biomedical neuroscience, was certainly the most reassuring person in my life. His words filled with knowledge and encouragement provided me with the hope I most certainly needed. Every day, he'd patiently hold me in his arms while I cried for hours. He’d tell me not to compare myself to other women who've made motherhood seem so effortless and chic. Everyone goes through this differently and you don't know the way they felt after having a baby, he'd tell me. He was right. No one knew about what I was going through at the time. For all they knew, I was enjoying every minute of being a new mother based on the sweet family photographs I was sharing with my friends and family on social networking sites.  

Everyday, my husband explained to me that the way I felt wasn't a reflection of my life and that it was a postpartum depression, a hormonal and chemical shift after birth. He told me over and over again that I will feel normal again; even though, feeling normal again seemed absolutely impossible. Together, we researched and read about postpartum depression. After reading articles like this, this, this and so many more articles in various medical publications, it made sense that I went into depression after I stopped breastfeeding. I learned that while breastfeeding, my body was releasing oxytocin and prolactin,  hormones that reduce anxiety. Only a week before, until I stopped lactating, I was pumping and breastfeeding my son. Once I stopped breastfeeding, without even having the chance to wean off, I had all of a sudden found myself being sucked in a quicksand of irrational sadness. If I had been better equipped with the knowledge to recognize the connection between breastfeeding and postpartum depression, I may have reacted differently toward the way I felt.

Reading many articles and doing extensive research made me realize that I could have gone through a much more detrimental postpartum depression.  I never, not for once, wanted to harm my baby or myself. I never needed a team of people around me to take care of me. I never felt that I had to quit my job because I couldn't be trusted around my students, or that I wasn’t good enough to do my job. It truly made me feel good that my mind wasn’t wrapped up with such a cobweb of bad thoughts and that my self-esteem didn’t disappear entirely.

After learning more about postpartum depression, every time I started to feel sad, I reminded myself I could have it worse. I continued to have bad days, really, really bad days, and some good days in between, until one night, right before Thanksgiving, I got my period after almost a year of not having it. It was after I got my period, I was totally fine.  Just like that. It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. It was as if whatever possessed my body had departed with the same speed it took over my body just a few weeks earlier. I started to gain my energy back and I didn’t wake up with anxiety and irrational fears in the middle of the night. With my husband and parents' encouragement, I started to go back to the gym. I finally had the courage to take our son out for walks. Once again, I started to try cooking new dishes and enjoyed drinking a glass of wine with my husband in the evenings. I slowly began to feel comfortable in leaving my son with my husband and close family members for a few hours to go out with my friends to catch up with them.

If there is one thing I've learned during one of the darkest periods of my life it's that a new mother needs unconditional love and support. I was lucky enough to have my husband, my parents, and a handful of friends who were there for me without a question. Of course, not everyone will be supportive and understanding of your postpartum depression. There will be people who will say that they’ve never met anyone who’ve gone through such a dark time after giving birth. They will call you crazy. They will say that you’ve made the choice to give up the life that you had before you had a baby, as if your depression is an implication of your regret in becoming a mother.  They will not understand why your self-esteem has plummeted. They will tell you that you should be proud of the dark circles under your eyes and the stretch marks on your body that feels like a lifeless, thawed out meat. They will not understand why it was so important for you to not give up on breastfeeding. They will not be able to fathom why you only feel comfortable with being around only your partner and your own mother after you give birth. They will not understand why you will not feel comfortable with anyone holding your child. They will think it is unfair and disrespectful for you to hold your closest friends and family to live up to a certain expectation immediately after becoming a new mother. They will expect an apology for your criticisms, because they didn’t have the common sense and courtesy to live up to these expectations. 

There will be women who will want to speak for the rest of the women out there. Rest of us, they’ll say, as if you’re an outsider. Rest of us. As if you’re the only woman who has ever gone through postpartum depression. It will leave you feeling confused and isolated and you will try to make sense of the things they’ve said for days. Rest of us. As in those women who haven’t experienced postpartum depression and refuse to sympathize with an incredibly difficult condition? Rest of us. As in women who somehow rationalize that certain feelings of sadness and helplessness brought on by postpartum depression is by choice? Rest of us. As in women who don’t want to believe that not every new mother has a blissful postpartum? Rest of us. Perhaps they, rest of the women, are the lucky ones for not having gone through postpartum depression. Perhaps, rest of the women, are lucky to have never met a new mother silently struggling to live day to day not knowing when they will recover. No woman deserves to go through postpartum depression. Giving birth and becoming a new mother is such a rare and beautiful occurrence in any woman’s life that it isn’t fair that some of us have to endure this dark period while the rest are clueless. It isn’t fair for the rest of women to use another woman’s bravery to admit going through postpartum depression against them. 

To be fair, the fault is in all of us. Often, we get wrapped up in inconsequential things like registering for gifts, baby showers, location of the shower, who pays for the shower, pinks and blues, cakes, games, and decorating. Of course, those things are fun, but a nursery inspired by Pinterest is not going to help a new mother when they feel like their world is crumbling down and there is nothing they can do to stop it.  It is so rare to see women talk to one another about what may follow after the baby comes. Sure, it isn’t easy to share personal stories from a less than happy time, but if it can help new mothers cope through a hard time, why aren’t we talking about these issues more? It certainly would have helped me if I knew that more women in my life have gone through postpartum depression. It may have helped me feel less lonely and much more hopeful. 

Writing this post feels as if I’m writing about another woman and her experiences. What used to feel like an all day, everyday, mind and energy consuming experience, now seems like a moment in time that I have a difficult time believing existed. I feel like I won a battle that felt impossible to conquer at the time. Life is a much better place now. I love my life. I love my son. He's the most charming little guy and he makes us laugh and teaches us new things about parenting everyday. I'm so honored and happy to be his mother.  I’m glad that this experience has taught me not to be ignorant toward those who are going through depression. I now know that someone going through depression doesn’t choose to feel depressed and they can’t simply let it go, be happy, or snap out of it. Their feelings and behaviors aren’t prompted by selfishness. 

If there is anything to be proud of, I’m proud to have empathy to understand and help someone get through what may be the worst time of their life. Women who are going through postpartum depression, or any other form of depression, deserve so much respect for putting up with such an inner turmoil everyday of their lives. If you’re a new mom going through postpartum depression, you are not alone. This is your journey and it is unique just like you. Just remember that there are people who are similarly going through what you’re going through. You can get help without anyone judging you. You will get through it. You are strong. You are special. You are beautiful. You’re doing a great job. You’re an amazing mother, and don’t let anyone make you think otherwise. 

What about you? Did you experience postpartum depression? How did you get through it? You can also feel free to e-mail me. xo

P.S. Within a few hours of posting this piece, I received so many heartfelt e-mails and feedback on twitter, instagram, and facebook. I'm beyond happy that this post resonated with so many of you. We're all women and we're all in this together! Thank you so much for reading! 

[Photo: Taken two weeks ago in Turkey]

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Well Prepared Meal

When I was a little girl in Turkey, I used to help my grandmother make tarhana. It's the traditional Turkish soup mixture, which can literally take most of the summer months to make before it's placed in mason jars and then cooked during the colder months of autumn and winter. Like my family, most Turkish families make their tarhana during the hot months of summer when the plants and vegetables are plenty and cheap. Although, tarhana originated hundreds of years ago from the need to preserve, many families continue to make it despite being equipped with the latest refrigeration methods.  

On the first day of tarhana making, my grandmother would prepare the fire oven on her rooftop as I'd wash and sort the tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. Once she'd set up the fire, she'd chop the vegetables enthusiastically as if she was hosting a cooking show, as if cutting the vegetables so proportionately would add to the taste of tarhana. She'd give me hand fulls of the vegetables she had cut and ask me to throw them in the copper pot on top of the fire oven. Then she'd add the yeast, yogurt, chickpeas, and flour into the mixture. "It's all about the consistency of the dough," my grandmother would say as she'd circle the wooden spoon around the copper pot. Once the mixture finished cooking, we'd wait for three to four days for it to ferment and settle.

After a few days, the dough would have been long fermented and settled at the bottom of the pot. We'd lay a large rectangular cotton fabric on my grandmother's rooftop and uncover the copper pot. Then, we'd start to roll small pieces of the dough like meat balls and line them on the fabric. Depending on the dryness or the humidity of the summer days, we'd wait for a week or two for the tarhana to dry and harden under the sun.

Once the tarhana balls were dried throughout, my grandmother, mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins would each grab a sieve from the kitchen, kneel around the fabric, and start pushing the dried tarhana through the small holes and watch it fall onto the fabric like talcum powder. After we'd finish sieving, we'd fill the mason jars with the powder and my grandmother would give us all a few jars to take home. Then, we'd cook a pot of the new tarhana with cubed lamb, set the table, toast some homemade bread, place the appetizers everyone had brought around the table, and have a joyous family dinner where the sounds of our conversations would create a lovely little harmony echoing around my grandmother's house. 

Preparing meals together has always been a huge part of my family.  When my immediate family and I immigrated into this country, my mother, who had spent most of my childhood as a stay-at-home-mom, had to start working. She'd work during the days while my father had to work multiple jobs during nighttime. Although they were beyond busy and tired, we'd always have a prepared meal in the kitchen. On certain weekends, we'd help my mother cook multiple meals for the week. Other days, we'd cook daily. Eating dinners as a family was important. Especially during a time in our lives where all we had was each other for support. So, for us, dinnertime wasn't just a time to chow down the food in front of us like savage animals. It was during dinners we'd talk about what had happened that day. My parents would ask us about school. They'd talk to each other about work and their finances. They'd talk about the progress they were making in a country where they were working so hard to obtain a better future. They'd tell us about the new goals they had set for themselves. They'd tell us about the dreams they had for us. We'd talk about the things that made us happy. We'd talk about the things that bothered us. We'd find ways to reason and come up with solutions. Dinners were a time to be reconnect, come up with new game plans and goals, and dinners continue to hold a special moment in all of our days.

Some of you may think cooking consistently well prepared meals is a Turkish thing. You may think it doesn't really exist in an American culture.  Food is a part of every culture. We may all be different, but consuming food is what we all have in common. Take my amazing mother-in-law Marla and her phenomenal family, for example. She and her siblings were raised in Champion, Nebraska.  When I asked her about what it was like for her to grow up in an American family that cooked together, this was her response: 
"Growing up in a family of eight on a farm in Western Nebraska, I learned many lessons and values that I still cherish and practice today. One of the most important things my parents shared with me and my siblings is the importance of food preparation and mealtime. We grew most of our produce and raised our beef, pork and chicken. So, at an early age, I learned the skills of gardening and the nutritional value of home grown foods. I learned the skills of canning and freezing our produce. I learned how to milk cows and clean chickens. I learned to prepare foods from scratch rather than open a box mix or a can of already prepared food that just requires the microwaving. To this day I have never purchased or prepared instant potatoes or spaghetti from a can. I am a firm believer that if a person can read they can cook. There are a multitude of resources that can educate people to make nutritionally sound foods that are good for them and their families.

My parents taught us to value our time together as we prepare family meals. Each of my brothers and sisters had a chore when it came to meal preparation. Everything from actually cooking together to setting the table to serving the food to cleaning up after the meal. Even today, when we are fortunate enough to get our family together, we still work together to make a memorable meal. It was very important to my parents that we sit down together as a family for meal time. Great conversation and comradery resulted from this habit. Today our conversations continue and our family relationships have grown stronger."
You see, it's not just a Turkish thing. It's not something only other cultures do. Having a busy lifestyle and not knowing how to cook are just excuses to avoid adapting an important family ritual. Also, let it be known that I'm not perfect and I'm not going to pretend like I am perfect. My husband and I keep takeout menus on the top of our refrigerator for those times we desperately crave some greasy goodness and give into temptation. If we're lucky to get a babysitter, my husband and I try to plan date nights at various restaurants around the city.  I'm not against occasional ordering take-out and going out to eat. What I don't agree with is ordering take-out and going out to eat replacing cooking all together. I'm not the only one who feels strongly about this. Many experts have done extensive research on the correlation between cooking and building strong family bonds. You can read about it here, here, here, and here.

I don't believe in the sentiment that any food you eat is a meal as long as it is eaten with family.  It's comical, really. Ice cream is food, too. You may argue with me about this, but ice cream is not a meal. Cooking a meal as a family takes initiative. It takes planning and preparation. It takes collecting ingredients. It takes everyone sharing responsibility to create something every family member can be proud of and enjoy. Cooking a meal means wanting to share stories, laugh and cry together around the dining-room table. Cooking a meal as a family is to build a strong family dynamic. It takes wanting to do something nice for yourself and your family on daily basis. And that is exactly what I want to do for my family. 

[Photo: Summer of 2008 on my grandmother's rooftop]


Note: I'm not ignorant to those who can barely afford to buy food. I'm not ignorant to the fact that many Americans are on welfare and have to use food coupons. I understand that some people can only cook or eat what they can afford. This piece isn't directed at those experiencing financially difficult times. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Writing and Guilt

 “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”  Stephen King from On Writing

I've had many jobs. I worked in retail and managed numerous stores. I worked in restaurants. I babysat. I worked in a bakery. I worked as a makeup model and artist. I sold concert tickets. I currently teach at a prestigious university in Philadelphia. I can be a team player. I can make plans like no other person you know. I can manage hundreds of people. I can take care of any baby like they're my own. I can convince you to buy anything. I can teach and explain you concepts that will make an impression on you forever. 

I've made wonderful friends and gained brilliant references by working many different types of jobs.  It's these jobs and experiences that enabled me to build the life that genuinely makes me happy. I took advantage of many opportunities and I can happily say that I don't often I regretfully think, "What if I had done this and that." So far, I've lived a pretty full life for someone who's just turned 30 years old. I may have worked many jobs but the only thing that remained consistent in my life was writing.

No matter where I worked and whom I've interacted with, writing was always in the background. I searched for other activities to get in touch with my creative side. I tried painting. Knitting. Sewing clothes. Making candles. Scrap booking. Pinteresting shit that other people came up with that I pretended to have patience to recreate. Nothing worked. After many years, I finally admitted to myself that writing makes me happy. It doesn't just make me feel happy. It makes me feel free and content.

Although I can confidently say that I was very good at my previous jobs, I can't confidently say I am a very good writer. That's what makes me want to continue writing. I like that I can sit at my desk and let it all out from my heart, through my fingertips, onto my computer screen. It's lonely. It requires a lot of coffee. Tears. Patience. Self deprecation. Half of the time, I can't stand how much time it takes to write, edit, write, edit, and write some more. For me, it's the most impossible yet ultimate form of self-expression. I strive to be a good writer and I know my limited time in this world isn't enough for me to fully master this one thing that I cannot stop doing.

I write fiction. I studied fiction with phenomenal writers. At this time, I don't have the luxury of waking up at a decent time, sip on freshly brewed coffee, and write fiction all day long without  interruptions. So, I created this blog. On certain days, if I have some energy left, I sit for half an hour and write about the things that matter to me. I've many strong, independent, and powerful girlfriends who are also mothers. That being said, the pieces I write aren't necessarily about what matters to me and me only. They're a reflection of my strong, independent, and powerful girlfriends and the motherhood stories they share with me as well.

For example, my last post, I Want to Meet Your Baby, resonated with so many mothers and those who aren't yet parents that it had over 1,000 views the week it went live on this site. I was inspired to write this piece after I had coffee with my girlfriends who've gone through the first few postpartum weeks and months of their lives with very limited support from their family and friends. I received numerous e-mails thanking me for writing a piece that explained what it's like to be a new, nursing, and clueless mom. Many people shared the link on their social networking sites, and I've connected with many mothers that I've never even met in person. I listened to their stories of what it was like for them after they gave birth.

At the same time, the piece offended some family members and friends. Many people became defensive, like, we weren't asked to help, you could have been more open with what you wanted us to do, we weren't around long enough, etc. The point of writing this piece wasn't to offend anyone.  It was meant to depict the blurry craziness the first few weeks and months of being new parents. No names were mentioned and it certainly wasn't meant to make anyone feel slighted after having read the piece. It was a post that was meant to illustrate how I felt at the time as a new mother and reflect other moms' experiences. Naturally, I was very happy that the piece succeeded in accomplishing that goal.

Many writers say that you should write for you and your writing will find an audience. For me, I first write for myself, but I think about who might end up find my writing appealing. Who will appreciate my writing? Will my writing help other people? Will my writing serve a greater purpose? Will it hurt other people? At the end of the day, one thing that's always obvious is that as a writer I make choices that will not always please everyone. I will not feel guilty for writing. I will never apologize or censor myself.  If there is one thing I know about writing, it's this: The moment a writer begins to write for the acceptance of other people, their writing becomes stale and completely inauthentic.

So, excuse me while I express myself the best way I know how.

(Photo: Me. Writing at our family shore house in Turkey.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I Want to Meet Your Baby...

This post was featured on BlogHer!

Until I had my son, it had never occurred to me that the first days, weeks, and months of being new parents would be sheer hell. I mean, it. I don't envy any of you who are currently trying make it through the first two months of parenthood. It's difficult. Don't believe anyone who says otherwise. They're lying. It's beyond difficult. For us, it all started when we took our son to his first doctor's appointment.

When our son's pediatrician told us how much weight he had lost because I thought I was breastfeeding him, I broke down in the exam room. I don't think you're lactating, she said. That was enough for me to have an I-feel-like-a-horrible-mom-I-don't-think-I-can-do-this type of breakdown accompanied by an uncontrollable sobbing fit. It happens, his doctor said. It happens? Why was it happening to me? Not breastfeeding wasn't a part of my plan. She told us that we had to get him started on formula. Formula! What good parents start their child on formula? Bad parents! Well, at least that's what I had always said before I gave birth and here we were getting ready to stock up on Enfamil and bottles. Then, the very next day, my milk came in, and I had to deal with engorged milk ducks that felt like hard and fiery pebbles stuffed under my chest. I panicked and called my doctor. You have to pump every two hours, my doctor said. Keep pumping. Be aggressive about it so you increase your milk supply, she added.

In the evenings, after Jeremy would get home, I'd take long and cool showers. It was my only time to be alone. I'd sit there under the running water feeling numb while trying to remember a part of me that existed before I gave birth. It was as if I couldn't remember doing anything else with my life besides operating a breast pump and taking care of a colicky infant. Did I go to college? Had I lived in New York? I actually had the time to write? I taught college students? Was I able to enjoy a glass of wine while reading a decent book? What was it like to hangout with my friends? What was it like to sleep through the night?

Shortly after we would make it in bed to get some rest, we'd wake up to the cries of our baby. I'd reach for the breast pump to place the suction cups around my scabbed nipples, while Jeremy would warm the milk I had pumped earlier to feed our baby. We'd change his diaper and try to put him back to sleep. Of course, he wouldn't immediately go back to sleep. We'd rock him in his bassinet as he'd continue to cry. His incessant, relentless, high pitched cry. Then I'd start to cry out of frustration of not knowing what I could do to ease the unpleasantness of each passing night. Then, he'd finally fall asleep only to wake up again in less than forty minutes for us to do it all over again.

Of course, things didn't seem to get easier. Each day, I progressively began to produce less milk. I felt like I was failing at the one thing I should have been able to do as a new mother.  I decided to meet with a lactation consultant, invested in herbal teas full of promises of increased milk supply, read a lot of books on breastfeeding, and continue to pump, pump, pump!

While we dealt with all of the craziness that had ensued our lives, our friends and family relentlessly insisted on vising us to meet our son. Visitors meant that I had to look somewhat presentable by finding something decent to wear. Something that would fit my postpartum body and not make me feel like an overstuffed sausage link. Visitors meant that I had to put on a little bit of makeup to feel less insecure about the dark circles under my eyes. It meant that I had to quickly fix my hair and figure out a way to make it look like I didn't have a fuzzy animal sitting on top of my head. It meant that I had to pick things up off the floors with the very little energy I had to spare. If I weren't feeling like I was falling through a postpartum black hole where I couldn't get a grip of my life, I would have told all of our family and friends that they had to wait until I was emotionally and physically ready to accept visitors. I would have told them that if they wanted to meet our baby, they should come with food or cook for us. I would have told them to grab the mop, scrub the toilets, and do a load of laundry.

The last thing Jeremy and I needed were visitors to stop by our house to meet our baby.What we needed were friends and family to come over to help us with the chores around the house, take care of us. The truth is, I didn't feel comfortable with people being around my baby because it made me feel anxious. I only felt comfort in the presence of Jeremy and my mother. For the most part, I wanted to be alone with my baby. I wanted to close my bedroom door to cuddle with him for hours, kiss his little cheeks, and smell the nook of his neck while feeding him. Most mothers I spoke to told me that they also felt this nauseating protectiveness toward their newborns. I never met or heard about a new mother who wanted other people to take care of their newborn while they keep themselves busy with the chores around the house. It doesn't work that way. At the very beginning, nothing else matters about the life that surrounds you besides attending to the needs of your baby. At least that's how I felt at the time.

Those who aren't parents don't realize that a newborn doesn't need anyone except their parents, mostly their mother. What's interesting is those who've had children many years ago forget what it was like being new parents. Selfishly, everyone gets caught up in wanting to meet your little bundle of joy. They want to hold them and play with them. People don't realize that they could be much more helpful if they ask about what they can do to help to ease the pressures new parents feel.

Don't get me wrong, we had people kindly volunteering to help us. My dear, dear parents traveled from Turkey and stayed with us to cook, clean, and do whatever else we needed to get done around and outside of our house while we took care of our child. Unfortunately, not all of our guest were as understanding and helpful. Two weeks after I gave birth, we had a particular group of visitors who flew in to spend a long weekend with us and didn't volunteer to do anything to help us during their visit. While our baby took naps during the day, they sat around the living room and played games on their cellphones.  In fact, with my husband's help, I cooked them a full-blown breakfast and dinner. The day before they left, after I finished cooking, I started to wonder why I was putting up with our guests' rudeness. Instead of acting like an outraged maniac, I walked upstairs, grabbed my breast pump, settled on my bed, and called my mother.

"Why make things awkward when they're only around for another day?" my mother asked after I told her about our guests. "I mean, it could be worse," she said. "At least you don't have a mother-in-law, who knocked on your door early in the morning to tell you to dust her furniture, wash her laundry, and cook dinner the week you gave birth."  I know I shouldn't say this about my Turkish grandmother, but she was apparently the epitome of that mother-in-law you wouldn't wish upon your enemy. "Just be kind and calm down." she said.  I listened to her advice.

Obviously, I wasn't anywhere near the ruthless mother-in-law situation my mother had to endure. Sure, I may be Turkish, but I wasn't the timid little Turkish bride my mother used to be either. At the time, I should have realized that being kind is different than not speaking your mind at all. Without losing my temper, I should have spoken my mind. I should have told our guests that they were being rude. I should have told them that if they wanted to stay with us they had to help. I didn't do any of that. I remained completely quiet. 

If there is one thing I've learned about being a mother so far, it's that I have to address my needs. It's the only way people can alter their views, behavior, and expectations. Otherwise, I know I will spend the rest of my life as a frustrated people-pleaser who was never understood. The recipe to becoming a parent isn't bottled and sold over the counter next to ibuprofen or coffee (surprise!). Once you become a parent, it takes a long time to figure out what works for you and your baby. You go through many mental and physical changes that enable you to adjust to your new life. It's impossible to find a new norm overnight. Nothing makes this process harder than saying yes to everyone and not expressing your needs and feelings. I now know that it's perfectly okay to say no without fearing that I'll offend my friends and family. I don't care to be the super mom who wants to be complimented with, I can't believe you just gave birth! Nothing slows you down! The thing is, I gave birth. I've slowed down a bit. I'm not the same. I'm still trying to figure out what works for us and our baby. From this point on, I will do my best to make sure everyone else understands that as well.

* P.S. If you liked this post, you will love "The Rules for Visiting a New Mom," at Scary Mommy blog. Also, I absolutely adore Coffee + Crumbs blog and particularly this post. It's amazing to see other women write about their initial hardships as expecting and new mothers. You're not alone! We're truly in this together.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Advice to My Son

My husband and I are new to parenting. Although our son was born over seven months ago, everyday is a challenge. On most days, when I wake up a few times between midnight and 5:00am for diaper changes and feedings, I have to try extra hard to remind myself that sleepless nights will pass. Soon, I will be a morning person again and wake up with a tremendous amount of energy to tackle the day's chores. I have to try extra hard to remind myself that one day I will miss waking up to my son's giggles; to see him waiting impatiently for me to pick him up and cover him with kisses. He's already rolling over on his own.  Soon, he will start crawling, stand, and take his first steps. My son who I only daydreamed about meeting during my pregnancy is already becoming, dare I say, independent. I can't control any of this. None of it. Only thing I can do is continue to have an open mind to learn more and built a life that makes me feel proud. So proud that one day, I'm capable of giving him the kind of advice that will guide him through the joys and struggles of his life.

Of course, as you grow older, your opinions change, because you change. In most cases, this is a great thing, because it shows self-awareness, maturity, and willing to try new things. Things you used to love become the things you dread. The things you always dreaded become sources of inspiration and happiness. I'm sure in another thirty years, the way I feel about certain things this very moment in my life will take new shape, but for now, here's what I've learned about this ephemeral thing called life. Here is the advice I would give to my son (and maybe a daughter one day...)

You have to surround yourself with empowering, encouraging, and positive people to succeed. There is nothing worse than a friend or an acquaintance who constantly sees the worse in every situation and everyone. They feed off of other people's misery and wrongdoings. Ditch them. Life is already full of challenges and your job isn't to entertain anyone's bad disposition toward life.

You can't change the past. If you can't let go of the past, you will never move forward. Stop thinking about that one time when someone did you wrong and how something so unfair has happened to you. You're here now. Dwelling about the past will only slow you down. Remember that things will not always be perfect. There will be unexpected, unpleasant moments in your life you will have to endure. You plans will change and you will feel like you've lost valuable time. This doesn't mean you should give up. Make a new plan and move on. 

Create the life you want to live. Don't nag. Don't complain. Nagging and complaining are crippling qualities and they will get you nowhere. You're not happy? Make changes. Do something about it. Don't blame the way your life turned out on other factors. Don't be a victim. It's sickening how many people complain about their lives and do nothing about it. If you're not doing something about it, it can't bother you all too much, right?

Know that you're strong. You're really, really strong and have incredible potential. Unfortunately, most people don't know how strong they are until they take a risk and do something they've always been afraid of doing. Take risks especially while you're young. Otherwise, there might come a time when you begin to think about what ifs, should haves, and could haves.

Be honest with yourself. We're often advised to be honest with others, but we're never advised to be honest with ourselves. That's not to say don't be honest with other people. It's just when you're not honest with yourself, you're more than likely harboring the maybe-I-can-get-away-with-it outlook. I'll get away with not trying hard. I'll get away with having someone else do it. I'll get away with keeping quiet. Maybe no one will notice. No, you're wrong. You'll never get away with it. Your dishonesty with yourself will always catch up with you and impact you more than being dishonest with other people.

Work hard. Very, very hard. No one owes you anything. Not one thing. No one will give you anything for free. Nothing will come easy. Although I hate using cliches, here is the thing: patience is a virtue. You have to work days, months, years before you arrive where you want to be in life. This is  the problem with my generation of 'kids' who are between 18-34 years old. As an educator, I  deal with the you-owe-me attitude every single day. According to some of the responses in my students' papers, they all want well-paying jobs, big houses, fast cars, nice shoes, stylish clothes, and take fancy vacations, but very few them show determination to obtain these things. Nothing will get handed to you. Why? I'll repeat it again. No one owes you anything and you have to work hard.

You don't have to go to college. Shocking, I know! Especially coming from someone who's spent a huge chunk of their life working toward multiple degrees. Look, unless if you want to be in the healthcare industry, lawyer, teacher, or other fields that require a very special training and licensing, you don't have go to college. Going to college is about obtaining the knowledge to succeed, right? If you're hungry for knowledge, you will seek it even if you don't go to college. I know this because I went to college and I teach college students. You want to be a writer? Write. You want to paint? Paint! You want to work in fashion? Do it. You want to be a cook? Cook something. Although I don't regret going to college for many years, I think I would have been just fine if I didn't get my BA, MA, or MFA.  Your desire to want to learn will push you to seek the necessary knowledge to succeed. Having a diploma in a fancy frame won't do that for you. 

Show genuine interest when given the opportunity to learn something new. I find it that most people don't take these opportunities seriously. Their biggest excuse tends to be that it doesn't interest them. It's okay to not be interested in everything, but understand that you've nothing to lose when you're willing to show interest in exposing yourself to something new.

Admit to being wrong and learn to apologize with sincerity. I know this is very hard for some people, but seriously, you can't always be right. Admitting to be wrong and apologizing will not make you look weak. By admitting to be wrong and apologizing, you will display your confidence and strength.

Realize that no one has to appreciate and accept your bad personality traits. By saying, "Well, this is how I am," you're trying to rationalize that everyone should deal with your bad attitude. No one has to deal with your bad attitude and how badly you treat others because of it. There are no excuses for this

Don't underestimate anyone's story. Be kind. We've all been through tough times. We've all had to deal with many mentally and physically challenging experiences.  Realize that life isn't  about one-upping others. To put it plainly, don't get into a pissing contest. Listen to your family members and friends who confide in you to tell you about the bits and pieces of their lives. Really, really learn to listen. Don't think people's feelings and experiences are unsubstantial while your feelings and experiences carry much more meaning.

Impulsive behavior is toxic. It's always a good idea to sleep on it before snapping at your co-worker and quitting your job, buying the $900 Louboutins, or accepting a big offer. Sure, certain things may require quick decision making, but in most cases, there is nothing wrong with asking for some time to think about things and walk away.

Every day, remind yourself that you've one body to live in and that you must take care of it.  Unless if you have a serious medical condition that prevents you from being in shape, you do not have an excuse. Be mindful of what you put inside of your body. Eat healthy, watch your portions, and take your vitamins. Don't find happiness in alcohol and drug usage. We all know that becoming dependent on any substance never ends well for anyone. Remember, your body is engineered to work in miraculous ways and in most cases we mess up its perfect order.

Don't share your heart, mind, and body with just anyone. Set high standards for yourself. Don't settle because everyone else is doing it. Don't be pressured to have intimacy with another person because it's expected. You're the boss of your body and life. Don't let other people pressure you to do anything with their shallow and useless expectations.

It's quite possible that you may hurt or be hurt by someone else. In an ideal world, people would excel in their careers, find their soul mate, get married, have kids, settle in house of their own, and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world. It takes an incredible amount of energy and many compromises to make a relationship work. Breakups happen because people change. People don't always live up the promises they've made to one another. Why? Because we're not perfect beings. We make mistakes. Sometimes, you have to walk away from certain people to find true happiness. Sometimes, you will be the one who is left behind. What matters is handling your given situation with grace. If you're the one leaving, leave without regrets. If you're the one being left, there are two things you can do: Move on or act like a victim for the rest of your life. Move on. 

Learn to forgive and find the good in people. Holding a grudge will gain you nothing more than negativity. Forgiving will set you free. Forgiving will help you move on. Forgiving will help you build a better, happier life.

Don't gossip if you care about personal and professional relationships. Don't gossip to bond with people. Talking about other people is pathetic. If you want to know the truth, ask. If you know that it isn't your place to ask, then let it go. Stay out of the things that aren't your business and you will not have a reason to gossip.

Know that money isn't everything but it's necessary. Money won't bring you happiness. Money will help you live a comfortable life that will enable you to pursue the things that make you happy with ease. Of course, this doesn't mean you can't pursue your dreams if you don't have money. Not everyone starts out with having a lot of money. Money simply takes away the burden of feeling anxious about not being able to pay for your bills which in return will make you unhappy. So, know where your money goes and avoid being frivolous.

Don't compare yourself to other people. Sure, you can have a role model or someone to look upto for inspiration. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about feeling bitter and envious. Know that jealousy and envy are harmful and toxic for one's mental well-being. Remember that no one lives a perfect life. No one. The polished snapshots of some people's lives displayed across their social networking sites may seem like they're living an immaculate life. Don't let this bring you down. Don't let anyone make you believe that your life is less meaningful than theirs.

Travel to as many places as you possibly can in your lifetime. I'm not saying drop everything now and become a globe trotter. I know that parents and young adults don't always have the luxury to gather up their kids and leave their jobs to travel to exotic places. I get it. I'm a mom. It isn't easy for me to travel anymore either. You can start by making plans to go on affordable day trips to your surrounding states or cities. Look, I grew up in New Jersey, and I've met dozens of people who've never set a foot in Philadelphia or New York City. Do I think this is weird? Yes. Very, very weird.

Read. Read a lot. Read everything. Read books, newspapers, and magazines written by different people with different points of views.  It's the best way to build your own opinions and beliefs about the world around you.

Don't be a victim to fashion. Don't let the latest fashion dictate what you should wear. Don't cut your hair because everyone else is cutting their hair. Don't wear the shoes that feel like hell around your toes. Don't wear the hat that makes you feel like a clown. Don't wear that short skirt because such and such celebrity was seen wearing it. All of the stylish men and women I know wear clean, comfortable, and carefully tailored clothing. They have their own way of accessorizing and mixing and matching the pieces in their closets.Why would you want to so foolishly spend your money on what's in now and what will be out tomorrow?

Stop apologizing for your taste in anything. You want to listen to Britney Spears and dance to Katy Perry? Do it. To hell with those music snobs. Your favorite movie is Runway Bride? Love Actually? Watch them over and over again. Your favorite book is Harry Potter or a love story by Danielle Steele? That's fine, too. You don't like wine? Don't drink it because everyone else thinks it's delicious. You like milk chocolate and not dark? Eat the milk chocolate. Why? Because you should do what makes you happy.

Cherish your family and friends.Tell them you love them. Tell them you love them often. Only thing you can depend on is your family and true friends. Don't expect them to be perfect. Appreciate their honesty, because their honesty is most likely an indication of how much they care for you. In return, be honest with them. Always talk about your issues and express your feelings. Best families are the ones that are open with one another. Best friendships are the ones built on honesty.

Show the appreciation you feel toward those who are/were there for you. Not by e-mailing, texting, or calling them. Grab a pen and write a thoughtful thank you card or letter. Send them flowers. Take them out to dinner.

Feed your soul.Weather this is participating in the practices of a particular belief system, meditating, helping those in need, or whatever it is that makes you feel fulfilled. Many of us don't realize how important it is to connect with our spiritual center by removing our focus from worldly and materialistic things that pollute our minds and lives. 

When you're ready (and you will never be ready...), I hope you get to experience what it's like to be a parent. Love takes on a new definition when you hold your child for the very first time. Sometimes, I start cry out of nowhere, because I feel overwhelmed with the love I feel for (you) my son.  I can confidently say that becoming a parent is the best thing that has ever happened to me. That says a lot because many amazing things have happened in my life. Although it is the most crippling kind of love, I would never want to not feel this way. 

[Photo: My son & I]

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Thirty Years Old? You're a Day Old Fruit

By the time you turn thirty years old, you're supposed to have your shit together. You're supposed to have your career and personal life in order, because, you know, after thirty, comes forty and then it's all downhill after. Well, at least that's what they say. They
Although, I'm where I want to be personally, I know I'm not quite where I always imagined I would be professionally. On the brink of a recent breakdown regarding my writing career, I e-mailed a beloved professor whom I've had the privilege to work with while I attended Columbia University for advice. In his email, he said,  "The beautiful thing about writing is that there's no shelf date, really. Until you are ready, it doesn't exist, your "book," so you make it on your terms, on your time, and if you search through it for truth and beauty you really can't go wrong. Yes, you'll have to edit, and show it to people, but you're not off track, really. The best recipe against these fears is a life lived fully, without regrets, and if you do that -- and observe, and live mindful -- you will not feel you've chosen writing or living. There shouldn't be a choice." It was some of the most encouraging advice that I've ever received. I read his e-mail over and over again. I cried for hours.  I was relieved.

It made me realize that personal and professional achievements come along when the time is appropriate. The crippling thought of how time is ticking away before you become a day old fruit shouldn't be the way I  live my life. As long as I wake up everyday to work hard to create the life I want to live, I know everything will workout.  To be honest, I think I've done a lot in my thirty years of life. I feel like I've truly lived every single one of those years. With its tremendous joys and crushing struggles, every single year I've lived through to be here is packed to the seams with a life well lived.

Today is my birthday. I'm thirty years old.

Thirty years from now, I don't want to look back and say how I didn't take my time to enjoy the company of my loved ones. I will cherish every second of being a mother and not think of it as the thing that slowed me down professionally. After all, motherhood is truly one of the most precious gifts I've received as a woman. This feeling I get when I think of my little son, the love I feel for him is so paralyzing that without a thought, I would give up everything I ever wanted professionally just to make him happy. I will enjoy every second of being a wife, because, besides my son, my husband and his unending support is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Of course, I will enjoy the moments I set aside to write and not allow myself to think I have to publish my book by  a certain date. From now on, I will remind myself to live my life without regrets. I will observe and live mindful. I will not rush to get to the next point in my life. I want to truly live every moment of every day and give it the attention it deserves. That's the secret to a happy and productive life and I'm ready for it all.

[Photo: Me blowing out the candles on my birthday cake my husband baked]