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The 10 Year Challenge: How Parenting Changes the Bigger Picture

Now that I am a [very tired] mother. I see the world better. My eyes are half the size they were, I need two different glasses to survive 24hrs, and yet, I have never seen more clearly the fragility and agility of our life.

I see how strenuous and serendipitous it is to raise human beings. I see that it takes a village; but that in this modern world the village is kind of being built by clueless, well-meaning parent(s) from the ground up. I see that women shoulder a lot of the ingenuity and discipline it takes to live life with children. So with the 10 Year Challenge going around, I noticed how loaded it can be to ask someone to present themselves then and now.

The proverbial “winners” of the challenge appear to be either the ones who have cleverly averted to present the evidence by resorting to humour, or the ones who seem to have changed the least. But in actual effect, if we think about it: 10 years is a long time and a lot can happen in 10 years. So haven’t we all changed and isn’t change really triumphant in all of this? Shouldn’t we be championing inevitable change and celebrating our evolving nature? as for those of us who became parents, isn’ change something we opted for and should we not be happy to wear our metamorphoses like badges of honour?

While time and experience profess the impossibility of succeeding at it, human society continues to attempt to make time stand still. A lot of that rebuttal falls on women: the notion that  somehow they sustain a certain amount of joie de vivre personified in being able to do such things as  simultaneously staying up till 4am and waking up at 4am; bearing 2.5 children and retaining a size 2(USA) waist, and so on. This contradiction of terms assumes that the passage of time and ageing have negative connotations.

But when we approach change as a positive consequence of the human experience, one that we should embrace, the value of incapsulating and demonstrating that change shifts and can be freeing.

I have changed a lot over the last 10 years. And I am not even referring to my visible weight gain, age spots or wrinkles. I am referring to my realm of experience and knowledge of random and at times useless things, my threshold for pain – both emotional and physical, not to mention my expanded capacity to relate to other human beings and my reduced capacity for bullshit. Time, experiences and motherhood have embellished me many accolades as well as scars, not least of all the insurmountable faith that things are going to be OK. Not because fate will take care of it, but, because I will.

In the last few years I have been able to achieve things I didn’t even know I wanted to accomplish. Whether breaking away from a stable job and starting my own thing, or overriding my fear of needles and blood by sitting through three C-sections. Whether its turning down career opportunities because they were simply unsustainable with the work-life balance my family needed or wanted; or, hardest of all, coping with the death of loved ones and learning to be both bereaved and brave.

Being a mother has been particularly helpful.

Being loved so unconditionally is life reaffirming. Being told your the best and then that you are the worst in the same day, on the other hand, prepares you for just about anything! Motherhood as training in resilience. If someone told me 10 years ago that how tired I am is directly proportionate to how much easier I will find my non-parenting side of life, I wouldn’t have believed them. For me mothering has made the most nerve wracking interview and the most hostile meeting seem easy in comparison to mitigating a fight between children or reasoning with them about why they need to wear clothes to leave the house.

But mostly, being a mother has enabled me to handle rejection. After all, I often get it on an hourly, daily and weekly basis. Preparing meals that never make it past my children’s lips, creating surprise plans that are meant to put a smile on their faces, only to get tears and resounding resistance instead, salvaging pieces of their favourite toys only to see them bent and broken a minute later, are few of the life lessons my beautiful and infuriating children teach me everyday. And really, learning not to take rejection personally is an artful skill I am grateful that the last 10 years have taught me.

Recently, I didn’t get a job I really wanted.  It was both the first time in 17 years that I interview for something and don’t get it; and the first time that I didn’t beat myself up for others not recognising my potential. Anyone who knows me knows how much validation I need, but, it is perhaps how an interview now fits into the context of my chaotic life that really helps cut out the noise and keep me centred.

Let me demonstrate.

06.45 am. I walk up the stairs to get ready, now that  both my daughters are dressed for school and my baby son is playing happily on his mat. Damn I am good. Hmmm, but actually, wait…. pulling my legs up the stairs feels particularly challenging this morning. Lord… I am tired and so sleepy…4hrs 15mins of sleep are not enough I tell myself. But the self pity is quickly interrupted as I suddenly notice that something smells like soured milk.

Oh God. Could it be a dead mouse festering somewhere?! This is a real phobia; birthed from living in London and acutely understanding that beneath the city are thousands of mice and rats waiting to live and die between the floor boards . I have a hypothesis that the same is true of Dubai, except that the access points here are AC vents. But I digress! The point is something smells vile and I was sniffing around to locate the source.

I reach my bathroom by this point and I eventually looked up at myself in the mirror.  A. very. long. trail. of dried milk is running down my t-shirt. How did I not feel my son posset on me? Whatever. No time to be hard on myself. What matters is the source is located and its not a dead rat. 

I also see that I have a scratch on my face because I cringe at the thought of cutting baby nails and my baby’s idea of love is to graze his fingers into my face like a shocked raccoon climbing a tree. I also had cut both my daughters’ nails and I needed a break from that existential activity.

Wow. My hair is a disaster: greasy on the top, dead as dry weed at the ends and the discrepancy in shade from brown to blonde so tacky because let’s face it, it can’t pretend to be deliberate even with the re-emergence of ombre and baliage trends. It resembles neither looks. I can’t pretend its a thing. Ok, maybe if  I shower and blow dry my hair. Good plan! Bravo me. 

Whats that in the clasp of my hand. Oh, I have a shopping list that is basically a two-sided A4 paper with endless items in one colour and headings and subheadings in another, to distinguish types of items and the isles I’d need to visit. A very sophisticated system I am very proud of. It is a fruit and veggie heavy list. God damn it. Grocery shopping for fresh goods is as draining to me as white light and glare. Mastering the equation between plushness and ripeness; bagging everything into the trolley only to take all the bags out for scaling and pricing, and then placing them all back is a real pet peeve. I hate the texture of opaque, creepily thin plastic bags. That may be an over-sensitivity issue. Nevermind.

Again, I digress. I fold the list and decide I can do it later that morning. I note to myself that this means I have to wear closed shoes to avoid getting my toe stubbed by the trolley again. Another disaster averted. 

06.50 am. I need to shower. Ooh, I also need to find a way to de-puff my very supple under-eye-bags. Of all things to be supple, I mean really. I’ve run out of under-eye masks that don’t make a difference. Wait, will I have time to pick some up? I don’t think so. OK, Ill just put the cold-press I still have in the freezer from my breastfeeding days on my eyes and hope for the best. Shower first. Why is my phone blinking? Oh crap! It’s dress-down day at my eldest daughter’s school! Why does my calendar reminding me ‘at the time of the event’?! I swear I set it to ‘the day before’? No problem.  I’ll run down get her to pick out an outfit, change and then I’ll shower. We need to leave in 25 mins. I can make it.  

7.20. 30 minutes later, She’s dressed, again. and I am showered and dressed but I don’t have time for makeup or sorting my hair. Plan revision: I’ll drop off the kids and make sure I run my fingers through the parts of my hair that often frizz every five to 10mins to tame the psycho strands. I can apply my make up in the car I do that nearly every day. Good plan. I am killing it today! 

I pick up the baby to kiss him goodbye and I notice his breath smells a little, and am I imaging or is he a little warm? Fuck the duck, is he getting sick?? He was fine half an hour ago! He can’t be sick again, poor baby! I take his temp. Yup he’s ill. OK, ok, I write down everything the nanny has to do in the two hours I’ll be gone and alert myself to call the clinic once they open and take an appoint. I adjust the stupid setting of the dysfunctional icalender. I push the guilt of leaving him down my pit-less barrel of self hatred that’s deceivingly labelled: pragmatism. 

07.30 am. Time to get the girls out the door now that we are running ten mins behind. Lets go girls! What is that insanely loud screaming? Why is my second daughter on the floor crying? She wants to get out of her uniform and into normal clothes now that she saw her sister had changed? What? We don’t have time! I don’t have time! There is no reasoning with this red faced pouting three and a half year old. she is screaming bloody murder. “Fine, go pick something out. Sure,  you can choose anything you want but you have 60 seconds”.

She comes down after 120 seconds with a swim suit. You know what? Screw it! Let her wear it to school, I don’t mind. We can be that family, I’ll just pack  your uniform in her bag, maybe the teacher has more success persuading her than me. No failure today! Just positive reaffirmations telling myself that I can I can I can. 

09.00 am. Indeed, I can and I did. I made it to both their schools albeit ten mins late, I managed to apply my make up in the school parking lot while simultaneously arranging an appointment to take my son to the doctor later that morning I am now parking outside of the offices where I am having my first interview post-maternity. I am on time. I am so nervous my palms are sweating but I promised myself only positive self-talk and visualisation. Breathe. I am going to kill this interview because I am going to kill this job that I really want and will be good at.  

We now know I didn’t get what I wholeheartedly wanted. Was I disappointed? Very. Was  I devastated? No.

Now that I run on very little sleep, eat stale cereal as I drive and have everything in my bag from sterilising wound spray to antacid to dry shampoo, I think I can say I am privy to the universe that is bigger than what you exhibit of your self in a job interview.  The time and task management that needs to be put in effect. The speed and skill needed to get everyone ready mentally, emotionally and physically to face each and every day. One minute I’m measuring milk levels on a stupid baby bottle that has cute bunnies where numbers should be, trying to mentally convert ounces to millilitres; or trying to muster the perfect braid, the next I am rushing through last minute math homework that feels like its a deliberate mockery of my challenged algebra, or pulling together all the notes I was typing at 1 am the night before. Or, or or.

Thats the thing. The list of possibilities are endless. Because the life of a mother, at least my life as a very mediocre mother, is full of risk, full of flukes, coincidences and last minute hurdles. Nothing has prepared me better for multitasking, leading, and be creative like motherhood has.

So as I opt not to take Facebook’s 10 Year Challenge, because its harder to put up a picture where you do look weathered even if you write a whole piece about celebrating change, I am grateful for learning to be able to make that uncomfortable admission. Learning and adapting. That is the key to being successful at any job, as it is to being a good [enough] parent and what we can take from the last decade indemonstrable through profile photos then and now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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