It started with a simple nostalgic smell coming from our super’s apartment downstairs. You see, the super to our building lives directly below our apartment, he hears everything we do and surprisingly I do not hear him and his family. As a solo-mom, you are always 100% tired and when you manage to go to bed, you only wake up to the sounds of your kids (its a weird maternal thing), so even though I can’t hear him, I can smell the delicious food his Caribbean wife who is from Haiti cooks.
Since moving from the UK to America, I haven’t found where to do my African food shopping and to be honest I am not in a hurry to. It is not easy when you are on your own with three kids, I do the basic and we tend to eat out often because I need my sanity. When I have to shop, I shop locally ( not the definition of shopping local but you know me, I like to be literal sometimes) but all joke aside, we are lucky to live in a place in Manhattan where we have whole food, Trader Joes and many small retailers within a few minutes walk from our apartment. I just go there to buy tomatoes, chicken and some vegetables and voila you have jollof rice
So when I smelled the delicious aroma of a typical native food, it brought back the taste of “home”. I miss the days when I had my husband, mom or my grandmother cook for me, the days I didn’t have so much responsibility. The days I asked “what’s for dinner” instead of being the one to answer that questions. I missed being looked after.
A mom friend once told me she always wants to be pregnant despite always having complicated pregnancies that meant she’s often times admitted into hospital. When I asked her why, she said because when she is in hospital, the responsibility shifts from her, now she’s the one people are taking care of, instead of being the other way round, while she’s in hospital, no demands from her. At the time I thought she was crazy. Now I understand what she meant, as a care giver, nurturer and a minder, you give and give and give. You rarely receive (hence why a lot of us do retail therapy – especially online – whenever the post man brings that package for you, its like a surprise present, even though it is from you to you). You sometimes want to be on the receiving end. Nothing wrong with being on the receiving end once inthe a while.
I must admit I used to judge a lot of women in the past, but I am so much sympathetic these days towards women, especially mothers raising multiple young kids. It is not easy. Especially when the kids are at different age point. some days I am cooking three kinds of meals while listening to three kinds of sounds from our small apartment. The baby is listening to nursery rhymes, the older kids are watching their program and I am probably listening to whatever Google Alexa decided to play for me when I asked her to ‘play me classical music’. Some days everything is all happening at once. The bills are all due (they don’t have direct debit -DD- here, I am mastering their alternative to DD), the laundry is due because you just went through the dirty laundry to look for something “not too dirty” for the kids to wear to school (oh how I miss the UK and its boring grey and white uniforms), that is when you know you really have to do the laundry that day, no matter how tired or busy you are.
I have asked other moms how do they cope with family, entrepreneur and life balance and they say “delegate delegate delegate” well theoretically that sound nice, but practically lets just say: 1. I am not rich enough to have a full time nanny in America (relocation is not cheap especially when you are literally starting all over again). 2. I am a control freak, I like my things done in a certain way, I know this is probably an issue but I am not seeking therapy just yet. 3. I am very hard to please, especially if I know I am paying for it, I have a very high level of expectation of quality service (vice versa, hence why I over-deliver sometimes). 4. I don’t like people going through my knickers (undies for my American readers), I mean, those of you who give out laundry to “pick and drop” laundry service, how do you do the private things? Do you take them out and hand wash them ( I hope), which ever way, I just don’t like strangers going through my dirty laundry (haha, that was both literarily and figuratively). I often wonder, will they sniff my trousers? So many weird scenarios goes through my head and I end up taking the elevator to the basement to do the laundry myself in peace, well nearly in peace. The buildings’ in-house cats are always there watching you.
Whenever I moan about doing the laundry, people who do not live in cities like New York City do not understand. I did not understand too when we first came to America. I remembered when the estate agent was excited for me because this apartment she found for us had a laundry in the basement. Why are you excited? Wait, forget that question, why is the washing machine not in the kitchen, or closet like “normal” apartments? Well, I will tell you about renting apartments in Manhattan from an immigrant point of view another day, for today lets just say, if you want those old buildings with high ceiling and large rooms and features, they are so old that their plumbing pipes cannot withstand the pressure from washing machines, at least that’s the reason the estate agent told me. So it is a luxury to have a washing machine in your apartment. In fact, us having some in the basement is a little luxury on its own. Majority of people living in manhattan use the Laundromat or dry-cleaning service.
So while going to the basement to do the laundry on one hand, helping kids with their homework questions, changing the baby’s diaper for the tenth time, while feeding her, checking my email to see if my client was happy with the service I just gave her so she can give me a review or recommendation because I just started the business and I need all the good feedback on the other hand. I smelt home cooked food.
I wanted to be at home. I needed to be mothered, to be loved like a wife (from a present husband), to be taken care of, to be understood. For a few minutes, I needed to not be the strong one, I needed to not be the one everyone comes to when they have a problem, I needed to not be the one worrying about everything. For a few minutes, I needed to not be a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend or whatever hat I always had to wear all the time. I needed to be Irene – somebody’s ……, even if it was just for a minute.
I managed to do my laundry and reminded myself that I am living my dreams. I remembered the days I prayed for what I have now. That is not just a motivational quote but it is true, growing up as an only child and going through loneliness, I remember praying for a family of my own, children’s noises in the house. I remember when I was watching Friends in a little English countryside, wishing I was living in manhattan just like Monica and her friends. My husband and I used to joke that when we retired and the kids had all left home, we would sell our properties and move to America. But here I am, in my mid thirties (before retirement), in a Manhattan apartment (not far from the one in Friends) full of noisy kid.
Yes, I am tired, yes I am feeling a little sorry for myself, but I have to remember that I am literally living my dreams. Seeing yellow taxis from my windows still gives me butterflies in my stomach. Being able to take a walk along the Hudson River, or take the kids to Central Park to ride their bikes like it is their backyard still makes my heart skip a beat. I walk to buy milk from the local Duane Reede and I look at the tall skyscrapers surrounding me, though I feel so small yet my heart swells in size. Yes, I am tired, I am grateful. Yes, I am tired, I am happy ( I think). Yes, I am tired, I am contented.
Without the need to feel ungrateful for all the blessing, I must not feel bad for feeling bad for a few minute. It is ok to have a pity party, and like all parties, it must come to an end, clean up and move on. I guess that’s what makes us human. The ups and down. And on a final note, if you are feeling down, remember your up is just right around the corner. Have hope. Its going to be alright.