But How About Mama?

I love New York City, and one of the reasons why I love it so much is that this is a concrete jungle and in the concrete jungle, there is no illusion of the white picket fence idea or measuring who’s grass is greener. This is a hustling ground and nothing is given or done for free. You pay for it one way or another. Thats the kind of place for people like us. Mothers who are caring, nurturing, kind, humble yet big time hustlers at heart.

The down side to being a goal getter when you are a solo mom is that it brings a lot of anxiety. I made a promise last year that I will always be truthful with you on my blog. These few months have been an eye-opener for me. In my moments of thought I felt the pain and anxiety of a mom like me, I wanted to hug her and tell her “I fell you mama”. You are not alone in your struggle.

When we hear about anxiety, we usually think its all about too many bad things happening at once. No, it is also about having too many good things or potentially good things happening all at once. The “thing” or reason it self is not the anxiety – that could actually bring you joy and happiness, the problem is having multiple things happening at the same time. Your joy and happiness is tainted with anxiety and this is why it is hard for people like you to get help because no one will understand. You are having the time of your life. You have this and this happening for you. Starting a new business is a good thing, having a small business already going on is a good thing, having a family is a good thing, having your good friend get married and her asking you to be her maid of honor is a good thing, having your parents come to visit is a good thing but having them all happening all at once or needing your attention all at once can cause you a lot of anxiety.

Society make us to think we are good at multitasking and yes that is true, no one can be making dinning, helping the kids with homework, sending clients emails, dealing with staff issues like a mother. But when you are starting a new business while running a new business, in a new place while navigating your way through your new environment, and helping your kids navigate this new way of life too and worry about the emotional implications of them missing their old friends even though they are making new friends and doing well, it gets too much.

As mothers, we are cursed with perpetual worry. We worry if there is nothing to worry about, I mean it can’t be right for everything to be going on this good, what is the catch or when is it going to all go bad, we worry currently for the future for things that are going ok now but might go wrong later. We are blessed but we are cursed with that burden of worrying.

It is not a bad thing, another way to look at it is that, that constant worry is our guard, our checker, our rational self that knows yes it is cool to live in a world of bubble, roses and unicorns but the reality is that things do go wrong, things will stop working, you will get rejections and disappointments. But you are tough, you are strong. You are a beliver. That is your truth so hold on to your truth. Use your worry and let it work for you.

When everything is all happening at once and you are feeling anxious, anger can easily set in. Why do I have to be the one making all the sacrifices. “But how about mama”? This is for my solo mamas who are keeping the forth while the husabnds are working. You sometimes resent him for having the freedom, peace and quiet to do his work, there is no child to answer their 10994th questions or something to sign at school that you could have sworn you already signed or one parent things to attend or a baby to change her diappers after only just changing it like a minute ago or a sick child to attend to. You want to have all the peace of mind to think, develop and build your business.

Why does it have to be you making that sacrifice to juggle it all. Contrary to popular believe you don’t love the ‘strong-woman-can-do-it-all’ title. You don’t even want it, It wasn’t a choice for you. You had to be it. If things were different of course you would want it the easier way, but life isn’t always easy, what’s the fun in it. You won’t appreciate things if they were that easy. You ever wonder why you live a life full of gratitude and you are always hopeful and love to enjoy life? It is because of all the struggle you have been through. You come out on the other side stronger and you see the world differently.

Mama have her own dreams too that go beyond changing diapers and attending PTAs. Mama had dreams when she was a little girl. Yes she’s had some of them but she is still not there yet. Mama wanted to change the world and make it a better place just like you. How about mamas dreams.

You sometimes resent the same family you love and that you would give your life for, but then you look at them and think, “it is you I’m doing it for”. If it is them you are doing it for, then lets do it for them. What is more important to us moms? The kids. The family. Yes we matter too but they matter more, we are cursed with this motherly thing. But we are blessed. Do you remember when you prayed for what you have now? Maybe not all of them, but something you wanted 10 years ago and you have it now. Do you remember their giggle for the siliest thing that isn’t even funny?

When they wrap their hands around your neck. Do you remember the wet kisses of a toothless baby on your face? That’s my favorite. You push them away laughing at the pool of drool on your face while hugging them tight. They can’t say they love you yet, but the way they look at you, smile and sheepishly turn their face away says it all. I love it when my baby is having her milk, playing with her hair and trying not to smile because even though she’s not looking directly at me but she knows I’m looking at her. She tightens her lip around her bottle nipple and her cheeks are puffy from concealed smile. She is trying so hard not to smile! It’s just so beautiful to watch.

Yes you are beyond tired and exhausted, you don’t have the time to even go to the gym or time to go for that bra fitting you have been meaning to go. You are a mother. You are their mother. This is your calling, this is your one true duty. Nothing else. The duty of a mother is beyond birthing the child and making dinners and other things we do or have someone else do for us. It is the sacrifices. The selfless act of putting their needs above yours. You may not even feel the tingling kind of love people have come to describe what love is, for your kids but making that daily sacrifice to put their needs above yours is the definition of love.

Kids will grow up, new businesses won’t be new forever, eventually it will find its momentum and a system in place where it will not need you as much. Then you would have time for those catching ups, those long hours at the mall shopping, those hours sitting at the nail saloon to have your nails and toes painted. Yes others might be doing it while running a business, do they have kids? Do they have the number of kids you have? Do their spouse work in a different state or country? Do their support system live far away? These are all rhetoric questions that we cannot answer, remember why I love New York in the beging, stop looking at the grass of your virtual or real neighbor. You do not know their story. You know your own story. Your own situation. Given the same opportunity or support they have, you might do better, but work with what you have right now. Be proud in the process. Not of, but in the process. The journey not the destination. Every little step you make is something bore out of your hard work. Given that you are doing it while raising your kids single handedly. Tru,st that process. You are on to something. Keep doing your best. That is good enough.

Remember the beginning and where you are now. Small progress is better than no progress. When my baby was newly born i never had time for full on makeup. These days i find myself doing my makeup and even applying mascara and she is playing away with her toys as supposed to having to carry her with one hand and do my makeup with the other free hand. I look at her and i get emotional, it reminds me that these struggles are but for a little while.

The Bible says count your blessings and name them one by one. List the things you see in your kids that means love to you. Maybe it’s them making breakfast for you on Sunday. Or sharing their cookies with you. My son keeps a snack from school and brings it to me. I told him his teachers might think we have no food at home and we laugh about it. I encourage him to continue. Your babies might be too young but they have a way they show love too. Do you notice they always want to put your nose in their mouth. That’s them kissing you. Your labor of love is not in vain and you matter too. Just not right now. Right now you are in sacrifice mode. Give give mode. Anxiety mode. Feeling unappreciated mode. But these times don’t last forever. When you are done raising your babies, you will have ALL the time in the world to invest into your business. That little time you have that you are investing in it right now is ok. This is what you can do with the kids. They will grow up and go to college. They will find love, get married and form a family of their own. And you will be proud mama. Proud that despite all, you did. You. No one else. No one helping you. You will be there for your kids and help them raise their kids because you have been through it and you understand it too well. You will be successful in business and in your family life. Because you endured these period when it was tough. to

I love you mama,

xoxo iRene

A ROAD TRIP TO WASHINGTON DC

When you hear of Washington DC what comes to your mind? Democracy, government, boring, plain, politics and so on. This was what I thought was going to be our trip to Washington DC. Despite preconceived ideas and notions about a place, I like to still go with a fresh pair of eyes.

We decided to take a road trip instead of flying. I have always thought of taking a road trip around the US. What better time to do it now and enjoy the experience with the whole family. I love flying, but I am in no rush to get to my destination. I want to enjoy the journey, the trip is not all about the destination, it is the memories and things we see on our way. The cities and towns we drove past, the sounds of the rain on the windscreen. The whooshing sounds of a car driving past. The trees and roadside flowers. There is something about driving in America road. They are so wide, several lanes. How about the rules. I discovered on this trip you cannot drive on the far left without someone in the car. This was part of the learning I could not get from the clouds. The scenic route to Washington DC was beautiful.

Scenic view of our road trip

Our final destination was in George Town DC. We stayed in the Riverside Hotel, which was perfect for having the best of all three worlds. Washingon DC, George Town and Virginia.

Even the 7 Eleven there was different from the ones in New York. It was fancy.

When in Washington DC, I think the first place to see (out of courtesy) should be the White House. I mean it would just be rude not to. But in all seriousness, this was first for us because, if by any chance we cannot see other places or ever come back to DC, I do not want to have regrets of never being to the White House. This front lawn has been embedded in our subconsciousness we feel like we have been here before.

I had a list of places I wanted to see in this trip, this was a family trip and a personal one too. So we tried to do most of them. I wanted to go to Renwick Galleries after the visit to the White House.

The Renwick Gallery was on my list because of its proximity to The White House. It has world-renowned beautiful unique collections. It is adult looking but child-friendly. And it is accessible to strollers.

Next, I wanted to have afternoon tea at the Laduree in George Town with my girls. This branch in Georgetown is by far the most beautiful one I have come to see. This French fancy tea shop with branches including Europe is a place I love visiting with my girlfriends. But I wanted this special bond over our trip with my baby girls.

After our afternoon tea at Laduree, I wanted to stop and take a moment to appreciate the Wisconsin Avenue NW & M St NW intersection. There is something poetic where these streets meet. The ambiance of the intersection is somewhat beautiful.

There is an old building currently owned by PNC Bank with a gold leaf-domed. It looks like something you would see in Meca.

I wanted to take a leisure stroll along George Town Waterfront, it was beautiful, the bridge, colorful boats. Everything.

I wanted to buy a bunch of flowers at the Green Works Flowers in O Street NW. The beautiful pink floral shop was so pretty.

At the end of the busy day, I wanted to retire back to our hotel and enjoy the evening with a lovely glass of wine and sit by the fireplace taking in the day and all the exciting places we saw. We all loved staying at the Riverside Inn.

The next day we had a light breakfast and headed over to Lincoln Memorial. We made a wish at the reflection pool.

We stopped at the front of the Lincoln Memorial for a little bit. We wanted to take in the moment.

After our little family (not too fancy) picnic, we headed inside to see the man himself.

Waiting for the elevator

Next stop is the Africa American Museum. I must admit I was a little bit disappointed at the museum. I felt it was rushed. To create something beautiful, you need to take your time and put in a lot of thought into every single piece. This was long awaited and overdue. There was so much expectations. I felt let down. One thing that came to my mind was likening it to a community center for Africa Americans. A place to come together and feel at “home” because you felt belonged. If that was the purpose, it would have been perfect. . But this was a museum. I wanted to learn about the great works of Africa American in history. See the things that made them great. Not just their pictures and stories. A replica maybe. I tell the kids stories of their ancestors that were royalties, share with them great examples of Africa Americans that invented things. I love museums and galleries because it stands for hope of the future by looking at the past or present. That the human mind is capable of amazing things. I have a passion for arts and creativity.

I wanted to see more, yes there was the picture of Madam CJ walker, I wanted to see a (replica) of the hair product she discovered. Samuel T Wilcox, James Forten, Paul Cuffee, Marie Van Brittan Brown, Garrett Morgan safety mask, and so on. Maybe I raised my expectations too high due to the excitement of visiting the beautiful place. Nevertheless, we had a great time.

The next day was for exploring places to eat. There were several places we wanted to go and eat. But because of time, we chose a few. The most memorable one was dinning at 1789 restaurant. I loved the name. It was a conversation started. Why that year? What was significant about it? The lovely waiter explained the history behind the lovely restaurant to us over wine. The menu wasn’t too complex and the atmosphere was beautiful. I could not believe we (ordinary people) could dine in a restaurant that several American presidents had dined in. The restaurant had that humbleness about it. It was simple yet elegant.

I wanted to visit Tidal Bassein because it was not far from the National Mall. To enjoy the view and see the cherry blossoms. To walk to The Wharf where we can find yet another selection of things to do and eat.

I wanted to visit the Library of Congress, the National Building Museum, the Museum of Women in Art. To spend the whole day in City Centre DC. I wanted the last day to be a trip to Union Station, to go early and spend time looking at the architecture and people traveling. Have the kids play around the pillars. Listen the the pigeons flap their wings and listen to the wheels of suitcases wheezing across the concrete floor as they hurried to catch their train.

A cool pod for breastfeeding

Regardless of how you decide to plan your trip to Washington DC, I am sure you will have an awesome time because this is one place that exceeded my expectations and I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun we had and all the things we learned along the way. We cannot wait to visit again and cover all the places we couldn’t visit or restaurants we were not able to eat because it was time to back to the Big Apple.

The journey back home was another beautiful sight to see.

View from our car windows

Empire State Building

Growing up as a little girl, I wanted to travel to New York City and I wanted to sit down in a cafe and look at the Empire State Building all day. This iconic building is not just another big skyscraper in a big city. It is significant to having “that” New York feelings. New York City is not just a state literally, it is a state of mind. A feeling. And the Empire State Building is all part of that.

The Empire State Building soon became a symbol of hope for that little girl with big dreams. Whenever I saw a postcard from New York and saw the picture of the building, I would smile. A smile of believe and hope, that one day I will see this building in real life but never in a million years did I think I will be doing it with my children.

I came and I saw and I thought it was enough until today. Today I felt very humbled and grateful to God for being able to not only see this iconic building, but to go inside with the kids. I love showing the kids around New York City and telling them stories. Stories of hope, faith and believing in the impossible. Stories of people from every corners of the earth coming to one place to dream and to do things they had only dreamed of. To pursue a passion and feel liberated. To fully be themselves and express themselves without the fear of shame or persecution. A city of hope and second chances.

It wasn’t the private tour or the lovely Krystle who was so kind and generous with her time and helping us take some (a lot of) pictures that made this visit special, I will never forget the twinkle in her smile as she showed us the switch that turns on the lights of the Empire State Building or her soft voice as she tells us stories about the building that has now become one of the modern-day wonders of the world.

The switch that lights up the Empire State Building

It was that feeling that was familiar yet almost forgotten. I thought seeing the Empire State Building from several other buildings or restaurants was enough. I thought I had my happy ending in New York, until I walked into those doors on 20 W 34th street across from the Banana Republic that faithful afternoon.

There is a difference from seeing the doormen in their cute uniforms to hearing them welcoming you into the building and wishing you a lovely time. Riding the elevators and thinking wow so this is it, I am IN the Empire State Building! Just wow!

Getting off and stepping into that observation deck and seeing those now too familiar observing binoculars that you could see six states from – New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Delaware. Seeing this beautiful city, New York, that has now become our home. Seeing the hospital where I gave birth to my baby daughter. Seeing Central Park where we were just riding our bikes the other day.

There’s a feeling I thought so hard to describe, it was electrifying. Perhaps this is what accomplishment felt like. Knowing that you have conquered your greatest desire. And not just alone, but you have been able to share that moment with your loved ones. This was by a mile, the best mothers day ever.

Going to the Empire State Building is not about what you would see, it is about what you would feel. The feeling that it evokes in you. Something that you never knew you had. You come out and the lingering feeling of euphoria stays with you for a long time. We came to New York City to see the empire state building but we ended up seeing New York City from the Empire State Building.

It Smelled Like Home

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.

x Irene