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

10 JOBS FOR STAY AT HOME MOMS

I got several responses on my previous post about stay at hone mom vs working mom and most of the direct questions I had was finding things to do from home and still be able to get paid while doing it, looking after your little ones and finding that personal self-fulfillment through career and financial independence. You don’t want to be going to your husband every time you need a dime. Even if you have a joint account, you don’t want to be explaining yourself every time you buy something nice for yourself. So I have decided to share some few ideas of jobs you can do from the comfort of your own home while looking after your family full time. You don’t have to have an experience, a degree or accreditation. You don’t have to worry about childcare for your young kids.

1. Blog – This is one of the first choice for a lot of moms and my favorite, in fact there is the ‘influx’ of mom bloggers currently. I love this one so much because it not only provided me with little income, it has also become therapeutic for me as a full time stay at home mom. Sharing my thoughts and struggles has become so helpful and it made me a happier person and I made some connections that blossomed into friendship and I’m able to help other women. You don’t have to have any experience, you just have to enjoy writing and or taking pictures. However, you are not going to start raking in the money immediately. It takes time and patient so you have to love it. When I first started, I did not make a dime, I love blogging and making contents on social media. It is my creative outlets. I still can’t afford to do it full time even though that’s the dream (I live in Manhattan and that’s a pretty expensive dream) but at least I’m getting income now as supposed to when I first started. I can pay some of the bills with it.

2. Become an Instagrammer – Most people these days are already using social media, but there is a different way to use social media, become an influencer, content creator or creative director, whichever title suits you. One thing a lot of people don’t know is that you do not have to be a famous instagrammer or have hundreds of thousands of followers. So far you have good contents, at least a thousand followers and take good enough pictures. And your personality too. Brands look at how you connect to your audience. You are good to go. Be consistent. Your followers want consistency. You don’t have to post four pictures a day or even post everyday. As a busy mom even if you can manage 3-4 times a week.

There are macro, micro, medium and large influencers. Rome was not built in a day and remember even though we have big companies paying influencers with large followers, we also have small to medium companies using smaller influencers too. This days, even big companies are now appreciating the values of micro influencers. why pay thousands of money to just one influencer when you can have ten different smaller influencer promote your brand to a wide variety of audience. So don’t get discouraged because you have a few following. I remember my first gig with Google, I was like OMG! So big companies like that are noticing small contents creator like me? When I first started, I was very concerned about how I would be perceived. Show off, narcissist and being vain or needing validation were some of the things that came to mind. This is especially true for people from my culture and religious background. Even though I still struggle with some of that (I may come across as showing off and jokingly say it but that is so far from the truth), I know why I’m doing it. I love to share with the hope to inspire and encourage. If I wear this outfit confidently regardless of how I look, you too can. It’s nice to see clothes on regular people who are not models or perfect.

So be ready for that internal battle. But keep going anyway. Now that I get paid to create content, that feelings are not important to me anymore. I just remind myself, this is how I financially take care of my family. I’m doing it for my family. That’s who you are doing it for too right? So don’t worry.

And again, just like blogging, becoming a content creator takes time and patients. just keep on taking those pictures and creating contents in your area of interest. One day, you will have your breakthrough.

3. Become an Online seller – e-commerce is the way these days, I mean you buy things online right? people are selling through eBay, amazon and many more other channels of selling products. You don’t have to worry about owning a real shop, find out more about drop shipping, you don’t even have to have the physical products if space or start up fee is a concern for you. You can own a virtual shop and make money through it from the comfort of your own home.

4. Become an actor/model – gone are the days you had to look like a model to model. Thanks to inclusion and body positivity movements, anyone can virtually become a model, you just have to have the attitude and love for it. You can take acting classes (online if you don’t have childcare) And you can even take your baby along with you. I did a private modelling gig recently and I was lucky to be able to take all three kids with me and they were involved in the campaign too. More income and no worries for childcare. We had fun as a family and it actually made the final product better. Imagine using real families to play make believe families. Especially families like us that really have fun together and get along well.

5. Become a freelancer – Be it writer, photographer, proof reader or virtual assistant, you can sell your talents or knowledge on a part time basis for money and Still be in control of your time.

6. Become a product/services reviewer – get paid to take surveys. This is not sometime I particularly like although I have done it in the past, I find it quite time consuming and I do not naturally like filling out forms in real life and I get impatient answering questions over and over again. But if you are ok filling out surveys and answering questions then give it a go. You can also get store vouchers like Target for taking part.

7. Become a childminder – if you are home looking after your kids, why not add one or more kids and get paid doing what you are already doing anyway. Depending on your area and the rules and regulation of the state, you may be suprised that you can become a childminder from anywhere, meaning you do not have to live in the suburb with big gardens. When I was researching into doing this in New York City, I was pleasantly surprised that I could do it from my apartment and public parks counts as outdoor space too. No wonder I see kids all lined up walking to local parks. You can get paid as soon as you start with this one. Your kids get to have additional playmates. Start up cost is low because you already have toys for your kids and you have already childproof your house. There are grants too to help you with start up cost.

8. Partake in Paid research and studies – when I first heard of this I was thinking, “I am not becoming some scientist guinea pig” but that is so far from the reality. Some of the studies involve what you are already doing, someone will just come and be observing you interact with your family or a medication you are already using. I get worried when you are asked to take something new. Anytime you are asked to put something into your body, that should be a no. You don’t know if it has been approved or not and I am very protective of moms or primary care givers because God forbid something should happen to you, who will look after your kids. But if you are already using the medication or cream for example, then that’s great.

If you want to know how to find good ones, I was approached while waiting at the kids clinic by a teaching hospital in New York City. They also place adverts including Craigslist . Although I haven’t done any yet just because of time and other commitments but I was promised $250 by the university and for just 45 minutes of our time. I think that’s pretty good deal. Imagine doing just two a week for a month.

9. Become a teacher – you do not have to go to a teacher training college to become a teacher. Are you very good at making things, open a youtube Chanel and teach people how to do it. Teach people how to do makeup, style their outfits, bake, cook African dishes for the family (some non Africans are married to Africans and may want to learn). Start an online master classes and let them pay you to come and do what you know how to do all while looking after your kids. Create your own online course and people will pay you for it.

10. Become a photographer – You can start small, buy a decent camera (doesn’t have to be a new fancy one). Start practicing on your kids or pet or nature. Anyone can pretty much learn anything these days thanks to YouTube. Then start with friends and family portraits or events. Do you know that you can sell your pictures too? Stock photography. Or become a brand photographers. Small brands/companies are looking for small photographers to take pictures of their products for marketing. And they will pay for it. Have a portfolio of what you have done. Don’t let that scare you. Just have a folder of all the beautiful pictures you have taken, when you hear portfolio you immediately think they meant paid previouse job, who says it has to be paid. Tell your family and friends you are willing to do free shooting for them because you are building your portfolio. Go print them out and buy a photography folder and voila you are ready.

Lastly I want to encourage you to be patient and know this, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. It may not seem like it or make any sense but trust me when I say this and I say it with a 100% conviction, you are where you are supposed to be in life. I used to have anxiety over what to do while taking care of the kids. Something that doesn’t affect my values like becoming an escort, (you going to need childcare for that), or sell my kidney or my right arm. But joke aside, what can you do while still taking care of my babies. You start comparing yourself with your mates who started together or went to school together. That lady is building a beautiful house, she travels all the time. She wears expensive nice things.

My husband did not understand why I worried so much, money wasn’t the problem for us. But I felt like I was missing something. Even though I knew I made the right choice (I will never have it the other way) my anxiety was for the future (I don’t know why we worry so much about the future when all we are guaranteed of is just today). I always thought, what will I do when the kids are older and start school full time? After staying at home for some years, you lose your confidence. Will employers take me back? How about that “previous” employer issue and references. Do I need to re-train or go back to school just to catch up.

Whatever you are doing right now (or not doing, as it may seem), it will prepare you for your next move. You just keep going. It will all make sense eventually. You can also combine these 10 ideas. You can blog, become a photographer, a model and have a YouTube channel for example. For security and personal reasons I will not (yet) disclose my new business venture, it is not on the list but one thing I learned and that gave me the confidence to assure you that you are where you are supposed to be was that, everything I unknowingly learned while ‘waiting’ is what has been helping me. My instagram knowledge about taking clean, pictures. Sending emails and negotiating contracts with brands that want to use my platform to promote their products. My relationship with my followers (I genuinely think they are all my friends and I love and respect them as such), is my customer relationship skills. Typing, writing and talking with other bloggers (team working). Everything has been useful to me.

When you are a full time stay at home mom, you are learning valuable management skills and that is priceless. You may not even know it. You are a master of conflict resolutions (if you have more than one kid you would have learned this skills). Negotiations skills (how do you leave both parties happy at the end of the day). Multi tasking (I finished working on my day business, kids are sleeping and I’m here blogging while enjoying a nice glass of wine and some Nina Simon playing) talk about multi-tasking.

The best skill for me is learning to work under pressure. As moms we just get on with it. No time to be moaning and complaining. We handle things even when we are freaking out or when we have no idea what we are doing. When it comes to our kids, we are lionesses. I have taken that into my entrepreneurial business and I must say I surprise myself sometimes. I deal with an issue and remembers when I had to deal with similar issue as a mom, wife or as a content creator and I smile to myself. I bring that knowledge into my business.

If I could go back and advise my younger mom self I would say “just relax Irene, everything will be alright. It will all turn out fine and you are on the right path”. I remember questioning my move to America and I smile because if I didn’t, I won’t be where I am today. I won’t have this joy and fulfillment I feel today. So I’m telling you the same. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. You made the right decision. You may not see it. But you did. Trust the process.