Posts tagged " kids "

On the Reality of Freedom

September 14th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 2 comments

I took a long break, I haven’t been here in a while, I know. But see, it’s because I’m finally free. I let myself be because I’m finally free.

Not that that’s necessarily liberating. It’s terrifying.

I’ve spent the past four and a half years trying to survive, while trying not to fail a young child. My life has been about failing at breastfeeding, formula feeding schedules, hauling organic produce from the market on three hours of sleep, mashing that organic produce better than the best baby food expert on the internet, potty training, chasing, feeding, chasing, feeding, crying, encouraging, teaching, all while demonstrating the patience of a superhuman. But that’s what moms of young kids do. For the first few years, most of us, as we knew ourselves, cease to exist. We temporarily lose our partners, we have no child-free friends. We long to go out to dinner, when we get there, we curse the moment we chose to do it instead of going to bed. We long to sit on a beach, sit, without moving until the sun heats us enough to go in the water. We long to slip on a pair of expensive heels, only to realize our feet no longer fit in them, let alone have the agility or energy to walk in them. We long to work, to create, to be surrounded by adults, because we think that what we’re doing, here at home, is not real life, it’s simply raising a child.

Well let me tell you something, it’s as real as life is going to get. And it won’t last that long, in the grand scheme of things. But we can’t see that while we’re there, no. And then, suddenly, it’s over. They hang their schoolbags on their shoulders, grab hold of their friend’s hand, and run off in the schoolyard with a simple wave. If that. And there, we realize, we’re free.

Or I did.

The first week, I stared out the window. The second week, out of guilt, I began to cook two to three meals a day. When most of the food found itself in the garbage, I embraced Netflix, read a book. And then it came, the bomb, the one that explodes little shards of “this is your life now” quotes all over the kitchen. Suddenly, at 44, I can do whatever I want. Till 4.30pm, that is. But compared to a year ago, that is a lot of time. And I start to think, what can I do, and I begin to panic, because there isn’t that much I can do, and the last thing I want to do is sit and cook three meals a day for the rest of my life, even if someone eats them.

Cliche, I say. Every mom has this crisis when they’re finally reintroduced to the concept of breathing. So maybe I’m just going to breathe for as long as I need to. Let this freedom engulf me, stress me, push me, scare me. See where it takes me.

On the Group of Moms at the Playground

July 20th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 1 comment

A post went “viral” today, you’ve probably seen it if you’re a mom, written by a mom who lists why it’s ok to be any kind of mom, and still be a good mom. To basically stop mom-shaming eachother.

The fact is, the summer months are hard. Kids are home all day. That’s more than 12 hours of awake time for some us, 12 whole hours to feel like a failure. There’s lots of time for self-shaming, let alone the result of that awful but innate habit, judging other moms. But it’s more complicated than that. To stop judging eahcother, we must stop judging ourselves and the choices we make in raising our kids. And to openly talk about our feats, faults, failures, successes.

There is a playground close by here. At 6pm, daily, it fills with the same group of moms and their kids. When we first moved to the neighborhood, I’d take my son down there every now and then. The only mom who spoke to me was one with an autistic kid. Back then she wasn’t sure autism was the problem, so she kept swinging him on the swing, rhythmically, smile on her face, talking to her child non stop. Look, there’s an airplane, look, you’re eating a cookie, look, that little girl is playing with a truck. She was so deep in self-shame that I didn’t even know what to say to her, blaming herself for something that was completely out of control, not seeing that she is a hero, opening doors for others to judge her.

Another mom, twin boys, toddlers, terrible twos that seem to be stretching well beyond  that age, gravel in the air, in other kids’ faces, fighting, crying, screaming, she too exhausted and ashamed to tell them what they are doing is wrong. Again, and again.

The semi-foreign mom, who hears my child speak English and ask to play with her kid’s bulldozer, pretends she doesn’t speak English so she doesn’t get edged out by the rest who stare at me as if they’ve never seen a foreigner before. He even says “please,” but nothing. I tell him that it’s ok, we have a bulldozer in the trunk of the car, in Greek, but nothing.

The grandma who is way too old and tired to be tending to two kids, doing it for the unconditional love for her son or daughter, given little choice by the conditions of the country we live in, asking me which building we live in, on which floor, what school my son goes to and speaks the “xena” (foreign).

All of you, I’m just as freaked out as the rest of you, none of us knew what we were signing up for. I could mom-shame you as you do me, I see you stare at me in disdain as I open my phone and play a round of Candy Crush, as I take my son by the hand and take him home for bath and bed hours before any of you do. And I let you be, because I know you do it because you see parts of yourself in me, parts you wish you could be, as I do in you.

It’s ok, I understand, as I’m sure somewhere deep down inside, you do too. Mom-shaming is just self-shaming.
You haven’t seen us in a while, and you probably never will, for I no longer take my kid to your playground, there’s no room for us. I take him somewhere we can breathe, unashamed.

On Freedom Night

July 17th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

A girl’s night out can be a tricky thing. In our 20s it usually resulted in drunken stupor followed by black outs and hangovers. In our 30s, they become rare, as everyone slowly found their elusive other half and spent nights cuddled up on couches, gaining weight by the kilo per Saturday.

Then came the babies.

For the first few years, nights out are events that we planned months in advance, trying to work around toddlers’ schedules. When and if we succeeded to meet up, the result was pretty close to the nights of our 20s, minus the fun and the all-nighters. The drunker we got (end of drink one), the more we complained about diapers, walking, crawling, puke, poop, lack of sleep, and by the end of the night (end of drink two), the conversation had shifted to how beautiful all our children are and how lucky we are to have them even though we get no sleep and no alone time. The friends without kids that originally joined us, slowly chose to not attend. And us, well, we opted to avoid these nights, dreading the sleepless night, followed by a gallon of water per each drink consumed at 6 a.m. the next morning, accompanied by the angelic screams of our kids.

And then we got used to all that. And suddenly, the babies and toddlers became kids that can turn on the TV without our presence before sunrise. And even more suddenly, so much so that it caught us off-guard, we got to have a real girl’s night.

It was a Saturday, at the house of two moms, whose kids got dressed up to greet the guests, and eventually, relatively painlessly went to bed.  I was so stressed about the possibility of a “pass out” occurring before 11pm, that I actually took the second nap of my lifetime that day. And everyone showed up, and stayed up. Friends I hadn’t seen without kids hanging off their sleeves in over five years, friends who had never left their children with a babysitter before, friends without kids who decided to give us another chance, friends who I see every week but suffer from not exchanging an adult conversation with, ever. We sat around a table, by a softly lit pool and talked. Listened to old music. The one that has words that make sense to accompany the tune. Moved chairs to be close to someone else, and talked some more. Some of us had dressed up, because we could, some dressed down because they could. Nobody cared, nobody got wasted, nobody fell asleep, nobody took their clothes off to jump in the pool, (though I must confess, I’d hidden a bikini in my bag), and children talk was limited to a five minute burst that faded as quickly as it had blown up.

We were us. But a different kind of us. An us that is not afraid to cry, to laugh, to scream, to be real, an us that is aware, accepting, embracing. An us that has spent our 20s and 30s together, and us that now has nothing to hide, an us, whether with four kids, two boyfriends, divorced or alone, sees things clearly.  An us that is free.

On all That is Really Left

July 10th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

There are days like this, when there is nothing left. Days when I’ve eaten plain spaghetti without salt for lunch, sprayed with questionable ketchup for the last two bites, wore unmatching clothes, left on nail painted on my hands. When pulling my bra through my sleeves as I rest my back on the hard floor, is even too much. When I no longer have answers for countless questions, especially ones such as “mommy, why do all children grow up.” When a morning at the beach day felt like a week’s worth of manual labor; hauling gear, changing wet bathing suits, reapplying sunscreen, digging holes, fetching juice, washing sand off the grapes, feet, hands, feeling my back burning as I spend hour two in the shallow water chasing a beach ball against the current,  on my knees.

It’s only the middle of summer and I already know nothing is left, my strength was gone before it started.

I promised myself I’d be better than last year, I’d be more patient, more organized, I’d allow time for boredom, spend time outdoors, blow my fuse at least half an hour later than normal, insist on healthier eating habits without nagging, limit screen time, and all this while not letting the scorching Greek summers dictate our day. No wonder I was tired before it all even started.

Today, all I managed, was the beach. With only one incident of voice raising. For safety reasons.

I know I’m not alone, there are a million moms on the verge of a summer vacay meltdown every second of the day. And for most of that time, we, I, are alone. Even if someone is with us.

By bedtime, our patience has reached superhuman levels, our fuses have burnt out, faded, we can almost smell them sizzling. The lights are off, the stories have been read, the mess almost tidied up, and we lay there, sit there, waiting for the melodic sound of their sleep breathing, they all have a different tune, and suddenly they’re out and we are free.

But free to do what?

“But grown ups don’t play, ” he says before he finally falls asleep. And then decides, “I’m going to play when I’m a grown up.” Hugs my arm, turns his back and goes to sleep. My arm is twisted, hurting, but it’s the sweetest pain. And all that is really left.

On the Road Constantly Traveled

June 27th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

For two years, twice a day, at two different ticks of the clock, I took a twenty minute drive along an identical route. I wasn’t always aware of my surroundings, rarely paying attention to what was going on outside my window, mostly answering my son’s questions, ranging from “what is god?”,  to “where was I before I was born?”, to my favorite “are we there yet?”.  It was repetitious, boring, a chore. I no longer drive along those roads, and now so clearly remember what I saw.

The smell of an aromatic cigarette in the elevator, and the plump lady that smoked it every day, lighting it outside her door downstairs, walking with it to the bus stop down the street.
The old man, in the garden of the building next door, oxygen tank in hand, cigarette in mouth. Sometimes I’d see him in the cab always parked in the same place, without license plates, sitting in the driver’s seat with the engine on.
The Pakistani man walking through the line of traffic at the lights, selling tissues, cutting flowers for my son from the weedy sidewalk. The first year I was cautious, afraid, uncomfortable. My son would roll down his window, smile, say thank you, and wonder where the “nice man” was on rainy, cold days. One day in spring, I saw him hand out daisies to an entire school bus, little hands sticking out the cracked windows, and my fear turned into warmth.

The trucks and bulldozers that we’d count on the road when he was only two-and-a-half, terrified of the new, strange place that took him away from mommy. The counting grew into the number of pigeons resting on the electricity cables above our heads, then red cars, and finally into sing-a-longs to favorite songs on the radio.

The posters randomly stuck on the streetlights before our final turn, changing in accordance with the political climate, weekly call to strike, local concerts; they layered them, one on top of the other, glue on glue, a medley of Greek society.

The amazing boy, almost a teenager, being lifted on and off the school bus for kids with special needs. Paraplegic, happier than any child I’ve seen, especially when his father scooped him up from his wheelchair every afternoon, cradling him like a baby, holding him close. I teared up every single time, reminding myself of how lucky most of us are, holding on to the moment as if a reminder of that beauty, tenderness and love are the most important thing in our routine, they keep us going, steer us down the same roads, bring us back.

The little boy, that after a few months of crying “mommy, don’t leave me,” ran through the doors of his preschool with glee, and dove into the box of plastic insects with his best friend.

The old, sick woman that was placed on an uncomfortable chair on the balcony of the house next to which I’d park. “Hey! Come up here!” or “Hey, throw this away!” she’d yell every day, either motioning me to the chair next to her, or throwing a bag of garbage onto the curb.

“Be quiet, Fotini, leave the woman alone,” her caretaker would say.

The peace, sometimes magical, sometimes lonely, as I gathered bits of breakfast and legos from around the house, estimating the hours I had before I’d have to go on my journey again.


On a Happy Place

June 23rd, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

When I was seven, my mom led me into the classroom in my new school. In a new country. I sat down at the desk assigned to me, next to a boy who is my friend to this very day. My knowledge of English was limited to “hello,” so I said it to him, almost in slow motion, with a heavy Russian accent. “Toilet” was the other word I knew, and even though I had to pee, I decided to save it for later.

It was a dark, cloudy September day, the classroom was in the basement, our desks a worn pistachio green, the light yellow, electric. Pine trees outside swayed to the early autumn tune of the breeze.

I wasn’t scared.

My mom was. She stood outside the old door, staring into its little window. She left when she saw my “hello,” knowing it was her cue, leaving me to figure out my new world on my own, even though all she wanted to do was stay and help me.

Now, it’s my turn.

I know I’m not alone, I see other moms of young kids who just either “graduated” nursery or kindergarten, panicking about how in a couple of months their munchkins will find themselves outside their comfort zone in a new school, a new classroom, surrounded by people they don’t know, just when they’d finally fallen into the comfort of their happy place. My son’s little school closed its doors today, forever. Stricken by the financial crisis, they opted to retire. Two years ago, I had walked into this place, my second stop in what I thought would be an endless road of research, and knew that it was it. It was the place where my barely two-and-a-half year old would never wear a diaper again, where he’d meet his first best friend, where he’d have his first fight, heartbreak, glorious laugh, where he’d learn his first letters and numbers, where he’d spell the “S” in his name backwards with a red marker over and over again on both sides of a piece of paper. It was the place that became the center of my daily social life, because come on people, we all know that moms of young kids can’t make it outside their homes past nine o’clock, especially on school nights. It’s was the place that I learned to trust strangers, to listen to them praise or criticize my son, it was the place that embraced him every morning for two years. It was his happy place, mine too, our safe place.

The thought of him getting off a bus and walking into a school ten times the size, terrified me at first. I almost started googling articles about how to help your kid deal with the change. But I didn’t. Because I don’t have to. None of us have to. They’re kids, they’re resilient, they adapt. I was the only one in the car crying today, as we drove away for the last time. He was laughing, bouncing his red balloon on the closed window and asking for ice cream. He’s not afraid of going to his new big school. I was. And if I made it through the day with a “hello,” anyone in his place can make it with a “hi.” He’s only four. It’s just the beginning. There will be more happy places.

“Mommy, why are you crying?” he asks, giving the balloon a hug.

“I’m excited,” I reply.

On the New High

June 14th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 2 comments

There I was, thinking that the ultimate high is reading a piece of your novel, (pun intended), in front of a group of adults, who smile, laugh, frown, and applaud at the appropriate times.

And then, I read in front of a group of children.

I did this three times in five days, so the margin for error is considerably low, and I promise you, there is nothing more uplifting than reading your story to a bunch of humans who are by nature, filter-free, who nevertheless stare at you and your book in awe. Who patiently line up and wait for you to sign their book, the first book they’ve ever had signed by an author and an illustrator. Who kneel down at the box of books you have next to you and ask if there are other, different books like this one in there.

Adults know how to be polite, they know how to pretend, how to force a smile, a laugh, a frown,  an applause. But kids, they only know to tell the truth.

Us writers are a vain bunch, but that’s only because we spend so much time in the solitude of our tumultuous minds, creating something we are forever convinced is not good enough. If the opportunity for praise and acknowledgment arises, we grab it with the hunger of a  jilted lover reunited with their soulmate.

So thank you, children, those that were at the launch of “When Clouds Embrace” this past Saturday, and to the brilliant groups at Byron College today.

I’m going on a children’s book tour.

On the Beach

May 5th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

And then, there came a day, when my kid and I lay next to eachother on beach towels, and talked. About the yummy strawberries that formed a bright red clown mouth around his lips, the five insects that he discovered in the schoolyard that morning, about how beautiful the beach is, how good the sea makes us feel.

Just when I thought, yet again, that I cannot do this anymore, that it’s not easier as they grow older, but a different kind of hard, another one I have to master, to adapt to, before the next appears. Just when I thought I was doing everything wrong, again, having forgotten that last time I felt this way, something just as magical happened to ease the way.

“Get up, mommy, I want to see how you run down the beach,” he says. “Like those two grown ups there,” pointing at the elderly sun-kissed couple, fitter than me in my 20s, jogging through the waves.

He’s up before me, running, screaming with glee, his little feet splashing, dots of wet sand a mosaic on his back. “Come on, mommy, this is the most amazing beach ever!” He runs toward me and wraps his arms around my thigh, I tug him back to our towels. We lay back down, me on my back, he on his side, looking into my eyes as if he expected me to do something to make things even more magnificent. The beach was full of people, but there was only us.

Parenthood will never be easy, it will rarely be bearable, I know that now, but I will forget it, too absorbed by frustrations of daily life.  My son is only four; we have an ocean to swim through, but I will have myriads of chances to be reminded by it’s sudden, rare, engulfing, unmatched beauty.

The moment was over quickly, as he demanded juice and ice cream on the way back to the car, tired, whiney and red-eyed, he sat back in his car seat and eventually fell asleep. I pulled over on the side of the road, switched off the music, took off my seatbelt, turned around and stared at him.

On the One True Christmas

December 12th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

Do you remember your favorite Christmas as a child? The one that was so full of magic, it was unlike anything you’ve experienced.

When Santa was undeniably real.

When your parents were your unquestionable heroes.

When all you felt was warmth, excitement.

When the lights on the Christmas tree were fireworks.

When snowflakes tasted like forbidden winter ice cream on your tongue.

The first time you licked a tangy peppermint candy cane, opened a window in a novelty calendar, got up well before sunrise and ran to the tree.

You probably don’t. But that’s because it only happens once, when you’re too young to remember it all.


This weekend, I lived the beginning of such a Christmas, as my four-year-old helped decorate the tree. He treated each ornament as if it was gold, no shabby-baby-boat-on-a-string was left behind, before I had a chance to fold out all the branches, he’d hung everything up. Making a list for Santa was deemed unnecessary, for all that seemed to matter was that he was coming. Ziplock bags full of his toys were scattered around the living room, presents for Teddy, not to be touched. At bedtime, he arranged a pillow next to the tree, and giving up his traditional night time cartoon, drank his milk staring at the blinking lights.

“Look! Beautiful shadows, mommy!” he said pointing at the ceiling.

Even the shadows were beautiful.

I have a photo of me, just a few months older than my son is today, it must be during my one true Christmas. Before some kid at preschool told me Santa wasn’t real, before Christmas gifts became a competition of who got the most or the biggest presents, before snow was just snow, before my parents seized to be deities, and before peppermint began to leave an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Before I realized that magic could just be a moment, and not a forever.

I don’t remember that day, but thankfully someone took a photo to remind me. I write this for you little man, so you know your true Christmas happened, and hope your magic lasts a lifetime.


On the First Year, and all Thereafter

October 25th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

For the first couple of years after becoming mothers, most women want to annihilate their partners. I see you, I hear you, I was you. There you were, single and free, thinking your body would defy gravity forever. You met him, feel in love, traveled, danced and drank, walked down the aisle, and got pregnant. When he held baby and then your hand, you were convinced that you’d love them both forever, with the exact magnitude of that priceless moment. Spoiler alert. Hormones may as well be drugs.

A few months and very few hours of sleep later, you still love your baby in that exact way, but you no longer know who this guy in the house is. Gone is the freedom, the good times, the romance. You’ve forgotten what a cuddle, a conversation, and laughter about anything but baby’s cute smile feel like. You wish he had breasts instead of you, you wish he was on maternity leave while you got to wear normal clothes and talk to other adults all day, you wish the bundle of joy could need daddy more than you for just one moment. And you definitely don’t want this dude to touch you after you’ve had baby hanging off you forever.

Time goes by, things become a different kind of hard, baby grows, maybe even wants daddy for a minute a day. But you still resent him, because its become the norm, because you’ve keep waiting for things to go back to they way they were, and they simply are not. And while undoubtably the first years are at times unbearable and impossible for mothers, they are also so for our partners. Just in a different way. We know why we no longer want them to touch us, why everything they do can annoy us, why we just want to throw baby at them and run out the door every now and then. But they do not. You need to tell them. And it’s not even their fault.

Eventually baby becomes child, you find yourself able to do all the normal things you used to do. But most of these things you no longer want to do, their appeal has slowly faded into oblivion, and you realize you’ve been holding onto something that is no longer there. Then you look at this almost-stranger that sits next to you, remote control in hand, and suddenly see that making it through the first years of parenthood, is by far a greater memory to hold onto than any dance under the stars. No, nothing is the same again, but you’re both still there, side by side. Always, remember, that is something you did together.

(I have been stereotypical for reasons no other than to get my point across. I realize that there are exceptions to everything and everyone.)

Pieces: a novel

“Pieces” is the winner of the silver medal at the 2017 Independent Publishers Awards (IPPY), and a finalist at the USA Best Book Awards and International Book Awards.

When Clouds Embrace: a children's book

All proceeds from the sales of "When Clouds Embrace" will go to Giving for Greece, a foundation that works to help the hundreds of unaccompanied refugee minors in Greece.