Posts tagged " motherhood "

On Family Vacations

August 1st, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

I’m not sure who coined the term “family vacation,” but the word “vacation” has no business being there. Unless it is used with irony.

As August finally sets in and I prepare to embark on mine, I’m haunted by family vacations of the years passed, even though I’ve spent July in anticipation of the day, with the enthusiasm of a child waiting for Santa. You see, summer vacations are hard. And by August, any stay-at-home mom of young kids has turned into a screaming nervous wreck, an alcoholic, or both.

Three pages of my notebook are dedicated to each family member and their list of essentials. I bet you know whose is longest.

I imagine the morning when we haul what seems like half of our apartment to the car, drive away late, sweating, someone’s crying because the 30-kilo suitcase they wanted to hold on their lap in the car seat, is instead in the trunk. Two hours later, we still haven’t reached the ferry, and “are we there yet” is beginning to sound like a noise a beast out of a horror movie makes before killing its prey. On the ferry, I run around the deck. The whole way there. And five minutes before we finally reach our destination, he’s asleep.

During the family vacation, I continue to rise with the sun, grocery shop, cook, and clean. But I also go to the beach, where I dream of a day when I will immerse my entire body in the water, when I will no longer worry that someone may drown real quick, if I do. I make castles, provide snacks and towels, and discreetly pull sand and pebbles out of my bathing suit bottoms.

After bedtime, I take the stack of books that I’ve been meaning to read for three family vacations, settle in a chair, and realize I haven’t exchanged an intelligent word with the other member of our family. We bring out the wine, sometimes invite some friends, and try to pretend we are normal adults, on a normal vacation. And sometimes make it to midnight, though it’s not pretty when we do.

A week later, we’re back home, more exhausted than we were when we left. And book a vacation from the family vacation.


A Letter of Caution to my Friend who Hasn’t Seen me in Years

July 20th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

I’m no longer who you remember, but I’m still me.

I will try to clean up my house before I throw open my front door and welcome you inside. I might not succeed. There will be dust, there will be random clothes all over the living room. And not just my son’s. Our clothes, that we leave laying around so long, they become part of the setting. There will be pee on the toilet if you hang out long enough. And I will not be able to chatter, gossip, and catch up, for more than 30 seconds at a time, if we’re lucky. When I offer you coffee, I won’t reach for a capsule neatly arranged by the nespresso machine. I’ll have to go break one of the capsule shapes dotting the play area table. I may smell, my hair will be in pony tail, shiny streaks of white peeping through, I will try to shower before we go out.

My car is a dump of toys and crumbs, if I hadn’t washed it yesterday, you’d probably have to sit on sand. There are buckets and shovels and rakes and dump trucks that swerve around the trunk every time I turn. And I may only know two songs on the radio. I’ll take us to a restaurant that may have closed or died down three years ago, I’ll have little to say that may interest you, so I will ask a lot of questions. I’ll pull random objects out of the pockets of my jeans; twigs, candy wrappers. There will be cars and baby wipes in my bag. The only thing that may seem familiar to you, is my 11pm curfew, like the one we used to have growing up. Only tomorrow, I won’t come home and then climb out of the living room balcony, once my parents fall asleep.

We’ll laugh about our past, we’ll dwell on our present, our eyes will light up when we speak of our future, and it’ll be like you never left.

I’m no longer who you remember, but I’m still me.

On the Gift of Aloneness

July 15th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

I don’t remember what it felt like to be alone. To go to bed alone, to wake up alone, to make plans for the next year alone, to go to the bathroom with the door closed and alone, to spend as much money as I want, to drive to nowhere for hours, to go to bed past midnight without stressing out, to watch entire seasons of TV shows in a day.

I haven’t been alone in so long, that tonight, after putting my son to bed, I was at a loss. Having longed for an evening such as this for some time, I thought I’d do all those things I keep wanting to do. Write, read, stare at the stars, talk to friends, watch pointless television. I stood in the midst of the living room staring at the mess for a while. I cleaned it up, as usual. In the kitchen, a day’s-full of dishes begged to be put in the dishwasher, and a sweaty, smelly me needed a shower.

But wait, that’s exactly what you do every day, I said to myself. This is your chance, this is your night to be alone, to do all the things you want to do just like you used to do them. You don’t have to take a shower, wear a bra, cook tomorrow’s lunch that noone will eat. You don’t even have to write a post, because this is your alone night. You can even eat cheese curlz and drink wine out of the bottle, and nobody will know.

An hour passed. I sent an email to a friend. And here I am, writing to thousands of strangers and friends, as I do every chance I get. Because obviously, I no longer really long to be alone.

And even though I will pour the wine into a glass, I will totally devour the cheese curlz.

(Note: Husband has not deserted the family, he’s out for a drink with friends.)

On Kids’ Consumerism Disorder

July 13th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

While staring at the shelves of dishwasher detergent at the supermarket today, I suddenly heard the voice of my child, growing louder and louder as he approached me.
“Mommy! Look! I need this, can you buy it for me, please, can you please!”

In his hand was a rubber dog bone from the pet aisle, next to the mops and Barbies, the ones that squeak when squeezed.
When I was a kid, my parents rarely took me to the supermarket. My mom would make a list, my dad would go execute it. Sometimes we’d make it a Saturday family outing, but usually around September, when school supplies would appear in a temporary corner of the store.

And that’s just it. Toys were only available at toy stores. Presents were dreamt of for months, handwritten lists made, and on birthdays and Christmases we’d finally satisfy our most-coveted desires.

Here’s what happens today. There is junk for kids everywhere you go. I’m sure there’s a pet store somewhere that carries sugary juices or Matchbox cars. I know that all pharmacies conveniently place bowls of “Vitamin C-loaded” lollipops right at the cash register, on a shelf the height of an average five-year-old. Gyms that have pools boast a high selection of bathing suits, flip flops, fun floaters, shoes, and if there’s no pool, there are sure to be healthy shakes and breakfast bars, especially, and I stress that word, for children. The worst, here in Greece, are the kiosks, or the ‘periptera” as we call them. I think it may have very well been one of the first complex words he learnt to utter. In the good old days, they sold cigarettes and newspapers. Then some gum and candy. Then ice cream appeared. Today, they are glowing wonderlands of cheap crap, from Chinese-made miniature dinosaurs, to beach buckets, sticker books, to tiny lollipops in huge plastic eggs with minute toys inside that need tweezers and a magnifying glass to assemble. There is one by my house that has so many balls of all sizes hanging around it, you might think that there’s a mini ball factory underneath it, where troll-like creatures produce them and send them up a secret passageway all day.

I’m not one to say “yes” to every request. But there are only so many times in the week where you can go to buy milk and have it turn into a whining festival. And as the years roll by, the junk accumulates. First, you contain it, keep it segregated to a corner, then a room, then two rooms. But it’s stronger than you, and it begins to seep like a sneaky, evil flood into every corner of your house, until it makes it its own.

On Letting Go

July 11th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

During my pregnancy and until a few months after the birth of my son, I kept imagining and planning what kind of parent I was going to be, what norms and customs I’d bring him up with, what our family traditions would be. My biggest obsession was mealtime. At least once a day, my husband, our son and I, would sit down around the kitchen table and eat.

Three years later, I’ve finally let go of this vision. For simple reasons. First of all, we didn’t even have a kitchen table when Stef was born. Second, Dad works late, he always has. Third, babies and toddlers do not want to hang out at the dinner table. Mine doesn’t even want to have dinner. Or lunch. Or breakfast.

I started off by trying to eat breakfast with him, back when he ate. The problem there was that as an early riser, his breakfast was at 7.30am. I was never hungry. Lunch was at noon, so before I knew it, I was wolfing down platefuls of spaghetti; the quickest thing to make, while stuffing organic mushed veggies into his mouth, the mixture of which, I’d slaved over for hours the night before. By dinner and the bedtime ritual, the three family meals that I so longed for, where checked off my must-do list, though I was more exhausted from the stress than I would have been, had I decided to release control.

And then, shock of all shocks, he went on a hunger strike, eating nothing but bananas for six months. I still refused to let go. And the delusional behavior went on, until I recently realized that my obsession is just an illusion. I was raised in a household obsessed with rigid family meals. I hated them.

Everything we imagine as new parents is an illusion. Ninety nine percent of it flies out the window the minute they start to crawl/walk/talk. It’s like planning for the unknown. The last one percent, we continue to hold onto, as if it’s our last chance at survival, when all it really is, is our natural desire to have some form of control in this new world disorder.

I let it go. What he eats, how much he eats, how many times he eats, who he eats with. He knows that there’s a lunchtime, he knows pasta and rice aren’t to be eaten exclusively forever, he knows Daddy isn’t home at lunchtime, and he knows that he can bring Teddy, monster trucks, and Legos to the table on Saturday and Sunday, climb into his high chair and eat spaghetti with his hands. I’ve done all that. And now he’s free. And so am I.

On Dough

July 8th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

When I was a kid, every month or so, on a designated morning, my mom and aunts would gather in the kitchen, clear the table, sprinkle it with thick, white dust, form a couple of volcanoes in the middle, add stuff to the craters, and begin to knead.

Later, rolling pins and wine glasses would join the setting, while they stood over their dough balls and rolled them out to the desired perfect thin. Using the wine glass rims, they’d cut out perfect circles, throw perfect teaspoonfuls of minced beef and onions, maybe garlic, I don’t remember, and tie them into perfect pelmeni (

I remember their white-goo-covered hands holding cigarettes while they took a break, their obsessive counting of how many pelmeni they’d made, as if it was a competition with last month, the bags full of the frozen dumplings in our freezer, but most of all, their sweat and the hours this activity consumed. And then, how little time it took everyone to eat their efforts.

I must have been around 10 when I silently swore to myself I would never do anything like this, especially not for any man. Plus, I hated the stuff. Eventually, I was forced to join this sacred ritual, though I was only ever entrusted with the wine glass cutting part. My lack of enthusiasm and no thirst to learn were soon accepted, though with frowns and head shakes.

Fast forward yourself to an odd three decades later. I’m in my mid-forties.

Picture me in my kitchen, a few minutes after I’ve finally put my toddler to bed. There’s flour, there’s a volcano, there’s olive oil, salt, and sugar. And I’m kneading. Only my mission is to create the perfect pizza dough ball. And this is no sisterly social event, it’s just me.

The memories above came like fireworks during the second or third time I picked up that rolling pin. I’d rummaged through my mom’s kitchen to find it, we obviously did not have one in the house. I think it’s the same on she used back then, and I will never give it back because she has not used it since she left that house. I could suddenly hear their chatter, smell the mushroom soup that was simmering on the stove behind them, smell their smoke, feel their pain, listen to their thoughts.

I stand and knead, drops of sweat bounce of my perfect dough ball, its a hot summer night and no matter how many years go by, my Russian makeup just can’t stand the heat. I know it’s just water and salt, I smile as I picture my family and friends nibbling on a slice tomorrow, and I gloat about my history, my past, the women and men that have kneaded me into what I am right now; a stay-at-home mom making dough. For we are all one perfect recipe of our past.

On a Hard Day

July 6th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

Today I understood why some stay-at-home moms start drinking wine at noon, pop pills, or smoke pot. There are days when all three are necessary. It’s not the first time I had the desire to indulge in noise and feeling-numbing drugs in the middle of the day. Sometimes you’ve heard the word “mom” so many times that you think the voice is not that of your child but of an evil warrior who is actually saying “die woman,” while you stand trembling in a corner of a dusty, dark cave. Sometimes the sound of their cries and whines sound like exploding bombs parallel to bad quality techno music blasting on bad speakers. Sometimes an hour feels like a day, and you find yourself changing batteries on the kitchen clock and restarting your phone just to make sure it hasn’t been a day. On a day such as this, you’re always alone, there’s no one to talk to, nobody even cares. The amount of energy you’ve spent on trying to stay calm and controlled can power a city. And sometimes, this day just never ends. Until it does. But you can no longer see, hear or think.

There’s no happy ending in this rant, no reflective positive thought, just a deep breath and a personal plea to whatever you do or don’t believe in, for tomorrow to be different. Cheers.

On that Perfect Day

July 1st, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

Rare. Surprising. Irreplaceable. Unrepeatable. It sneaks up on you, one tiny quake at a time. The first time they sit through a road trip without a tantrum, an emergency Dinosaur Train screening. When they rub on the sunscreen themselves. The first time they sit through a meal at a restaurant, eat almost half of their food, without complaining about the foreign objects on their plate. When they want less than three spoonfuls of vanilla ice cream. When the sea seems like the most amazing roller coaster ride they’ll ever be on, their laughter ringing in your ears, sending you on the highest high. When you voluntarily read four bedtime stories instead of two, they sit up, kiss your knee three times and say, “It was so much fun today, mommy. I love you.” It’s like a cluster of stars explodes somewhere in your stomach, their dust somehow makes it into your bloodstream, you are aglow, tingling.

Everything else, is immediately, forgotten.

On the “Mothers’ Tan”

June 27th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

I’m not sure whether it was here or in my mind, that I went on a crusade about post-baby beach body shame. Whatever the case, my conclusion was that there should be no shame, and that we should all flaunt our imperfections all over the beaches of the world, while having fun with our kids.

I did not practice what I preached.

Until today.

It was not because I came to terms with the new shape that hosts the same person, but because it was week two of summer vacation and I’d run out of fun indoor activities 13 days ago. And the “let them be bored” doctrine was failing, simply because I was also bored. I discovered that spending a few hours at the beach with an over-active three-year-old, is very different to the good old days, where I just strapped baby in his car seat and came back whenever it was feeding time. Usually less than an hour later.

Today, I packed extra bathing suits, towels, change of clothes, healthy snacks, snacks demanded by three-year-old, beach towels, sunscreen for him, sunscreen for me, shovels, rakes, dump trucks, and other plastic parapharnalia, water, a hat, and a floater, car keys, house keys, and wallet, all while taking out the rest of the toys he was stuffing in the beach bag.

After 30 minutes of are we there yet and mommy, look a truck, we finally stepped in the sand. Before I had a chance to take my shoes off, he was in the water. I pulled him out, undressed him, sprayed sunscreen in random places while trying to pin him down, threw off my clothes and ran into the sea behind him, floaters in hand.
For two hours, I sat waist-deep in lukewarm shore water while he jumped and splashed around me, made sandcastles, succumbed to the eating of unhealthy snacks, and finally walked in and out of the sea, from shore to a rough 15 meters and back, countless times.

I don’t remember the last time I saw him this happy. I also don’t remember when the last time I went swimming without applying sunscreen. I’m Russian, and as white as it gets, I used to go through bottles every summer. There is no time for sunscreen, let alone post-baby body shame. You just throw off those clothes and go.

In the car home, I felt my upper back stinging. He snored in his seat, hair already blonder, it’s texture that beach-bum mess that we all spend hundreds of dollars on hair products trying to achieve. Years ago, I’d asked one of my friends who had kids earlier than me, why she didn’t lay out on her back at all. The front of her body and her legs where constantly white, while her back a perfect brown, minus the then-abhorred bathing suit tan line. I had not yet become acquainted with the mothers’ tan.

On the Beginning of Memories

June 17th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

Most schools closed their doors this week, while most moms have swung open the doors of immense panic, sending themselves into a frenzy, brainstorming summer activities and plans to keep their kids occupied for the next two months. Myself included.

I found the largest wading pool that could fit on our balcony, sprinkled it with dozens of colorful rubber ducks. And this morning, took my last breaths of freedom. Then, a few hours ago, while staring at my pale, flabby body as it served as a bridge for Stef to swim under in the lukewarm water, I realized something. Summer is short. It’s nothing compared to the time I’ve spent this year trying to get him to go to preschool without crying, leaving him hanging off the doorknob wailing, cooking and packing lunch boxes, refusing to let go of naps, and watching him magically grow from a baby into a little individual. A kid who has a best friend, a favorite teacher, invites to parties, a wall full of artwork, a mind exploding with new words and ideas, constant questions, and hands and feet that can suddenly shoot baskets and kick soccer balls.

These will be my memories of this amazing year. And this summer may be the beginning of memories for him, for his lifetime. He’s three, images and moments will start to stay with him forever. The experiences we share will shape him as he grows, mold him into who he will be as an adult. I want him to remember laughter, grass, hugs, water, surprise, bicycles, friendship, safety, love, love, love. And at this early stage of his life, I want my face present in every memory he has.

There is no activity plan or camp for any of that. There is only everyday life. I will lose my mind, I will yell, I will count down the days to September. But I will also jump into that wading pool, and soak in every second, for before I know it, all I’ll have with him, will be fleeting seconds. And hey, maybe I’ll finally get a tan at the same time.

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.