I’m guest posting today at my friend Christy’s blog, Lane Letters. We met several years ago, on the same day that I met Husband, and there are lots travel memories associated with our friendship, warm drinks in Geneva, midnight train rides in Ukraine, airport pick ups in Australia and hopefully many more to come in the future. I’ve started the post here, but click over to read the rest at Christy’s blog, and then grab a drink and look around her site for some great tips on travel and perspectives on living abroad.
Ibought maple syrup for pancakes on Saturday, Husband says to me with pride as he opens the first big bag of groceries from the store. He was in Stockholm the week before unpacking our things so that when the boys and I arrived on Saturday afternoon, we wouldn’t need to hunt for baby clothes in boxes or wonder where the pans were. Husband went to work on Monday, and on the weekend he filled our fridge with plenty of frozen pizzas and our pantry with all of the ingredients for pancakes.
Because Saturday morning is pancake morning in our house, and it didn’t matter that we had just moved, that we didn’t know the Swedish words for butter, flour or milk, come Saturday morning we were going to have pancakes.
Creating and maintaining traditions is one of the best ways I know to keep myself and my family stable as we go through multiple overseas moves. We are a multicultural family – I am Sri Lankan born, raised in the Philippines and the United States, but an Australian passport holder (as are our children) after moving there as an adult. My husband is German, and we’ve raised our children so far in Switzerland and Sweden. In the absence of a culture or nationality that we all have in common, there is an even greater need for us to maintain a family culture and identity.
Traditions are the markers in a day, the week, the month and year that hold us secure and remind us of our family identity, what we value, who matters most to us and what our lives are about. CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST HERE
There are people who say that motherhood is a profession, worthy of your time, your life, your all. You’re sitting at their kitchen tables, they throw out words like “high calling” while spoonfeeding their babies, I make my baby food from scratch, she says,and this seed takes root in your heart.
There is only one way to be a mother.
It looks like staying at home full time, breastfeeding, giving birth with no epidural, making your own baby food, delighting in playdates, meal plans, a clean and orderly home. It was God’s plan, they said, This is what it means to be a godly woman, wife and mother. You do it, you do all of it (except for the clean home part). No epidural, check. Breastfeeding, check. Staying at home full time, check. Making your own babyfood, play dates, meal plans, check, check, check.
You drive yourself hard, you push your husband and kids to perform. Everything needs to fit into this box where we look like The Ideal Christian Family to everyone around us, except there is no audience, you live on a continent that doesn’t know about The Ideal Christian Family enough to care, your audience is two oceans away happily living their life never knowing that you were on the other end of the world needing applause.
But something inside of you is dying, and you know it when the exhaustion starts to cripple you, and not because there are children waking in the night. You are breaking down because you cannot possibly live up to your own expectations, you feel daily like you are failing, and you know when you look in their eyes: Your husband feels like he’s failing, your children feel like they are failing.
Something inside of you is struggling for air, and you know it every time you pick up a book or put your pen to paper, there is an unspeakable mystery calling your name, begging you to listen, pleading with you to take notice. But you won’t do it, you can’t do it.
You can’t give up this dream, you’re so determined to be a good mother.
They sit with you in coffee shops sipping teas, cafe au laits and chai lattes and munching on chocolate croissants, babies bouncing on your knees holding their Sophie the Giraffes, drool pouring down your hands, and you’re talking about how much your lives changed. Most of them are back at work, their babies loving creche and eating three-course meals for lunch, everyone is still exhausted – as are you – but content with the pace of their lives. Eventually you move to Sweden where less than five percent of parents stay at home with children over 1.5-years and almost all kids over two are in state-funded dagis (daycare/preschool).
I need a space for myself, the woman tells you at the Oppna Forskola one Friday morning. You’re both feeding your one-year-olds, and in between bites of waffle fries, she tells you she loves her maternity leave and her time with her son is precious, and goes on to say that she will be back at work in September. He seems too young to be left in dagis, but I need to know that I’m doing something for myself, she says.
You nod and smile mechanically, and don’t dwell too long on the thoughts scanning through your brain, How incredibly selfish. This isn’t about doing something for yourself. It’s about the children. But you can’t ignore what’s cramping inside. You wish you could give yourself the same freedom. You wish you could do something for yourself.
You’re deeply unhappy but unwilling to see it because happiness is not a virtue of godly people.
So you find another group of people, these ones are mostly online, and they are preaching a message that sounds good. You have gifts, talents, abilities, the world needs what you have to give. Figure out with your spouse how to divide labor, so that you have time to do what you’re called to do. It’s not just about the future, it’s about living your purpose and living out of your passion NOW. Yes it may be messy, it may be hard, but it can be done, and it’s worth it.
You watch a video of woman talking about how to balance motherhood, calling and family life; she stayed at home for a while until she found her passions. But now she’s written a book, speaks, and she says she and her husband share homeschooling duties and trade off on office times. They lead a non-profit together. I used to have a clean home, she says, but I didn’t have a voice.
And you look around your messy home and wonder if you can have a messy home and still not have a voice. Do these North American dichotomies somehow apply to you, and how does it work when your husband is a businessman who loves his work and you love that he loves his work?
But you try anyway. It sounds good, you admire them, you are grateful for them and for their place in your life. You try to find the time to live out your calling, and a nap time gets interrupted. You try to start something in a new city, and you can’t figure out the culture. Your husband gets up at night with your kids, does almost everything you do at home, and is unceasingly gracious about it all, but he still works full time in middle management. And you have no desire to divide labor equally.
Because as much as there are longings in your heart, you can’t ignore one simple fact: You are loving your time with your children. Yes, the dirty work is no fun, but the relationship building, the conversations, the cuddles. You don’t want it to end. Ever. You want to soak it all up. You can’t get enough of it. The days slip by one by one, they are growing, changing, you are growing and changing, you have no desire for it to slow down even as you desire to write more, to let your voice and story be heard.
Even as the drum beats in your heart for Gaza, Ukraine, Syria and Australia, even though there are words that long to escape your fingers and fly into the world, you are intoxicated by the chubby fingers eating strawberries straight from the bushes and giggling with a toddler while wading deep into sea water still seems like the best way to spend the afternoon.
So this is where you find yourself – you’re not mom enough for the Godly Wife crowd, you’re not success-oriented enough for the Work Crowd, you’re not calling enough for the Live Out Your Calling people, but you’re trying to fit with all of them, keeping an orderly life, enjoying the kids and making pinteresting crafts while carving out time to write and read and think, exhausting yourself at both ends and coming up empty on all accounts, unable to enjoy any of it.
It’s this feeling of failure that is so deep, eating slowly away at the core of who you are because nothing it finds there is good enough.
You sit down with your kids for a meal, and what you hear is, It’s not healthy enough. You failed. You haven’t been reading to them enough. You failed. You lost your temper. You failed.
Nap time starts and you sit down to write, and what you hear is, You haven’t been writing enough. You failed. You haven’t been stewarding your words. You failed. You don’t have enough readers. You failed.
The yoke around your jaw is heavy, its eating into your mouth, disabling your ability to speak, and for a long time, you do nothing at all.
He finds you where you are, bends down and eases the yoke off your jaw and anoints your head with oil. There is a quiet whisper. Most of the time, you’re too busy to hear it, but there are a few silent evenings, moments gathered when its shocking truthfulness is there in simplicity, freedom and grace.
You belong to me.
You’re not a mother or a writer, a woman or a wife, stay at home or work at home or work outside the home.
You are mine.
Women and men will try to pull you into their way of life, their books line your shelves, the blog posts and status updates echo in your mind, offering a list of ways to become something, to be part of the group, to perform for an audience who will applaud or boo; their way always involves an audience.
I offer you something else – belonging. A green pasture and still waters, a place where you can rest your head, where I will gently lead you through dark valleys and up high mountains. There won’t be a list of right and a list of wrong, only my voice, my Word, my presence, and only a living in that place of belonging where you can hear my words. And live.
You want a prescription, I’m sorry I have none. It’s going to look different for you than it will for another woman. I offer you no opportunity to feel better about yourself than anyone else. My ways afford no time and space for you to look down on others. It’s an invitation that I offer you – to belong, to live as Mine, to lay down and rest in this green pasture, and to enjoy those who are in it with you because my pastures stretch on forever. There is room for everyone.
I wrote for 31 Days last October, the series was called “Notes to a New Mum.” When I started writing, I had no idea where each post would go or how it would turn out, but I wrote anyway and the result was easily the most fulfilling period of writing in my life. The work of writing ministered to me, helped me close a chapter in my life and allowed me to honestly and truthfully look at my life.
As the series went on, it seemed less and less like notes and more and more like confessions. Stories of the tough times, stories of growth, stories of change, stories of beauty. But each piece like a confession, me sitting down and telling the truth. I’ve decided to re-name the series and bring it back because the truth is, I am a new mum. I will always be. Every stage of motherhood will have a new learning curve, a new set of experiences, and in some ways a “new” version of my children. I will always be a new mum, and I like that.
So this is for you, too, friend. You who have had kids for decades – you are welcome here, to remember each stage of life with them and to face your adult kids as a new mum. Your experiences and memories are welcome here, too. You who cradle a newborn in your arms and rub sleep from your eyes, you are welcome here with the new ways the landscape of your heart shifts and changes. You who chase toddlers and mediate sword fights and drink tea with princesses, you’re welcome here with your bandaids and craft kit. You who catch the eye rolls of teenagers and pray for safety while driving to football practice and the mall, you’re welcome here. It’s for you, too, Dad, a chance to understand your mate better as you parent your kids together.
You are all welcome here to listen. To learn. To grow. To celebrate. To grieve. To speak truthfully. To search for beauty. To confess.
Check back in on Wednesday for the first post as I start writing again. I would also love to open this series up for guest posts. Two of my dear friends wrote for this space last year, Hannah and Amy, you can read their posts if you want to get a sense for the “tone” that this series takes. Also please read through the 31 Days posts as well. Submissions should be no longer than 1,000 words, but can be much shorter if you prefer, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been raining and a crisp 22 C/72 F here in Stockholm, summer is fading away from us, and it won’t be long before the leaves start changing colour, and I’m wearing rain boots every single day. What is it about the summer freedom that makes table time so much fun? Perhaps it’s lighter food, the kind you can pick up with your fingers, the way everything seems crunchier and not because it’s a potato chip out of a crackling bag. It’s the pop of a sugar snap pea bending in your hand, the splash of juice against your face when the knife slices watermelon, the corn that gets stuck between teeth as you sink into the cob for each bit.
Ribs have been our summer food this year. I can’t remember now how many racks we’ve roasted or eaten with others. Many. It helps that both the boys love it, and I love the silent chewing that ensues when loaded plates are first put down in front of them.
We had ribs several weeks ago at a friend’s house, and I licked my fingers and hands and tried to keep myself from eating my Baby’s food, easily the best ribs I’ve ever eaten. Perfectly cooked, flavoured and salted, not dripping with sauce or overwhelming but sticky enough to require a napkin. I had to find out how she did it. It was a dry rub, something I’m sure many of you have already tried, but I had never done. She gave me a list of her ingredients, and I played around and found a mix that work for me. These aren’t as amazing as hers, but as always, it’s an easy recipe, makes for a great family meal, and with a few weeks left of summery weather, perhaps it would suit your weekend table as well?
Dry Rub for Ribs
Inspired by Wilma
We ate these ribs with roasted potatoes with garlic, roasted asparagus and a rocket and baked nectarine salad. The salad was sweet and sour (with a lot of balsamic vinegar), the asparagus and potatoes suitably salty and the ribs a bit sweet, spicy and savoury. A wonderful combination.
2 TBSP dark brown sugar
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
2 tsp sea salt
1. Mix all the ingredients together and store in a cool, dry place. You can use immediately or use some and store some, which is what I did. This should be enough for four baby back ribs.
2. To cook: I chopped five cloves of garlic for two baby back ribs and rubbed it into the meat and then rubbed the dry rub in.
3. Preheat oven to 140C /280F and once ready, put the ribs in (I put foil over my baking tray first for easier clean up at the end) and bake for two-and-a-half hours. You can also shorten the cooking time in the oven and put it on the barbecue for a smokier finish. My friend bastes with barbecue sauce, but I skipped that step for a bit less of the fiddle-with-the-oven time (Baby underfoot).
Swedish summer is a bit like the bashful Swedes themselves. Cool at first, it takes a while to get to know them, and I think for a long time that there must be a secret code I’m missing to get through the door. But once in, it’s only warmth and light and kindness and helpfulness and everything good that any culture could hope for.
For a while there in June I thought I was going to be wearing winter pajamas to bed and jackets out during the day, but July came and it’s been all bathing suits all the time, flip flops, hair in a ponytail, and I would be lying if I told you that the words, I’m way too warm right now, haven’t left my lips. We are all allowed moments of total irrationality. Even in the summertime.
Swedish summer 2014 is everything anyone has written about summer and then some.
Dipping my toe into the Baltic Sea for the past year sent freezing shivers into my fingertips, each cold wave washing on the sand beach claiming no happy visitors. In the past few weeks though, we’ve spent almost every afternoon splashing in its warm waters, watching Little Boy overcome his fear of the water and walking out deeper and deeper until even I have to stop him from going any further. Baby sits on the shore splashing in the waves and digging sand with a shovel.
Swedes are consumate egalitarians, which means that men take paternity leave, wash the dishes and supposedly do most thing Swedish mothers do, likewise Swedish women do all the things Swedish men do. The beaches hold their own form of egalitarianism – almost every woman I can see is wearing some form of a bikini. It doesn’t matter how old or young she is, the sag or tightness of her body parts, the drooping, thick hula hoop of skin around her middle, her colour, the number of or lack of children. She’s in a bikini, and she is not looking around wondering what everyone else is thinking of what she looks like (at least, I don’t think she is – I could be wrong about this).
I’m still Asian in some of my clothing sensibilities, but I have never felt more free to run around in a bathing suit in all my life than I have been this summer. Mommy, come to the water!!! Little Boy has screamed afternoon after afternoon, thank God I listened. We play, we dance, we splash, water running down our faces, cooling down our skin, bathing us and making us new one risk at a time.
We eat strawberries and watermelon for afternoon snacks, red juice dribbling down chins, red skin pushed under too-long toddler fingernails, who has time to cut fingernails in the summer? Baby’s belly is permanently stained with sticky watermelon residue, he could sink his teething gums into the rind all afternoon long.
There were the date nights – often two per week – Husband and I feasting on time together after a year of almost none. I felt like a giddy teenager every evening we went out: Getting ready, sketching on eye liner and spraying the perfume, the heels came out, and every fun summer dress I could find in the closet. Mommy, why is there purple on your eye? Little Boy wanted to know one evening. He still thinks spit up is a normal part of a woman’s hair. I will have to re-educate him in the weeks to come.
I couldn’t hold Husband’s hand enough, we kissed for what felt like an eternity on the bridges of Stockholm, explored Gamla Stan (the old town), ate good food, walked arm in arm and watched too many sunsets except there’s no such thing as too many sunsets.
I’ll never forget the pink summer light shining on the palace when we drove up to it on one of the bridges, water and canals on either side, legion of boats in their docks, majestic buildings on every side, clear blue skies streaked with feathery, yellow clouds. It’s 7:30pm in Stockholm. The sun is hours away from setting.
WE LIVE HERE??!?!?!? I squeal to Husband. You’ll have to allow me some cliches and platitudes, I spent most of the last year changing diapers and not sleeping.
One evening we went out without knowing where we would end up for dinner. I dressed up because when you normally wear food-and-liquid-encrusted clothes all day long, you dress up because you can can can can can. We ended up at a well-known vegetarian joint, Hermans, and quickly realized we were overdressed by…a lot. In my youth this would have caused endless minutes of insecurity and self-consciousness, but not tonight. No hippie bohemian liberal is getting in the way of my date night face.
We roll with the daily routines of one child getting up between 4:30am and 5:30am and the other up by 6:30. This is my second time around with the Swedish sun; I know they’ll be sleeping until 8am when November rolls around, and if not, I want my money back (or at least, my sanity back). For now we try to keep breakfast simple and manageable. And thank God when nap time rolls around at 11am.
I cook some special things, but mostly we do a lot of simple food with Husband regularly pulling out the charcoal barbecue. We tag team, him cooking some days and me some others. He took almost all of his annual leave in July, it was not part of our plans, but we knew our family needed some space to breathe. Ok, that’s not true. I needed some space to breathe.
I could not be more thankful for the man I married than I am right now. We celebrated our fourth anniversary in July, and I will forever remember this past year as the hardest of my life, the one I survived, just barely, the one where I broke many of my marriage vows yet was loved graciously in return. We saw our real selves this year, and it was rarely what we hoped it would be, but we made it. We’re here. Still standing, or sitting as it were because if I have to choose between sitting my ground and standing my ground, I choose sitting. Every time.
We have play dates with new cherished friends, conversations that make my heart sing, people with whom there are real relationships, and we talk as the wind blows by, and slowly, slowly the dream of community starts to take shape. It’s not what I thought it would be, there is no plan or formality about it, but these surprises are so much better, the connections deeper and sweeter. After the long drought, it is cold, refreshing, pure water to the soul.
The blueberry bushes cover the underbrush of Swedish forrests. I have no idea that it’s there until a Swedish friend took us to her family farm out in the country. We go on a walk to forage for wild raspberries and blueberries. The berries are smaller than the store variety, it’s been a dry summer, so they are also a bit sour. You won’t see them unless someone guides you, but once you know how to spot a bush, it’s easy to wade into the middle, bend down and begin uncovering each deep blue jewel. No one in my family cares how sweet, sour, big or small each berry is. We are berry fanatics each one of us, and within minutes Little Boy’s fingers are black, his lips and mouth blue, his eyes bright.
Brushing through each bush, pushing back the leaves to find our little berries, we bend over and silently, methodically work through each one, picking and eating, picking and eating. The berries never seem to run out, there is plenty for everyone, for everyone who can find them, for everyone who can see.