I Used To Dream Of Paris

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Years ago while living in London, I got bit by the travel bug. While working and pursuing a degree, I booked flights to places like Greece, Spain, Italy, Turkey and Sweden to name a few. I loved experiencing their food, the textures of the land, their skies and the sounds on the streets whether it was quiet or busy or just the sound of the sea. My bucket list of places I wanted to visit was a long one.

When I met my husband, he also wanted to see the world. I imagined us going to the same places I had already been to, and then we would explore new countries together. Our dreams were big, ambitious and I was excited! We chose Paris as our first destination. We looked at hotels, things to do, and train tickets. But we never booked anything.

With marriage and family life, we knew we may have to hold off for a little while. And that was okay. We were happy to be blessed with our two little boys. When our second son was born, my husband was diagnosed with a rare neurological condition. And sometimes life does that to us. We make plans, dream, achieve some goals, and then we get thrown a curveball. We never made it to Paris.

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I recently had a conversation with a friend who said:

“YOU WILL DREAM NEW DREAMS”

She was right. The travel bug got buried. My dreams no longer contain stamped passports and foreign cheese. Living on the other side of the world now, my bucket list has changed. Every country has delicious food to be savoured. No matter where we are, every sunset on the horizon is beautiful. It’s not where we are, it is who we are sharing it with.

The other day as I walked down the picture frame aisle, I saw a lovely picture of the Eiffel Tower. The image of my husband and I sitting at a table eating bread and cheese al fresco at candlelight crossed my mind. I picked up the picture. $6. Cheaper than a flight! I added it to the cart. I went next door to the grocery store and picked up a few items for dinner. That night I fed the kids early so my husband and I could eat alone. I propped up the picture of the Eiffel Tower on our dining room table. I also placed a small vase of greenery as part of the centrepiece and lit some candles. Candlesticks that looked similar to the ones we had for our wedding. I had a bread basket with cut up baguettes, and a serving tray of different cheeses including Brie. I even put on some makeup and my jeans. Would our conversations have been so different if we were actually in Paris? Would the bread and cheese taste that much better? I’m sure our dinner would not have been interrupted with the children running back and forth to get their noses wiped, or to stop them from hitting each other or to suddenly run one to the potty. What I am sure of is that, whatever candlelit dinner I am having, I am sharing it with the best company: my husband!

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I used to dream of Paris. But before my dream of Paris, I dreamed of love and children. And here I am with them. They are my dream come true. And if the travel bug bites again, I am glad to now realise that adventure doesn’t have to be so far away. Sometimes just a short drive away. I just need to appreciate what is already around me.

(Photo credit- paris) 

(Photo credit- bread)

The Cab Driver

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I have journals for both of my boys. In those journals I have written some experiences I have had in my life, I also write down stories about them when they were babies and over the years. I have written quotes and other inspiring stories I have come across that have somehow touched me. I want my boys to know bits about my life too so I try to choose carefully which stories to share. And this one about the cab driver, is important to me. It was a unique, brief encounter all about kindness from a stranger.

The year was 2005 and I was in my second year of university. Dressed in my usual jeans, trainers and green corduroy jacket, I had taken the train from Barking to West Ham and stood waiting for the Jubilee line. I looked up at the time schedule, 15 minutes. That was very unusual and I felt my underarms become heated and my heart started to pound. I had to change trains again, but the DLR only came every ten minutes and I would definitely miss my deadline! There had to be another way to get to Prince Regent Station on time. I quickly walked, okay it was more like half running, out of the station to the pay phone by the ticket booth. There were numbers for cabs everywhere. I dialled a few mini cab numbers but the waiting time was too long. I had a deadline creeping up fast! So I called for a black cab. They were posh and pricey but I was desperate. A shiny black cab pulled up and I ran to the door. In a possibly stressed tone of voice I said to the driver-

“To the university please! I need to be there before 4 o’clock! I don’t know how to get there from here on the roads.”

Calmly he replies- “No worries!”

My watch said it was already 3:47. I looked out the window. In my head I thought, black cabs are notorious for taking the long way or driving slow just to cash in! How annoying that I always take public transport and don’t know the roads! Here is another time living in London when I missed having a car! Somehow having car meant more independence. Relying on public transport meant that I was constantly at the mercy of them keeping time! I said a prayer in my head that this will turn out ok.
The driver disrupted my negative, yet hopeful, thoughts with-

“What’s your essay on?”

That was a surprise. I looked at him. Middle aged, brown hair, pleasant face. It was then that I noticed the cab was very clean as well and had no bad odours. It took a second to think of a reply but he went on before I spoke-

“My daughter is in college, deadlines can be stressful. Don’t worry though, I’ll get you there.”

He was calm and his voice sincere. He spoke to me the way any girl would want a father to speak to her. And he was being kind to me. An unpleasant, stressed out stranger. His words helped my heart stop beating so fast. He drove on roads I had never seen before and pulled up to the backside of the main building, a side I never saw because I am not a part of the car world.

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He spoke again-

“Just go and turn in your essay, I’ll wait here.”

I quickly glanced at the money meter then opened the door and ran down the long hallway to the main desk. I couldn’t believe he trusted me! A young, possibly dodgy, university student! He was just going to wait for me? That was going to be so expensive! Darn Jubilee line and tube delays! He seemed nice though and if he trusted me then maybe I could return the favour and trust him back. I handed in my essay to the lady at exactly 4pm! Relieved, my steps slowed down but I could feel a migraine growing behind my forehead. I walked to the cashpoint on the opposite side of the building from where the cab was supposedly still waiting. Taped to the cashpoint were the dreaded words “out of order”. Are you kidding me? What luck today!

I ran back to the cab and he was parked in the very same place. I was not even sure if he was allowed to be there but he didn’t seem to care. Apologetically I said-

“I am so sorry but their cashpoint is out of order! Can you just take me to Barking station? There’s another one right inside.”

He reached over and turned the meter back on. I thought he was going to charge me for waiting and all the time of his I was taking, but he was only charging me for the driving. I sat back in the cab seat. The trains were delayed. The cashpoint was broke. I barely made the deadline. And I have been a wreck. In the midst of my challenges today, God sent me this particular cab driver. He pulled up to the side of Barking station where other cabs were also parked, I got out and the smell of cigarettes and fried chicken hit my face making my migraine worse. Again the driver patiently waited for me as I went to that cashpoint.

After such a hectic afternoon, he only charged me £25! Despite my previous bad luck of events, I then felt very lucky!

There was that moment where I wanted to hug this stranger who no longer felt like a stranger. I wanted to tell him that I hoped to see him again! I wanted to tell him that I hoped God would bless him forever for being so kind to me. But I just said thank you several times and we said good bye. He drove off, and I walked back to the station and headed home to share this story with my family.

I think about these encounters often and want to document them. I feel the most important thing he did for me that day was not getting me to the university on time for my deadline, but he instilled in me an experience of hope. Hope for kindness. Hope for good. Hope that there are people who are fair in these business dealings with me. Any true story that demonstrates kindness from strangers is a story I want my children to know.

Photo credit (cab)

Photo credit (UEL campus)

Behind the Scenes of the Housewife Life

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Having a picnic for snack time in our front yard.

My current house is painted white. There is a “welcome” mat and a small mailbox, a wreath on the door with a tiny bunting I made. I love having front steps to sit on and watch the world drive by. Sometimes the boys sit with me and we count cars together. Inside our house, and everything that happens here, is what I call “behind the scenes.” Welcome to my home and my life. Have a seat on the couch and make yourself comfy.

I have house clothes and public clothes. Once in a blue moon I decide to “dress up” in my public clothes even though I am just at home with no plans of leaving. It’s just nice to not look lazy all the time. However, of course there had to be spills. The dark smudge on my jeans was from this morning’s breakfast when my two year old decided to dump the last of his milk on my lap and I didn’t care enough to change. I tell myself no one is going to notice. And here I am pointing it out to you.

My four year old points at my sockless ankle.

“Mommy what’s that? Did you have blood?” His nose wrinkled only an inch away from the questioned site.

“That’s a scab. You have scabs too. See? It was blood but now it is healing and that’s a scab. Mine is on my ankle and yours is on your knee.” He seems surprised at the discovery of his own scab and picks at it.

While he picks at his scab I admire my new nail varnish. A nude pinkish colour. One of my favourites I have ever had. When we moved from England to Ohio almost a year ago, it took a few months for me to realise I had gotten rid of all my nail varnish! So I bought a new colour but didn’t like it. I was in a bold mood and chose a bold colour. Mood swings coupled with impulsive buying was never a good match. This “safe” nude colour has proven perfect next to my tan skin. A small and otherwise trivial matter, but sometimes these small things can make a large difference in a woman’s world. I now wear my flip flops with confidence!

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Counting cars.

My two sons begin to scream at each other over a toy. They always want to play with the same one at the same time. Seriously? They have ALL these other toys and books and whatever, but they both want that ONE! A few months ago I had asked my husband if we could please start getting two of everything. He said no. They have to share and take turns. Fine. Before I became a mother, I believed my children would never fight. I have been humbled a thousand fold for thinking so foolishly.

I’ll make us a cup of tea. I only have peppermint, is that alright? Growing up, my mother used to always make peppermint tea, but we drank it cold. My love for mint must come from her. I miss her. Do you ever eat or drink something because of memories? Years ago when I was employed, I worked in a very posh retail store. We had our lunch break and later in the evening we had a tea break. I always had peppermint and liquorice tea, sweetened with brown raw cane sugar, with a slice of my homemade lemon cake. I haven’t been able to make a successful lemon cake since the big move but I will continue to try. The tea however, I cannot find anywhere! If you happen to see it, do let me know! For now, we will be grateful for this peppermint.

So, I am really out of the loop with the music world. On a bright note, I can sing several varieties of the Itsy Bitsy spider, the ABC song, and a few others that I can’t seem to think of on the spot. Having said that, it was a real treat the other day when I was in the car listening to my husband’s playlist and this really cool song came on. I am quite convinced that someone from the band at one point lived the life of a housewife. Because it totally connected with me. I don’t know who they are and I can’t remember what they said, but it was nice knowing that someone out there shared similar feelings as me.

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My four year old comes over and inspects my cup of tea.

“Is that hot lava? It’s hot. See? Smoke. Is it a fire? And burn the house down? No. You can drink it. Mommy do you like it? Is it good?”

I cannot express how wonderful it is to see my son growing up and hearing his thoughts. He may talk in circles but I am ecstatic that he’s figuring things out on his own! My two year old then comes over to see what the fuss is. He takes a look inside my cup and goes back to his playing. He could care less about my tea. I’m proud of him too. For being able to return to his task as if there had been no distraction.

What a journey motherhood is! It’s so big I am silenced for words. There is just an emotion, understood within the circle of women.

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Behind the scenes of a landscaped yard is a squirrel running up the tree. A spider busy spinning his dinner. A lady bug being watched by my four year old. Flowers being picked by my two year old. Pinecones waiting to be played with. Rocks waiting to be treasured.

Behind the scenes of my front door is family life. I watch how they walk. How they play. I listen to their voice. Their sounds. Their cries. I touch their skin, their hair and cuddle them close. I look into their eyes. I notice the books and movies they choose. The songs they sing to themselves. I notice their emotions, their reactions, trying to make sense of who they are. I am memorising all that I can.

I just re-read the 1,000 words that you just read and one word came to my mind: details. My life has become a life full of noticing details, dissecting those details, making some sense of those details. And I wonder, if I, like the passing cars that we count, am a detail in someone else’s story. A detail among the other millions of people living in this country. And yet here you are, dear friend reading these details of my life.  And with that thought, I’ll close with a quote from my four year old prince, ” thank you for realising me”.

Waking Up Into A Dream- My First Day in Sweden

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It was afternoon when I woke up on a brown leather sofa in my grandmother’s living room. I looked around. Above me on the wall was an oil painting of a sunset on the water. Water can be so beautiful but I am terrified of it. To my left was a wall covered in framed family photographs. There was a small photo of my family when there had been only four kids. Close to it was a photo of my mother as a young girl. For the first time I saw my great grandmother, she looked like she had been working when the photo was taken. To my right was a large open window with white curtains that danced in the breeze. It looked out to the back courtyard. I was on the ground floor in an apartment building, in a neighbourhood with lots of other buildings that all looked exactly the same. The soft sounds of the upstairs neighbour’s conversations travelled down to us. It was the month of May and the sun shone brightly, trying to cheer up my gray mood.

‘I am in Sweden’, I kept repeating to myself. I am awake, but it feels like a dream. I left reality behind, this isn’t real. I am not really here. I touched my arm, my face and looked at my feet. I saw that I was whole, but parts of me felt missing.

My grandmother noticed I had woken up and brought me a glass of pear juice. It was delicious. I looked at her. It had been several years since she had visited us in the states. Her hair still black with only a few white strands. Her physique slender from all the walking she does. Her face naturally beautiful as she did not wear make up. I could see that she was my mother’s mother. She then started to point out her things and explain them. She had a large collection of white porcelain pieces displayed in a glass cabinet, all labeled on the bottom with her name and the year she got it. She had bookshelves full of journals that she had faithfully written through the years. I looked out the window again as she kept talking. Her Swedish was easy to understand. My mother’s mother, they spoke similar. Just yesterday I had been home in Ohio. Four airplanes later I was here. The world felt small and I grew restless. I stood up and asked if we could walk. She looked surprised but agreed.

We walked around the block. I was looking for something interesting, something that stood out to be “different”. Something that would make me feel like it was okay to be here because there was something I would have otherwise missed out on. We crossed the road onto a sidewalk that was made of cobblestone. It was pretty to look at, but made my ankles hurt. The greenery was beautiful, the cars that drove past were all nice but the thing that stood out the most wasn’t a thing, it was sound. Everything seemed so quiet. The cars weren’t honking. The dogs weren’t barking. People weren’t shouting. The calmness around me a direct opposite from how I was feeling inside, because inside I was screaming.

We walked back to the apartment and she began to cook dinner. I sat in the living room and called my mom. The phone sounds were different. The smells from the kitchen were foreign to my nose. I had just arrived but I was ready to run. Like an ungrateful spoiled girl, I sat with a bad attitude. Complaining about everything under my breath. Blind to the opportunity around me. Eventually I would learn, but I was a hard egg to break. And with that hardness, some things come too late.

A Foreign Community, An Extended Family- A True Story

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Many years ago when I lived in Sweden, in my early 2o’s, I had my own apartment in a community made up of foreignors. The buildings were tall, brightly painted with huge numbers so addresses were easy to find. I was number 74 V.2. We were from everywhere. Brazil, Iran, Pakistan, Argentina, Russia, different countries from Africa, America, Poland, Chile, Peru, Iraq, India, and many more. Ironically, technically, I am Swedish. I do not have the stereotypical blonde hair and blue eyes like all my cousins, and I didn’t (still don’t) speak with the same Swedish accent, but I am a Swede. A Swede who seemed to fit better in this international neighbourhood.

Here, I remember especially the women. They’d smile at me and shout out a “hello” in their language as they beat their rugs outside, and I felt they instantly accepted me as one of their own. Sure I’ll pretend a second to be Bolivian! Hola! Okay that was the only one I knew at the time, to the others I just smiled back. These women cooked with open windows and the smell of their food made my mouth water. Where ever I went, there was a woman with children closeby. Be it her own, or her grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, children were everywhere. I was fascinated that all these people from around the world had found their way here.

Across the courtyard from me lived a close friend that I had met and gotten to know. Her family was Assyrian from Iran. I later learned to greet them with a word that sounded like it would be spelled “schlamalockhone”. Her parents didn’t speak much Swedish but it didn’t matter. They were so kind to me! Spending time in their home made me realise how my friends must have felt visiting my family. They only knew English and my family spoke Swedish at home! In time I learned the sounds of their language and when I heard others at bus stops or shops, I always knew if they were speaking their dialect of Assyrian or not and I would greet them with a friendly “schlamalockhone”.

My friend’s mother was such a busy body. From what I observed, she cooked a big pot of food each morning. I can still almost taste her meatballs with buttery rice on the side.Whoever came to the house could have some food and there was always plenty to eat. She then spent the rest of her day helping others. Every day! On days where she was home cleaning, she had the TV on a channel that played her home music. Have you heard of Arabic oldies? I loved it! I became infused by their culture. They easily made me feel like I had more than just friends as neighbours, they were my extended family.

One Christmas I was the only one in my family in Sweden. Christmas Eve was spent with my aunt and cousins and it was wonderful to learn more in depth the Swedish traditions. Christmas day was spent with my Assyrian family. We put on our best dress and went to… I think it was their grandparents home. See the importance of keeping a journal? Memory is so unreliable. So many people were there! And I had no idea what anyone was saying but it was great. More kindness was shown to me. The grandfather said these words, as my friend translated them for me: “Today we understand that you miss your family. Today we will adopt you as one of our own. Feel at home.” He then invited me to bless the big Christmas meal! I was honored! The food was out of this world delicious.

After the meal they all sat around the large living room and sang traditional songs, I had learned some of their dances and joined in on those. It was time for presents but there was so many people I only remember envelopes of money. I watched my friend and her sister open theirs, then I opened mine and we had all gotten the same amount. My heart swelled with gratitude that I was truly accepted that day and I did not feel alone or left out at all. God bless those people for opening their heart and home to me.

I’ll never forget the warm summer nights my friend and I would slowly walk around the footpath that outlined our entire community. We talked for hours. Everything from earth to heaven, our pasts and hopes for the future and probably literally EVERYTHING. Women do have a gift of talking. During our walk, we walked past a soccer field that was right in the middle of the neighbourhood. The older boys playing with the younger ones like little brothers and including them in their game. We walked past whole families who were also out walking, husband, wife and children enjoying the evening stroll. I watched them and thought, I want that one day too! Evening strolls with my family.

Family is always there when we need a friend. Or are friends there when we need family? Either way, this night she was. It was at about 2am, I woke up with an intense pain in my leg. It was a pain that had resulted in a knee injury 3 years before. I went into the kitchen and panicked when I realised I had no painkillers left. This pain would only get worse and it was unbearable. I called her. At 2am she actually answered her phone! She lived at the top of her apartment building and had to come all the way down to open the door for me. In her flat she offered me food and medicine and I simply stayed the night. She was so much more than a friend. She was like a sister. Always there and never upset with me.

I remember talking to her a lot about how much I missed home- Ohio. And it was a hard time for me. But looking back I realise more and more that those years in Sweden had become some of my biggest blessings in life. I cannot thank God enough for the experiences I had, for the life long friendships that were built, for the lessons I would not have otherwise learned. Yes, sometimes trials are blessings in disguise.

And I thank God for my extended family around the world.

xx

(photo credit)