Minority rights

I am just a mother. Sometimes I talk to and write about people with different faiths and backgrounds, because I always have. I like to talk to children, especially.

I just wanted to write down some things in light of all the absolutely distressing pronouncements and attacks on the LGBT community in Malaysia recently. I can’t even bear to go into the caning of two lesbians a few days ago as I go from clear to incoherent in a matter of seconds, I’ll fully admit my emotions take over and rage just runs through my veins.

About a week ago I was playing with my young son in a swimming pool. We were in Ibiza for a good friend’s wedding, but we had also decided to make it our family’s little summer holiday. There were plenty of holiday-goers in the family-friendly resort we were at, and in the pool there was a group of tanned teenagers chatting. There were about maybe two girls and five or six boys in the water, forming a circle of sorts – just enjoying the sun and breeze. They must have been about 14 or 15, I gathered. They spoke English and looked Mediterranean, although I couldn’t identify the accent or where they were from.

I overheard them talking, even though I was quite a distance. A boy was telling his other friends: “No I am not gay! I am homosexual!” Clearly a little flustered and defensive, he was then corrected by his friend as to what homosexual means. “OK I mean I am not homosexual! I hate homosexuals!” He then proceeded to ask his other friends, one by one, “Are you gay? I am NOT gay. Hey, are YOU gay?!” One by one, his friends shook their heads, smiling awkwardly, and he started giggling too, also rather awkwardly. They later moved on to another activity, water polo.

I was busy with my babies all day but that little conversation stuck in my head. I replayed that innocent yet potent exchange, full of bravado and bluster. I knew that they were just kids, and that by his tone and choice of words, he was not trying to be sinister or malicious. He was, like all of us, at one time or another, trying to fit in. Not wanting to be judged, made fun of, or ostracized. But words have weight, and I wondered what if he, or any teen in his group that day, were gay? How lonely it must feel. How scary and heartbreaking must it be to hear these things from your peers? How painful it is to not be able to speak, let alone live your truth. Or even to just explore who you are, what your identity truly is?

And this is just the social circle side of things. What if an entire state machinery clearly marks you as different, as unwanted, as unsupported? That you are green-lighted for attack, threats and animosity? That they could be concentrating on real crimes and injustices but no, they want you and they prefer to hunt YOU down? How ominous and terrifying it must be for anyone, let alone a teenager who is confused and conflicted about his or her identity and feelings.

I think about how Muslims in Malaysia are so grateful when other non-Muslims stand up against Islamophobia and attacks on Muslim minorities in countries like Myanmar, the US or here, in the U.K. I have seen for myself how fiercely some non-Muslims defend and fight for Muslim minorities in London, even though they may disagree with aspects of the faith. I have heard of people calling up radio stations defending the use of full face veils even if it goes against their own personal principles! I have gone through post after post and many hours of scrolling through controversial topics to see what people say about Islam, Islamophobia and related issues – I always look out for the people who stand up for others and those who take the time to educate people about context, culture, history and most of all, kindness. Trust me, it’s a massive pain in the butt to actually take time and patiently tell someone that no, Islam is not the terrorist-producing evil religion they have made it out to be.

I know this because I have had these conversations. I know this because I tune in to these issues by choice – I know the beautiful side of Islam, I once even considered entering the faith, and I stand up for the many Muslims I know when I can. I am only saying this because all too frequently I hear Malaysians say non-Muslims should just shut up about issues relating to Islam. That we don’t know, we don’t understand, and it’s none of our business. Right.

Many Malaysian Muslims would ask that we stand for Muslim minorities suffering cruelty and hostility because it is unjust, it is cruel, and we should protect their human rights. That despite our different beliefs, and maybe even in spite of our disagreements, we should respect each other as children of God. I just am filled with disappointment right now that most Muslims I know will not even touch the subject of protecting the LGBT, although they are clearly a vulnerable minority group in Malaysia. We are talking about hostility and attacks online and in the wider world – in real life: targeted, punished or even brutally assaulted. Where is the empathy and kindness, where is that fire you reserve for Palestinians and the Rohingya? Is it only injustice for Muslims you fight against? What is faith for then? What is religion for? What are the basic, most fundamental lessons a religion teaches humans?

But I will come back to that kid in the pool.

I wish I could have maybe had a chance to talk to him, in a way that wouldn’t freak him out. (Weird petite young-ish [cough] looking Asian woman talking about a conversation she eavesdropped on is perhaps not the best entry point.)

I would have said it’s totally okay if anyone was gay. And that it’s totally okay to be different sometimes. It is totally okay for other people to be different. That everyone tries, everyone feels, everyone hurts, everyone hopes, and everyone lives their lives as best as they can.

We may all have different beliefs and principles. Some are seriously incompatible, some are less so.

I think one thing we can all actually agree on is that we want children, whether ours or others, to be kind to others. We all would want our child to be the child who stands up for the one being bullied. We all want any child, really, to be one who protects those who are vulnerable. We want our hearts to expand with pride when we hear about young ones standing up for those who may be weak, different, or sad. We all want all our children to be so much kinder, wiser and more empathetic than we could ever be. If we can all agree on this, then despite our differences, there can be only one way to be and to live.

We need to model this behaviour.

I’m bloody tired of waiting for politicians to set the tone and discourse for us. They aren’t doing so. I am also sick of having men in power and influence set the rules and judgements on the lives of women and families everywhere. They do this every single day.

But I am only just one mother. My question is for the other mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, godparents, cousins and anyone with a child in your life – what are you going to do to model this behaviour for these little ones who look up to you? Who do you stand up for? And what will it take for you to get up on your feet?


Late night musings

There is a quote from the documentary The Minimalists, it goes: “Love people and use things. The opposite never works.” From my personal life and observations at large, however, I do believe the world these days runs on exactly that – Love things and use people. It cannot help itself, it is saturated with capitalist considerations, consumerism and conceit. It cannot turn back, like its unceasing overuse of plastic.
And I was an optimist once, foolish me.

I believe the only thing people can do – those who still harbour some faith and glow – is to be extremely aware and reflective of the people, things and thoughts you choose to let into your life.

You will think unkind, ungenerous thoughts sometimes, but you are only human. Process these thoughts fairly.

You will obtain some things you will regret. It is okay, try better next time. You can only beat yourself about it so much.

Know that some people will use you, but they cannot help themselves, and sometimes you cannot help but let them. It is inescapable. This is life.

There will still be those who love you because, well, they just cannot help themselves   too – they just bloody love you. If you can identify these people and keep them close – selfishly, deliciously so, then you’ve got life made.

Love people and use things. I suppose it is still a worthwhile mantra to consider, despite all said and done.

Second Baby Blues

Our second child is due in June, and I have been feeling a little melancholy at times. It is a sadness that hits me when I think about my little tornado of a toddler now, it is when I watch him sleep, it is when I see him play. 

I have been dealing with some bouts of the blues off and on for a few months, but I know what they stem from and how to deal with them. Sometimes hormonal, sometimes situational, sometimes just me overthinking things … all that I am used to, and I have my own means of coping. But this sadness that comes knowing that baby number two is coming – it is a strange one, and one I’m grappling with as tenderly as I can.

For who can get sad about the gift of another child? When some dearest to you are struggling to have a baby, you feel a bit silly and insensitive talking about being blue at all – how rude! 

But there it is, and it’s real, and it’s true. I cannot deny the existence of this odd kind of sadness. The few people I’ve talked to about this tells me it is normal. I am adept enough with the Interwebs to research and know that many moms have felt it this too. But knowing, reasoning and logic can only soothe so much. 

I look at my little boy now and wonder how I will be able to love him just like this, with another baby to look after. I wish I could play with him the way he likes to play, and yet this huge belly in the way means there are so many things I cannot do. Mommy, do this, mommy, carry me. And I deflect, or I pass the job on to his daddy. When I am tired, I resort to the telly or house bound activities with him, and I feel bad about it. If this is the way I feel now, how will it be when the second one arrives? I feel like I miss spending time with him already. All the times we have spent together, just us, in the parks, the galleries, the museums. My heart aches when I think about how I will miss just focusing on him, staring at him in happy wonder as he is learning something new. How much will I miss, how many new words will I not catch, how many times will I say ‘Not now, Luca, mommy is busy with baby’. Because you are my baby. You may be tearing the place down now as a toddler but you are still my baby. And now I am all torn up inside at the thought of distinguishing ‘baby’ in my tummy to you, when I still call you Baby. 

We wanted him to experience the love and joy of having a sibling, and we know this is one of the best presents we could ever give him. But sometimes part of me questions these decisions – is it too soon? Will we do both of them justice? I look at the father my husband has turned out to be, and I am comforted and heartened – Anh is the dad children can only dream of having, and I know why he is our child’s clear favourite. Perhaps my fears are to do with me, and my fears of my own abilities as a mother. Will I be able to do this? Will I be able to focus on this? Will I falter? Will I miss out? 

And so now we travel as a family. We are spending all the quality time we can with the little tornado. I have regretted not taking more photos of him or writing about him openly or showing him off to the world, preferring to not be ‘one of those moms’. But as time runs out of it being just us, I wish I had done this more. And so I am doing more staring. I am noting things down more. I read some more bedtime books, I sing some more songs. I watch him as he falls asleep. I linger on at his side as he slumbers. I run my fingers through his hair, I kiss his cheeks that are still deliciously plump. 

I know the heart can only expand to love more. 

I know that he will love having a sibling.

I know that all will be well.

But for now, I acknowledge this sadness and aching that comes from thinking it won’t be just us in the future. I can only try to do my best, and I may be shitty at a lot of things but we will make it work. 

You will always be my number one, son. 

No-Shopping Update

I started this challenge on the first of February. It has now been two months, and I guess I’m proud to say I have stuck to almost all my rules.

There have been no clothes, no new material belongings.

I have given a few books away as presents.

It hasn’t been that easy. I’m no big shopper to begin with, but it is definitely a change of mindset. When we talked about it recently, my husband told me he didn’t think it was a hard challenge for me at all, not shopping. I told him even though I was never that indulgent to begin with, purposefully not buying anything is not as easy as he thinks.

“Oh I have about an hour more to go till I have to go home/there, let me just wander around the shops for a bit” changes to “Ok I will just go straight home” or “What gallery can I go to that’s close by?”.

Last month an “Oh look, little tornado has started to have ‘tea sessions’ with his soft toys” automatically drew a “Oh I should buy him a toy tea set”.  I kid you not, it was so automatic. The consumerist brain – so quick, so determined – is such a dangerous thing. Doh! Why the heck would you buy him a tea set, woman! He is doing perfectly well there using the washing liquid measuring cup!

Tea parties with friends can be free you know, mommy

Don’t even get me started on the usual temptations. And the thought processes that have to do with ‘I need/I want’. I went to Paris recently, for heaven’s sake. It’s a mind fuck sometimes. I’ll leave that for another post, because it has to do with things I think are massive temptations for women. 
Notice I have written that I have stuck ‘to almost all my rules’. There have been a few lapses – although I do not place too much emphasis on them as they were not done purposefully.

For example, I have bought two bottles of water over the past two months. One was reflexive, i.e. I was chatting with our local newsagents nearby and bought it without thinking, only realising later what I had done.  The other was because I had forgotten my water tumbler and I really needed to have water by me for the work day. I guess I could blame my forgetful baby brain? Baby brain … it is real, okay? It’s like the brain shifts focus onto other things, like these feelings and emotions and shit. But like I said, I’m not kicking myself about these incidences because I really didn’t mean to. And this whale currently needs a lot of water.

We also bought take out once, from a local Indonesian restaurant. But this was because husband was ill and our household was in a bit of a state due to said illness. Otherwise we have been very good with our home cooking, sticking to our food planner and mostly making our own meals. For two months, that is a definite win. So one takeout meal is okay.

Random photo that I will pretend is about me feeling free from the shackles of consumerism. Kinda.

I’m feeling very good about this no-shopping thing, I must say.

It’s something to be proud of, and I am so much happier thinking I can spend more on travel and experiences without any of the usual guilt. Combined with Lent, where I have been giving up Facebook, fried chicken (a monster temptation) and soft drink, the whole month has felt very chilled. More simple. Clean.

I had lots of sweets in Paris though.

Oh come on, one has to live a little!

Viva La France

We went to Paris for a long awaited family break just a week ago. It was supposed to be my birthday present from my husband last December, but too much was happening then. But I am growing steadily more whale-like as time goes by, and so it was time to do some travelling. And so off we went last Thursday, taking the Eurostar to this beautiful city.

At the Centre Pompidou

Hubby and I have been to Paris several times before in our previous single lives, this was our first together. But no romantic candlelight dinners for us or Before Sunrise-style walks in slo-mo, we were there with our little tornado. No complaints though. At 20-months old, he is now super active and chatty, and we delight in his company. (When he isn’t melting down) We had to confine ourselves to indoor activities on our first two days as the weather was unkind to us, but even then we had fun because the little one was happy to just run in available spaces, and found our hotel room hilarious somehow (‘Hiding Daddy!! Come hiding!’). Who knew a simple Novotel could please a toddler so?

Cy Twombly’s exhibition, where we saw many works that looked like our son’s masterpieces

How was travelling to Paris with a little one?

Well there were some revelations. The French were wonderful with the little tornado. Having experienced more un-smiley French or Parisians in previous visits, I was pleasantly surprised that they were always cooing and smiling and talking to our son. Older folks would say hello, one silver haired man even came to our breakfast table to just to talk to him. Many had a similar question – “Is it a boy or girl?”

Taking in the view from Sacre Couer

Saying a prayer for someone very special

With so much warmth and kindness for the little one, I was surprised then that the public transport facilities however, was not as friendly. We had a challenging time with our pram using the metro. I had forgotten my French friend’s advice to use our lighter travel buggy instead, and I soon saw why. The question is about buggy width. It was just ridiculous as we had to collapse it each time to fit through gates, and there were just so many gates. There were no dedicated ones for those with accessibility issues. It made me really feel for those with disabilities too – how were they supposed to navigate through all this? The Parisian metro has always been very intuitive – as in, if you are used to the London tube, the metro is not a problem at all to figure out. But for ease of accessibility, London’s underground is still heaps better.

Treats and hot chocolate at the lovely Angelina Cafe

I was nervous about restaurants – many have no baby chairs, but in the end we fared quite all right. The little one took a monster evening nap on the first day (quite unusual), and as I knocked out along with him, hubby took it upon himself to book a nice dinner at 9.30pm. When I woke up, that fact just shocked me a little! Bedtime for tornado is usually 7pm in London. But we went to the restaurant anyway, a quaint little restaurant not too far from our hotel. It was completely packed though, and we were the only ones with a child, no surprises there! I thought we would be so judged for bringing a tiny human to this elegant little restaurant, but we just got one or two curious but cheerful looks, and most just continued their dinner and chats. We got back to the hotel near 11.30pm (gasp), and our son just promptly passed out (phew).

We didn’t get to do the Louvre (hubby has never been there), and Jardin du Luxembourg (for son), but all in all it was a short but sweet little holiday. 

When attempting to do a family wefie, have an arsenal of distraction tactics to prevent child from melting down

Yeah, this is the kind of the blogging you do when you’re a parent. It’s all so fucking logistical and practical and with no oooh la la. Ah well, c’est la vie!


In the still of the night 

I miss the night. I miss its long, quiet companionship. Sometimes I brave the tiredness I know will come, just to feel enveloped in it again. These days I sometimes weep in the darkness, an old friend that has witnessed all manner of emotions my whole life. Am I talking to God? Or just thinking with the night? Sometimes it feels one and the same. 

Little tornado wakes up at 6am. As someone who has always been writing and searching thoughts and meaning when everyone else is asleep, this means these days I have to force myself to sleep at a certain time. I do so reluctantly each time. But there are days when I linger around the stillness as the two boys in my life dream away, and I keep myself awake just because it is simply what I have always done. 

I feel guilty about weeping. I feel as though my sadness sometimes stems from a place of privileged choice, and I have no right to feel sad. I feel guilty about feeling isolated sometimes, even though I know I am loved and nurtured by so many. I feel guilty about missing my home so badly, when I am setting up a home here that I feel passionately about. I feel weak despite knowing I have the strength to feel totally fine again the next morning, with new zest and verve for life. I weep about being a woman, and then guilty about doing so – that I want this life, that I want to be a mom, and therefore I know I have to go through all this. I weep about knowing that I vowed to make myself happy and not be dependent on my husband for my happiness, yet because I am a mother I do need him in this partnership. And so I am dependent on him. That as I feel another baby growing within me I am growing more limitations to my efforts and dreams. And then I feel guilty for thinking all this, for I know how lucky I am to be able to have these children, and how grateful I am to be able to live in the comfort of choice and warmth and love. I feel guilty for not being able to do the usual things that made me strong and happy, because … Am I not a lion? Do I not roar? Am I less than the other mothers who have done this their whole lives, from time immemorial? It is as though I fight these thoughts in the day, scoffing at my own doubts and fears, and in the sweet comforts of the night, I lay down my arms and fight no longer. 

I weep into the night. There is a strange sound in dead of the night – it sounds like silence, but it also reverberates within my ears. Imaginary crickets, like the phantom cries I sometimes think my son makes. I am unsure if this is my memory of the night or of youth, but it gives me a sense of peace. That in all its stillness and quiet, the night is talking back to me. Softly. I’m here. I’m listening. Be free.

As a child I remembered crying in the night once in a while too. I do not remember why. I do not remember being an intense child, but as I read my diary entries from when I was nine years old, it is clear that I have always needed some form of release. As a teenager I remember the sleepless nights, those bouts of insomnia which could also turn night into foe. There were times I tried desperately to be a morning lark, convinced that this would deliver more promise and efficiency. One night, failure to sleep despite my exhaustion meant I kept shaking my head from left to right, in a bid to tire myself out to sleep. When I failed to sleep after that, I would cry desperate tears. Sometimes, crying definitely worked and I would drift into blissful nothingness. 
These days the weeping sometimes comes on undramatically. Like an afterthought, or a reflexive yawn. Sometimes they come in waves, just switched on by a thought. Sometimes I blame the hormones, out of tiredness, out of laziness. It is easy to blame biology when your mind feels heavy with thoughts wrapped with lethargy. Sometimes I don’t know why I fucking weep. I lead a comfortable life and I have no right to these tears. People who have suffered more have shed far less or none at all. They thrive and persevere. I try to comfort myself by justifying – I do really try to thrive and persevere myself. I do all I can to keep myself busy and active and present. I know that the responsibility for my life and joys are mine alone. And yet, in the companionship of the dark, the tears come out to play. They come out to worry no one in the light, they come out to enjoy the safety and tenderness of the night.  

Monzo Tracking Begins! 

So happy that I now have a Monzo card! 

Monzo is a startup mobile-only bank that allows you, among other things, to track your purchases via an app, create budgets, and freeze your card temporarily if you misplace it. 

I must admit I had no interest in it whatsoever … until my husband got one. And then he kept showing me how the app showed all his spending, from groceries at Tescos to sandwiches at Pret. Best of all, and something I really wanted, was the tracking of travel expenses. Obviously we take the buses and tube all week, using the car only on weekends, so it helps to note it all down. 

Also, it was basically a case of FOMO, thanks to my husband. The card and app and listing of everything just seemed so neat and cool and attractive – I had to have it! 

I may not be buying things this year, but I’m interested to see how my expenses for everything else adds up. So I downloaded the app to apply for a card, but due to heavy demand they said it would be a wait unless you emailed three friends to join up. This would speed up delivery of your card. I duly did that, but nothing happened, though it could have been my friends not joining up … or I was just a little impatient. 😁

And so I went on Twitter and shamelessly told Monzo about my low-consumption/no-shopping goal and blog this year, could they help me out? 

They moved really quickly and asked me to check my app for a ‘surprise’. I think the real surprise was that the card arrived the very next day! 

It’s only day one, but I’m excited. I guess this could partly be the thrill of ‘getting something new’ that I’m not getting from shopping. Gosh I’m so pathetic! Haha. We shall see how it goes.