For my Little Dodo Girl

An attempt to make my imagined self real.

Story of an Eastpack

Dear Lily,

We are in the midst of a big de-cluttering whirl. I’ve been selling and donating a lot of the stuff sitting around in our home under the title “What If We Need This…”. With every item gone, I felt a sense of elation, of relief.  Especially since the age group of the people picking the stuff up seems to be very young couples who I assume cannot afford that much. Selfish it maybe but I feel good about myself helping those kids start out in their first homes.

Except for my Eastpack bag. Almost 12 years ago, just as I started university, I bought that bag. I never knew I had any feelings  for it but it was such a faithful companion that held up through years of use and traveling. I had it on my back when I left Beirut to come to Germany.

A few days ago a guy called asking if he can have it and 15 minutes later, a young man in roller skates (he went up four stories in those skates!!) was at my door inspecting my bag. Before he arrived, I became anxious, walking around exclaiming loud “I can’t just sell it, it’s been with me for so long! I can’t!” I was hugging my bag and actually saying goodbye! In-between, your father made a very good point, “it has been sitting in the hallway closet for 5 years now unused and unloved. Let it go.”

In the end, the guy arrived, and I became all silly explaining to him where this bag came from and how much it has seen me through. All I got from him was “Can I put this in the washing machine?”

Sigh.

I feel as if I gave up a part of my past. No sense of elation or relief at all.  I do realize it is just an object, that was sitting gathering dust and now it is useful again. I do realize that the memories that this bag has seen me through are in my head and not the bag. I guess my heart needs some time to catch up with my brain.

Love,

Mama

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Dear Lily,

Never forget to be silly (not all the time naturally!). Some of my favorite memories as a child involve goofing around with my Dad. During my childhood (and I’d argue beyond), he was a strict father and when he said no, no it was. But in a heartbeat he’d also turn into the silliest dude there was, running around on all fours, making loud funny noises and all. It was awesome.

One of my favorite quotes is by Oscar Wilde (even though I find his novels long-winding…)

 Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow.

There is a lot of wisdom in that line.

Love,

Mama

Dear Lily,when …

Dear Lily,

when I was a little girl, my father used to keep small change in a bakhoor burner. It had an insert dish that created two layers, in the top of which he kept the “big” coins and in the lower one, the “small” coins. One day, in a thrilling moment filled with fear and excitement, I stole all the small coins. I think I was around 7.

The next day, I gave my collection of coins to the woman working at the school kiosk and said I wanted sweets for that money. Imagine my shock and elation when my “plan” worked and I got a cardboard box filled with sweets wrapped in pretty paper. That’s where my memory fades. All I remember is the feeling of utter excitement, then the regret and guilt that followed. I did eat the sweets though (with a friend)!

Years later, I told Dad about this and turns out he knew I was occasionally stealing small money from them and chose not to make a deal out it. I never touched anyone else money other than my parents’. At some point I stopped cold turkey because the guilt was too much. I guess you get on your own that some things are wrong without adults lecturing you about it.

Love,

Mama

On Putting Money where My Heart Is

You were looking a father goofing around with his little girl on the swings!

Dear Lily,

Your father and I got ourselves into big debt but for a good cause (I think). I never had debt before in life (nothing significant anyway) not because I’m naturally spendthrift or anything but mostly because my mother was. Your grandmother’s aversion to anything debt or overspending rubbed on me, despite my spend-happy nature (more like your grandpa, my father). I like buying and I get a kick of purchasing new things, especially New new! Used things don’t give me the same kick.

So before baby (that’s you sweety!) I took money out of my account and saved it automatically before I had time to look at it. It fits my nature, basically spend spend spend until the bank account runs dry.

But now we wanted to have our own home, your childhood home, and we wanted it comfortable with some outdoor space. So we bought a place, a smallish Condo (around 86 m2 or 925 square feet) with a 15 m2 balcony plus an 80 m2 roof terrace. We have more outdoor space than indoor! For the money we spent, we could have bought a huge place outside the city but we went against the general attitude and decided to stay in the city mainly because:

  1. We will need no car, we can still walk to work.
  2. We will still be close to friends, parks, the zoo, all within walking distance
  3. Small place means less maintenance and less stuff.
  4. Part of me does not want you to grow up self-entitled. I want you to share a room with a sibling and earn the things you desire. You will probably both resent me and be grateful for that, at different times in your life.

And weirdly enough, I am excited about the debt. It has given me focus and goals for my life. I want this mortgage paid as quickly as humanly possible but I don’t want to feel deprived while we tackle it. Dilemmas are good. This particular one has me evaluating every aspect of my life and really questioning it’s worth. I’m just sitting here and thinking, where did I spend money and felt it was so worth it, and where did money go down the drain on things/experiences I don’t care for. Reflecting (but not dwelling) on the past to understand yourself is the lesson here. So here goes:

  • I love sharing meals with friends, more so at home or at the park more than at restaurants. I love cooking for them. I love going out for a coffee with a friend and just chatting. I enjoy long walks whether in the city or nature. I think generally I love being out and about.
  • Shopping is a dicey one. I absolutely hate having to shop for a particular thing but I do enjoy relaxed and aimless shopping strolls, as long as they are under an hour.
  • I love reading. I love a good story and I equally love a good idea.
  • I love going out with you. As soon as we are outside the home, I relax and my todo lists stop running in my head as an endless news ticker. I am able to just enjoy myself and your company.
  • I did not like all-inclusive vacations. I like hotels, but small family-run ones. I do not like those massive ones with hundreds of people staying there. I didn’t like eating from a buffet three meals every day. I love staying in smaller places where there is an element of the unknown, going on mini-adventures, long walks and trying out local restaurants off the beaten track (thank you Google! And thank you the people who review said resturants).
  • What I don’t do yet but I really want for it to become part of our family is giving to charity. I feel happy when I can give someone else something they need and I don’t. I suppose this happiness is part of our human nature and I want to feed it. This is on my Christmas to do list.

Keeping up with the restriction theme from a previous post, this restriction on our spending is bringing me closer to the ideal of putting money where my heart is.

Love,

Mama

Dear Lily,

Yesterday your aunt Wafaa and I took you to your two-year-checkup. Next to the doctor’s office is a spacious playground for children, one of many around the city and of course, we had all the sandbox toys with us in preparation.

While you played in the sand, baked “cakes”, kept random toddlers from your toys and pestered me about wanting “fafee” (coffee, we got ourselves two cappuccinos to go), your aunt and I were getting seriously depressed about our home city, Beirut. In all likelihood, you will never live there for any significant period of time but it is a city that had so much potential, and achieved (almost) none of it.

It is the city of concrete. Any greenery is limited. Your aunt, noticed just as I did when I first had you, that what we take here as self-evident in Germany, is non-existent back home.

If you are a mother in Aachen, and don’t have the benefit of a large garden or space (or abundant cash), there is a children’s playground every few blocks. Open space, trees, swings, slides and sand boxes for kids to run, be wild and get messy, as kids should be. You don’t have to own a car, you don’t have to take a bus and you don’t need to pay anything. Free space for kids to be kids.

And if the playground is not up to par, there is a number to call and they’ll have it fixed in a very reasonable time (I can’t tell you how impressed I was when I called about loose bricks in a sandbox and the problem was taken care of in a few days).

If you are a mother in Beirut, and don’t have the benefit of a large garden or space (very few really do in Beirut), well, tough luck. The concept of children’s playground is unknown. Unless you live in the fancy areas near downtown or the Rawshe (the promenade by the sea), for most people there are no playgrounds to be reached by foot. You will have to drive or take a cab to these places to have some space for the kids to run around.

The only place where I have seen a children’s playground in Beirut was at the American University of Beirut. So if your mother or father is a university employee, lucky break but in all likelihood, you still have to drive in the horrible Beirut traffic to get there. Sorry, my bad, there are a few playgrounds at the different malls but it is still a nasty drive.

It made us sad and frustrated. It also made us loud and animated (and attracted a few stares). I keep wondering about how do the lower income families in Lebanon, particularly Beirut, manage. I do know they are not thinking/worrying about playgrounds; mostly likely their big issues are affording food and rent. I wonder about all the pleasures of childhood you will grow up with taking for granted, and those poor children will never know. Playgrounds, petting zoos, affordable swimming pools, parks, biking lanes, etc.

But so far all I do is wonder, lament and go on with my daily life. I’m just clueless as how to help.

Love,
Mama

Good Restrictions

“When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.”

— T.S. Eliot

All the thinking I’m doing about decluttering, I’m mostly overwhelmed by my clothes. The waste of space and money is not something I enjoy thinking about. Now with a mortgage to pay, I cringe at the amount of money I spent on things I don’t use.

I came across the quote above during one of my net-surfing marathons and it struck home in a way I don’t T.S. Eliot ever imagined. He probably would roll his eyes at the insignificance of its application.

Here goes. When I was pregnant, after around the 4th month, my entire wardrobe became the contents of exactly two small drawers (not including socks and shoes). My expanding belly set a restriction on what I can wear. The fact that I would be pregnant for only another five months set a restriction on the I-need-more-clothes area in my brain. So I only bought very few things to get me through the next few months.

And it was glorious. I think it was the only time in my life I was happy with my body and my clothes (the bane of most women). It was liberating. Every morning I had only a few items to choose from, and the thought “I really should buy XYZ” stopped rudely intruding on my morning routine. The best part, I suddenly became very creative with my dressing (a few compliments from friends comforted me that I was not getting too creative). I find it hilarious that when my body fits into most of my clothes, I spend my days in the same outfit (jeans + a weather-appropriate top). When I was physically restricted to a few items, I was mixing and matching my daily outfits with more creativity than I thought I had.

Eventually, I had my little Lily and I went back to where I was. Back in my jeans uniform. I miss the freedom. I want it back! How liberating it would be if I only had a few high-quality pieces that I love and actually use! It is so frustrating knowing it is all in my head and yet so difficult to get a grasp on.

Clutter

Dear Lily,

My mind is cluttered. Our home is cluttered. I constantly feel overwhelmed and stressed. And worst of all, I’ve started fantasizing about a fire that will burn all of our stuff except for the computer (where all our pictures are stored) and your box of treasures (where I keep tiny reminders of my days with you). Yes, I am fantasizing about a fire.

That’s when I told my self, “Woman, to dream about evil events that destroy families and communities is no good. Down right gross might I add. You need a friendly fire of sorts. You need to de-clutter your life.” (side note: the wordpress dictionary apparently does not recognize the word de-clutter. BAD sign.)

So now I’m sitting here and thinking: what will my friendly fire spare? Would those things fit in a humanly managable list? My magical fire will by pass:

  • the Mac in the living room where all our pictures are stored.
  • the box on the upper shelf where I put in the outfit I brought you home in from the hospital.
  • the embroidery that my Mom made while pregnant with me.
  • the tiny Japanese figurine that my Dad got me from Japan when I was 13 (I think…) and survived two wars.
  • the bit of jewelry that I inherited from my Mom.

That’s it, these are the things that come to mind right now that would break my heart a bit to lose. A few more things I would be sad but not heartbroken about:

  • the expensive SLR that takes awesome pictures.
  • the 2 posters from your Dad’s escapades in high school theater.
  • the pictures drawn by my sisters.
  • the plants

I cannot believe that of all the stuff that fills our home, your childhood home, five things make my would-be-heartbroken-if-I-lost-them list, and four make the would-be-sad-to-lose-list. How telling!

Dearest Lily, your are only two (almost), and for the next few weeks you will be wondering what over took Mama that she is whirling around throwing things left and right. The de-cluttering spirit, that’s what.

Love,

Mama