The warmth from the sun’s rays pierce through the huge dust-covered windows. It penetrates my soul and shines a comforting glow onto my face. I was a little girl of 6 years old, heading home with my sister in the huge beige Golden Arrow bus. On our drive from Athlone to Hanover Park, I would rest my head against the window, the gentle vibration of the moving bus creating a soothing, buzzing sound. Something like a lullaby. The rhythmic pulses relax my energetic mind and I imagined that this is what a head massage must feel like – until my head abruptly jolted forward when the bus came to a halt.
As I soaked up the sun on my rosy cheeks, at the same time trying to avoid being blinded by the rays of sunlight, would imagine what my life would be like in the future.
I’d imagine myself as a grown woman, with high heels and lipstick – ever so fashionable – working in a field that I love, while concurrently running my household efficiently.
Regarding my imaginary children, three to be exact, two boys and a girl, I would be “Loving but disciplined”. While lost in this thought I glanced through the dust-covered window as we passed a huge two-storey house and I excitedly nudged my older sister and said, “Titi, when I grow-up I am going to live in that house!”
Gleaming windows and neatly trimmed grass surrounded the house – it looked picture perfect. I could feel the excitement rising inside my little 6-year-old body! I smiled with the hope that one day, I would live in that house, with my 3 children in my loving but disciplined way.
And then I grew up
Life has a funny way of giving you what you want, but not exactly in the way you expect.
When I daydreamed of my future, it seemed so easy to be the mom with a career and high heels – running with a tray of freshly baked cookies and her lipstick. That little girl knew nothing. Allow me to elaborate.
I am a mother, and my priorities include:
1. Keeping my family healthy and alive.
2. Maintaining my sanity.
Not in that specific order and everything else is negotiable.
As a working mom my days are divided into two types: good and bad.
On a good day, I manage to balance it all, the family, the career and all the added extras like fresh cooked meals, in-laws, and friendships. On a bad day (which is the norm now) it is late nights at the office, takeaways, and broken promises.
That double storey house, with the shiny windows, let me tell you, it’s a lot of work to keep those windows shiny and mortgage paid!
The standards seem impossibly high for women. We wear so many hats. You are expected to be both the loving mother with freshly cooked meals waiting when the kids get home, and the assertive career woman conquering the concrete jungle – both roles come with accompanying shame and guilt. Please do not misunderstand, they are both achievable and many women have it all, but for me, it came at a cost.
There came a point in my life when I asked: ‘is it worth it’? The late nights at the office, and missed birthdays? Juggling both career and home-life to my own detriment?
If I could sit next to that little girl on the bus, I’d tell her to enjoy life and encourage her to do her best, because that’s really all that matters. I’d warn her that striving for academic achievements and career advancements aren’t worth allowing her mental health to suffer. I’d hug her tightly when she didn’t make it into med school and explain to her that she can still have a happy and fulfilled life even if the path she planned doesn’t work out. I’d tell her to own the space she occupies on Earth. She does not have to fit any preconceived gender role, nor earn in a certain bracket or live in a certain area code – that she should live her life as best she can and to make her happiness a priority.
On the flip side, if it were me, a 36-year-old woman on the bus, that little girl would tell me to stop worrying so much! She’d tell me to smell the flowers, and that the big house was never the prize – it was always about creating a safe place to call home. A safe space for myself and my children.
I now realise that that big beige bus could be a metaphor for life, your life is the bus, sometimes you will have stops and bumps and flat tyres (which are normal). Other times you will need to decide who gets on your bus and supports you and who needs to step off because they aren’t going in the same direction – that’s okay too.
Sometimes, when there’s a detour in life, there is chance for adventure. You end up in a scenic, unexpected destination with opportunities to discover places that you would not ordinarily seen, and that too can be beautiful and bring immense joy.