Que Sera, Sera…

Despite my resistance, the unavoidable has happened. I am now officially, most definitely a not-cool-middle-aged-mom-person. I was still cool when I first had the 10 year old now over a decade ago, when none other than Rob Lowe said he was the cutest thing ever at a very hip Yorkville restaurant – I took it as a personal compliment because of course, I made this child and so must have rubbed off on him? I even clung onto my coolness (though just barely) when I gave the 10 year old a brother. At that point, I could still be considered “young” with a new family. Still fresh to the job and still just a young, hip, downtown chick.

vintage-laundryNot anymore. My delusions of cool have most certainly faded and now I’m just middle aged. And most definitely like one of the moms you see in the laundry detergent.

I felt the shift last week while I was driving the boys to school when I came to the realization that their favourite music just sounded like a whole lot of loud noise, that playing “this much” with Nerf guns was a sure sign that they may grow up deranged especially in this unhinged world we live in, and that my irrational fear of them one day turning into that which I most dread in this world (teenagers) would inevitably materialize. NOTE: Not only will this be sad because they are growing up much too fast (cliché, but true) but also because it means that I am even more of an uncool middle aged person than I thought!!!

When I first became a mother, I recall thinking, “I am going to be the coolest mom and this job will not define me. I will be my own person, my own self and still a hip trendsetting renegade. True, I love this little human being more than my own life and would sacrifice anything for his happiness. But get those Gap sweatshirts and mom jeans away from me, and I refuse to just roll out of bed, no makeup on, sleep still in my eyes and tie my un-brushed, unwashed, and unkempt hair in a ponytail just to make lunch and get them to school on time! That’s for the birds!” Today was day 4 dirty hair day and I don’t remember brushing my teeth…check toothbrush, bone dry…nope, didn’t make it.

Could it be that I’ve just deluded myself into thinking I was ever cool? That I could fight the forces of nature and just skip middle age and go straight to coolly eccentric older person?

Recently, I’ve taken on a boatload more work…or should I say, work and volunteering opportunities. I’m still volunteering for the Zoryan Institute (a non-profit organization dedicated to the research and analysis of genocide and human rights violations – which fills my soul and is definitely my contribution to my genocide-surviving-grandparents’ legacy), and now I’m also co-chairing the telethon committee of the one and only ARS Armenian Private School which I attended as a child and which is now passing on my culture and heritage together with a top-notch education to my boys – and the kids of my relatives…and those of my friends!

But the bills have to get paid and so I’m also doing some work for a fantastic newspaper you may have heard of…TorontoHye (!!) and finally, putting my training to work, I’m helping to sell a metal fabrication business. And there are even more things in the pipeline so yes, I’m busy. Maybe I’m just too busy and need to dedicate more time and effort to being cool…but then, that’s just SO NOT COOL!!

While it’s incredibly liberating to be comfortable in your skin, to know what you want and to know how to go and get it, is a consequence of this ‘mid-age liberation’ letting go to the point where the delusions of grandeur completely fade away and we just don’t care at all? And so we let things just go to the wayside and don’t make an effort anymore? Is THAT what causes our cool to fade and the mom jeans take over???!

mom-jeans

Years ago, before I had the boys, I remember looking at old photo albums in Mr. Niceguy’s basement of his mom. We lost her too soon and it was my way of trying to get to know the person that she was in an effort to get to know the man that I married. I recall that in her early years as a mother she had a very elegant figure, long, glossy, blonde hair and would wear cool blue jeans – even a bandana! Then as the children got older, her hair got shorter, her clothes became more conservative and she transformed into the woman that I came to know, into Mr. Niceguy’s mother. A steady, warm, loving and selfless matriarch.

I remember when people would say, “You couldn’t possibly be a mother! You look so young!” and with a small smile and polite, “thank you” I would hide the fireworks going off inside me. Those days are falling further and further behind…

I once met a psychiatrist who said something very interesting to me, she said that what I sometimes labelled as crazy (as in, I’m acting crazy, I feel crazy, my kids are making me crazy), she labelled as passion. She also mentioned that passionate people were often guilty of over-analysis…and that perhaps it was best to just accept things for what they are…and let other things, go.

So here it is, I accept you, not-so-cool-middle-aged-mom-person. For I cannot change you. But in an effort to still see vestiges of my “true, twenty-year-old self” I will remember to every now and then break the “I’m-a-proper-mom-and-good-example-to-my-kids” rules and climb over the construction tape just to scrape my name into a freshly poured, concrete sidewalk – and then promptly walk (run) away with a smile on my face when I get in trouble…like today.

I leave you, readers, with a song that my mother used to sing to me and my sister – in the wise, wise words of Doris Day:

When I was just a little girl I asked my mother
What will I be?
Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?
Here’s what she said to me

Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera, what will be, will be

When I grew up and fell in love I asked my sweetheart
What lies ahead?
Will we have rainbows? Day after day?
Here’s what my sweetheart said

Que sera, sera…

Now I have Children of my own they ask their mother
What will I be?
Will I be handsome? Will I be rich?
I tell them tenderly

Que sera, sera…

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Minecraft Part II: ‘Groundhog Day’, the luck of the Irish and finding me…

Forget it.  Not doing it.  I tried and it’s just not me.  I CANNOT GIVE UP THE REINS.

Last month it was all about abandoning my inner zombie and trying to be more chill, more relaxed, to trust and have faith thereby lightening my mental load – to try and be more present in my own life.  But I realize I’m going about it entirely the wrong way and here’s how I know…

st-peter-pearly-gates-fun-lolI’ve had a very full month.  Between the (what feels like, but obviously highly exaggerated) hundreds of projects and deadlines, for which, once again, I get paid in gratitude and brownie points (and hopefully a ticket to the VIP section when it’s time to meet Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates…), my discombobulation only got worse and when I tried to figuratively pull the ripcord from my parachute it malfunctioned and I came crashing down to earth at Mach 3 speed (in other words, I dropped like a fighter jet doing a nose dive at over 2000 mph).

But it’s been rewarding.  It has.  I swear.  I know everything happens for a reason and I know that sometimes we need to get pushed out of our comfort zone in order to grow.  I also know – no, I believe – that the universe sometimes forces you to get off the track or path you’re on because you’re just not supposed to be there (in other words, the universe believes you’ve totally f-ed up your life and has decided that it’s not going to wait any longer for you to get your @#$% together and it’s time for some tough-love and to totally uproot you from what you know, regardless of the tears, pain or fear, and put you back on course).

But one mustn’t read too much into the universe and the track and looking for signs and all that mumbo jumbo…right?  I mean…I have been getting a lot of LCBO and VRBO emails lately…it’s not like I’m supposed to be chugging back some whiskey on a beach somewhere…is it?  I mean, there has to be some modicum of control in one’s life…mustn’t there?

Back to how I know that I’m going about things the entirely wrong way.  Giving up control.  Well, that’s just not me.  I can’t do it.  I can’t let go of the reins.  It’s too much work, it feels too unnatural and quite frankly, I can just barely trust Mr. Niceguy with packing school lunches much less making sure that my children are actually dressed appropriately for the weather…yes, they almost ended up at the Toronto Auto Show in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops…IN FEBRUARY.  Truth be told, I find the need for an extra 5 minutes of sleep somehow breeds trust…

To be fair, Mr. Niceguy is very trustworthy, reliable and wonderfully supportive…when I haven’t been on a month-long quest of once again trying to figure out the meaning of my life, my purpose, my identity.  So needless to say, poor Mr. Niceguy doesn’t even know how to approach me for fear of encountering an emotionally unstable wreck that will likely bite his head off like a praying mantis.  Sorry Mr. Niceguy, it’s been tough for you too.  And it’s not a contest about whose life is harder, so I’m not going to play the “it’s hard to be a modern-day woman and pop two kids out of your body – that will never be the same again – find balance between being a mother and your old self, and balance between work and family, and, and, and…” card.  (I know, I just did…woman’s prerogative)

groundhog dayIt’s as if this entire past month has been one long bad hair day.  You know those days when you convince yourself that you can forego nicely pressed, clean clothes and makeup because who’s going to care really and perhaps you’re being far too shallow, so why not feel great about being a ‘granola’ (hippie-type) that embraces the all-natural, and just hop out of the door only to keep running into your ex-boyfriend or your public “frenemy” number 1?  Those days.  Like the movie Groundhog Day, when Bill Murray’s character Phil keeps repeating the same day over and over again until he learns his lesson, I feel like I’ve been frustrated – doomed until I get it right.

 

I can’t help but pause here and think with St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, why can’t I be Irish?

luck of the irishTrue it’s totally unfair to distill any group down to just a few traits…I mean, as an Armenian I’ve been assumed to be as flaky as a “Kardashian” (I totally disagree with that view by the way and think that while I wouldn’t necessarily make the same life choices as Kim et al, I will go on record to say that she and her family definitely highlighted the Armenian Genocide and for that I am thankful).  Moving on, as an Armenian I’ve also been told that I must be shrewd in my business dealings or be related to a mobster, etc.  I mean, seriously?  I would, however, like a leprechaun to grant me the luck of the Irish for one day – I don’t ask for a pot of gold but their outlook.  Like how could one remain bewildered and confused with Irish mantras like, “There’s nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse” or “A good laugh and long sleep are the two best cures for anything.”  And quite frankly, I’d love to subscribe to, “What whiskey will not cure, there is no cure for.”

But then, I still wouldn’t be me, would I?  Besides, with my dark Armenian hair and dark Armenian eyes, I wouldn’t pass as an Irish person anyway…

Perhaps I need to stop getting so bogged down in my own thoughts.  Or perhaps I should dive deeper and just know that eventually, I’m just going to rise back up to the top for air when the time is right.  And perhaps I should tighten the reins and truly take responsibility for all of my steps – put aside the fear of the unknown.  Forget about the potential pitfalls and possible failure.  Spinning wheels about the future only means I can’t appreciate my present so for now, I’m taking charge, holding on for dear life…perhaps with a sip or two of whiskey…determined not to repeat…

Don’t JINX it!!

Another year over…a new one begins.

That’s the way I started my entry a year ago…not knowing what lay ahead and simply hopeful that I’d have a year full of wonder and growth – more love and happiness than sadness and regret.  I must admit that 2015 has been one of my best years but I’m going to say it quietly, in a whisper, because I don’t want to jinx it!

Have you ever found yourself taking stock of your life and realizing that at that very moment you have everything you could ever ask for but wouldn’t admit it for fear of jinxing it?

I mean, we can all think of more…like…I could do with an established career track, my children’s future spouses decided (perhaps we need to reconsider arranged marriages at birth?) and I’d love to have no mortgage and a bank account chock full of “fun money” on top of a retirement fund that would see me vacationing at least three times a year simply for “therapeutic” reasons.

Note: Ther●a●peu●tic refers to one’s desire to escape the cold and damp because one’s joints have issued a warning that sun and sand are the perfect Rx.  Therapeutic may also refer to the fact that when I’m in my retirement years, I intend to take up extreme adventuring (African Safari, zip-lining, senior citizen alpine racing, trying out a formula one racetrack, and applying to be one of the ‘older’ contestants on Survivor).  And let’s not forget retail therapy:  who wouldn’t love the opportunity to shop right off the runways of Milan, Paris and New York?  Dreams, I know.  But dream big and who knows what may happen?

But “more” aside, I will still say (in a whisper) that while I feel I’ve had the most fulfilling year yet, there still remains some unfinished business.  When I look around, I think to myself, I’m so blessed…amidst a world full of random shooters, terrorists, escaping as refugees and having to start a life all over again on the other side of the world, global warming, Donald Trump running for the highest office, and still struggling for Armenian genocide recognition…  I realize I’ve had it pretty good…I just don’t want to jinx it by admitting it!

I’m reminded of my school years… During exam week I’d turn into an OGRE: don’t talk to me, don’t bother me, if there’s a fire, please don’t try and rescue me.  One tracked and with singular focus all I cared to do was study. As soon as I’d completed my exams, I would race out of the classroom (and later on in university, the auditoriums) for I hated nothing more than that dreaded question, “how’d you do?”  because quite frankly, I’m highly superstitious.  Responding with an “I aced that mother@#$!^*!!!!” would only mean that I’m inviting God or the universe to knock me down a peg or two with a ‘C’ as opposed to an ‘A’ grade so that I could be more humble and more focused on the important things in life like having humility, being good to my fellow man (and woman), not coveting, and so on.

If it hasn’t been apparent, I am a type A (A+!) personality:  competitive, ambitious, highly organized, structured, and sometimes neurotically regimented. My doctor once told me that I was bordering on obsessive compulsive with perfectionistic tendencies.  I told her I couldn’t agree more.  But with this kind of personality comes also the characteristic of somewhat anxious coupled with a slight hint of neurotic.  And as an Armenian I also have a tendency to be slightly dramatic and sometimes even a fatalist – all in all, a recipe for tabbouleh.

evil eyeYet I still find myself in a near euphoric state: I’m relatively healthy, I have a wonderful family, a roof over my head, I live in a country where I’m free to dream and make my dreams a reality.  But it’s a NEAR euphoria and probably as close as I’m willing to admit.  Mr. Niceguy thinks I’m paranoid:  too many evil eyes, rubbing of blue stones, scratching of my ass and throwing of salt over my left shoulder.  We all have ups and downs and I’m in an upswing, so ride the wave because before you know it…?

Am I being overly anxious?  Is it the inherent type A anxiety that’s making me doubtful and concerned about making a declaration about my happiness and that it will surely be jinxed if I do so?  And while I’m on it, isn’t making such a declaration akin to bragging?  And bragging is surely not a good thing so now I will surely be knocked down for tossing it in peoples’ faces about just how lucky I am…

But I am lucky.  And blessed.  And thankful for every little bit of it!  In fact, we’ve all got some luck and blessing in our lives and we should most definitely declare it!

After all, surely happiness, positivity, optimism and contentment will breed more happiness, positivity, optimism and contentment?  Or is it just success that breeds success…  In any case, jinx or no jinx I’m going to decide that it’s ok to admit (to myself) that everything is ok – not super duper great – but good.  And that it’s ok to be content with all that’s been accomplished…after all, I would hate to make a mistake when it comes to prioritizing my goals for the new year.  I mean, who can predict what will come next?  All we can do is hope for is good health, happiness, growth and learning and that the sun will continue to rise in the east and set in the west…that’s all…nothing more…hear me universe? 

Happy New Year – I hope 2016 is a wonderful year for you and yours…

new year 2015

Traditions, traditions…??

Traditions are developed over long periods:  decades, centuries, millennia…or so I thought. 

It’s the time of year again when traditions take centre stage.  The holidays are approaching and everyone – every family, every social and religious group – has their own way of celebrating all based on their traditions.  But traditions aren’t just about holidays or special events; they also govern the way that we interact with one another in our day-to-day lives.

This year, I am spending the holiday season together with my own family, as a tenant in my parents’ house. For those who missed my previous post, let me catch you up.  Aged forty-something, mother of 2 boys and wife of one very Mr. Niceguy, I’m undertaking the ambitious project of renovating my house into my dream home (or as close to it as budget will allow!).

It goes without saying (though must be said as both parents are avid readers of my work) that my parents are making the ultimate sacrifice.  I’m sure that when my sister and I first moved out they must have breathed the largest sigh of relief: “Finally…”  They had accomplished what I believe all parents hope to achieve (which I now appreciate):  two married daughters, established, homes of their own – now they could relax.

Until they took us in.

Only months after they had taken in my younger sister and her family…

And only weeks after they completed their own renovations…

But (I believe) as parents, they’d signed a deal (perhaps with God or the universe) and in so doing, upheld their traditions of always caring for family so on November 2 (Mr. Niceguy’s birthday!!) we moved in.

I had prepared my brood for how they’d need to behave:  be neat and tidy, no eating in front of the television, no yelling/screaming/fighting/pretend skiing or car racing in the house/and always, always finish the food on your plate.  I thought I had it figured out what with years and years being under my parents’ roof – surely things could not have changed that much, could they?

What I hadn’t banked on was just how much I would change (or come into my own) after flying the coop…

Kim K ArmeniaWhen I married Mr. Niceguy I thought to myself, I will absorb this man.  I come from a culture that is as old as Ancient Egypt (and incidentally has produced some of the sexiest people in the world including Kim Kardashian!) while his is only a few hundred years old.  I will convert him to an Armenian and he will adopt all of our traditions, our ways of being – he will no longer be phased by my air-traffic-controller hand gesticulations or jump at my voice as I yell commands from just the other room as though I was on a trans-Atlantic telephone call circa 1979 – incidentally my dad still does this whenever he’s on a long-distance call…even if it’s just to my aunt and uncle in Hamilton!

Oh how wrong I was.  While Mr. Niceguy did get used to me and my ways (he loves the cuisine and even raises his voice above a whisper from time-to-time)…I hadn’t realized until I moved in with my parents just how many of his traditions I’d adopted.  He quietly, stealthily, converted me into a person who went from blurting, “Huh?” and “What?!” to “Pardon?” and “Please.”  Living with my parents, I see where so many of my quirks and foibles come from but having had time apart, you really do develop your own traditions.

Our life has become so individualized:  each of us has a schedule – I volunteer, write, and am managing our home renovation; Mr. Niceguy has a full time job and is constantly in training mode for one obstacle race or another; and the 9 year old and 5 year old are a couple of jumping beans bouncing between school, soccer, swimming, piano, skiing, judo, jiu jitsu and everything else in between!  We have what’s a very modern “grab-and-go” lifestyle.  We eat on the run, do homework on the run, catch-up on the run and perhaps the only two things we do staying still are video games and sleep.  (And TV for me!!)

Just the other day I was standing in the kitchen having breakfast for dinner:

Elegant mom:  What are you doing dear?  Why are you eating like that, hunched over your plate?  Why don’t you sit down?

Me:  ***Food stuffed cheeks***  Pardon?

Elegant mom:  I said, why don’t you sit down while you eat?  And what is it that you’re eating anyway?  Are you having eggs?  For DINNER??!

Me:  ***Swallow quickly – don’t talk with mouth full***  Yes.  It’s Wednesday.  Wednesday is Judo night.  I got the boys from school, cleaned up, did homework, made breakfast for dinner, and now I’m just eating quickly so I can get them to their class…

Elegant mom:  But eggs?  For dinner?  Surely dear they must need better nourishment.  They’re growing boys!  Look here, I’ve made green fasoolia with rice – why don’t you feed them what I made?  And where’s Mr. Niceguy?  Should I fill a plate for him?

Me:  ***Totally exasperated – I don’t have time, I don’t have time, I don’t have time…*** Mom I don’t have time!  I have to get them out of the door.  Mr. Niceguy will take care of himself!

Elegant mom:  “Take care of himself?”  No.  That’s not right.  He must feel comfortable and be well fed in our home.  You know dear, you must make time for good nutrition.  Look at you. Did you sleep well?  You know, if you don’t take care of yourself…

Carrie Post photoThis is one of just a myriad of interactions…in a day.  But I’m beginning to realize that perhaps I shouldn’t depart so quickly from my “old” traditions. While loud and food centric at times, these traditions are rooted in taking the time to have real interactions – not just those on-the-go – they value a slower, more humane pace and while I seldom have the patience for “twenty questions” (“Where’d you go? What’d you do? Who’d you see? Who’d you know?”*), they’re an indication of real, genuine interest and caring: the cornerstone of family.

So, while you make your lists for Santa this year consider the gift of family and good friends.  I am getting the gift of knowing my parents as the people they are now, Mr. Niceguy is getting a front-row seat to my history, and my children are not only getting to build memories with their grandparents, but getting first-hand experience with our rich and unique culture laced with ALL of our traditions.

Now, if only I could put a stop to the teen angst flashbacks that keep cropping up like my chubby days, the mean girls, the countless crush dramas, getting caught, the heartbreaks and, and, and…

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, your families and loved ones.  May 2016 bring us all more of what will fill our hearts and souls, and make memories we can recount for years to come…

*Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City, recounting discussions with Aiden Shaw after moving in together to her girls.

christmas-wallpaper-196

 

The story of Haji Khalil…my brush with Anne Frank

Anne Frank coverWhen I first read The Diary of Anne Frank, I couldn’t help but place myself in Anne’s shoes because her story, while so relatable to me as a young teenager, was also incredibly haunting and tragic.  I could relate to her awkwardness around romance and friendships, to her sometimes easy and at other times trying relationships with her mother and sister, and her love of Hollywood.  My awe of her also made me wonder about what it must have felt like to be an outcast, to have to go into hiding, to take such great lengths to survive only to end up dying in a concentration camp mere weeks before liberation and just shy of a sixteenth birthday.

I have read and reread the book over the years and each time, I sadly laugh at her antics, my heart swells when she finds companionship with Peter (the son of the other family in hiding), I grow tense and uneasy with every close call of discovery and then I’m horrified when I reach her final entry – the following line in particular:

“I’m what a romantic movie is to a profound thinker – a mere diversion, a comic interlude, something that is soon forgotten: not bad, but not particularly good either.”

Somehow her story always seemed unfinished.  Each time I’ve read the book I’ve looked for missed clues or hidden passages as my mind simply can’t accept such an abrupt end to this enigmatic yet relatable person.

Despite her teenage angst and feelings of insignificance (who, after all, hasn’t experienced the same during their teenage years?) Anne Frank is one of the most recognizable “survivors” of the Holocaust, even though she, herself perished.  Her story has left an indelible impression on millions, but for me, I’ve always felt a connection to her optimism and faith in the face of real adversity.  As an Armenian and a descendant of genocide survivors still hoping for justice, I can relate to that optimism…that faith.  But as a teenager, little did I realize that my connection to Anne would be greater than I could have ever imagined…

When the Armenian Genocide began in 1915, one of the earliest measures by Ottoman Turkish authorities was to collect the men in all of the villages and kill them.  Notable politicians, businessmen, and the intelligentsia were rounded up and murdered – including my great-grandfather who was hung in front of his pregnant wife and four children.  His only crime was that he was a successful Armenian businessman living in Ourfa, a province in Ottoman Turkey which was nearly homogenously Armenian.

While my great-grandfather had likely not foreseen his brutal death, he had made the necessary preparations should the family be faced with any unforeseen danger.  His plan hinged on the willingness, courage and integrity of his Turkish business partner, Haji Khalil.  Haji Khalil had promised my great-grandfather that he would take care of the family in the face of disaster and when disaster struck, he stayed true to his word and housed seven members of my family, including Azniv, my maternal grandmother, in the upper storey of his house for a year, unbeknownst to Ottoman authorities.

Haji Khalil cared for my family’s basic human needs by providing food once a night (which would have to last until the next day) and allowing them to bathe by arranging for his two wives and servants to be absent from the house once a week.  When two of my relatives passed away, Haji Khalil even buried them in secret.  Despite the immense potential risk to his own well-being, and that of his own family, Haji Khalil made good on a promise that he had made to my great-grandfather, an Armenian, and thanks to him, I am here today.

When I learned of the Armenian Genocide, I was quite young.  The documented photos of the atrocities were extremely disturbing but the images that my mind would conjure based on the words I would read about this dark and horrifying period of my people, were even worse; the slashing of pregnant womens’ bellies, young Armenian girls throwing themselves and their children in the Euphrates to escape rape, mutilation and captivity, the slow starvation on the death marches.  Speak to any Armenian today, and they will have a story for you.

Armenian Genocide Children

My paternal grandmother’s story is more typical.  Her father had been killed like most of the other men in her village.  Ottoman Turkish authorities then came to evacuate my grandmother’s family and when my great-grandmother stopped them from entering her home, they killed her.  Luckily, my great-aunt had been visiting that day and she grabbed my grandmother, her older sister, her newborn baby brother and fled from the back door of the house, unbeknownst to the authorities.  During the marches, the Turkish soldiers became aware of the gold that my great-aunt had hidden in her clothes so they attacked her and as a result, it became my grandmother’s job to carry her newborn brother.  At one point, Esther, my grandmother, had carried the body of her dead baby brother for two days during the death marches in the mountains from Erzerum to Marash in Turkey not realizing that he had died from malnutrition.  It was a group of older women that informed her that he had passed and at just four or five years old, the same age as my youngest son in junior kindergarten, she buried her baby brother on the side of the road under twigs and some rocks.  She was not as fortunate as Azniv – there was no Haji Khalil to save her family.

On the one hand I’ve always felt anger that my ancestors were subjected to such immense and cruel suffering simply because they were different – as Armenians, the lives of my ancestors had no value.  That the Ottoman Turks could commit such a horrific act, such a crime against humanity, genocide, vilified them to me.  On the other hand, there is the story of Haji Khalil.  A righteous Turk, without whom, my own mother would not be here today – for that matter, neither would I.  I owe him my life.  This dichotomy has always been challenging but it has allowed me to stay strong, to demand justice and to have hope and faith that the people of a nation with a dark past, are capable of taking steps towards recognizing and taking responsibility for past faults and allowing two nations to move forward.

While Anne Frank’s father’s business partner had been like a Haji Khalil to Anne and her family, her salvation would not come and her life would end in tragedy.  Unlike Anne, my grandmother and her family were not discovered and instead, the efforts of Haji Khalil allowed her to avoid death marches and concentration camps. Unlike Anne, the efforts of Haji Khalil allowed my grandmother to have a sixteenth birthday and to have a full and complete life surrounded by her mother, her children and grandchildren; she was able to pass along stories and traditions herself rather than through a diary.  My grandmother passed away 10 years ago, in April 2005, just shy of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.  On this centenary, I think she would be proud that my own faith and optimism are still intact as I do my own part in seeking more Haji Khalils…

Anne-Franks-Diary1

In recognition of International Women’s Day

While I know I promised to write more regularly, an incredible opportunity to speak at the Armenian Relief Society’s annual International Women’s Day luncheon, occupied every spare moment for the past two and a half months.  From being buried in post-it notes full of ideas jotted down during all hours of the day…and wee hours in the night, to continuous editing and practicing in my car, in the bathroom, while cooking, and in front of any random and willing audience, I finally got it down.  This speech was delivered on Sunday, March 1st, 2015.  It is certainly geared towards a female audience, regardless, I hope all you readers enjoy it just as much as I enjoyed delivering it…

TTG SpeechGood morning.  I’d like to start by thanking the ARS (Armenian Relief Society) Rubina Chapter and today’s organizing committee for inviting me to speak at today’s luncheon.  It’s really such an honour.

When the committee asked me to speak today, they said I could talk about anything and I thought…oh, my goodness!  Where do I even start?  You know, a year ago I decided to take a break from my career and spend some more time with my family while I figured out what to do with the rest of my life.  Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be standing here in front of you.  But, with this opportunity at hand, I thought I’d talk about the challenges that thirty and forty-something women face in today’s world.

While it is a HUGE topic, I’ve distilled my very candid observations down to 5 major challenges that I believe young-ish Armenian-Canadian moms and women face these days:  moms and motherhood (gotta talk about our moms), men (another must topic), the elusive work-life balance, one’s identity and what’s really important…you’ll find out.  I wonder if some of my observations will hold true for you.  Agree or disagree, let’s start relating!

Moms and Motherhood

Challenge #1.  Our first glimpse of motherhood, comes from our own mothers.  Moms, you inspire us, you teach us, you support us – in your own controlling – I mean loving way.  My own mother is very smart, beautiful, talented, and very, very understanding…so understanding is she, that she’s not going to get mad or upset or offended by anything I’m about to say…right mom?

As a general observation, Armenians are very passionate people:  we’re passionate about food, passionate about our causes and above all, we’re passionate about our families.

So in a culture where family comes first, it follows that our parents’ happiness means everything to us – their approval is nearly always essential and consequently, one can be quite vulnerable to any critique.  If moms believe that they’re acting in our best interest, they don’t hold back.  They’ll tell you what you should or should not be doing, saying, wearing, eating and even thinking!

I mean, I’m forty, and my mom is still telling me what to do!  Not that being 40 really means anything because while I feel a lot more confident and self-assured, in some instances I’m still trying to be one of the cool kids.  I feel like I’m in a kind of limbo:  not old enough to be wise, and not young enough not to care.  Not old enough for a cosmetic procedure, not young enough to not consider the prospect of a cosmetic procedure…am I too old to wear uggs?!

But I digress…  Everytime I write a column for TorontoHye Newspaper, my mom and I have the following conversation,

[ARMENIAN]  “Talyn, ayt eench keuradz eyeer terteen mech.  Eench bedee gartze joghovourteuh?  Antzial amseuvah hotvadzeut shad avelee lav er.  Artyok, hoknadz e-yeer?  Lav goodess?  Tzezi hamar aghvor jash meuh yepem?  Chem hasgeunar tzezi.  Ays seroonteuh darper eh.  Gyankeuh avelee arak eh.  Mer adeneuh assank cher.  Akh, aghcheegeuss, assee koo amenen tjouvar dareenereut en.”

[TRANSLATION:  “Talyn, what have you written for the paper?  What are people going to think?  Last month’s column was much better.  Could you have been tired, perhaps?  Are you eating well?  Shall I cook you a nice meal?  I don’t understand you…this generation is completely different.  Life is too fast – things were not like this when we were growing up.  Oh, my dearest daughter, these are your most trying years.”]

Huh?   How many of you have had this kind of conversation?  How did we go from, I didn’t quite get this month’s column to these are your toughest years?!

When you’re young, it’s hard to understand why mothers do the things that they do.  I gave my mom such a hard time because I thought MY life was difficult.  Like the time I ran away from home for a few hours to my Armenian best friend’s house and promptly called my mother to let her know I was ok.  My mom told me that she understood I just needed the space and most of all, that she loved me.  I know now that she was probably falling apart inside.  I also know this because every now and then she reminds me…  Regardless, she stood by me.  And I know she’ll always stand by me no matter what.  So every time we have that conversation about my articles, she makes me strive more, reach more, and try harder.  And I just hope that’s what my two boys remember when I’m mothering them!

Mothering Two Boys

Speaking of my two glorious, young and active boys.  At this stage in their lives, we are their everything.  But the time where parents are everything to their children is fleeting.  So…with that in mind, I’m prepared to make sacrifices.

For example, I’m constantly having to go on “boy” adventures – I can see all you moms and aunties of boys nodding your heads – you know exactly what I mean.  My kind of adventures are more like a night out on the town with my girlfriends or an exotic trip.  Boy adventures, are like:

  1. Clothing optional sumo wrestling
  2. Or roughing it in the dreaded “North” full of mosquitoes with no restaurants, shops, and worst of all, without female companionship!!!!

It’s not easy being a parent.  Kids don’t come with an instruction manual.  They make you second guess your every move.  I’ve resorted to begging, pleading, bribery, and even manipulation – some days, I hardly recognize myself.  Unlike any other job, the job of raising our children is 24/7, forever, the stakes are infinitely higher and the pressure for perfection is omnipresent.  For while we won’t be their everything for long, they will be our everything for all time.

So moms, grandmoms, and tantigs, we get it.  Thank you for all that you’ve done and continue to do.  Thank goodness, though, we don’t have to do it alone…which brings me to my Mr. Niceguy – better known as my husband and challenge #2.

Men

Men are an interesting breed:  so even keeled and wonderfully objective – so long as they’re not tired, hungry or sick of course.  Men (and boys) have such different priorities –underwear left in the middle of the floor or dirty socks left on kitchen counters is surely not the end of their world.  For them, the end of the world looks more like a favourite soccer team losing a match – the sorrow of which is quickly forgotten with a deep fried or sugary snack of some sort.

When you’re getting married, the focus tends to be on the wedding, how you’re going to sign your name and officially moving out of your parents’ basement.  Over time, real life will test you, will make you want to move back to the safe cocoon of your parents’ basement, but hopefully it will also transform your marriage into a real balanced partnership.

For example, I’m a bit of a dreamer and an optimist – Mr. Niceguy is logical and rational.  Oftentimes, he refers to me as “passionate” – not that kind of passionate – his way of saying I’m a quick-tempered, headstrong Armenian woman. I’ve become even more passionate as a mother, particularly while trying to discipline our children who are not listening to a word that I’m screaming and when he materializes from thin air and begins to lecture me on the latest scientific research on parenting.  Ya, I’m passionate all right.

In any case, accepting our differences has made us stronger.  Just because I think that the Bachelor should stay friends with the bachelorettes he doesn’t give a rose to, and he thinks that that’s totally absurd, doesn’t mean we can’t get along.  Men are certainly from Mars and Women are from Venus but we’re all living here together on Earth so I call a truce.

The Elusive Balance

Another balancing act we’re faced with today is work-life balance… the “Elusive Balance” – Challenge #3.  Here’s what I’m going to say about this – and if I may be presumptuous, mainly for the benefit of those, like me, who are still seeking their balance: balance is what you make of it.  There is no one formula.  And while that may sound bewildering, it means that you can have a hand in its design – if you’re brave enough.

Striving for a career only to find that it interferes with your personal life is devastating…at least it was for me.  That’s why I took matters into my own hands and am carving my own path – a path that likely would not work for someone else.  Finding balance also requires help.  On the career side, you absolutely need the right environment.  You also need buy-in, you need to build your brand and your value to the point where you are supported to have more flexibility because losing you or replacing you would not be an option.  On the family side, you also need support, and you need to dial back expectations…in my case, those perfectionistic tendencies.  There will always be feelings of guilt – I wish I was more dedicated to my job, I wish I was more dedicated to my family.  I wish I had the time to have a haircut, manicure and a latte in peace instead of freezing my butt off at an arena or constantly responding to the buzz of my Blackberry!

Finding balance and maintaining balance is tough.  What’s great, however, is seeing so many women taking charge and courageously creating the kind of life that they want, rather than what someone else imposes on them.  Bravo.

Identity

Challenge #4.  Identity.  What is your identity?  How do you define it?  Identity is influenced by a number of different things like your age, gender, language, history, religion, employment and so on.  Identity is not static and is shaped and developed by you over time.  And I believe, that at some point, we all stop and ask ourselves, “Who Am I?”  I tend to ask myself this question when I’m up at two in the morning wondering if I’m ever gonna get my act together – and if my lack of sleep has anything to do with perimenopause or something – totally FREAKS me out…I think I’m having a hot flash right now!

Most women face a real identity crisis at some point.  And as an Armenian woman, this identity crisis gains a further complexity.  While we struggle with building a successful career and balance that with a full and complete personal life, many of us also struggle with the DNA-programmed need to preserve our culture and our heritage.  I know in my case I was raised with a healthy dose of “Hayeren Khoseer” and “Azad, angakh Hayasdan”.

I call this my three-legged identity tripod:  career, family and being Armenian.  These are the things that define my identity – if any one of these three legs does not match the length of the others, I topple down.

When it comes to my identity, I also realize that I don’t have to be perfect.  And that it’s really important to take risks.  Risks make you feel alive.  They make you feel like you’ve achieved.  Standing here is a HUGE risk for me.  Risks force you to expand your world and look beyond what you think you already know.

As I said before, being Armenian is a big part of who I am.  I am married to a non-Armenian (“odar”) who challenges me, supports my ambitions and respects me and my heritage.  My children speak Armenian.  They are learning about our culture and heritage and which is one way that I am preserving a very important part of who I am and passing on that ingrained Armenian DNA.  I also volunteer at the ARS Armenian Private School (if you haven’t yet donated to Telethon 2015, please do so) and the Zoryan Institute – a centre dedicated to the education, research, preservation and documentation of genocide and human rights violations, particularly the Armenian Genocide.  Working there feeds my soul.

But being Armenian and staying Armenian has not been easy.  Perhaps it’s like blasphemy to say that on some days I wished I was French or Italian – so much easier to relate and to have people understand who you are and what you’re all about without the burden of struggling to survive.  But as I’ve gotten older, and hopefully gained more wisdom, I’ve come to believe that the hardest things are the ones worth fighting for…marriage, your children, your friends, your family…and yes, your identity.  These are important things worth fighting for.

What’s Really Important

And that brings me to the final challenge.  Challenge #5, discovering what’s really important.  Some recent news about a friend’s situation really put this in perspective for me.

We all get bogged down with our own problems from time to time, and lose sight of the big picture – that we only have this one life to live and that we must make the most of it.  Don’t we all wish that we were prettier, thinner, smarter, more successful, more laid back, younger and so on.   The challenge for us is to grab hold of the magic in this life, and that magic, in my view, comes from sharing, from connecting and relating to the people around you, from being present.

It is a rare privilege to get a glimpse or to be present when people experience moments that will shape them forever, whether they’re experiencing moments of real learning, of overcoming, or even of regret.  The moment that you can share your joys and regrets, they become real and allow you to relate to people in ways unimaginable.  And the relating, well that is your legacy.

The connections that you make are what carry you – are what will sustain you.  These bonds – whether created because you had a little too much to drink and your friend held back your hair while you were sick, or you created because a friend watched your newborn, colicy baby while you finally took a shower and got some rest – these bonds are what I’m all about.  And look, you’re not going to bond with everybody, but when you do, stop and remember the magic.  I do it by writing it down – and you relate to me when you read my stories.

Thank you.

Lettuce

(Blowing off some steam post speech…biggest fear is to speak in front of an audience  with something in my teeth!)

I think it’s time to cut the cord…or is it?

Hello summer!  You have finally arrived!!  There’s nothing like that added glow from the sun, cute summer dresses, flip flops, a cold beer and an overall sexiness that comes from the heat!  Perhaps the only thing I would change is how frizzy my hair gets…

Summer always makes me nostalgic – I often recall that amazing rush of freedom when I would write my last exam and run out to party with my friends through to the hot summer nights which would then be followed by long summer holidays that felt like they shaped my life and forever changed me…

With all my nostalgia, it should come as no surprise that I’m probably the biggest daddy’s and mommy’s girl there ever was.  If I could still live in their basement, together with my Mr. Niceguy, the 7 year old, the 3 year old and our pet fish, Zoom, I would.  Of course, they would probably drive me crazy – and then my crazy would probably make them wish they could evict me, but being the nice people they are, they wouldn’t and, well, let’s just say that I’d hate for a good thing to go bad.

Being Armenian by heritage, my family is quite similar to Voula’s in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and not unlike the Kardashians (minus the rolling cameras, modeling contracts, and the big house in Calabasas) in that everyone is hip deep in everyone else’s life.  Armenians (at least my grouping) tend to be LOUD, all about food, LOUD, gesticulate with their hands when they speak, LOUD, and above all else, very passionate about family.

In a culture where family comes first, it follows that my parents’ happiness means everything.  More than that, their approval is nearly always essential and sadly, it is this kind of relationship that also makes me quite vulnerable to any of their criticism for they have absolutely no filter and if they believe they are acting in my best interest, the prospect of potentially deflating my ego or hurting my feelings will not stop them…

Take my thirty X girlfriend.  She, like me, is also Armenian and my seatmate on the bullet train to forty.  Just this morning, while dropping off her children at her parents’ house before going to work, her mom did the typical.

Mom:  Oh hello, dear.  What is that you’re wearing?

BFF:  What?  Why? 

Mom:  Are those shorts?  Should you be wearing them to work?

BFF:  They’re fancy suit shorts – they are for work.  And besides, they’re only just above my knee – it’s not like I’m wearing short shorts.  These are in style now, Mom.  And they look great with my blouse and my high heels – I’m very well put together.

Mom:  OK dear.  Whatever you say…but shorts are shorts.

BFF:  <DEFLATED>

How is it that our parents can just get to us that quickly?  Sometimes I wonder if I would be better off if I (could) just cut the cord – if I could separate myself from this kind of emotional roller coaster:  yes I know you were once parents too, yes I know you’ve lived much longer and are therefore wiser, yes I realize that the times we live in now can’t hold a candle to yours, and so on and so forth.  And somehow, the long walk to school in hip deep snow and all sorts of other trials and tribulations always seem to come up as they stress for the umpteenth time how things are so much easier for our generation…blah, blah, blah!

That same afternoon, after a very quick bite I spent the rest of my lunch running some errands which resulted in a quick walk up Bay Street.  Two women happened to be walking in front of me and snapped me out of my thoughts with their loud regales over their night out.  What I noticed first was how tall they were – in my case, I’m vertically challenged at 5 foot 4…5 foot 4 and a half on a good day.  What I noticed next was how envious I started to feel about their fun and fancy free story…

As I kept listening to their conversation (ok, eavesdropping but sorry, in my defence they WERE loud and as I explained above, I’m culturally preconditioned to respond to anything LOUD) my attention became drawn to their outfits, which fit their characters quite nicely.  The first simply wore black pants and a blouse (the “supporting role” in the last night’s wild night), while the second was wearing a dangerously short dress for work topped with a little black cardigan (the “lead role” and main benefactor).  As things progressed, I thought, wow, this leading lady should have chosen a better outfit for work – however would she manage to bend over…or sit down for that matter?  But I was snapped out of my wandering thoughts when I noticed a hole the size of a toonie right on her, well, caboose.

I walked behind them for about a block thinking about this classic dilemma: do I tell her or shall I just mind my own business? 

Me:  Ummm, excuse me.  Listen, I’m sorry to interrupt but I have to tell you that you have a hole in your dress –

Lead:  What?  Where?  Really?  [Support eyes me suspiciously]

Me:  Well, right in the back, right on your, ahem, bum.

Lead starts spinning around trying to see so Support gets in there and validates my claim.

Lead:  Omigod!  [Blushes beet red and is extremely embarrassed.]  I can’t believe it!  I love this dress!  Thank you so, so much for letting me know.  [Looks to Support]  I wonder how long we’ve been walking for…omigod. 

Me:  Maybe just take off your cardigan and tie it around your waist – you’ll be just fine. 

As I walked on, I thought of my own trials and tribulations over the years.  I thought of how glad I was that so many of my wild nights, drink, and strangers were behind me…for the most part anyway.  And I thought of my parents and how even though I might not want to hear what they have to say, I am grateful that for the time being they are still here to tell it like it is…Though the cord is short, it’s not worth cutting off…