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…
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:
- Clothing optional sumo wrestling
- 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 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.
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.
(Blowing off some steam post speech…biggest fear is to speak in front of an audience with something in my teeth!)