Culture Family Gender & Identity Life

This is my open letter of appreciation to my mother

When I was growing up in Dubai, I often butted heads with my mother – she was stubborn, and so was I. From curfews to outfits, we had our fair share of fights and disagreements. My childhood was a mix of entertainment and challenges. With so many family members and a thriving religious community, it felt like I was watched almost constantly, and that kind of monitoring felt stifling. I longed to break free, but my mom would admonish me – ‘what would the others think?’ Part of me wanted to tell off these “others”, let them know I didn’t care what they thought. I always tried to be my own person, while still trying to succeed in the real world. 

My mother’s own childhood was rich but stifling. My grandfather was a successful businessman and religious leader, meaning. she had similar situations of constant monitoring by her community in Kerala, India, where she grew up. Consequently, my mother internalized a lot of religious and community ideals. Married at 20, my mom was forced to drop out of college and accompanied my dad, a doctor, to Dubai – a then empty, sandy desert town with almost nothing to offer, with two kids in tow.

She spent the next 10-11 years as a housewife to two children who constantly argued, and taking care of a home, with a husband who spent most of his waking hours at a clinic. When I turned 8, my mother started working as a saleswoman to try and bring in some extra money.

My mother would often come home after work to a crying little girl, an angry little boy, and loads of housework. Despite not having a bachelor’s degree, her head for numbers led her past sales and into real estate. She got her real estate license and began climbing up, eventually becoming the manager of a real estate company in Dubai.

My dad let her manage the family’s finances – which meant that suddenly, we started doing well! She invested in property, in stocks, created portfolios, all while continually making real estate transfers and growing to become a popular real estate agent. By the time I turned 15, my mom became a successful manager and real estate owner. 

Having spent time in college, away from the family, helped me get a new perspective.

My mother wasn’t the controlling, bossy woman I made her out to be, but rather a self-starter. She was someone who had almost nothing and made enough money to buy houses in an expensive city. The best part? She’s more open-minded than I give her credit for. Her concern over the community was because she was raised in a small town and had a popular, ever-looming father. When we travel, she lets me be free – even when I went to college, she didn’t hover or ask what I wore or when I came home – in fact, she only would call about once a month, to check up on me.

She’s accepted my irreligious nature. She’s proud of my talents despite them not being STEM-related. She hasn’t forced or coerced me to get married, despite her own history. She’s happy and successful.

My mom went from being a housewife with a high school degree to being a popular real estate owner. She’s the one who encourages me to learn about money, about investments. She’s the one who taught me how to save when I freelanced in college. She’s the best example I’ve seen of ‘if you work hard, you can make it’. 

Of course, we still have our fights, but I remember where she came from, how she managed to shed so many preconceived notions. I remember how she let me be my own person and have my own life, while still continually supporting me. This is for you, mom. Even though I may not act like it sometimes, I’m really proud to be your daughter. 

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Music Pop Culture

How Miraa May’s music helped me redefine femininity

Looking somewhat ethnically ambiguous has always been a bit of a trip. Especially for a woman or female-identifying person like myself, I’ve noticed that it always puts others on edge to not know how to make sense of me.

What I’ve found was that being Arab, or from the Gulf, can make people around you feel like you’re sensitive to everything. She lives in the co-ed dorms and wears crop tops, but she stays mostly to herself and is close friends with hijabi women. Can I crack a crude joke in front of her or will she be offended? Even though maybe they don’t mean to, they must wonder what ‘kind of woman’ I am. As if the binary is split evenly between a ‘sexual’ woman and a modest one; as if they are mutually exclusive. 

First impressions must be confusing. I don’t neatly fit into any of their preconceived notions, so it’s difficult to make assumptions about me. When I go out with friends and pass someone that’s seen me in class, they’ll stop me and say with bewilderment, “I never thought I’d see you here.” The same goes when I put on an abaya the next day and it seems like I’ve become someone else by the way people address me. Suddenly it felt strange for me to slouch or make certain jokes. 

At times, this becomes frustrating. Do I have to let go of a part of myself to be fully ‘understood’? Do I show more skin? Is that too much? Femininity, whatever that meant, seemed so abstract but, at the same time, I couldn’t find a place for me anywhere in it.

The way I approached love and sexuality depended on who I was as a woman, that’s the way I saw it. I could either be what I thought was traditional, swooning over someone I was interested in while remaining discreet and proper, or I could completely adopt a ‘men ain’t shit’ attitude and always look out for myself first, hence never letting anyone in. Needing someone terrified me as it felt like a threat to my independence, so I tended to go with the latter, which didn’t always work out well, as you can imagine. All of this combined took a devastating toll on my sense of self-worth.

That’s when Miraa May’s music came up as a recommended artist on Spotify. I decided why not, I’ll try out her top song  ‘I Don’t Want Ya (Didi)’. 

Just with the opening beats, I was hooked and I’ve had it on replay ever since. There was something about her music that put together puzzle pieces that were supposedly not meant to fit together. The song starts with traditionally Arab sounds, drumming and ululation, almost like it’s posing to be a ballad. Then it gives way to her voice crooning, “Ohh you lie. Tell me you care. But you don’t, don’t lie.” I felt my body thrumming, there was something about the music that made me feel alive.

As an artist, Miraa May is still relatively up-and-coming, but she has four albums under her belt and is still on the rise.

Born in Algeria but having spent most of her life in the UK, she infuses her music with Middle-Eastern type beats while weaving in her own edgy R&B style. But to put it that way would do it injustice, I think what draws me to her as an artist is that she doesn’t allow herself to be defined. In some tracks, Miraa May is defiant, not wanting to let anyone in, ‘I Don’t Want Ya (Didi)’ and ‘N15’ before turning over and showing a more vulnerable and warm side in ‘Travel Thoughts’ and ‘Benji’. 

Her lyrics are short but in no way simple. Her use of slang itself becomes a character, reminding her audience that singing about love doesn’t mean she has to give up her hard edges. I particularly love how she explores the duality of being a woman and approaching romance in her own way in the song ‘Woman Like Me’.

She sings about falling in love, describing it as: “It’s a rush, I’m in love but I’m not no victim. I’m a thug, you G’d up.” There is no distress in ‘falling’, she’s no victim shot with Cupid’s arrow. She isn’t burdened by the love she feels and she is unashamed of saying that she needs them, ending the song with ‘I need you.’ I admire how she can both be powerful as a ‘thug’ and still dependent in a way and  ‘in love’, something I’ve always approached as being mutually exclusive. 

I realized that what I saw as ambiguity in terms of my cultural background or my femininity, her music turned into complexity. Miraa May allowed me to think in a completely different way about myself. This is also reinforced by the way she dresses, in a street-style that is both androgynous and feminine. It feels like she writes her songs and lives based on the way she feels, rather than trying to make herself understood by others. I feel that approach is so crucial because the weight of trying to boil myself down to something understandable is stifling.  

All of this is to say that, in many ways, Mira May’s music redefines what it means to be an Arab woman. She brushes all of those labels off and does as she likes, as she should, like the lines in her song ‘Angles’, ‘Don’t fit in a box, I fit in a mansion’. There is nothing about Miraa May’s music that tries to cling to any convention. That makes me proud of myself for being unconventional. Her songs, particularly the album N15 has always stood out to me because of its cheek, that it is whimsical but also biting. 

Needless to say, Miraa May is an artist to look out for. Her unconventional attitude towards femininity and love has made me comfortable in my own skin as well as encouraged a healthier outlook on relationships

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Family Life

My mom survived breast cancer. Am I next?

On average, an estimated 15.2% of new cancer cases in the United States are women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. That means that 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. 

These statistics are indicative of families, touched eternally by a cancer that is more than just a disease – it is linear. Breast cancer often weaves a thread, mangled in fate and fear, through mothers, daughters, and sisters alike. The survivors among them are the superheroes of nearly every generation of women, powering through all of the anxiety, body disfiguring surgeries or treatments, and impromptu decision-making associated with the onset of such an illness. They take this disease and nip it in the bud, almost passively, acknowledging the unforgiving weight that will forever be weighing down their bodies and minds. 

In some cases, before these women can even think about what comes next, they are sewed up, stripped, and shaved. Left without any sensation in their breast area after a mastectomy, and feeling less and less whole with every visit to the oncologist. It is hard for most women to even feel at home in their bodies anymore. 

In February of 2017, my mother sat in a bleak and claustrophobic doctor’s office for her regular mammogram visit and heard the dreadful words that every woman lives in fear of, “I think we’re going to need to take a second exam. There may be cancer.” 

There was. 

She has told me that she spent most of her life, 38 years to be exact, in terror of what was surely to come. When my mother was 17 years old, the same age that I had been when she was diagnosed, her mother passed away after a long and debilitating battle with breast cancer. Afterward, this disease became a constant threat. So, in some ways, her diagnosis was more of a relief than anything else.

For me, however, it was excruciating. I had a hard time fathoming the enormity of it. Often, I would find myself drenched in hot and burning tears, unable to put into words what I was feeling. I was incoherent and unable to be comforted. I really hated it when people tried to comfort me, too—it felt condescending. I didn’t want to need them.

But, at the same time, I wasn’t even close to being the strong person that I presented to the world. I was falling hard—and fast. Most days, I would go to school or hang out with my friends, but the entire time I felt as if there were a million knives stabbing my chest at any given moment, and I couldn’t help it. Sometimes, I even liked feeling the pain. If my mom had to suffer, then, I thought, so did I. 

Years later I’m able to articulate my thoughts a little more clearly. I was terrified, desperate, and I didn’t know where to turn. So much was happening all the time and I was grieving my old self. That is, the self that hadn’t yet felt such complete and sunken remorse. There was this urgency to do everything right. In a situation like that, there’s no room for mistakes and I was incredibly nervous that I would mess up. Or maybe I was nervous that something would mess me up. Either way, I changed a lot that year. 

Unfortunately, our story is not an uncommon one. 

A woman’s chance of developing breast cancer increases if her mother, sister, or daughter has been diagnosed. In addition, women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene are at an increased risk of breast cancer than women who do not carry the gene. 

My mom is thankfully, and gracefully, in remission today. Her fight seemed, on the outside, to be continuous and suffocating. But, she is a survivor, bold and vivacious, in all of her glory. She has the scars and the strength to prove it, too. 

I am well aware that my risk of this disease is high. But, I am also confident that this does not mean that it is a death sentence. Regardless of being only 21 years old, I am diligent in conducting breast exams on myself at least once a month in an attempt to detect any early warning signs of breast cancer. What I search for is any abnormal lumps or changes in the breast tissue/skin. 

The good news is that with advancing technologies the survival rate of people diagnosed with breast cancer is steadily increasing, even though the number of people getting sick remains stagnant. 

Any cancer diagnosis is terrifying, but breast cancer for me feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I won’t be able to stop being overwhelmed by this sharp and unrelenting nervousness until it is completely out of my system. And we all know that there is only one way for that to happen. 

For now, I am trying to focus on what I am able to control. Breast cancer is certainly not one of those things. But, I am in control of my mindset. While it is important for me not to let my guard down, at some point I have to just let go and let it be. I trust that fate will run its course. 

I come from a long legacy of confident and courageous women, all beautiful and bountiful in their own right. So, it would be a disservice if I did not take their wisdom and hold onto it tightly. I mean, I watched while my own mother boldly stared her fears directly in the face. She never skipped a beat, not even for a second. Her resilience against a disease that is otherwise overbearing is nothing short of inspiring and I am so proud of her. Because of her, I am starting to think that maybe I can handle it too, that maybe I can be as brave as her, when and if the day comes. 

I am not alone in my fear, although it may seem like it sometimes. I am one of millions living and feeling these same anxieties at full volume, so I must not let it overcome me. Instead, I have to remind myself to be introspective and to keep moving forward.

History Poetry Forgotten History Lost in History

You probably don’t know about Hettie Jones, a crusading Beat poet

You’ve heard of a Jack Kerouac, but have you ever heard of a Hettie Jones?

The Beat Literary Movement of the 1950s is coined for its explicit subject matter and bohemian lifestyle. Americans in the 1950’s lived in largely suburban towns and felt threatened by things like communism. Men went to work in suits and women stayed home to cook, clean, and tend to the children.

The rebel, beatnik, group of authors that made up the Beat Generation were iconoclastic. Much of their work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-war era. They experimented with form and structure while writing about sex, drugs, and religion. Traditional literary houses rejected them and looked down on them as a group as being defiant, untalented, and unprofessional. 

I think that their being unconventional was the whole point, though.

They were the antithesis of mainstream American life.

They wanted to publish anything that was deemed inappropriate by society. These people were tired of the routine, and frankly, felt beaten down by the conservative lifestyle that they were stuck in. They were highly controversial in that they were the antithesis of mainstream American life and writing. Many of their works of poetry and prose focused on shifts of consciousness and escaping “squareness.” The stereotype around the Beats is that they were not in favor of what they considered to be straight jobs. Instead, they lived together, packed into small and dirty apartments, sold drugs, had sex with each other, and committed crimes. They are also known for exploring homosexuality, which was a highly taboo topic in 1950’s America.

Though they set many precedents together, the Beats still succumbed to the blatant sexism of the time. Most, if not all, of the women involved in the Beat literary movement were overshadowed by their male counterparts for no particular reason other than gender. These women were just as intelligent and qualified to question society as the beatnik men who have become well-known poets and activists.

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One of the most iconic, and downplayed, female poets of that time who deserves righted acknowledgment is Hettie Jones. 

Hettie Jones published 23 books- and yet, we forgot her

Hettie Jones is most known for her marriage to the famous Beat Poet Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones). Few people know that Hettie helped run Totem Press, one of the more important beat publishers, along with her husband. She went on to publish about 23 books, one being a memoir of her time spent with Amiri and the rest of the Beats titled, How I Became Hettie Jones (1990). She has also written for many prestigious journals, lectured writing across America, and began the literary magazine “Yugen.”

Hettie is one of my favorite poets, so I think that her writing deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement, right there with the boys who got so much praise for their work. 

Hettie’s writing is rooted in practical idealism. She left her family home in Long Island to go to college and to fully discover herself. When she graduated in 1955, she never turned back, and moved to New York City. She met Amiri while working at The Record Changer, a jazz magazine. He was a young, black poet with just as much intelligence and intensity as Hettie. They quickly fell in love and moved in together. They would go to poetry readings at cafes and bohemian bars, where they met many of the other Beat poets.

Hettie deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement.

When the pair founded their own magazine, they published the writings of many of the iconic beat players who could not find a home for their writing in the traditional sphere. Hettie was in charge of editing the works that were to be published in the magazine. It was here that she honed her craft and found power in the refined writing that makes her work stand out from the rest. 

By 1960, Hettie and Amiri had two children, were married, and lived in New York City. Being a biracial family, though, countless bigoted remarks were directed towards them regardless of the Beat scene. Hettie was on the receiving end of most of these cold stares and was able to see the world through the eyes of her husband and children. This affected her incredibly and eventually became a recurring theme in her writing.  

When Amiri became tightly involved with the Black Power movement, he was criticized for having a white wife. They divorced in 1968. Hettie thrived on her own though and made a living with her children while teaching and editing. Her separation from her husband also gave Hettie an outlet to speak up and finally publish works of her own. She has been quoted to say, “Without a him in the house, there was more space/time for her, and I tried to redefine the way a woman might use it.” 

To this day, Hettie’s writing is compassionate. She writes about her own experiences in a compelling manner while weaving in the issues that she cares about. Currently, Hettie lives in New York City, and is a writer and lecturer. In addition, she runs a writing workshop at the New York State Correctional Facility for Women where she recently published a volume of writing by incarcerated women.

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Culture Family Life

A love letter to libraries

I know that I am not alone when I say that we, as humans, find a lot of solace in libraries. They are temples of knowledge, housing collections of stories and dreams alike on their shelves. Libraries are as much a part of our culture as anything else. People have relied on these spaces for warmth, insight, and marvel for centuries. In a way, they hold the key to all of our stories,

I love libraries, and I am terrified to see their eventual demise, especially as our world becomes almost entirely digital. They are gems from the past that have maintained vitality no matter the circumstances or happening outside of their walls. Not to mention they are the cornerstones of entire communities, maybe even countries, granting light and stability to people when nothing, or no one, else seemed able to. They offer more than just books; they offer entry into a space that seems more like a sanctuary run by people grounded in compassion, commitment, creativity, and resilience.

People have relied on these spaces for warmth, insight, and marvel for centuries.

I used to go to the library near my grandparents’ house every other Friday. For the most part, my mom took my brothers and me there to get a new book for school or to see what DVDs we could bring home to watch that evening. But I remember roaming around, starstruck, in between the tall shelves, wondering about the people who wrote each and every single one of those books and how long it might have taken to get them all here.

Most weeks, my mother let me get two books instead of one. I could spend hours there if it was permitted. I always liked watching my mom pick her books for the week, too. She seemed so sophisticated and gentle while scanning the shelves, yet she never knew exactly what she was looking for. If it was winter, afterward we would all pile back into the car with our hardcover books and grab a slice of pizza. If it was summer, we would walk to the Italian Ice shop down the street for some cream ice – those were the best days. 

I fear that libraries have been taken for granted, even in my own life, and am always spellbound to find them chock full of unexpected people, doing unexpected things, with unexpected passions. There is absolutely nothing that compares to the feeling, the pure excitement in my stomach, that erupts every time I am searching in a library for the perfect tale to dig into. A trip to the library seems, to me, to be enchanted. I become whimsical, enveloped by the completeness and simplicity of the entire journey.

Even the smell of a library is impossible to replicate because of its specificity and poignance. I am reminded of sandalwood, dusk, and a particular, antiquated, dampness. Its familiarity is beyond comforting. The air itself seems to be saturated in possibility and imagination. 

I feel at home while pattering around and tracing my fingers between the shelves of books. I fall in love while blowing the dust off of the covers, revealing bright colors and exquisite lines. I spend hours crinkling through the aged, already yellowing, pages of novels wondering which I will pick this time. It is never an easy decision, and I always leave with dozens underneath my arms wondering if the others will still be there when I return the next week. But, that’s the beauty of libraries, isn’t it? Every visit is entirely different from the last and there is no telling what you might stumble upon. Yet each visit is also starkly familiar. 

The air itself seems to be saturated in possibility and imagination.

Books have changed so much of my life, with plotlines, characters, and lessons that have been woven into nearly everything I do – that is every decision, every consideration, and everything that I have grown to appreciate or even pay a little bit more attention to. Books are there to remind me of what’s important, and when I’m not so sure, they’re there for me to lean on. Without libraries, though, I might have never been allowed membership into such a world of splendor. 


Moving home after graduation meant leaving my true self behind

Moving back home after graduation is always a huge transition. Some people have to get used to sleeping with pants again, while others struggle to find themselves in their childhood bedroom. Most graduates are grateful that the days of scavenging for food and ready-to-eat meals are over. But there are those that miss those wild nights out with their friends. Nights where you can’t pin down exactly what happened or how but you remember feeling happy.

If I could condense it all into one memory, it would look like eating take-out food on the worn-out carpet in a room lit only by fairy lights with friends. We would pause as the door swings open and someone I’ve never seen before passes through. My friends and I laugh once they’re out of earshot before picking back up at where we left off. “Yes, she can give mean massages but no! That’s so ‘male-gazey’ of you to say.” I look around the room and feel a little pride because it’s home.

Upon moving home after her university experience, a friend’s parent once told her, “You’ve had your fun. Now it’s over.” It’s harsh. It’s bold. And it’s true.

My roommates and I made it feel homey through our endless trips to IKEA to purchase houseplants, sturdy hooks for our paintings, and coveted fruit bowls. When moving home, there are those of us that miss that sensation, that pride of being independent. Or the feeling of closeness with people that make sense to you, just as you know you make sense to them.

Sometimes, however, the nostalgia feels even more drastic. All at once, I realized that I was not just missing these people that I used to be around, but missing me

 Upon moving home after her university experience, a friend’s parent once told her, “You’ve had your fun. Now it’s over.” It’s harsh. It’s bold. And it’s true.

All at once, I realized that I was not just missing these people that I used to be around, but missing me

My time was certainly coming to a close. As I looked over my packed-up college dorm room, I felt a strange surge of panic. I was afraid that I wouldn’t ever live independently again. I thought about moving to another city and starting a new adventure. But more than wanting a change of scene, I was mostly spurred on by the fact that no unmarried woman in my family has simply moved out of her home. This means that I could not remain in Dubai and live independently from my family.

While I had chatted about finding an apartment to live with a couple of local friends, who were in similar situations, it always seemed a bit like we were playing pretend. I knew deep down, it was all wishful thinking as if we all weren’t actually a week away from moving back home.

For me, and many others, coming back home meant a complete lifestyle flip. It felt like leaving behind a version of yourself that you were just discovering; the you that is independent of family and other codes of normalcy. 

There were simple things. I still feel strange getting ready in the morning without putting on colorful eyeshadow. Now, putting any sort of effort into my appearance is completely out of place. If I happen to, those around me observe me strangely. Perhaps when I walked through the door, I was supposed to revert to the withdrawn high-school chapter of myself. Or at least wear the costume of her. 

It felt like leaving behind a version of yourself that you were just discovering; the you that is independent of family and other codes of normalcy. 

I get it. It is the version of myself that my family is acquainted with. It is the version that makes them the most comfortable. Though I wonder why it is mainly girls that feel like they have to go through this adjustment period. I have noticed that it is mostly women who try to tone themselves down when they’re moving back home.

There was a feeling that we could not act the way we did on our college campuses as it would be seen as too ‘liberal’ for the family setting. It is not that I was living some sort of double life (although I can appreciate that many girls do resort to this). I simply grew out of my shell.

I had been roaming around, seeing what type of person I could become. But now I have returned. And my less liberal high-school shell is fine enough. It’s familiar and worn-in. But it is a guest house. Although I feel at home, I know it is not my final dwelling. I just can’t figure out how to present myself there. Yet at the same time, I don’t have any answers to the questions of what comes next and where I want to be as I am still trying to see where I fit.

Can I ever let go of that other ‘me’? I will have to because I know a lot of us are staying put. It wasn’t our grand idea of post-graduate life but this is where we will be for now or a little longer. Given the current circumstances, it seems that the latter is true.

As graduate schools are moving online and jobs are becoming more and more remote, it seems as if we are in this for the long haul. I wish I knew how to wrap this all up in a way that gives advice to anyone else feeling this way. But I suppose that this is all part of a personal evolution. Even if it feels like one that is not according to plan. 

Editor's Picks Love Life Stories Wellness

I was forced to grow up the day I had to sign the hospital forms for my father’s surgery

“We need you to sign this consent form on all the pages. On the last page, write your name, relationship with the patient, and today’s date,” said the junior resident to me as the medical staff began wheeling my father towards the operation room.

It was December 2015 and my father had to go undergo a major surgery.

The news had been difficult on us as a family, but my father had held everyone strong. His positivity was the beacon of hope that had lifted our spirits. Today, however, he looked worried, and I needed someone to act as a support for the both of us.

The medical assistant handed me a pen and the consent form and left. I stood transfixed in the room, while my father looked at me, worried. “It’s nothing. Just some formalities,” I said.

Inside, I was knocked out by the weight that the forms carried. Until now, there had always been an adult to take care of such formalities. Today, it was just me and Dad. My mother was taking care of my siblings.

Towards the entrance of the preoperative evaluation room, I pressed my hand firmly onto dad’s, hoping to give both of us the much-needed courage. With shivering hands and a drying throat, I croaked, “It’s going to be fine.”

As he was taken inside, I took a look at the consent form dangling in my other hand, the contents of which scared me out of my wits.

The form was a detailed documentation of the surgical procedure that would be performed on my father, its complications, and unforeseen indications. In the event of an unlikely complication, I was asked to provide consent to the doctors to take ad hoc procedures.

The form basically asked me to sign off my father’s future in the next six hours into the doctor’s hands.

The last point in the document asked for my consent to authorize the medical team to go ahead and perform the operation on my father. I was expected to sign the form as an adult who understood what the following six hours of surgery would entail. I barely seemed to register anything.

My signature on the consent form was the stamp of approval needed for my father to undergo the surgery.

I read and re-read those pages, poring through each statement to see if I was missing anything. I was skeptical of signing it. Should I ask my mother to do it? Should I wait for my uncle to arrive? For a few minutes, I was searching for the adult in the room to sign that form.

Until I realized that the adult I was looking for, was me.

I was the daughter of the patient. The document was handed to a supervising adult, not to the child I was in my mind. 

In that momentary dilemma, I signed my name on the dotted line, sealing my transformation into the adult I was unsure of being all this time.

As I signed the form, I realized that there was no turning back. I could no longer protect myself from the realities that were part of my life. Responsibilities that were waiting for me to shoulder upon. Conversations that would now need my voice as an adult rather than a child.

Over the next hours, our family sat in the hospital’s waiting room in anticipation. Finally, when the doctors came out and called my father’s name, I went up to them. “I am Mr. Haider’s daughter,” I claimed. They looked at me and said, “The surgery went well. We need you to complete a few formalities.”

With a sigh of relief, I walked in with them.

This time, not just as a daughter to my dad, but as an adult responsible for taking care of him.

Gender & Identity Life

I’m 25 and decided to live child-free – & it’s not about finding the right guy

“Just wait until the right guy comes along.”

“But it’s a woman’s duty to be a mother.”

“You’ll change your mind.”

I can list condescending responses all day, but these are just a few examples of what I’ve heard when I say I don’t want children. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some child-hater either – I actually have a soft spot for kids and think their curiosity for life is quite adorable. I even have to refrain from aww’ing out loud any time I’m near a baby. I’ve just accepted the reality of children being expensive, time-consuming responsibilities – and I simply do not want that for myself.

It’s no secret that women around the world are socialized to become mothering figures early in their lives. When I was a kid, I vividly remember seeing TV commercials of Baby Born dolls who needed to be fed and have their diapers changed. The commercials always had little girls caring for the babies, which made me wonder: what about the boys? If it takes a man and a woman to create a child, then why are we limited to seeing only one of them caring for the child?

My question was answered when I later discovered the concept of emotional labor. In family settings, these are sets of feelings mothers experience when all the tasks of big responsibilities fall on them. I grew up in a large immigrant family and was fortunately raised by matriarchal figures, but I still witnessed that labor, particularly in my own mother working “the second shift.” Women can spend their entire lives practicing maternal instincts to the extent where it consumes them and they are expected to provide nothing less than ease for others. And with child or not, I don’t want to be reduced to someone’s caretaker.

Lately, the most poignant example I’ve seen of emotional labor is in the film, “Tully.” Charlize Theron plays Marlo, an overworked, micromanaging mother of three who decides to hire a night nanny to help care for her newborn daughter. On top of losing hours of sleep, Marlo also drives her older kids to school, packs their lunches and sits in on parent-principal meetings. Her husband works all day and when he comes home, eats dinner and glues himself to a video game to unwind rather than experiencing a fraction of the emotions Marlo has felt all day. While this doesn’t reflect all aspects of motherhood, there’s a common thread here we have to acknowledge: that women overwhelmingly carry the weight just to keep things running smoothly.

When I’ve explained this to others, they downplay my concerns by saying “that’s just a part of being a parent.” Well, obviously. You’re doing things to care for your children, but there’s a limit to what I want to do. No woman should have to end up like Marlo and sacrifice their well-being in order to be seen as a functioning parent.

Plus, when we don’t have kids by a certain age, there’s often an assumption that something’s gone wrong rather than realizing children aren’t always a necessity to leading a full life. This implies that we absolutely need the presence of another human to make us whole and realize our potential. For women, it perpetuates the antiquated belief that second pompous reply I mentioned at the top  – that it’s our duty to be motherly.

I’d like to exist outside of the airtight box of motherhood and simply pursue other endeavors in life that don’t require being tied down to the family. We had no control over being born with the capabilities to bear children. The least we could do is be able to decide if we want that responsibility or not.

Caring is fun. I conduct myself in a kindhearted manner and have gained a considerable amount of empathy thanks to caring. But at 25, I have a blueprint for my future laid out, and it doesn’t involve a spot to care for a child. Sure, it’s possible to make time for it, but that’s not always the goal. And that’s okay! Maybe it’s because we’re instinctually defensive towards what falls outside of our worldviews, but we’ve got to destroy the idea of motherhood being fundamental to our femininity.

Love Life Stories Weddings

I will never invite my mother to my wedding

The mother of the bride traditionally holds a seat of honor in the bridal party. She usually takes the first seat in the first row. She becomes the ever-watchful protector who holds the roles of a personal stylist, trusted confidant, and treasured mentor.

However, I’ve decided that my mother won’t be invited to my wedding.

The decision hasn’t been one I’ve taken lightly. I know that it will probably fracture whatever weak semblance of a relationship we currently have. Some people have called me selfish, and others pity me as if I have been orphaned suddenly at 27 years old.

My decision, however, has liberated me.

My mother has narcissistic personality disorder and is addicted to alcohol. Her behavior is motivated by ambition when she’s sober, and by aggressive self-promotion when she’s not. She’s willing to sacrifice even her own children just to get ahead. During my childhood, my mother’s love was conditional. All of my successes were exploited as her own, and my failures were mine alone.

Even after I fled her care at 18, she would manipulate me over the phone by guilting me about my failures as her daughter. Luckily, as an adult, I was able to recognize the gaslighting techniques she used on me as a child.

After I got engaged, I resolved to start building the distance between myself and my mother. I knew this decision was one I needed to make quickly. Weddings tend to follow engagements, after all.

When word got around to her that my fiancé had popped the question, she reached out.

She asked to see a picture of my ring, which my fiancé had hand-carved from a slab of meteorite. Its beauty is complex: it’s made from dark iron with sparkling striations of nickel, woven by the incredible heat and pressure of an atmospheric entrance. Because it was handmade, it holds some imperfections and has a little rust, making it perfectly imperfect.

Upon seeing the dark metal hewn into a plain band, my mother commented that it was dull. She ignored the work my fiancé put into it, and implied he was cheap. She thought he should have purchased a ‘real’ ring.

When this happened, I saw the game for what it was – and the years of mind play unraveled to show her as a woman who couldn’t share her daughter’s happiest moment. She still felt the compulsion to undermine that joy for some perverse personal gain.

At that moment, the decision was made. She would not participate in the next chapter of my life – including the wedding.

I wish desperately that my story was unique. However, I know for sure it’s not.

Many mothers are toxic, whether it’s because they have narcissistic personality disorder, or for another reason. Plenty of children struggle, as I did, to heal after being raised by someone who constantly manipulates and hurts you.

Soon after an engagement ring is placed on a finger, you might ask yourself, “Do I want my mom there?” I want to let you know that it’s okay if you don’t.

Your wedding is a day for you, your spouse, and the people who will enhance that experience. You should not spend your time worrying whether or not you will have to break up a fight between your parents, or, worrying that your parent would insult your spouse for whatever reason they think is legitimate. You should only worry about having the best day possible for yourself, regardless of who is in attendance.

Kleinfeld’s wants us to believe that weddings are a hallmark occasion for mothers and daughters. They show bridal parties, lead by a matron-in-chief attending wedding gown shopping sprees and hosting engagement parties. It’s true: having that support behind you makes it easier. Of course, it’s easier to have an experienced woman help you navigate your wedding from the ceremony to the cake. But that support doesn’t need to come from your mother.

I’m lucky because I will have two moms sitting in the first row on my wedding day. These women haven’t manipulated or hurt me. They are proud of the person I’ve become. My stepmother and future mother-in-law are happy to fill the space my mother no longer occupies.

Together, they fill a space larger than she ever could.

Love + Sex Love Life Stories Advice

4 lessons that surprised me after 4 years of marriage

If you aren’t learning anything new, you are probably dead (or close to it). Every new experience or change in circumstance should teach you something. Something that will better your life, help you grow, help you become the best you can be!

There hasn’t been as significant a change in my life since I got married. Frankly, before then I was pretty much cruising along the same well-trodden path utterly secure in my bubble. Life took a 180-degree turn for me after I signed my marital contract and boy what a journey has it been!

I have learned a lot in the last four years; being able to cook and clean somewhere on the list. But amongst these essential life skills, I have learned how to sustain a life-long relationship; one that is ever changing.

1. Respect works both ways.

In a stereotypical Pakistani marriage, the husband commands all the respect. Don’t shout at your spouse, don’t argue back, done look at him with anger, refer to him with respect and never disagree.

Well, guess what, the same rules apply to women too. Don’t shout at your wife, don’t look at her with anger, always refer to her with respect. You can disagree with her but only within the confines of civility. Because you married a person, you did not inherit a slave.

If you think you deserve respect just because you wear the pants then think again. To make a marriage work, respect is the ultimate bottom line. Because if you can’t respect a person, there is no point in spending the rest of your life with them.

2. Your problems are like your dirty laundry: not for the world to see.

This is a continuation of the above. Respect yourselves enough to keep your problems to yourselves. If I tell my mother about a fight with my husband, she will listen and advise me to be better. But the matter won’t close there. While I may move on and forgive my husband (which I inevitably will), my mother will always remember what happened and may form an opinion of him that I would not want her to have.

Secondly, other people, no matter how close they may be to you, may treat your issues like gossip. You may be angry at your spouse for not buying you an expensive pair of shoes, but you won’t be mad forever. And you will not like it when your friends start referring to him as a cheapskate.

The point is, there should be no room for a third person in your marriage, especially not as a confidante because that will only harbor resentment in the long run.

3. Life is not a corporation, it’s a partnership.

One person cannot make all the decisions. Especially not when the outcome of the said decision effects the two of you. This is not a corporation where the board hires a CEO to direct its employees. This is life, and real life requires a strong partnership because life sucks at times. You both need to be in it together.

It’s not fair that one person gets to call all the shots. Its definitely not fair if the other has to deal with the burden of a bad or ill thought out decision. Maybe your spouse has an insight you didn’t consider before; maybe they may have an alternate solution. You should respect them enough to consider their input or at least their stake in the dilemma.

4. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong: Your spouse needs to know you have their back.

Life sucks. It isn’t easy nor is it supposed to be. You will come across situations that will force you out of your comfort zones. Things will get hard, maybe even unbearable, but what helps you get through is knowing that you are not alone in this. Imagine being targeted by the whole world and not one person is in your corner. Imagine the one person who you have dedicated spending your life with turns their back on you.

You need to know that, no matter what, your spouse has your back. You may be right, you may be wrong, but you need that security. And vice versa. Your spouse needs to be confident in the fact that you will be there for him no matter what. Because life can get long and hard, and what is the point of being married if you are not there for each other?


My mom is the perfect “selfless” woman, but I’ve learned that’s not actually a good thing

My mom is good at putting others’ needs before her own; so good that she often forgets to say “no” and struggles to make time for herself. She has always tended to my brother and I before herself.

She made incredible sacrifices, such as leaving her job, when we were small, and she continues to help us, whether that involves packing for a large move, straightening out medical bills with the insurance company, or assisting us with our taxes.

She helped my aunt find a job and gave her rides to and from work when my aunt’s car was in the shop. My mom goes out of her way to make sure everyone is taken care of.

She is selfless. Which is great, but as I’ve learned, also problematic.

As a culture, we tend to believe that women – and particularly mothers – should be selfless, caring, and emotionally available. Women in the workforce are accused of being “bitchy” if they are assertive, rebuke male colleagues, or simply do their job well.

Trolls from around the world shame mothers daily on Facebook, blogs, and other social media for their parenting styles. Working moms get blasted for “abandoning” their children for a career, and stay-at-home moms are demonized for not providing “enough” for their kids.

If a woman appears in anyway cold, selfish, distant, or intolerant of bullshit, society pounces.

Even in my own home, I’ve listened to my dad criticize my mom for not getting a “real” job while simultaneously complaining that the house isn’t clean enough. So what should she be? A career-focused “bitch” who will stop being the dishwasher and the cook, or a stay-at-home mom who gives everyone in the household the privilege of some amount of laziness? Should she be “selfish” or selfless?

Because either way, it still won’t be good enough.

I’ve seen what the end results look like for selfless women who give themselves tirelessly. It’s exhaustion. It’s silent bitterness. It’s knowing that you must continue to put up with men’s ineptness because without you, they can’t function. It’s constant emotional labor. It’s being stuck as the bill payer, the finance manager, and the deadline keeper in your house because everyone has gotten used to you keeping track of important documents.

Not all women or mothers find themselves in this burdensome cycle, but those who do seem to live in a reality dictated by everyone else’s needs.

My mom is a “good” selfless woman. She thinks of her kids and relatives first, and is willing to offer support whenever its needed. But now that I’m older, I’ve realized the underrated importance of saying no, of cancelling plans when you are simply too tired or too overwhelmed, and of leaving others to their own devices when you have nothing left to give.

As I am learning my own emotional boundaries, I still sometimes struggle with the guilt of feeling “selfish.” Simple instances of not staying later at work, cancelling dinner plans when my anxiety is out of control and I don’t want to go into public, and not buying more Christmas gifts because I have student loans to pay off make me second-guess myself.

I know that my reasons for saying no in these scenarios are perfectly rational, but once in a while I feel a pang of guilt: should I be doing more? I make it a point to communicate with my friends and support them during their triumphs and setbacks, but am I doing enough? Am I really there for them in a large enough capacity? Should I have been the one to initiate dinner in the group chat?

But then again, I know the consequences of putting yourself last. I will not end up in a marriage where I enable my husband’s laziness. It’s not healthy to constantly place my friends’ emotional needs before mine. In a world where we are judged on how productive and successful we are in the workplace, I am absolutely aware that we need mental and emotional breaks from our jobs.

It can be hard to distinguish between “selfish” and “reasonable requests to keep one’s sanity.” Being decent to other humans is important, but we must make time for our self-care, our goals, and our hobbies outside of our families and even friend groups.

We are allowed to say no as often and as loudly as we need.

Love Wellness

Here’s how you can survive your family this Thanksgiving

Even if your family is picturesque, Thanksgiving invites stress, anxiety, and drama. It’s never easy to travel home only to be reprimanded or curiously examined while trying to mentally compose your sanity. 

As Martha Beck wrote on Oprah, “Your assertiveness training goes out the window the minute your brother begins his traditional temper tantrum. A mere sigh from your grandmother triggers an attack of codependency so severe you end up giving her your whole house.” 

Look, we’ve all been there. 

In short, families are strung together by threads, and generations, of dysfunction. Our similarities and differences can impact and deconstruct any sanity-saving tactics we had pre-planned before stepping foot into our childhood homes. While family is a comfort, it is also disruption. Especially for those of us who live far from our immediate family. 

[bctt tweet=”Families are strung together by threads, and generations, of dysfunction.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Your life in your new city, with your friends and your career, may drastically differ from the life you left behind.

But, here you are, heading home for the holidays.

Your ticket is purchased, your bags will soon be packed, and your nerves are already shot. How can you stay mentally sound through relentless grilling and family expectations this Thanksgiving break?

We have a few tips to help ease the pain.

1. Remember that it’s all in the family

Two women getting dinner at the table in the kitchen holding plates. One is smiling at the camera.

While your mother’s antics and questioning may not seem to be the most loving or nurturing form of affection, she’s still your family. As is everyone involved in the holiday spectacle. While you may not have chosen them, they share your blood, your quirky behavior, and your family tree.

Think about yourself for a moment before going into the holiday season. 

Where do your insecurities stem from? Why do you feel attacked when your dad mentions your career? Where does your anger go after your mother questions your intimate relationships? Of course, your feelings are valid, but try to unpack your trigger points so you can get some insight into why you’re reacting emotionally to particular topics. 

It can help you once you’re in the moment and face to face with the topic at hand.

[bctt tweet=”Try to unpack your trigger points so you can get some insight into why you’re reacting emotionally to particular topics. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

2. Give yourself space

Woman walking down a dirt road

If you need to make a quick phone call to chat with a friend, or go for a walk for some brisk air, then so be it. 

The best advice, for you and for your family, is to give yourself the mental space in order to enter the situation with a clear mindset.

Dr. Ken Duckworth from the National Alliance on Mental Illness said that “There’s this idea that holiday gatherings with family are supposed to be joyful and stress-free. That’s not the case. Family relationships are complicated. But that doesn’t mean that the solution is to skip the holiday’s entirely.”

Much of what contributes to dysfunction is what is deeply rooted in the past

Obviously, Thanksgiving isn’t the time nor the place to begin unpacking years of painful memories. For now, if anything arises that you can’t handle, excuse yourself and find a moment alone where you can rest, think, and most importantly, breathe. 

You don’t need to remove yourself entirely from Thanksgiving, but giving yourself a bit of space can help calm the air for yourself and for your relatives.

[bctt tweet=”Thanksgiving isn’t the time nor the place to begin unpacking years of painful memories.” username=”wearethetempest”]

3. Consider their voice

A man and a woman facing away from each other looking upset

Take the time to understand their thoughts and processes, where they’re coming from, and why they consider their opinion so righteously valid. If you still feel that they are wrong or being inappropriate, that’s only fair, and you have the right to think so. But first, consider their thoughts and their voice, even if it differs from your own.

You can’t change your family, whether it’s politically or simply a state of mind.

Of course, this isn’t to say their opinion is correct.

But we cannot write off others voices without accurately considering them. If you listen to their side of the argument, or conversation, you can begin a dialogue that will probably involve a large amount of debriefing.

If their voice isn’t worth considering, see the next tip. If you can slightly understand their opinion, calmly explain your voice as well and encourage them to acknowledge your choices.

[bctt tweet=”We cannot write off others voices without accurately considering them.” username=”wearethetempest”]

4. Choose to leave if necessary

Woman driving a car with the sun streaming in the window

Remember, Thanksgiving break isn’t forever. 

It’s a day, or two, or possibly three, and then you’re back to your Utopian bubble in your city of choice. Soon, you’ll be able to revel in your calm space away from anxiety or stress.

Is cousin Greg simply too much? Is aunt Susan a deeply negative impact on your self-esteem and overall well-being? Then that’s it: leave.

You aren’t chained to your family by any means—your choice to see them over holiday break is a gift you can choose to snatch back if necessary. Do not feel as if you have to be present in order for everything to be harmonious. Sometimes, life isn’t built on harmony and if you feel your mental and emotional health is at risk from being around your relatives, you can eat turkey somewhere else.

[bctt tweet=”If you feel your mental and emotional health is at risk, you can eat turkey somewhere else.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Before entering the holidays, remember to set boundaries for yourself.

Decide which people you can safely interact with and which ones you should avoid. Decide which topics you can discuss and which ones you can skip. And most importantly, maintain these boundaries.

Don’t let your family bully or guilt you into anything.

Family love is unconditional, meaning that whatever the comments may be, or what the arguments may entail, at the end of the day you’re together, but that doesn’t mean their love can’t be toxic. 

[bctt tweet=”Don’t let your family bully or guilt you into anything.” username=”wearethetempest”]

We get it, it’s complicated, it’s messy, it’s family. 

But if you take care of yourself and follow these tips, you can make it through Thanksgiving relatively unscathed.