Being a Working Mom is TOUGH! I love it anyway.

I started working full-time when my daughter was 3 months old. I would cry during the commute each way, cursing the traffic, thinking desperately that those precious minutes could have been spent with my baby. The baby in question is 3 years old now. I am still a full-time working mother while also serving as the Associate Editor of a literary publication. I do not cry in traffic now, but I still curse. Loudly. Unabashedly. It's good for the soul. And the moment after a curse word rebounds from the car's interior and disappears into the air is so....well, zen.

When I see the little human I brought into this world, that unruly hair, the ubiquitous smile, those shining almond eyes, I feel love, sure, supposedly the purest form of it as all mothers will readily tell you, but more than that, I feel pride. I feel proud of my little human. We have come a long way, you and me, I tell her. You were a tiny thing, and now look at you. You are assertive. You are strong. You are beautiful. You know what you want and how to get it. You have such a strong belief in yourself. Such spirit. Such will. I hope it never diminishes. When I drop her off at school, she gives me a kiss and says, "Bye, Mummy," so eager to start the day with her friends and teachers, where Mummy just doesn't fit. And then, when I pick her up, she comes running to me, saying, "Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!" My well-adjusted little human. A lot of tears were shed while we got here. A lot of doubts were aired. And even today, on those rare days when we encounter tummy troubles, or a sore throat, or a waxing fever, I put everything else aside. My sole focus becomes this little wonderful person who needs no one else in the world except her Mummy. It's hard to even sign on to email on such days, to answer a simple question about a work issue. Work becomes a burden. Why am I doing this? What is the point? I should only be with my little human, this sweet girl with her curls and cuddles. And then, she gets up and goes to the kitchen. She reaches for her play-doh basket and begins to play, or goes to her drums and starts making some music.

It's tough to be a working mom. Yet I do it day after day. We wake up, we start our day together, experience rewards and setbacks during the day, and we meet again in the evening, coming together, sharing, loving, a full circle so to speak. It would be wrong for me to say that in this wholesome picture, nothing is lost. There is always an opportunity cost. Something is lost when something is gained. In this case, my daughter and I end up spending 6 meaningful hours together during the day -- hours in which we are soaking up each other's presence, playing, reading, cuddling, talking -- not counting bedtime and sleep hours. 6 hours each weekday. But they are really good hours. Happy. Rewarding. Rejuvenating.

Choosing to work is a very important decision for me. I consciously make the choice to go to work every day. It is not something that happened to me. It is something I chose to do because having a career is absolutely necessary, not only for my sanity and well-being, but also to set an example for my girl. I get positive reinforcement for my decision every day by witnessing how well-adjusted she is, and I get it from the past, too. I think of my mother who has worked long hours for most of her adult life and is still gainfully employed, and yet she always managed to remain her daughters' best friend. And I think of how I left home at 18 and made my own life, a career, another home. I would want my daughter to make her own life too, find love and independence and success on her own terms. And she undoubtedly will one day. If this time of mine, these key years of youth and energy and vitality are invested solely in the very noble and very rewarding service of my daughter and I do not craft a place for myself out there in the world in the process, not hone my skills in the workplace, not discover my true potential as an individual, as a contributor to my industry, not make an impact in the field of clinical research, which I am passionate about, where does that leave me? This is a very personal fear and will probably not resonate at all with many women who have extremely fulfilling lives without being in the workforce.

I love my daughter, but I love my career, too. And I think I would be an unhappy mother and an unhappy person if I wait for her to be off and discover love and life until I can do both of those things myself. For me, motherhood and my career do not just work in parallel, they define each other. I am very good at my job because I want to be a present, attentive, and loving mother in my hours away from the office. I am a good mother because I have a rewarding professional life. This is exactly what I would wish for my daughter with one tiny amendment -- a longer maternity leave.

Photos by Rebecca McCue

A Celebration of Growth

When I was a teenager, I was convinced that I knew everything. I had no uncertainties. I was invincible. I knew what was right and what was wrong and what was right for me. I knew wholly what I wanted and how I was going to get it. When I was a teenager, I knew everything about myself and about the world. I was practically an adult. 

I am 3 months away from turning 30. The big three-oh. The life-changing event. The age that used to sound "so old" all those years ago. The age that has a whole episode of Friends devoted to it with Rachel Green lamenting her "plan" and being very poor company for her friends. The birthday that, more often than not, invokes sadness and fear. The age that brands you: "There you have it. You are an adult now whether you like it or not." I don't feel any of those things right now. Instead, I look at my teenage self and shake my head at her, "Foolish girl." The truth is, I am on the verge of turning 30 and I am still clueless. There is so much growing up to do yet.

It is disconcerting to realize that all of the most important decisions of my life, with the exception of choosing to have a child, were made while I was a teenager -- heady, opinionated, filled to the point of bursting with this sense of being true, being right, that damned righteousness that still trickles out of my mouth in unguarded moments. Surprisingly, those decisions have been fruitful, but that is likely just dumb luck rather than a testament to my foresight or wisdom. Exactly 2.5 weeks ago, I started a new job. After 6 years, I left Stanford and took a management position with a start-up. It was time to move on, and I love my new job -- this is called growing up. Earlier this year, I took on a bigger role at Papercuts. I transitioned to the role of Associate Editor from Poetry Editor -- an experience that has been challenging and enlightening -- so this is how much work and planning and work and planning and work and planning it takes to bring out a magazine -- this is also called growing up. I am in the midst of concluding a 10-week poetry course I was co-teaching for Desi Writers' Lounge. During the last few weeks, I had the privilege of witnessing the course participants stretch their wings, take chances, push themselves to produce impressive poems. I learned as I taught -- this is also called growing up. My girl is beginning to talk to me. In the morning, I wake her up, and she says, "Lie down, please! Sleepy time, please!" A scene reminiscent of my own childhood. I get ready for work and she says, "Pretty!" She wants to change several outfits a day because her clothes are "wet" or "yucky" or something else. My daughter is turning into a real person -- this is also called growing up. Today, I joined a gym -- dare I say it -- this is also, in fact, called growing up.

And all this is just the beginning. I feel I am at the cusp of something far greater than I realize. I am not fully able to absorb or observe this, but it is a truth I am beginning to live by:  Life is so fluid. Learning is on a spectrum that is infinite. How does one ever satiate one's appetite for learning? How does one ever reach the point of satisfaction where one finally feels grown up, accomplished, done? With all the uncertainties I am thriving under, at least I know the answer to this one question is never. The recipe for a fulfilled life is in continuing to find delight in small developments, in observing and experiencing personal growth constantly. 

So, I look back at my insolent fifteen-year-old self who believes she knows everything and say just to push her buttons, "I'll ask you again 15 years!"

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Lessons My Toddler Teaches Me

Before Jahanara turned two, I decided I was not going to ever roll my eyes at one of her tantrums and say resignedly, "Terrible twos!" Instead, I coined the term "Terrific twos," because it's all about how you see it, right? Wrong! I witnessed a spectacular melt-down today all because I spilled some water on the table and followed this unbelievably clumsy act with more serious crimes, like giving my daughter the wrong bowl and the wrong snack and saying all the wrong things, "No, I will not give you such-and-such until you say 'please'!" What I observed after she had calmed down and was happily singing along one of the songs of The Fresh Beat Band and eating her dinner is that toddlers have immense stores of will-power. If I were still as angry as I was this afternoon during the tantrum, I would have said that toddlers are amazingly stubborn. However, we have reached a mutual truce, I have been given lots of conciliatory kisses and have also been rewarded with finished dinner and dessert, so I am feeling generous. My daughter has great, indefatigable will-power with strong lungs to support her in all her quests allowing her to be heard and understood, loud and clear. She knows what she wants and she knows she wants it NOW! 

Conceivably, I also had bottomless treasure troves of will-power when I was two (and probably for a long time after that when it came to a certain book I wanted, or a midnight meal, et cetera). What happened to all that determination? Why is it that now when I make plans, I am not always able to see them through? Exhaustion is one excuse - I possibly have too much going on and cannot focus all my will-power solely on achieving a particular goal, but if I had half the tenacity that my daughter possesses, I would post here more often, I would walk around the neighborhood every day, I would eat well, sleep well, and generally live well - essentially, I would do everything I claim to want.

Incidentally, I was talking to a writer friend of mine about the importance of having a writing group. It is absolutely essential for me to have people in my life who can hold me accountable to the things I want to do - so clearly, I don't have enough determination to write every day. Often, I wait until Rebecca says in a mock-annoyed voice, "You know, I have been waiting for a blog post" to let myself realize, "Oh, right, it's been how many days since the last post?" Writers certainly need their tribe, people they trust and who are invested in their success to keep them moving forward, plugging away at their stories, their poems. At the same time, we love self-flagellation. We love to count the number of ways in which we fail. Our nerve often wanes before our will-power does, and then the latter, too, fizzles out like an a flame extinguished unceremoniously. This is something toddlers never do. They are tenacious little humans, demanding what they want with all the might in their small bodies - and they use their bodies creatively to display their demands: they shake themselves, thrash on the floor, roll around, hang on to anything - a parent's arm, the refrigerator door - very creative even in the midst of a complete emotional catastrophe. Then, they either get what they want if the parent admits defeat, or they get distracted if the parent has enough energy to tap into sources of diversion (Look, baby! Elmo!), or they tire themselves out and decide to get on with their lives (or, more accurately, they decide to conserve their energy for an admirable battle later in the day so that the parent's nerves are fried to perfection - golden brown and caramelized). In any case, they move on and are perfectly happy to do so. There is no sense of failure. There is most certainly no self-loathing. The outcome of the toddler's willful behavior regardless of whether she achieved her desired results or not is always the same: She moves on.

And so, motherhood teaches me yet another important lesson - to take a page from Jahan's proverbial book. Exercise more will-power. Try to be consumed by a singular focus - writing, for example, or eating healthy meals - and go after it with a kind of possessed madness. And if by chance or by design, I am unsuccessful on a given day, I should simply take a deep breath and move on. Tomorrow is another day after all, a brand new morning for terrific tenaciousness.

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Some Yeats and Some Chocolate (Also, poetry)

I have been away from work this whole week - I am blaming the lapse in my routine for the lapse in my writing (here). The truth is, I have been focusing a lot more on my poetry lately. I am trying to write and edit about two poems a week, which is hard work for me. It takes several sessions of writing and editing BEFORE I share a poem with a trusted network of friends/readers/critics. Then there is another round of rewriting based on the feedback I get. Then there is the whole business of sending the poem out into the world, updating my submission spreadsheet (yes, I have a spreadsheet, it's very nerdy, but it works for me). And then there is the most annoying part - the waiting. I suppose, there is one other thing that is worse than waiting - it is when I select a row on my submission spreadsheet and highlight it in red - rejections, yes, they are most certainly the absolute worst thing about this whole writing business. No, nope, wait, I misspoke - the worst thing about this writing business is not writing at all. As long as I am writing, I am one (or several) rungs above the most unfavorable state. 

The sort-of good news is that I am sort-of back on Twitter (@noorulainnoor). My tweets are not exciting or entertaining yet, but I am working on it. I really don't get Twitter - I mean, I get it, but I am really not very good at expressing myself in 140 characters, and it's really a lot of pressure because I want to say something useful and intelligent. I know, I know, I am over-thinking it.

Anyway, it is February, and since this post is not about love, I am leaving you in the very capable hands of Mr. Yeats and with this parting advice: Forget laughter, chocolate is the best medicine, preferably dark, but milk will do in a pinch.

Brown Penny

William Butler Yeats

I WHISPERED, 'I am too young,'
And then, 'I am old enough';
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
'Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.'
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.
O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.

Chicken with Cilantro Pesto and Striking a Balance

All weekend I had this nagging feeling that I was forgetting something. I was relaxed, cuddling with Jahan all day, shopping with the family, cooking and cleaning the kitchen. The sudden calm was strange because I have been so wound up lately. I have had a mental list of things that are overdue, trying desperately to cross items off, and this weekend, quite surprisingly, the list disappeared, and I didn't know what to do with myself. Have you ever felt this way? You become so used to completing tasks that you forget how to live in their absence.

I have struggled for a long time to balance the different "categories" of my life. It's more than work-life balance - it's an effort to stand on a narrow platform that perches precariously between sanity and insanity. It is impossible to function entirely in the Sanity Meadow and a nightmare to imagine doing so in the Insanity Jungle. People like me, therefore, who are often zigzagging into and out of each realm prefer to strike a balance and exist in the narrow border between the two. I am not always successful at this endeavor, but it is worth striving for.

Having a temporary reprieve from the pestering task list that is bound to multiply its contents rapidly, I felt a pull towards the kitchen. I wore my mother's clothes that she had left in my closet, because I was missing her. Wearing them, I felt closer to her and told her so over Skype. I regretted the days I wasted when she was here in my house, and I was too busy crossing off items on my task list to sit down with her over hot cups of chai and talk about whatever was on her mind. There were too many "should-haves" on the tip of my tongue and dwelling over them in any detail would disintegrate my composure, so I strayed away from that topic altogether. I was talking to her after a long time. Calling my mother, I am ashamed to admit, had not been checked off on my to-do list, but mothers have superhuman abilities to forgive.

I promised myself to consciously make an effort to strike a balance. I want to never let the things that matter to me lapse again because there is too much to do. The fact is, there will always be too much to do. I don't want these days, months, and years to pass me by because I was too busy looking the other way. I want to live, really live. To me, that translates into doing things I love with the people I love. I will love more, give more, and write more. I will call my mother and tell her, you know what, Mom? You're pretty damn cool, and I am proud to be your little girl. I hope one day you can be proud of me, too. I will cook and bake and write and tell the whole world about the things that matter to me

Happily fueled by my resolutions, I was all set to get back into the kitchen and resume my collaboration with Rebecca, in which I cook and she photographs. I adapted a Bon Appetit recipe for this occasion. I used pine nuts instead of pistachio, added more garlic, used dark meat instead of chicken breast, and added red chili flakes to the chicken in addition to salt and pepper. It was fitting, then, that I chose this recipe for my inaugural day in the kitchen after a long hiatus. It was like I had created a dish to seal my promise of striking a balance in my life. The nuttiness in the pesto was perfectly complemented by the garlic. The red chili flakes gave the chicken a slight dimension in flavor while not taking away from the mildness in the sauce. Perfectly balanced, I thought. The dish turned out to be terrific. I made a small salad on the side with Ceasar dressing. For dessert, we watched Jahan devour a chocolate chip cookie.

Photos by Rebecca McCue


“This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn't turn out to be like Literature. Look at our parents--were they the stuff of Literature? At best, they might aspire to the condition of onlookers and bystanders, part of a social backdrop against which real, true, important things could happen. Like what? The things Literature was about: Love, sex, morality, friendship, happiness, suffering, betrayal, adultery, good and evil, heroes and villains, guilt and innocence, ambition, power, justice, revolution, war, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, the individual against society, success and failure, murder, suicide, death, God.”
Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.”
Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending  
My grandmother did not leave trunks full of banarasi clothes, copper pots and pans, books, ledgers, deeds, wills, jewelry. She owned all of those things, but gave them away several years before she died. She sold the house she birthed 11 children in, the house from which two of her daughters' and her husband's funeral biers departed, the house that held memories of the 9 other children who lived and are now grandparents themselves. My grandmother kept limited belongings in her old age, a number that continued to dwindle as dementia took hold of her and made her a different person, not a lesser person, just different...and a little helpless. My grandmother's legacy, therefore, is not tangible. It is in the life-story she shared with her grandchildren on winter evenings with the gas heater blazing, peanut shells crackling between our fingers, candles lit up around us,  the power having failed as usual. We would sit around her in a tight circle, tucked underneath heavy velvet quilts and listen to her story of crossing the border from Amritsar to Lahore with her husband and two little boys. Sometimes, she would sing us a song, a song I can't remember now, one that her own mother had sung to her. She told us about her father who died young, about her widowed mother's efforts to raise the family, about getting a scholarship to earn teaching credentials, financing her brother's foreign education, getting married, having kids, not quite understanding her husband. "I used to pray at night, you see," she'd say. "And your grandfather would call out to me over and over 'Zohra Begum! Come listen to me!' And I would just ignore him and wish for him to stop bothering me. I wonder all the time now, what it was he wanted to tell me."

Our life-stories are our legacies, but they are in essence, our stories. For example, had my grandfather ever told us his life-story, he might never have remembered the fact that his wife didn't listen to him during her prayers. It may not have been a salient event for him at all. When we tell our life-story, we often alter and exaggerate, or at the very least dramatize, in order to engender interest, of course, but also to make the image projected by the story and the image we have of ourselves congruent. 
I am thinking about life-stories in the context of my own, of course. I identify as a poet, mother, and researcher, so in terms of my life-story, I will obviously focus on significant events associated with these aspects of my life. Those who know me best have often heard the dramatic telling of "How I Ended Up At Stanford" story, or "How I Edit Poetry" story, or "How I Have Raised Jahan" story. Since I no longer identify very strongly as a daughter by virtue of being an adult and having left the nest, I censor the formative years, which are rife with tragic and dramatic elements that would make for excellent narrative exposition. I do this very consciously. I have done it so often and so well that I have beguiled myself into thinking that those years simply don't matter in my life-story. Obviously, they do. The version of the story I tell myself, while being somewhat accurate, is most certainly not complete. 

 Thinking about all of this analytically, I have reached some uneasy realizations. I am a dishonest story-teller. I tell myself what I like to hear. This is all well and good until I start to think about my legacy. I can't just erase the first 18 years of my life in Pakistan. And, quite frankly, I don't want to. No one has a linearly ascending journey from point A to point B. Some people stay at point A all their lives. Others, most commonly, climb and swoop and plateau and rise and fall, all the way from Point A to B. The trouble with my journey, and therefore, my story is that I have left point A far behind and am so bewildered by the pitfalls and advances in no-man's-land on the way to Point B, that everything is a little hazy - the past and the future.

I need to start re-telling my story to myself, without self-pity and self-doubt. Before I can do that, though, I need to remember the story as accurately as possible. The more I think about the past, the more I am convinced that I need to re-examine it. I need to look at events from several different perspectives. Did he really mean it when he said XYZ, or was he trying to hurt me as I was trying to hurt him? You do hurt each other when you're angry, it's what you do to everyone you love, because you know they will forgive you. I need to reach out to the characters in my story, the characters that matter, and start a dialogue. Can we start from the beginning, please? Let's forgive each other, but let's not forget. I need you to remember. Remember with me. Let's write down our life-stories. This is how I remember it. Is this how you remember it, as well?

Your life-story is not just about you. And it certainly didn't happen the way you've been telling it to yourself. Think about it - what did you leave out and why? It's not an easy conversation to have with yourself, but it's an important one. 

(And, by the way, I highly recommend the book quoted in this blog entry, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.)

Photos 2 and 3 by Rebecca McCue

The Charm of Routine

“Not that she didn’t enjoy the holidays: but she always felt—and it was, perhaps, the measure of her peculiar happiness—a little relieved when they were over. Her normal life pleased her so well that she was half afraid to step out of its frame in case one day she should find herself unable to get back."
- Jan Struther, Mrs. Miniver
Monday morning madness. I arrive at work later than usual, because I have some meetings that will continue into the early hours of the evening. I begin to type furiously even before I am comfortably settled in my chair. Hours pass. I answer questions. Write emails. Before I know it, I am on my third cup of coffee and fourth meeting of the day. I have worked through lunch, which I like to do, but the meal has been disappointing. Tasteless beef with stiff brown rice, under-seasoned vegetables, and limp pasta in an unappetizing yellow sauce. Coffee is better. Much better. I am back at work after two days off followed by the weekend. Four days of nothing but Eid celebrations. The holidays have been good to me. Now I am back at my desk, with my "crap-to-do" pad filling up. I check off one item and add three more in its place. I take my empty coffee cup to the Keurig. I pop in a K-cup - Newman's Own Special Blend - my favorite. As the coffee brews I lean on the counter with my elbows resting on the cool metal surface, my head in my hands, and I breathe in the steam. But back to work now. Chop, chop. And would you believe it? I love every minute of it. 

I resent Monday mornings, not because I have to go back to work, but because up until the midday epiphany I always get at the beginning of the work-week ("I love doing this."), I have the false feeling of not wanting to be there. It is nothing but a spillover effect from the weekend, but it's real on Monday mornings. The break in routine, the interruption of my weekday breakfast of badly poached eggs and creamy-sweet coffee while I check my email by two lazy mornings of getting pinched and slapped by a cute baby until I clamber out of bed to make her pancakes, disorients me. Every Monday, I have to relearn the motions. A teaspoon of water in the egg-poacher, 35 seconds for each egg in the microwave, Newman's Own, cream, Splenda, with a side of emails.

Let me tell you a short and interesting story. When I had Jahan, I devoured parenting books. I did not even have a background in vicarious learning when it came to raising babies. I went to the birthing class with my husband to gain some wisdom, but we walked out halfway through, because on the slide titled "How Dads Can Support Moms During Labor," one of the bullet points read, "Say encouraging things like 'I am so proud of you,' and 'I love you for doing this.'" For some odd reason, my husband thought that was absolutely hilarious and dissolved into badly concealed laughter. We left the class. On my first night home with Jahan, I almost took her to the ER because she wouldn't stop crying. I felt completely useless as a mother. "This is a big mistake," I thought. "I am not fit to raise this baby." Thankfully, Usman's cousin who was visiting us from Reno, took her from me, wrapped her up really tight in a blanket and swayed her in his arms until she went to sleep. She just needed to be swaddled. Simple. "OK," I thought. "If there is a logical set of steps I can follow, then this is doable." Baby 411 became my bible. I had Harvey Karp on my Kindle, Baby 411 on my nightstand, and they all said the same thing. Routine, routine, routine. You need to give your baby a dependable schedule, so she knows what to expect, so she can learn what's coming next. I marveled at this. How can a baby recognize routines, patterns? But, she did. By 6 weeks, her sleep cycle had corrected itself. By 4 months, she was sleeping through the night. And by 6 months, she was fully sleep-trained, falling asleep on her own, following a perfect schedule. 

Even babies, or perhaps especially babies, are creatures of habit. I don't think this instinct of following a routine, having a pattern or a predictable "normal life" ever goes away. This is why it's hard to form a habit, but harder to break one. This is why despite the Monday morning crisis, I always bounce back. This is also why it was strange not to be cooking on Wednesday nights for the blog after doing it for so many weeks and why for a long while after I discontinued my daily walks at work due to schedule constraints, I felt wretched. This week's Monday morning got me thinking about the importance of routine a lot. I exercised such control over my baby's routine in the first year of her life that we all simply take her good habits for granted now. They are cultivated - practically since birth. And if I do buy into this belief of routine having a lot of significance in daily life, then why do I short-change myself? Why don't I exercise the same control over my routine and guard it with the same vigilance? 

The city waking up during one of my walks
The answer is simple. I would rather make my routine malleable to fit everything I need to do in my day than adversely impact someone else. And that is simply not fair. I find happiness in predictability, in eggs and coffee on weekday mornings. I used to find it in my early morning walks with the cloud thickets in the sky, dew palpable on my fingertips, the city awake, yawning, gearing up for the day. I find it in my audiobooks on the way to work and on the way back. I find it in the game I play with my baby every day at 4:30 when I get home from work - "Mommy's gonnaaaa  geeetttt youuuu," and her squeals of delight dissolving into laughter as she throws herself on the bed resigning herself to the tickle monster. I find it in writing this. Here. As I used to twice a week at one point. My normal life does indeed please me well. Maybe it's time to make it charming again. Maybe it's time to prioritize and cross off and add to it until I have the comfort of predictability, until I am like the woman in the quote above - "Her normal life pleased her so well that she was half afraid to step out of its frame in case one day she should find herself unable to get back."

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Mundanities Matter - An Apologetic Rant

"Anything one does every day is important and imposing and anywhere one lives is interesting and beautiful."
-Gertrude Stein

A safe haven - my office.
Let me say this again. I am a full-time clinical researcher, poetry editor of a bi-annual literary magazine, occasional writer, decent home cook, and most importantly, mother of a 21-month-old well-adjusted toddler. My entire existence doesn't just benefit from making routine critically important; it depends upon it. I know I am not the only woman in the world who is juggling a career and motherhood. I know others do it their way. I know their way may be better than my way. However, my way works for me and my little girl. It ensures my sanity and celebrates the things that are important to me, which mainly revolve around me being a homebody. My best day is one spent at home with my baby, some baking and cooking, and a little bit of writing. Perfection. It may be boring for some people, but for me, it is blissful. 
Mama Cook, Baby Cook.

There was a time when my ideal day involved libraries and bookstores and restaurants and walks, but I am fundamentally changed now. I understand that I fall short of many of my loved ones' expectations. Twice now, my 15-year-old brother who is visiting me after 5 years has expressed how disappointed he is that I have not spent "quality time" with him outside (or, arguably, even inside) the house. My mother is managing her own shopping, too, not asking me to accompany her, leaving me within my invisible, intangible, but very clearly defined circle of comfort. My sisters-in-law, by turns, offer support for my decision to remain a hermit and encourage me to come out of my shell. My stubbornness astounds even me at times. I put myself in all of their shoes - my choices must be disconcerting and maybe even disappointing for them. I am not the person they remember - I am distant, regimented, governed by the turns of the clock, by ritual, by habit, and sadly, not by relationships and feelings save those that involve my daughter, because there simply isn't any room inside me.

A recipe or a poem? Could be either.
All of my mental energy is taken up by two forking realities with one convergent point that is hidden somewhere inside me, knotted and wrinkled, convoluted conflicts: professional success and motherhood. If I were to graph my mental state daily, it would not appear in the form of two parallel lines running smoothly, one depicting me as a mother, the other as a professional. Instead, the graph will be non-linear, jagged in some places, smoothly curving in others, one curve swirling lazily into the other at some points, the two intertwining in places, clashing, converging and diverging again, one forming crests sometimes while the other dips low, depresses into the negative quadrant... But they do run in a semblance of harmony at times, too, usually everything remains constant for long periods of time, until they start falling and rising again, a low rumble registered by the Richter scale before The Big One hits,  inevitably when I am least prepared for it. For me, there is no such thing as "work-life balance." There is work. And there is motherhood. And that is my life - not balancing, but swaying, see-saw like, sometimes staying steady in mid-air, but the collapse always comes in the end, it's simply a matter of time. 

A therapeutic practice - cooking at home.
I am perpetually afraid of this collapse. Maybe, my loved ones will gain a little understanding of my constant need to control things and the state of high anxiety that pervades my every waking moment after reading this. I am afraid of losing reigns of the carefully constructed and precariously suspended components of my life. Because when that quake comes, and it does come more often than I would like it to, usually without provocation and for perfectly organic reasons, I am the only one who picks up the pieces of my sanity that are salvageable from the abundant carnage. And this is why I hold on to apparently mundane and insignificant details of my life with a death-grip. This is why I sleep before 11PM, why I guard my baby's bedtime vigilantly, why I don't make plans over the weekend, why I disappear into my words as I furiously type, one eye on the clock, the other on the sentence I am composing, why I don't answer you when you call my name a few times - I am not really there, I am trying to plan the next day, thinking what to cook, when to be home, writing my blog, editing poetry, balancing my meetings and tasks, and about a million other tiny details that are absolutely essential to do. So, consider this a public apology to everyone who is disappointed in me. You are going to have to put up with my eccentricities for a few more years unfortunately, until I achieve a zen state by mastering this elusive work-life balance, or until Jahan goes off to college. Hang in there, friends, family, loved ones. I still love you - just not as much as I love my sanity.

Photos by Rebecca McCue