So far, I have a love/hate relationship with London. Its still early days, I know, but we have yet to find a tempered place of mutual respect and admiration. Maybe we will, maybe we wont…at this point we seem to be pendulum swinging from HIGH highs to LOW lows…ad infinitum. And that’s okay. By now, I understand that this is part of the evolution of a move, international or otherwise. New places are exciting and motivating and inspiring and they go on that way, well…until they’re no longer new. As time moves on and we animate these places with our memories and our milestones, what was once strange becomes intimate; a place you know like the back of your hand…and little by little starts to feel like home.

Like home…but not actually home.

For me, Home is a mystifying concept. It’s right up there with the heavy-hitters Right and Wrong and Heaven and Hell. We all understand Home. We all have a personal version of it. Home connects us to parts of our past and draws us forward into our imagined futures. Most of us know Home when we feel it…but sometimes it can transcend our definitions and defy our little boxes. Every once in a while, we can feel at home the first time we set foot in a new place. Sometimes a person, not a place, makes us feel at home. Even smells can transport us across time and space to a memory of home. Over the course of our lives Home takes many shapes, many forms; all equally as authentic as the one before.

London certainly does not feel like home yet. This city buzzes with infectious energy and poisonous negativity and irresistible possibility and crippling despair. A witches brew of polarities swirls above, somewhere in the lower atmosphere, creating the haze of hope and desperation through which we experience our urban lives. The relentless rain both nourishes and drowns us and as we breathe the city air it stains our insides, scars our lungs… and shapes little parts of our souls. Londoners, like true addicts, smoke their pack-a-day of her…this enigmatic city is a buzz that they crave; a chaos that comforts. But I am not a true Londoner, not even close. I am a transplant. And like a heart that is forcibly hooked to new veins and capillaries and nerves and valves…I still feel wildly out of place.

As a girl, growing up in rural Wisconsin, I never imagined that my life would be like this. Living far from home, miles and miles away from family and friends and raising two little boys in the heart of one of the busiest cities in the world. Its exciting and terrifying and lonely and some days I feel like I am totally in over my head. As a kid, we moved like a million times when I was in primary school. Our family’s staying power in one place usually didn’t surpass the one-year mark and so I was eternally the New Kid. Forever finding new places to sit at lunch tables in unfamiliar cafeterias and navigating the politics of 6-12 year olds as best as the New Kid can. It was never easy but, miraculously, I always made friends. No matter where we went, I found a little group and tucked right in. I was a precocious, social kid and thanks to my mom, had the self-confidence of a peacock.

“Of course, they will like you,” she would reassure me before each first day of school. “You are amazing.”

In all my peacocky displays as a child, some cute and some wildly inappropriate, my grandmother would often suggest that it was time I learn a bit of modesty. But my momma, god bless her all-knowing heart, disagreed:

“The world will teach her modesty when it knocks her down again and again. It’s my job to give her the confidence to keep getting back up.”

If only all little girls had a mother like mine.

And she was right. So so right. Over the years I have been a pinball, bounced from place to place, obstacle to obstacle, sometimes getting stuck, other times disappearing down a deep, dark hole…but so far I have always emerged, though bruised and battered, with my chin up, ready to be sprung back into the game. And the truth is, despite being knocked around a fair bit, especially by motherhood, her words still spur me on.

You are capable of anything.

Even though my experiences in life have not always reaffirmed this belief. In fact, sometimes life has done its best to bury it deeply beneath hurt, despair and pain. Against the odds and because of my mother’s commitment to building my confidence, this heart still has the courage to remain soft and hopeful. Even thousands of miles from Home. And that folks is testament to the power of being a mother. And being a great one. Its the kind of mother, I can only aspire to be for my two little boys. To have them feel about me the way I do about my mom would be the greatest honour life could bestow.

As I collect year after year in places other than my little Wisconsin hometown, I am beginning to think that Home isn’t a place at all. Maybe home is a feeling. A recognition that washes over us when we feel contentment and gratitude for the life that we are living. A knowing that sweeps in and fills our hearts with warmth when we are surrounded by the people and the things that make us feel like the truest version of ourselves. Maybe Home is an evolution that changes and grows and adapts alongside the progression of our lives. If that is the case, then it means that anyone can feel Home, anywhere. And that thought makes my little ex-pat heart smile.

This morning the boys and I had already navigated buses, taxis and trains before the clock had even struck midday. City life can be stressful and complicated and I’m still getting acclimated to it’s breakneck pace. But as we sat on the last leg of our journey and I watched my precious boys devour their bacon sandwiches while the British countryside whizzed by, I felt it.

I felt Home.


I see you, momma.


Her eyes were haunting and beautiful, maintaining eye contact just long enough and then darting sweetly away, at once revealing her shyness and the cultural framework that shapes her social interactions as a devout Muslim woman. She wore a long black dress, her whole body covered save hands, feet and face and her head was wrapped elegantly in a black hijab. My only regret from this brief meeting was that I didn’t ask her name.

“Hello, ma’am, can I help you with the sizes?” Her thickly accented English rolled out with genuine interest, eager to be helpful.

“No, I’m fine, thanks,” I lied, utterly baffled by the Arabic on the front of the packages of the unfamiliar brands. For some reason the American in me insists on soldiering through alone rather than admit my need for help. Not a helpful trait as an expat lifer. Actually…not a great trait under any circumstances.

“How old is your baby, ma’am?”

“He is one next month.”

She smiled. A smile I would soon understand more deeply.

“I also have a baby, ma’am, a little girl. She is 6 months.”

Her gaze dropped and despite being a professional-uncomfortable-silence-filler, I smiled and waited. There was something else.

“Yes, ma’am, it is very hard,” she continued, “I am missing her so much. She is at the daycare now while I am working. But sometimes we have to make sacrifices for our children, yes?” Her kind eyes were brimming with tears now and as I reached for her arm to offer some comfort, I saw a reflection of my own pain and struggle as a mother.

“Yes,” I managed, choking back my own emotion, “We are all just doing our best…”

What followed was a twenty minute mum-to-mum heart-to-heart in the centre of aisle 3 in the middle of Dubai between two women who might have underestimated their common ground. In fact, the depth of our “commons” was vast and intimate and far transcended any anticipated or actual differences. And what began as an innocuous trip to buy nappies morphed into an unforgettable moment. One that, for me, speaks to the nature of motherhood and the power that is released when we connect with one another in honest and authentic ways.

And that got me thinking.
About mothers.

About how sometimes all we need is to know that someone else understands. To be reassured that another soul can relate to how hard and rewarding and demanding raising children can be. To look into the eyes and soul of another mother and bear witness to her battle weary resolve to keep putting one foot in front of another. And be inspired.

That day as I walked out with my nappies, a rush of hope came over me like I have never experienced. It’s going to sound cheesy but it was a big hope, a hope in humanity, a reminder that even in the face of significant differences, we as mothers can see each other and stand in the light together. We can acknowledge the courage in each heart. We can call forth the warriors that get buried beneath fear and self-doubt. And we can hold each other up when the load is too heavy.

We can whisper the it-will-be-okays when depression and anxiety and hormones and body image wreak havoc on our sense of self as we are becoming this new, unfamiliar version of ourselves. And when it seems that the person we were before is being absorbed and then utterly rewritten for the new role of Mother…we can remind one another that she is still there. Underneath. You know who I am talking about; the ambitious girl driving the totally-impractical-for-a-family mini-cooper in her power suit all the way into her executive parking spot. Or the girl that was always the life of the party. The gumption of that girl lives on within you, momma. And someday she will rise again, phoenix from the ashes; but she will ascend profoundly changed by her experiences.

If I’m honest, some days I look in the mirror and I might as well be wearing Groucho glasses complete with a massive nose and a bushy moustache. Because that is about how much I recognise myself.

And that is okay, for now. Little by little I am going to get to know that reflection again. She still seems interesting and strong and funny and courageous. And I would really like to get reacquainted. Maybe that sounds weird but for a long time, when my babies were teeny, I couldn’t have said that. I didn’t have time to think about me and who I was or who I was becoming. I was too tired, too overwhelmed, too absorbed in the all-consuming role of momma. But there is a change on the horizon, it’s coming for me…and it comes for all of us, mommas. A day when you will again have the time to look in the mirror and admire how this whole motherhood thing has shaped you. You may see some scars and some wrinkles, it’s true. But you will also see unimaginable depth. You will see your beauty, momma. It may seem hard to believe while you’re in the trenches, but you will.

But on those days that we don’t recognise ourselves at all when we look in the mirror, lets take inspiration from eachother…

…from the beautiful friend who faces her mother’s degenerative disease with courage and positivity, holding her hand and being present in each moment they have together…

…through the ambition of a lovely friend who manages to balance a successful executive career and a beautiful family…

…in the kindness of a new friend going out of her way to make someone feel welcome and included…

…and in the guts of that unforgettable mum in Dubai who saw a chance to share and connect and DID. NOT. HESITATE.

That’s our calling, mommas. That is our power. To cry out “ME TOO” and take the shame out of the struggle that some of us feel in the first years of motherhood. To shout across the vast uncertainties: YOU. ARE. AMAZING.


I see you, momma.

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