I was 23 years old when I met my husband for the first time. After a whirlwind courtship of gorgeous flowers and overseas calling cards, we were married a short eight months later. By the time I was 28, I had three beautiful babies.
Becoming a mother was the most momentous and profound turning point of my life. I realized with every sleepless night, with every poop call, every gurgle of laughter, the resilience I was capable of. It seems trite to say, but for the first time, I knew what it felt like to love unconditionally; blindly and completely. To know that forevermore, I will think of others before even beginning to consider myself.
As the children’s demands grew, date nights were few and far in between, travelling seemed overwhelming, showering appeared to be a luxury and doing anything for myself, an unnecessary and guilty indulgence. In these years, I YouTubed fervently, teaching myself how to do my own hair. I researched to figure out the shortest and most effective forms of exercise at home and to keep my separation anxiety at bay, googled how to make my own candles while the kids were at pre-school.
Juggling being a mother, a wife, a daughter and daughter-in-law occupied all of my time and my life was full to the brim. Occasionally, my husband and I would go out with friends. Out at dinner or to a party, in the midst of the fun and revelry I would realize that as much as I was glad to be out, I would much rather be doing something else.
In 2014, we moved to Dubai. Being a pakka Karachite, it was emotional suicide. Outside my comfort zone, it was also when I realized I had stopped having an opinion. I began to wake up to the sudden thought that while living for others is a natural by-product of being a mother and wife, forgetting to think of yourself is not.
But old habits die hard, and I continued delaying everything I wanted for the benefit of the greater good. It was always about what other people expected of me, what I needed to be doing, what I had to be responsible for. I seemed to be guided completely by the wants and needs of everyone around me.
It took losing my father this year to absorb something multitudes of books and thousands of songs push on repeat: learn to love yourself.
No one really explains how losing a parent changes you. For me, it made me reevaluate everything I have ever believed in. It’s almost as if something tangible breaks inside of you, and you have to put yourself back together again, piece by piece.
Except now, you can decide what to put back and what not to.
What tiny bit of yourself to leave out and what to glue back. There is also the huge piece of you that will remain forever missing, and you have to learn to factor that in too. With grief, you are irrevocably changed, in a way no motivational talk can achieve.
Losing my father taught me that life is fleeting. You will never find the right time to be or do what you want- except now. So in the midst of my turmoil, I am learning to fall in love with myself again. To give myself time to heal, to be myself, to say no, to say yes. To teach the people around me to give me space; to learn it myself.
I still have a long way to go, but I no longer accept invitations that I feel I have to. When I’m mired down in a conversation about clothes and jewelry, I feel no guilt in zoning out. When I really should go to that dinner, I stay in to watch Netflix. I stand up for what I believe in and no longer apologise for what I don’t. When I’m exhausted but bored, I force myself to get dressed up and go out. I make time for yoga, I order in that burger and when I get a strong feeling, I trust my instincts.
But when my journey began to feel a tad too self-indulgent and a bit rebellious, one recent Sunday night the whole family was sitting and watching Jurassic Park. I got up to check why my seven-year-old wasn’t back from the bathroom. When I saw her peacefully coloring in her room, I asked her why she wasn’t watching the movie with the rest of us. What she said was a validation of sorts:
“I don’t feel like watching Jurassic Park again, mama. I just want some me-time and do what I feel like”.
I felt like clapping, loving the fact that I was teaching my daughter to love herself.
I have learnt, until I am as giving and kind to myself as I am to others, I can never really love completely. No one will look after you, except you.
This Valentine’s Day, let that be a priority. Today, I hold my loved ones close and pray that of all the lessons I teach my children, I really, really hope they always remember this one.