What is unveiled when the mist lifts?

Yesterday was our naming ceremony – nimenanto- for our little raven-haired boy:

Sumu Ananda Kamau Räisänen

In a room slightly too small for the number of people overflowing out from it, quickly getting a touch too warm from the proximity of bodies gently squished next to each other, dear Vijayaji of the Yoga Gurukula of Pandeshwar, Karnataka, conducted a Vedic blessing ceremony for the beautiful and pure soul who’s arrived, not even three weeks ago.

That he may have his 100 years of life to eat his karma and navigate his destiny.

Incidentally, the day started out very badly for me. My first real taste of sleep-deprived burn out from trying to reshuffle family life and dynamics with a toddler and a newborn infant. The kind of burn-out where you are too tired and on edge to sleep, you know? To wit, I had written a short speech on the way to the ceremony and promptly lost it upon arrival. So, I had to scribble a nutshell version of what I could remember on a scrap of an old bill, explaining the significance of the names we chose…his first name, Sumu, in particular. It went something to this effect:

Sumu is a Finnish nature word for mist or fog. We had thought to give it to Sesam, but when he was born, he came out looking like such the little sesame seed that this nickname we had called him during my pregnancy, had asserted itself on his round little identity. Then when the second boy arrived and we tried Sumu on for size, out of all the other contending names, this one had nestled itself into our hearts and wouldn’t let up.

Now, I’m not sure about you, but when I think of fog or mist, it doesn’t exactly conjure up an atmosphere that is outwardly uplifting at first glance. However, we find that the mystery and existence of precious, hidden things which don’t easily and entirely reveal themselves to you at first to be a powerful metaphor for our yoga lives we are attempting to lead. We often encounter much fog and mist as we navigate along the spiritual path and from my experience, there is a great deal of clarity to be accessed within the cloak of haze, made that much more uplifting and rewarding, once the mist lifts.

We tend to valorize light and such beacons and symbols of optimism and positivity, as we should. And yet, I am drawn towards the spiritual gifts to be found when one has to work to gain the trust of the darker, more subtle, shape-shifting  and shadow side of Light.

And I’ve noticed that Finland and the country’s people often wait in misty reticence, only to slowly reveal an incredible amount of warmth and to establish true, deep and genuine bonds, for those willing to allow the Northern people some time to understand their mysterious ways.

To take a deeper look, indeed even to take a second look. To remain gently alert in the stillness…and to wait. Quietly. For through and within the mist, the treasure of a kind, generous and utterly loyal people are waiting to share themselves with you.

I’m so grateful to all our friends and family for coming together and creating this joyous occasion with us. Which certainly breathed new life into me and cleared the mist I had treacherously been stumbling through just hours before. Truly, I can say that I am richly blessed in the most valuable “currency” there is: all the people I’ve gotten to know and the relationships we’ve formed together. Here in this Suomen Maa.

family pic

P.S Ananda is the Sanskrit word for the joy, happiness, bliss that this little soul brings us and Kamau is a Kikuyu name. Kamau was my father’s brother and it follows to name new family members after other family members, living or deceased. In this way, the new addition to the group will have his or her place within the lineage and the long line of ancestral connections. The Kikuyu parampara.

Om ❤

Labor Land

Hello lovely readers!

I’m so inconsistent with writing this blog that every time I do make it here, I feel I have to address the issue. But whatever, you know, I mean, this is my hobby blog and writing is a hobby, an activity I enjoy doing, so at this point, it’s best to remove the pressure of this platform to be anything more than what it is. And anyway, I’m so grateful for all you 1,466 readers who are currently signed up here, yes I am, believe!

Now that I’ve worked that out for myself, I just want to say, “Hiiiiieeee!” I hope you are all well and enjoying yourselves. Spring time in Finland decided not to come this year, so I’ve been feeling a bit cheated, what to say of all those who soldiered through the full Finnish winter. Due to the timing of my pregnancy, we didn’t go to Mysore this past March since I would’ve been too far along in my final trimester for non-emergency air travel on the return flight. So, you know, one month less in Asia, yes, I guess on some level, the struggle has been real for me as well, lol…

Last fall I ambitiously set out to write a blog post a week and by October or so, that fell by the wayside, like a lone, abandoned mitten. At the start of the new year, I sat down with myself and did some serious reflection on what constitutes as a realistic amount of posts I can write for the upcoming year. I mulled over a monthly post and it pinched too tightly. I tried on once every three months for size and there was a bit more breathing room, but even then, the March month came and went and I was already behind on my lenient deadline. Still, I figure four blog posts in one calendar year, heck, even I can manage that.

But then…

I wondered if turning my blog into a vlog would mean a more consistent presence on my part? I’m not sure, but I’m willing to give it a try. And since I’ve been receiving some feedback and requests about yoga/pregnancy/motherhood from you good yoginis and yogis, well, mostly yoginis in this case, over the months, I figured I’d start by turning it over to you:

Comment below, send a message on my Ai Mami facebook page or email me with your questions/comments on what you’d like me to speak about when it comes to yoga, travelling as a yogi family, pregnancy, birth, motherhood, juicing, yoga pants, body image, self-care, mental well-being, entrepreneurship, life in Finland, race and identity, parenting, black women in comedy, food and diet, podcasts…you know all the subjects near and dear to my heart, with as much or as little levity and/or gravitas as the subject requires. The idea here is to have warm, supportive, real talk about life.

It might take some time to pull up a decent enough video, but it’ll be more motivating to have a specific task to work towards, especially when the social pressure is on a bit.

So lovelies, in case you didn’t know, I’m due to give birth in about ten days. Thank you to everyone who has been reaching out and sending messages of love and care. I haven’t had a chance to respond to all of them yet, as my mind, body and soul have already set sail to Labor Land, or the place where women go to retrieve the souls of their babies and bring them down to earth, but I just want you to know that I appreciate each and every one of you.

I can’t wait to here from you with your questions, comments and requests.

Om and so much ❤

 

One bad-ass mami

Hi friends,

Another late and short post on this Monday evening. Lots of workshop wrap-up yesterday and travel back to the base today, but I’m still determined to get this one out as a response to last week’s post.

Thank you so much for everyone who posted comments on the blog and on Facebook in response to my mother’s post. It seems like it resonated with a lot of people, which is way cool.

My mother is one bad-ass woman. Seriously, she’s such an inspiration, the way she’s delved into this yogic lifestyle, started not in the first flush of youth. And yet, she approaches her asana practice with such consistency and diligence, not for the glory of advancing into more glamorous, eye-catching postures, but for the value of keeping the body healthy and in well-functioning order. I think her mental drive is one her main strengths. She doesn’t make excuses for herself, she never has and most likely won’t start now. She doesn’t use her age against herself as a reason not to give things a go. I mean, she’s not taking mad crazy risks either and injuring herself, but that spark of curiosity that has been blazing throughout her life is very much present.

I think that’s what it is. That spark.

Makes you want to be around her.

May we all practice with enthusiasm and sparkle, no matter the series or posture (or age!).

images om    and  2000px-Heart_corazón

Reflections of an ageing Ashtangi

The following post was written by my mother, Celia Nyamweru. Enjoy!

Ashtanga yoga is a family affair for me – I started practicing after my daughter, Wambui, began to share her life with the highly respected Ashtanga yoga teacher Petri Räisänen. In January 2011 they invited my husband and me to join them at Petri’s retreat on Koh Mak island in southern Thailand. I celebrated my sixty-ninth birthday the following July, when I was at my second retreat, the one run by Petri and his long-time friend and business partner, Juha Javanainen, in Houtskar, south-west Finland. Since then I have attended these retreats every year, usually for two or three weeks.  2016 was the seventh year of my retreats – and incidentally of my seventy-fourth birthday. As I’ve got older and stiffer, I have seen Wambui gain in skill and confidence, both as a practitioner of yoga and as a teacher. She and Petri are now the parents of a 2.5 year old son, Sesam – but I will come back to that later!

The way I have come to understand Ashtanga yoga, your chosen teacher is a very important person in one’s practice, the person to whom one turns for advice and by whom one is given permission to attempt new asanas. I consider Petri to be my instructor, but I only actually practice with him twice a year, during the Koh Mak and Houtskar retreats. During these retreats he makes time available for personal consultations, as well as running group sessions where he addresses people’s questions and demonstrates particular asanas. As his mother-in-law, I feel that I should keep a low profile in these sessions. I try to be very scrupulous about not bothering him with yoga-related questions when we are together at meal times or sharing family time during the retreats. I am a retired university professor and I know how exhausting it can be to run workshops and field trips when one is constantly bombarded with student questions! I am lucky to be able to turn to Wambui for questions about my practice as well – including reminding me of the Sanskrit names of some of the asanas!

During the months between the retreats, I practice at home. I try to practice five or even six times a week, most weeks, and I think this frequent practice is essential as one ages. We are all of us getting older – but obviously there is a difference between ageing from twenty-nine to thirty-four, and ageing from sixty-nine to seventy-four! As I practice, I am constantly aware of my body and how it is changing. I think I have a naturally flexible body, but my upper body strength leaves a lot to be desired. It took me about three to four years to get my legs into full lotus, and I am still working on it! But I find that much easier than Bhujapidasana and Kukkutasana, which remain distant goals.

celia_padmasana1-copy

Balance is said to be a challenge as one gets older, and I look with envy at other people’s perfect Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, though in fact it is the transitions within this asana that I find most difficult; once my leg is out in front or to the side, I can usually remain fairly steady. And in Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, I find I can usually bind if I do so once my head is down, though I cannot bend forward with my hand already binding! In the transition from Kurmasana to Suptakurmasana, I find it almost impossible to bring my feet together, however hard I wriggle them. It is much easier for me to get out of Kurmasana and then go into Suptakurmasana as a new asana. I mention these details to show how I am constantly making concessions and taking small short cuts, which I assume will increase as the years pass. Petri and Wambui are very tolerant and understanding about this!

At the same time there has been progress; there are some asanas that I consider as the benchmarks or hurdles that I use to monitor my efforts. Marichyasana D is one of them (I’m sure I am not the only person who feels this!) I cheat a bit with this one, since I am much stiffer on the first side when one is twisting to the right. My first right hand twist I do with my left foot on the floor; twisting left I can put my right foot on my thigh, first time round. Then I turn back to the right hand twist again and this time put my left foot on my thigh – and I can usually bind, however inelegantly! Another benchmark is Sirsana, which I have been working on very incrementally for the whole seven years. I still need the reassurance of the wall in front of me as I go into the pose, and I still need to go up with bent legs rather than straight legs. But most of the time I do not need to actually feel my feet on the wall before I straighten my legs fully, and I am slowly trying to bring my straight legs slowly down to the floor as I come out of the pose.

Last July Petri suddenly gave me a few second series asanas, which came as a surprise and an added challenge. I had no time to read up on them or to watch anyone else doing them – I was on the mat and following his directions before I realized what was happening! Luckily I was able to consult with Wambui later and also refer to his Nadi Sodhana book for a sense of what I should be aiming at. I don’t think my Achilles tendons will ever allow me to proceed very far with Pasasana, but I am excited to be making tiny improvements in my balance in Bakasana. I take the precaution to put two cushions in front of me in case I plop forward onto my nose, as has happened several times.

Being retired means that I don’t have to rush anywhere after my practice – but during the retreats I find that family life makes some demands on my practice, especially in Houtskar. Juggling a busy professional schedule with care for their son Sesam is a huge challenge for Petri and Wambui, and over the last three years I have been able to make a modest contribution to this. At Houtskar Petri usually goes for his own practice soon after 4 a.m., and I would start my practice as early as possible (before the first group session that begins at 5 a.m.) so that I can be finished before 7 a.m. This allows me time for a quick shower before I take over watching Sesam from Wambui so that she can teach her class; we still have to make sure that each of us has time for breakfast! Later in the day things are slightly less hectic, but I have spent many hours walking with Sesam; first with him in a baby carrier, later in a stroller and most recently keeping him company while he plays in a sand pit.

As I get older, I worry more about injury. So far I have avoided serious injuries, though at times I notice bruises on my upper thighs, probably due to the pressure from Marichyasana B and D! I am extremely cautious with my legs, in particular my knees, moving very slowly in and out of the standing asanas. And when doing some of the seated asanas like Janu Sirsana, I give my knees a kiss now and then to thank them for being there for me! Yoga has made me extremely aware of my body and how it continues to change. I think that the main challenge over the last seven years is that I now find it harder to practice in the early morning as I wake up stiff and sore after the night’s sleep. I broke my left arm in 1999 and my right pelvis in 2009, and the residual stiffness from those injuries is increasingly making itself felt. By mid-afternoon I am warmer and more flexible, though I still find I practice extremely slowly. One of the challenges of doing Mysore practice in a group is the sight of younger people going through their practice so fast – I know one is supposed to keep one’s dhristi in all the appropriate points, but one can’t help noticing some things!

Being part of a group during the twice-yearly retreats means that other people also notice me! Over the years I have built up a group of ‘yoga friends’ from several European countries whom I meet at retreats, and many of them have given me tremendous encouragement about how my practice has developed. They notice improvements that I may not be aware of, since I feel I am always practicing at the limit of my ability. And last summer I also learned something unexpected from one of them; it seems that Petri has been using me as a source of inspiration for older people with remarks like this: “Celia started doing yoga aged 68 and look where she is now; no reason why you can’t do this at the age of 55.” I was a little surprised to find myself used as a role model in this way, but I have to think of it as a compliment! I am sure yoga will continue to be an important part of my own life, of my family life, and a help to me as I negotiate the challenges of living in an ageing body.

celia_kurmasana2-copy

Black Girl Melancholy

Happy Monday morning friends. This is a day late. I was on single-parenting duty all weekend and decided not to stress out with getting the blog out yesterday and enjoy time with Sesam instead. Now the kid is at daycare and I am at Good Life Coffee in Kallio and yes, at this very moment in time, life does feel pretty good. My reward for being patient I suppose 🙂

This past week I had a bit of writer’s block and felt this post only begin to come alive at the playground on Saturday evening. I was pulled out of bed at the lonely, early hours on Sunday morning, the witching hour, it seems. 3 am and I was aflame with spirit and energy. I got quiet enough to be led through all that my guide in my dreamscape wished me to write about. It’s a long one and touches upon a range of subjects so settle in and, as the indomitable Fela says in Shuffering and Shmiling,”You Africans please listen to me as Africans and you non-Africans, listen to me with open mind…”

I wish to write about black girl melancholy. I wish to talk about the profound sense of homesickness and heartache I feel not so much for a geographic place or home, for I have had many, but for a sense of being rooted in deep soil. I wish to write about how I felt like I did a Vipassana meditation course in the daily routine of life itself. At first I thrashed and resisted and hated my situation. I searched for any kind of distraction away from myself. I searched for a way to escape this emptiness so full, so alarmingly all-encompassing because, after going down the rabbit-hole of my own mental trip, what can be at the bottom of all this discontent? Then, by and by, as my mind began to drop away, release its vice grip on the yesterdays and the tomorrows conjured in the “in a few hours, days, weeks, months, it’ll be like this”; in the “I need to be doing something anything else besides this,” a deep, gentle peace began to pervade. A moment to moment nowness and I owed to to myself to give it my full attention.

I kept social media and others distractions to a minimum. Social media is the portal to much inspiration and a diversity of voices that’s so desperately needed in this one-world, single narrative view portrayed in mainstream media: However, as a regular participant myself, both in consumption and production of social media, I find that simply because of what it is, it distorts life. It cleans up and glamourises and beautifies life in a way that is just not true and while I appreciate the number of folk who’re trying to live their social media lives and tell their stories with as much authenticity as possible, by default, social media can never really escape its own distorting self. And so, instead of seeking escape through my phone, I made full eye contact with my single parenting task and single-handedly managed that mofo as best I could. Not perfectly, not even successfully. I ditched the potty-training chart, gold stickers and all, because my kid is not yet about it. I bought some potato chips as a way to bribe my way back into his good graces and guess what? It worked! So, you know not perfect, but fun and good-enough. And if by good enough it meant I had a happy toddler who had Monday morning blues about going back to kindergarten after the nice weekend, then, actually, I really do mean successfully.

And all along, this black girl melancholy had me feeling some kinda way. It’s a special kind of longing and heartache, this craving for sisterhood and true, sustaining friendship with other women of color. I’m not saying you can’t experience it with other women. You can and I have and I do. I cherish my friendships with my women friends. But right now I’m talking about that alchemical moment when you meet a like-minded woman of color…that this may be a friendship for life kind of meeting. It’s rare and so terribly precious. Right now, I’m talking about that forcoloredgirlswhohaveconsideredsuicidewhentherainbowisenuf kinda way. It’s that WaitingToExhale… that Nina Simone dish-water-giving-off-no-reflection sorta thing. It’s that sense of recognition that hey, here is someone who resembles me, there are more of us than I knew.

Now, I came of age in late-90s America, where, for better or worse (but I would say for better) the concept and the experience of race was thrust upon my wide-eyed, impressionable self. It confused me and frightened me, grappling to terms with my intersectional identity of black and woman and not-fully American in my black- woman-mostly-Bantu African body. But ultimately, there were answers to be found amidst the difficult questions I was living. I found my community and felt my little pocket of Black America welcome me into her Boston Collegiate, Chicago house, Afro-Brazilian capoeira and samba arms. I almost never left, so entrenched was I in that part of my life story, but somehow the world abroad wasn’t finished with me yet and I felt the ache, the pull to uproot and understand life elsewhere. Now, close to ten years away from the US and I wonder if I am homesick for those specific places where I felt such a true sense of community? For people and friends that I’ve fallen out of touch with and who surely have not remained as I remember them ? Or am I longing more abstractly for a certain time in my life, which memory paints in such pleasing, nostalgic watercolours? I cannot say, but what I can say is that this need to be represented in the place in which I live grows more than ever. I actively seek out channels where I can hear my voice and see people who look like me. And while, there  are so many quality podcasts and youtube videos and web series created by intelligent, conscious and creative people of color, at the end of the day, they are there, out there, and I am here, here only. Nothing beats a real live community, a face-to-face talk, a live collaboration. Shared lived experiences.

I started to find my homesickness for black America getting bigger rather than smaller after immersing myself in the online community of color creatives. I felt my dissatisfaction with Finland and Europe grow and wished myself away. I still feel myself hovering around other Diaspora stories clamouring to get in. I would say that after the highly visible African American diaspora narratives, the closest ones I can relate to over on this side of the pond are black British narratives. Up to a point thought because I’m not from London or Brixton at the end of the day and the good people there have their own stories to tell. They have their own storytellers weaving tales of marginalisation and gentrification; invisibility and black millennial identity with complete and utter nuance. It’s been really informative to steep myself in some Cecile Emeke, Michelle Tiwo, Shola Amoo and Warsan Shire. Or in the photography of the Afropean, out to prove that Europe is more than just a single voice and colour. Or in the music of Dizzy Rascal who, in my opinion is a bit asleep on certain concepts but whatevs, his experience is his alone and I can still vibe with his infectious energy in small doses.

So all this research into more diverse, global diaspora stories was great and all but what was up with this aversion to being in Finland? What was up with not wanting to speak Finnish as I convinced myself that I am not really even that good at it. Why bother? And it’s true, my Finnish language has stalled of late since I’m Sesam’s appointed god mother of English, but guess whaaat? It’s all in the attitude and man, I’ll be damned if I didn’t put my blood, sweat and grit into attempting a crack at the well-encrypted code of that language in my early Finland years. I cajoled native speakers of Finnish to speak with me and some did, most patiently and graciously, and some didn’t, most understandably. I struggled and kicked and screamed and worked hard and gained enough self-confidence to open my mouth from time to time. My Finnish is not fluent and not grammatically correct. Not even close. I don’t practice it actively enough since I work and write in English. What’s more, I’m not physically in Finland consistently enough to really sink my teeth in linguistically and get my hands dirty. I know, I know, where there’s a will there’s a way, but you know what, my Finnish is good enough for my simple purposes. I can rattle off a few pleasantries at the playground with other mums and grandmothers. I can follow the plot of a children’s TV show with relative success. I can get along in most basic transactions of commerce. It’s like, completely basic and totally good enough. It’s enough. I can gain an entry point on some level. The tyranny of perfection comes to an end now. I stop apologising for, underestimating and diminishing my linguistic accomplishments. I will take my basic ass, good-enough, scrappy, tatty Finnish by the hand as I hold it in the highest esteem. It represents my best foot forward attempts, hopes and wishes for myself here in this land. I’m going to keep code-switching as a legitimate form of verbal communication, a veritable patois and I’ll no longer feel guilty or defeated at needing to use English. My sucky Finnish, I’m proud of you and I love you!

Besides, I’m doing my son a grand favour for life, this gift of bilingualism, and while it comes at a personal cost, a sacrifice, golly, well, I consider this yet another initiation by fire into the embodiment of motherhood. The woman is hibernating and in her place stands a mother. Mothers are the one group where, for better or worse, sacrifice is considered paramount. I find this assumption to be problematic, leaving many women and mothers at risk for wearing a martyr hat that they didn’t particularly want or ask for. However, my truth on this is that sacrifice is inherent in most experiences of motherhood. Some sacrifices are more urgent and unrelenting than others, it’s true, but the element of sacrifice, I feel, is there, be it through the biological processes of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, to the more psychological assumptions of sacrifice down to the day-to-day division of time and tasks. This is not to ask for sympathy or invoke any sort of feeling one way or another. It is what it is. That’s all. What’s more, Nordic and Scandinavian dads are, culturally-speaking, some of the most involved and proactive when it comes to rearing children. What I’m referring to here is the struggle and pull of conflicting choices that many mothers feel themselves needing to make: to work or to stay at home or to try juggling with both? To feel guilty about putting your career first over your family or to suffer career-wise when you decide to put your family first? I feel it’s taken for granted as a shared worldview, this assumption that in order to be a good mum, women will and should sacrifice more of themselves for their children and families oftentimes at the expense of other areas of their lives. Cross-cultural and linguistic limitations aside, I do feel that, more often than not, fatherhood and career is encouraged and facilitated in a way that motherhood and career isn’t. This often means putting a particular sort of nurturing feminine energy on a pedestal while shunning and even vilifying other types of the feminine mystic that don’t fit within the patriarchal ideal of femininity. And this stunted, distorted sense of masculinity and femininity serves only to bind and constrain our inherent humanity.

But now back to being a black girl abroad. I wrote this blog piece in an effort to create my own narrative of blackness and non-Finnishness here in Helsinki itself. Surely, as I watch these groups of children coming and going about their day (specifically referring to that one child of color amongst a group of white Finns) I cannot help but think that it must feel some kind of way, even with native-speaker Finnish and all? Surely I’m not making up some sense of black pride and expression of consciousness raising when I see a trendy and hip guy with an pick in his afro at the metro stop? I’ve stopped smiling at random black folk in public spaces. Actually, that’s not true. I don’t think I can ever stop smiling at black folk, especially in such a homogeneous environment like Finland. However, I’m more cautious now and will suss out the situation before jubilantly striking up contact because I did that once and gave out the wrong message: this black dude’s girlfriend thought I was making a pass at her guy. I was like, “Na girl, not even. It’s a  culture thing. Look it up.” But old dude wasn’t hip to the game either and so I took this as a learning lesson: when in Finland, do as the Finns do, at least most of the time and don’t smile at strangers. It makes me feel a little colder but I suppose this is just par for the course in a reserved society that values its private space. I guess black Finns have their unique code of conduct and culture and identity amongst themselves that is both informed by and distinct from the mighty cultural and musical behemoth of black America. On the one hand, I don’t miss the annoying cat-calling, sexual harassment on the streets and weird comments like, “Smile girl, you should smile more.” I do, however, miss those genuine moments of connection and community that you can so freely and spontaneously witness and participate in, in the US. I miss the impromptu dance circle at a New York subway station, when busy New Yorkers appreciated the street musicians enough to set up a circle and take turns laughing and dancing in the middle before disbanding and continuing on their commute, happier and lighter from the joy of the shared moment. I miss that. I miss that solidarity and shared sense of, “I see you. We’re in this together; living and experiencing this black life in this white lens together.”

And yet, within the questions often lie the answers, or a partial one at that. Next week, I’ll be writing about how I transformed the beauty found in melancholy into something uplifting and creative. I hope you’ll join me to find out how!

As always,

images om and 2000px-Heart_corazón

The delights of daycare and home life

Hi friends 🙂 I hope this Sunday’s treating you all well in your respective parts of the world.

I write this post, yet again, on the road and under the banner of Have Yoga, Will Travel. We’re here, for the first time, in Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia in Central Europe. It’s kind of funny to switch gears and talk about home life in this post, when we’re in that mode of travel when all is novel, exciting and warmly hospitable. Here’s my attempt at it nonetheless…

So yes, Sesam started daycare this autumn and it’s our priority that he gets a fairly consistent amount of home time and daycare this fall, to balance out the nomadic life we lead. I must say that I personally feel like I’m more of a homebody than a born wanderer. Maybe because I’ve been moving around quite a fair bit throughout my own childhood and as a young adult, I always marvel at people who grew up where they were born and have the same friends in adulthood as they did since the first grade or some such set-up. It’s something I find rather enchanting and yet, it’s pretty alien to me; this deep grounded sense of having such strong roots in a physical place.

Ultimately, at this stage Sesam’s ‘home life’ has been one of travel with brief periods at our home base. That’s essentially been his routine and having both his parents together, most of the time, in rotating geographic environs, well, that’s his home life. It remains to be seen how his social needs will differ and change as he grows older and starts to really take notice of his physical surroundings. I will say that from a parent’s perspective, knowing that there will be some time at home after a trip makes me appreciate the travel more. Too much back-to-back travel upon more travel can easily (and has) lead to burn-out whereas the knowledge that there’ll be enough time to unpack the suitcase and settle into a comfortable home rhythm can be a powerful antidote to stress. So, here is my list of the top three things I look forward to when we get back to Helsinki

1. Daycare 

It rocks my world! It seriously does. And gradually I trust that it’s rocking Sesam’s world too. Daycare is not just a place to leave your kids for a designated number of hours per day so you can get work done. It’s an education. I mean, the stuff that Sesam has picked up at daycare, just by watching what other kids are doing and by living up to the expectations of the daycare teachers, at this tender age, is super! Sesam has generally been able to play in a self-directed manner for short amounts of time but after spending his days at daycare, he can happily keep himself entertained for a good-long while. Maybe it’s just that he’s a bit older, therefore his attention span is longer, but somehow I feel like this environment in which kids really learn to play and interact in a social setting is so important and beneficial. He’s also learned to put his toys away after playing with them, which, as you can imagine, is a positive Pandora’s box for this mama! No going back now kid, now that I know you know the concept 🙂 What’s more, I’m happy that for all the time Sesam spends in definitively adult spaces (airports and the like) that now he gets to be in a completely child-centered place for a good amount of the day regularly.

2. Visiting friends and neighbours

While it’s exciting to meet people on the road, having playdates with the same people at home is just as rewarding. We live in an area of Helsinki that’s geared towards families and children, so having your neighbour call you to say that the kids are out in the yard and come join us, gives you that sense of belonging and ease. Taking a quick trip into the city to play in a different playground with your friend and her kids who live in the city centre is a nice way to spend a weekend morning. Accompanying a parent and child on a walk to the next neighbourhood after spending an afternoon at the ‘home playground’ works well on two fronts: getting an engaging adult conversation in and pleasantly passing the lull that comes once the afternoon activities start to wind down but before the evening routine can truly begin. Getting to know other parents with similar-aged children, commiserating on the hard times and sharing each others’ small triumphs and celebrations in parenting, this is the stuff that communities are made of. These are the millions of moments that make up your days as the parent of a young child, and as time passes, your days as the parent of an older child and your days as the parent of a young adult. What a history you can potentially share with those around you, with those whose lives are woven into yours just by the sheer destiny of living in close proximity of each other  and of having become parents at roughly around the same time.

3. Moving with your child’s rhythm in mind

Let’s take a rest with the crazy wake-up times, please. No 3:30am-dressing-your-sleeping-babe-while-still-trying-really-hard-to-not-disturb-him! No more bright airport lights at 6am. At least not for awhile. The ability to slow your day down and simplify what needs to get done is refreshing indeed. Making a little plan, or not making any plans at all, and just going with the feeling and energy levels of your child feels positively merciful after the rigid necessities that comes with the time-management of travel. It never fails to astonish me how it only takes about a day or two before Sesam can slip back into his ‘home rhythm.’ And while he likes to travel and gets excited about being in a new place, it’s also really sweet to watch him move around his room and get acquainted with his toys and books again. I feel this unhurried and ‘smaller’ life at home is the most peaceful and rewarding antidote where we can all let our hair down and settle for awhile. Unpack our suitcases, completely, but maybe not take them downstairs to the garage just yet. It’s too much of a nuisance to get them in and out of the garage with this lifestyle. I’ve accepted that they are part of our decor.

IMG_7175My landmark in Bratislava. As soon as I saw this sign to the orchid shop, I knew home wasn’t very far (Slovakia, 2016)

Let’s see what next week will bring in terms of the post subject. I haven’t quite decided yet, so you’ll have to stick around to find out. I’ve loved getting feedback and comments and I’d like to touch upon what you all want to hear and read about. Please send me questions, ideas or suggestions and I’ll do my best to oblige.

With
images om  and   2000px-Heart_corazón

Five things to make life with a globetrotting toddler easier

Hi friends!

Last week I wrote about some advantages of traveling with a young child. This week, I’ve posted five of the most useful things we’ve learned as a family on how to make traveling less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone involved. So, let’s just jump right into it, shall we? These are in random order, some theoretical and psychological and others super practical which, as always, I hope you find to be of some help 🙂

1. Invest in a good stroller/baby carrier/baby backpack with ‘leash’ 

We’ve used all of the above and they’ve all come in very very handy. When Sesam was very little we carried him in a baby carrier and that was really quite convenient and straightforward when traveling. I used one from an Australian company called hug a bub* which is basically six meters of fabric that you tie around yourself so you ‘wear’ your baby. It worked really well for the first year and then I felt I needed a bit more structure as Sesam got heavier. We switched to a Baby Björn and used that until he was about two. Baby Björn was good in terms of structure but it’s a bit of a pain because it takes up a lot of room and doesn’t really ‘travel’ well. You can’t really fold it and put it away neatly so it get a bit annoying, taking it off, trying to store it in small spaces and putting it back on while in transit.

*I am not sponsored by,  nor do I represent, any of the companies I write about. This is just my own personal experience with these products…

You’ll need to have a good travel stroller that is equal parts durable and equal parts foldable/collapsable. None of those light and flimsy strollers would have survived the streets of India and where have you. At the same time, taking the bigger, smooth ride of a stroller we use at home in Helsinki was also pretty much out of the question. Too bulky and cumbersome to pack and transport. We’ve been very satisfied with the City Mini stroller by Baby Jogger. You can fold and unfold the stroller with one hand (totally excellent!), the wheels are able to manoeuvre well and you can lean the seat back so your kid can take a pretty decent and comfortable nap there.

The most recent addition to my arsenal has been a little giraffe backpack with an attachable tail which I can take a hold of while Sesam wears the backpack. I was hesitant at first to go there since there is this idea that you have you child on a leash which is humiliating and degrading for them, but honestly, I feel very comfortable with the decision to use it. Not only does Sesam feel a sense of responsibility by carrying some of his own toys and having a bag of his own (thereby learning the lesson that we all must pitch in and help by carrying our own belongings) but I just got really tired when he would run off in a crowded public area. And we are in crowded public areas a lot! So I gave it a go and can say that it has made getting from a to b smoother and more peaceful on my part. He’s also bonded with his little giraffe friend 🙂

L1130177 (1)

Sesam points out some graffitti in Porto

2. Don’t compare what your child can or can’t do with other children                            

l’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of this one. Especially when you see younger children sitting in their own chairs, eating on their own and there are no issues (negotiations, pleading, bribery) to speak of. Especially when you hear of parents saying, after reading the bedtime story, they’ll kiss their cherubs goodnight, get up, close the door behind them and leave their children to fall asleep on their own. Man, I can tell you that it’s been challenging on the road for Sesam to learn a toddler’s ‘basic’ skills. There needs to be a certain sense of consistency and repetition in order for kids to begin to take things on and when you are on the road, at least in my experience, much of the work (feeding, putting him down to sleep) is, by default, parentally involved. In this case, you must cut yourself some slack and know that travel adds a certain amount of upheaval to daily home life. Even though you may get tired as a parent doing much of the work you know your child is potentially capable of doing on his or her own, realise that your child is also getting an invaluable education through travel. He’ll learn how to feed himself. He’ll learn how to sleep on his own. He’ll learn everything he needs to learn. It may not be on a schedule that is in line with other toddlers who have more stable, stationary lives in one place, but in the end, kids get to where they need to be. It’s not a race nor will it ever be so inhale, exhale and take it easy. I speak this very much as a guide on the side rather than as someone who is out in the clear. This is an ongoing reality for me 🙂

3. At airports, use family lanes, find a children’s play area, make use of the airport strollers, ask for help (especially if you are traveling solo with kid(s))        

 Nowadays many airports have amenities with families in mind. Some airports have lanes for families so that you don’t have to queue in long lines with squirming children to clear security. Helsinki Vantaa airport is one of them (score!). The usually progressive, family-oriented culture of Denmark sadly lags behind, as to Norway and Sweden. So disappointed was I in the chaotic and thoughtless queuing system at Copenhagen airport that I asked to speak with someone in charge about this situation. It didn’t do much good. The airport representative patronisingly made a show of listening to me and that he would ‘raise the issue’ at the next meeting. Uh huh… I tried on our behalf families, I really did! To be fair, they do have a separate family line during peak holiday season, but for this mama, that’s simply not quite helpful enough.

If there are children’s play areas, these can be your salvation, especially if you have a long layover. The best one we’ve been to, to date, is at London Heathrow airport. There’s a huge diaper changing room with large sinks and lots of counter space. They have three different play areas for children of different age-ranges. Large, soft, squishy  things for the little ones to roll around on; a climbing frame and tunnels and slides for bigger kids; and a separate room with a TV and a billiards table for the tween and teenagers. They have a room with all these weird, dreamlike lights so that your kids can sleep in there. There’s a little kitchen space so that you can warm up your kids’ food and breastfeed in peace.  Seriously, it’s on fleek! Other places pretty much consist of play spaces with some chairs or benches for parents or child-minders, but still, kids are much happier travellers when they can let off some steam and move around. Take advantage of these services. Some airlines and airports also offer strollers once you’ve cleared security which you can use within the terminals. The same kind of aforementioned stroller that wouldn’t survive India generally does very nicely at airports so do make sure to nab one when you can. Lastly, ask for help, especially when you are the only one traveling with your child. I know it might feel a bit weird asking a stranger in a plane to watch your kid while you go to the bathroom. If this is the case, ask the airline hostess for help. That’s what they’re there for, your comfort and safety and it’s important that you speak up if you need to take a mini-break even for just a few minutes. Your child needs you to be in good condition so be sure to take care of yourself throughout the journey and ask for help when you need it. I’ll never forget how fellow commuters gallantly offered to help us carry Sesam in the stroller up and down the labyrinthian stairwells of the London Underground. It’s enough to warm your heart really.                

4. Keep some sense of a general routine but don’t sweat it too much                        

Travel means getting to sleep at odd hours and waking up at even more bewitching ones so this means that a regular bed time is pretty much not going to happen. The thing is, kids are so adaptable that it doesn’t take more than a few days for them to get into the swing of things, even with jet lag. The idea is to try and keep some general sense of when things should get done but do yourself a favour and throw out this sense of a strict schedule. Seriously, you don’t need the added pressure. Sesam tends to be a night owl and he generally can sleep in quite comfortably in the mornings. Naturally there are times when the evening and night get long with him still up but on the flip side,  I can generally get my yoga practice in (or part of it at least) come morning time. Oftentimes I feel that when we are back home, as a culture kids in Finland tend to wake up early, eat early and go to bed early and you know what? That’s okay. It’s also okay to do things a bit differently and establish a routine which works best for your family’s lifestyle.

5. Find parks and playgrounds; keep the activities as child-centered as possible; hang out with families with similar-aged children                      

While you may not be going to museums, art exhibitions or other cultural delights a city may have to offer, another good way to learn about and witness the culture of a place is at parks and playgrounds. For example, in Copenhagen, we saw more daddies at the playgrounds with their kids than anywhere else. We also noticed that dads will very comfortably get a beer and sit on the street patio of a restaurant while minding their children. The best playground we went to was when Sesam just at the beginning of his toddling stage was in northeast London. We got to see a rich cross section of community life in that particular neighbourhood and let me tell you, there’s something about hearing a Russian grandmother speaking to her grandchild, about chatting with one mother from Uganda, about watching Muslim-British kids play football with second-generation-‘from-the-islands’ British kids that makes this whole Brexit phenomenon a bit dismal. Buuut that’s a whole other can of worms…

We’ve been traveling pretty much continuously with our two and a half year old since he was just two months old. The first year or so was pretty straightforward, especially when he still wasn’t too mobile. On planes and other forms of transport, Sesam stayed on my lap quite comfortably, eating and sleeping. It gets a bit trickier when they need to move around, cannot sit still at all and don’t yet have the attention span to do seated activities. I’d say there was an extremely stressful and exhausting time at about 15 months when we were chasing Sesam up and down airline and train aisles. It gives me chills just remembering how awful it was. On this point, I can only offer a huge virtual hug along with my deepest sympathies and say that it does and it will get easier. As a seasoned traveler, Sesam knows the drill and the routines so well now that he is a bit older. Travelling with him has become so much smoother and I can delight in how much he enjoy’s his trips.

All right my dears, that’s all for now. Next week, I’ll post on the wonder and joy of daycare and life at home.

Until then, sending so much Om & ❤ your way…