Anxious men in the passenger seat

wife driving

Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff”

There are certain things you remember about your childhood that were an integral part of growing up. For me, one such thing was that funny little tomato-red Daihatsu Charade that we once owned. The car was a 1985 model that Dad had purchased refurbished, which meant we became its owners some 10 years after it was born.

It made funny noises when you drove it (stick-shift) and the trunk closed with an earth-shattering jolt. Pulling the windows up and down was good exercise for the biceps and if you got lucky, the air conditioner would sometimes work. This strange object, however, came in handy when I wanted to learn to drive.

After a few lessons of the basics, I decided to take my parents out for a ride. Bad idea, I know. Dad was a bundle of nerves as I took the car outside the gate, and he covered his face with his hands. A car sped along in the opposite direction and he jumped. “Can’t you see that car?” he said frantically. “We are on the other side Papa, please relax,” I told him.

Mum murmured in agreement from the back seat. Dad ground his teeth. I tried to laugh valiantly but found this first ride with him distinctly confidence-draining as I tried to reassure him that everything would be fine.

We were driving along the main road happily and I could sense him relaxing just a tiny bit. It was almost as though he had resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn’t look up much and we would all make it home in one piece. I was pleased that he wasn’t quite as excited as before and things started to get a little more pleasant. We finally turned home and as everything had gone well without any trouble whatsoever, I decided this was my time to speak. “Well, I’m quite okay driving, aren’t I? Look at you guys, you don’t trust me at all!”

Dad almost looked sorry and he was about to say something, but I’ll never know what it was because at that precise moment I banged the rear of the car while reversing into our unopened front gate, which I had presumed was open. Typical. Dad felt vindicated and the “I told you so” lecture that followed was positively grating. Fast forward a few years and I drive every day, sometimes for long distances. It has become second nature. I would even say that I enjoy it (minus the traffic, of course) and ferrying the girls around town is part of my job description. Yet, my husband recoils with apprehension every time he sits with me in the passenger seat.

We are driving to the airport to drop him off. “Change lanes, we need to take the next exit,” he says. I roll my eyes. “Thanks, but I kind of know the way,” I respond coolly. He shrugs. When I finally do change lanes he shakes his head in despair and wonders how much to say because he is travelling after all and making up over the phone might prove a little tricky. He (wisely) restrains himself from speaking about the details of my lane-changing abilities, but I notice from the corner of my eye, he looks extremely stressed. I don’t know about you, but the men in my life generally hyperventilate when I’m driving.

I enjoy speeding every now and then (the engine roar is so satisfying) but sadly my husband doesn’t agree. “No wonder the fuel costs as much as it does and do you realise how unsafe this is?” he says pointedly as I let it rip. I slow down because we need to pick up something on the way and the only parking available near the grocery store is parallel. Herein lies my real test. I take a deep breath and try it — five times out of ten I manage to do it and at other times, the car just doesn’t seem to obey. Sadly, this time the car ends up jutting out at a strange angle and he smiles vindictively. “You bribed them to pass your driving test, didn’t you?” He breathes easy and I scowl. He picks up the grocery and then knocks at my window. “I’m driving,” he tells me.

The man who looked completely distraught moments ago is now happy and relaxed and shows the girls how we take off in an aeroplane by going full throttle and making the engine thunder. My eyebrows almost disappear into my hairline. It’s nostalgic. I remember that red Charade and Dad. I smile wryly. Until he learns to relax in the passenger seat, I really don’t mind being chauffeured around by my man, especially if there’s parallel parking around.



Life lessons after nine years of marriage

Originally written for:

Life lessons, every step of the way

Life lessons, every step of the way

So it’s been nine years since we tied the knot. It seems like only yesterday I stumbled awkwardly towards the stage in impossibly high heels, struggling with the dress and wondering why you couldn’t get married in jeans. As a kid I had always told my family, “I will get married in jeans and a T-shirt!” Needless to say, things don’t always go according to plan, and if I were to say that the last nine years have been anything I could have imagined or planned out, I would be lying.

I will take this opportunity to reflect on some of the most valuable lessons that I hope to have absorbed over the past few years. It should be noted that this article is not in any way marriage advice, simply because the person writing it is still a work in progress and is in no way qualified to give it. It is in fact a mere contemplation of my own understanding of relationships.

Easily the most important lesson that comes to mind is: it’s not always about me. Once you get that abnormally large obstruction called ‘ego’ out of the way, you are open to admitting your own misgivings, learning and moving on. And when you look beyond yourself, you begin to understand the other person. It takes a lot of emotional depth to not judge a person who behaves badly. There are days when arguments spiral out of control, times when it appears that people are picking on you without a reason. On days like those, for a moment stop thinking about how unbearably wronged you feel. The other person might have had a disastrous day, try putting yourself in their place. And oh – if you learn to forgive, you’d save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress and probably a few white hairs too.

Living in the same space with another person requires a tremendous amount of adjustment. You both need your space, and the freedom to pursue your hobbies without the interference or involvement of your spouse. Adjustment also means putting up with your partners quirks – there comes a point when you stop complaining about your partner’s habits simply because you have realised the importance of having a harmonious household. You stop making those snide comments about the unmade bed not because you’ve stopped caring about it but mostly because you don’t want your children to see you bickering over little things. You let the little matter of him not putting the sugar bowl back slide, too. You’re not always quiet though – you’re just more choosy about when your open your mouth. You pick your battles. You can certainly make yourself heard when it really matters, and with good effect too!

If I were to take this discussion further and enter the realm of that inexplicable feeling called love, my input on that would be far too sarcastic and cynical to be palatable. Suffice it to say that in a relationship, what you give is what you get, and especially when you start out, invest in your bond in a positive way. By invest I mean learn to tolerate the other person, be decent, try to get along – and brownie points if you smile when you do that! 

Possibly the single greatest factor in making me positive when things have looked bleak is learning to be thankful for my blessings. It’s easy to overlook blessings such as eyesight and a warm bed, and it’s easy to forget that you are better off than millions of others. Life is full of ups and downs and when you hit rock bottom, remember that it could have been worse. That realisation gives you the strength to go on, and it helps you stop wallowing in that pit of ugly comfort called self-pity. Learning to be happy, staying happy and letting your contagious feeling of positivity spill over others is a win-win for everyone.

I’d like to conclude with the thought that it’s still early days and I am learning. With every day, I discover new reasons to be happy and hopeful and conversely, I stumble upon reasons to be the opposite.

The road ahead seems anything but simple and I fall frequently and embarrass myself with painful regularity. It’s nice to have a hand to lift you up when you do fall, and it’s nice to know that there is someone you can count on. Life, despite its overwhelming (scary?) sense of responsibility is infused with meaning and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Here’s to many more happy, meaningful, and satisfying years together.