Motherhood In The Himalayas
By Maggie Doyne, CEO and founder of the BlinkNow Foundation, which provides schooling and a home for orphaned, impoverished, and at-risk children in Nepal. The organization also provides community services to reduce poverty, empower women, improve health, and encourage sustainability and social justice. Learn more at BlinkNow.org.
As the mother to 50 children, my journey to motherhood was different than most. It began when I was just 19, on what was supposed to be my gap year between high school and college. After several months of traveling through many different countries, I found myself in remote Nepal. I was immediately struck by the terrible effects of years of civil war, and the living conditions of the children stopped me in my tracks. So I made the decision to stay. I threw out my plans to go to college, and put my life savings into a piece of property in the foothills of the Himalayas. I wanted to create a safe home for orphaned children where we could live as a family, together. And so my journey to motherhood began.
Like most first-time mothers, I was completely unprepared. I needed money and advice and all the help I could get. I read every single book I could get my hands on, and I worked so hard the exhaustion almost overwhelmed me. I was lucky to have an incredibly solid Nepali team around me. Our journey has not been easy, and at times it’s hard for me to believe that I have so many kids at just 30 years old.
I’ve learned so much about creating a non-profit, running an organization, and building community. But this Mother’s Day, I want to talk about being a mom — possibly the hardest part of it all. And definitely the most rewarding. Here are the things I try to remember every day to get me through this motherhood thing.
Have daily rituals. Sometimes our house with 50 kids is absolute mayhem, as you’d expect, which is why we try so hard for rhythm and order whenever we can. Every day something unexpected is thrown at us — my 7-year-old is late to school because she can’t find one of her shoes for the 17th time, or one of my teenagers has started wearing a hat pulled low over one of his ears because he thinks it’s hiding the piercing he got in secret without my permission. But every night we have the comfort of our family “satsung” ritual. This is where we all sit in a circle and talk about our day, sing songs, and have some quiet breathing time to think about what we’re grateful for, like the fact that the shoe miraculously turned up on the ledge outside a second story window. Watching my teenagers dance and sing cheerfully, I forget about the earrings. For at least an evening.
Value experiences over things. Even though there is always another Real Madrid jersey my sons are eyeing in the market, our nonprofit budget (like any family’s income) is tight. To help me stick to my own spending limits, I try to focus on our experiences together. As often as I can, I ring the bell hanging in the middle of our yard and yell, “FAMILY GAME!!” at the top of my lungs. The kids come running and we jump into a round of freeze tag or capture the flag together. I’m definitely one of the most competitive members of the family, but the kids are always very forgiving when I beat them in a game of Monopoly. Whenever we have a break from school, we make a “bucket list” of all the experiences we want to have on vacation. It can be a lot of work to fit in all the swimming trips and singing competitions and pizza nights before school starts up again, but I always make the effort. These are the things I want my children to look back on their lives and remember.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. This is a tough one for me, but I try really hard to keep things in perspective. We hang our laundry in the sun on the roof of our house, and no matter how many times I tell the kids to bring their clothes down as soon as they’re dry, the roof always becomes a war zone of scattered shirts and socks for days afterward. Sometimes it makes me want to scream (and sometimes I give in to that urge), but I try to take a deep breath and remember the big stuff: we have clothes. We have water to wash the clothes. We have kids who wash their own clothes by hand every week with no complaints. We’ve got this.
Make time for fun. Sometimes it feels like all my unread emails and all my to-do list tasks are following me around all day, tugging at my sleeve and distracting me from everything else. But when I catch myself feeling way too busy and overwhelmed, I drop what I’m doing for ten minutes of fun. I call the girls into my room for a Taylor Swift dance party at full volume, or I grab the nearest ten kids for a trip to town for ice cream. I try to find one small window of time when I can focus 100% on my children.
Find “Mom-ents”. It’s definitely difficult to find time for each individual child in a home with so many kids. I try to take a moment and have a connection with each of them individually each day. Sometimes it’s in passing on the stairwell with a, “Do you know how much I love you?” or gushing over someone’s lost tooth or admiring a particularly creative French braid or giving an extra snuggle before bedtime. As busy as the days get, I always try to make time for hugs, for kisses or, as Maya Angelou would say, for “making sure your eyes light up when your child enters the room.”
Be grateful for my village. I am nothing without my team. I feel lucky to have the most amazing people surrounding me, both here in Nepal and around the world. Motherhood is raw, it’s hard, and it can be ugly. There are times when I have no idea what I’m doing (my oldest are big enough to move out now? when did that happen??) and times when I have to walk away (the laundry, the laundry, the laundry!!), and that’s when I lean on my team for help. I’ve learned that I’m happy to do lice checks with the little kids, but morning room checks are better left to one of my other caregivers. I’ve learned that there is a wonderful network of people who have gone through this before that are happy to help if we ask.
Thank you for reading my thoughts on motherhood. I would love to hear the important lessons you’ve learned as a mother. Please share your insight in the section below.