Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

parenting

I never had any intention of being a parent, for good reasons. One of which is that it is very hard. I want to also point out that it is very, very hard. A third, yet related reason is that it is extremely difficult. I truly don’t think I was meant to be a parent, but my thoughts on the matter are a moot point now.

When my first child was born, he and I were both clueless. I held a genuine tabula rasa. The first few years were magical, staring down at a truly blank slate. There was magic in witnessing this child soak in observations, make correlations, find delight and sorrow. That innocence humbled me, connected me to humanity, taught me unconditional love.

I used to think parenting was hard when we were potty training, or learning to ride bikes, or learning Common Core math. I’ve come to understand perspective is everything. That was just batting practice. This, this right now is what really matters. This is the hard stuff.

As the children grew older, their worlds expanded. From home, to playdates, to preschool, to elementary school. To recreational soccer, to ice skating lessons, to horseback riding lessons. To the movies, to the mall, to sleep-overs.

Along the way, they met people, made friends, learned things. Our little ones, they’re sponges. Their blank slates get filled with each of these interactions. Along the way, they not only pick up athletic skills and new words, they pick up all of humanity. Like it or not, society, family, and friends raise human beings.

They soak up how you cope with a bad day at work. They soak up how you deal with a friend who has betrayed you. They soak up how you don’t notify the cashier that you’ve been given too much change. They soak up how easily frustrated and overwhelmed you get. They soak up how you talk about your mother-in-law.

They soak up how you don’t challenge the friend who told a joke about kids with autism. They soak up how you scream at the tailgater. They soak up how you don’t make eye contact with the homeless man on the corner. They soak up how you allow others to make jokes about you at your expense. They soak up how you take care of everyone else but yourself.

They soak up how movies tell you falling in love is everything, and getting married is the end goal because the movie ends there with soaring music and a sunset. They soak up how reality shows and Instagram tell you what sexy looks like, what popular looks like, what success looks like, what they should look like. They soak up how how awkward kids get treated.

Every moment, every day, they take all these in. And as a parent, you have little control over that. As a parent, you have no control over how they process all that data, how they perceive all that information, how they incorporate it into their world views, belief systems, and sense of self.

As a parent, you can have the uncomfortable conversations about sex and relationships and self-image. As a parent, you can have the conversations about kindness and supporting the underdog and compassion. As a parent, you can model all this appropriate behavior.

But the sponges have soaked in all this stuff that you can’t wring out of them–all these images and beliefs and thoughts and behaviors that you can’t wipe clean from their minds. It is this juncture that is hard. It is this place as a parent where you can’t scream and throw a fit when, not if, your child makes decisions that harm him/herself, behaves in ways that you know you’ve discussed a thousandgazillionbazillion times before, when your child should know better.

Because you know your child is a good child. But good children get confused, or get curious, or get really down on him/herself. Because your child is human. Because life is complicated. Because we all make mistakes. Because some days are better than others.

The hard part is in the sitting and watching, waiting for life to unfold as it will. Waiting, hoping, that this sponge soaked up all the good stuff too, and will sort it all out. Soon. The hard part is in the delicate balance of letting go and holding on. The hard part is bearing witness to all the good and bad and unknown, while not holding on too tightly. Sitting, Waiting, Wishing, like Jack Johnson does so well.

The hard part is providing the space for your child to make mistakes and not rescuing him/her so that your child can take ownership in learning from those mistakes. The hard part is not yelling about that mistake or ignoring it so that it can turn into a true teaching moment. The hard part is waiting to see how that lesson takes hold. Or doesn’t take hold. And the only thing you can hold is the knowledge that you have no control over that. And your breath. You can hold your breath.

The hard part is learning to trust yourself, that you provided a good foundation as a parent, that you did the best you could. The hard part is learning to trust your child, that even when he/she makes mistakes or falters, that he/she will figure it out in the end. The hard part is learning to trust that life will unfold in ways you cannot control, and that “in the end” could mean it takes your child years to grow into an adult to finally figure things out. This terrifies me.

The hard part is remembering that this hopeful but fear-filled time of waiting, of just being, as you watch life proceed–this is a gift. A gift of allowing your child to be the author of his/her own story. Of realizing we all make mistakes and we are not defined by these mistakes. The hard part is knowing where they begin and you end, and holding space for them to hurt and heal and grow. It is in this stillness that the healing and growing occur.

What beautiful gifts: one for you, as you write your own story of bearing witness to a life unfolding, and one for your child, to have his/her own byline to his/her own story. What a gift, to write stories where the sky is not falling, to write stories of resilience, self-forgiveness, and self-kindness. What a gift, to show your children that they have the power to introduce the character actors Grace and Lovingkindness into their storylines. This gift-giving: beautiful, hard, brutal, wondrous.

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Harvey and a Clockmaker

 

HurricaneHarvey, Hurricane Harvey, #HurricaneHarvey, Houston, death, family

My paternal grandmother died almost 15 years ago. I accompanied my father back down to Texas to gather her belongings, bury her, and settle her estate. I was born there, but had not been back since I was a very young child. It was odd to recognize so much of the physical surroundings, like they were a part of my psyche, yet not know it like it was home.

I discovered I was pregnant when I came back home. The discovery felt surreal. Almost like it was a circle of life thing. One generation passes away, another generation is born. It was the beginning of a time of expansion for our family. I had two children, my sister had a child. Cousins were born.

Through time, my maternal aunts and their husbands passed away. My mother passed away this summer, leaving one sister left on her side of the family. My mother’s death hit my father very deeply. He had just regained his appetite when it started to rain.

It’s still raining. They’re still in rescue mode in Houston. They don’t know how many people have been displaced, and how many people have died. They do know my father’s youngest brother, my uncle, was one of the first fatalities of Hurricane Harvey. They found his body in his flooded store 14 hours after the rains started.

I was alerted to the mention of his death making the front page of the Washington Post this morning. I logged on, and gasped. He looked just like my father. My whole life, up until I saw him for the last time 15 years ago, he looked slimmer, darker, younger. Life has a way of catching up to you and making you honest in your elderly years. The day he died, he looked just like my father.

I stare at my computer screen, and I see my father in that face. I read about his clock shop–a store my father started and owned when we were children. I remember growing up in the storerooms until we were old enough to work out front behind the register. And by “old enough,” that was about 8 years old. I wonder if my poor math skills contributed to my father never making much of a profit.

I’m realizing it’s the end of that chain of clock stores that raised me. My father’s doppelganger reminds me that my father may very well be next. I’m witnessing the fabric of my family start to unravel. In a few years my children will leave this house, and we will have buried a few more relatives in that time period I’m sure. One by one, slowly unraveling.

This unraveling feels very fast these days. It reminds me of how each person, each event created the fabric of my own being. There’s a fear of my own stitching unraveling now too. This reminds me to take perspective, that self-care is important, that lovingkindness to others is important. That your profession is probably not worth your life.

Though my last trip to Texas felt like the continuation of circles of life, it no longer feels like a continuation. I’m of the age now where it just feels like fewer and fewer people in old family photographs are around to tell us about that party or that trip or that joke. As the photographs fade, as the fabric of my family unravels, I worry about my father. His soul gets heavier with each loss, as his connections lighten with each loss.

I try to remember this could also be reframed as life continuing on as it will, as it does. And that the fabric of our families, of our beings, continue to be stitched and unraveled each moment in different ways. In many of those ways, we cannot control. I try to remember it’s not necessarily a destruction, but just a change. And change can be difficult because we are human.

It will stop raining. The flood waters will recede. A body will be buried. A store will be cleaned out. My father will go home and continue to stitch.

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The Natural Order of Things

death, parent, adult parent death, natural order of things, grief, funeral

I tell myself this is the natural order of things. This is the way it should be. Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier. Your brain understands this. Your heart protests.

You’re born into this world with unshakable tenets. Such as, the sky is blue. Such as, falling on the pavement hurts. Such as, cold ice cream on a hot day is magical. Such as, you’re born to parents who help you navigate through the hallways of your home. Parents who teach you how to navigate down the paths of your life. Parents who watch you slowly drift away to create your own life. Separate, yet tethered.

And one day, one of the strings breaks, and you find yourself flapping in the wind a bit lopsided. This is the way it’s supposed to be–you’re supposed to bury your parents, not the other way around. It’s tragic when parents bury a child. This is how life unfolds, they tell you, this circle of life.

Is this how it’s supposed to be? A life stopped suddenly and everyday objects left askew like Pompeii artifacts? Her handbag draped easily over the chair. Her last load of laundry folded neatly at the foot of her bed. Her lipstick perched on the bathroom countertop. Everywhere I turn, she is there. Yet everywhere I turn, she is not there. And she won’t be ever again.

It’s strange to reconcile this juxtaposition in each moment of the day, in every moment of the day. Because she lived here. But she doesn’t live anywhere anymore in these moments today, tomorrow, next week. Next Thanksgiving, next Christmas, next birthday. She is here, but she’s not here, and she won’t be here. It’s a strange assault of being overwhelmed with this contradiction, yet feeling a void of nothing, an absence of feeling, a numbness.

It’s strange to live moments and make memories without one of your life pillars. It’s strange to watch your mother lowered into a deep hole in the ground. It’s strange to comfort your father and your sister some moments, and wonder where the wailing noise is emanating from the next moment. (The answer is you, the wailing is coming from deep inside you, from a place you did not know existed.)

It’s strange to hear stories about her childhood, her past, her other roles in life. It’s strange to integrate all this new knowledge of someone you thought you knew intimately, and end the day with a new understanding of her. It’s strange to step back and see the bigger picture of her personhood and life and impact, because nothing more will be written about her; she has no more stories to live out. It’s strange to summarize your mother’s 79 years into a five minute eulogy.

I understand this is the natural order of things. My heart protests.

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“Music is What Feelings Sound Like”

drums, rock band, life lessons, music, musician

Reason #79 why I love my band: Their sense of humor–not everyone would agree to referencing blood sausage in their band name.

This motley crew who gather weekly with me are my Church. Which is strange because one is Jewish, I’m not a religious person, and there’s a good chance the other three are atheists. Church, to me, is where I feel my spiritual God. The beach and the ocean are Church for me too, and there’s no crucifix in sight.

Church to me is where my soul settles and is home. Church to me is where grace and redemption and kindness are offered, no purchase necessary. Church is the tribe of people who remind me, through their example, to be patient and kind and gracious. Church is where truth lives, and love and acceptance are given unconditionally. Church is the space that encourages me to be vulnerable and authentic and take risks, and is the soft space that allows me to fall and falter and fail. And they let me come back the next week after I’ve shown them I’m human and flawed.

I’ve discovered making music is holy. Making music with others is magical and mystical and awesome. To this day I’m in awe that I can keep a steady beat. When I can contribute to something that resembles a familiar song, I’m ecstatic.

Despite said ecstasy, I am not at all talented and still cannot count. It still requires a great deal of practice and work on my part. Our guitarist literally listens to a song once, and plays it. I lack that gene. So this band provides me the opportunity to keep practicing and working hard at a craft that fills my soul. This band also provides reminders and opportunities to practice life lessons.

You can’t hurry past parts of the song or life: When I’m practicing a song, I get really irritated sometimes when I just want to get to that really tricky part. Sometimes I just want to rush through the chorus and get to that bridge, but I know I need to practice the entire song so the transitions flow and I get a better sense of the song. Sometimes in life I find that I’m trying to rush or force things, or wishing parts would speed by. This reminds me to stay right where I am in the moment and take things as they come. I’ll get to where I will be when I’m there. I always do.

You’re never really “there”: A funny thing happens when I’ve mastered a song. By funny, I mean it bewilders my band. We’ll have a period of time where I can play pretty solidly. Until I don’t. Part of my charm is suddenly becoming inconsistent in weird places and at odd times. They don’t know what to make of it and it throws them off. I smile, apologize, and offer to buy the next round of drinks.

In life I’ve worked hard at staying in the discomfort, in doing hard things, in doing scary things, in taking risks. With each life event, it seems to be a little easier, there’s a sense of mastery. Until things go south or I’m in a super vulnerable spot. And I’m reminded we’re never really ok with endings, we’re never really ok with getting hurt or disappointed. We’ll always have varying degrees of self-esteem/sense of self issues. I’m reminded feeling vulnerable isn’t a mastery one achieves and you never feel vulnerable ever again. You don’t conquer it and leave it behind, never to feel vulnerable again. You can get to a point of being willing to take more risks, but it still feels scary. You get to a point of being able to cope with discomfort in less painful ways. You get to a point of loving your body and still having moments of feeling not skinny enough. There’s always opportunities to practice.

Listen to your gut, don’t let others shake your confidence: I’ve stumbled on my current favorite song to play. Because it’s a Guns N’ Roses song. Because there’s a lot of different parts to it. Because I figured out how to play it all by myself. Playing that song makes me so proud and happy. I played it solidly for weeks, until I became wildly inconsistent. I realized I was having trouble counting because our singer had jumped in at different times and I was trying to meet her where she was. But in that, I lost my confidence in my own counting and playing and no longer trusted where I thought we were in the song. I’m reminded I need to go with my gut and not let others shake my faith in myself.

Balance: Yet at the same time, I can’t just be an asshole and ignore the rest of the band or we sound like shit. That’s called branching out to be a solo act. Technically they have to follow my lead even when I mess up. But I’ve learned we sound as good as our weakest link. We need to work together to make sure we as a band sound good. So it’s a balance of doing my own thing, but staying mindful of where everyone else is at, and making adjustments if needed. If our singer has missed a verse and jumps to the chorus, we’re all meeting her there. If I stayed in my own lane and kept drumming to what was right, it’s pretty obvious pretty quickly something’s not right. It’s a nice reminder of the balance of doing my own thing, and simultaneously being a good citizen and working towards the common good.

So I’m sticking with this particular tribe of mine, this one I call my band, and it’s not just for the money. I love these opportunities for making magic, for practicing mindfulness, for doing hard things. And quite frankly, there’s not really a career path for solo drummers. Especially for those who can’t count.

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Cosmic Perspective

Northern Lights, aurora borealis, Iceland

Perspective is everything. We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.

I try to remember perspective and gratitudes, and how important both are for my sanity, ability for acceptance, and sense of peace. It’s not always easy, because life gets in the way. I’ve found though, that it’s important to be mindful to seek perspective when in the midst of anger, or disappointment, or irritation.

A recent evening in Iceland provided a rich opportunity for this practice. (By that, I mean it was a complete shit show). When I travel with the kids, I try to keep expectations low and plans fluid. We were four days into the trip, and so far everything had been outstanding beyond belief. The landscape was just breathtaking. We were meeting lots of new, fun friends. We were having amazing adventures hiking glaciers and walking behind waterfalls and going down into lava and ice caves.

We were also spending our nights under heavy cloud cover. No possibility of Northern Lights. Until one night, it looked like there might be a slim possibility. The kids and I explored the city and mulled our options over dinner. They were intent on seeing Northern Lights. So we decided to go for it. We popped into a tourism office as they were closing. Somehow I ended up paying more than three times what I had expected for the last remaining seats on a small van because everything else (cheaper large bus tours) had quickly sold out.

I love being spontaneous. Until I’m not dressed for the elements. And waiting an hour in the snow for the bus. Holding leftover miso soup from dinner that La Chica insisted I must bring back to the room. By the time we were picked up for the drive out to the National Park to search for Northern Lights, I was already a little grumpy.

The hours pass. The temperature drops. The winds pick up. The children get tired and cold and cranky. The soup gets spilled all over me so all 15 of my fellow tourists get to smell eau de ginger miso soup for the next 4 hours. I’m left with frozen fingers, only a cellphone camera, a Boy who refuses to get out of the van, and La Chica who is dead asleep. I’m a couple hundred dollars lighter. And a bit more than a little grumpy at 2am.

I decide I’m going to make the most of my few hundred dollars and I force myself to stay outside as long as possible. I decide I’m going to try to take photos on my cellphone even though everyone else with DSLRs and tripods tell me it won’t work. I decide to show them I’m just as stubborn as the aroma of soup is.

I learn from our very kind tour guide that the faint light wisps in the night sky aren’t delicate cirrus clouds, but are actually the Northern Lights. I learn from a kind tourist that this is usually what people see, faint white or light green swaths of light that really look like faint clouds. And if you stare long enough, the shapes and intensities shift and change–and that’s when they’re dancing.

I start to take pictures of the dark sky, and I’m stunned. I learn from these kind people that the lens of the camera pick up colors our eyes cannot detect. So I keep taking pictures with my stupid cellphone, and I see blues and greens and pinks.

I’m reminded that what we see in life depends on what lens we’re looking through.

I’m reminded there is light in the darkness.

I’m reminded that had I not paid too much for this intimate tour, I would not have learned how to see the Northern Lights, I would not have seen such magical colors and forces of nature, I would not have learned how to take pictures of these elusive lights. I’m reminded perspective is everything. I could continue to be grumpy about the price and the cold and the soup and the fatigue. And I had every right to be grumpy about each one of those things.

Or I could switch lens. I could see things as the person I want to be. I could be grateful for such an opportunity to learn to see the lights, to actually experience the lights, to have the opportunity to practice perspective. And I’ll be damned if I’m not grateful I recently upgraded my cellphone and apparently have a pretty kick-ass camera in it.

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Walking with Bad Decisions

bad decisions, grace, parenting

Recently I received a note letting me know My Child had made a Bad Decision. It took my breath away. Intellectually, we know our children are human, and will make Bad Decisions. We know we each made our fair share of Bad Decisions, and we still do to this day because we’re human. But when the note comes home and this Child’s Bad Decision leaps from your Intellectual Mind to your Real Life Soul, it takes your breath away.

The disappointment, anger, and sadness walk in and settles onto the couch and dares to put their feet up on the coffee table. I’m a yeller, I do it well when these friends come over. So the kids and I came to an agreement years ago. If they had something to tell me but were afraid of being yelled at, they were to warn me, “I have something to tell you, don’t yell.” And it works. I just need a warning and a moment to inhale deeply and steel myself.

We came up with this arrangement because I want my kids to come talk to me about hard things, when they’re having hard times, when they’re in a bind and need a safe place to land or a safe hand to pull them out of a situation.

So I waited for My Child to come tell me about the Bad Decision. I waited and waited, and I realized the Child was not going to tell me. So we went for a walk. Because forward movement helps process thoughts. Because not having to look each other in the eye makes talking about hard things not so hard. Because being in nature helps us to remember to breathe deeply. Because being in the world provides perspective. Because it’s harder to end or avoid a conversation when you’re far from home and still need to walk back. Mothers know how to create a captive audience.

My parents and my Asian culture operate in a world where shame is their currency. Disappointments and anger are thrust upon you dripped with shame. Shame is the belief you are bad, you are a mistake. Guilt is the belief that you did something bad, you made a mistake. So I grew up believing I was my mistakes, I was bad, broken, not good, not worthy. It took a long time to understand I’m broken, AND worthy. That I make mistakes, AND I’m good.

So I knew the Child and I had to keep walking so that Shame didn’t catch up to us, and so that we could talk about making mistakes. We sat by the lake with our friend Grace, and created a safe place to talk about our values and how pressures and stress and fears create opportunities for struggling to do the next right thing. We talked about how things don’t always end up the way we want, and it can be heartbreaking, and we survive. We talked about how it was important to have a safe space to circle back to when things don’t turn out as we hoped, when we didn’t do the next right thing, when we’re faced with the natural consequences of bad decisions.

We talked about self-care, and doing the best we can, with each decision. And some days are better than others. We talked about making amends, forgiveness, redemption. We talked about how this was just the beginning of the long journey of life, where the Child will be faced with so many more opportunities to make decisions, and some will be harder than others.

I don’t think the Child expected a Fairly Calm Mother, I think the Child expected the Yeller. I know I didn’t expect the Fairly Calm Mother. But I just remembered how it felt, so many times, to feel full of shame, to feel I was bad, to feel I was the mistake. And I knew perpetuating that family dynamic was not the next right thing. And I found that it wasn’t so difficult to offer grace and acceptance because I knew anger and admonishments would not create a learning opportunity, would not create a connecting opportunity, would not model to the Child who I want to be, who I want them to be. I knew that blaming language does not solve problems, talking about solving problems solves problems.

I think of all my Bad Decisions, and how truly fortunate I am that my life did not swerve off a cliff. I think of how much time and energy was wasted in thinking I was the mistake, instead of learning from the mistakes I made. I think of all the grace and love and redemption I was fortunate to receive from friends and loved ones in the face of my mistakes. I want my kids to act like the people they want to be. I want them to see me act like the person I want to be. I want to be the safe place for them to come to.

There are the natural consequences of the Bad Decision the Child must deal with. The judgment on the side is optional though. Today we chose to deal with the appropriateness of the Bad Decision, and leave it at that. Today we chose to remember you can be a good person and make bad decisions. Today we chose to walk with Grace instead of Shame. I hope these are the kinds of walks we will continue to have with Bad Decisions, because we’re human and it’s what we do. Some of our best stories come from Bad Decisions, after all.

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The Truth About Snowflakes

snowflake, liberal, politics

Being called a “snowflake” these days is supposed to be a derogatory term, insinuating someone is so delicate they get offended too easily. Being a “snowflake” is supposed to mean someone feels so special and unique they are entitled to special treatment. Being a “snowflake” is supposed to mean someone’s not resilient.

It’s being used now to label and dismiss people who do not support the nation’s current administration and do not support this administration’s actions and agenda. Here’s the truth though about snowflakes. Don’t underestimate snowflakes even though they may look gentle and delicate in nature.

You find snowflakes in the fiercest of weather conditions and circumstances, and that’s precisely when they shine. Get enough snowflakes together, and they can wreak havoc, they’re a force to be reckoned. Blizzards, avalanches, slippery roads, school/work closings. Snowflakes, at the core, are just water particles, and they can take many forms that can change land formations–cold harsh ice, strong tidal waves, pouring freezing rain, hard sleet. Anyone exposed to harsh winters knows to respect snow. Work with the snow, and it is beautifully breathtaking and fun. If you don’t respect the nature of snow, accidents abound and you’re cold and miserable.

When the landscape is blanketed with snow, there’s a sense of peace, tranquility, hope–millions of snowflakes coming together to do what they do naturally.

Don’t underestimate a snowflake, and what one snowflake is capable of. And certainly do not underestimate the power of millions of snowflakes together. The weather forecast is calling for one hell of a snowstorm.

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