Friday, March 23, 2018

The Challenge of Trusting Our Children

My 10-year-old has been getting into the habit of uttering these two words to me lately: Trust me.

Whenever he wants to do something that he knows I'm predisposed to disagree with, he will say those words with his serious, assuring tone. Trust me.

"Noah, why don't you do your Reading homework now so that you can sleep early tonight?"

He'd say something like, "Don't worry, Mama. I just need to finish this round for now (a video game) and can still do all that before bedtime. Trust me."

Or anytime he senses I'm nervous about him being out, or him doing something that falls under my 'dangerous' category (which is most likely not really dangerous), he'd say those words. Trust me

Yesterday, he insisted on walking to school with his best friend. Since best friend lives about half a mile away, we compromised and agreed I'd drop him off at his friend's house and from there, they could walk to school together. Then the list of reminders: don't be oblivious, keep walking, and then send me a short text message as soon as you get to school. 

After about 30 minutes, I started wondering why he hadn't texted me yet. And then this...(P.S. the media file he sent me was a photo showing me that he and his friend stopped at a spot to 'hang out')...

I laughed with the 'they didn't get abducted' bit, as he justified how his two friends used to hang out exactly at that spot where they were, of course further illustrating my son's familiarity with my paranoia.

Did you notice how he said 'trust me' twice during our exchange?

Trusting someone, if you think about it, translates to mainly two things: trusting that the person is 'able' (trusting in his abilities), and trusting that person's judgment or nature. 

The ability component can further be broken down into two aspects. To trust someone is to trust that they know what they're doing and that they'll know what to do when something goes wrong, or that they can cope with the situation or mitigate a problem.

The nature or judgment component of trusting someone is about trusting that they won't do anything bad or that you can trust their moral compass or their capacity for discernment. 

Trust, as we all know, is built or earned. It's not something randomly deserved or haphazardly granted. 

If that is the case, there is only one way for anyone to know if someone can be trusted and that is by giving it slowly. You have to let go little by little in order to see if someone is worthy of your trust. You can't be like a job opening to new graduates requiring prior job experience in the field. If no one is willing to hire a newbie, how can said newbie ever get the experience required by everyone else?

How can someone show they can be trusted if they've never been let go before; if they've never been allowed to be in situations to prove their trustworthiness?

It's never easy for parents to let go of their children. And we can't say it's not them we don't trust, but everyone else around them. That's a crappy excuse because it still points to you not trusting your child's ability and discernment to deal with others. There really isn't any excuse. It's either you are willing to let go and trust, or you're not. 

My son is 10. I am realizing more and more each day that I have no other choice than to keep extending the leash and loosen the reins. Objectively speaking, he has given no prior indication of being irresponsible, undisciplined, and reckless. I know he can be trusted. I'm just not sure if I can trust myself as all this unfolds. Would I be able to calm my fears and honor this inevitable process? Will my heart be strong enough to let go?

I think that is the real crux of the matter. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Watching Your Baby Grow: Excitement or Fear?

Fear and Excitement...Excitement and Fear...I've been vacillating between these two for a while now, and more often than before as I'm struck deeply by the realization that my only child is inching towards the teen years. 

Today, he's on a field trip to this interactive simulated town where students get hands on learning on how it is to be workers, entrepreneurs  and simply how it feels to be part of the economy. These kids had to learn financial literacy and apply for jobs in the week preceding this field trip so they all have roles to play and be equipped once they get to their 'town'. My son ended up being CEO of the UPS store. 

Excitement and Fear...I wonder how he'll be once he starts with his first real job. I'm happy he's slowly learning about the economy and the idea of applying for a position, managing employees and customers, depositing your earnings to the bank, getting health insurance and feeling exhausted at the end of a work day. When he's old enough to get a real job in the real world, will he handle his finances well? Will he find work that he enjoys and can be proud of? Will he have the grit required to keep showing up and exhibit good work ethic? 

Last night, our family attended an orientation for rising 6th graders at the Middle School he'll be transferring to next school year. I felt like pinching myself the whole two hours we were there. 

Fear and Excitement...How can we be already here? Wasn't he just in pre-school yesterday? How is it that he will now have his own locker, choose a major and a minor and have the liberty to join any club he fancies or feels he's good at? Wasn't it just last week when our lives were simply all about Nickelodeon, snack time, nap time and build-my-Lego-ship time? Is he ready? Will he succeed the way I want him to? Is his self-esteem strong enough to survive greater challenges in the academe? Will he be able to forge deep and lasting friendships?

Fairly recently, he decided to start his own YouTube channel. He asked for our help in setting him up. We gave him a small filming space in our upstairs storage room. His Dad set up his computer, camera and created a sturdy frame out of PVC pipes on which we can hang curtains so that he has a decent backdrop. Then he started creating his own content, taught himself to edit and posted the videos himself. 

Excitement and Fear...t's amazing how fast he learns and how admirable it is that he did what he said he wanted to do. He didn't overthink and simply ran away with something he truly enjoys. But I hope he doesn't get discouraged even though he doesn't have a huge audience. I hope he doesn't give up so easily. I pray to God he doesn't get bullied online. I pray he understands his responsibility now that he has a social media platform. I pray he always finds the wisdom, even at his young age, to speak and behave with respect and integrity. 

This boy of 10 years has also been honest enough to admit that he now has a crush. I have been neutral about it, neither discouraging nor encouraging, but always reminding him that he is still too young to take these things seriously. 

Fear and Excitement...I'm eager to see what kind of person will capture his heart. Will he choose well? Will he find true love and be able to keep it? How will my 'baby' fare once he comes face-to-face with heartbreak? It's only a matter of time. Will he know how to survive it? Will he welcome it, knowing that he will only come out stronger and wiser? I can't wait to pass on to him what I know, although I'm afraid it might never be enough. 

Any parent knows what I'm going through. We watch these human beings who are our external hearts walk their own paths, and there is no stopping time. We do our best giving them what we have, hoping they'll be equipped for the world and be the best versions of our dreams. They have our hearts and our souls and yet they are different from us. That difference is not always easy to accept. The possibility of failure, as well as pain, are always looming in the background, causing us sleepless nights and infinite anxiety.

Fear and Excitement will continue to flow in our veins for as long as we are parents. They might feel the same at times but we must be discerning because one holds a person back, while the other sets free; one stunts the spirit, the other tends to nurture evolution.

Our children will break, fail, hurt and suffer. It's all on them to make their own choices and live through the consequences. And as their parents, it's on us to cheer them on, keep the faith, and keep loving them deeply so that we can always stay excited about the miracles they can blossom into.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Love is in the Details

Love in its early stages evokes only good feelings, making us giddy, ecstatic, energized. And perhaps it has to be that way so that it's enticing enough for us to pursue. Though any step towards Love takes courage, you can't deny that the thought of being able to possess the giddiness and a feeling of inspiration all but propel us even more to take the plunge.

But as we get more acquainted with Love, we realize that there is a lot of work involved. And it is hard work, don't let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. It requires devotion and grit. It's not a mere feeling or thought but something that becomes infused into your identity. 

Love is in the details. 

It's in the way you talk, your tone, the kindness you show; the compassion and empathy your convey through your words; the assurance you give someone in times of doubt or insecurity; the words of comfort when the other person's in pain; the encouragement you offer when faith hides in the shadows.

It's in your touch. It's the relief and healing you offer just by holding the other close. Love finds its way out of your pores as you embrace your child and stroke their hair, or wounded flesh and sore muscles. The simplicity of the gesture offers unparalleled comfort. 

It's in your waking up in the morning to prepare meals for your family, or your surrender to the drudgery to earn a living.

It's in the quick phone calls to ask how the other is doing and in the never forgetting to say 'Take care, I love you' before you hang up. 

It's in the way your face lights up when you see the other person. It's in your smile or the peace in your eyes. 

Love cannot be denied, nor can you mistake something for love when you feel deep down it isn't. The lie cannot be sustained, the cruelty will show, the disdain and disrespect always eventually bleed out. The beauty of life is that you could never lose with love. The only way to really know it, is to keep experiencing it. And no matter how imperfect, Love is Love, and it never fails to change you. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

This is About Guns

There's been another mas shooting this week, at a school...again...dead kids...again. Can you blame me if this consumes me? Because I am consumed with anger, frustration, sadness, pain, and refuse to believe that all we can do is send out our 'thoughts and prayers'. I know there is power in prayer but we no longer have the luxury to think this insanity can all just go away and be magically solved for us just by thinking and praying. 

We need to let our voices be heard. Let your representatives hear you as you say our country needs stricter gun control laws. 

Because this is about guns. THIS IS ABOUT GUNS

If you are not willing to admit that, then you are lying, in denial, stupid or plain evil.

Over and over, incidents of mass shootings in this country happened because someone who is angry, or unstable, had access to assault rifles. Civilians have no need for assault rifles. These weapons have no other purpose than to kill. 

They're not for hunting, not for recreation, not for mere self-defense. They are meant to kill the most number of people with the least effort within a small time frame.


Make your voice count. 

Vote for the right people during elections. Inform yourselves as to who have sold their souls to the NRA and have no desire for REAL change to happen. 

In the meantime, I leave you with these.....

How Japan Solves Gun Violence:

When Your Officials Can't Offer More Than 'Thoughts & Prayers'

NRA's Top Ten Funded Officials:

Millions of Dollars from the NRA to your Representatives:

Friday, February 2, 2018

Worlds Through Words

Words have consequences

If you’ve ever doubted the power of words, imagine being illiterate, or visiting a foreign country where you don’t speak the language or where the characters used are not ones you’re versed in. Imagine riding a train or a bus and then realizing that none of the signs make sense to you, leaving you feeling lost. 

Words and our ability to wield and receive them appropriately give us power in our everyday lives. They’re easy to take for granted and yet once misused or completely gone can leave us tragically broken.  

I don’t like wasting words. Though I understand that at times we need ‘fillers’ to get by in this world—'Hi'; ‘How’s it going’; ‘Have a nice day’—there’s a part of me that will always question their worth. You see, I love intentional words. Needless to say, my passion lies in meaningful conversations, rendering me somewhat inept at small talk. Maybe it's because I love how words, when meant and pregnant with truth, have the capacity to genuinely move you and even cause your body to respond.  They can make your heart beat fast, tighten your stomach, cause you to blush. You could get chills, make you choke, or weak in the knees.  

Think of your experience when someone you desired said 'I love you' to you, or maybe you uttered the same to someone who has always felt unlovable. Think of the gift of assurance given when someone says 'I choose YOU' and the possibilities opened by that declaration.

Imagine the fears calmed and banished just with a simple 'Mommy's here' uttered to a helpless child. And what about 'I forgive you' or 'I believe in you' and the spirits they heal?

Have you ever been in the presence of ‘Goodbye’ between two souls who mean the world to each other? Only immeasurable sorrow and a palpable void are left after the realization that no more words can be shared between them.

I know too well how potent words are since I am one whose most significant relationships rely mainly on words. As an adult migrant, most of my family and some treasured friends are not physically with me. We lay out words to bridge our gap, convey emotions and reveal truths. I’m painfully familiar with how utterances can make or break my universe, turn my mood into a frantic pendulum.

I have felt much of words' consequences and my consciousness has been shaped much too often by mere words that I would never deny their power. Where action or physicality is not possible, words—whether spoken or written— become sufficient verbs to me.

Words can be so many different things to different people, but one thing is certain: Meaningful words make it possible for our individual worlds to collide. What we say can serve as keys we offer to others so they may gain insight into who we are, the life we've lived and even who we aspire to be. If we truly value ourselves and others, it will show in our words. It will also show in how much we listen and appreciate those other worlds we have the privilege of colliding with. Savor words, and while there is time, collide as much as you can with the worlds most precious to you.

*This piece was originally published on Catharsis under the title Crashing Into You (June 2011), and has now been slightly revised. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Do You Repeat Yourself a Lot? This Technique Might Help!

I've stumbled upon a mind-blowing, stress reducing, and truly life-changing communication technique! This may prove especially useful when communicating with the males in your family, and though that might seem sexist, the reality is that this was borne out of my frustrations communicating with my husband and son. 

Here's what a normal conversation used to look like in our home:

Me: Do you need me to pick up your prescription after I run my errands later?
Husband (responding almost instantaneously):  What?
Me: Do you need me to pick up your prescription after I run my errands later?

And here's a common one with my son:

Me: Have you watered the plants yet?
Son(responding almost instantaneously)What?
Me: Have you watered the plants yet?

After years of operating this way, I finally got sick of repeating myself and feeling like my boys have become selectively hearing-impaired. It's exasperating!

One day, in my exasperation, I summoned my inner Dalai Lama and found the value of pausing...waiting...silence. I decided it was time to give up my 'echo'.

Our conversations then started looking more like this: 

Me: Do you need me to pick up your prescription after I run my errands later? / 
      Have you watered the plants yet?

Husband/Son (responding almost instantaneously):  What?


Husband: Oh, no, it's ok. I already picked it up last night. 
Son: Not yet, Mama. I'll do it now.

I felt victorious over their selective impairment and I confirmed that it was all because they've gotten so used to my willingness to repeat myself that it's become a knee-jerk reaction for them to say 'What?'. Instead of truly listening to me, they've found it's just easier to ask for my echo, which would always inevitably come.

But now, I just wait for them to catch up. I give it a 3-5 minute pause and 98% of the time, they respond accordingly without me having to expend unnecessary energy in repeating myself. Of course there have been those very rare moments when they honestly didn't hear or understand me and that's perfectly fine. But at least now, I'm feeling like I'm approaching them with more patience as I wait for them to process and realize on their own what I just said. They're not stupid, nor deaf. Actually, I'm doing them a favor now by treating them like the smart males that they are, fully capable of comprehension and piecing together what they've just heard, even though they THINK they didn't hear. I'm giving them more credit than they give themselves! (Yes boys, you're welcome!)

I know this is part male brain wiring, part getting used to tuning me out. I can't change the former, so now I'm just training them to tune me back in. Once I find a way to train my boys how to read my mind so that things just get done automatically, I promise to let you know!

Let me know if this happens to you too, and even with female members of the family! I suspect this is not gender-specific, but a condition triggered in others by mothers.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Rewriting With Kindness

There's this guy I knew as a teenager. I loathed him. In fact, for most of my life, I referred to him as an a**hole. 

We knew each other from high school, but when we met again and moved in the same circles during our early college days, we never fully acknowledged each other, let alone have a conversation. It didn't matter whether we were left by ourselves in the same room, or walked past the other in the hallways, we simply ignored each other as if we were complete strangers. I waited for him to make the first move but he never did. He's not a shy person by any stretch and since I observed that he spoke with practically everyone but me, it was easy for me to conclude that he was simply a first class a**hole. 

There's another important piece to this story: I had a crush on him. No one understood why and all my friends knew I deserved so much better in terms of looks. But all I saw was that he was intelligent and confident. And now he was being mysterious by not talking to me, fueling my imagination and the pen as he became the perfect inspiration for countless essays and poems in my mid-teens. He became indispensable to my psyche. 

After a while, I realized I was getting tired of our script. Him ignoring me moved from being mysterious to boring, until I rationalized everything by one label—'a**shole'.

Boredom turned to anger, and then indifference. Before anyone knew it, I had replaced him as my muse and moved on to other intelligent, confident and (some) better looking objects of affection. My taste in men eventually improved. I grew older, but my narrative of him and all my convenient labels never changed.

But what would happen if I changed my mind? 

Recently, from out of nowhere, I had a dream about him. We were the same young people but what was different was that we spoke to each other. There was no suggestion of any romantic sentiments between us, just more maturity and peace. 

That's when the thought hit me: What if I rewrote this story? What if I just consider the alternative and approach the narrative with more kindness? 

As soon as I started doing that, I saw the possibility that he might have seen me as the a**hole. Why didn't I initiate conversation? Why wasn't I the one who just said 'hello' and smiled? I was so preoccupied with hiding my feelings—making sure I never gave any indication that I had a crush on him—that I went to the other extreme of acting so indifferently, maybe even rudely. I probably struck him as a hostile snob, for all I know. 

But I simply didn't know any better. I was too uptight and immature. And just as I can be kinder with him now and decide to free him of my odious label, I know I also need to be kind to myself. I could have been more mature, less uptight, but I wasn't and I have to respect that part of my evolution. However, it's quite liberating to realize my role in a deeply-entrenched story where I've always accepted my part as the martyred victim. Now I see that I could very well have been an aggressor myself. 

It's so easy for us to create convenient narratives where we're always the heroes, or the virtuous underdogs who eventually rise from the ashes. But plots and characters are never black or white. Our complex biographies shape equally complex motives that always lead to imperfect outcomes. We may find ourselves focused on the pains we endure, but the truth is that we wield that same power that causes others pain whether we intend it or not. None of us is ever an unstained hero. To me, what's important is that we find peace when our mind combs through our narratives. And what I know is that any story, no matter how bitter, can be digested easier and offer that sense of peace, when laced with kindness.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Gift of Misery

I hope you are having a wonderful new year so far! It's good to be writing again after stepping back for quite a while. Some of you may have noticed, while majority I'm sure didn't and couldn't care less. 

To be perfectly honest, I've been going through some sort of an existential crisis as a blogger or writer. (And yes, as soon as I typed those two labels, I've had to backspace several times, retype, backspace again, retype, and finally decided to leave it be). I wish I could say that the reason for my 'disappearance' is because I was writing my first novel, or memoir, earning more money and saving the world from lunatics, aliens and asteroids. In reality, I've been feeling like a loser and have been cleaning, organizing and decorating around the house to distract myself. There's no better elixir to mask your inner mess than having an organized surrounding. 

My deep-thought moments have been all about asking what this is all for, wondering if my words count, what my end game is, and not finding any clear answers except for the clear realization that comparing myself to other bloggers, vloggers, writers, brand owners and social media wizards only make the weight of my misery completely unbearable. I know, I know, I ought to be wise enough to know that comparisons never made anyone happy. Blame it on my being a middle child, or my spending too much time in the academe simmering myself in a culture of overachievement. The fact is, I've been feeling lost and depressed. 

They say life has a funny way of calling your attention to things you need to realize and I can't help but feel that life has been calling me to take Gratitude more seriously. Because you know what? I really don't have a crappy life! In spite of my complaints and feeling lost and unworthy, and never knowing what to do next, I really OUGHT to be happy. And the real reason why I can't seem to allow myself to be happy is because I keep forcing myself to want 'more' only because of what I see people around me are doing, and because of what I assume I should be doing based on what I assume is expected of me. 

Too many assumptions, don't you think? 

Should any one person really live and measure her life based on assumptions? I think not. Neither do any of us deserve to live a life in a perpetual state of unworthiness. 

I'm tired of feeling unworthy only because I haven't accomplished things others already have. When I look at my life as a mother and a stay-at-home parent, I really am happy and content. For the longest time, I have denied that because I believed that those should never be enough. I believed that no one can (or should) be happy staying home to engage in the drudgery of housework. I believed that I'm a disappointment and a waste of space for choosing this life in spite of my master's degree and others saying how smart I am (as if only stupid people deserve to be stay-at-home parents). 

The truth is, I AM HAPPY staying home to take care of my family. 

I'm happy that my daily stress levels have been manageable and that I don't have to deal with social anxiety every day.

I am happy being who I am now, doing what I do. And just being 'Me' should be good enough for each of us. We all deserve that. Besides, the reality is that I am not 'more'—the way the material world defines 'more'—simply because it's probably not what I truly desire for myself. It's just not where my heart is.

The greatest gift I received from the Universe this New Year is this new mantra:

I will focus on being HAPPY, not on being special.

From now on, in everything that I do, the focus will be to find happiness in it, instead of craving to stand out, excel, be perfect and be recognized. Too much happiness has already been stolen from me through my fixation on wanting to be different from the rest, be 'special' and remarkable in everything that I do, that nothing seems ever good enough. I am tired. I'm tired of feeling miserable, tired of trying and ending up always disappointed with myself because I imagine the world's eyes glaring at me in judgment. I'm tired of obsessing over what the next course of action should be so that I can stand out, instead of simply choosing to do what I enjoy and makes me happy, no matter how ordinary it might seem to others. And you know what dawned on me?There is absolutely nothing wrong with being ordinary! And if being ordinary is my ticket to happiness, then I will choose it any day over wanting to be special yet staying miserable and depleted. 

We always say life is too short, and it really is. Make the most of it by focusing on seeing the abundance in you. I know now this is what I need to do. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

It's Not a Bubble, It's a Lens

Yesterday, my social media feeds were bombarded with anti-Taylor Swift posts as people called her out for saying that she "couldn't have asked for a better year".

The nation and their pets lost their minds. They said, 'How could she?', 'Does she live in a bubble?', 'She's clueless', 'She's insensitive to the rest of the world', and other comments alluding to either how self-centered she is or just plain stupid.

Society can't seem to make up its mind about her. One minute she's a bad-ass feministbreaking her silence on her sexual assault experience with David Mueller, hence standing up not only for herself but other vulnerable artists and women in generaland the next, a fickle-minded, entitled drama queen who only cares about herself. 

I say, just leave her alone. I'm not here to come to Taylor Swift's defense. I'm certain she doesn't need it, nor does she care what you or I think (which is why she's Taylor-freakin'-awesome-Swift and you and I are...well...just us). And that's the thing about all this controversy. I find it extremely petty, completely unnecessary and certainly not doing any of us any good. 

Maybe we should just all stop caring so much about how other people choose to live their lives. We certainly have to stop being so judgmental, so self-righteous. It's one thing to stand up to someone who's being oppressive. It's another to be just annoyingly opinionated.

Day after day I see impassioned posts about every inconsequential thing that someone else chose to do or say, what someone wore, ate, who they married, what work they do or don't do. It's almost impossible these days to post anything on social media where no one will say anything negative about you or your beliefs when in fact they hardly really know anything about your life or the real context you're coming from. What's sad is that they don't care to know. They only want to express themselves. This world has become too noisy with too many talkers and not enough listeners. It's exhausting! Aren't YOU exhausted? 

When someone says they couldn't have asked for a better year, we don't know each and every struggle that person has gone through, and how he/she has triumphed over them. Maybe in spite of all the poverty in the world, they found more generosity in themselves.  Maybe in spite of unending news about women being abused, they're focusing on how many more women are now finding their voice and are choosing to not be defeated by shame. Maybe that person is grateful because a dear loved one is finally recovering from a serious illness. Perhaps they found a solid anchor that can pull them out of depression. Or maybe finally they've realized that in spite of anything, an expression of one's sense of gratitudesaying that you couldn't have asked for a better yearis the real key to inner peace and doesn't equate to being oblivious. 

The year is about to end and this is my wish: That, in spite of our wounds and the ugliness we see outside of us, we could still find beauty in our continued ability to grow, learn and offer love and hope to others, enabling us to say that we couldn't have asked for a better year. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

It Wasn't Just Another Day

It was just another day. I got up and knew I needed to be in the kitchen to fix breakfast for my family.

It was just another day, rushing for school drop-off, a quick trip to the post office and then drive back home for my daily date with the treadmill.

It was just another day, bathroom cleaning day, which meant scrubbing toilets, sinks, shower stalls and tubs. It's not fun, I wish I could take a day off, but everyone else shows up for work so why shouldn't I?

It really almost felt like 'just another day' if not for the bouquet of red roses sitting on the kitchen island, with presents thoughtfully wrapped, a card, a note and an origami crane masterfully created by my son.

It really almost felt like 'just another day' if not for the early international and local calls and messages from my parents, siblings, cousins, nephews, nieces, and  friends. 

A birthday could be just another day but why keep it that way? I celebrated mine early this week and though the mundane still occupied much of that day, having the special things peppered all throughout set it apart. It's not about expensive gifts and treats for me. It's the knowledge that I am seen and loved by those who are dear to my heart. It's to have certainty that no matter the chaos in my universe, I can still find my center because I am loved not for what I can accomplish, but for simply being me.

To know you are loved back by those you love, that your existence there really anything else that could weigh more? 

Having awareness of how blessed your life is, in spite of its imperfections, makes any day not just another day.