Friday, February 24, 2017

Parenting Behind the Scenes

We just got done with dinner and I was, as usual, busy moving around the kitchen trying to clean everything up. First, the dishes into the dishwasher. Then some clearing of the stove top and the kitchen island. In between, some items needed to be put back in the fridge. When I had most of the surfaces cleared, I grabbed a spray bottle from under the sink and started spraying my surfaces to make sure they're cleaned and sanitized. My nine-year-old Noah was still hovering until I said, "You better go upstairs and prepare for bed. I can't really fully clean everything if you're around". He then quietly walked away. 

As I was cleaning something in the sink, I noticed his head still peeking as he was standing by the staircase. 

"Hey, what are you doing? I thought I told you to go upstairs. It's bedtime for you soon and you still have to read!"

With that, he ran back towards me with a smile on his face and told me, "Is this what you do when we finish down here? I wanted to see the behind-the-scenes.

I smiled and nodded, threw in a quick 'uh-huh', and I thought he was done. I was surprised when he suddenly wrapped his arms around my torso and tenderly said to me, "Thank you for all that you do, Mama."

Tell me how to keep my heart from melting...

Tell me how to keep from looking up to the heavens and think it's miraculous...

Tell me how not to think that I must have done something right some time, somewhere, somehow, to deserve this beautiful gesture...

Because I don't know how and I simply want to allow myself to feel the pride, the humility, the tenderness and the undeniable power of those words washing over me.

As parents, we often do our work in the shadows, sometimes literally. Especially for a stay-at-home-parent like myself, most of my work is invisible and it's very easy to miss the difference we make. We fix beds, wash, fold and iron clothes, mop floors, dust surfaces, make meals, drive our kids around to appointments and activities, monitor school work, clean bathrooms, stock the fridge and pantry. If our families don't take the time to pause, the work we choose to do day in and day out can simply be mistaken for 'normal' or 'just how things are'. It takes a keen sensitivity and definitely a grateful heart to see the perfection behind the production that goes on, the amount of love put in to ensure the daily performances flow smoothly. Not everyone cares to acknowledge that it takes passion and dedication to keep things from falling apart and to truly make daily life seamless for our families. We may not need trophies to inspire us to keep doing what we do; no demands made for accolades for the behind-the-scenes quiet sacrifices. But time and again, a simple thank you and I see you could be the perfect motivation to keep the show running. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

This Is How Valentine's Day Should Look Like

I was surprised to see my mother-in-law up so early. In the six weeks she's been with us, she has never left her room earlier than 7:30 a.m. I was in the kitchen making breakfast and was totally unprepared to see such a worried look on her face. As soon as she saw me look her way, she said with a pained expression, "I've been up for hours now. I've been having chest pains". I tried to assess how urgent it was and of course she tried to rationalize and downplay everything by assuring me that she's done all the recommended steps to see if it's a heart attack and that she's certain it isn't. Just the same, I told her 'You better go to the ER and get checked'. She was resistant at first but I pointed out that it's best to be seen by a doctor since she'll be flying to Seattle the next day. Knowing her history of mistaking a heartburn for a heart attack, I decided to give her an antacid before waking my husband up to drive her to the hospital. 

This was how our Valentine's Day started just three days ago. It was a worrying morning and certainly not how anyone prefers to start their days, especially Valentine's Day. But you have to see the humor in this and remember that it was, after all, 'heart's day'. At least that's how I've decided to see it. Besides, it still ended up being a blessed day in the grand scheme of things. After four hours or so, an EKG and a few blood tests later, my mother in law was released and sent home with anti-GERD medication. The following day, my husband AJ and I took her to the airport and wished her a safe trip to Seattle to visit another one of her children.

Truly if anything, Valentine's Day is a reminder for me to manage my expectations. Indeed, it would be amazing to wake up to a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates, a greeting card with the most heartfelt poem ever written, or a piece of jewelry waiting for me on my (dusty) bedside table. But that's not how things turned out. And really it's okay with me, and here's why...

On the drive from the airport, I joked around with AJ telling him that the most unromantic person we know actually beat him on Valentine's Day because I saw on Facebook that said person actually gave his wife a bouquet of roses and a card! As soon as I said that, unexpectedly, AJ reached out his right hand to hold mine and apologetically and tenderly said, 'I'm sorry, Honey'. 

I'm sure he doesn't know this but that moment meant everything to me. It's not that I wanted him to feel bad or that I needed an explanation or an apology for him not living up to what society dictates Valentine's Day should look like. It meant so much because at that moment he made me feel assured that my happiness still truly matters to him. After all is said and done, isn't that what's most important and the real substance we desire behind any romantic gesture? Isn't that the oxygen any committed partnership needs in order to thrive? Doesn't love hinge on thatthe continued effort to bring richness to the beloved's life? 

Both of us will have expectations and we will undoubtedly fail each other, repeatedly. But as long as we both desire to keep trying, and see the other person's happiness and values as essential to our own, then roses or no roses it becomes easier to see the lush rather than a barren landscape. 

Valentine's Day shows up differently to each of us. Some require elaborate declarations of devotion, some make do with simpler tokens. Others still only need a quiet assurance that the hand you've grown accustomed to holding remains yours, dependable, never callous with your heart. To me, that's how I need it to look like. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Being a Drama Queen Helped Me Survive My Break-Up

Being partnered is great, especially if it’s a long term relationship. It offers a sense of security (no matter how false), and consequently, affords us a degree of complacency. The feeling that somehow you can now breathe and relax because you already have someone who doesn’t care so much about whether or not you remembered to conceal your eye bags today, or munched on ten too many club crackers before bedtime, is very reassuring and frees your mind to focus on other more important worries…like the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 

However, there are times when I wake up from a dream where I’m still single
and completely angst-ridden and suddenly feel lost and a bit sad, not because of the dream, but because I realize I miss some of that drama, that sense of pining. Somehow I realize being single wasn’t bad at all. I’m brought back to those soul-enriching days where growth was just inevitable given the amount of emotional muck I was trying to swim out of. 

Nothing else (pre-parenthood) makes me think of emotional and spiritual growth than the time when my heart got broken to smithereens after a boyfriend/fianc√© broke up with me. It was pain I’ve never felt before which of course was to be expected given how deep and intense the relationship was. There were days when I honestly felt my heart had literally split into pieces, making my chest throb so heavily that I thought I’d stop breathing and drop dead. 

So how does someone like me who feels intensely and falls passionately survive a soul-shattering break-up?

I have one word for you: Cinemafy. I made the experience as Hollywood-like as I could. You know how in movies the heartbroken person first reaches rock-bottom before finding redemption? Aren’t there always scenes where she first falls into a coma-like state while feeding herself with nothing but junk food, feels crappy and looks unkempt, and then moves into self-discovery by walking all over town? (Yes, it’s always walking or running with great background music). That’s pretty much how I did it. 

I lived off of Pizza and Pepsi since I had no energy to cook. Cheetos also supplied me with all the sustenance and orange fingers I needed so I don't end up emailing or texting the ex.

I took long walks by my lonesome after work and dared myself to do this even at night. In retrospect, that might not have been the smartest decision since I could've gotten mugged. But at the time, it was as if all that mattered was for me to test my limits and push beyond my comfort zones. I was angry and broken and wanted to see if changing myself would also mean ridding my soul of the love I felt for my ex. 

I spent hours in bed looking at the ceiling while in a semi-catatonic state, rewinding events and conversations in my head to try to make sense of it all.

I watched Bridget Jones’ Diary over and over until I practically memorized the lines and spoke with a British accent. Heck, I WAS Bridget Jones! Remember that first scene where she was wearing her pajamas as she lip-synched to All By Myself? Yes, that was me. 

I also drank vodka but since I’m a wuss, I only drank it mixed.

I listened to Ella Fitzgerald until I felt completely wasted, not with alcohol, drugs or nicotine, but with grief and over-analysis. 

I wrote in my journal. A LOT. 

I cried and prayed and begged for everything I could beg for— for my fiance to come back, for my heart to heal, for amnesia, and even death. And then I slept.

I forced myself to go out with friends to have some distraction. It didn’t take long for me to realize that going out wasn’t always a great idea because I only ended up even more depressed and psychotic as I felt like attacking every couple I saw around me. The agony was worse if I saw interracial couples. (The ex is British). It could've easily turned into a scene of a deranged Michael Douglas from Falling Down. I knew I had to be very careful because out there was an emotional landmine. 

Finally, I figured I needed to leave the country for a short vacation and time abroad to further distract and convince myself that there’s so much out there to look forward to and discover about myself. (Don’t you think this was very Sabrina-ish?...the remake with Julia Ormond, not the Audrey Hepburn original?). Unfortunately, I ended up torturing my best friend, with whom I flew for approximately 20 hours, by talking about my ex and our intense love affair non-stop. I can imagine that she was probably thinking that it would’ve been far more pleasurable to jump off of the plane than hear one more bit of my reminiscing.

Indeed it was a cinema-worthy post-break-up journey and I don't regret any moment of it. I felt the depth of my pain while feeling like a movie star. I paid attention to my self-discovery and healing, while imagining that it was a magical and glamorous experience. You might as well have fun while you try to pick up and put together your heart's jagged shards. 

Create soundtracks, come up with cheesy lines and choose your inspiration characters. Most importantly, plan for a happy ending. Sometimes the main characters get back together, but sometimes they don't. But in any movie, the best and most memorable endings are those where the characters dared to go deeper into self-discovery, becoming more self-assured, enlightened and evolved. If you achieve that kind of ending, then you can really be proud of owning your title as Drama Queen. It would be so worth it!

This piece is an updated version of a previously published post on Catharsis entitled ‘The Art of Surviving a Break-Up’ (March 6, 2014). 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Parenting and the Burden of 'Alternative Facts'

If you have not been living under a rock this past week, you'd be painfully aware that the buzz phrase these days is 'alternative facts'. Thanks to the current administration, blatant lies or falsehoods can no longer be treated as such, but instead should be gracefully embraced as mere allowances to how much truth can be stretched even to its unrecognizable version. 

Just to be clear, I had a really difficult time finishing that last sentence above because any sane person knows how impossible the task is when you are forced to make sense of the nonsensical. A normal person can really only take so much bullsh*t. Unfortunately, the current U.S. president and his minions don't have much trouble with said task. 

As a parent, I'm having serious trouble with the concept of 'alternative facts' and pray to the heavens that it never ever becomes acceptable. Let's be clear...


Facts are facts. Objective reality exists to be acknowledged and to be used as a standard. My training as a Sociologist makes me a stickler for observable or measurable data. You don't get to twist numbers or proven conclusions and still claim to be correct and equally true. 

If my reverence for facts and objective reality makes me a tiger parent, then so be it. The whole point of socializing our children is so that they realize there is a whole world outside of themselves and their families, and standards exist against which they will be measured. These standards don't revolve around them, nor do these standards bow down to their every whim. 

When children go to school, they spend time with their peers and all of them are measured according to certain requirements. If my son is not the best student based on the grades he receives or other assessment, then he needs to know and respect that. I will not tell him those standards don't mean anything. I am not the kind of parent who will not tell her child the need to do better when he's clearly not measuring up. 

I will not tell him that everyone is a winner when there is a game. No! Scores are there to show who played better and who did not. Not everyone can claim victory. That's why it's called a game, for crying out loud. There are rules, standards and skill sets required. It's a competition and it's either you win or you lose. 

When my son tries to practice a song for a school program, I tell him when he's out of tune. I don't tell him, "Oh sweetie, you're the best! Keep it up!", even when his tone makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Yes, I've been known to be quite harsh at times, hurting my son's feelings by uttering the words, 'you suck', even when I say it with as much tenderness as I can afford. 

But honestly, I would rather be this kind of parent than one who only praises all the time, or one who tells her child he is 'the best' in everything even when it's objectively not true. I want him to not grow up oblivious to others. I want him to grow up knowing that he needs to work hard to excel and being the best you can be is a lifelong process. I want him to know that though he is special or unique and will always be loved by his parents, he still has to respect how he will be measured by social institutions he is or will be a part of  by virtue of his citizenship in this social world. I need him to know that you can only define your reality to a certain extent and imposing such on others when that reality clearly does not align with objective reality, facts, or widely accepted and proven truths, is INSANITY. 

I don't want to raise a mad man and I don't believe it's too early to say that I haven't. My son, even at 9 years of age, knows that 'alternative facts' carries the same meaning as 'lies' or 'delusions'. It really isn't that hard to understand...IF you are sane. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

My First Time Getting a Call Back After a Mammogram

I've been very open about the fact that I'm a paranoid. My brain is wired such that my natural tendency is to think worst case scenario first, before I tap into my more rational, probability- and facts-based side. I see cough and fever and I think pneumonia. Present me with an angry looking pimple that mysteriously showed up and I think flesh-eating bacteria. It doesn't help at all that I enjoy watching shows dealing with medical mysteries or cases of rare, fatal diseases. 

So you can only imagine my thought process when I got a call back from the doctor's office after my screening mammogram. I've gone yearly for at least four years now and it's always been something I took for granted. I go in and then get a letter or call a few days later stating that everything looks normal. 

Not this time.

I went on December 20th and by the next day, I got the call back from the nurse. I picked up the phone expecting her usual upbeat tone to tell me they'll see me in a year and that my breasts are healthy as ever. But instead, she mumbled something about needing to go back for another mammogram, a diagnostic one this time and possibly an ultrasound. I'm sure she wasn't really mumbling but by that time, I sort of blanked out. I remember hearing 'right breast' and needing to 'take a closer look'. After a short while, I knew I had to snap out of the trance to get more clarification. I asked, ' you know what exactly they saw?'. Of course I was met with a vague answer and some version of the same 'we just need to take a closer look at your right breast' and then proceeded to tell me that someone else will contact me to set an appointment.

I hung up the phone and couldn't breathe. My first thought of course was 'Cancer', followed by 'Oh-my-God-how-will-I-break-the-news-to-my-family-and-what-a-crappy-Christmas-this-will-be'.

Before I could even sit down and fully make sense of the initial phone call, my phone rang again. This time, it was from the imaging facility. I said I wanted the earliest availability and was stunned to hear that they were scheduling me for Jan 18! 

"That's your earliest?!", I said with disbelief and frustration.

The woman confirmed and that was it. I hung up the phone and focused my thoughts on how I could possibly survive the next month without giving in to a nervous breakdown.

For the next couple of days, I found myself plagued with thoughts of dying. I'd be driving and the singular thought I had was 'I have cancer'. And then I found myself obsessing over my right breast. I wish I could say I meant all that in a sexy way but it was by no means pleasurable. I self-examined and wondered if what I was feeling was a lump. I suddenly noticed every non-symmetrical part of my torso and wondered if that was what they saw. Could there be more than one? Is it because I've been overweight all my life? I knew I should have eaten more spinach and kale and blueberries. And maybe I should stop drinking too much from plastic bottles? Maybe it's that bottled water I use while I'm on the treadmill. I really should throw that away now. Or maybe it's all the processed meats I've been consuming. Dammit, I knew there was something to that antiperspirant article I read years ago! I should have listened!

Then I started imagining what life would be like if I did have cancer. My rational side knew that less than 10% of women who are called back for a mammogram get a cancer diagnosis. I had read that most of the time, the initial images were just not clear, that it may be dense breast tissue, calcification or some benign cyst or mass. The odds were in my favor.

But what if I'm part of the unlucky percentage?

I then became hostage to even more morbid thoughts and started to imagine how a cancer diagnosis would change my family's life. I wasn't even so concerned with what I would have to go through but more with the suffering such a diagnosis would subject my boys to. I don't want them to be affected by the need to care for me, or suffer in pain as they watch my body getting weaker. Who will take over everything that I do now? Who will prepare meals for my son and husband? Who will keep the house in order? Who will drive my son to school and all his doctor's appointments? Who will wash their clothes? Who will monitor his school work closely?

My thoughts were clearly spiralling out of control and I needed to just stop and take a breath. 

All this is imagined and I need to focus on knowing the facts first. 

Finally, the long-awaited appointment came. My husband went with me to the facility and both of us did our best to seem calm. The wait wasn't too long, just enough to let my neurotic mind wander again through a couple what if's before it went to what the hell, let's get this over with!

A nice lady named Monica called me in and immediately explained to me what needed to be done. She made sure I knew that the reason for my call back was because of something they needed to look at more closely on my right breast. Before we proceeded, I thought I might as well be honest with her. 

"Monica, do you know if I'd get the results today, which ever way it turns out? It's just that I've been called for this appointment a month ago and I've already been anxious for one month. I can't take it anymore."

She smiled compassionately and I knew she understood. Fortunately, she assured me that I would know either way. She explained that they schedule everyone for an ultrasound after the regular mammogram in case the Radiologist wants to further investigate an area. But if my mammogram satisfies the doctor, then I'd be sent home and will be cleared. 

With that, I said, "Alright, let's do this!" At that point, I think my brain was way too spent to even be afraid. I just wanted to know and move on with it. 

After a few minutes on the torture device, a few adjustments on the paddles to squeeze my tiny breast and cause me mind-numbing pain, it was over and the clarity I've been needing is finally within reach.

Monica asked me to approach and join her in viewing the screens she had in front of her. She pointed out to me the image from my December mammogram where there was a white spot behind my nipple area that the doctor found suspicious. After pointing out to me what the white and black areas represented, I understood that it's not as simple as looking for white circular things that could be masses. Rather, it's a comparison between past and present images. Monica explained that breast images are pretty much like finger prints unique to each person. So when they see something that wasn't there previously, then it's a red flag that they need to further investigate. 

In my case, after spreading and compressing my breast really well this time around and taking additional images, the suspicious circular spot disappeared, indicating that it may have been just dense breast tissue or something caused by hormonal fluctuations. 

Monica left me in the room for a bit to show the results to the doctor and when she returned, she happily told me that an ultrasound was no longer needed. I can come back for my regular mammogram after a year!

She hugged me and told me it was time to party! I'm sure she felt my gratitude given how tightly I hugged her and how I couldn't stop smiling. In the dressing room, I finally let out one deep exhale. 

I wish I could say without a doubt that this would be my first and last call back for a mammogram. But let's be real. I'm just 43 and it's probably going to happen again for as long as I keep showing up for my annual check up. And as anxiety-inducing as the whole experience is, I would never advise anyone to skip their mammogram. It's inconvenient. It's uncomfortable, even painful for some of us. But it's life saving. The earlier you find out if there is anything to be concerned about, the higher your chances for survival. 

If you do get a call back, I have some advice to share.

I won't tell you not to be anxious because I think it's natural. However, there are certain things you can definitely remember to help calm you down. 

Choose very well who you will share the information with that you got a call back. Share only with those who you know have gone through it and might help calm you down, or those who you know don't tend to overreact or over-worry. I consciously did not share with my mother because I did not want her to worry unnecessarily. But Mom, if you're reading this now, please rest assured that I'm okay! :-)

Another important advice I can give is for you to focus on the things you can control. Be proactive in asking for the earliest possible appointment. The shorter your wait, the less anxiety you'll have. I can attest that waiting for a month felt like an eternity. Hopefully, you won't have to wait as long as I did. 

You can also control the questions you need to ask your doctor or mammogram technologist. Don't be afraid to admit how you feel and that you would appreciate them being completely open about the findings. The best decision I made was to let the technologist know that I would very much want to know the results right after my mammogram. I also appreciate that she showed me the images and I was able to ask for clarifications. 

Also, don't forget that you can control your thoughts. In a way, it was good that the holidays kept me busy. I knew I had to push my paranoia on the back burner because there were far more urgent things to attend to. And for those times when the fears were just too much? I turned to prayer. Sometimes it wasn't even the spiritual aspect of it but the repetitive nature of it. It calms the brain and will help you fall asleep. 

I asked myself multiple times what I would do if I was given the dreaded cancer diagnosis and the answer is always the same I would fight with all that I have. Is there really any other alternative? It's not that I am afraid of death, but to love another is to fight hard for whatever time is left for you to share with each other. I would hate to break my son's and husband's hearts by not choosing to fight hard. 

None of us know what tomorrow holds or how much time we are given. But for as long as you are able to make decisions for yourself, take advantage. The choice to fight and how to fight is all within your control. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Lessons Learned from 2017

Yes, you read that right. 2017 with just its first six days has been generous with its teaching moments. 

1. When you see all those organizing and weight-loss articles online or all over social media offering quick solutions, keep scrolling and do something more maybe watch cat videos. There is no quick-fix to curing mess and one's messy habits, as well as your unwanted extra weight. 

2. When you see Tweets from President-elect Trump and / or news of who his latest cabinet appointee is, scroll down even faster than when you scrolled to skip that latest magical weight-loss plan. You know it won't make sense and will only upset you. 

3. When you post a well-loved IKEA train set on a mobile classifieds app for $5, when a brand new one can be bought for $8, and someone responds within 5 minutes of posting wanting to meet up ASAP and can't commit to a later, more convenient time, walk away and ignore. Sure, the closest IKEA by us is roughly 3.5 hours away, but something still doesn't feel right. I find it suspect that an adult can want a wooden train set that desperately. 

4. When you live in the South, never, ever, ever make big plans or tough-to-reschedule appointments from late December to the end of February. The snow will ruin you and can drive you insane in one of two ways: (a) You will be trapped at home panicked because you can't venture out and can't reschedule; or (b) You will be trapped in your vehicle, slipping and sliding on the roads and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. 

I planned on having some friends over but was startled to find this when I got up this morning...

Roads never get salted here and none of my friends are insane enough to say they can brave the roads just to have beer, wine and spaghetti at my house. I have no choice but to reschedule. Hopefully, all this will be gone in the next two days or I'll be stuck with eating spaghetti for the next two weeks. 

5. Nothing happens by accident, including the fact that I had just recently seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story , making me more equipped as a parent...When you're woken up by your son anxiously declaring that he just remembered that he has math homework that he hasn't done and this is two days before going back to school when he's had 2 1/2 weeks of vacation and now he's acting as if apocalypse were about to happen and you're utterly tempted to scream at him and say it was his choice to kill his brain cells with Halo and YouTube for the past 2 1/2 weeks, you take a deep breath and invoke your higher self and remember a mantra from the movie..."I am one with the Force, the Force is with me. I am one with the Force, the Force is with me. I am one with the Force, the Force is with me. I am one with the Force, the Force is with me..."

How has 2017 been so far for you? 
And by the way....HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Friday, December 23, 2016

I Wish Us All an Elusive Gift

"Peace on Earth and good will to all men."

All my life I’ve heard this greeting during the holidays and I’ve always thought it made sense to me.

May peace be with you. I thought I understood what this meant every time this was spoken. As a child I thought Peace only meant experiencing silence in the literal sense, or calm and the absence of war in the world.

But now that I’m much older, I’m comforted that I understand more. This isn't to say that I don't struggle with taking it to heart though. These days when I'm constantly bombarded with information on what's going on around the world, when feelings of anger and despair overwhelm me because of politics I disagree with, it becomes deeply challenging to surrender to Peace. There are days when I truly feel depressed and defeated by my inner turmoil. 

I know I choose this and it's a mistake to continue to do so. We all choose this defeat and so my wish for myself and to all of you is to find strength to choose Peace...

Peace…Yes it’s a state of calm. Yes it’s tranquility. Yes it’s the absence of war or turmoil. Most importantly, all these things apply to our inner worlds as much as it does to our external reality.

Peace is to be able to accept things for how they are. It’s the ability to befriend the imperfections that surround you, silence the irrational insatiability that haunts you, or to simply be present in the moment instead of resisting it. 

Peace is to silence the fear within you with faith as you give in to the wisdom that tells you that life is not about control, and that real happiness is not dependent on always getting what we desire. 

Peace be to you. May you embrace the imperfections of your family and practice unconditional love as much as your humanity can allow.

Peace be to you. May you accept and embrace yourself wholeheartedly the way you are now and not a future desired version of your self.

Peace be to you. May you sit in quiet comfort having faith that you have what you need at this moment.

Peace be to you. May you have the strength and wisdom to see what you can control and which realities you need to surrender to. May you triumph over your sorrows by choosing to think and act with your soul instead of your limited earth self.

Peace be to you. May you feel only gratitude and openly receive all the love that is available to you, no matter how flawed the source or circumstance might be.

May Christmas and the spirit of the holidays bring you true and enduring Peace!

*This is an updated version of A Christmas Wish from Catharsis. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Breaking Through the Grief

Sometimes I ask myself why I keep choosing to do this. Must I really remember her this way and in the process taint what's supposed to be festive with something somber?

Six years after I lost Emily, I still include her in our holiday decorations. There is an angel on my tree each year which I bought to specifically represent her, and a tiny stocking has always hung on our mantel for her as well. This year, it's become even more pronounced because my 9-year-old son insisted on finally changing his to a big stocking. He has grown much, after all. Emily never did. 

In the first week of December 2010, I miscarried. It was my second attempt at IVF and after having success with our first one, my husband and I were confident and optimistic. I took it for granted that I was not immune to miscarriages and really thought that as long as my pregnancy took and I remained cautious that everything would end up well. 

It did not and I lost my childwho I was later told was a girlat 7 weeks. 

I've done my active grieving although, as I always say, grief doesn't really completely end but only wanes, ebbs and flows. The tears that needed to be shed have been shed. The anger towards God has been expressed and reconciliation has been found. The echoes of questions have tired and have found their way to serenity. But something always remains and anyone who has grieved can understand this...

The wondering lingers, on some days more pronounced than others. And we all know the holiday season increases one's sentimentality exponentially. 

It's the wondering about how the picture you're looking at and the life you're living might be like had things turned out differently, if the person you're missing were still around. 

It's the wondering about the ripples that person's life would have created and how transformed you would have been if you were blessed with their influence. 

It's the wondering about the love your heart misses, whether you had it for a long time or it only touched you momentarily. Either way the absence of that love carves out a deep crater that you now must tread alongside it carefully, lest you find yourself trapped within it. 

That is why I continue to choose to remember Emily especially during the holidays. When my heart fills with love and anticipation, remembering her forces my heart to see that in spite of the wondering and that sense of loss, Gratitude still wins as I am able to see my life as one that still ended up complete and perfect in its humble way. 

Gratitude shows itself to me when I remember that in spite of the heartbreak and anger towards God, I was never made to feel alone and forgotten; that this God allowed me to find healing at my own pace and realize the wisdom behind how our lives unfold even when we don't understand things at first. 

Even after six years, my grief still continues to bless me and I see no better time to be reminded and celebrate that kind of breakthrough than during the holidays. The fact is, there is now more peace and love than sadness and loss when I look at those stockings on our mantel. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Things Will Fall Apart...And Then What?

Every morning after I successfully drag my feet to our kitchen to prepare breakfast, one of the first things I see are the ant traps sitting in one corner of our counter top. They've been there for months. We had a minor ant attack in the summer, as if the heat alone wasn't enough to remind me that we do live in the South. Anyway, after a few sprays with diluted vinegar and a friendly visit from our pest control guy, the problem was taken care of. The weather also turned cooler so I really don't expect them to come back until maybe next summer again. 

So why keep the traps? I ask myself that every morning of every day when I glance at those black squares in the corner. The truth is, every day when I see those traps, I feel myself holding my breath a little as a brace myself and wonder if I would see specks of black or reddish-brown crawling around. I know the likelihood is low but I'm expecting the worst and convince myself that this daily awareness, though a torture, is better than being unprepared. 

But is it?

Is worrying about what could happen and perpetually wait for the other shoe to drop thinking you can truly be fully prepared for it, really a better state of mind than the alternative? 

As a self-professed overthinker and worrier, I'm painfully aware of the thin line that separates preparedness from paranoia. It's a very delicate line that if one is not mindful can easily be crossed, leaving you feeling consumed and unable to enjoy life fully.

I have wasted many yearsand still do waste some moments to this date as I work through my recovery—trying to debate if I should let things be and enjoy the moment, or anticipate, prepare and even preempt. 

There was a time when, after having just moved to the South and hearing of news of tornadoes, I did not see the point in decorating our newly built home. I kept hesitating to buy furnishings and told myself, what for if all this can just be destroyed by one bad storm that can hit any time?

More than a decade ago, after breaking up with an ex and then deciding to remain friends and explore the possibility of getting back together, I squandered immeasurable amounts of time debating with myself about the unknown future. I weighed my options and shredded every scenario to unrecognizable pieces, wondering if I should just cut the cord altogether for fear that the relationship was going nowhere and that I wouldn't be able to handle the inevitable second heartbreak that was looming in the corner. I even went so far as to employ the decision matrix √† la Pascal's Wager: staying vs. cutting the cord against the two possible outcomes namely ending up together vs. living separate lives. Can one get even more neurotic than that? Yes, the matrix did help me decide, in case you were wondering. However, I can't deny the amount of time I wasted overthinking the whole thing instead of just surrendering to what I felt to be true. 

To say that this entire past year jolted me and thrust upon me changes and realities completely unexpected is an understatement. 

Early this year, a very dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. Another family member received similar news just a couple of months ago.

My parents have suddenly decided to significantly downsize and put our home in the market. 

The United Kingdom voted for Brexit.

My father-in-law passed away.

My two countries, the Philippines and the United States, both elected the less desirable candidates for presidency, men who are clearly not the rational choices in all objectivity. 

Another good friend of mine found out she was going to be laid off after being on that job for more than a decade and all this in spite of doing her work so well that almost everyone in her workplace relied on her. The organization just decided to eliminate her position. 

I can go on and ruminate further on how life has taken me by surprise this year, mostly in unpleasant ways, but the point is this: Indeed, preparing to some extent for the unforeseen  is wise, but never to the point where the future is robbing you of your present. A life lived in a constant state of anxiety about what the future may hold, or one where present choices always feel constrained for fear of a future built on lackfear of not having enough money, not enough love, not enough jobs, not enough friends, not enough time—is not living fully. It starves your soul of possible growth, adventure and wisdom. If you always make your decisions based on your worst case scenarios, you will find yourself fully depleted and yet replete with regrets. You will be left wondering where time went and will be haunted by a sense of mourning, asking yourself why you did not when you still could.

You can really only prepare yourself so much and if you're being completely honest, you know that peace can only be found in relinquishing control. Wisdom will make you realize that there is power in surrender. 

To me, as cliche as it sounds, the key to being present in your Now is to choose what makes you authentically happy. It's not a mindless and selfish way of existence. On the contrary, it requires a lot of introspection in order to define what makes you soulfully happy. And I doubt that the answer would ever lead to anything material. If we focus on answering that question, I suspect we would find it easier to choose to be in the present moment rather than being slaves to our anxieties about the future.