Friday, February 5, 2016

When You Give Me the World

You might think I'm too busy to notice the little things that your little loving heart gives to make me happy. But I never am. And you might think the wonderful little things you do are inconsequential and don't have much weight as far as defining my days go. If anything, Son, I don't think I tell you often enough or loud enough just how much power you have over my world, my heart...

In the mornings when I watch you board the school bus, I know you do your best to choose a window seat facing our house so you can give me one final look and wave at me shyly while I wave and blow you kisses like a mad woman before the bus drives away. I'm not oblivious to the fact that you're getting a little too old for this and that I may be embarrassing you. But the fact that you continue to do this knowing it makes my day means the world to me.

You know I love using your IPad when I workout on the treadmill and not once have you given me a hard time getting it from your possession, not even while you're in the middle of an interesting Minecraft video. Before you hand the IPad over, you even log out and log me in to my YouTube account to save me that tiny step, and that means the world to me.

You are a dream when, after using the washroom, you always make sure to put the toilet seat down 'for Mama'. That means the world to me.

I know you're still not that consistent with this, but when you remember to help me clear the table and place your dishes in the dishwasher, making me feel important and less of a domestic servant, it really means the world to me. 

On those times when I let you play outside with some neighbors and you always remember my request of not going where I can't see you, or returning home just when you sense I'm beginning to worry (because you truly know me that well), I promise you it means the world to me. 

When we're both busy and you just suddenly approach me and ask for a hug and tell me it's "just 'cos I haven't hugged you for a while" (even though we just hugged an hour ago), it absolutely means the world to me. 

They say our lives are defined by moments and that what truly counts are those moments that take our breath away, those pockets of happiness that, though seemingly insignificant, have the power to nourish our souls and make us declare that yes, I couldn't ask for more! I may never know what I did to deserve such a gift from God but I hope the Heavens know how grateful I am, in spite of my complaints, questions and unending restlessness. Everything else becomes white noise, all just insignificant background when your love calls to me and fills my world unequivocally, everlasting.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Darker Side of a Parent's Heart

I’m afraid.

Always, a knot resides in my chest. A heaviness, a sense of impending doom that I try to control or deny. It’s a daily unconscious routine of sweeping the crumbs of fear scattered wherever I walk. Sometimes I can avoid them like landmines, moving with such care trying not to disturb these fragile thoughts. Other times, I'm not as successful and have to deal with the blown up sense of panic, forced to make do with as many imperfect pieces of calm and sanity I can still salvage just so I can keep going, one foot in front of the other, pretending to be all put together.

I was afraid when my son was still in my womb.
I didn’t know if I’d be able to carry him to full term, if he would be normal and healthy at birth, if his umbilical cord won’t strangle him, if my gestational diabetes won’t affect him.

When he came out, I was afraid we wouldn’t bond naturally. I didn’t feel the overflow of love and affection so many other mothers spoke of. Sure I was immeasurably protective of my offspring but the feeling of deep attachment and falling in love with your baby didn't come to me as quickly as it might have to other moms. More than anything, I was just afraid I wouldn’t know what to do and afraid I would break him.

After taking him home and as we both tried our best to fall into a healthy routine, I was afraid I wasn't capable of nourishing him enough. I wasn't producing the amount of milk needed to sustain him and every feeding session was just full of frustration and tears from both of us.

As he grew and the months turned into a few years, I was afraid my son had a speech impediment. I knew that cognitively, there wasn't anything wrong as he could clearly understand and follow instructions. But I felt his speech wasn't developing as quickly as I had hoped. The more I read and the more I heard from other mothers, the more afraid I got.

When he started school and his social circle got wider, I became perpetually afraid of illnesses. My germaphobia reached a level I've never experienced before, and incidents when my son got really sick that he had to be rushed to urgent care or be admitted to the hospital made the fear stronger and more insidious. It's the memory of those experiences that make me respond to even the most minor of illnesses in a completely disproportionate manner. I can't even begin to tell you how incapacitating it is. What I can say is that it takes a whole lot of will power and intense prayer to pull me out of those dark episodes.

My son is almost 9, obviously thriving, healthy, an avid reader, well-spoken and undeniably perfect (at least in my eyes). There really should be nothing much to worry about but I can't help it, can I? It's part of a parent's job description, only I take it to a whole new level.

In my younger days I always used to say that Love and Fear are polar opposites. Now that I'm older, I'm also less naive and concede to the realization that those two are merely sides of the same coin.

How can I love someone so much, so deeply, and not be afraid?...of not loving him right...of loving him too much or not enough...of anything that could hurt him...of not being able to give him my best...of not making him happy and completely cared for....of not always making sure that I'm doing everything to keep him safe...

And the list of fears goes on....

But I'm also painfully aware that to love him fully means to allow him to experience the world with all its magnificence and dangers. Love demands that I also know how to let go just as much as I intimately know what it means to hold on. One side of the coin tells me to do everything in my power so that my heart remains shielded and intact, while the other urges me untiringly to let it relax and break open. The journey from one side to the other is never easy for any parent and I know that the only gateway is Faith.

It is not only faith in the Divine that has saved me numerous times but faith in the certainty that many others have come before me and survived. The truth is, I'm in the company of many, many courageous parents who have had their hearts bruised and broken but came out whole and triumphant, braver than when they first started. I find comfort and strength when I remind myself that I am never alone in these fears that consume me; that in some way, when I close my eyes and ask for courage, I can draw strength from another parent out there who's also afraid but is doing her best not to break down. 

There is another parent with a child battling an illness. There is another parent with a child struggling with school. Another one whose child is bullied, and another with a teenager who's just learning how to drive on their own. There is always another parent like me, afraid and dealing with fears that haunt us even in our sleep. If I just try to breathe and focus on even just a speck of hope left in me, then maybe it can grow and be strong enough to pull not only me, but another parent in need of assurance that everything will be okay. The truth is, we need to keep it together for each other. If we can do that, it becomes a priceless gift to our children too, for they deserve parents who can love them wholeheartedly, with both sides of love and fear never denied, but always gracefully balanced and harmonized by faith.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Our Children's Moral Compass

Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and both my husband and son were going to be off from work and school. So on a whim and some bad craving for good dim sum, we all agreed to go on a quick trip to Atlanta, GA. Yes, we’re that kind of people when it comes to food. We were willing to drive 3 ½ hours to satisfy our palate. My husband rushed to the computer and found us a hotel room just outside of metro Atlanta to stay in for the night.

That evening, after satisfying our appetite for both authentic Chinese food and modern Scandinavian furniture (aka IKEA)both of which we don’t have here in Nashvillewe headed to our hotel and settled in. We promised our son though that he’d be able to swim with Daddy for a bit before bedtime and so we all headed to the pool level. The boys hit the pool while I hit the gym, just adjacent to the pool area. There was not a single person in there and I loved that I can use the treadmill without being self-conscious. I took note of how clean everything was and promised myself I’d give the hotel good reviews. But merely 5 minutes after I had ended my walk and had stepped out back into the pool area, feeling self-satisfied and relaxed, a group of young teenagers arrived and managed to kill my zen as they decided to make the gym their playground.

There were five or six of them, boys and girls, and they were clearly not there to work out. One girl started messing with a treadmill until she gave up because she clearly didn’t know how to control the speed. Two others then messed with the cable and pulley machine, pulling and then slamming the weights carelessly. Then I noticed they also brought in food because crumbs were everywhere and there were juice boxes thrown on the floor. And by the way, signs of ‘NO FOOD AND DRINKS ALLOWED IN THIS AREA’ were everywhere. There was screaming and laughing going on and after they probably got bored, they decided to grab the yoga balls and throw them at each other and across the room. They kept hitting the glass to the point that it almost sounded as if things were about to break all around. The screaming and banging was completely out of control that I had obviously become annoyed at this point. It wasn’t so much the mere noise that got to me but the sheer irresponsibility that I was witnessing. I was just about to go to the front desk to report these kids when a hotel staff finally came and kicked them out. Of course my thought bubble at that point was "It's about time! Thank God!"

I don’t know where those kids’ parents were. I don't know where those teenagers came from, what they were thinking (IF they were even doing that) or what made them decide that what they were doing was even remotely acceptable. 

The one lingering question in my head was, "What kind of upbringing do these kids have?" I know that one can't blame everything on the parents, just as a child turning out to be successful can't be solely credited back to the parents. But I do know from being a parent myself, having my Sociology background and mere commonsense, that one's socialization experience from the family profoundly shapes one's character. 

Do these kids not have any limits? Or are there too many unreasonable limits that they're rebelling?

Are they not taught about the destructive power of groupthink and peer pressure and how important critical thinking and having a backbone are for battling irresponsible actions and poor decisions in a group?

Do the parents not talk about being considerate, the ability to think of others or the next person? When they were little and played with toys, did no one instill in them the importance of taking care of those toys, and even more so when the toy didn't belong to them?

Do these teenagers not know anything about Integrity? In elementary school, I remember being taught that 'integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching'. I didn't even know that came from C.S. Lewis at the time but that belief has stuck with me through the decades. 

I obviously don't have the answers to all my questions but I believe that the Universe has been kind enough to bring this to my attention. By no means is my parenting perfect. I know my child isn't, and will never be the perfect, one-hundred percent well-behaved child independent of the circumstance he finds himself in. But little by little I find myself witnessing or hearing about situations where character is the single most powerful defining element in how the situation turns out. 

As parents, we certainly can't afford to take for granted any opportunity we have in trying to strengthen our children's moral compass. We need to be effective leaders in our families, not only as enforcer of rules but most of all, to ensure that our children will choose well and do what is right even without us, our constant reminders or punishment. We have to find a way to strengthen our children's core with the voice of compassion, consideration, and empathy. That voice won't always be loud, but my prayer is that it will never be drowned out. Not even in the company of unsupervised, over-caffeinated, bratty teenagers.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Playdates Terrify Me

It’s been about an hour and half since my son and I got there and I know I’ve reached my limit.

Polite mommy chit chat. Check.

Toddler play time. Check.

Snack time. Check

Clean up. Check.

So with my two year old in tow, I slowly walked towards the front door where we had left our shoes while simultaneously wondering where mommy hostess was. I finally located her in her living room, adjacent to the front entry way, plopped on her floor with her kid and another mom. I politely said we were going and thanked her eagerly for having us. What happened next is something I could never forget.

She raised one arm to wave at me, almost dismissively it seemed, and barely even raised her head to look at me and my son. She didn’t bother to stand, let alone make any effort for the usual niceties such as ‘thanks for coming’, ‘glad you guys braved the cold and snow and drive safe’, or ‘it was nice playing with you guys’. As soon as I crossed over her front door threshold, my immediate thought bubble was, “What the hell just happened?!

And that, my friends, is what sealed my conviction that I hate playdates. Did I mention that was 6 1/2 years ago?

I suppose I need to give more context to this story. That mom and I were not friends at all. We were merely part of a huge mom and tot group in our area. I was a new member, while she already had her own clique. I was a newish mom and definitely new to the world of motherhood, unschooled in what to expect and not to expect when you hang out with other moms who are not really your friends. All I heard back then was that playdates are good for children especially those without siblings. I also heard it’s good for moms. So against all my natural tendencies and stubborn resistance, I put on a brave front and joined a play group where I knew not a single soul.

It really didn’t take long for me to realize that joining a playgroup didn’t have any clear benefits for me and my son. He was too young to develop any real friendships. All he and the other kids did was to play with the toys independently without really interacting. As for me, not only did I see early on that I had nothing in common with all the other moms, (save for maybe two or three), I also never felt welcomed. I couldn’t understand why, in spite of my efforts to overcome my introverted tendencies and put myself out there, no one still seemed interested enough to really talk to me or try to get to know me better. It was an epic fail to say the least, a clear poor fit as far as group chemistry goes.

Which brings me to the fact that arranged playdates among non-friends seem too artificial, superficial. If you’re arranging a playdate with someone you’re not friends with, are you doing it to force your kids to find friends? Or maybe you’re forcing yourself to find friends?

What ever happened to letting friendships grow organically? Why can’t we just trust our children that they are capable of choosing their friends, people they are truly comfortable with and are temperamentally compatible with? And more importantly, have we forgotten that children don’t necessarily have to be ‘friends’ in order to play?

Let’s not even get started on the fact that playdates demand that you ultimately stress over making your home look presentable, rack your brain as to what acceptable — and God forbid, allergy-friendly — snack you can serve to your guests, as well as what topics to discuss with the parent you know nothing about but would have to sit with for approximately two hours. 


And by the way, I’ve never hosted a playdate where the space that started out looking pristine ended up the same way after play time. Toys always end up scattered as if a tornado touched down. And if Momma didn’t have a good time hosting because she didn’t have the company of like-minded adults then I guarantee she’ll be awfully grouchy cleaning up all that mess the kids left behind. 

Look, I survived my childhood without a single playdate and I bet most of you did too. I may be a bit neurotic but I guarantee you I have really, really good quality friends I can boast of. I may not remember exactly how I met each of my close friends but I can tell you that none of them was through a playdate. I know that if you're a young or new mom, the pressure to attend or host playdates is very real. My only advice is that you be clear about why you're doing it, keep your expectations low, and most of all, know that it's something you don't have to do. Trust me when I say that a playdate is not required for a normal and happy childhood, and neither does it define good parenting. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


This is a good reminder. Often times we think we're there for our friends when we offer advice, share our wisdom and experiences relevant to the topic. But the most important thing is to just be present, to listen just to listen and not so that we can fix or even say things will be alright. 

Just be present and allow your friend to feel that she or he is valued. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Can I Really Stop Hating the New Year?

It's no secret that I've always had a disdain for New Year celebrations, or the coming of the new year for that matter. All it ever meant to me was the end of the Christmas or holiday festivities, the end of joyous times, taking down the beautiful holiday decorations, dealing with fireworks, fire crackers and all sorts of noise I can't tolerate, going back to work or school and the whole drudgery of daily life. It means the start of waiting one more year before the glee starts all over again. In other words, new year's eve to me is one big "UGGGHHHH".

I realize that there's something terribly selfish and short-sighted about my views on this subject. I'm not particularly proud of it, don't believe I can just magically change it, but I now see an antidote to this negative thinking. 

I need to zoom out. I need to think outside myself. Isn't this true for all things if we want to cultivate more gratitude and positive disposition?

So, sincerely I wish this for the coming New Year...

May it be a fresh start to those who have lost a job, a steady source of income, lost confidence or direction. Don't write off Hope just yet. Most of all, don't give up on You.

May it offer healing to the brokenhearted, those whose hearts got deserted no matter the circumstance. Know that you are never alone and that Love always finds its way back to open hearts. Don't shut yours.

May those who have resolutions pertaining to weight loss find beauty in the body they have now, beauty in the miracle that it is and how it sustains us independent of its size, shape or weight. Shed the weight of self-hate. That is all.

May we all strive to appreciate the truth that we are all inevitably connected. Male, Female, Rich, Poor, First World, Third World, Healthy, Sick. Our shared humanity calls out to us in every interaction. Recognize it. Feel it. Allow it to make you desire to create a more compassionate world. Have Faith that it's still possible. 

Have a blessed 2016! It can just be another year, another step, more of the same. Or it can be a year when your vulnerability offers gifts of deeper connections with your self and others. No, I haven't changed my mind about the noise and the sadness of ending the festivities. But I have the strangest feeling that I'm getting a bit more excited about stepping into January 1 to see where it leads ALL of us. The New Year Grinch isn't totally incurable after all...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Christmas Wish

"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.

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 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!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Are You Saying 'I love you' the Proper Way?

It's the holiday season and let's face it, most of us feel festive, positive and most certainly generous even with our words and feelings. Amidst all this joyfulness is the overflowing feeling of love (hopefully!) and sometimes you just have to say it, don't you? Sadly, I don't think a lot of us are saying it right and we don't even know it. By the time we realize it, it's already too late and damage has been done, either to the recipient of those three precious words or most often, to us, the giver. 

So today I will share with you what I've learned, painfully at times, about saying 'I love you'. Here's how you do it right...

1. Choose wisely when deciding who to say these words to. 
Love is precious and powerful. Never doubt that. And so you must choose wisely who you give it to. Make sure you mean it. Make sure that when it comes to that person, you can truly be patient, kind, trusting, humble and steady. You must know what real love means before you can offer it sincerely to someone else. Love changes the source, as well as the recipient and once given, you can't really take it back. It sets in motion changes within you that you cannot undo, inasmuch as it transforms those who openly receive it. Choose wisely who you want to experience this powerful change with.

2. Say it without any expectation. Don't say it expecting it will be said back. There's no rule saying that reciprocity is a prerequisite to offering love. Think of it as a gift. When you give a gift to someone, there is no expectation that you will receive anything back. You can't even impose that the person send you a  'thank you' card and give you praises. And if silence is all you get, you should not throw a tantrum and blame the other person for not behaving the way you want them to. Remember that love and freedom go hand in hand. You give it freely and the other person has the freedom as well to receive it in the manner they want to. If you find yourself always expecting a response, then that just means you are doing it for yourself and not for the other person and therefore you need to re-evaluate your idea of Love. Perhaps You and Love need to be further re-acquainted.  

3. Since it is a gift, you cannot dictate how it should be used or received. I don't believe you can say 'I love you' and then impose rules as to what the other person should do with it. 'Tell everyone'. 'Don't tell anyone'. 'Be happy'. 'Don't be flattered'. You simply can't be a control freak like this. If you and the other person truly know each other and share a mutuality in your relationship, then such things become unnecessary. Elaborate explanations or clarifications won't be necessary. If you are still in the mindset of controlling how your 'I love you' should be received, then you need some growing up to do and again, some re-evaluation of what Love is really about.

4. Say it with a breath of gratitude. Don't cloud it with a sense of need or fear, embarrassment or a sense of lack. Let it go, let it wash over you and be happy that you have it to give. No matter what happens, how it's received, just be truly grateful that you know Love and have been touched by it. Not everyone is as blessed.

Before I end, I want to share with you three of my favorite love quotes:

"All love eventually becomes help" ---- Paul Tillich

"Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own". --- Robert A. Heinlein

"For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation." --- Rainer Maria Rilke

Enjoy this love-filled season!