Friday, October 24, 2014

Marry Someone You Can Dance With

My parents-in-law recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and all their six children decided to throw them a big party to mark this major milestone. Five decades of marriage. 

Though admittedly, I've never been a fan of big, lavish parties, I do concede that being married to the same person for 50 years is indeed worth celebrating. It makes it even more of a big deal when you consider that my father-in-law is a stroke survivor and was severely ill, hospitalized, and almost did not make it back in 2012. Since then, his mobility and ability to care for himself have been affected, and to say that it has changed his life, as well as my mother-in-law's, is an understatement. 

In spite of all these challenges though, both of them clearly looked forward to renewing their vows in Church, and were more than game to put on their dancing shoes for the party that followed that evening. 

Original / Unedited Photo taken by my brother-in-law, James Manuel

It was a beautiful, fun party well attended by family and close friends. Good food, good music, heartfelt speeches by two of their sons and their grandchildren.

But to me, the highlight of the evening was when my father-in-law, or Big Dad as we fondly call him, requested that the DJ play the boogie. And this was after he and my mother-in-law (Big Mom) already danced to their song, Frank Sinatra's "The Nearness of You".

Big Dad could hardly move, walks with a cane, and sometimes has a really hard time breathing. And yet when he danced with Big Mom, you could see both faces beaming with joy and love. Most of all, it amazed me how, in spite of Big Dad's physical challenges, he still knew exactly where to place his hands to hold his wife, catch her turns and help her spin. It was undeniable that these two had a rhythm that each knows by heart.

It struck me that perhaps that's what happens when you love someone for a really long time and spend most of your life together. You get to know that person deeply, intimately, to a point where life turns into a graceful choreography that only the two of you can wonderfully execute. This knowledge of each other, this undeniable familiarity doesn't simply lead to a routine, but more importantly, to a rhythm

Routine implies a certain rigidity, predictability. You know exactly what's going to happen next and it's all about having an established pattern.

Rhythm on the other hand, implies some variation and necessitates an awareness of the other, an interdependence, and being sensitive to how the other is. Each person's steps may be imperfect and may vary from time to time, but the other still catches up, and both constantly choose to flow together. 

Marriages (or relationships) are never perfect. Missteps are bound to happen and a lot of the times, it's exhausting. But when you've found a partner who, for some miraculous reason, also hears the same music and beat as you do, it really makes it harder to just leave the dance floor and quit. 

Life spins us in so many different directions all the time. We trip, fall, bruise and bleed. And though we are strong enough to pull ourselves up, you can't deny that having that familiar hand to hold you, swing and sway with you, and help you keep your balance, makes a universe of difference. It's that one person that makes the spinning more bearable, the dance less tiring. When you know that the other person's hand is home, and that it's the only hand you want catching you when you fall, you know it's real and that you're dancing for keeps. Love like that is ALWAYS worth celebrating and you don't even need to wait before you reach your 50th anniversary.
Original / Unedited Photo taken by: Nel Bunag



Friday, October 17, 2014

Favors Working Moms Should Never Ask For From Their SAHM Friends

I'm so over mommy wars. I feel like it's been debated on to death, with every argument deconstructed and shredded to pieces. I'd like to think a lot of people are more enlightened now, knowing that parents make choices for their families and such choices just have to be respected and even supported. There really is no need to make each other's burdens even more unbearable by being overly critical or judgmental.

Unfortunately however, acceptance of another's choice doesn't necessarily mean fully understanding the implications of such choices. 

I'm a SAHM and I still find that though people have generally tired of questioning my choice, there are still some out there who are clueless about how my regular days look like. 

Yes, I'm talking to you, employed mom friend! We're actually not that close and yet somehow you assume a lot about me and are just too eager to fill my days with YOUR concerns.

Though I don't clock in and out like you do, my days are no less stressful. And though I may not deal with bosses and clients, I still have structured days, with a schedule I try to keep and a perpetually self-replenishing to-do list.

So, do me a favor (for a change!) and take this list to heart. For the sake of our budding friendship and my sanity, please stop asking me for these favors:


Image by: Donald Lee Pardue

1. Babysitting / Caregiving

Last time I checked, we are not related and I'm definitely not your kids' godmother. Therefore, please stop asking me to babysit for you or pick up your kids from school when you're running late. Worse, it's just not cool when you ask me to watch your kids when they're home sick. I'm sure the world won't end if you take time off of work. Better yet, hire a sitter or a nanny. I have my own kid to worry about and frankly, I don't need your kids' germs in my household.

2. Counselling 

Don't expect me to always be available for you when you call, in need of hour-long therapy sessions. I hate that you just assume I always have free time, just because I'm home. I will not drop everything I have scheduled for the day just so I can listen to your problems.

3. Receptionist Duties

I'm not a dog that does nothing but look out my window, so please don't ask me to adjust my schedule so I can spend my day looking out for the postman or the UPS & FedEx guy to receive your package. I'm sure they'll be fine and can wait for you when you finally get home.

4. Channeling Martha Stewart

When we're being our charitable and 'involved parent' selves by showing up for volunteer duties in our kids' school, don't patronize me and say, "Oh you're the SAHM! I'm sure you can head the project and create something crafty!" Stop begging me to choose the more complicated volunteer assignments just so you can always get away with simply donating store-bought supplies. Just because I'm a SAHM doesn't mean I'm Martha freakin' Stewart, capable of Pinterest-worthy projects. 

5. Fitness Training

I commend you for still wanting to exercise by the end of your work day. Bravo! But kindly leave me out if it, okay? I promise you I'm not the best gym or exercise buddy you can find. Besides, what makes you think I haven't already put in the time time earlier? More importantly, what makes you think I still have the energy after all the physical, mental and emotional labor I've put in all day taking care of my home and family? 


I wish you knew that not all of us SAHMs are domestic goddesses, highly maternal and kid-loving, social beings that can always be available for you. And most of all I wish you knew that frankly, we rarely have the time, nor the energy to spare. I know we're amazing (and so are you, by the way!). But let me make it clear that I'm not under your payroll and that real friends are always equals. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Would You Even Know It If You Met Happy?



My son recently decided that he wanted to be part of his school's Chorus group. He's been attending the after school practices for a couple of weeks now and though, admittedly, he's not the best singer there is, I must say that I'm proud of his obvious love for music and the dedication he has for it. 

Recently, he surprised me by suddenly singing (and clapping to) Pharrell Williams' 'Happy'. He would sometimes burst into song right before bath time, and sometimes while riding in the car. This past weekend, he did the same thing while our family was heading for our mini-vacation for fall break. Apparently, he learned the song, and some moves, from his Chorus practices.

What struck me most was when he sang the line, "Clap along if you know what happiness is to you". As soon as he finished singing, I couldn't help but ask, "So, Noah, what is happiness to you?"

I wanted to keep my expectations low and so I was prepared to hear something along the lines of "playing with my Legos, Xbox or eating Cheetos". But I'll be honest and admit that part of me was hoping for some profound, soulful response.  I think what I got was somewhere in between, simple and honest.

He said, "Happiness is being with Mama and Dada!"

Of course my heart melted. Of course I was brimming with joy just to hear him say that. But most of all, I was happy for my son for being so clear about what happiness is to him. There was no hesitation in his response; only certainty and clarity.

I felt somewhat ashamed that I couldn't answer as quickly as he did. For the rest of the drive (and it was a long drive), I asked myself quietly what happiness really meant for me, other than mimicking my son's answer. 

It's a given that I'm happy when I'm with my family and loved ones. But other than that, I knew that I owed it to myself to know what happiness looks like to me. Not knowing would be a complete waste of time on this earth.

I know that material things don't make me genuinely happy. And I know that happiness is different from 'comfort' or 'satisfaction'. To me, it's something deeper, more lasting, and holds more power in terms of making me feel that I'm being my authentic self or at least moving towards it.

I still don't have the complete answer although I admit that starting with thoughts of things that make me smile or make me feel fulfilled were very helpful starting points for me, and I hope they will be for you too. And once you name things (or people) that make you happy, even if only on a seemingly superficial level, ask yourself what experience this thing or person calls forth within you. This is because I believe that it's not the 'thing' per se that makes you happy, but the experience it allows you to have. 

For instance, I know that seeing carpet / vacuum lines makes me happy. It's because it gives me a sense of order, cleanliness and organization, and these make me happy. Knowing that things are in their rightful place, that life is going smooth and is being as predictable as possible, makes me happy. This is also why knowing that my loved ones are all healthy and safe makes me happy. 

Quiet time or solitude makes me happy. It's because it allows me to explore my thoughts more and connect to what is true inside.

Being and conversing with my closest, long-time friends makes me happy. It's because having an authentic sense of connection and an undeniable meeting of the minds invigorates me.

Writing and being able to publish blog posts make me happy. And getting published elsewhere makes me even happier. It's not because of vanity and the craving for attention. It makes me happy because creative self-expression is important to me, and having others appreciate what I put out is, in a way, a validation of who I am and how my mind works. 

I'm sure this list is bound to change as life goes on. But I'm glad to have been forced to face the question and dig deep for some answers. Now I know I'm a step closer to finding my personal truths about my personal happiness, and it mainly has to do with connection: simply being able to connect more deeply with others, as well as with who I truly am. Now I know I can 'clap along' knowing what happiness looks like, even though it might just be partial at this point. 

Can you clap along too? 





Saturday, October 4, 2014

Grief from 8,000 Miles Away


It was past 9:30 at night when my cellphone rang. No one ever really calls me that late, unless...Unless.

I looked at the caller I.D. and saw that it's an overseas call. It's my brother. 

"Hello? Bro?"

It took a while before I heard him speak, and when I did, I could hear his voice quivering, sounding lost and resigned. 

"Mommy Rita's gone", he said in Filipino.

I felt confused. I heard him and understood exactly what he meant, but everything in my body and half of my brain rejected his news and simply didn't understand. Or didn't want to understand.

Mommy Rita is, or was, my last surviving grandparent. She's the one I wrote about five years ago because I was trying to come to terms with her worsening dementia, and the same one I mentioned in my essay last week. A few days ago, mid-morning of September 30, she died. She was 88.

That I am heartbroken is not a secret; and that she died very peacefully and painlessly, though something my family and I are all very grateful for, doesn't change the fact that she left an emptiness that I know will linger on. 

But this is neither a eulogy, nor a public outpouring of my grief. Instead, this is to share my realization that, for migrants such as myself, the grieving process looks a little bit different and possibly more complicated compared to the grief of people who are in close proximity to their families.

For someone like me whose immediate family resides in another country, every late phone call can potentially stop you in your tracks and could make you utter every prayer imaginable even before you pick up the phone. You know that it can only be a real emergency, and the only questions left for you to ask are "Who is it now?" and "What happened?".



A family emergency for me will always spell out a dilemma and won't always be as straightforward as you might expect given 'normal' situations. For migrants like myself, it will always be a weighing of options as we ask ourselves, "Should I buy a plane ticket now and take the soonest flight out to go home?" And I'm not talking about a cheap, short flight either. In my situation, it would likely cost, on average, a thousand US dollars, for roughly a 22-hour flight. 

But to be honest, it's not so much the cost I'm worried about. It's the idea of being stuck in an airplane, most likely by myself (as it would be too complicated and expensive to expect my son and husband to drop everything and accompany me), and start the grieving in my head during that 22-hour flight.

So, really, it is not uncommon for migrants like me, who, for one reason or another, never make it back home to be with our loved ones and pay our last respects. We often miss out on the rituals needed that serve the purpose of easing the grieving process somehow. When a loved one dies, the living find comfort in the telling and re-telling of their memories of the deceased with those who they share common memories with. It is through this ritual that the living find comfort and acceptance that though our loved one will no longer be physically present, it is still up to us to keep them alive in more intimate ways. Engaging in the final rites for the dead, which also serves as a rite of passage and process of closure for the living, are things migrants like myself find ourselves doing away with, often times decided on rationally though not necessarily willingly. 

I did not write this so you would feel sorry for me. After all, to live so far away from 'home' is a choice I continue to make. 

I wrote this to give a voice to people like myself who often times suffer the stigma or judgement by others who assume that going home when a loved one dies is an easy and automatic decision; that failure to show up and pay our last respects are signs that we love less, feel less and that our decision is borne out of sheer selfishness. 

Grief is very personal and it is unfair to judge others' based on how you are acquainted with yours. We all do what we can with what we are given. Sometimes a long trip back home might be doable, but sometimes we might just have to make do with phone calls, letters and a long, quiet cry at night. Which ever one it is, our grief is ours alone, and by no means should one's outward expression of it be a measure of the depth of love and sense of loss felt for the one who has departed. 


Goodbye for now, Mommy Ritz. 'Till we see each other again...XOXO














Friday, September 26, 2014

Why Dying At 75 Is Worth Considering



Image by: Nicole Pierce



By now most of you have probably read Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel’s highly riveting and thought-provoking article on why he hopes to die at 75. Based on some reactions I’ve read, I know that the ideas he put forward are contentious and made a lot of people uncomfortable and even enraged. However, I admit that this essay earned a huge nod from me.



Emanuel hopes to die by age 75, but by no means is he advocating euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.



He emphasized that our culture's manic pursuit of youth (or what he calls the ‘American immortal’) doesn't really prolong life but instead only prolongs the dying process.

The author cited studies showing that physical and mental capabilities decline as we age and that "...by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us." 

In the personal sphere, Emanuel discussed how the desire to live long places huge financial and emotional burdens on our children, and how living well into old age goes against his desire to be remembered by others as someone vibrant, active and engaged.

One of Emanuel's most important points is his discussion on how he wants to approach healthcare as he ages, admitting that he'll see it more as palliative rather than curative care; that he won't actively end his life but won't be interested in prolonging it either, which means rejecting preventive tests, flu shots and any life-sustaining interventions.

I don't agree with everything Emanuel wrote, especially where it concerns vaccines, though I admit I feel somewhat validated and comforted. I agree that after a certain age, the need to prolong life is unnecessary. And I most certainly agree that it shouldn't be denied that aging translates to a decline in physical and brain health. It's just how nature is. 

People criticize Emanuel for choosing what seems to be an arbitrary age of 75. I don't believe it's as arbitrary as some may think, in the same way that some may think my chosen age of closer to 80 sounds completely random. But it's not.

It's 80 for me because I'm considering my son's age. By age 80, my son would've already turned 46 and by that time, I'd like to believe he'd be more equipped to deal with my passing. No one is ever really prepared at any age but by then, I think he'd be more settled in his own life, happy and hopefully with children of his own.

It's 80 because that was around the same age when my own grandmother's mental faculties started to significantly decline. She is suffering from dementia, and though not officially diagnosed, I wouldn't be surprised if what's causing it is Alzheimer's disease (AD). I fear ending up the same way, as I know is also true for my mother. Who am I to assume that I will be spared the same fate because of advances in technology now? Science admits that much of AD remains a mystery. Research says it could be genetic. If that's the case, then I'm pretty much screwed. On the bright side, you'd understand my support of Emanuel's sentiments even more.

Besides the decline in my mental faculties, I'm certain that the decline in my mobility and dexterity also won't take its sweet time. I know this because roughly five years ago, the process has begun for me. I have fingers that are slightly deformed because of osteoarthritis. There are days when they feel stiff and I fear the day when I will find it impossible to write. My knees creak and I've been told by a doctor to avoid walking in incline and that I shouldn't run so much anymore, if at all. 

So yes, if I could have my way, I want to die before I get too old. It isn't aging I fear. It's the point of helplessness and uselessness. And it's not solely about fear but also love. I love my family which is why I don't want to inflict myself on them should I reach that point when much of 'ME' is already gone. I don't want to be an unnecessary burden to my child and don't believe I am his responsibility. I don't want to cause him unnecessary financial and emotional strain as he tries to figure out how best to care for me when I can no longer fully care for myself. 

Death is a very personal experience. We confront it alone, no matter how many others surround us. And the older I get, the more I become objective enough to admit that death happens way before it takes our last breath. 'To live', 'have a life', or 'be alive', means more than just having a beating heart and the capacity to breathe. What it truly means is to be productive, to be able to contribute something worthwhile, to still know how to look forward to experiences and learn, be enthralled, be curious. But if one gets too old or too sick and disabled to even have the capacity to move about, care for oneself and others, and have a mind clear enough to engage in valuable relationships, then isn't that not being fully alive anymore? And if that's my belief, and choose not to prolong my own life without actively seeking death but merely by embracing its inevitable arrival, then why chastise me? 

For most of my life, I never understood my mother's lack of desire to grow really old and die old. But now I do. I'm thankful to Zeke Emanuel for starting this discourse and forcing people to ask the tough questions about the nature of aging, death and even the meaning of life; for making the brave and honest among us confront HOW we want aging and dying to look like for us if we could indeed choose. It's not only the practical thing to do, but also the most loving thing we could offer those who come after us, those who we'll leave behind.



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Drop-Off Zone Doesn't Mean Drop Your Manners



I'm an extremely rule abiding person. Chalk it up to eleven years of Catholic education or to having strict parents, or both, it doesn't matter. The fact is, when it comes to rules, I'm very compliant and you'd rarely see me challenging them.

This is why I always find myself shaking my head when I'm at the school car line. Always at the car line. For some strange, inexplicable reason, it's as if people either become stupid or turn into jerks and a**holes as soon as they enter said zone. I don't often find myself in this pick-up and drop-off area as my son is a bus rider. However, every single time I've had to pick him up, whether on regular hours or late dismissal because of some school activity, I've been exposed to this 'bizarre' behavior courtesy of certain parents.

It never fails. Someone always ends up breaking the rule (which isn't unwritten, by the way, as we've all been given the same memo every single school year) and decides to do as he/she pleases. And actually, you don't even need to have read the prescribed procedure for the drop-off/pick-up zone because commonsense dictates what needs to be done. Well actually, commonsense and common decency,both of which appear to be not so common after all.

I mean, seriously, how complicated can it be? You drive to the car line zone where you will eventually pick up your child from. There is a stop sign at the end of this line, which is also the end of the building, where the first car that arrives is supposed to stop and wait until the children are dismissed. I understand that the doors to the school are in the middle part of this building. But that shouldn't matter. When you are in the car line zone, you're supposed to follow and keep the line. You drive up to the end of the line, which ever spot that may be in, whether it's close to the door or not.

It's a line, people! Not a freakin' parking lot! 

You're not supposed to stop and park your car wherever you want to. 

You are not to skip spots just because you want to be that car that sits right in front of the school doors.

Seriously, would it hurt that much to take about fifteen to twenty more steps in order to reach the school doors and pick up your child? And no, I've never ever seen any parent or grandparent with a disability picking up the student/s, so it's not like these people have any valid reason for breaking up the line.

The only real reason I can think of is their false sense of entitlement, which in common, angry language is best known as bratty behavior / arrogance / assholiness. It's inconsiderate behavior, and frankly, very narcissistic. When I see parents do this, it's as if I'm hearing them say, "F*** you people, and F*** the rules. I'm going to do what I want to do just because I can!"

What's sad and really unfortunate about this is that these are the same people who are taking care of our children, socializing our children and shaping the minds of these young ones. Should it still then be a surprise that a lot of children these days exhibit the same self-centered behavior and sense of entitlement? We often say that children are like sponges and they learn not so much through what we tell them but through what they see. If they see their parents having no empathy and consideration, no respect for rules and a solid sense of propriety, then how can these same children be expected to develop into kind, compassionate, and disciplined human beings? 

As adults, we all have the serious responsibility to think of the kind of ripple effect our actions create. And as parents I understand that we all make mistakes and are all just doing our best...mostly, hopefully. But it is unfair to expect from someone what we ourselves don't have in us to give. So the next time you feel the frustration over your children's unreasonably bratty behavior and decide to give them a lecture, consider owning it and ask yourself: How did I teach them to be like this?










Saturday, September 20, 2014

Blog Hopping with Midlife Boulevard

Today I'm participating in Midlife Boulevard's Blog Hop!  

Participants are supposed to share their most favorite post from 2014, and of course, as all blog hops go, we all need to do our part visiting, reading and sharing others' posts. I want to invite you to check out the other blogs because I promise you will enjoy it. These midlife writers are among the best!

For my part, it was not so easy choosing my most favorite post. I was able to narrow it down to five and then finally, I decided to share this particular one below because I think it echoes what most of us who find ourselves 'a little older' may be feeling. This post was also one of my Featured Member Posts at BlogHer. I hope you enjoy it, whether it's your first time reading it or your tenth! 


Friday, September 12, 2014

Perspective

Image by : Riley Briggs

I gain perspective when my child is sick.

Whenever my mommy gut tells me it's something more serious than the usual cold and cough, panic comes rushing in. 

I worry. 

I torment myself. 

My head tightens. My fingers can't stop clicking away on my phone or computer, researching for diagnoses and explanations. 

I drive myself insane.

A year or so ago, I would have just ended this post right here.

Fortunately, I gain a little bit more than just spots and wrinkles as I age. I now know that I have a choice. I know that I can step back, take a deep breath (or as many as is necessary), and look again. Just give my situation another look.

Refocus.

My son is the most important person in my world. When I'm concerned about his health and safety, nothing else seems to matter. For the first time in many, many weeks, all of a sudden, getting published at some big shot website doesn't matter. The countless tabs left open on my computer screen reminding me of writing projects I dream of taking part of, all get put aside as I find myself clicking the x's on these tabs. All of a sudden, I'm cut off from social media and my only active tabs are allotted solely for CDC, Web MD, or Kidshealth.org. Everything in my being is consumed by the desire to make him better. That is all.

And then I refocus again.

My child's illness has a diagnosis. He is behaving within a close proximity to 'normal'. The doctor thinks he should be well within the next three days. I don't know for sure if that will come true, but I can choose to hope for the best.

I think of all the other children who have incurable illnesses. I think of family and friends who are battling cancer. I think of parents who have lost their children all too suddenly. And yet these same broken hearts and hope-challenged souls still find a way to fight, to embrace the promise of hope, and see their lives with gratitude. 

Surely, I have no excuse not to choose the same way.

And then in that brief moment of exhaling, I accidentally land on a news website telling me that our sun has, and will continue to fire super solar flares in the next few days. Scientists assure us it's nothing to be concerned about but this surely gives me even greater perspective. And a perspective within a perspective even, when I reminded myself that though the flares can actually be threatening to life as we know it, they still create such beautiful northern lights which I have been dying to see!...(if only I didn't live too far south...*sigh*...)

It really just all depends on how we view it, right?

From one vantage point, my world and my worries are all there is. From another extreme, they completely pale in comparison.

I can choose to see my son's illness as just that, and one that causes me worry. Or my perspective could be viewing his illness as an opportunity for realizing many other perspectives.

The choices are always there.


Author's Note: To those who are wondering, the little one was initially diagnosed with strep.  However, after two days, his throat culture came back and it was negative for strep. He was seen again earlier today by his doctor and now it appears what he has may be viral. His rashes/ blisters look more like Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. The sores are all over his throat, and there are red spots on his feet, hands/fingers, elbows and one on his ear. I am hoping he will recover more during the weekend and be ready to go back to normal by Monday. Keeping fingers crossed and accepting with much gratitude any positive vibes you can throw our way. Thank you for your thoughts!


















Thursday, September 4, 2014

I Fell In Love With My Husband When He Asked Me This Question...

"How was your day?

It's such a simple and seemingly innocuous question, but definitely one that I've learned to dread after becoming a stay-at-home parent. I'm quite certain a number of other SAHMs out there can relate to this feeling, and I think this is even worse for over-analyzers such as myself because really, how does one answer that question truthfully and yet still creatively, day in and day out?

"How was your day?"

"Well, I dusted, vacuumed, did the laundry, ironed some clothes, tried to write an essay, networked on social media, cooked, made snacks, monitored homework time, etc...." --- Repeat for the next 30 days, or until something more exciting happens.

But no matter how averse I am to this question, the fact is, it is this same question that has also probably saved a lot of marriages. For some, it may be the only opening for an opportunity to reconnect after a soul-draining day. And your relationship doesn't even have to be necessarily in trouble. It's just that every marriage could use as many of those moments when we say to ourselves, "I do feel our connection, and I feel less alone."

Image by:  Renate Flynn

The other night, I had one of those moments. My husband and I were in bed, preparing for our nightly pre-bedtime television.  Before tuning in to one of our recorded shows, he asked the dreaded question. This time though, I had a longer than usual response.

It so happened that it was one of my more stressful days as a blogger, and I was feeling overwhelmed with the social media networking demands of my work, as well as with my continued failure at having my writing be noticed by one of the bigger websites I've been sending pitches to.  I went on and on, sharing details of my blogging life to this corporate IT man.

I shared with him my realization that even in my world, just as in his, networking and meeting the right people can spell a universe of difference in getting noticed and succeeding, and that one disadvantage I have is that I've never been able to attend any blog conferences, mainly because of my social anxiety and introversion.  Those conferences also cost money and I'm never too sure if it's money he'd be willing to shell out for me and my writing 'job'. (And yes, I'd have to ask him to finance it since my writing hasn't exactly raked in any significant financial rewards).

At this point, I was already expecting him to have zoned out or just say that the idea is clearly a waste of resources.

But the shock of all shocks happened.

He said, "Maybe next time you should go."

Then I replied, "Well, it's always been so hard for me to consider going to any of those because I really don't know anyone; not in real life at least. And you have to be ready to network heavily if you want to get something out of the whole experience. You know how hard that would be for me to do, so....I'm not sure."

After saying that, I was more than prepared for a lecture on how I should be more bold and get myself out there and quit being an introvert. It has happened on numerous occasions in the past and so I've learned to sufficiently brace myself. (Of course anyone who truly understands introversion would know that such remarks also ultimately lead to full-blown arguments and possibly even sleeping in separate rooms for the night).

But the surprises just kept coming.  

He came back with, "Maybe we'll go with you,...not to the conference of course, but just on the  trip."


It is said that a lot of the times, when we converse, there are actually multiple conversations going on all at once. And the challenge, especially between married couples, is to pay attention to that subtext and try to develop the capacity to decode it as best you can. 

Having that simple conversation with my husband filled me to the brim that night, on so many different levels.  

I felt moved not because of his offer to accompany me should I decide to attend a blog conference in the future. It's because I felt he finally accepted me for who I am, reserved and introverted. No tone of disappointment or frustration. No criticism or a sense of desire to change me.

I felt moved not just because he actually wanted me to go to those conferences, but because it meant he understood its importance to my growth as a writer, and I felt supported.

I felt moved because he listened to every detail I shared with him about the work I do beyond my role as wife and parent.  In doing so, I felt that he validated that aspect of my identity and respected the dreams that I now hold, no matter how different they may be from his own expectations.

I felt seen, heard, treasured. He saw ME, and in his acknowledgment of who I am, our connection deepened.

In my marriage, there have been times when I just wanted to strangle my husband out of frustration, and have wondered if we are right for each other.


And then there are those times when a sense of peace just washes over me, as I hear the voice of certainty assuring me that I did make the right choice, that this is a man who will always do his best to love me and stay committed to our mutual growth.

By no means is our marriage perfect and perpetually blissful.  But the fact that the voice of certainty speaks more loudly to me more often than the voice of doubt (and the urge to strangle), means that we might just make it. I'm certainly not swooning and falling in love every minute of every day. But  I have a strong feeling that having those unexpected moments of real connection will help us more in staying on course than simple romance ever could.










Thursday, August 28, 2014

What I Know About Marriage Helped Me Buy A Home



Our family just hit our third year anniversary in this home we live in.  Three years ago, my husband and I went through the grueling process of house hunting, and the process was even further complicated by the fact that it was going to be an interstate move for us.  Staying put was not an option because of my husband’s new job.

We knew we had to face the process head on and there was certainly no room for ambivalence.  We were ready, dead serious, and determined for a successful search. 

The more I got immersed in the house hunting process, the more I realized that it wasn’t any different from finding your mate or getting married. What you know about one can be applied to the other.  Given everything we went through and lessons I learned as a home buyer, here are my realizations and advice to anyone investing in real estate…or preparing for marriage.


1.  You have to spend a LOT of time looking before you find THE ONE.  And when you find it, you'll know.  You will feel right about it and be very comfortable about taking a leap of faith, in spite of certain fears. It is a commitment after all.  

2.  The process always has to start with your self and not with what's out there. You have to know (and I mean really know) your finances, your budget, or what you're pre-approved for if you're taking out a mortgage. You cannot begin the search if you don't even know what you can afford.  You have to make sure you don't set yourself up for great disappointment by looking at houses that are totally out of your league.  In the 
event that your financial capacity only affords you houses that are unacceptable to you and totally doesn’t match either your taste or your basic requirements, then there's only one thing to do.  Wait and save up some more.  Work on your finances and get better at it.  Otherwise, you just have to be realistic, accept that the pool of choices will always be limited for most of us, and accept what's realistically available out there for YOU.

3.  If you're not in love with it, don't 'marry' it. Remember, you'll have to live with it and in it for the rest of your life.  Okay, maybe not the rest of your life but a significant number of years.  My mother always told me to marry someone whose face I won’t mind seeing first thing in the morning when I open my eyes.  It’s the same with a house.  You’ll be waking up to it every day and you have to feel good about seeing it and being in it when you do.
4.  Once you've made your decision and it's all locked in place, you have to stop looking. There will always be something better out there.  There will always be a bigger house, a nicer lawn, bigger closets, more modern kitchens, or better flooring. Remember that the grass will always be greener on the other side.  But you have chosen and at least at this time of need, this is the intersection of what you want and what you can afford, so be at peace with your choice and commit to it.  You can't have buyer's remorse. It is a house after all, and not a pair of shoes you can return. 
5.  No house will ever be perfect.  What's important is you go into the search process with a list of non-negotiables and stick with them.  That being said, it's also very important that you are willing to compromise.  Be clear about what things you can and cannot change, and what you need and value most.  
6.  Your non-negotiables better be the REALLY important stuff and not just a bunch of aesthetics.  You can always change certain things such as counter tops, flooring, paint color, cabinetry, etc.  However, you cannot change (at least not very easily, or not at all) such things as square footage, location/neighborhood, structural soundness, layout, monthly costs for mortgage payments, and property tax.
7.  The house needs to fit YOU, and not the other way around.  You can't purchase a home just because you're attracted to some bells and whistles when the bones of the house and its basic characteristics don't really fit you. It’s never wise to commit to something feeling that you need to adapt to it in significant ways, rather than have the house fit YOUR needs, YOUR existing patterns.  Yes, some compromise may be required, as I mentioned above, but not to the extent that you are sacrificing yours and your family's fundamental preferences.  You can't let the beautiful spa-like bathroom, or the ultra chic kitchen make you forget that the house does not have the minimum square-footage you absolutely need. Or that this one only has 1.5 bathrooms for your family of six, and that this will take you two hours to get to your work place.  You may really be attracted to this eye-candy, but if the real substance isn’t there, it really isn’t worth falling in love with and definitely undeserving of your life savings.

8.  Timing is everything.  You may be ready, but the house you're envisioning is not available in the market.  Or the house may be there, but 
your finances and other circumstances may not allow you to purchase just yet.  You need that 'magical' synchronicity, the confluence of all those forces, to make something happen.  
9.  Unless it's a new construction, each existing house has a past, and I'm a believer in trying to know as much as you possibly can about that past.  Everyone has ‘baggage’ and the only question is if it's something you can live with.  Has the house experienced flooding before? What is the age of the house and has it ever been remodeled? It's all about making a decision that's as informed as possible, which leads me to #10.

10.  There are always risks.  The question is, is this one worth it, worth all the risks you're aware of?  You will have cold feet. You will question, evaluate and re-evaluate. You will take pause and do everything to delay as much as you can. However, ultimately buying a home is much like any serious commitment you make in your life.  You can't possibly foresee everything, can't plan for everything.  All you can do is bite the bullet, and be as prepared for contingencies as you possibly can.

So you see, committing to a home isn't all that different from finding a partner.  You can always have someone set you up, have a matchmaker (i.e. your real estate agent), but ultimately, it will be your decision and the success rests on how much you know your self and what you’re looking for.  Self-knowledge is key because frankly, I’ve never heard of a marriage that succeeded and ended blissfully when it was based on too much settling or entered into blindly. 
Buying a home is a huge commitment that needs to be taken seriously. It takes a lot of hard work and a solid level of maturity before anyone can finally bravely say, "With this key I thee wed".




*Author's Note:  The list on this post was originally published on Catharsis with the title "With This Key I Thee Wed".  Parts of it have been modified for the current publication.