Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It's Nothing Personal

I have always hated hearing that.  Someone says something that you don't want to hear, something nasty, or not so nasty but definitely bruises your ego, and then follows it up with a jab of, "It's nothing personal".  Now that's a sure fire way of making me want to punch you in the face.

But the more I think about this, the more I'm realizing that it does make sense. From a more mature and spiritual perspective, I can now appreciate the point that when things are said or done to us, rarely is it really about us, but more about the other person.

The epiphany hit me when I thought of how long I have been waiting for someone to apologize to me for a transgression made. Then it finally occurred to me that it's never going to happen and it's not simply because the other person is arrogant or full of pride (although perhaps that may be a small part of the problem).  I realized that the answer is simply because this person does not have it in her and therefore cannot give it.  I know so much about this person and everything she has gone through...from a difficult childhood to being in abusive relationships and countless other heartbreaking (soul-breaking) life events.  In the grand scheme of things, it is highly possible that she does not even see the hurt she has caused me given that it doesn't even 'register' in her 'transgression scale'.  The other thing worth considering is that I don't think she has ever gotten any apologies from those who have truly hurt her in her past.  So, how can she offer me something she doesn't possess, doesn't know how to do or deliver?  It simply does not make sense for me to expect something from someone when what I want is something the other person does not possess.  

How many times have we expected something from someone, not knowing that they do not have it to give?  

It isn't fair to expect someone to be affectionate towards us, when that person never experienced enough affection to truly learn it.

It isn't fair to expect honesty from someone who has consistently been lied to, cheated, or betrayed.

It isn't fair to expect compassion, empathy, or unconditional love from someone who was never made to feel valued for who he is, and instead felt constantly used and appreciated only for what he possessed and could give.  

This is not about making excuses for someone's behavior or faults.  Rather I am proposing that WE be more responsible for OUR own decisions and actions.  The truth is, we may never know everything about another person's life to fully explain their choices and make sense of their thinking.  And even if you were able to do all that, isn't it that the final question is still what YOU will do with that information?  It's our business to decide how to respond to situations.  It's not our business to control how others decide to relate to us.

Regardless of how others are towards us and whatever justifications there may be, the fact remains that we really only have control over ourselves.  If you are unhappy with how you are being treated, the only real question is if you will accept it and put up with it, or if you will reject it and walk away.  Your choice inevitably defines who you are, hence this is where it becomes completely about YOU. In this respect, it completely becomes truly personal.

*Photo credit: By Bryan Helfrich, Alias52 [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Self-doubt In the Spotlight

I have a recurring dream.  And it's annoying and stress-inducing, to say the least.  Every now and then it would come and it has haunted me for years, even decades now.

The dream always goes this way:  I'm still in school, whether it's high school or college, and there's an exam...a MATH exam.  And it's always my algebra teacher in high school, even when the setting involves my college years.  It's either I didn't know there was a test and I go to class unprepared, or, I knew of the scheduled test but thought I had more time to prepare only to be completely proven wrong and made to feel like an overconfident idiot.  Either way, I'm always unprepared and panicked.  Then somehow, somewhere in the dream, I get this thought and say to myself, "Maybe it will be like that last time when she didn't include that part I didn't study for.  Maybe I'll be lucky again!" And then of course, soon I realize that I'm not getting my wish this time around, and that no, I wouldn't be able to 'fake my way through this one'.  (Yes, that line, that thought, crosses my mind in my dream).

My husband makes fun of me for having these dreams.  He always wonders why I keep having them considering that it's so far from reality.  He argues that I'm too organized in real life to be unaware of scheduled tests or be unprepared like that.  It perplexes him that someone who always has a schedule and sticks to it, and even ends up always finishing ahead of deadlines, can have such crazy dreams.  I just tell him it's my fear of, and aversion to Math.  I know that's partially true but I'm certain it's deeper than that.

It's always Math because it's something I'm not naturally good at.  For the anxiety to make sense, it would have to be something that I feel I need to realistically prepare for.  And of course school has to be involved because, not only did I spend almost half of my life in that institution, but it also represents something where we were all objectively assessed for our capabilities.  It's in our schools where we learned to compete, cooperate, and further made to realize that you need actual skills to make it in the 'real' world.  It's in our schools where we felt we had to prove ourselves before any real recognition could be given.

In my dream, other than the overwhelming feeling of being unprepared, the other thought that overpowers me is the thought of 'being found out'; the feeling that my math teacher was out 'to get me', 'to expose me' for the fake that I am...that I'm really not smart and don't really deserve recognition in any way, shape or form.

Perhaps I'm doubting myself, questioning if I really deserved the accolades I got when I was in elementary and high school.  Perhaps I feel like I'm not as sharp as the others who also got some form of recognition.  Perhaps this brings me back to the days I questioned myself as an academic, comparing my nature to the other professors I worked with when I was in the university.  Most of all, I suspect it has something to do with my feeling of inadequacy given that I have been a homemaker for the past six years.  

I am not revealing all this to get sympathy, or some affirmation of the value of what I do for my family now.  I also want to make it clear that I have no regrets and will not trade my position now for any high-paying job outside the home. This is what I want and feel blessed that I am able to do this.  However, the fear of the unknown is getting stronger and stronger.  Self-doubt is gripping me even more tightly as I try to confront the question of 'What's next?'  I might as well throw 'What are my real skills?', and 'What do I really want?' into the mix.

I know that the only way to confront darkness is to shed some light on it.  I am trying to slowly do that and I know I have to be gentle with myself in this long process.  I am hoping, however, that somewhere along the way, I will be aided by the wisdom of those who have gone through a similar journey.  Long and challenging treks, after all, are never fun when you're alone and without a map.

Do you find yourself asking the same questions?  How do you proceed from self-doubt?  Are there concrete steps you find effective?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Swallowing Our Pride

Mornings are never fun for parents with school-aged kids.  If you're an average parent like myself (translate:  no nanny, house help or any of that luxury), you start out your days feeling like you're on the brink of a heart attack.  You don't really want to get out of bed but you know there's already a ton of things waiting to be done.  And though you wish your days start just as they do in commercials (i.e. Mom wearing a silky robe, walking calmly towards her gourmet kitchen, coffee ready and she sips with such grace, closes her eyes as if to be thankful for all that life has to offer), the reality is that you're in your shabby pajamas, hair all standing up, and you are frantic trying to figure out what to serve for breakfast and what your child will bring to school for lunch.  The icing on the cake is the joyful experience of dragging your child out of bed...

Normally, what works in our household is the reminder that there's a school bus.  90% of the time, the reminder that the school bus never waits for anyone makes the little guy jump out of bed and triggers instant enthusiasm.  Problem solved!  (Let's hope the magic lingers for at least eight more years).

Once we make it to the dining table, the next major struggle is chowing down breakfast at a reasonable amount of time.  Yesterday though, Noah asked me a question that led me to rationalize our daily delay and struggles with breakfast.

He asked, "Mommy, how come 'J' always makes it to the bus stop early and ahead of us?"  Almost instinctively I replied, "Because he's American and they don't have a Filipino breakfast".

To those who are not familiar with such a type of breakfast, let me sum it up for you in one word:  Rice.  We can eat this (and actually sometimes do) during every meal of the day.  A 'Filipino breakfast' would traditionally be rice and something fried....fried fish, fried pork, fried hotdog, fried spam, fried (Filipino) sausage or 'longganisa', fried beef (tapa), fried chicken, fried bacon, and of course fried egg.  Actually the fried egg comes with all of the above, and even if we're having bread for breakfast, fried egg would be expected as well.  However, Noah's plate these days never contains any egg as he suddenly decided, upon turning 3 1/2, that he hates egg. I'm still in the process of curing this malady.

It takes time and effort to prepare this sort of meal especially when you still feel like a zombie and would really much rather stay in your lovely cocoon in bed.  The 'delay' also comes from the fact that a highly Americanized 5-year old is not the easiest to feed rice to in the morning.  I don't force-feed him and constantly remind myself that the size of his stomach is about the size of his fist. However, it's a fact that chewing rice in tandem with some type of protein takes more time and effort than shoving a spoonful of cereal in your mouth.  

So why do I still choose to do this despite its challenges?

The answer is clear.  It's because I feel I need to.  I need to because I grew up eating the same things.  I need to because I was taught that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that you need something hearty to carry you through a long morning in school.  Most importantly, I need to because I want my son to retain as much of his cultural identity as possible.  

Everyday, it's a struggle for a migrant parent like myself to assert my Filipino-ness in an environment that is hardly diverse.  We do not have a Filipino channel at home so I really don't get to expose my child to Filipino forms of mass media.  On a more basic level, I feel guilty for not teaching him enough of our native language (Filipino / Tagalog).  I can speak it, and my husband can speak a bit of it, and yet we still speak English at home.  Traditionally, majority of Filipinos are Roman Catholics and though we are all baptized as such, I'll be honest and admit that we hardly practice and to make matters worse, I feel extremely conflicted about my religion.

So what else of my heritage is left that I can easily and joyfully pass on to my child?  Food.  It's a non-negotiable for me.  Filipinos love to eat and gatherings always involve food and lots of it.  It's how we remember traditions, our families and friends, special memories of our childhood and different rites of passage.  Preserving and passing on the flavors of home to my son, no matter how challenging, are sacrifices I'm willing to make on a daily basis.  Maybe someday soon, my son will ask for that fried egg, or even egg with 'sibuyas' (onions).  And maybe he'll soon eat that 'tapa' or 'longganisa' with slices of fresh tomatoes.  Better yet, perhaps he'll crave 'tinapang bangus' (smoked milkfish).  For now, even though Noah prefers to have hotdog, bacon or spam for breakfast, it's still music to my ears and brings pride to my heart when I hear him say, "Mommy, I want it with rice".

* Image courtesy of Michal Marcol /
**Image courtesy of