Monday, March 24, 2014

Making Family Time Truly Count

Let's be honest.  As parents, most of us share the idea that a great vacation would just be to stay home, vegetate and really not have to think of anything or anyone else.  The idea of packing and planning seem even more exhausting sometimes, and hence less enticing than, say, cleaning your bathrooms at home.  But, it is what it is.  We have our children to think about and give in to.  

So last week, since it was my son's spring break, we headed out to a small, quiet town, around 2 1/2 hours east of Nashville.  I didn't dread this trip so much because it was a manageable distance from home, and I knew we'd be using our timeshare for the whole week which means we'd have a fully furnished condominium.  Knowing that we'd be staying at a 'house' as opposed to just a 'room' makes a huge difference in my stress levels.

Now, when I say 'quiet town', I do mean it.  When we got there, we realized that it was like a retirement community. Most of the people within the resort, as well as those residing in the surrounding areas, are senior citizens.  I have nothing against this and if you know me, you'd understand how I actually prefer these quiet and low-key environments.  And seriously, why would anyone complain waking up to this view?

Wooded area right by the back patio areas

A small creek offering such relaxing sounds

The only two down sides were that (1) this place was clearly not a foodie's paradise as there were hardly any remarkable places for dining (although food was definitely not bad either); and (2) there were not too many attractions for children.  The town is known as the golf capital of the state and that has no relevance whatsoever to a six-year old.  

So what did we do to keep our son entertained after realizing driving around to view the lakes and mountains was not doing anything for him?...We drove to the Knoxville Zoo which was about an hour away.

Truth be told, I've always felt ambivalent about zoos.  On the one hand, I understand that they educate people about the various animal species, as well as raise funds for the preservation of endangered ones.  However, on the other hand, a part of me feels it's cruel for using the animals as entertainment, or something to watch, as they are caged and taken out of their natural habitats.  This feeling always heightens when I see the apes. Most of the time, they seem depressed and bored, and since evolutionarily speaking, they are the closest to humans, I seriously empathize with them. (And I seriously mean this in a way that might seem freakish to others).  I couldn't even bring myself to take photos of the gorillas because I was too sad and felt like I was being too cruel if I did so.

But I still had to take some photos, if only to capture the happiness and curiosity of my son.

One thing has become clear to me after this vacation.  Yes, we did a variety of things, from activities unique to the towns we visited, to just fun family activities like tennis, swimming and mini-golf.  But it's never in the busyness, grandness or novelty of experiences that happiness lies.  It's really in being in the moment.  To be honest, I felt that it didn't matter what we did or where we went.  What made it fun and remarkable especially for our son was that we were truly there with him.  We were all focused on each other, did away with distractions and made the effort to be in the moment.  It's really the best gift we can all give to each other, and the only element that can make any time spent authentically valuable.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Words of Wisdom For Your 12-Year-Old Self

Sometime last week, I read an article from a magazine giving tips as to what simple steps we can take to discover more joy in our lives.  One of the recommendations was to imagine what you would tell your 12-year-old self to reassure her that it's all going to be okay.  (Don't ask me why the age of 12 was chosen).  

I decided to give it a shot today after trying to remember who I was and how things were like when I was 12.  That would be in the mid-'80s and I was probably simmering in a whole lot of Michael Jackson, Madonna, Wham and Hall & Oates, not to mention all the sentimental love songs by Whitney Houston, Paul Young and Phil Collins, most of which I most likely didn't fully comprehend.  How  could I?  I was only 12, though by then, dying to be 13 just so I can claim to be a 'teen', more mature and free to do as I wish.  Ah, the joys of being young and naive!

I remember that at 12, I couldn't wait to be older and by the time it was less than six months to my next birthday, I would tell some people I was 13, rationalizing in my head that I'm simply rounding it off.  I couldn't wait to be older and not be a 'child' anymore.  I was insecure about a lot of things and just couldn't wait to move on to the next phase of my life, hoping that a few birthdays would automatically spell out a host of desired changes.  Again, the joys of being young and utterly stupid!

Anyway, here is my list for my 12-year-old self and I hope that somehow it manifests even just a faint glimmer of wisdom gained from close to three additional decades of birthday celebrations.

1.  Don't let your body size define you.  

Don't waste your time trying to be skinny because you'll never be.  First of all, you were born with a big frame so no amount of dieting and obsessing will turn you into the typical petite Asian size.  Second, I know that you're only obsessing over your size because you've been told that being overweight and 'chubby' make you less 'lovable' and unattractive to the opposite sex.  In your heart you know this is not true so ignore those destructive voices.  There is so much good and love in you to focus on, so much more you can accomplish if you just stop criticizing yourself  for your size.  Remember that you are worth more than how you look.  

2.  Take your time with (the idea of) falling in love.  You will find and be found by someone really special.

It's okay that most everyone around you are having boyfriends.  Trust me. It's not because you're unattractive or awful.  You're really just meant to take your time and focus on more important things right now that will help you mature better.  Besides, 'boys' will not sustain your interest and attention. When the time is right, you will find and be found by a real man and it will be worth the wait, worth every ounce of passion that is so natural for you.  And yes, true love can look past body fat, stretch marks and bad hair.  

3.  Believe our parents when they say that you and your siblings are loved equally, even when you feel you're not getting the attention that you crave.  

Sometimes it may feel as if you're not doing enough, achieving enough, being enough.  And sometimes you may feel ignored and that your other siblings are getting more of the spotlight.  But trust that you are enough to your parents and that they do love you unconditionally.  Your soul alone makes them proud of you and that they mean it when they say they couldn't ask for more.

4.  You may be reserved or generally shy.  But you will still be able to gain friends who are true, and be in the company of remarkable souls who will truly enrich your life.

It's okay if you don't feel very social.  It's okay that you don't enjoy the attention of strangers or people who don't matter to you.  Just know that the seeds of friendship are nurtured when you remain true to who you are and accept others with humility.  You will be surprised and overwhelmed by the support and friendship people will offer you in the future, just because you gave everybody a chance sometime in your distant past; just because you were humble enough to realize that people are merely different, instead of better or worse than your self.

5.  Take good care of your skin and don't take it for granted.

You may disagree and hate it when Mom tells you to clean your face at the end of the day, or shield your face from too much sun, or to not bother with make-up until after college. But you will thank her later.  Trust her. The woman knows what she's doing.

What words of reassurance do you want to say to your 12-year-old self?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Art Of Surviving A Break-Up

No two break-ups are exactly alike.  It then follows that no two heartbreaks will ever be exactly the same.  Our uniqueness as individuals creates for us distinct ways of experiencing and dealing with pain, much like having a ‘heartbreak fingerprint’, if you will.  The intensity, the length of time spent in this grieving process, our coping mechanisms, all depend not only on the quality of the just-ended-relationship, but also on what our personalities are like. 

I’m an intense person who leans towards introversion.  And though I’m known to have a strong penchant for anything cerebral and live to shred ideas to pieces if only to subject them to over analysis, I also can’t deny a strong emotional side.  Yes, I’m a bit of a drama queen but a ‘closet’ one.  That means, when things truly matter to me, I do feel intensely and passionately, although I almost never flaunt such emotions.  I won’t deny that I do feed my masochistic tendencies by relishing my sorrow and squeezing as much drama and good writing material out of it as if it were my only source of satiation.  In other words, in some twisted way, I feed myself with what has killed me. 

    Image:  (theater) Fernando de Sousa from Melbourne, Australia
So how does someone like me deal with a break-up?  I have one word for you:  Cinemafy.  I’ve survived a soul-shattering break-up essentially by making it as Hollywood-like as I could.  You know how in movies the heartbroken person (most likely a woman) 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 mode by walking (yes, it’s always walking or running with great background music) all over town?  That’s pretty much how I did it. 

At the time, I lived in an apartment and would only go home to my parents’ house on weekends.  Since I had no energy to cook, I lived off of the glorious P&P combo… …Pizza and Pepsi.  I took long walks by my lonesome after work amidst old trees and dared myself to do this even at night time.  I know this might sound stupid now considering I really could’ve been mugged.  But at that time, it was as if all that mattered was for me to test my limits and push beyond all of my comfort zones.  I was angry and broken and wanted to see if changing my self would also mean ridding my self 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, trying 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 was (or am) a wuss, I only drank it mixed and very mildly.

I listened to Ella Fitzgerald as 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.  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 killing every couple I saw walking past me.  The agony was worse if I saw interracial couples.  (The ex is British).  It could've easily turned into a Linda Blair-spinning-head scene from The Exorcist.  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.

So, yes.  I did a movie-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, ending up feeling more self-assured, enlightened and evolved.  That's real triumph.  That's the real key to surviving a break-up.

How did you survive yours?