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.