Friday, July 29, 2016

I'm Afraid and There's Really Nothing Wrong With That

Last week's post gave you tips on how an introvert like myself can survive an adventure vacation. It was written mid-week while I was enjoying a family holiday in Breckenridge, CO. Little did I know that just a few days after publishing, I would feel the need to update or re-title the piece to "How a Non-Adventurous Introvert Can Survive an Adventure Vacation Without Ending Up in the E.R."!

I wish I could say it was because of something fun and daring, like maybe smoking weed. (It's legal where I was, after all). But no, I'm sorry to disappoint. It was a biking accident. A bad one. I was on a biking trail. It was slightly downhill with a creek to my right. I felt I was going too fast. Fear took over. I lost my balance. I lost control. I swerved into the small ravine then into the creek. And I lived to tell the story.

We think it was probably anywhere between a 7- and 10-foot fall from the street.

The bottom of this frame is where I started to go downhill.

I tried to keep the bike upright for as long as I could until I hit those big rocks.

I ended up by that big bush in the middle of the creek.

Some of what happened continue to be a blur. I just remember feeling horribly afraid minutes before I actually fully lost control of the bike. I already knew it felt too much for me, too downhill, too fast. I am a novice after all and definitely not a risk-taker, not when it comes to sports or physical adventures at least. I can hear my husband screaming from behind me as he already knew what was about to happen. Then I just kept wobbling until in my mind, all I kept thinking was "Oh sh*t. I'm screwed." And then the moment of resignation. Strangely, I wasn't scared of dying. It's either that or I was convinced this wasn't my end yet. (To be honest I also would've preferred something more justified or dramatic, like maybe dying in deeper water or a bigger crash. Please...not a bike in a shallow creek!)

I hit the water and I remember feeling finally really scared because the current was stronger than I expected. I tried to extend my arms to try to grab on to something, anything, until I heard this unfamiliar voice saying "I got you, I got you!" He was trying to pull me up as I did my best to grab his torso. It was a random biker who witnessed my accident. This was my angel and his name is Dan. 

My husband was right there but he hurt himself too, trying to jump off of his bike as quickly as he could. He hit the gravel hard and scraped his knee really bad and was bleeding himself. 

Souvenir from the E.R.

I still can't fully bend my middle left finger. It's still swollen.

My horrible-looking right arm.

In the grand scheme of things, it's still not so bad and I have a lot to be thankful for. The X-ray images didn't reveal any broken bones although I was warned that some injuries can't be easily detected. I still have major pain on my right side, particularly my right ribs and still can't move or breathe painlessly. However, the pain is not to the point that narcotics aren't able to somehow address at this time. I just have to take it slow and remind myself to take deep breaths regardless of the discomfort just to avoid pneumonia.

So what is my take-away from all this? 

I won't tell you life is too short and that things can change in an instant. Nor would I remind you to hug your loved ones and tell them you love them before it's too late. You should already be doing that with or without accidents in mind.

What I would say to you is to respect Fear. 

Right after my accident, this is one of the things my husband said to me: "You know, to others, to 'normal' people, that creek is probably some nice scenery to look at and soothe you while you bike. But to you, it's something to fear".

He's absolutely right. I did not find it relaxing. In my mind, it was a risk to avoid, a danger along the way and it clearly defeated me. My mind betrayed me and defeated me because I didn't listen to it early enough. 

After only two minutes of riding along that trail, Fear started talking to me: This isn't safe. There's no railing and people can easily fall into that creek. This feels so narrow to me. I'm having a hard time...). I dismissed all of it. It's good to try out new experiences, yes. But you also have to be wise enough to know when to listen when your body is telling you to slow down, respect its limits, maybe even stop until you gain your comfort level back. 

Fear is there to keep you safe and alive. It isn't always bad. It isn't always simply the archnemesis of growth or evolution. And it's not always there just to tell you to quit. Sometimes it's just telling you to slow down, find your center, rest, reflect before proceeding again.

Sometimes to be so daring is the dumb thing to do, and to have fear is smart. It all depends on knowing your self and your limits. Pay attention because those voices in your head are there for a reason, and if anything, they can definitely save you a trip to the E.R. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Adventure Vacation Survival Guide for the Non-Adventurous Introvert

Our family pet, a betta fish, is the perfect pet for me. It loves swimming by itself and needs comfortable spaces for hiding. Typical introvert, isn't it? So you can imagine my trepidation when it was decided that we would go on a week-long family vacation in Colorado with my husband's large family. Sixteen people total, mostly active, outdoorsy people. Except for me. 

Let's talk about the destination. Is there any other place that invokes the idea of 'healthy, active lifestyle' more than Colorado does? Probably not. People here live to move. And eat kale and protein bars. I'm happy to be on a treadmill for 30 minutes while I munch on pork belly and crunchy peanut butter. I am certainly out of my element here and participating in all the adventure activities being planned by family members will surely kill me. It's either that or lack of oxygen due to the high altitude!

So how can someone like me, unadventurous with lots of aches and pains and who would rather recharge by being alone in her cave, survive this kind of vacation?

Here are a few tips I've learned along the way...

Dress appropriately. 

You can't dampen everyone's mood by simply saying you will stay home alone every time they go out. At some point, you will have to get outside and join your group. And even though you have no plans of getting bruised and broken, you need to at least dress the part. That way, you'll blend in. This also gives you some flexibility should you suddenly realize that there are some activities you can do at your destination for the day. An introvert can be a bit of a daredevil too from time to time, right? (And yes, I'm using 'daredevil' here quite loosely).

Bring a good camera or at least a phone with a good one. 

If you can, be the only one in your group with a camera! You'll be an indispensable resource and your group won't fault you for wanting to stay behind while they do all the active stuff. What kind of vacation would it be, after all, if there was no one to take all those action shots, right? You're not being a kill joy. You're merely doing everyone a huge favor and sacrifice so they can post something over on Facebook and Instagram. Win-win!

Be Shamelessly Creative

You know those signs at recreation parks identifying the activity they offer at certain areas? You know, like those that would say "Ski Adventure" or "Deadly Rollercoaster"? Yes, look for those big signs and pose as if you've just done it yourself, even though in reality you just ate ice cream or funnel cake while waiting for your crew who actually dared to risk their lives. Make sure you throw in a thumbs-up or two, as well as a happy exhausted face to make it believable. Don't worry about deceiving anyone who sees your picture online. Half of what you see on social media is a lie anyway.

See what I just did here?

Don't Say No to Everything
Though you know you're low on the scale as far as risk-taking behavior is concerned, I assure you that you can't write the entire outdoors off. There are still some activities that you can certainly choose to participate in. Go for an easy hike. There are also bike rides that are great for beginners and not-so-adventurous souls. Or simply take a stroll and enjoy the magnificent views around you. I understand that staying indoors is always a tempting idea but try to remember that you can do that anytime when you're home. You already traveled a hundred miles or so. Try to make the most out of the new scenery you find yourself in because you never know what wonders can surprise you.

Carve Out Some Me Time 
Even For Short Periods

It doesn't matter how big or small a group you're traveling with, introverts always need some alone time every single day. This helps us recharge, function and relate better. If you find yourself needing this while you're out, don't be afraid to walk ahead or walk behind. Try to find a quiet spot where you can also enjoy the sight, or at least pretend to. Excuse yourself and go to the restroom. Walk away to take photos of a good scenery, flower or rock. Whatever it is, just take a few minutes off from your group. They might not always understand but I guarantee they will appreciate how this can do wonders to your disposition in the long run. 

Whether in vacations or life in general, there are never guarantees that you'll only be traveling with like-minded people or kindred souls. But the variety in life is what makes it all fun and enriching. Wherever you find your self in, or whoever you may be with, just be present. Enjoy it and if you're truly lucky, focus on the fact that you are traveling with the ones you love. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Have I Failed My Child This Summer?

Accepting the chasm between the imagined and actual reality is never easy. I am in constant struggle with accepting the breach when it comes to scrutinizing both my own life trajectory, as well as my parenting life. And I'm not just talking about grand ideals on how I want to parent or my dreams of how my child should blossom. No, the reality is that it's a daily struggle, a sense of guilt, if you will, when you picture what good parenting looks like in terms of day to day activities. This angst gets even more pronounced during the summer break. 

Oh the Summer, when children are out of school and when my son, in particular, gets to say to me, 'I'm bored' or 'What else can I do?' ad nauseam. This year, keeping him busy at home has been a bit more challenging than previous ones because we had to skip the camps offered by his school. Since we had to fly out of the country and threw in some out of state short breaks in the mix, fitting the camp sessions into our schedule just became impossible. But I didn't think it would be a problem. After all, I had great plans that won't only keep boredom at bay, but would also adequately prepare my son academically for the next school year. What kind of stay-at-home mom doesn't come up with creative and fun learning activities for her child, right???! There's just no excuse!

I imagined having structured days for my son during the entire summer vacation. There will be time for learning and time for play.

I imagined having him read one novel a week, or at least complete ten books by the time the new school year starts.

I imagined having him log on to math websites to review, as well as learn advanced skills. He will do this for 30 minutes per day. 

I imagined teaching him cursive. I learned it when I was in third grade and so there is no excuse for him. He has to perfect it before starting fourth grade.

I also imagined being able to arrange numerous playdates with his school friends who he has missed and will miss, as these boys will be transferring to a different school within our district. 

At the top of my list shortly before summer break started was also my plan to go through all of my son's paper work from the past school year. They've been begging to be organized, filed away or thrown out. 

And speaking of organization, I was also certain this would be the summer when I would finally get around to finishing that scrapbook documenting our Disney World trip...from 2012! He was five years old at the time with lots of baby teeth. All his front teeth are now (mostly) permanent. 

By now you all probably know me enough to know that I have an overactive and overachieving imagination. In reality, all I have to say is that real life got in the way. 

We wake up and go about our days when we want to. Isn't that what summer break is about? He finished one novel and watched a million other YouTube videos and some Netflix shows. Yes, I let him. Why? Because I feel too tired and am mostly too busy to keep getting angry and fighting. He has reasonable limits but definitely nothing too structured. He still remembers his multiplication and division but didn't really log on to the advanced math lessons I wanted him to watch. Fortunately, with three more weeks left for summer break, it's looking like we can finish the alphabet in cursive. He still forgets some letters, but I'm optimistic he learned it enough so far. Now as to whether he would remember what he learned is another story. And those playdates? We haven't had any arranged ones to date. For now it's enough that he gets to play with the other neighborhood kids. 

I can give you a hundred explanations or excuses. I was jet-lagged. I caught a bad virus and felt so drained and perpetually exhausted. My father-in-law got hospitalized. A very good friend of mine is ill. I miss my own family. I had writer's block. It's too hot outside. There was a ton of laundry to wash and fold. Ants attacked our kitchen...

This list can go on and on and all I really have to say is something I always say when I need a jolt of calm and sense of acceptance: It is what it is. 

Should I be consumed by guilt that my son could have had a more productive summer than what I was able to give him? I don't think so. I think what would have been more disturbing was if I took all the fun out of the equation and made summer break into serious business.

Do I think I'm being a bad mother? Absolutely not. Could there be others who think I am? Perhaps, and it really shouldn't and doesn't matter. Life is too short to be wasted on guilt, and frankly there are far more important things in the world to be guilty about. Having a laid back summer is definitely not on that list. 

In the end, the questions should never be in the direction of "Is my child going to be the smartest?", "Is he the most prepared?", "Is my house the most spotless, most organized?", or "Did I keep him busy enough?". Rather, they should lean towards "Does he know how to appreciate the feel of sand between his toes or the warm breeze against his skin, and all the other simple wonders that surround him?", "Does he know how to be a good friend?", "Am I teaching him about kindness and compassion?", or "Does he feel loved?" These are the things that point to character and not simply credentials. These are the things that can't just be peeled away or get easily dissolved by the changing tides as we journey through life. They point to things that build us and make us authentically stronger. 

Our summer break has been fun, lazy, hectic, unstructured and definitely full of memories. It is what it is. And in the grand scheme of things, where we are and how it is looks imperfect but feels precious and inarguably blessed.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Reason For My Tears...

I (almost) never, ever cry in public. It would take a lot to make me do so and it's not because I'm heartless. It's just that, I think, it's a combination of my sense of control, sense of privacy, as well as the fact that it simply takes a special trigger to let the tears knock down that gate of control. 

When I left the Philippines this time around, ending our 17-day visit early this month, I was so sure I wouldn't cry. The first time I visited in 2008 after migrating to the United States, I was 'weak', a new mom, in need of much support and missing my family so much, that letting the tears flow freely was inevitable. It was the time when I was able to finally say my proper goodbyes since I left so unexpectedly in 2004 and never got the chance to do the proper rituals that somehow ease one's transition from the familiar to the unknown.  

This time though, I felt less emotional about the thought of visiting. Prior to arriving in Manila, all I could think about was my prayer that none of us get sick, especially not Noah. I was too stressed over packing everything we needed and might need, as well as trying to fit as many meet-ups with friends and family as I could in our schedule while factoring in the unpredictable Manila traffic. I made up my mind that this was going to be a fun and matter-of-fact visit. There's definitely no need for tears. After all, I already felt established in my life as an American citizen, seem well-adjusted and really can't complain about much.

Of course you know that I was proven wrong and still ended up quite emotional in the end. Seeing my dearest friends, some I've not seen for about 20 years, reminded me once more of the sense of camaraderie and familiarity I've so missed all these years. Bonding with family in Manila only highlighted for me the fact that I am, in all honesty, alone here in the States. Sure, I have a husband and in-laws who are beyond supportive and genuinely caring. But let's tell it like it is. It's still different from having my own blood relatives who have known me all my life, isn't it? It just is. 

When I said my goodbyes, especially to my parents, my sister, and my aunt and uncle (who are like second parents to me), I cried. As I hugged them, I felt the warmth of the tears soak my eyes. As I said my goodbyes, my voice broke as I struggled to keep the tears in, to no avail. It didn't matter. What I felt was too much to contain or be embarrassed about. 

But what exactly did I feel? I have been thinking about the reason why I consistently cry with this same set of people every time I bid them goodbye. Why them? Why always with them? 

I remember that one other time when I felt the same way was when I bid my (ex) fiance goodbye. We had a long distance relationship and met up to spend five days together in Manila. At the end of that short week, I had to muster all the strength I had to walk away from him as he took his ride to the airport. Remembering that time helped me figure out the answer to my question when it comes to saying goodbye to my family...

The fact is, I cry because saying goodbye to these people spells out the uncertainty that looms over our love. Guarantees or promises set in stone to say when we'll meet again are impossible to make. We only have plans and hopes, and we all know Life doesn't bow down to either. I can't help but feel a part of me die every time that sense of uncertainty surfaces as I hold my loved ones close and say, "I'll see you again".

I cry because leaving them always signals the end of a wonderful, love-filled period of my life. It means the end of beautiful moments actually lived and the beginning of when I am left to settle with just fragile memories.

I cry because the time spent is never enough and is always prematurely cut short. It's grief over more hours, days or weeks pregnant with beautiful possibilities but must now be surrendered to goodbyes.

I cry because to say goodbye to them is to part with someone who truly knows me, inside out, and loves me unconditionally. These are people who know me soulfully. 

I cry because to say goodbye to them is to say goodbye to someone who will always hold my heart. And for this, 'home' can never just be in one place alone. It is both painful and beautiful at the same time, making every tear drop worthwhile.