Thursday, May 25, 2017

How to Say No When Your Child Asks For a Fidget Spinner

…Just muster all your conviction, and say ‘NO’. That’s it.

I’m assuming you are reading this because you know for a fact that your child who’s asking for a fidget spinner does NOT have a medical or developmental issue that would warrant a need to be addressed by said gadget. In other words, your child is developmentally normal. And so is mine, which made it effortless for me to say ‘no’.

Three days ago, I heard the words that I’ve been dreading for the past two months. I honestly thought I was in the clear, but just when I was getting cocky, he blurted, “Mama, can I please have a fidget spinner?” Saying no was not a problem. I didn’t even pause for a second before making it clear to my son that I will not be granting his request. What took longer was explaining to him why I’m saying no.

You absolutely don’t need it. You don’t even fidget, for crying out loud!
I mean, okay, maybe you sometimes tap your fingers, or shake your legs, or move in your chair, touch your hair, scratch your ear or eyes. I don’t care. The point is, your degree of fidgeting is normal and I’ve spoken to every teacher you’ve had in the past 7 years and they can all attest to your ability to stay focused. You have no problem with concentration and you’re actually a remarkably good student with no attention-span or behavior issues. Even if you did have anxiety, stress or ADHD (who, according to the marketers of this fidget spinner, are the ones who can benefit most from this gadget), I believe there are better ways of helping you with your issues than getting you this spinner.

It’s just a fad. And a useless one in my view.
According to the website of the makers of this device, the fidget spinner is a “new office gadget and children's toy to help improve focus and concentration while reducing ADHD and bad habits…(They) believe that the symptoms of ADHD and stress can be reduced with (their) tools to release the nervous energy rather than by taking prescription drugs.

The ‘bad habits’ they refer to are things people do when they’re nervous, stressed out or bored, such as nail biting, gum chewing, or foot-tapping and this fidget toy is supposed to take the place of those bad habits, hence increasing concentration and productivity.

Really? Seriously?? This toy is so new and there is no real scientific data that can back up those claims. Have they really measured before and after cases? Any longitudinal studies to date? How many subjects? What variables were isolated? Until I find reliable scientific data regarding their claims, I’m taking them all to be marketing b.s.

If you really want to stop biting your nails or shaking your leg, just stop. Or maybe do what my generation did and spin your pen instead. No toys needed.

Which brings me to this point…

Let’s be honest…It’s a toy!
And you only want it because everyone else seems to have one even though they don’t know why. What’s worse is that some kids think they need it, end up bringing it to school and then getting distracted by it, therefore getting the opposite effect of what it’s marketed for.

It’s a stupid, unnecessary toy, as far as I’m concerned. It spins. Yeah, get a top, I think we already have one. 

You want something that goes around your fingers to keep you occupied?...Yeah, you can play with rubber bands too and create cool shapes! 

You’re stressed?...We have a stress ball for you to squeeze. Or maybe you can just close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths.

This spinner thing is really not that cool and I’m not buying it, literally and figuratively.

I have nothing against buying toys for my son, as long as we can afford it, he deserves or needs it, and bonus points if I’m a fan of it. But this fidget spinner fad bugs the heck out of me. I don’t want my son to fall into the trap of wanting something just because others have it. I don’t want him to think it’s okay to spend money on something just because it’s cheap or he can afford it. I want him to pause and think about its purpose, why he truly wants something, what he’ll get out of it, and if the gadget or toy truly makes sense.

This one does not. And I don’t like how it hides behind the façade of being developmentally or cognitively beneficial. If children suffer from anxiety, stress, or ADHD, there are a ton of experts who can more effectively help out and can equip these children with practices backed by true science and research. There is no single magic tool, spinning or not, that can address those issues, at least not yet. I don’t care if it’s 99 cents or fifteen dollars. The answer is NO.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Why You Need to Stop Giving a F***

A good friend of mine shared with me this life-changing TED Talk on YouTube. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly suggest you click on the video below. It may just become the most well-spent 15 minutes of your life. 

It's about not giving a—(pardon the word)—f*ck. Most of the time, I find myself saying that in my head: I don't give a f*ck. IDGAF! It's so liberating just to think it. And then the next minute, I start giving a f*ck again. Perhaps it's out of peer pressure, guilt and mainly an overactive superego. But as I get older, I realize how necessary it is to not give a f*uck in preserving my sanity, peace of mind and sense of happiness. 

The speaker / author Sarah Knight gave three main points: 

1. She defines a f*ck as time, energy and money. When we don't GAF about something, that means we don't care about it and therefore won't give it our time, energy and money. 

2. One shouldn't feel sorry about not giving a f*ck. You can be polite about it and not feel awful about your honesty. This of course presumes that you have clearly differentiated between things you want to GAF about and things you don't GAF about. 

3. Each of us needs a F*ck Budget to ensure that we have enough time, energy and money for those things we truly care about. It's obviously unwise to waste your 'fuck bucks' or 'actual bucks' on things you don't care about. 

The Magic of Not Giving a F***

One realization came to mind though. The reason why this video resonates with so many of us is because most of us feel overwhelmed. The sad reality is that we live in a period where there are pressures and demands that consume us, chewing every bit of us little by little, mostly inconspicuously, until we find ourselves depleted, or worse, powerless. 

This talk would not have been relevant in a time where social life was much simpler, less demanding. In this period we live in, there are so many experts, each of us carries different social roles and identities often times presenting with conflicting demands, and we are constantly bombarded with ever-changing information about what the ideal life looks like or which version of ourselves is deemed 'best'. There is so much pressure experienced during such a finite life with finite resources that it truly makes sense to re-evaluate what are truly valuable and worth investing in.

As a final note, remember that the reason for not giving a f*** about so many things is so that you end up with more joy in your life, more authenticity, more freedom. The more f***s you give, the more depleted you will be. 

What things do you want to stop giving a f*** about right now?

Friday, May 5, 2017

All He Did Was Stare

We were never introduced but we certainly knew each other's names. Or at least I knew his. We were young university instructors at the time, though we belonged to different departments. I would not have noticed him at all had it not been for his strange behavior. It was a habit that simultaneously annoyed and intrigued me.

He stared.

In the beginning, I thought it was a fluke. I thought maybe he thought I was someone else. But as the months went on, I noticed how consistent the behavior was. I taught Sociology so you must understand how trained I was to observe things, gather my data without immediately jumping to conclusions. 

So that's what I did. I observed. I let it go on. Our faculty offices were in the same building, on the same floor. Conveniently, even our classes were in the same wing and again, on the same floor. As such, we would often pass each other by on the way to and from the two buildings. And every time this happened, I would see him staring at me from afar and by the time we were side by side, he would turn his head my way and just look at me. It was one of those things that you just feel and see from your peripheral vision. I didn't have the guts to actually look back at him and just suffered through my self-consciousness for a while.

Since I'm not one who readily assumes anything, not even when it's obvious, I had to test the reliability of this data. And the truth was, I was sure it was me he was staring at because it would happen even when there was no one else for him to turn his head to and stare at other than me. There were also times when I had to walk with a couple of my colleagues and they all confirmed that this man was, without a doubt, staring at my face. He also did the same every time he walked past my classroom and I would be in the middle of my lecture. It was a bit distracting at first but I quickly learned to adapt.

I was flattered, but more importantly, I was deeply intrigued. The mystery was killing me. Why was he doing it? If he was attracted to me, why doesn't he introduce himself? Why just stare instead of smile and say hello? Or maybe he found me repulsive? Yes, I thought that too. 

Finally, I decided to end my passive role in all this. I had allowed it for so long that I felt all that odd, conspicuous staring was getting old and I was feeling exasperated. I was certain that doing something about it would accelerate where it needed to go. Either it would escalate and he would pursue something more if indeed he was attracted to me, or he would get tired of it and stop. When I made the resolve to be pro-active, I wasn't sure which outcome I preferred. All I knew was that something needed to change. 

One day, I decided that was it. I saw him walking towards me...10 feet...5 feet...2 feet away...and then we were side by side. Just as his head was still turned towards me, I abruptly turned my head towards him and I obviously caught him off guard. I finally confirmed for myself that I was the object of his attention. Strangely though, as my gaze met his, I felt momentarily stunned. There was no smile, not even a hint of embarrassment from him for being caught staring at me. There was nothing. His face remained expressionless, yet I felt bulldozed by the intensity that I was the one who felt embarrassed and had to quickly turn away. It was as if I owed it to him to allow myself to be pierced like that. I didn't take pleasure in it. Apart from realizing he was really not that cute, I also felt violated and wondered if he was a misogynistic freak. 

From that point on, I vowed to give him a dose of his own medicine, albeit a much smaller dose, and throw in a slight smile and hello for good measure, at least whenever I felt like it. I was especially brave at doing those during faculty assemblies since I knew they were justified and had minimal risk of being misconstrued. The strange thing is that I still didn't get anything back. I don't recall him ever smiling at me, let alone truly engage me in a conversation. Eventually I found out he had a girlfriend so that pretty much extinguished all the thrill for me. I never reached a solid conclusion to my shallow adventure, never truly found out his motive for staring. But the reasons don't matter any more because I had lost interest in the mystery. Him staring back at me with a cold, brazenly arrogant look tasted too bitter for me to continue craving it. 

It was an exciting and fun few months for 24-year old me, when being mysterious was a prerequisite for attraction. But that's the thing about mysteries. They're evanescent and have a fragile existence. They entice and hook me, inviting me to dig and uncover. Unfortunately, sometimes there's nothing much to see, nothing more challenging to keep my attention. With a very limited lifespan, mysteries are not very reliable foundations to relationships. I'm not sure how long this man kept his 'routine'. The point is, I just stopped caring and knew there were other deeper mysteries ahead of me worth exploring. I was 24 and hadn't found it yet, but I was certain it was still out there, packaged in a much warmer, friendlier set of eyes. 

Friday, April 21, 2017


The double-digits age is finally here for my only child—my son—and as it settles, I am forced to welcome it like a permanent guest in my home, wreaking turbulence in my predictable day-to-day.  There is a distinct politeness to this permanent house guest that no parent ever misses. It makes sure you are slowly acquainted with it even before its official arrival. As a mother, I have seen its shadow peeking every so often in the past six months. At first I was in denial of it but the more I recognized it, the stronger I fought knowing full well this is a futile battle. 

He’s starting to look a little different. One moment I was straining my neck to look down at him when we speak, and the next I notice his head right by my chin. I still can’t adequately describe what I felt—a mixture of panic, confusion, and sadness—the first time I saw my boy reaching for his glass from the cupboard’s upper shelf without asking for any help. My arms that have always lifted him so willingly have now been replaced by his hardworking toes, balancing and holding his weight while his arms stretch to reach some coveted trophy.  

He’s starting to sound a little different. I can already hear the tone of defiance, though I’ve made sure he understands the difference between defiance and disrespect. He is wise enough to know I can tolerate one and not the other. 

The jokes are changing, his vocabulary beautifully expanding especially when he expresses his frustrations with me and my rules. If he only knew how I vacillate between hurt and awe when he shows me his capacity to use his words in expressing his anger towards me. 

His needs and preferences are evolving. His excitement was immeasurable when we finally agreed that he can do away with his booster seat in the car. And he couldn’t be any more proud when he proved to us he is now more comfortable riding MY bike than sticking to his smaller one. 

Mention of friends’ names are also becoming more frequent, affections more sincere, and the desire to spend time with them whether face-to-face or online playing games is stronger.

His self-conscious version has definitely arrived. Hair styling products in my cabinet are no longer just mine, and he has found his own voice when it comes to deciding on haircuts. He now also seems to care more about his outfits and how certain shirts hug his body, when before he couldn't care less if I put on him a shirt two sizes too small. 

Ten. It has been ten years since I gave birth to this wonderful spirit, this most beautiful child in my world who never ceases to overwhelm me with love and joy. Ten years of watching him grow and making me proud every step of the way have spoiled me into believing I will always be number one in his life; that, in spite of my exhaustion and complaints, I will always be needed and be the sole source of his comfort. 

But change is here and has been here though I refused to give it full attention. I've reasoned that I can keep deceiving myself for as long as certain habits remain—his need to still be tucked in at night; his need to twirl my hair so he can relax and fall asleep; his desire to be held tight and carried even though his feet dangle and reach inches beyond my knees; or his willingness to let me sniff him and still call him 'baby', though never in public. 

I'm fully aware that soon even these habits will end. Soon, he may become unrecognizable and I may find myself arguing with someone who will almost feel like a stranger to me, as I utter to him these words most parents with teens and pre-teens have said over and overWhat have you done to my child? Where is he, and could you bring him back?
As my son opens his arms to welcome 10, I simultaneously feel his grip loosening on mine. I expect at some point he would no longer be able to hold on tightly to both my grip, as well as the double digits. He will choose and it is my grip that would have to let go. It will tear me inside but I know it’s the most loving choice any parent can make. 

My home and my heart are ready for this permanent guest, the double digits. We are both strong-willed, we will clash and both of us will insist we only want what is best for my son. It will take my son farther from me, mentally, emotionally and physically. But I’ve been here far longer than this guest. What I need my son to realize is that no matter where the double-digits take him, Mommy and Daddy will always be home to him. He will become strong enough, tall enough to reach for the stars on his own, but he will always know that his parents' unconditional love and faith in him are what gave him wings. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

What Is Your Afterlife?

As Easter approaches and I'm reminded of the hope carried by Christ's resurrection, I couldn't help but be equally occupied by thoughts on death. I've had loved ones die, friends and acquaintances living with terminal illness, and all this with my own changing and aging body reminding me constantly of my own mortality. 

What happens to us when we die? Certainly the answer depends on your own belief system. Beyond that, I've also realized that much of our answer is shaped by our age and life experiences. The young, highly-Catholic version of me believed we either go to heaven or hell, and of course the comfort of the idea of purgatory in case we are not quite worthy of heaven and yet absolutely not deserving of hell either. 

But as I aged and preferred to see a God that is more forgiving and definitely not simplistic, I've settled in a belief that the afterlife shouldn't be that scary as long as you know you've lived a life of meaning, of mostly kindness and certainly Love. I now choose to believe that perfection has never been the objective, but rather growth and spiritual evolution. As Paul Kalanithi eloquently put it, "You can't ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving". (When Breath Becomes Air)

Recently, I heard something utterly beautiful and comforting from the Netflix hit show Grace and Frankie. I know you're probably thinking it's a strange source of wisdom, let alone beliefs on the afterlife, but I'm sure you'd appreciate it too—

"The afterlife is how you're remembered by the living."

It erases the idea of a non-forgiving, simplistic deity, while at the same time puts emphasis on how we ultimately live our lives and touch the lives of others. It's not focused on perfection or the idea that flaws or mistakes permanently stain and define us, or lead us to eternal damnation. Instead, it makes us view our lives wholistically and puts in perspective the value we've added to this earth and others' lives. 

Are we loving enough to be remembered that way?

Are we generous to others that we shall be remembered as nurturing, selfless and kind? 

Are we forgiving so that others think of us as one with an open and humble heart? 

Have we been patient, gentle and wise with our tone and words so that people we leave behind remember us with joy and as a source of comfort? 

Do you make enough space in your heart for others such that they make space for you as well in their hearts and will remember you when you die?

The answer either brings you peace or disquiet. But each moment you have left is currency you can use wisely. Each moment is a reminder that this life we have is not meant to be lived selfishly; that our life is defined by the connections we forge and the positive difference we make in those we meet in our journey. We are irrefutably connected and so the salvation we offer others is as much our own. 

As the Christian world celebrates the resurrection of Christ, may we also reflect on how each moment offers us hope to resurrect ourselves into a life worth remembering and celebrating. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Stay-At-Home Mom Look

My son announced to me that his friend Josh (not his real name) was going to stop by in less than an hour. I didn't panic over how the house looked since I knew that, (a) our house is tidy enough, and more importantly (b) 10-year-old boys don't really care as long as you have video games and toys to play with. What concerned me most was how I looked. I haven't had the chance to shower that day, my short hair was pulled back by a headband that made all the ends stand up towards the back, and I was wearing an old tattered shirt and yoga pants (not the fashionable, expensive type, I assure you). 

"Dude, I look like garbage! I think I should at least change," I said to my son, while moving my finger up and down to point at how I was dressed. 

With undeniable sincerity he responded, "I'm sure Josh would understand, he knows you're a stay-at-home mom". 

What the hell is that supposed to mean? Is he saying that stay-at-home moms look like garbage?!

If you try to Google 'mom clothes', 'stay at home mom house clothes' or any variation of that, you'll see images that are still not half as bad as how I normally appear on a daily basis. I guess it's because no sane person would actually photograph themselves as how they REALLY look like and then post it on Google. Duh!

Anyway, I've always wondered about other moms and if I'm the only one who secretly looks like garbage. Actually, I take that back. I don't secretly look like garbage because I've overtly looked like garbage. I have stepped out in said garbage attire for the quick morning drop-off, appointments at the allergist after school and quick trip to the grocery. Granted I opted for a hat to cover my awful hair and made sure holes on my shirt were covered by a sad looking hoodie, although I'm sure the dark under eye circles are permanent accessories that stay unconcealed 80% of the time. 

On days when I wait for my son at the bus stop, I spot some of the other moms waiting and they all look 'nice'. It doesn't help that these are younger moms with well-toned bodies. Heck, they look like they've just stepped out of a LuLaRoe catalog, although I can't really claim to have seen one. I'm too cheap to pay for those, truth be told. And so I'm left secretly wondering if I'm in dire need of a daily schedule make-over and include 'dress up nicely or at least be public space worthy' as a top-of-the-list daily task, right up there with 'brush teeth and face'.

If you're a stay-at-home mom, how do you look like at home? What's your go-to outfit? 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

What Losing Myself Means

I remember in the 1990s I would often catch episodes of the Oprah Show and was always struck by how many women revealed that they feel as if they've lost themselves. Most of these women were mothers, and I listened as they painfully admitted that they no longer knew who they were, or what happened to their old vibrant selves. 

I was single at the time, with no 'potential sperm donor' in sight, and never fully understood the extent of what those mothers were talking about. I just remember telling myself that I can easily avoid this 'lost Self phenomenon' now that I know better, as if watching Oprah gave me immunity to this apparent epidemic. 

Now that I have a child, I stare at my face in the mirror and wonder about the person staring back. Do I still know her? How much has she changed, apart from the added wrinkles, strands of gray hair and weight gain? I can still see parts of the old me somewhere deep down, but it has become faint and something else seems to have surfaced. I suppose the best way I can put it is to say that it's just been dominated by that part that needed to take over the reins. There is now this new awareness that feels more adept at this important role and identity called Motherhood.

It's true that you lose your Self to motherhood, in so many different ways, over and over...

When you become a mother, your body ceases to be solely yours. Going through assisted reproduction, this realization hit me early on. With all the hormones and medication I needed to pump my body with, there was a clarity that it's no longer just about me—not my schedule, not what I feel like doing, not how I want to look like. And as the pregnancy progresses, the womb comes to outweigh all else as it's treated like a sacred vessel, helplessly dependent on you and yet holds power over you. Its needs cry out louder than any physical pain or discomfort you may suffer from such that taking pain medication you've relied on through the years is now thought twice about, or worse, banned for at least nine months. 

When you become a mother, your time is no longer yours. Forget about scheduling your days. Give up the illusion that you can block off time for your favorite shows. Don't even think for a second you will have total control of your basic bodily functions such as sleep or needing to use the bathroom. "At my own pace", "When I'm available", or "When I need to", are phrases that need to be stricken out of your consciousness for approximately four years, per child, at least. My son is almost ten and yet I still feel this way at times, especially when he is sick. Every parent knows that a child’s illness does not respect any level of maturity. A sick child regresses and only knows one thing: I need Mama.

When you become a mother, your thoughts will never again be solely about you—not your hopes, dreams, prayers. You will be hijacked and held hostage by fears you've never known before. You will wonder what happened to the calm version of you and ask why your brain can’t seem to stop worrying and imagining every possible scenario that pushes you to the depths of paranoia. Conversely, motherhood also forces you to learn to grasp at Faith with strength you never thought you had in you.

When you become a mother, your desires, even when they cry out, pale in comparison to the sense of urgency that leaps out of you when it comes to giving in to what is best for your child. Living near the fun part of town is no longer as enticing as living within the best school district. Your need for white linen tablecloth at a quiet restaurant that serves to-die-for duck confit and escargot is quieted by the need for crayons at the table and kid-friendly servers who will always know when to serve drinks in lidded cups.

To say that motherhood demands immeasurable sacrifice is an understatement. Accept that you will miss out on a lot of experiences. Things will drastically change, and at some point, you will ask what happened to the 'You' you've always recognized. Having a child enter your life will mean the exit of all that is familiar and taken for granted. It is a death within you that creates grief you can't put a limit on. It may ebb and flow, but if you embrace it and make friends with it, it will not drown you.

But just as much as you find a part of you slipping away or even dying, the experience of motherhood also demands that you birth a purer version of your Self. Don't expect the old version of you to remain or be resurrected in its exact form. That’s impossible. Deep love never leaves any soul unchanged.

Yes, there are days when I still reminisce about my old Self. But you know what? I still end up always smiling and feeling content. My life now is a never-ending stream of stress. Most days I feel sore and tired to the core. But I smile because I know that there is no experience on earth that could have brought out the most altruistic, most evolved version of myself other than motherhood. This is how it happened for me and though I'm certain there's a different path for every person, I'm eternally grateful that mine came in a cute package, with sweet kisses and warm hugs that make the grieving process for the old Me so bearable.

I stare at the mirror, smile and always end up whispering, "Thank you. This person that stares back is who she needs to be."

*This post was originally published on March 31, 2016 on Catharsis, and has been edited and updated. It remains to resonate with so much truth and is definitely one of my favorite pieces. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

When the Pain Haunts You

"You hurt me". Those were the last words I spoke to him as I walked away. It was to a man I had never met before in real life but in my dream, he wooed me until I found out he wasn't sincere and that he was seeing someone else. 

I wasn't planning on being so honest. In my dream as I would have done in real life, I was set on choosing pride over transparency. I'm not sure what propelled me to blurt it out but those words of admission poured out as magma would from a volatile core. 

"You hurt me". As soon as the words escaped me, I woke up, as if thrust to reality by the power of those words. The heaviness I've felt since waking up from that dream has held me hostage for hours now as I wonder why and how such simple words can carry so much weight to them and release waves of complexities.

I suppose the weight of admitting to someone that they've hurt us lies in the fact that doing so is also an admission of the power they have over us. Vulnerability assumes that we opened ourselves to someone else, brought our defenses down, and allowed another person to wield some degree of influence over us. 

It's not easy to admit we're in pain, and owning that someone cut us deep is a truly humbling experience. I can't even remember the last time I explicitly admitted to someone that they've hurt me. Mostly, I choose some passive-aggressive route until I'm over it and just move on. This isn't exactly the healthiest approach and I am, by no means, recommending it. Clearly, not saying it out right is a way of taking the easy way out, because the truth is, inasmuch as the admission of our pain is a difficult task, the real work and challenge is what comes after the admission...

Once you say you're hurt, then what? To me, there is only one thing more powerful than saying you are hurt, and that is, "I forgive you". To say you are hurt is passive. To say you are ready to forgive is a manifestation of your own agency. One is a voice of empowerment; the other is a surrendering of your power to another. Both, however, take real courage and strength.

The man in my dream hurt my pride. He misled me and broke my heart. I surprised myself by having the courage to expose my pain. But I wasn't strong enough to finish the dream with forgiveness. Perhaps the dream is a call to think back and realize that I may have moved on from a past pain but have not completely forgiven. Perhaps the dream ended where it did and left me with a heaviness as a plea to my heart to find a way to truly unload and release...the past, the pain, the transgression. Perhaps the real ending was in my act of waking up. And yes, the dream has woken me now. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Life is (Still) a Cliché

***If you haven’t read the original Life is a Cliché, (or Part One), click here.***

Life is too short. You only live once so you have to take the bull by the horns. Don’t be afraid of challenges, of the road less traveled. Jus live and learn. For crying out loud, please don’t be a worry wart. True, you need to look before you leap. It’s not like you’ll only be horsing around and dig yourself into a hole. But the truth is, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette. Even Rome wasn’t built in a day. The trick is to learn how to make lemonade out of lemons. Keep moving forward and let bygones be bygones.

It’s true you’ll walk through countless rough roads, so keep your eyes wide open, and chin up! Don’t ever rest on your laurels. Sometimes you’ll get the short end of the stick but save the drama for your mama. Just keep on trucking and believe that slow and steady wins the race.

Get your feet wet. Go out on a limb and get hitched. Fight like cats and dogs. Work hard, play and love hard. Your heart will break and love is never easy as pie. But love is kind, and love is patient. You’ll soon see that when you put your heart into it, true happiness is just a hop, skip and a jump away. If things do go awry and you’re at the end of your rope, just take a breath and remind yourself that karma’s a bitch. Somehow, you'll get your revenge. Besides, time heals all wounds and before you know it, you'll be back in the saddle again!

You might think this is nonsense. Or things you’ve all heard before. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and I don’t want to see you closing the barn door after the horse has gone. Mine are timeless words of wisdom and I know someday, you’ll thank me for this! And I know I've said this before, but I'll say it again...

Please don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Parenting Behind the Scenes

We just got done with dinner and I was, as usual, busy moving around the kitchen trying to clean everything up. First, the dishes into the dishwasher. Then some clearing of the stove top and the kitchen island. In between, some items needed to be put back in the fridge. When I had most of the surfaces cleared, I grabbed a spray bottle from under the sink and started spraying my surfaces to make sure they're cleaned and sanitized. My nine-year-old Noah was still hovering until I said, "You better go upstairs and prepare for bed. I can't really fully clean everything if you're around". He then quietly walked away. 

As I was cleaning something in the sink, I noticed his head still peeking as he was standing by the staircase. 

"Hey, what are you doing? I thought I told you to go upstairs. It's bedtime for you soon and you still have to read!"

With that, he ran back towards me with a smile on his face and told me, "Is this what you do when we finish down here? I wanted to see the behind-the-scenes.

I smiled and nodded, threw in a quick 'uh-huh', and I thought he was done. I was surprised when he suddenly wrapped his arms around my torso and tenderly said to me, "Thank you for all that you do, Mama."

Tell me how to keep my heart from melting...

Tell me how to keep from looking up to the heavens and think it's miraculous...

Tell me how not to think that I must have done something right some time, somewhere, somehow, to deserve this beautiful gesture...

Because I don't know how and I simply want to allow myself to feel the pride, the humility, the tenderness and the undeniable power of those words washing over me.

As parents, we often do our work in the shadows, sometimes literally. Especially for a stay-at-home-parent like myself, most of my work is invisible and it's very easy to miss the difference we make. We fix beds, wash, fold and iron clothes, mop floors, dust surfaces, make meals, drive our kids around to appointments and activities, monitor school work, clean bathrooms, stock the fridge and pantry. If our families don't take the time to pause, the work we choose to do day in and day out can simply be mistaken for 'normal' or 'just how things are'. It takes a keen sensitivity and definitely a grateful heart to see the perfection behind the production that goes on, the amount of love put in to ensure the daily performances flow smoothly. Not everyone cares to acknowledge that it takes passion and dedication to keep things from falling apart and to truly make daily life seamless for our families. We may not need trophies to inspire us to keep doing what we do; no demands made for accolades for the behind-the-scenes quiet sacrifices. But time and again, a simple thank you and I see you could be the perfect motivation to keep the show running. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

This Is How Valentine's Day Should Look Like

I was surprised to see my mother-in-law up so early. In the six weeks she's been with us, she has never left her room earlier than 7:30 a.m. I was in the kitchen making breakfast and was totally unprepared to see such a worried look on her face. As soon as she saw me look her way, she said with a pained expression, "I've been up for hours now. I've been having chest pains". I tried to assess how urgent it was and of course she tried to rationalize and downplay everything by assuring me that she's done all the recommended steps to see if it's a heart attack and that she's certain it isn't. Just the same, I told her 'You better go to the ER and get checked'. She was resistant at first but I pointed out that it's best to be seen by a doctor since she'll be flying to Seattle the next day. Knowing her history of mistaking a heartburn for a heart attack, I decided to give her an antacid before waking my husband up to drive her to the hospital. 

This was how our Valentine's Day started just three days ago. It was a worrying morning and certainly not how anyone prefers to start their days, especially Valentine's Day. But you have to see the humor in this and remember that it was, after all, 'heart's day'. At least that's how I've decided to see it. Besides, it still ended up being a blessed day in the grand scheme of things. After four hours or so, an EKG and a few blood tests later, my mother in law was released and sent home with anti-GERD medication. The following day, my husband AJ and I took her to the airport and wished her a safe trip to Seattle to visit another one of her children.

Truly if anything, Valentine's Day is a reminder for me to manage my expectations. Indeed, it would be amazing to wake up to a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates, a greeting card with the most heartfelt poem ever written, or a piece of jewelry waiting for me on my (dusty) bedside table. But that's not how things turned out. And really it's okay with me, and here's why...

On the drive from the airport, I joked around with AJ telling him that the most unromantic person we know actually beat him on Valentine's Day because I saw on Facebook that said person actually gave his wife a bouquet of roses and a card! As soon as I said that, unexpectedly, AJ reached out his right hand to hold mine and apologetically and tenderly said, 'I'm sorry, Honey'. 

I'm sure he doesn't know this but that moment meant everything to me. It's not that I wanted him to feel bad or that I needed an explanation or an apology for him not living up to what society dictates Valentine's Day should look like. It meant so much because at that moment he made me feel assured that my happiness still truly matters to him. After all is said and done, isn't that what's most important and the real substance we desire behind any romantic gesture? Isn't that the oxygen any committed partnership needs in order to thrive? Doesn't love hinge on thatthe continued effort to bring richness to the beloved's life? 

Both of us will have expectations and we will undoubtedly fail each other, repeatedly. But as long as we both desire to keep trying, and see the other person's happiness and values as essential to our own, then roses or no roses it becomes easier to see the lush rather than a barren landscape. 

Valentine's Day shows up differently to each of us. Some require elaborate declarations of devotion, some make do with simpler tokens. Others still only need a quiet assurance that the hand you've grown accustomed to holding remains yours, dependable, never callous with your heart. To me, that's how I need it to look like. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Being a Drama Queen Helped Me Survive My Break-Up

Being partnered is great, especially if it’s a long term relationship. It offers a sense of security (no matter how false), and consequently, affords us a degree of complacency. The feeling that somehow you can now breathe and relax because you already have someone who doesn’t care so much about whether or not you remembered to conceal your eye bags today, or munched on ten too many club crackers before bedtime, is very reassuring and frees your mind to focus on other more important worries…like the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 

However, there are times when I wake up from a dream where I’m still single
and completely angst-ridden and suddenly feel lost and a bit sad, not because of the dream, but because I realize I miss some of that drama, that sense of pining. Somehow I realize being single wasn’t bad at all. I’m brought back to those soul-enriching days where growth was just inevitable given the amount of emotional muck I was trying to swim out of. 

Nothing else (pre-parenthood) makes me think of emotional and spiritual growth than the time when my heart got broken to smithereens after a boyfriend/fiancé broke up with me. It was pain I’ve never felt before which of course was to be expected given how deep and intense the relationship was. There were days when I honestly felt my heart had literally split into pieces, making my chest throb so heavily that I thought I’d stop breathing and drop dead. 

So how does someone like me who feels intensely and falls passionately survive a soul-shattering break-up?

I have one word for you: Cinemafy. I made the experience as Hollywood-like as I could. You know how in movies the heartbroken person 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 by walking all over town? (Yes, it’s always walking or running with great background music). That’s pretty much how I did it. 

I lived off of Pizza and Pepsi since I had no energy to cook. Cheetos also supplied me with all the sustenance and orange fingers I needed so I don't end up emailing or texting the ex.

I took long walks by my lonesome after work and dared myself to do this even at night. In retrospect, that might not have been the smartest decision since I could've gotten mugged. But at the time, it was as if all that mattered was for me to test my limits and push beyond my comfort zones. I was angry and broken and wanted to see if changing myself would also mean ridding my soul 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 to try 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’m a wuss, I only drank it mixed.

I listened to Ella Fitzgerald until 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 for everything I could beg for— for my fiance to come back, for my heart to heal, for amnesia, and even death. 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 attacking every couple I saw around me. The agony was worse if I saw interracial couples. (The ex is British). It could've easily turned into a scene of a deranged Michael Douglas from Falling Down. 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.

Indeed it was a cinema-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, becoming more self-assured, enlightened and evolved. If you achieve that kind of ending, then you can really be proud of owning your title as Drama Queen. It would be so worth it!

This piece is an updated version of a previously published post on Catharsis entitled ‘The Art of Surviving a Break-Up’ (March 6, 2014). 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Parenting and the Burden of 'Alternative Facts'

If you have not been living under a rock this past week, you'd be painfully aware that the buzz phrase these days is 'alternative facts'. Thanks to the current administration, blatant lies or falsehoods can no longer be treated as such, but instead should be gracefully embraced as mere allowances to how much truth can be stretched even to its unrecognizable version. 

Just to be clear, I had a really difficult time finishing that last sentence above because any sane person knows how impossible the task is when you are forced to make sense of the nonsensical. A normal person can really only take so much bullsh*t. Unfortunately, the current U.S. president and his minions don't have much trouble with said task. 

As a parent, I'm having serious trouble with the concept of 'alternative facts' and pray to the heavens that it never ever becomes acceptable. Let's be clear...


Facts are facts. Objective reality exists to be acknowledged and to be used as a standard. My training as a Sociologist makes me a stickler for observable or measurable data. You don't get to twist numbers or proven conclusions and still claim to be correct and equally true. 

If my reverence for facts and objective reality makes me a tiger parent, then so be it. The whole point of socializing our children is so that they realize there is a whole world outside of themselves and their families, and standards exist against which they will be measured. These standards don't revolve around them, nor do these standards bow down to their every whim. 

When children go to school, they spend time with their peers and all of them are measured according to certain requirements. If my son is not the best student based on the grades he receives or other assessment, then he needs to know and respect that. I will not tell him those standards don't mean anything. I am not the kind of parent who will not tell her child the need to do better when he's clearly not measuring up. 

I will not tell him that everyone is a winner when there is a game. No! Scores are there to show who played better and who did not. Not everyone can claim victory. That's why it's called a game, for crying out loud. There are rules, standards and skill sets required. It's a competition and it's either you win or you lose. 

When my son tries to practice a song for a school program, I tell him when he's out of tune. I don't tell him, "Oh sweetie, you're the best! Keep it up!", even when his tone makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Yes, I've been known to be quite harsh at times, hurting my son's feelings by uttering the words, 'you suck', even when I say it with as much tenderness as I can afford. 

But honestly, I would rather be this kind of parent than one who only praises all the time, or one who tells her child he is 'the best' in everything even when it's objectively not true. I want him to not grow up oblivious to others. I want him to grow up knowing that he needs to work hard to excel and being the best you can be is a lifelong process. I want him to know that though he is special or unique and will always be loved by his parents, he still has to respect how he will be measured by social institutions he is or will be a part of  by virtue of his citizenship in this social world. I need him to know that you can only define your reality to a certain extent and imposing such on others when that reality clearly does not align with objective reality, facts, or widely accepted and proven truths, is INSANITY. 

I don't want to raise a mad man and I don't believe it's too early to say that I haven't. My son, even at 9 years of age, knows that 'alternative facts' carries the same meaning as 'lies' or 'delusions'. It really isn't that hard to understand...IF you are sane. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

My First Time Getting a Call Back After a Mammogram

I've been very open about the fact that I'm a paranoid. My brain is wired such that my natural tendency is to think worst case scenario first, before I tap into my more rational, probability- and facts-based side. I see cough and fever and I think pneumonia. Present me with an angry looking pimple that mysteriously showed up and I think flesh-eating bacteria. It doesn't help at all that I enjoy watching shows dealing with medical mysteries or cases of rare, fatal diseases. 

So you can only imagine my thought process when I got a call back from the doctor's office after my screening mammogram. I've gone yearly for at least four years now and it's always been something I took for granted. I go in and then get a letter or call a few days later stating that everything looks normal. 

Not this time.

I went on December 20th and by the next day, I got the call back from the nurse. I picked up the phone expecting her usual upbeat tone to tell me they'll see me in a year and that my breasts are healthy as ever. But instead, she mumbled something about needing to go back for another mammogram, a diagnostic one this time and possibly an ultrasound. I'm sure she wasn't really mumbling but by that time, I sort of blanked out. I remember hearing 'right breast' and needing to 'take a closer look'. After a short while, I knew I had to snap out of the trance to get more clarification. I asked, ' you know what exactly they saw?'. Of course I was met with a vague answer and some version of the same 'we just need to take a closer look at your right breast' and then proceeded to tell me that someone else will contact me to set an appointment.

I hung up the phone and couldn't breathe. My first thought of course was 'Cancer', followed by 'Oh-my-God-how-will-I-break-the-news-to-my-family-and-what-a-crappy-Christmas-this-will-be'.

Before I could even sit down and fully make sense of the initial phone call, my phone rang again. This time, it was from the imaging facility. I said I wanted the earliest availability and was stunned to hear that they were scheduling me for Jan 18! 

"That's your earliest?!", I said with disbelief and frustration.

The woman confirmed and that was it. I hung up the phone and focused my thoughts on how I could possibly survive the next month without giving in to a nervous breakdown.

For the next couple of days, I found myself plagued with thoughts of dying. I'd be driving and the singular thought I had was 'I have cancer'. And then I found myself obsessing over my right breast. I wish I could say I meant all that in a sexy way but it was by no means pleasurable. I self-examined and wondered if what I was feeling was a lump. I suddenly noticed every non-symmetrical part of my torso and wondered if that was what they saw. Could there be more than one? Is it because I've been overweight all my life? I knew I should have eaten more spinach and kale and blueberries. And maybe I should stop drinking too much from plastic bottles? Maybe it's that bottled water I use while I'm on the treadmill. I really should throw that away now. Or maybe it's all the processed meats I've been consuming. Dammit, I knew there was something to that antiperspirant article I read years ago! I should have listened!

Then I started imagining what life would be like if I did have cancer. My rational side knew that less than 10% of women who are called back for a mammogram get a cancer diagnosis. I had read that most of the time, the initial images were just not clear, that it may be dense breast tissue, calcification or some benign cyst or mass. The odds were in my favor.

But what if I'm part of the unlucky percentage?

I then became hostage to even more morbid thoughts and started to imagine how a cancer diagnosis would change my family's life. I wasn't even so concerned with what I would have to go through but more with the suffering such a diagnosis would subject my boys to. I don't want them to be affected by the need to care for me, or suffer in pain as they watch my body getting weaker. Who will take over everything that I do now? Who will prepare meals for my son and husband? Who will keep the house in order? Who will drive my son to school and all his doctor's appointments? Who will wash their clothes? Who will monitor his school work closely?

My thoughts were clearly spiralling out of control and I needed to just stop and take a breath. 

All this is imagined and I need to focus on knowing the facts first. 

Finally, the long-awaited appointment came. My husband went with me to the facility and both of us did our best to seem calm. The wait wasn't too long, just enough to let my neurotic mind wander again through a couple what if's before it went to what the hell, let's get this over with!

A nice lady named Monica called me in and immediately explained to me what needed to be done. She made sure I knew that the reason for my call back was because of something they needed to look at more closely on my right breast. Before we proceeded, I thought I might as well be honest with her. 

"Monica, do you know if I'd get the results today, which ever way it turns out? It's just that I've been called for this appointment a month ago and I've already been anxious for one month. I can't take it anymore."

She smiled compassionately and I knew she understood. Fortunately, she assured me that I would know either way. She explained that they schedule everyone for an ultrasound after the regular mammogram in case the Radiologist wants to further investigate an area. But if my mammogram satisfies the doctor, then I'd be sent home and will be cleared. 

With that, I said, "Alright, let's do this!" At that point, I think my brain was way too spent to even be afraid. I just wanted to know and move on with it. 

After a few minutes on the torture device, a few adjustments on the paddles to squeeze my tiny breast and cause me mind-numbing pain, it was over and the clarity I've been needing is finally within reach.

Monica asked me to approach and join her in viewing the screens she had in front of her. She pointed out to me the image from my December mammogram where there was a white spot behind my nipple area that the doctor found suspicious. After pointing out to me what the white and black areas represented, I understood that it's not as simple as looking for white circular things that could be masses. Rather, it's a comparison between past and present images. Monica explained that breast images are pretty much like finger prints unique to each person. So when they see something that wasn't there previously, then it's a red flag that they need to further investigate. 

In my case, after spreading and compressing my breast really well this time around and taking additional images, the suspicious circular spot disappeared, indicating that it may have been just dense breast tissue or something caused by hormonal fluctuations. 

Monica left me in the room for a bit to show the results to the doctor and when she returned, she happily told me that an ultrasound was no longer needed. I can come back for my regular mammogram after a year!

She hugged me and told me it was time to party! I'm sure she felt my gratitude given how tightly I hugged her and how I couldn't stop smiling. In the dressing room, I finally let out one deep exhale. 

I wish I could say without a doubt that this would be my first and last call back for a mammogram. But let's be real. I'm just 43 and it's probably going to happen again for as long as I keep showing up for my annual check up. And as anxiety-inducing as the whole experience is, I would never advise anyone to skip their mammogram. It's inconvenient. It's uncomfortable, even painful for some of us. But it's life saving. The earlier you find out if there is anything to be concerned about, the higher your chances for survival. 

If you do get a call back, I have some advice to share.

I won't tell you not to be anxious because I think it's natural. However, there are certain things you can definitely remember to help calm you down. 

Choose very well who you will share the information with that you got a call back. Share only with those who you know have gone through it and might help calm you down, or those who you know don't tend to overreact or over-worry. I consciously did not share with my mother because I did not want her to worry unnecessarily. But Mom, if you're reading this now, please rest assured that I'm okay! :-)

Another important advice I can give is for you to focus on the things you can control. Be proactive in asking for the earliest possible appointment. The shorter your wait, the less anxiety you'll have. I can attest that waiting for a month felt like an eternity. Hopefully, you won't have to wait as long as I did. 

You can also control the questions you need to ask your doctor or mammogram technologist. Don't be afraid to admit how you feel and that you would appreciate them being completely open about the findings. The best decision I made was to let the technologist know that I would very much want to know the results right after my mammogram. I also appreciate that she showed me the images and I was able to ask for clarifications. 

Also, don't forget that you can control your thoughts. In a way, it was good that the holidays kept me busy. I knew I had to push my paranoia on the back burner because there were far more urgent things to attend to. And for those times when the fears were just too much? I turned to prayer. Sometimes it wasn't even the spiritual aspect of it but the repetitive nature of it. It calms the brain and will help you fall asleep. 

I asked myself multiple times what I would do if I was given the dreaded cancer diagnosis and the answer is always the same I would fight with all that I have. Is there really any other alternative? It's not that I am afraid of death, but to love another is to fight hard for whatever time is left for you to share with each other. I would hate to break my son's and husband's hearts by not choosing to fight hard. 

None of us know what tomorrow holds or how much time we are given. But for as long as you are able to make decisions for yourself, take advantage. The choice to fight and how to fight is all within your control.