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/fiancĂ© 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).