Acceptance

Mom told me that you will always worry over one of your children more than the other. It’s not a difficult thing to understand–that one of your children will require more nurturing or perhaps more encouragement than the other. But like so many things, that comment means more to me now I’m a mom.

My eldest is sensitive in a way that is beautiful and smile-inducing, and bless her I can finally say she understands the importance of sharing. (Having a younger sibling greatly helped to reinforce this!) But the playground can be a hard place for someone with feelings like hers. The times after school and after ballet class are stressful for me because her friends go to the playground… and of course she wants to go too.

Most of my anxiety stems from the fact that I see so much of me in her: the innate desire to please and the struggle to assert herself without being overbearing. Assertion is a learned trait to someone like us. It’s an art form that takes years of practice. Some people do it effortlessly while others like me and my eldest first over- then undershoot until we learn the right balance.

I’ve learned that I can’t protect her from the truly hurtful things: I’ve taught her to hold onto the railing when going down the stairs and to keep looking as she crosses the street, but a friend’s comment about her favorite dress or an overexcited kid at the playground are things she has to figure out. All kids must learn how to cope with this, but some seem to do it with more ease than others.

My youngest is the kid I was always afraid my oldest would run into: feisty and confrontational. She’s frightened by little and has loads of personality that leaves us laughing. I spend almost no time worrying about whether her feelings will get hurt at school and most of my time hoping she doesn’t clobber anyone for invading her personal space.

They require two different approaches to parenting. I find myself explaining to my eldest why it’s okay that her friend doesn’t want to give her a hug right now and then in the next breath struggling to get my youngest to understand why we don’t hit. Or pinch or bite or snatch or kick or shout and scream.

My eldest likes to cuddle on the sofa. My youngest needs a dog.

Despite their differences, or maybe because of their differences, I’m learning about acceptance. As someone who very much likes to be in control, I’m slowly accepting just how little I actually have.

Accepting my eldest’s sensitivity is awkward because I see that as a weakness in myself. Therefore, I try to save her from the hard knocks it takes to build thicker skin. I want to spare her the hurt feelings that I had to experience. But in doing so I realized that I’m not accepting her for who she is, which begs the question how can I provide the safe haven she needs if I’m busy correcting her, coaching her… trying to change her.

Perhaps all she needs from me is acceptance. My eldest will learn how to manage playground dynamics and my youngest will grow out of the grabby-snatchy-everything-is-mine phase. Their feelings will get hurt from time-to-time, but more important than shielding them from these events is providing the support they need to get through them.

 

Seasons

Your ability to recognize the changing of seasons in life sharpens with age. It’s not that you’re inattentive when you’re younger, it’s just you haven’t witnessed enough of this phenomenon yet to discern its lessons of impermanence.

I can tell that I’m approaching autumn. I’m not sure what it will bring, but I’ve stopped worrying about that. I’m learning to be more present, to plan without becoming obsessive, and that in all things change persists.

My youngest will start school in the new year. I’m excited, but I’m also sad. It marks the end of a certain degree of reliance on me and the start of her burgeoning independence. I’m turning 40 in a couple of weeks, and while with age comes a new set of “realities”, there’s also this blossoming peace I had not anticipated. I hesitate to describe it as contented because in my 20’s and 30’s contentment was such a negative word. But now, as the season cycles through its next change, contented is exactly what I feel.

Gone is the cocky yet insecure woman-child of my 20’s and the stressed-out overachiever of my 30’s. The value I place on friendship and family has doubled and I find myself gravitating toward smaller, more tight-knit groups of women who are in the midst of their seasonal change.

I try to understand more and judge less.

This is the Age of Reevaluation. Marriages grow moldy, careers seem boring, and we yearn for the freedom and bliss of our youth. This is also when some of us finally muster the courage to make the changes we’ve been putting off. My husband recently accepted an early retirement package, then turned down a job to pursue the one he really wanted. I’m exceedingly proud to say that after a few uncomfortable months, taking the risk paid off. He’s now doing exactly what he wants in the industry he wants with a company that gets him excited.

For me, it has been starting my own business, Mosaic Writing. I yearn for the flexibility that only comes with being my own boss. But it can be scary. I question if it makes sense to leave 12+ years of experience and achievements in one industry to start again in another. But in those 12+ years I’ve learned that a key ingredient to life is happiness, and so the decision was easier than I had anticipated.

Surprisingly, it was my kids that gave me the courage to change. I want them to believe in themselves and to be brave despite their apprehensions. Having them at this age is great because it keeps me agile. They prevent me from becoming trapped in a mindset that fossilizes with age. Like why can’t you wear your favorite dress to bed? Why must you avoid the puddles or go down the slide the “proper” way? And why can’t I start my own business at 40?

Autumn feels nice.

Village

My hands approach the keyboard with a caution unfamiliar to them. I often write about personal things involving only me. To write about something that involves the lives of others adds a layer of responsibility that I’ve not had before. I find myself reticent. Careful. But writing is how I express myself. It is how I make sense of the world, and sometimes the horrible things that happen.

Village is a theme that has occupied my thoughts over the past few years. Prior to children, I flitted between countries, crowds, and jobs staying long enough to become disinterested. But things changed when I gave birth. While I still enjoy a good adventure, I put a higher value on friendship. Relationships. Other women. Mothers.

My village is like most: We look after one another. We celebrate birthdays, milestones, and anniversaries together. Kids of similar ages develop friendships. Motherhood is the essence that unites us. We laugh about our kids’ fussy eating habits. We cry together when they don’t fit in. We are a network of unique shared experiences. Someone knows someone who’s going through something similar.  You are never alone. Even if you feel it. That’s the beauty of a village.

And so when death strikes, the pain is shared. It burrows into the hearts of all those who call that village home. Especially when it’s a child. We are left trying to make sense of misery. We cling to one another as we are forced to accept the harshest of truths: we cannot always protect our children, and not everything is in our control.

I was at a friend’s house for a playdate. Our youngest ones were playing separately, but together in the same room. Our eldest children were putting on a concert. My friend’s daughter had a red guitar with rockstar sunglasses that had an attached microphone, and she was pumping up the crowd (me) for a once-in-a-lifetime performance. My daughter was handling stage props.

Then my phone rang.

Watching a child slip away is excruciating for the mind to process. It tears at the primal part of you, a place where logic cannot abide. And it must be cataclysmic when that child is yours.

Thank god for our villages. It is the strength and support of those around us that get us through these times. I never felt more connected to humanity than at the moment I watched a woman perform CPR for over ten minutes. Or how a neighbor shored up her resolve and assigned us useful tasks while we waited for the ambulance.

I never felt more grief than when I looked at the mom. It is not her son’s body that I remember as if staring at a photograph. Instead it is her eyes that refuse to release me. They went from pleading to emptiness, and then back again. In that moment I wanted to say something that would return the smile to her face that I saw not thirty minutes prior.

I never felt more inadequate.

Another mom organized a memorial the following day. We held hands. There was a box of tissues. The mom who found him made his favorite bowl of porridge.

My village has been irreparably changed. The memorial provided the first step to recovery for some of us, but for a select few the memorial marked the beginning of a dark road. We know it will not be easy. We can never forget.

The following day the sky was cloudless. There was even a breeze. I wondered on the unfairness of it all. It felt unseemly that the heavens were not raging.

I thought of her. If she had noticed the sky.

Words still fail me.

Family

I’m told you should never forget where you come from. That sounds like good advice, but I’ve always struggled with this because it seems nonsensical to me. I’m not sure I could forget my beginnings. It’s woven into my memories and helps to define who I am. My fears, motivations, and perspectives are rooted in where I come from.

But then life changes you. Experiences shape those initial perspectives allowing them to expand and mature. It can be hard going back to where you’re from if your point of view has shifted. Blood is thicker than water only to those who’ve never built a family outside of their relations.

I recently went home for the first time in years. It was a long trip. Two twenty-hour flights with a three-year- and an 18-month-old had its share of challenges. But it felt good to reconnect with my roots and revisit my history. My kids met their cousins. Bonds were established. Alliances formed and favorites developed. I met my nephew for the first time, and leaving him was more emotional than I thought it would be.

Aunts who were part of my mom’s village and who had changed my diaper now changed my daughter’s. I ate some soul food. Typically the term applies to southern-style Black food—you know, greens, yams, mac & cheese (baked, none of that boxed stuff), black-eyed peas, corn bread—but to me, the term has grown to mean food that excites memories or brings people together. Three generations of us sat around the table. It felt good.

While we ate, we teased one another for the silly stuff we did as kids, then for some of the silly stuff we do now. I got my share for still nursing a toddler and the seemingly unlimited amount of choices I give my oldest. We laughed at how my youngest sister would fall asleep on the sofa while three screaming children ran around her. (She’s nine months pregnant.) Then it was my Dad’s turn for his knack of climbing up on a “high horse” about any polarizing political topic. But it was all good-natured.

And it was comfortable being at home because so much was familiar, but for all the things that were the same, there were a couple that took me by surprise, like my younger sister who wasn’t so young anymore. I was humbled by how she had grown into a woman of her own. She was just as intelligent and beautiful as always, but wiser now. (She remains the only one who can successfully reason my Dad down from his high horse.) She was finished with schooling, achieving her doctorate three years ago. I wanted more time with her. I wanted to hear about her journey. I told her how proud I am of her. How she was a role model for my kids, and I wanted her in their lives more.

Likewise, my younger cousins who were in grade school when I first left the States were now adults with careers. Some were moving away from home to start their lives in different cities. We gathered around to console the moms who were now facing the empty nest. I had a glimpse of what the future would look like: my girls off to start their own adventures, without me.

I had a sleepover with three of my closest friends from university. Our children were with us, and it was very cool to have a slumber party with all of our families together. My friends knew me before I left the States, before my days of backpacking up the Mekong or my failed attempt at Machu Picchu because of altitude sickness. They knew me before I had children, back when possibilities were endless.

It was refreshing being with them again. We reminisced about our uni days, but mostly we talked about our hopes for our children and our goals for ourselves. We spoke about serious stuff like helping our children develop positive self images and learning how to raise personalities that are different from our owns. We realized that all grandparents think we should do it like they did, and no we shouldn’t, but yes we are going to be the same when our children have children.

Then we spoke about the silly similarities that all kids share, like their love of french fries or how they never want to go to bed–even when they’re tired, and that regardless of their ages, siblings will always fight over who gets to push the shopping trolley in the grocery store. (Solution: get a trolley for each.)

There was something empowering about knowing that we struggled with some of the same issues regardless of our locations or personal beliefs, and that they fret over their children just as much as I fret over mine.

It will be years before cousins and aunts and friends reunite like this again. But for now, I got just what I needed. Family.

Harvest

Seven other nations celebrate Thanksgiving or a holiday akin to it. Whether you’re sitting down to a stuffing-ladened turkey in the USA or if you’re eating a special banana dish in the Norfolk Islands, the premise is the same: it’s a time to give thanks and to enjoy the fruits of our labor, which historically have been a successful harvest.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There are no gifts, but there are stories. Aunts and Uncles gather around a table and speak of memories from the “old days”, when they lived in the “old house” and all the kids shared the same bedroom. They giggle about the time when someone went outside to the privy in the middle of the night and was almost bitten by a rattle snake. They confess to things like when my mom hid underneath the porch with her brother and they pulled the heads off her dolls to see what was inside. They laugh at us “younger” generation and how we have no patience or respect. We let our kids get away with murder (as the saying goes) and employ these newfangled parenting techniques like time-out or the punishment corner.

“Spare the rod…” someone starts.

“…and spoil the child,” someone else always finishes.

A chorus of “umhmm” erupts.

Everyone takes a turn at being the subject of laughter for awhile. Like the time my cousin snuck off to school with her mom’s high heels on only to have my Aunt appear in her classroom to retrieve them. Or the phase I went through when no one could tell me that bright red lipstick was not my color. (Those photos have been burned and buried.)

But whether you’re being laughed at or you’re laughing at someone else, you feel the love. It flows around the table like the scent of sweet potato pie. For this one moment everyone’s together, and that means something.

We weren’t the family to start our meal by taking turns to recite what we were grateful for. We prayed. Usually my Uncle said a very long and tear-provoking prayer. We amen-ed, and then set about enjoying the fruits of our labor, the laughter quickly returning.

The last time I had a Thanksgiving like that was in November of 2000. I was moving to Japan the following January, and my family traveled to my mom’s to see me off. I was prayed over, hands were laid on me, but mostly I remember our joy at being together again.

Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday in Singapore. My husband worked, but I still made a dinner with a few dishes from the “good old days”. I sat at the table with my two daughters, and before we could join hands my eldest had already put a spoonful in her mouth. I explained to her that from now on we will start our Thanksgiving meal by reciting what we are grateful for (or what makes us happy given she’s just three-years-old).

She looked confused and so I went first. I told her that she made me happy. Then I asked if she remembered the time she was in the school play and she wore a chicken costume? I told her watching her dance the chicken dance and singing in Mandarin with her classmates made me happy.

She laughed and said, “That was fun, right?”

She didn’t quite get it, but that’s ok. I was planting seeds. I was creating the first of our Thanksgiving memories.

As we ate, I thought of my Mom, and knew she missed me the way that I will one day miss mine. I thought of my Aunts and Uncles and their stories that my children won’t hear. I thought of my friend who is having her first Thanksgiving without her mom. And another friend who is having a quiet Thanksgiving because her son just had surgery. I thought of the empty space at the table my husband’s absence created because he was still at work… so that I could be at home.

And I was thankful.