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.

Hard Choices

I’m halfway through Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices, a book about her four years as Secretary of State. It is an interesting read. It’s not often I hear about the good the US does for other countries. Living abroad I’ve met a lot of people (mostly Europeans) who are eager to point out my country’s faults, and so reading about how we’ve helped different nations is a nice change.

As a writer, I also find it interesting because I’m fairly certain I can distinguish the parts she’s written from those of her ghostwriter’s. This is not to say that it is poorly written–I think the way the authors are able to take sometimes boring and mundane circumstances and turn them into intriguing international incidents is a testament to their writing skills.

But I guess the main reason I find this book so interesting is because of a few hard choices I’ve had to make recently.

I’ve been writing creatively since high school. It all started one year after reading the books on my English curriculum. I was thoroughly disgusted with the lack of control and the quality of decisions made by the female protagonists in these books. Where were all the modern women? The generation of women before me were breaking glass ceilings everywhere and Blacks and minorities had shattered some of their own as well. Why was I still reading about slavery and segregation when a Black was the protagonist or about arranged marriages and suffrage when a woman was the literary subject? Where were the stories about women like my mom? About the woman I had visions of becoming?

So I set out to write a story with a female protagonist like the women of my time: educated, working, and mistresses of their own fates. I began by writing scenes in my composition notebook. Those scenes grew longer with each attempt, and before I knew it I had over two-hundred pages. At some point I let a few friends read some of my work. They asked for more, and I’ve been writing ever since.

There’ve been times when I took a hiatus, like when I graduated from college, again when I moved to Japan, and obviously for the birth of each of my children. But with each change a new routine was established and I would carve out some time for me, and that meant writing.

Recently, I’ve decided to put my youngest in school come January. It was a decision I didn’t want to make. She’s my baby, my last child, and so I want to hold onto her for as long as I can. She never got the one-on-one time with me that her older sister had, and so I guess that’s made me reluctant to let go.

But each morning when we drop off my eldest at school, the joy that spreads across my little one’s face becomes harder to ignore. I have to drag her out of the classroom, away from the toys and other children who seem to be having the kind of fun she wants. It’s time, I tell myself. She’s ready, even if you’re not.

I’ve managed to carve out an hour or two from my morning routine so I can write, but with her starting school in January, things feel as if they’re changing. Our time together seems rushed all of a sudden, which has left me with an interesting choice to make: continue to write in the mornings or… not.

It is one of those easy-hard decisions. I want to gobble up each of her crooked runs and celebrate every trip she makes down the slide. I love those little arms when they wrap around my neck after she’s found me hiding around the corner. I guess I love those moments more than the strong protagonist who’s kept me up at night just begging for me to tell her story.

I know mothers everywhere battle with their own hard choices: do I take that business trip or let another colleague position himself for the promotion? Do I accept that new job with more money even though I know I’ll miss bedtime a few nights a week? Do I continue with the novel or do I teach my kid how to go up the slide the wrong way–because all kids need to know how to do this before they begin school.

The notion that we can have it all or do it all without having to make some hard choices is a naïve one. The good news is that there are no right answers, only ones that are right for us.

Grace

Grace is one of those words I struggle to define. It’s grown to mean more than just elegance or poise in my opinion. It’s a word that I’d use to describe a woman, never a man, and this distinction intrigues me. A man can have finesse, but that’s not the same thing as grace. 

To my mother, it means a complete acceptance of God’s will. To me, it means being able to keep my cool when having to tell my eldest to put on her shoes for the fifth time while my youngest is crying because she’s been sitting in the stroller for five minutes–waiting for my eldest to put on her shoes!

There’s a direct causal correlation between my ability to handle my children calmly–dare I say gracefully–and the amount of sleep I had the night before. The phase of life I’m in at the moment requires that I live life like a trench soldier. I sleep in shifts more nights than I’d like to admit. There are some nights when I get five hours sleep, broken into two parts with a stint of me warring with one and then the other child. Unfortunately, I’m not the kind of mother who can sleep when her child is crying. I will lie there and wait patiently, perhaps to the outside observer gracefully, until one or both fall back asleep. But the truth is I’m seething on the inside. I’m cursing up a storm! I’m tossing and plotting for their teenage years when I get to wake them up for no other reason than I think they’re sleeping too late.

This is not grace. This is fatigue.

Having children has been a mirroring experience. I now see myself through their eyes. When my eldest was just eighteen months, we were walking in the mall once. I was pushing her empty stroller and she was walking beside me pushing her new toy stroller. I had one hand on my hip for some reason I can’t recall, and when I looked down she had placed her hand on her hip as well. To this day she mimics me. The good and the bad. Knowing this makes me want to be a better person, someone worthy of emulating. Someone graceful.

But it’s not easy. I struggle to find grace on those mornings when I’ve been up for two hours the night before because my youngest just had to tell me about her day at 2am. My eldest senses my fatigue and low tolerance threshold, and she mirrors it. It is those mornings that she doesn’t want to go to school, can’t put on her uniform, insists on non-matching socks after I’ve already put on a matching pair, and despite being hungry, there’s nothing in the house to her liking for breakfast.

I see my frustration approaching like a tidal wave. I tell myself to keep calm. I stop and search for grace, but it feels like on those mornings I fail to find it. Intellectually, I tell myself that I’m human. Who wouldn’t lose it in this circumstance?

When my children reflect on their childhood I want them to smile involuntarily. Fun and safe are two of the first words I want them to think of when asked to describe these years. But equally important they need boundaries and they need to learn appropriate family and social behaviors, which means there will be time spent in the corner and sad faces will decorate the calendar on some days. They will see me frustrated, and that’s okay because grace isn’t the absence of frustration, but the acknowledgement of it. Gaining control of it. Showing them how to manage those conflicting emotions without lashing out.

Right now I am a trench soldier. Some nights I will be pulled from a deep sleep by the sounds of my eldest falling out of bed or my youngest wailing because her teeth are breaking through the gums. Sometimes there won’t be a discernible reason for their insomnia, and yes, I will be frustrated by it. But they will be loved and they will be safe, and for now, that’s grace enough.

 

Kampong

You make friends fast when you’re an expat. You’re a little more receptive to differences and your boundaries for “normal” are forcibly expanded. Everyone becomes a potential friend. The people you’d form an opinion about back home are the ones who come through for you when you’re in a pinch.

I’ve lived abroad since 2001 (minus a two-year stint in Seattle). I was childless then, so my days were spent working and my nights drinking and dancing. My friends were my colleagues. We went to brunch on Christmas and out partying for New Year. Easter Friday was just another workday, and Thanksgiving was celebrated one year, but not necessarily the next.

Kids changed all that.

I’ve slowed down. “Drinking” is a glass of wine before bed. A night out means my husband and I try to be home for ten.

Friendships are harder to maintain–and make. You look for people who you can connect with quickly. No need for pretenses or apologies, they just get you. And if you find someone so rare as to understand you without needing to know your backstory, they become part of your kampong, your village.

In the twelve years I’ve lived abroad I’ve had friends, but this is the first time I’ve had a village–a group of women who care about you and your children, who will visit you when your youngest is in the hospital, cook for your family when someone back home passes away, or stop another kid from bullying yours at the playground.

When you find this, you know you are blessed. When you find this and you’re an expat, you know it won’t last. Someone will inevitably move away. But for that moment in time, you cherish that your children have an extended family. They have “cousins” who speak different languages, eat with different utensils, and have faith in different gods.

It’s hard to describe what brings together this mosaic collection of people. You learn not to think about next year–tomorrow is far enough. They help you see the beauty in differences and the necessity of faith even if you don’t share it. You explore together, you learn together, you cry and laugh together. You do things you’d never do back home. Your point-of-view shifts to the left (very seldom to the right) because you learn that perspective is in everything.

Since the beginning of civilization, we women have been the seams that unite a family and the ones responsible for the next generation of leaders and followers. We have dried each other’s tears, cheered one another forward, and held one another up until we were once again strong enough to stand on our own.

It feels intensely beautiful to be a part of a village that shrinks and expands with diversity and acceptance and love.

Mosaic

Aside

Headlines are overly sensational. I suppose they have to be, but I wonder what the headlines read like in the days of the herald.

We are living in Orwellian times. Governments spy on us. The truth has leaked, and it’s up to us if we want to do anything about it. Yet, I wonder if we’ll do much of anything at all because most of us have nothing to hide. Sure, we don’t want anyone knowing exactly what we search for on the internet, but since we aren’t being embarrassed by a few indiscretions, we look the other way. If it doesn’t negatively affect our day-to-day lives, will we change? Will we stand up? Will we care beyond the casual conversations with our friends? But, then again, history has shown from time-to-time we will march for an ideal. We will demand equality, the truth, and fairness. I wonder if now is one of those times.

I read an article the other day, the tag was something like Active Mums Have Active Children. I sighed. It was a physical sigh where my entire body slumped. Some corner of me laughed. Moms are expected to be everything. All the time. To everyone. Because children are our treasures, our lives, our futures, and we are expected to get it right, despite all the contradictory information we’re bombarded with, the time limitations of a 24-hour day, the physical needs of day-to-day life like food and shelter, and then the emotional needs like love and support. For a brief moment I felt like I was running in circles trying to be this perfect mom, wife, friend, and human being. Then I said, fuck-it. My kids are active enough.

Having girls changed me. I became more pragmatic. It is something that I hope to pass to them. Now when my daughter catches herself from falling over, she says, “I saved myself!” It all started one day when she asked me to save her–I cannot recall if I did or not–but I know I told her that she must learn to save herself. It would appear that she understood me. I feel like that’s a small win.

A Holiday Blog Tour

Image

(Photo used through Creative Commons and taken by Flickr user Cliff.)

I’ve worked on Christmas Day. I was in Japan. Christmas isn’t a holiday there. I find that a lot of my traditions and values are a result of where I was born and to whom. Christmas is special to me because it was special to my family. It was reinforced through television, radio, street decorations, and the festive spirit–as a nation we all had it.

But when I lived in Japan, aside from the beautiful street decorations, it was just another work day. What I learned is that as much as we want to believe we’re different, we’re more the same than we realize. Black, white, brown, or any other color, you’re more like your fellow compatriots than you think. In this way I feel distinctly American. It connects me despite the distance that separates us.

For the past three years, each holiday season I participate in a Holiday Blog Tour of women from around the world. A very special woman, Icess Fernandez Rojas has once again organized our tour for your reading pleasure. Some of it will be fiction, some nonfiction, but all of it will be interesting.

I’ll post a link to the first one in our tour on 16 December when we kick things off. Each day, one blog in the group will post a holiday story. After you read the story, the blog will link you to the next stop on the tour for the next day.

Here’s a list of our participants and their blogs:

Dec. 16 Teresa Carbajal Ravet, SententiaVera.com

Dec. 17 Nathasha Alvarez, Audaciouslady.com

Dec. 18 Natasha Oliver, Peace and Center

Dec. 19 Nikki Kallio, More Purple Houses

Dec. 20 Lupe Mendez, The Poet Mendez

Dec. 21 Anabel Lucio Morales, My Meandering Thoughts

Dec. 22 Icess Fernandez Rojas, IcessFernandez.com

Dec. 23 Regina Tingle, ReginaTingle.com