Fighting in front of our children

Dear Readers,

I’ve always been a verbose but quiet blogger, not too unlike how I am in real life. The type who prefers 3 close friends over 300 acquaintances, I’d like to think I make an interesting and fun friend once you’ve found your way to me, and then I’m infinitely grateful that you took the time and had the patience to find me. And so that’s how I feel this week, when a number of you (and who I don’t even know for the most part) shared some of my posts on Facebook and Twitter. Because of you, the editors of Mamapedia and Bonbon Break contacted me to feature some of my writing there, and one of my posts, When We Fight in Front of Our Children, appears today on Mamapedia.

I am so incredibly grateful for your support, because while it’s thrilling to know that someone is reading what I have to say, it means doubly more to know that you have invited others to join our quiet but important and rich conversations.

Thank you!

Cecilia

10 Life Lessons

After six weeks, my cast is off and I’ve started physical therapy. I am taking baby steps, quite literally, and still with the support of crutches. And with the combined excitement of both a newly upright toddler and her proud parents, I am startled at each new ability: to move my foot left and right, to stand in the shower, to go up and down stairs.

I’ve had a lot to think about over these last 6 weeks. Below, the lessons that have spoken loudest to me:

1. Don’t look for love in all the wrong places – i.e., Facebook. The isolation of being injured threw me into Facebook for more minutes per day than I care to admit. Facebook is a great virtual water cooler – nothing more and nothing less, despite all the deceptive language involved like “friends” and “like.” Nonetheless, I did pout over Max’s 30 Likes on a photo of the croquettes he made for dinner one evening while I only got about 3 Likes on the post I had put up. I do not ever want to feel 14 years old again.

2. Busy is better than the alternative. I used to complain about running around like crazy. What I wouldn’t do now, to be able to run around. Like crazy.

3. And on a related note, mobility is privilege. I was never a particularly active person; now I cannot imagine having two healthy legs and choosing not to move. Inactivity is for those who don’t have a choice. Once I have the choice, I will be moving.

4. Fathers can make excellent mothers. There was a time when I felt more comfortable being in control of the home, because I believed I knew best about Fred’s nuanced eating and sleep needs, his complex and daily-changing school and activities schedule, and so forth. But time and again Max has proven that he can not only do this mom’s job, he can often do it better, faster and with less screaming. And that does not make me jealous or threatened…it makes me love him more.

5. Friends will not ask for help unless and until they are on the brink of death. If I had been willing to ask for help, I wouldn’t have gotten into this mess in the first place. (I didn’t have a car the day of my accident, and chose to bike to pick Fred up from camp instead of asking a friend for a ride). All this to mean, when a friend is sick, laid up, hurt or lonely, instead of saying “Let me know how I can help,” the best thing to do is to send a care package or insist on babysitting or show up on her door step and say, “Here’s dinner. Now eat it.”

6. Along similar lines, it takes 2 minutes to show that we care. That’s how long it takes to click Compose, type “How are you? I was thinking of you.” and hit Send. We then have 1078 minutes left in our day to do all the important things we are otherwise so busy with. Those 2 minutes won’t make a dent in our lives but can mean the difference between a friend sinking deeper into depression or being able to get on with the rest of her day in purgatory with a smile. To someone who is not well, minutes feel like days, and a hello from a friend is a life preserver.

Thought I’d underscore this point.

7. Life is still richer if you let yourself see where your body can take you. I will continue to let my boy run, bike, climb trees, and go for his black belt in martial arts. I will swallow that impulse to cry, “Don’t! You might get hurt!” and I will need to do the same for myself.

8. No one has to have it harder or easier. Don’t let anyone tell you that your difficulty conceiving is less worthy of feeling than her miscarriage or her child’s disability or her child’s passing. If it is tough for you, then it is tough for you. Let’s not make a competition out of what life has done to us.

9. At the same time, people do have it hard. Being immobile has been no picnic, but I will heal and move on, and my heart will not be heavy. Not everyone can heal as cleanly from the blows that they have been dealt. Many never will. I know what could have been but wasn’t, and that I am lucky.

10. Where life breaks, growth can happen…if you let it.

How it feels when your mom blogs about you

The following is a true story, written by me, from my son’s voice and point of view. 

So I’m sitting at the dinner table and I’m in a bad mood. Because I was sorting my Pokémon cards when my mom started yelling, “Thunderstar! Do your homework!” “Thunderstar! Did you wash your hands?” “Thunderstar! Did you unpack your lunchbox?” “Why do I need to say this every day, Thunderstar?!” I just got home – for goodness’ sake! – after being in school since 7:40 this morning. And it’s now 5:25, P.M.!

Then I start my homework and before I’m even done my dad goes, “Thunderstar! Set the table! It’s dinner time!”

There is something really wacky about my family. Because my mom and dad get to tell me what to do, but I’m not supposed to tell them what to do. Like with the iPhone and iPad. They’re always dictating rules about that, even though I know sooooo much more about technology than they do. They say, no iPhone or iPad on school nights. No iPhone or iPad after 8 p.m. No iPhone or iPad if I talk back. Blah blah blah. But my dad is forever playing Bejeweled Blitz, even when my mom says, “Why don’t you read a book instead.” Yeah, Dad, why don’t you read a book instead? So I gave them my own rules, like “No Bejeweled Blitz while Thunderstar is awake.” and they said, “No, Thunderstar, it doesn’t work that way.”

I don’t care much for dinner time, unless it’s at McDonald’s or I’m eating mac and cheese from a box.

Because my mom is always staring at me too. She says things like, “Thunderstar, your hair is starting to look like a helmet. I need to cut your hair this weekend,” and then forgets all about it. Or she’s watching me to make sure my mouth is moving. If my mouth stops chewing for more than like 3 seconds, then she’s like, “Thunderstar! Eat!”

But today she probably saw my bad mood, because she suddenly tried to sound cheerful.

“Guess what!” she said. “This moms website wants to feature my blog post. Isn’t that great news?! I’m wondering which post I should send to them.”

I know my mom writes a blog. And I know she writes about me and Daddy. And I know she calls me Fred, which I hate. I asked her why she can’t use my real name, because my real name is so much cooler, but she said it’s not safe to show my real name on the internet. So I told her to change my name from Fred to Thunderstar. (Did she do it yet?)

She and my dad were talking, then suddenly I couldn’t believe it. She started giggling. She said – she actually said – “I’VE ALWAYS LIKED THAT POST ABOUT HOW THUNDERSTAR WOULDN’T WIPE HIMSELF. MAYBE I’LL USE THAT ONE!”

It was like all the sound in the room disappeared, and I shrunk to an inch tall, and I have no pants on, and I am surrounded by faces, just hundreds and thousands and an infinity and beyond of faces. They’re mean and everyone’s laughing and pointing their fingers at me. I can’t hear them but I see their mouths wide open with that deflated balloon thingee hanging and shaking from the back of their throats, and their eyes are shut so tightly from laughing, laughing at that big fat baby Fred who wouldn’t wipe himself.

I cried to my mom, “No! No! I don’t want you to use that post!”

“Oh Thunderstar, you were 4 or 5 years old at the time! All moms would understand! You don’t even know what it’s about – if I told you, you would think it’s so funny. It’s totally innocent and cute!”

She was not getting me at all! I have a blog too, in Mrs. Stevens’ class, where we write about the books we read. How would my mom like it if I wrote about her wiping herself and let the WHOLE class read it??

The tears were bursting out of my eyes and running down my face but I didn’t care. She really thought it would be cute to tell the WORLD – because she just finished showing off that there are almost a million people reading this website – that I couldn’t wipe myself after potty.

“No! It is NOT cute! You are NOT telling that story!! How would YOU like it if I wrote about YOU pooping?!”

I was really crying now. I couldn’t believe she was trying to sabotage me. How could I make her stop? How?? I can’t give my mom and dad rules. I can’t tell them what to do, not even when they’re wrong, SO wrong! I can’t believe I’m only 8 and they are like practically 50 and I know more than they do!!

“You are NOT using that story!!”

“Oh Thunderstar…okay. I won’t. I promise I won’t use that story. I will use another story.”

Did she really listen to me just now?

“It’s okay. Mommy won’t.” She put her hand over mine and looked at me. I couldn’t tell if she was trying not to cry or not to laugh.

“But it’s still on your blog,” I said. “You have to delete it.”

I’m 8, so that means I was literally not born yesterday.

“But, I – I mean, no one’s going to find it, Thunderstar. It’s 3 years old.”

“No! I want you to delete it, after dinner. And I want to SEE YOU DELETING IT.”

“Thunderstar. Don’t talk to me like that.”

“BUT I NEED TO SEE YOU DELETING IT. I need to know you are really doing it and not just saying it.”

“Not that many people even come to my blog. They’re not going to find it. It’s buried under a gazillion posts. But okay, I’ll take it down tomorrow.”

“How can I trust you?”

“Because I’m your mom, and I love you.”

“But moms lie.” This is a fact. I know from my friends that moms lie. I don’t even think there is a Tooth Fairy.

“Some moms may, but I swear that I don’t.”

“How do I know you’re not lying now?”

“Thunderstar, have I ever done anything to make you not trust me?”

I couldn’t think of anything.

“I will take it down because I am seeing how important this is to you. So I promise. I will take it down tomorrow. I don’t want to do anything that makes you so upset.”

I looked at my mom a little while longer, and then I went back to my dinner. Tomorrow, I’m going to check with her to make sure she really deleted it.

Post script

I took down the post the next day. And began thinking about what privacy and embarrassment mean to a child.

Thunderstar really says things like “for goodness’ sake!”, “infinity and beyond” and “sabotage.” And he really hates that he has little power, especially when sometimes he knows more than the adults.

An amazing thing happened as I was writing from my son’s point of view: I began to understand him in ways I didn’t before.

I apologize if Thunderstar has offended anyone named Fred. In kindergarten he asked me why, why we didn’t name him Fred. You know how kids are.

Many thanks to the writing prompt over at Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop (Mama’s Losin’ It) for inspiring this post.

Mama's Losin' It

Voice: a story of

Growing up I had the perfect poison for extinguishing a voice: I was female, Asian, immigrant, undocumented.

Outside our home I learned to stay in the shadows and not rock the boat.

Inside the home, I was an explosive acid of pent up frustrations: loud, uncensored and callous. The fumes that boiled within had to come out somewhere and at somebody, but there was no willing ear, no one accustomed to voicing his/her own feelings let alone capable of dealing with another person’s.

My family loved generously, but in ways that were different from western culture, the only culture that made sense to me at the time. We never spoke of our emotions.

The rare person who got close enough to catch a good glimpse of me often reacted with such surprise. I remember the friend in 6th grade, after our first phone conversation: “I didn’t know you were so interesting! You are so quiet!” And my freshman year English professor: “I had no idea you had so much to say until I read your paper…I would love it if you spoke more in class.”

I credit my four years at a women’s college for re-introducing me to a word – Voice – that up until then I had only considered a physiological mechanism. English lit classes were about George Eliot, Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Virginia Woolf…and, in so many ways, about us.

But studying these pioneer women writers was only a first step in understanding the courage to speak. While I admired our foremothers, I didn’t yet make that connection between their achievements and my duty to myself. Coming out of college, I am not sure how truly empowered I was. I failed to defend myself against women bullies at my first job, or to recognize abuse in my first serious relationship.

It’s taken me many years to understand the consequences of an early life in which emotions are not acknowledged, expressed, talked about, dealt with, or validated. You learn that certain (many) emotions are shameful, and you decide to keep the poison inside. You are used to having negative emotions dismissed, so when you feel disrespected by a boyfriend who (for example) threatens to dump you if you gained weight, you choose to ignore your instincts. You are not used to getting feedback on your emotions, so when you are upset with someone you love, you lash back with a venom that isn’t warranted by the offense.

I was like that for so long.

Voice began emerging for me, once I started to build up small successes. Like stepping inside a gym for the first time, after a lifetime of not believing in my body. Being loved by friends after the trauma of childhood bullying. Being happy without a man after once needing a man so badly that I tolerated abuse. Giving a talk before an audience of 250 in New York when once upon a time teachers and classmates never heard the sound of my voice. Finding a compassionate and committed life partner after so many prior failures. Becoming a mother when once I believed I didn’t have what it took. Co-founding my own company when my first boss didn’t trust me to answer the phones or much of anything else. And speaking up to and taking action against a teacher who hurt my son…after a lifetime of allowing everyone else to be right.

And somewhere along the way new friends began laughing if I tried to tell them I considered myself shy. These days I have to consciously hold down my hand at parent-teaching meetings so I don’t dominate the Q&A, and my husband – the one man I’ve dated who needs it the least – gets earfuls of my “I Will Survive” tirades.

A few years ago I took my first writing class, and in a class of supportive strangers I nervously began to share experiences that I had only begun to find words for. I’ve since had a few personal essays published, and today I celebrate the three-year anniversary of Only You. During these three years I’ve gone back and forth on numerous posts, publishing and unpublishing, torn between catharsis and fear of judgment, between confidence and doubts that anyone cares. I’ve been attacked on Motherlode in the New York Times for expressing my opinions (heh, who hasn’t been?), and I’ve been personally put down for writing a “mommy blog.” (But I’ve always been proud of writing about motherhood, and of bearing that most awesome, significant and beloved title of Mommy.) This blog has exorcised whatever shame, doubts and depression that I still sheltered several years ago, because it became a vehicle for me to face and process the emotions that never before met with trust. I am so grateful to you, some of whom I’ve been privileged to become friends with through your comments, many others who I know return quietly with each post, and some of you whom I met the old fashioned way, before blogging became a word. In many ways old friends were the ones I was most afraid to share my writing with. I can’t thank you enough for being that listening ear I’ve been needing all these years, for allowing this Voice to come out, and for nurturing it to grow. You’ve saved me.

Growing up and letting go

Our house was like Grand Central this weekend, with the neighborhood boys streaming in and out. We love these Social Sundays, especially now that I’ve gotten over the early bittersweet of my baby forming his own world without me.

Then that day came another milestone.

After playing with his friends on our street, Fred asked if he could go to Brian’s house, 2 blocks away. Straight path, no traffic. It seemed high time for him to go there on his own.

When it turned out Brian was still eating lunch, Fred came back and asked if he could go to Kyle’s house, a more complicated path 4 blocks away within our subdivision. Again, we said yes.

An hour later, Fred came back with Kyle and asked if they could go to the park. The neighborhood park is a little under 10 minutes away by foot, and up until that point Fred had never gone there without an adult. It’s not that we had forbidden it; he simply never asked and we never had to think about it. But today it came up, and again, we said yes.

I was surprised to feel relieved. Max, too, added, “This is how boys should live.” Coming from a country where kindergarteners commute alone on public transportation, Max has since adopted my American wariness and done his fair share of standing guard at playgrounds. But we always recall our own stories of how much more carefree our childhoods had been: how Max traveled alone from one end of Japan to the other at the age of 9, how I was walking 3 blocks through traffic in a much rougher neighborhood to catch the school bus when I was 8.

I didn’t realize how exhausting it was to fear and worry…not about safety from speeding cars or kidnappers but about how to make sure we don’t overprotect Fred.

In the second it took for me to calibrate the risks of letting Fred go to the park, I asked myself what it was that I was fearing: Was it child molesters? Traffic? Getting lost? Given our neighborhood, getting lost was the greatest risk, but even that was basically nil. There was more to lose by holding Fred close.

But I will tell you the bigger anxiety I had that day, once I’d let him go.

I wasn’t worried about Fred getting to and from the park safely, or being safe while playing at the park. I worried about what he would do – from now on – when there is no adult to say, “No, don’t do that.” My mind flashed back to all those stories of dumb pranks performed by my perfectly intelligent male friends, antics that helped build up my earlier vow never to have a boy. But you know, writing this, I am ashamed to admit to my own fair share of regrettable choices and dumb behavior. This latest milestone made it clear that I have entered that parenting stage where the most important thing I can instill – and rely on – is my child’s good judgment.

And suddenly potty training feels like a breeze compared to trying to shape a child’s moral compass and self-control.

This post took me three days to write. I didn’t know where to go after the above paragraph. Then, in trying to find my direction I ran up against this question again: What is it that I’m afraid of? Has Fred chosen bad friends? Has he made poor choices in judgment? Has he given me any reason so far to worry that he will one day binge drink at his first fraternity party (because, you know, that worry ranks right up there with doing bike wheelies and entering hotdog eating contests) ?

One of the incidents that triggered my worries was how oblivious Fred became to me as soon as his friend told him she was organizing a neighborhood talent show. He became so giddy he ignored my warning that it was dinner time, and threw himself at the piano to practice Jingle Bells, his latest and proudest piece.

After I’d gained some perspective, I realized, it’s Jingle Bells, not crack.

So, after more than eight years as a mother, I’m learning to let go…to let go of not my child, but my fears.