Reflecting on Roots during March Nor’easter

And just like that, we are back in NYC.

During today’s magnificent nor’easter, where umbrellas are turnt and the wind is pushing us around like a bully, I have this moment to reflect on our visit to LA.

“Just like that” included 30+ hours of flight delay, our worst flight experience ever.  This was 4.5 hours trapped on a plane that never took off, countless pilot announcements that assured us that “once we get to the de-icing machine” we would be taking off and then getting timed out due to FAA regulations, getting to the hotel at 3:30 am after the shuttle was delayed, schlepping loads of luggage on ice-covered stairs beyond the hotel parking lot, and living at the airport the next day after checking out of our tiny hotel room.

I am beyond grateful for no one getting sick despite the exhaustion.  In fact, the boys hardly noticed the plane delay as they were content, watching airplane TVs directly in front of their mugs for hours upon hours.

This was baby girl’s first flight outside of my womb.  Dramatic first flight experience.  She hardly cried out on the plane despite usually sleeping only in her crib.  She was just happy to sleep on my body, whether stuck on a plane or camped out the next day waiting for our make-up flight.

I had a talk with my oldest that traveling is a huge blessing in that it takes health, time, and money to be able to swing it.  When this monstrous delay hit, Micah thoughtfully said, “We had the money and health, but not the time.”

When I was pregnant with Olive last year, we opted to travel to Orlando instead of LA for various reasons.  One of the reasons was that LA is always loaded for me.  It is my Sliding Doors city, though I never aspire to be a Gwyneth in any form.  This could have been my other life.

So, visiting my hometown always makes me more emotional than traveling elsewhere.  It’s a trip to drive around the places I grew up.  Memories flood me as I recall moments, as blurry as they may be.

It almost seems like fiction that I was ever 20-somethang, meeting up with girlfriends, working my first full-time job in West Hollywood (you mean I gotta do this almost everyday!?), eating sushi complete with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger from my lap while stuck in traffic on Sunset Blvd., commuting from Chatsworth to UCLA for graduate school, blasting POWER 106 while cruisin’ the Valley.  Or even before then, attending high school and being a teenage girl feeling all them feelin’s.  Junior high when it was still called junior high, all the way through when we first immigrated to Koreatown LA when I was almost five.

And when I’m back with those I lived those moments with, my NYC life seems like it was all a dream…until I look at the husband and three New Yorker kids who are living proof that NYC happened…and is still happening.

I used to think that staying in your hometown wasn’t truly living and drooled at my globetrotting girlfriends’ experiences but I now see the beauty of staying close to home as good things are often right under your nose.

I am super grateful for all of life’s moments and while the “L” word is sacred to me, I can honestly say I have love for everyone that has ever been a part of my life in some way, those who were visitors and those who remain.

Only the good Lord knows where we might end up next.  I would love more sun, slower pace, lower cost of living, nature, nature and more nature, people of color, good public schools, at least one fat life-giving job, and people to do life with.  (Kevin said most of my list points to Florida but NO, please NO!)

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Olive is 8 (months) and “When Breath Becomes Air”

On 1.28.18, our Olive Tree turned eight months old.  I’m finally getting used to saying “my daughter.”  It seems like fake news that she ever lived inside of me even though I have pictures and witnesses.  She looks like both her brothers though lately, favoring Micah more.  I wondered aloud if she resembled Oliver Platt when she pouts but Kevin got offended.

She still looks a bit like Governor Christie, just like Micah resembled Paul Giamatti as an infant.

She joined our family when The Middle was 4.5 and Firstborn was 6.5 but to think of those years without her, with just the boys, seems odd and made up.

Everyone comments on her how serious she is.  Her stare game is strong.  Her gentleness is evident too as she coos and babbles and tries to suck on her own toes.

We never had to cry her out for sleep because she only cries when it’s an emergency.  I teased Kevin for jumping up to spring her, Mr. Let’s Cry Them Out When Newborn, Oops, Is That Too Early.  He claims he is not being easy on her because she is his little girl but that once he tried to ignore her cries and she had vomited a bit so she trained him early that she means business when she cries.

She loves to pull on glasses and grab noses.  She also loves to grab her brothers’ cheeks and wants to be included in play.  She is an old soul.  Her smiles and sighs still make me want to pass out from delight.

I recently read an unforgettable memoir called “When Breath Becomes Air.”  Dr. Paul Kalanithi blessed the world with this book before he passed away from Stage IV lung cancer at the age of 37.  His book took my breath away as he was clearly brilliant and unbelievably in touch with his mortality.

Kevin, on the other hand, read a few chapters and put it down.  “How could you put it down!?  I wanted to read it in one sitting.”  I suspected he didn’t want to read it because it is just too sad.  Kevin explained that he didn’t want to read it because the dude is on another level of brilliant and he could not connect to those heights.

True, his intelligence was almost comical.  Laughably smart.  And as a neurosurgeon, his contributions to the world were quantifiable yet immeasurable.  Death does not discriminate.

I also happened to read this book when Olive was the EXACT SAME AGE as Dr. K’s own infant daughter.  Here is a message he wrote for his daughter before he passed away, before he had a chance to complete his memoir:

“When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied.  In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

If I may bite offa this brilliant man for a moment…

Olive, I hope we always remain as close as we are right now, as you peer into my eyes and beat my bosom as you nurse.  I know mothers and daughters are notorious for butting heads and not seeing eye to eye later, but please know that you were just a daydream of mine until God deposited you in my 39.999 year old womb.  Unlike Dr. K, I *had* known a joy like this in prior years, through your brothers, but I didn’t know that I would get to experience this again, for what must be the last time.  Please know that when your not-young mom swings you at the freezing playground, she still resists the urge to lift her mittened-hands to the heavens in gratitude and in awe of you.  (I also don’t lift my hands because I got to spot you on the baby swing.)

Olive you.  I hope I get to be around for a LONG time.  To see my Olive tree grow.

Thank you, Dr. PK, for sharing your story with us and reminding me again that every gummy, babbling, suddenly-not-sleeping-through-the-night, pudgy-cheeked, breast-pumping-at-work-during-appointed-time-slots, moment is a gift.

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These Thoughts Got to Go Somewhere

I am overdue for many things I wanted to write about so I am going to spill them out at once.

  1.  The Despicable Larry Nassar:

    “The disgraced former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison, a judge announced Wednesday, after more than 150 women and girls said in court that he sexually abused them over the past two decades.” (CNN)

    This man violated girls *while their parents were in the room* seeking his help for their daughters’ gymnastics-related injuries.  Gasp!

    This vile man made me realize that even though I try my best to be my kids’ protector, advocate, and cheerleader, there is a tremendous amount of faith involved in letting them go daily.  Faith not only to release them into their large NYC public school, but on fieldtrips and extracurricular activities where I can’t fully know the character of the parent chaperones or coaches or strangers they are bound to come in contact with.  As of now, their activities are not full drop-offs, but I will need to entrust them in this world’s care more and more.

    Please, Lord, protect them.  You are Lord and I am not.  It is not possible for me to be their protector at all times.

2.  Your Privilege is Hanging Out:  A lawyer mom who married wealthy and will likely never work again, by “choice,” posted the most self-indulgent, privileged, tone-deaf and insensitive drivel I have ever seen.  She is a SAHM with a staff that does what most SAHMs have to do for themselves, including a full-time nanny, house cleaner, a gardener, and a gardener who only does the weeding(!).  She is the 1%.

What irked me was that she couldn’t foresee the sh*tstorm she would start by directly and specifically laying out her riches before the weary eyes of most other moms as they got ready for work, whether it was work they must do or choose to do, or SAHMs who do what her staff does for her.  She even added a line about how she is the lady that we all love to hate.  Oof!  You can be that privileged but have the sense to not blast it out on a huge social media group of moms who don’t lead such a charmed life.

For my own health, I need to move on from eyerolling since last night BUT the good that came out of this is that it reminded me that I will definitely invest more in doing stuff that gives me life, OUTSIDE of my beloved kids.  Though Tone Deaf’s creature comforts do sound cushy, it reminded me that my dream is not to become a lady of leisure.  I want to have purpose beyond excessive self-care that sounds more like she doesn’t want to do any chores.

I now work again part-time out of necessity but even without that financial necessity, I would do some form of work because I have longings and skills separate and apart from being a mama.  I find it crucial for my mental health though I know this is a loaded topic and some extremely conservative circles don’t support this notion.  I firmly believe that having my own identity will help when the Empty Nest years hit, even though I stay home more than work.

3.  Rule of Life (as explained by Pastor Rich Villodas  – copied and pasted from one of his posts):

Here are the steps…Step 1
Write down everything you currently do (or hope to do) that nurtures your spirit and fills you with delight  (e.g. people, places, activities).   Normally, when we think of spiritual activities, we limit ourselves to things such as prayer, going to church, worship, and Bible reading. Don’t censor yourself.  Your list may include gardening, walking the dog, being in nature, talking with close friends, cooking, painting, jumping out of airplanes, or any number of other possibilities. List them all!
Step 2
Write down the activities you need to avoid, limit or eliminate that pull you away from remaining anchored in Christ.  This refers to avoiding certain things that impact your spirit negatively – such as violent movies, excessive social media involvement, being harried, and going beyond your limits. The list that you create, whether you know it or not, is your unconscious way of life.
Step 3
What are the challenging “have to’s” in this season of your life that are impact your rhythms? (e.g. caring for aging parents, a special needs child, a demanding season at work, parenting small children, an illness, etc.)
Step 4
Fill in the Rule of Life worksheet.  (See photo below – Pastor Rich’s example)
Step 5 – Share your Rule with someone as a means of helping you utilize it to order your life in the way of Jesus.
My Step 1 – WHAT NURTURES MY SPIRIT definitely includes reading and writing.  And nature.  And beauty.  And even boring adult stuff like making sure we have enough income so that finances don’t suck out my life force.  And nurturing real-life friendships despite busyness.
My Step 2 would be to pull away from excessive Facebooking as evidenced by my wasted energy, viscerally reacting to that lady’s post.
My Step 3 is that we are parenting three small children including our bonus infant while juggling 1.5 work schedules.  I need to respect this limit instead of trying to Amazing Race all around town and feeling guilty for not setting up playdates during this stage.
Thanks for reading.
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Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

Though it seems like an odd testament to the existence of God, I can always testify to His existence and realness when I experience a palpable darkness trying to creep in.  I can feel Light and Darkness.  So, just what am I talking about?

I’m not sure if Kevin or I noticed this first but EACH time I blogged about how well we were doing during my pregnancy with Olive, how jubilant I am about this bonus baby, or how our marriage has been resuscitated after years of struggle, I would face some strange tribulation the next day.

Kevin wisely suggested that we almost anticipate it and pray specifically against it.

This was not limited to when I would blog about happy thangs instead of writing about persistent struggle and angst.  It would also occur when Kevin and I were doing exceptionally well and creating new, healthy habits.  Like a couple nights ago, Kevin and I finally had our New Year’s talk, using Pastor Rich’s Rule of Life steps (which I hope to write about, too).

We were pleased with ourselves for not automatically reaching for the remote control once the kids went to bed.  Instead, we wrote down what gives us life and what impacts our spirit negatively, in order to give ourselves some direction and motivation this new year.  We prayed for these plans and desires to take flight.  And we even had time left over to watch my new favorite show, “The Chi.”

The very next day, our family’s sacred MLK Jr. Day, another meaningful day in our household – one son named after MLK Jr. and another conceived on MLK Jr. Day 2012, I had such an emotional setback that I couldn’t believe it.  As with many setbacks, the trigger shoulda coulda woulda been manageable, but it set me off so disproportionately that I am still processing.  Details are too boring and gratuitous to use up my word count here.

So yeah, when we are doing very well, or I share about doing very well, I can feel darkness trying to deposit thoughts like, “Really though?  You guys good?  Have you really progressed?  Maybe not?  How about I throw you some shit and see if you really overcame?  You think people wanna hear about how good you doing, Pollyanna?”  and other more unsavory words of doubt and darkness.

I even said, “Dang, Kevin, maybe I shouldn’t share praises then!?”  Seems like an easy solution?  But no.  I will not be silenced by fear.  I refuse to dim the light in order to accommodate darkness.  I will keep sharing how He is working in my life even through my failures that DO make me wonder if I have progressed at all.

One blessing I dare to share about today is my middle son.  The boy has a way with words and sometimes utters things that literally take my breath away.  Last night, after my emotional setback that still got me like, “Huh!?”, the whole family listened to Dr. MLK Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Ellis prayed, “Oh Lode, please make Martin Luther King Jr. alive again today.”  Yes, Lord, may his spirit live on during these dark times.  We need it.

And on 1/1/2018, the first day of the New Year, another day that is sacred not just to our family but to all who love a fresh new start of a new calendar page, I had another emotional snafu.  (Hmmm, I had probably shared some praises again or felt especially grateful for the last week of 2017).  After we made some dumplings from scratch, a New Year’s Day tradition we want to keep up when we are at home for New Year’s, I burnt the first batch because I got distracted.

Should be no big deal but I got real down on myself like, “Dang, girl, what the hell is wrong with you?”  and spiraled a bit when I thought I was getting better with this self-flagellation problem.  I told Ellis, “Mommy’s not doing too well.  I know it’s not a big deal that I wasted those dumplings but sometimes, Mommy talks mean to herself and she gets stuck.”

He stared at me with those eyes that look right into my soul and said:

You are my heart.  (“You ah my haw-wut.”)

You are loved.  (“You ah loved.”)

When I gave him my typical big reaction, gushing and embracing him, he somberly said, “I’m not done.  I love you.  And you are beautiful.”

It really felt like God sent me a little messenger when I needed words of affirmation to drive out my thoughts of condemnation.  I asked him to repeat himself.  He said it again to a tearful Mommy and blessed me over and over again.

Please feel free to receive those words of blessing for yourself.

**The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. – John 1:5**

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Declaration During Insomnia

My family is asleep.  Even as I tried to slow down my mind with silent prayer, curled up from my side of the bed, I still could not join them in dreamland.

I got up quietly so as not to wake my sleeping baby in her crib next to me.  She sleeps through fire engine wails and the loudest of incessant NYC ambulance sirens but Mommy’s isolated burp, fart, or cracking of knuckle can scare her.

I came out to the living room to pump my engorged left breast so that maybe then, I can succumb to sleep.

This late hour in this quiet apartment, save for NYC street noises, with my loved ones warm in their crib, twin, and King, feels downright sacred.

Today I shared with the women of my writers’ group that for as long as I can remember, I’ve been told:

“You are SO honest.” – everyone

“Thank you for your transparency.” – church folk

“You are so weird.  You crazy.” – some, including haters

“You’re out there.” – my dentist

“I’d love to have coffee with you.  I just can’t believe how funny you are.  I love you, bunny.” – my obstetrician

Sure, I am not defined by others’ perception of me but daggone it, if the single most “thing” I’ve been called most of my life is HONEST, and I have a deep yearning to connect with people through my writing, AND I lack fear of sharing my struggles and weaknesses, then I’m going to write MORE instead of less, even though my family life is the most demanding it’s ever been.

If you could see our Saturdays alone, where Kevin and I have to text non-stop to coordinate the shuffling of one, two, or three offspring to various scenarios, passing the Lead Parent baton back and forth, TAG, you’re it for now, you might wonder why I’d bother to even waste my time and energy on writing on this little blog.

And that’s just it.  Some yearnings may not be paycheck producing or otherwise “practical” yet the embers remain.  In fact, I really wanted to name our baby girl “Ember” as she, too, was a glowy ember that remained, a yearning I could not stomp out.  And thank the Lord Almighty I never could stomp out that impractical yearning.

So, you’ll be hearing more from me, whether anyone reads this or not.  I think I can go to sleep now.  Thank you, insomnia.

 

A Husband’s Wisdom

I have supersonic hearing.

I can’t tune out noise.

I’ve cried before from a particularly gnarly subway and bus braking screech or loud-ass ambulance sirens that felt like someone was yanking out my intestines.

I empathize with children who have sensory issues as I probably do, too.

I feel so strongly that if I am at a gathering and someone is pissed the F off, I cannot just enjoy myself and laugh in the corner.

I absorb others’ energy.  I used to cry when I witnessed public proposals, once even hugging the couple I didn’t know.  When I see someone crying on the subway, I feel their sadness and depending on the situation, I offer them their space, a tissue, or some words.

I say all this because as a mom, it would help to be able to tune out noise.

When I asked Kevin how he doesn’t get as flustered as me sometimes, say, when he takes the kids grocery-shopping by himself, something I haven’t done in ages,  he explained, “Oh, I tune them out sometimes.  It’s great.  You should try it.”

“Really?”  Because I have this supersonic hearing and other sensitivities, I can NOT tune out my kids OR tune out other kids’ noises.

Also, when I’m spending time with my kids and they are not otherwise engaged or fighting, I try to teach them a li’l something by engaging them in conversation or when they were younger, even setting up a simulated kidnapping/Stranger Danger situation on our walks, which they enjoyed way too much, asking me to do it again and again.

This means that I am constantly engaging or repeating myself and it has got me fried at the end of the day.  “Don’t touch your sister.  Back up.  Don’t climb that.  Walk to the side of the street.  Watch out.  Don’t jump.  Mind your manners.  Focus.”

This is my job as a Mom.  I want them to hear my voice when I am gone.

So yesterday, we had a marathon afternoon after school let out.

Kids’ noises galore at the library, homework time for each son with my reminding them to stay seated even with sensory delights everywhere, my stroller can’t get past other kids’ backpacks strewn all over the floor, my kids are happy but fooling around with their friends and the energy is amping up, and other details too boring to type out.

We part ways from our friends.  We stop for snacks I had packed as we stroller over for our dentist appointment.  Another kid walks by with his mom and he kicks a rock as kids are prone to do and it hits me smack dab on my bony, ashy foot.  It hurts.

I growl as the mom apologizes.  I’ve been her before yet I still growl while sweating from the heat and then judge myself for becoming real crabby like a baby during his witching hour.  If I can cut out this judging of self, or at least reduce it lots, I’d be better off.  Micah tells me that the rock-kicker was his classmate.  I feel bad for growling at him.

I pass by familiar faced moms who seem to be way more patient with their kids for doing kid stuff like squeal and run off.

As I was going to bed after Kevin and I got to watch “This is Us,” and laughing to myself about how these days, “binge-watching” is equivalent to watching one show to completion, I said,

“Kevin, I feel like the angel and devil on my shoulders are always fighting and it is f*cking exhausting.  Kids are blessings, kids are blessings, kids are TRULY blessings but I can also hear myself repeating silently, kids are so annoying, kids are so annoying.  You know a counselor once told me that I should practice holding opposites in tension…something about both being true and being okay with that.

My brain already went to bed, I don’t know if you even know what I’m referring to.  I just feel bad that I go to kid gatherings and think, Damn, kids are so annoying…when they are such blessings!”

Kevin looked me square in the eyes in the dark with our two fans and AC going:

“Kids are annoying as F.”

What a perfect, pithy gift.  Husband spoke my love language and gave me a belly laugh.

Watch the Sky

The other day, I took a quick solo drive to the out-of-town public library to grab Micah some more difficult chapter books per his request.  Our local library is closed for repairs and due to parking issues, I prefer driving out of town anyhow, especially if I get to do it alone.

No work, no doctor appointments, no urgent tasks to complete other than purging before another (mini) family member joins.  Not having to rush from point A to point B or respond to urgent emails, running no other errand than the library run was rejuvenating.

I admired the spring flowers on our block as I walked to fetch our car.

Minutes later, I was driving on the highway with zero traffic, sun shining bright, when this ditty came on the radio:

If you wanna go and take a ride wit me
We three-wheelin in the fo’ with the gold D’s
Oh why do I live this way? (Hey, must be the money!)

HEY!  Must be the money!  I could imagine my girlfriends from two decades ago riding with me, turning up the volume and laughing.  Even in present day mini-van with our garish McDonald’s Happy Meal emoji hanging from our rearview mirror, I felt 20-something and extra grateful for the day.

Grateful for breath, my life and the life pop-lockin’ inside of me.  Grateful for the sudden surge of energy this week, after last week’s sluggishness where I would just have the kids gather ’round me in my bed.  Then another great song came on:

I am a flower quickly fading,
Here today and gone tomorrow.
A wave tossed in the ocean.
A vapor in the wind.
Still You hear me when I’m calling.
Lord, You catch me when I’m falling.
And You’ve told me who I am.
I am Yours, I am Yours.

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again?
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me?

Life truly is about the simple things.  A solo drive.  No traffic.  Two great songs on the radio.

The night before, I needed to konk out after staying up too late to review some boring, time-sensitive documents (adult life).  I could have drifted into dreamland right then but I felt jipped of my sacred, quiet time after kids had gone to bed.  So I left my lamp on so that I could read just one exquisite short story from my new library book.  I reread certain passages and it was time well spent.  It felt like a square of fine dark chocolate or hot red tea after a meal.  Recalibrated my brain.

This reminds me to add a simple joy to my day in the raw postpartum days to come, when hormones are off from nursing while adjusting to the new normal of a helpless little babe completely dependent on me.

My parents did not appear to value self-care.  They believed that they could not afford to, that it was a wasteful luxury just for the unencumbered upper crust folks with margins in their lives.  Or maybe that’s what they told themselves as it was too painful to admit even to themselves that they could use some sweet time just to exhale and enjoy life.

I don’t fault them for this way of thinking as they had to work as much as possible to pay for life’s necessities.  They didn’t get to collect a paycheck from some air-conditioned office.

I used to follow my parents’ standards as an excuse for why I, too, thought self-care was fluffy and for folks who weren’t diligent and hard-working enough.  I went so far as to judge those who prioritized self-care in a way that was foreign to me, coming from my background.

“Another massage?  Another date night?  Didn’t you just come back from vacation?  How ’bout you take a break from taking a break?”  But now I see that my parents would have fared better had they not just worked all the time, had they somehow carved out small pockets of leisure.

When my mom owned a small gift shop in Panorama City, CA, working at least six days a week, ten hours a day, she would comment that the moment she heated up her lunch, customers would barge in.  And nine out of ten times, these would be annoying customers, those who would ask the price of her whole inventory with their eagle eyes and too many extended family members in tow, and then leave without a single purchase.  This is why to this day, I don’t like going into someone’s small business or vendor booth just to look, chitchat, or merely compliment an item without buying.

My mom would sometimes feel chained to her store. Once, when I was in high school and visiting the store, she sighed and said, “Sometimes, I wish I could just run across the street and lie down on that patch of grass, just roll around and look at the sky.”

I now wish I had insisted that she do just that.  Go right on across Roscoe Blvd., Umma, and lie down on that patch of grass in front of the old drive-in movie theater.  Exhale.  Watch the sky.  Watch the clouds drift.  Grab a cold beverage.  Think about something that makes you laugh.  I got you.

I remembered this when I was in Bryant Park last summer, and I purposely lie down on the grass in the middle of my day.  A homeless man was to my left, damp green grass under me, and the blue sky above me.

I am going to create more “Watch the Sky” moments.  Priceless.

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We are not to walk on the courtyard grass but I just had to get close to these beauties.  They looked like they were made of pink Kleenex.

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I mean, they were bigger than my kids’ faces.  Nature is astounding.