Craving Radical Acceptance

I’m obsessed with the idea of “Radical Acceptance” as the key to emotion regulation.

But I’m pretty sure that one of the hidden goals of radical acceptance is not to make you beat yourself up when you can’t achieve it. Especially in the midst of a harried moment.

For the big and small things in life. Big like marriage, when I try to change Kevin instead of accepting him for who he is. Small like parking, though it feels big sometimes, like today, when I’m already so tired from this week of rain and fitful sleep.

I keep telling myself not to get mad over and over again about the same thing because it’s so futile and a waste of emotional energy. And yet…

On our way back from the science museum today, the boys konked out as I’d expected. I wore #2 and strolled #1 in our cheapie stroller that he can hardly fit into. I also had to carry two bags because the image of cleaning out congealed milk later tonight grossed me out.

I could hardly stroll Micah because he was so heavy and the circulation in my hands were cut off from carrying the bags. Ellis was heavy and sweaty on my chest, no longer a baby at 20 months. It was too hot to close up the Ergo nap-flap to support his head so every few seconds, I would hold his head up and blow some air into his bangs.

Just then a woman driving pulls up right next to us, window all the way down, just to exclaim, “WOW!”

Two blocks later, I finally started down our courtyard when I saw a home aide, pointing at us and laughing, so excited to be able to show her bored and weary charge, a senior citizen, the comical sight of a short pack mule mama inching her way home with her two sleeping children. I smiled back at her because I know she meant no harm and I was actually glad if the sight of me could make a frail old man smile.

I’ve tried to practice radical acceptance by saying, “For now, this is our life. Parking out yonder in whatever kind of weather and schlepping these precious morsels who are very cute but still unhelpful.”

But in the heat of the moment, especially with my hormones out of wack this week, mental health tools fly out the window.

I start going down the dark path of unhelpful, harmful thoughts, almost like they are beckoning me; thoughts ranging from envy of those who have it easier than me to even ‘Shut the f*ck up’ thoughts towards those who have it easier but don’t seem to know it.

This is the way it goes down sometimes…Lashing out against one thing I can’t change in my life then the emotions evolve – snowballing – beyond the initial response to the one thing.

AND THEN I beat myself up by thinking, “B*tch, you also in that category, as the object of envy, with your husband as supportive and helpful as he is, unlike some husbands. And think about those who have it much much worse, wishing they had your problems. Remember how you used to pray for even a far away parking space!? How soon we forget, Israelite in the wilderness!”

But these thoughts don’t help either. In fact, the “others have it worse” ideology serves to only make me feel guilty.

When I think about how This Too Shall Pass, it doesn’t help in the moment because I realized, “Hold up, wait right there. When we do move on up, Lord willing, and we finally able to park right in front of our place, my kids won’t even need to be strolled or worn by then!”

Ironically, these past four years was the exact time we needed door-to-door service. I know I’ll look back fondly at these schlepping memories of the early years but it’s tough in the moment.

Why is it so hard to just say, “Sometimes, it’s hard. PERIOD.” Because I believe it’s all so relative so therefore, I need to shut it.

I’m trying to equip myself with better ways to handle daily stressors, through the Word, safe communities, books and other emotional health resources, but it’s slow going on days like these.

Conversation Crushers

I have been having a hard time this past year, maybe acutely so the past few months, not just because I am so very tired but because I have forgotten how to allow myself the right to feel feelings. AND NOT JUDGE MYSELF FOR THEM.

I imagined the reactions of Others, to the point that I would actually have two-sided conversations in my head. It wasn’t purely my active imagination. I had been receiving messages from strangers and acquaintances alike that my feelings were not valid. More on conversation-crushers later.

October 1, 2012. The night before, on Chu-seok (Korean Thanksgiving), the husband and I had finished watching the season premiere of our favorite show, “Homeland.” After being thoroughly riveted by Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, I went to pee and noticed some brown spotting on my undies, like a very light period.

So this is how it was gonna go down. My body was going to give my second baby a nearly identical birth story as big bro, even down to the Thanksgiving arrival (first one was on American Thanksgiving). Down to the day – ten days before their respective due dates. Big bro had arrived within 24 hours after the spotting. So I knew that once there was blood, baby was a ‘comin’ despite doctors shaking their heads, schooling me about spotting not necessarily meaning imminent birth.

Please. I knew my body.

After hours of fitful sleep with lots of cramping, knowing that baby was going to show up that day, the contractions intensified and became more frequent at dawn. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as my mama was supposed to touch down at JFK from LAX to take care of my firstborn that very morning, while I go birth her second grandchild. We ended up sending her a Korean cab in our stead because it was Go Time. We threw a few essentials into the hospital bag, wrote a quick note to Belly Baby about how we felt as we were hours away from meeting him/her, and were about to drive on over to the hospital.

Until we didn’t.

My mama was dropped off at our place and immediately, my contractions slowed down. I even told Kevin to go to work that day so that we wouldn’t waste one of his precious vacation days. Just like when I went into labor for big bro on the eve of Thanksgiving 2010.

Apparently, I had been watching too much “Parenthood” (another one of my fave shows) because I pictured my mama coming through the door to the rescue, with some great background music to beautify an already beautiful moment. Offering me my final moments of tranquility and soothing affirmations as she swooped in to take care of my 22 month-old so I can labor with dignity in our dark bedroom. I even pictured our bed enveloped by a gossamer canopy while I breathed through the pain. How poetic. Cue cool, alternative music. Circle of life. My mama arriving to taking care of her child while I got ready to birth my own.

But of course, my life is the opposite of critically-acclaimed dramas on NBC. My mama touched down, sho’ ‘nuff but it got more chaotic than ever. She was so excited to arrive and wanted to tend to All Things Micah that I got sucked into her Tasmanian Devil flurry. I was wincing from my contractions as I showed her where everything was. Micah’s diapers and wipes and other necessities. Explaining how to care for him.

I was doubled over in pain at times, completely hunched over and she would ask, “Where is the sesame oil, Jihee-yah? I have to make Micah some lunch.” Not because she is heartless but perhaps because I wasn’t making a big deal about my contractions and she was really diving into her role as Micah’s caretaker.

I didn’t feel like I could rest. Or pause to tell her that what I needed at that time was a “Parenthood” moment with the imaginary gossamer-canopied bed symbolizing much needed rest and mental space and a perfectly scripted Mother-Daughter chat as new background music started for my visit to the hospital.

It was already near the end of Kevin’s workday when I nonchalantly called him to say, “Hey, it’s Game Time. I haven’t eaten all day. My mama got distracted and so did I, so can you please bring me enough food from near your office? You know I am NOT trying to give birth on an empty stomach.”

Kevin brought home a buffalo chicken wrap. My mama was so whupped on her first (and only) grandchild that she started tearing off pieces of MY final meal to harvest for her beloved Micah.

I tell you this story to say that since then, ALMOST EXACTLY A YEAR AGO, I have been SO. VERY. TIRED. Shouldn’t come as a surprise because looking back, even as I labored to bring my second child into this world, I couldn’t get NO REST!

This state of constant unrest, day and night, sleep deprived and recovering from tantrums and spills and failed disciplining and mealtime battles and other soul-wearying scenes, with breaks that only the husband gives me since we have no REGULAR village, has wreaked havoc onto my mental and emotional health.

And marriage.

me and the husband in 2009, well-rested as a mofo, ringing in my birthday in mykonos, greece, when our children weren't even glimmers in our eyes

me and the husband in 2009, well-rested punks, ringing in my birthday in mykonos, greece, when our children weren’t even glimmers in our eyes, photo-edit credit to Jason Kim

I realize that I mention lacking a Village all too often yet I cannot stop. “Village” as in at least one set of grandparents, other relatives or family-like friends who will say, “I GOT YOU.” Not just watching as I take care of them, alerting me to their soiled diaper but to really GOT ME so I can leave. Not even for something as luxurious as mama hitting the spa but just so we can run an errand that is not conducive to the entire family rollin’ or to declutter the home without tripping over a toddler or infant, only to get completely distracted by their noises and needs. I get pissed all over again when I hear others call in their Village People to give them REGULAR, healthy breaks from child-rearing, offering mental health breaks as often as weekly. So heads up: I will keep mentioning this until I get to a healthier space.

While more joyful than I ever imagined when I nibble on my kids, I also find myself feeling so very angry that I have to do motherhood in this particular way. Simultaneous joy and anger ARE possible.

All made worse because I haven’t been able express myself adequately after experiencing conversation-crushers like:

“Billions of women do the motherhood thang so I figure, how hard can it really be?” (Actually, this one was an innocuous comment one of my best friends made before she had her first child. After her first few months with her newborn, she ate her words).

“Oh, but you know you have to ENJOY EVERY MOMENT! It goes by SO fast.”

“But you are so blessed! Some people can’t have kids and here you have two beautiful, healthy kids.”

“My friend’s child is special needs and she never complains. My other friend has four kids and she is always keeping it positive. I try to do the same.”

“Oh please. Not everyone has a Village.”

“At least ________________.”

And most recently, when I was sighing during dinner as another harried scene unfolded, my mother-in-law chided, “C’mon, you have to admit that it’s all better than NOT having kids, right?” At least she seems to have retired her favorite: “I had it MUCH harder than you,” after I asked her to please stop saying that to me.

With all those conversation-crushers, how can I feel safe enough to say, “While I realize I am SO BLESSED, this is SO VERY HARD, in ways that I could never have imagined, not just for one reason or because of ONE bad moment but an accumulation of so many moments and factors at play…”

TO BE CONTINUED…or at least I plan to continue in some future post…

And shout out to a new season of “Parenthood” airing tonight on NBC.