My Father’s Daughter

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

“You’re just like your father,” my mother would always say to me as I was growing up. And it was never meant as a compliment. There was always a tone of disdain and disgust in her voice. There was never any attempt to hide her feelings. She wanted me to know.

To know my skin tone was dark like his, like crass peasants, like low-class laborers; not like her aristocratic family line. To know my hair was wiry and kinky like his, and not like the smooth, shiny hair typical of Asians. To know my nostrils were too big. To know my fingers were too fat and stubby, like worms. To know my temper was like his. To know my beady eyes were like his.

She always hated that he favored me. If he did or not is up for debate. What is clear however, is how she told me every day that she did not accept me for who I was and am. She’ll deny it, she’ll rightly point out she’s never uttered those words. But her negative comparisons between myself and my father sent a clear message.

And I soaked in that loathing; and once inside my head and heart, it transformed into a seething self-loathing. A self-hatred that propelled me, for more years than not, to try to be someone other than me.

I see now she could not reconcile or cope with her anger and resentment towards her husband, my father, so she projected it out at me. She took her burden and placed it on me. And I took it. And it consumed me. So much so that I consumed little else of sustenance. I tried to shrink and make less of me in this world. Maybe if there was less of me, I would be better. Maybe if there was less of me, the self-loathing would feel lighter. I tried to be someone different. Someone not like my father. Someone, anyone other than me.

But always, no matter what, I could not kill the self at my core. I tried, oh I tried. It has taken years of working on myself to finally not only feel comfortable in my own dark skin, but to love this tan skin I’m in. To love who I am–made up of equal parts of my mother, my father, my siblings, my mistakes, my triumphs.

And today, how I view myself has shifted once again. A dear friend finally met my father. She told me it was a delight to meet him, and that I have his laugh. And how he has this way of paying attention to the person who is speaking to him, how there is an active listening component to his interactions, how that reminded her of me.

I teared up. Because this was the first time in 41 years that I have ever heard any positive comparison of myself to my father. And I was so grateful. So grateful to realize that I carry parts of him with me every day. Parts of him that make me special and unique and caring and fun  and kind. To know that one day when he does pass, he will always be here with me, in me. I find comfort in that revelation.

He’s a brilliant, resilient, kind, generous man. He’s accomplished quite a bit in his life. But today, after hearing my friend’s assessment about my father, I’ve never felt prouder than I do today. Proud to be his daughter who is so much like him. I am truly my father’s daughter.

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10 Life Lessons Learned From Being a Rock Star

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

After a lifetime of wanting to play the drums, I started playing less than a year ago. Fourteen weeks ago, I joined a rock band. We had our first gig this past weekend. I had been terrified and nervous and scared the entire time; in other words, a real joy to be around. I am remarkably not musically inclined, can’t keep a beat, and have a wonderful case of stage fright. I pushed through it all, and threw myself into learning the songs as best I could. I have grown so much both as a person, and as a musician. I’ve discovered making music is very much like life.

1. We all mess up, and it’s still awesome. I was terrified of being the drummer in our band. I hadn’t realized the weight of being the person that is responsible for keeping the pace of the song just right. I worked hard on the music for 14 weeks. I also worked hard at being kind and forgiving to myself. The day of our show came, and we played our hearts out. As we walked off stage, every one of us admitted we each made mistakes on stage. Yet we all walked away with an incredible experience. We had such a fun time. We all make mistakes, and it’s still awesome, both on stage and in life.

2. We all mess up, and no one really notices. Or cares. To piggyback on the above lesson, we all make mistakes. We are all a teensy bit and a lotta bit messy. We tend to hyperfocus on our own mistakes. We get self-conscious about our flaws. We beat ourselves up over them. Sometimes it paralyzes us. But see, no one actually really notices your mistakes. Or frankly, even cares about them. People are usually too busy thinking about their own lives and their own mistakes. Very few people in the audience realized we made mistakes. They just had a great time listening to fun music. I’m reminded it’s not always about me. In fact, it rarely is. This realization is very liberating. And humbling.

3. Practice makes better. Two of the songs we learned for our first gig are really hard. They were quite frankly, way above the level I should have been playing at. I was determined however, to be successful. I practiced hours upon hours every week. I can proudly say I can play both proficiently now, and sometimes I can even play them well. But I could not have gotten to this point without the hard work, sweat, and tears that months of practice bring. And I’m only better; I am not perfect, because there is no perfect. I’ve come to learn that the process of practicing anything in life is where the lesson lies. It’s in the work of doing hard things that makes the person better. Which is really the best outcome measure when you think about it.

4. Make it your own, and own it. Our bass player/leader is a fantastic musician with years of experience. One of our guitarists would always ask if she could play certain chords this way or that way. His answer was always the same, “Decide what you’re going to do and make it your own. If anyone questions you about it, tell them it’s your style and you’re sticking to it.” Simply put, do what you’re comfortable with. Do what you’re capable of. Be proud of that. And you don’t need to justify yourself to anyone else.

5. It matters who you take on your journey with you. We were strangers when we first met together as a band. We are all different ages, ethnicities, personalities, life circumstances. Yet we are supportive and kind to the other. We all had a common goal of making music together and having fun. It matters who you surround yourself with. Is your tribe positive and optimistic? Or toxic and pessimistic? Choose kind, compassionate, fun people. Remember also that it’s more enjoyable going through life, and gigs, with a tribe rather than going it alone.

6. We should all work together to make the other sound/look good. It is your responsibility to help a person in need. In the beginning, I freaked out just a smidge when I realized how much responsibility I had as the drummer. I missed the memo that everyone else had to play to my speed. But see, here’s the thing I’ve learned. It’s all our collective responsibility to make the song sound good. If someone’s faltering, the rest of the band needs to rally to make it right. We sound as good as our weakest link. There’s no stopping, there’s no blaming. You play through and figure it out through eye contact, facial expressions, and sometimes wild gestures. If you’re my guitarist, you discreetly mouth “Slow down!”

7. You will fail. I was so nervous before joining the band. I wailed, “I’m not good enough yet! What if I mess up?” I was quickly told it’s not “if,” but in fact, I will. If I show up–on stage or in life–I need to accept that I’ll fail. Don’t stop. The worst thing you can do is stop. Keep playing. Keep going. And it will get better. Life isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about the experience along the way.

8. Do hard things that scare you. Showing up where people see you–in life or on stage–is both hard and scary. Trying new things is hard and scary. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to be critiqued or judged, is hard and scary. Do these things anyway. Sure, you have a choice whether or not to join a band. But see, we don’t get a choice to show up to life every day. Every day that you wake up, there are opportunities for people to judge you, to critique you. So your choice then is to either build walls around you to try to minimize these hard moments in life, or you can accept that life is hard and scary, and that you can do hard and scary things. Trust me, the satisfaction at the end is more than worth the fear and pain. The applause doesn’t hurt either.

9. Live in the moment. It flies by. I was told before we hit the stage that time flies by. That it’s a blur. So when I sat down behind the drum kit, I was mindful as I looked around and breathed in the lights and sounds and smells. This was my moment. I was not going to walk away not remembering this. I made every moment count up there. It did fly by, but I know I lived in each of those minutes, and it was glorious. Life speeds by too. Don’t get caught up in a future that may not occur, or stuck in the past that you can’t change. We can’t slow life down, but we can savor every moment of it.

10. Have fun. Above all else, enjoy yourself. Things will happen that we can’t control. Strings on the guitar will break. The sound guy gets drunk. You lose a drum stick. Bad things happen on stage and in life. Have fun anyway. This is the one life you have. Make it a good one before you exit stage left.

THIS is having fun.

THIS is having fun.

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A Wonder of a Woman

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I have to tell you, I’m still sort of on a high the day after our first gig. I know, you’re thinking I’m a bit intense if I’m still so worked up over a half hour set the night before. Let me explain.

I’ve never been on stage like that before. Well, that’s not entirely true. In college I was a “runway model” for the fashion design majors for three years. But I sucked at that because I was the largest of all the models (sadly a size 4, and still the largest) and because I was a nervous wreck. I may have sprinted down the catwalk. I also had the distinction of being in the lingerie segment once. In a full-on clown suit. Complete with red fuzzy slippers. I kid you not. Needless to say, I have never been a fan of being on stage.

Our guitarist warned me that the time onstage will fly by. Boy did it ever. I was very nervous for the first song. Mostly because for some reason I hate that song. I can never get it right. I was a little fast for the first verse, but I mostly got through it with one minor mistake. Everyone in the audience agreed that midway through the second song, all of us onstage had relaxed into the moment.

Can I tell you how magical and cool it is to make music with other people? I felt the music. It is an experience like no other. It was so different than in band practice. The adrenaline amplifies everything. There’s something so intense about playing on stage. I’m so grateful to have shared this experience with the kindest bandmates who also happen to be uber-talented, and lots of fun.

Then, the fourth song. Oh the fourth song. It was so hard to learn. I even had a drum solo in it. I loved playing that song once I learned it. There’s a lot of counting in that song. And apparently counting is important in drumming. So sometimes I’ll lose count, or suddenly think about something to add to my grocery list. And then it all goes to hell. I was so nervous last night I lost count. Oopsie. But you know what? It didn’t all go to hell.

Instead, suddenly, all was right with the world. I eased into a calmness and peace, and really went with having fun. Once I got the major fuck-up out of the way, I was all good. So one reason why I’m still basking in the afterglow of my first gig is because I did something really hard and scary, and it was magic. Wonder-full magic.

The other reason is because of all the support that showed up for me. Most of my good friends and their families came to see me play and support me. They of course offered kind and supportive words, but it was their mere presence that made such a difference for me. They witnessed such a proud and pivotal moment in my life. It wasn’t just drumming that they bore witness to. But that I put myself out there in ways that were risky and hard for me. I am so grateful and thankful for such amazing people in my life.

Last night I loved every moment before the show, during the show, and after the show. I loved that I have made such a great life. A life doing things I love. Being with trusted friends I love. So I suppose my afterglow today is also a reflection and appreciation of the wonder and magic and awe of life and love.

After the show, La Chica presented me with a “surprise goody bag” that held a fun pen, a cute bracelet, and a “Lego Super Hero” keychain of Wonder Woman. She understands things in ways that she doesn’t even quite understand yet. I’m not Wonder Woman in the Super-Hero-fighting-villains-way. But I’m more like the Woman who appreciates the Wonder life has to offer. Be your own Super Hero, I say.  What would your superpower be?

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Keep Calm and Rock On

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“Are you nervous, Mama?” La Chica asked me about my gig tomorrow.

See, I picked up the drums in late spring of last year. I’ve wanted to play since I was a little kid. I joined a rock band 14 weeks ago. Our first gig is tomorrow.

“Yes, yes I am very nervous,” I replied. “Were you nervous or scared when you had your first school orchestra performance on stage?”

“No. I wasn’t nervous or scared. I was excited. Because I couldn’t really see anyone in the audience. But I wasn’t looking at them while I played. I was concentrating hard on what I was playing. I was so excited to finally get on stage and show everyone what I learned and practiced so hard for,” she said.

“Were you afraid you were going to mess up?” I asked.

“No. If I messed up I bet no one would even notice.” she said.

So I have told all of my friends to come see me tomorrow because I figured it would keep me honest if I told enough people; this way I couldn’t back out or do this half-assed. The problem however, is that I have a horrible case of stage fright. I hate being the center of attention. I literally sweat bullets and choke. Which then makes me more anxious. In fact, even during band practice I get nervous and mess up despite being able to play just fine at home alone.

Everyone’s told me there’s a 100% chance of messing up tomorrow. That it’s part of the deal. That I just need to keep playing and have fun. I understand, and I fully intend on having fun. Because even with my nerves, it’s not about tomorrow.

Even though I want to do well tomorrow, and I’ve worked my ass off for this, it doesn’t really matter to me how tomorrow goes. For me, it’s about the process of the past 14 weeks. It’s about the decision to join this band despite my fears and inexperience. It’s about the growth and hard work I’ve thrown into this every day for 14 weeks. It’s about the growth I’ve experienced both as a person and a musician. It’s about doing hard things. It’s about being scared and brave at the same time. It’s about not giving up. It’s about having fun. And I’ve had so much fun already.

I have discovered there is something so sublime about playing with other people. I’ve discovered my children have noticed I practice for hours, and that they realize practice makes better. I’ve discovered there’s something quite satisfying in doing hard things. I’ve discovered that at 41, I can still be pretty cool. I have remembered that at my ripe old age, nothing I do on stage tomorrow will ever compare to my foolish antics of my youth so I’m already a winner.

So tomorrow won’t be a debut as much as a celebration of doing hard things that scare me. Rock on, my friends! “It’s only rock ‘n roll, but I like it.”-Rolling Stones

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An Open Letter (and a Cake) to Friendship

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Tonight was an annual cake auction our Cub Scout Pack holds to benefit Friends of Scouting. I was reluctant to join cub scouts five years ago for various reasons, none of which matter now. Tonight was the last year we’ll participate in paying too much money for cakes made or bought with love. I pride myself in contributing two cakes every year to this cause. It benefits the Friends of Scouting, and to be modest, I make damned fine cakes that bring in hundreds of dollars.

Tonight was the last night we will spend eyeing each other across the room, strategically driving up the bids higher and higher to benefit a good cause. These Cake Conspiracies are not about eating delicious confections. They’re about giving our thanks back to something we’ve all found invaluable in our lives and our families’ lives.

This cause is near and dear to our Pack Leader’s heart. His family generously give their time and money and devotion to scouts, and we gladly stand behind what’s important to them. I understand why Friends of Scouting is so important to them.

Because our affiliation with scouts has certainly changed my life, my son’s life, my family’s life. It has been through these years and activities that we’ve come to find some of our closest friends. These are loyal friends who will be at your doorstep within minutes if needed. These are friends who are part of the Village that it takes to raise our children. These are friends who I trust my children with. These are friends I trust my heart with. These are friends I trust my secrets with. These are friends who do not mind when I end a sentence or three with a preposition.

Scouting has also taught my son things I never could have taught him. Things I’d never have thought to teach him. He’s learned to tie knots, fire a BB gun, shoot an arrow, start a fire, read a compass. He’s learned how to plant trees, to pitch a tent, and to cook a meal on an open fire.  He’s learned why it’s important to give back to the community and how to leave this world a better place. He’s learned how to articulate clearly and how to talk to adults. He’s learned how to use power tools safely and how to build tiny weapons of mass destruction (trebuchets). He’s learned how to make a kite, model rockets and friends.

He’s learned to never leave your buddy behind. He’s learned it takes teamwork and cooperation and compromises to make a pack go. He’s learned it’s better to go without if it makes a friend happy. He’s learned we’re all in this together, and your tribe is as strong as your weakest link. He’s learned how to help strengthen the weakest link, especially when it’s him. He’s learned what it feels like to believe in something. He’s learned kindness and helping others are two of the most important tenets in life.

Scouts has not only provided us with these lessons and opportunities to enrich our lives and world, but it’s also provided my son several strong, smart, positive male role models. Scouts has provided us with families we trust and love and respect. Scouts has provided moms who are more patient than I am. Scouts has provided lots of siblings to whisper and giggle with. For all this, I cannot be more thankful.

So my Friends IN Scouting, I say thank you, and I love you. I’m so grateful for your love, support, positive role modeling. Thank you for enriching my life and my children’s lives in ways that we will always carry with us. Thank you for helping to shape my son into the young man I am so proud of. Thank you for helping to shape the person I am today, who I’m also proud of. I’m honored to have walked through these years with you, as we’ve made a difference in this world food-drive by food-drive.

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Family Secrets

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A friend asked me what my parents’ reaction was after I told them I was published in the Huffington Post. I crinkled my eyebrows and said of course I hadn’t told them. I haven’t told them for a lot of reasons. Some of which are that they wouldn’t realize what a big deal it was for me, how proud I was, what an accomplishment it was for me. How this validated my suspicion of talent all these years. How this satisfied an itch, a longing, I’d had since I was a child. They simply wouldn’t understand, because they still view me as the child who never met their expectations. I’m an enigma they just can’t understand. I’ve come to peace with that. They’ve tried as best they know how.

The other reason I haven’t told them though, is that they would be absolutely horrified. My best writing comes when I’m the most vulnerable. When I share my insecurities and fears and mistakes and poor judgment and losses. I have found through this journey of writing, that I am most beautiful in my weakest moments. Which ironically is where I find my strength. It is when I embrace and share my pain and my truth that the beauty arises.

In my family, and in my culture, quiet, dignified stoicism is valued. Anything less than perfect was to be hidden. Not even acknowledged. It was shameful. I grew up with a lot of secrets. Questions were not to be asked. Details of anyone or anything or everything were never to be shared. Disappointments hung heavily in the air. So I stuffed it all down and chased it down with a couple shots of Shame.

It took years for me to be able to utter these sins— imperfections and mistakes and wrongdoings of my family members and myself–in the secrecy of therapy. I’d always found solace in writing, in journaling. But saying these things out loud…well, it was blasphemy. It took many  more years to say them out loud to others, and own them as part of my history, my truth, my self.

I have worked hard at recovering from perfectionism. I’ve worked hard at accepting and embracing my flaws and mistakes. I’ve worked hard at not personalizing other people’s issues and thoughts and judgments. I’ve worked hard at forgiving and being love. I’ve worked hard at putting down the facade of who I wanted the world to think I was, and instead be who I really am. I’ve worked hard at doing these hard things.

And I know you’ve done hard things too. Which is why I share in my struggles and triumphs and frustrations. I don’t share to dishonor my family. We all share common moments of everything falling apart around us, of almost drowning in despair, of feeling Not Enough in some way, of feeling like I was the only one that… My family does too–fall apart, despair, feel inadequate. They just don’t talk about it. My Shame hangover was hurting too much for me, so I stopped. And started writing. Out loud.

My family would be horrified that I was airing dirty family laundry out in public. They would not approve. This would be the ultimate failure of me in their eyes. And yet this is one of my crowning moments of pride. And this is when I am reminded that we love each other the best we can. And we need not like everything about someone to love them. So I am ok with not sharing this success with them, ironically keeping my own secret. And trust me, they’re more than ok with not knowing. And we end each day knowing we love each other the best way we know how. That is not a secret.

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Hard to Find Good Help

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has become a day of service. Choosing specific days of service is a wonderful thing–soup kitchens on Thanksgiving, donating to Toys for Tots during the holidays, volunteering on MLK, Jr. Day, etc. I also value incorporating kind deeds of service throughout the days of our lives. I try to support the concept that one of our purposes in life is that we are to be of service to others. As we consider how we can be of service, I’m reminded of what happened over this past summer.

The kids were looking through the local newspaper and came across the section listing volunteer opportunities. We had talked previously about finding ways to engage in activities that interested them as well as helped others. The Boy saw that a local nursing home was looking for students to come play an instrument and care for the garden. He was excited to do both. I was excited because this would be an opportunity for him to learn how to have conversations with adults, learn about other people’s lives, and interact in environments he was not used to. Also, if he could pick up any gardening tips, I’d have been so grateful. Win-win-win, I say.

So I call the volunteer coordinator, and we had a chat. She was surprised to hear my son was ten years old, and that he wanted to volunteer. We talked at length and she decided he was too young to pull weeds in the garden, but he could water the indoor plants. She decided he wasn’t proficient enough on his violin, so he could just chat with their clients instead. Then she asked if he could come every week on Friday afternoons from 3:30-4:30. I said we would not be able to reliably make every week, and perhaps once or twice a month would be a good start. I reminded her that The Boy is only ten. And he has other activities and homework. And that I work. Every day. And I have another child. Every day. And that such a rigid schedule for chatting and watering houseplants seemed a bit incongruent.

Then I find out what her hesitance is really about. She explained that high school students are required to complete a certain number of volunteer hours to graduate. And that if The Boy took one of those slots, someone who really needed them would not get those hours.

So here we are. Where children are mandated to volunteer. Mandated to help others. Really? What kind of world do we live in when we have to coerce people to help others? Isn’t that sort of the antithesis of the concept of volunteering?

And so here we are. Here’s a kid who wants to help out in whatever small way he can, and when he’s reached out to offer, she says no. It wasn’t what she’s looking for. He didn’t fit the bill. She couldn’t be flexible and problem solve–problem solve this problem of overabundance, by the way. The Boy couldn’t understand. He just wanted to be helpful and friendly. I had told her we’d gladly go through all background checks and health screenings and anything else.

They weren’t interested. I don’t want to hear it when people complain it’s hard to find good help. They don’t know good help when they see it. Help arrives in all different sizes and shapes and forms. Since this currently is not the world I want my children to both live in and lead in, we’ll continue to take our different shaped and sized help to whoever can recognize it. And I’m always grateful for any gardening tips. Really. All I can grow are weeds.

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