The Truth of Divorce

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“Why did you and Daddy get divorced?” the Boy asked me about a month ago. Good question, I said. I told him I don’t know how to answer that right now in a way he can understand. But that I’d give it some thought and will get back to him on it. I promised I would eventually answer him. I asked him why he asked. He voiced some frustrations he felt about his father, and asked me if those were some of the reasons we got divorced.

That kid has some sort of Spidey sense. He just knows certain things. But see, I think we all know certain things, we feel them, our guts nudge us. I think as we age, we aren’t as connected to our gut feelings as much, as society tells us what’s expected, as responsibilities mount, as we mature. He knows something, he just doesn’t know what. I don’t want to lie to my kids. I also don’t want to overshare with them.

I had no idea what to disclose to them. A friend pointed out that my son’s relationship with his father is different than my relationship with their father, and that even if some of the frustrations are the same, it’s also different. I understood what she was saying. But I still didn’t know what to tell the kids.

Until today, when my gut, my Spidey sense, told me there’s a difference, and yet there’s not. So this is what I’ll tell my son. I will tell him that this is the only father he’ll ever have. I will tell him I will always encourage him to have a relationship with his father, and I will always support him in trying to have a positive relationship with his father. I will tell him that yes, many of the issues he’s identified about his father were indeed issues for me in my marriage. But that my relationship is different than the relationship he has with his father.

And this is what I’ll tell him. That sometimes relationships and good intentions don’t work out, despite trying really hard and hoping for the best. I will tell him that there’s a lot of reasons people break up, and that it’s never just one thing, or one person’s responsibility. And that each person in the couple will have different answers to this, especially as time passes.

I will tell him that the issues he’s identified about his father as frustrating, were in fact things I too had noticed. And some of those were frustrating to me as well. I will tell him that I made a decision after years of trying to ignore my gut, to instead change the relationship I have with their father. That I had to decide I was no longer able to or willing to remain in the same dynamics with him. We tried to change the dynamics by ourselves. We tried to change the dynamics with therapy. The dynamics and conditions of our marriage were no longer dynamics or conditions I was willing to live with anymore. So I divorced him and changed my relationship and dynamics with him, as I cannot sever my relationship to him.

I will tell him it was heartbreaking to decide that. I will tell him it was the hardest decision of my life. I will tell him that when he asks his father why we divorced, that his answer will likely be very different. But I will tell him this is my truth.

I will tell my son that he needs to write his own truth. That he can never sever the relationship of father and son. But that he can, throughout all the years of his life, decide what dynamics and conditions he is willing to tolerate with his father. That he can decide to honor his feelings in respectful ways with his father. I will tell him we all decide how much trust and value and expectations we place in all of our relationships–with friends, with family, with colleagues. I will tell him relationships come in all levels and types. I will tell him he will need to sort out what his gut tells him so he can write his own truth. I will tell him he may not know what that truth is today. I will tell him that his truth will change as the days pass into years.

I have learned to know when today is not the day to know something or to do something. And to be patient and wait in that unknown. And sure enough, one day, one moment, if I’m patient enough, I know. I will tell him today is not the day to know his truth of his relationship with his father, and he will know when it is.

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The Power of Being Heard


It’s pretty bad when gang leaders are calling for peace. As you know, Baltimore is the backdrop of the current crisis of a significant portion of our population who are disenfranchised and frustrated. Of course criminals who resort to breaking laws and injuring people are never right. But the real issue behind the dramatic scenes is that a sizable population doesn’t feel heard. That is a tragedy.

Toni Morrison said that what every child wants to know is, Do your eyes light up when I enter the room? Don’t we all want this? We want to be heard. We want to be validated. We want to know we matter. This is a universal desire.

I used to work with drug addicts in the inner bowels of Baltimore almost 20 years ago. My patients would tell me they needed to use drugs. We talked about how the only real needs are food, air and water. I amend this statement now. We also need to be heard. We need to feel connected.

To be truly alive, we need to be connected to others. When we’re not truly connected, we get frustrated, angry, sullen, bitter, lonely. The light in our own eyes start to flicker and dim. And to be truly connected, you must be heard and validated.

La Chica has always had problems with word recall and processing information. I’ve taken steps to try to address these issues in school, with limited success. I’m exploring further steps to get to the root of the problem, and to find solutions. Because when you can’t find the words to express what you’re thinking, what you’re wanting, what you’re needing, you can’t tell the world who you are. When you get confused by instructions and stories, you’re not in the same space as your peers who understood what is unfolding. In essence, she’s not connecting to anyone in a true way. She’s not truly validated. She’s not truly heard. This is a tragedy.

My mother through recent years has suffered medical conditions which have slowly rendered her mostly miserable. She is on oxygen every moment of her days, in a wheelchair most of her days, blind in one eye and almost blind in the other, deaf in one ear, and in pain more moments than not. Her medical issues have resulted in her losing her connections to the world, to people she loves, to the world she lives in. When you can’t move freely and you can’t see, and you can barely hear, it’s very hard to connect with someone, with anyone. It’s in these growing moments of disconnection that will eventually kill her.

It is in these moments of not being heard and being disconnected that will kill each of us if we are not mindful in taking care of each other. Of our children, our parents, our communities. We must proactively look to each person on this earth, especially the young, the sick, the disempowered; we must sit still and listen to their stories. We each have unique stories to tell. We all deserve to be heard.

I’ve come to believe it’s the strength of our connections to this world that keeps us tethered to this world. It’s the strength of our connections to each other that keep us alive and keep this world a civilized society. It’s the connections that breed empathy and kindness and compassion. And those forces are more effective than any riot gear and tear gas.

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Language of Love

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Parenting is often on the fly, I’ve come to learn. By that, I mean I make a lot of shit up when posed with hard or unexpected questions.

For example, La Chica, age 8, asked recently, “Why do they make underwear so fancy when no one will see them? It’s not like I’m going to drop my pants and say ‘Hey look!’ right?” Right, little girl. That’s absolutely right. It’s absurd to ever show people your underwear so please always keep your pants on. Always and forever please.

But the sexuality and intimacy questions keep coming. Because they’re trying to make sense of it. Hell, many adults are still trying to make sense of it.

The other day, the Boy asked, “Why do kids tease and make fun of each other for loving someone? Like Male Friends A, B, and C tease me every day about loving Female Friend D. That we’re in love. But we’re not in love. We’re friends. It’s really annoying and I’ve ignored them, but when they’re always around in school, it’s hard not to listen to it. I try to talk to them about how I don’t like it, but they ignore me and keep teasing me. I try to change the subject, but they keep teasing me. I don’t even know what they’re talking about. Why do they keep doing it?”

Because Sweet Pea, they’re 10 and 11 years old. Ten- and 11-year-olds are generally annoying. But more importantly, they don’t understand what this intimate love is about. Yet they are force-fed these concepts from an early age with hypersexualized societal “norms” now. They are bombarded with false and exaggerated notions of sexuality on billboards, in commercials, on tween cable shows, in song lyrics. Parents talk about how their 6-year-old son is already such a ladies’ man with so many girlfriends in school. Parents talk about how their 5-year-old daughter flirts with classmates.

Our children are grappling with a concept that has been thrust at them, but it’s not developmentally appropriate for their age yet. They don’t know what to do with this sexuality, with this intimate, vulnerable sharing of self, and how both are so intertwined. “What is love?”, they wonder. They know they love their parents. They know they love Minecraft. They know they love mac and cheese. They also know they don’t understand what this other “love” means.

I tell the Boy that kids (and adults) throw things out to the universe to see what sticks. They try things on for size. Does it fit? Does it resonate? Does it make sense? So in their attempts at trying to make sense of this other intimate “love,” they utter it out loud to try to identify and label what they think it means. If they can see it, maybe that will help in understanding it. Words have meaning and the world keeps talking about it, but what is it?

Oh, you spend a lot of time with Female Friend D, and you are both happy to see each other. Might this be the love we don’t understand? Let’s see! If it quacks like a duck, maybe it’s a duck. But see, the Boy and Female Friend D also don’t know what love is. They do know they enjoy reading the same books. They do know they enjoy talking about their pets. They do know they enjoy being silly. Is it love? Perhaps in a few more years it might develop into love. But right now, they’re 10 and 11. They simply enjoy each other’s company.

The Boy understands the latter. He thinks she’s nice and fun and kind. There’s still such an innocence and simplicity in their psyches and world. I tell him he will know what love means when he feels it, and it may be a while. But he’ll know. I tell him he need not try to understand what his friends are talking about or why they’re doing it because there are no good answers he can understand yet. I tell him to let life unfold and he’ll know soon enough. More importantly, I tell him to keep his pants on too because no one needs to see any fancy, or plain cotton, underthings.

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My Father’s Daughter

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“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

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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


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


“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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