Like It. Or Not.

Image courtesy of under Creative Commons

Image courtesy of under Creative Commons

I am full of gratitude for having attended easily the best wedding ever over the weekend. Knowing the bride, I knew it would be fun. But this was truly a magical evening, aside from the love and joy of the nuptials. I had been looking forward to this event because I knew the bride’s friends were very diverse in personalities, backgrounds, and perspectives. I knew there would be a lot of interesting people there.

Turns out they are really kind and genuine people as well. It was a wonderful evening of getting to know new friends and revel in the celebrations. I also finally met the bride’s mother. I have admired this woman from afar for years now. From the stories I heard, and knowing the bride as an upstanding, kind, amazing woman, I knew her mother was strong, smart, kind, and wise.

I think we all know families with mothers like her. She’s the one who leads gently, firmly, kindly. She raises kind children who work hard and make a difference in the world. She creates a happy and joyful family unit. These are the families you want to be a part of, the families you spend a lot of afternoons and weekends with. These are the families who welcome everyone with open arms, the families that exude warmth and acceptance. These are the mothers you consider to be a second mother. The bride’s mother is one of these.

This family is a tight-knit family with the usual sibling rivalries, misunderstandings, power struggles, and tragedies. But this family also stays connected both despite, and in the face of, all of life’s struggles. This mother has shepherded several children, grandchildren, and her own mother and husband through highs and lows, times of uncertainty and times of celebration, and tears of despair and tears of joy. She has done this all with her head held high, a remarkably positive attitude, and a peaceful grace that comes from within.

I was thrilled to finally meet her. We exchanged pleasantries and genuine appreciation for finally meeting in person. The we chatted briefly about our children, and raising children. She said, “You should always like your kids. Always.”

I laughed and said, “I love my kids always, but I don’t always like them.” In her firm, kind grace, she said, “No. You need to always like them, even when they’re unlikable. Through all their stages, adolescence, everything. You need to always like them.”

She wasn’t judging, she wasn’t challenging me, she wasn’t telling me what to do. She was offering me something, but I didn’t know what it was yet. So I told her OK, I’d need to sit with this for a bit. Because I’ve always thought it’s OK to love someone while not liking him/her or his/her behaviors. I try to teach my children that it’s OK to have ambivalent or conflicting feelings.

So here’s the thing. I think she’s right. This is about unconditional loving kindness. This is about offering love and kindness not in the expectation or exchange of mutual feelings or positive outcomes. This is about being love. Simply being love. When kids don’t feel unconditional loving kindness from a parent, they don’t know how to give unconditional loving kindness. They grow up learning to love conditionally. They grow up learning some people and some behaviors deserve love, they grow up loving and expecting likewise in return. This is nice, but it’s not kind. It’s not simply being love.

And kids can feel it, when you don’t like them because they’re acting in unlikable ways. They’re testing us. Will you still have my back even when I don’t deserve it? Can I come back to you when I’ve fucked up? Will you judge or condemn me? I see now the underlying love isn’t enough. There must be the clear message that you’re not there to judge worthiness. There must be the clear message that the behavior may not be appropriate or acceptable, but that you hold space for them in their messiest times. There must be the clear message that you like and love every part of who they are, the messy parts that make you cringe, as well as the appropriate parts that make you proud.

When I’m acting in unlikable ways, it’s usually because I’m wounded or sad or hurt or angry or frustrated. It’s in these moments I most need a hug, a smile, a caress, and space to just be. I’m reminded people who are most unkind to us are the ones who need our kindness the most. It is in this space of acceptance that invites and allows the unlikable to transform.

See, I used to view acceptance as mere tolerance. I see now it’s more than that. It’s love. It’s being love, and thus inviting the unlikable to transform into like and love as well. Tolerance is saying, “Oh look at that. Good for you, but not for me. I’ll take a pass, you can go on your merry way now.”

I see now acceptance is an invitation, “Well hello. Please, come in. Ah, I see it is good for you, and not for me. And it would be lovely for you to stay a while, or leave when you’re ready, either way. But no rush, your company is welcome as long as you wish to stay. May I offer you a snack in the meantime?” Because really, who doesn’t like empathy served with a side of a fun snack?

Posted in Parenting, Mindfulness, Relationships | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Sleep On It


Recently I’ve been jonesing to get back up on the flying trapeze. How bad could it be, if I just go one more time again? Today I’m reminded why I shouldn’t. Because I still suffer the effects of the head injury from falling head-first from the trapeze over two years ago. Last night I spent the night in a lab for a sleep study. It wasn’t the 20 sensors they gooped onto my scalp that was so uncomfortable, but the plastic they shoved up my nose.

Then they woke me up after eight hours of sleep. I thought this was a sleep center?! They’re keeping me today until 6:30pm so that I can take naps every two hours. I thought this was heaven! Until these assholes keep waking me up after 20 minutes.

Because my short term memory is still shot, I had forgotten why I had to endure these daytime nap tests. I asked, and they reminded me that sometimes you can get narcolepsy from a head injury. Awesome, I tell my friend. How fun would that be if I had narcolepsy? She asks, Um, seriously?

No of course not. I’m just trying to be optimistic. And now I need to be realistic–no more trapeze for me. Just because I want to do something doesn’t mean I should. I am reminded I lack the moderation gene, and I have a slight impulse control problem. It might be fun and make me feel good in the moment, but it may not be in my best interest.

I’m reminded of this now, as I’ve been torn and ambivalent over what to do about a particular relationship issue. I know what I want, I know what feels good right now; but I also know what is good for me, and what is in my best interest overall. And they’re not the same. As is often the case in life.

Most of the time I love getting older. I love the feelings I’ve felt through the years that I never even knew existed. I love having met all the people in my life. I love seeing so many places on this earth. I love having lived through experiences I could never have imagined. I even love my mostly-salt-and-little-pepper hair. I love getting older. Except when it’s not so fun to act maturely.

I think my angst comes mostly from trying to fight accepting the mature and sensible decision. It’s not the decision itself that is most distressing. Sad, yes. But it’s the desire to override making the next right decision that has me worked up. And now that I’ve realized that, I’m at peace with the sensible decision. Well, I’m glad I was able to sleep on it and gain clarity.

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The Blame Game

Photo courtesy of Sharon Mollerus via Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Sharon Mollerus via Creative Commons

My children, bless their hearts, drive me insane sometimes. And by “sometimes,” I mean daily. They either love each other or hate each other. And by “hate each other,” I mean attempted homicide. They play lovingly and giggle sweetly with each other. Until they don’t. It’s at this point that they begin the snippy attitudes, whiny voices and screaming. And it’s at this point that my brain begins to bleed out of my ears.

When they were much younger, I used to try to mitigate the issue at hand. Look at the content of the disagreement, and try to find the truth that could set them both free from their locked heads and horns. As they got older, I told them they needed to figure it out between themselves. I reminded them this is a No-Tattle Zone, and they needed to be kind and respectful to each other. I reminded them to pick their battles. I reminded them they each have the power to walk away; that they each had the power to choose to set down the barbs and jabs thrust at him or her, or to choose to personalize it.

Sure, these tactics would help sometimes to minimize the duration or intensity of the argument. But by then, my brain would be oozing out of my ears yet once again. I’m surprised I have any brain left between the kids and my head injury. The second they lock horns and start to argue, my blood pressure rises and my soul seizes up momentarily. I don’t know about you, but I really cannot stand the whining and yelling. I needed to figure something else out.

Honestly I ran out of ideas, so I just breathe deeply often. I happen to breathe better when I lock myself in a room away from them. I have no idea if it helps the kids at all, but I know it helps me from screaming. It’s in this moment of taking a step back and hearing the back and forth between the two that it hit me.

They’re locked in a battle of blaming each other. It doesn’t matter what the issue at hand is. She didn’t take out the trash last time. He didn’t move out of the way when she asked. She takes his books without asking. He misplaced her bag. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is someone feels slighted or not validated. Someone feels something isn’t fair. Someone feels like they didn’t get the help or answer they deserved to get. They get stuck on blaming the other. You wronged me…

I point this out to them now, and urge them to not get mired in blame. But instead understand there’s an answer or solution that’s lacking. And seek a constructive solution instead. To critically think instead of critically blame. There’s a need looking to be met. How can we make that happen?

Whose fault it is doesn’t matter half as much as how to resolve the current impasse. But it’s not just my children who fall into this pattern. Spouses do, world leaders do, mothers with irresponsible children do. We all do it.

It may make you feel better, vindicated, justified. But I remind them it’s better to be kind than right. And it’s better to have a solution than nothing to hold on to other than icy stares and accusations and a feeling of being gypped.

You can’t do much with icy stares. Your lot in life doesn’t improve a bit after trading mean words. Act like a victim, and you’ll be treated like a victim. Act like a problem solver, and the issue at hand will be resolved.

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The Truth of Divorce

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

“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.

Posted in Empowerment, Mindfulness, Parenting, Relationships | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

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

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

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.

Posted in Dating, Parenting, Relationships | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

My Father’s Daughter

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

“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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