Part Two

You should be crying, I tell myself internally. It’s really weird that you aren’t a mess right now. I’m standing in my small living room, where the total of five adults could barely stand shoulder to shoulder and not feel crowded, thinking about the oddness of my lack of emotion right now. I can hear my breathing in my ears and my heart in my throat. Hmm, that should be faster. Is it weird my heart isn’t racing right now? I’m trying to quiet my mind because I cannot quiet his anger.

I walked home from work today. That was my punishment for not answering his texts fast enough. Or well enough. Or loving enough? I cannot figure him out anymore. Or maybe I don’t want to. I can feel my life-force surrendering internally, more and more as the days get worse. Things will fall apart before you can rebuild them. I read that on Pinterest the other day. Has to be right, I think to myself. This is me falling apart. In front of my children and the man who has broken me. It was always bound to happen. Never even mind that our ten-year anniversary just passed, where he forced me to go out with him and pretend we were okay. He had pulled the stool out next to the one he was going to sit in and I thought, I’m onstage and this is a performance and one day I will get an Oscar from like, God or someone. There has to be someone watching this because it’s my greatest act and it is perpetual. I wake up and I’m on; I lay in bed and I’m on. I cannot stop pretending this is what life is because he will lose it and kill me, probably. Throughout the whole evening I kept thinking how it never should have come to this. Once, we were driving to visit my parents. He was holding my hand and asked me if I could go back, would I still marry him? My traitorous mouth beat my mind to the punch and told him no before I could stop it. Girl, aren’t you scared? I asked my mouth. You can’t be honest and not have it end in an almost broken nose. I remember that drive, too. Cars are dangerous.

I come back to the living room like a transition on a movie. Cut scene from the little bar with the anniversary dinner or maybe either of those car rides and pan back to hell. My little boys are in the tiny bedroom the three of them are forced to share and my oldest is standing next to his father, confused and wide-eyed. My poor baby. He doesn’t understand what is happening. See, that is why I shouldn’t have acted. I wasn’t saving them from this, I was only prolonging the inevitable. Focus!

It’s okay, I say out loud. Your dad is angry. Sometimes when we are angry, we say things that are confusing. You don’t have to make this decision, I calmly tell him.

Yes, you do, he yells back. Choose right now! Your mom says she wants to leave me so tell me RIGHT NOW who you want to live with? Tell me right now! PICK!

My son is shaking, he is so scared right now. I don’t know what to say, he squeaks out. I move to give him a safe embrace, but think twice. I saw the flash of insanity in his eyes right now when he guessed my intention. I can almost see the wheels of crazy cranking in his mind, trying to find the precise words to cut me in front of our child, except he isn’t thinking about the trauma this will cause him. His only desire right now is to make me understand what my words for the past few weeks will bring. What my declaration from this afternoon will bring. He wants me to know he won’t go without destroying me in any way he can.

Your mom is doing this to you, Sam, he hisses. This is her fault. She is the reason your life will never be the same. She is breaking this family apart and you deserve better.

I love you, I murmur to my son. I love you so much. Whatever is going on with your dad and I is between us and I’m sorry you are being forced to stand in the middle of it right now but I love you.

I know that will escalate things but I can’t stop myself from saying it either way. Somehow, after I mutter that proclamation, I feel a renewed energy in me. I stand up straighter and look him in the eyes. I hold my gaze as I tell Sam he can go to his room and play with his brothers. I’m almost daring my ex-husband to contradict me as I release my oldest from this untenable situation. I feel a fireball in my stomach, growing with each heartbeat, bigger and hotter. It rises to my mouth and I hear myself tell him that he needs to get it together, stop playing our children against me.

You love your mother, I spit at him. Why would you try to turn your children against theirs? What kind of MONSTER are you? I don’t know where this gumption is coming from but I ride the wave as I discover my strength. I have so much more to say but I leave it at that, before I become him too easily. If you think for one fucking second that THIS is going to manipulate or convince me to stay with you, think again, I assure him.

And I mean it.

Before the End

The lunchroom of the bank I’m working at is small and cold. It feels clinical but smells like a dirty sponge. You know that smell. It’s fetid and rank. My cup-o-noodles is sitting in front of me growing cold but I hardly notice. I’m in full-on triage mode, as I call it, frantically texting whatever I can think of to keep him from entering rage mode. Except, he is already in rage mode. Lately, it is his only mode.

Things have been more volatile lately. We have only been in Hawaii for three months and it has been a constant struggle. I work out of necessity even though my take-home is only $200 after I pay daycare. It seems ridiculous but we need every single one of those dollars to almost make ends meet. As I send another scared response, a colleague walks in to the lunchroom with a meal from some restaurant nearby and a Starbucks in hand. It looks so lucrative in her hands and I’m full of jealousy but not food. My stomach grumbles, reminding me to finish my noodles. I smile at her and make small talk, all while thinking about this stupid fight we are having, where I’ve once again messed up. It’s like I’m Matilda and Danny DeVito is yelling at me how he’s big and I’m small, he’s smart and I’m dumb, he’s right and I’m wrong. That’s what he means. He’s everything and I’m nothing. I’ve always been nothing.

I don’t remember the rest of the workday. It’s the same as every other day there, I’m sure. What I do recall is seeing a text as I packed up my stuff to head home. “I picked up the boys.” It is odd to me. They are always at the sitter’s house, which is really close to the branch I’m a teller at. I usually walk to get them and ride the bus home. This is out of the ordinary. Anything out of the ordinary in regards to him is worrisome, so naturally, now I’m worried. I reply back that I’m on my way home and head out the door, fingers crossed I’m not walking in to a warzone in front of my babies again.

I miss the bus by four minutes. Two hundred and forty lousy seconds that now equate to waiting twenty for the next one. Great. I can feel my anxiety growing, making my legs and my heart tremble. Something in my gut just doesn’t feel right. I feel my cellphone vibrate in my pocket. It is a photo of the boys in the car. Are you home? I ask him.

The phone rings and I jump because I’m fully on-edge now. I shake my head to get some of the jitters out and answer cheerily, just trying so hard to not show how scared I am.

Tell your Mom goodbye, boys! His voice is eerie because he matched my fake cheer.

Bye, Mom! They all shout at me in unison. I’m so confused. Why are they telling me goodbye? I say something like that, barely get it out, actually. I don’t know what is going on but it’s unsettling and now I’m really scared. He is unstable. But how unstable, really?

I can tell he takes me off speaker phone and I hear the nervousness in my voice as I ask him what is going on. I just bought the three of us plane tickets and we are headed to the airport. You are never going to see us again. Just remember you did this to yourself. Good luck in your life. He says all of this with a calm, terrifying tone and then hangs up. I am staring at my phone, trying so hard to process. I try calling back three times but they just go straight to voicemail. I’m pretty sure he shut his phone off. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I have no idea what is happening. All I can do is start running home. I’m about a mile and a half away, which feels like five because I’m not a runner. I don’t workout. I have no endurance or stamina, so I run with adrenaline and fear, straight to the apartment we live in. It takes me a long thirty minutes because I keep stopping to catch my breath and dial his number again. None of the calls go through. I’ve never hated my body so much as I do in this moment. I just want to be there to stop whatever he is doing.

When I arrive at the apartment I see that sure as shit the car we share is missing. I shakily climb the fourteen stairs. They take all the rest of my energy and the last bit of hope I had. If he isn’t here, neither are they. Whatever is happening right now is a new level of terror and I cannot fathom what triggered it. Yes, I made him angry but this is out of the norm. I don’t have a key to the apartment so I lean up against the door, my forehead pressed against it, and emotionally breakdown. I have no one to call, no one to turn to so I just sob. I have been trying so hard to think Hawaii was a fresh new start but every day it is feeling more and more like I’m in solitary confinement. I keep trying his phone. My call continues to go straight to voicemail. I am utterly defeated.

An eternity goes by and then I hear it. The familiar rattle of the engine of our car and I wearily look over the balcony. There they are. The four of them getting out of the vehicle and my two oldest are so excited, holding ice cream cones in their hands. Dad took us for a treat! they yell up the stairs. They are smiling and unaware of anything going on between us. I am speechless. I watch them walk up the stairs and I cannot think of one damn thing to say.

And that was the beginning of the end.

Forks and Knives

The sky is dark and ominous as I pull into my driveway. I got off work late today but maybe that’s not entirely true. Really, I stayed late, took my time shutting down and closing up shop. As I flipped the light switch to off, I looked at everything with tired eyes and tried to memorize where it all was. I drove home slowly, deep in my thoughts. Things have been so terrible, almost extra terrible, if that’s even possible, lately. My children are home and probably asleep. I think it and even say it out loud. I do that most drives. I talk out loud. I want to kiss their sweet faces when I pull in but should not. Waking them would be selfish on my part but I toy with the idea, mostly because everyone else in that house makes me cringe.

It’s July and I’m over all of it, already. Over summer. Over the heat. I can really only handle so much sun. Maybe that’s because I feel like one most days. Shining bright to cheer everyone else up, keep everyone else happy. It’s gawd damn exhausting. The thing is, if you are the sun then there are no rays left for you. I just give them and unabashedly too much. This cancer in my home is caused by me for shining without cessation. For not trying hard enough to dull it. Nobody asked for it but there I am, anyway. He repeatedly tells me not to talk to everyone who initiates conversation. It makes him blind with jealousy and I try not to. I really do. Then suddenly I’m in my driveway so I just sit there a moment. Slowly, but with purpose, I turn the key to cease the motor. I wish I had keys for my mind, too, especially right now because I know what I have to walk in to. That house is dangerous with its perpetual lava floor. There is nowhere safe for me to tiptoe in it.

Earlier, when I was making breakfast, I opened the utensils drawer. Muscle memory knows where the butter knives are to spread jam on my dry morning toast yet my eyes are drawn to the back of the tray. We have lived already in over ten places, dirt-poor gypsies outrunning his lies, and no matter where we have found ourselves, the utensil tray, this exact one, has survived just like me. Always the same, beginning with spoons. First the big spoons and then the teaspoons. Small forks and then dinner forks. Butter knives last and the spot above, laying perpendicular, is always where the steak knives live.

This is where I notice that I’m back to a weird mental spot. I recognize that it manifests first by how anal I get with where things go in the kitchen. Usually I am passive about it all. Not today. I just spent ten minutes rearranging all the canned foods to look like they do in the supermarket and moving the toaster back to the exact spot on the counter where I want to always find it. I get crazy when I feel crazy. I get crazier when I’m feeling defeated. On this particular morning, when waking was hard and showering was dreadful, I noticed that someone placed a slotted spoon in the steak knife tray. The rage beats straight through me and before I can blink, it is in my hand. I’ve seized the spoon but I don’t see it because all I see is red right now. I toss it angrily further back, behind the utensil tray that follows me like a shadow. I want it out of my view to force it out of my thoughts and I’m muttering incessantly about how it isn’t that friggin hard to just put shit where it goes. It isn’t falling on deaf ears but the in-laws ignore me. They don’t care.

All day my mind kept returning to that slotted spoon and I’m too mentally exhausted to think about why. Something else was off but I must have missed it in my anger-fueled moment. I can’t ever let my guard down there, especially right now because things were good for a shorter period this time. The bickering has increased ten-fold and his patience is nonexistent. He keeps trying to force me to take his side over my parents and frankly, I don’t want to. He’s a liar and I’m done having his back because it makes me a liar too, by proxy. Defending him is at the top of his list for how I can show him my love but piss on all that noise. I won’t do it this time.

I take the steps to the front door one at a time to buy me some aversion but there’s only three. That was a waste of energy. I put my key in the door and gingerly turn it, hearing the familiar clicks as I hold my breath. I can’t hear the tv; I make a silent wish that everyone be asleep. The door creeps open and I see the yellow glow of the screen. Damn it all.

“Good evening,” I try to whisper to my mother-in-law. She’s a witch and I physically can’t whisper and so we dance this diddy again where she shooshes me and waves her hand angrily, as if she’s batting my words away. She hates being the designated babysitter and I hate being her verbal punching bag. She responds with a pursed-lip goodnight something-or-other back at me that she probably equally dreaded but I barely hear it. I’m already in the hallway, moving towards the boys’ room. I hear her call out something about it taking forever for the three of them to fall asleep so please don’t undo all my hard work. I don’t acknowledge that she even spoke because I can’t physically choke out any more words to her so I just ninja-creep into their room instead.

They are sleeping pretty deeply, which makes me happy and sad. While I listen to their rhythmic breaths I feel a tinge in my stomach. The thing about gut feelings is that they are there for a reason and I always try to ignore them. Tonight is different, though. There is a weird vibe in the air. I hear the footsteps of the witch in the hallway. Does anyone else call their mother-in-law a witch, I wonder. Her immediate departure from the living room just confirms to me that she only stayed up to notate what time I would walk in at. They’re a team, those two. Her and her son. She reports back dutifully, all the time, on my shortcomings. I turn to the closed bedroom door behind me and mouth, “good NIGHT, bitch!” I extra scrunched my face as I silently said it. It feels good. It feels like it’s against all the rules and rebellious. I needed it, especially right now because I’m in full panic mode and I can’t hug my boys. They always help me stay grounded. They help me stay here. My heart is in my throat and I realize I can’t stay in this room forever. I tiptoe back to the hallway, gently close their door behind me. My mind is against this but my body is spent. I can’t find any more courage in me right now.

I see him on the bed when I walk in. A touch of moonlight is seeping through the blinds and I marvel at the beauty before I turn towards the beast. He’s not happy. I see that immediately, even though he never is. My mouth is somehow conversing with him but I can’t remember what I said. Small-full-of-shit-talk that I forget as soon as they leave my lips. Then I’m brushing my teeth and putting some pajamas on. This is the best bedroom we have had so far, compared to all the others. It is set up pretty efficiently, long as opposed to wide. I tenderly sit on the bed and plug my phone in and while I’m following my nighttime routine, I don’t see him get up and walk to the closet area. Or is it his dresser?

There’s a folder in his hand when I look up. They match, him and the folder. Both plain, boring and deceiving of what is inside. My eyes dart from his hands to his eyes. He is speaking but I’m in a bowl. It’s like the Peanuts cartoon where the teacher is lecturing and nobody understands anything going on. Blah, blah, blah, blah, divorce papers. Blah, blah, blah, blah, I signed them already. Blah, blah, custody. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, you won’t win 50/50. Blah, blah, you don’t make enough to support them. Blah, blah, blah, sign them now, blah, blah, or I’ll, blah, blah, blah. I am not listening but I hear it all. This is typical but he’s changed it up a bit. It’s just enough out-of-the-ordinary that I am terrified. The words seeped in like my cell signal was weak and I’m trying hard to fill in the blanks.

I won’t leave without my boys and so he argues with me about it. I go into the hallway after some unpleasant words hurled at me with every intention of walking into their room and packing a bag and walking out. My parent’s house is close. I’ll go there. They’ll take us in, of this I’m certain. But he’s behind me, closer than I anticipated. He pulls me back into the bedroom and shuts the door.

“Sign these right now. I’m not joking or playing around. Sign these or you’ll regret it.”

I’m angry and a smartass so I grab the pen out of his hand and walk over to the dresser where his stupid, plain-face-folder is sitting and I skip straight to the last page and find my name. I sign FUCK YOU, with my back to him. I slam the whole thing shut and I shove it in his chest. He doesn’t open it to check like I expected, just mutters some lame thank you or whatever. I walk around him and exit, turn right in the hallway, away from the kid’s room. The one stupid thing about this duplex is that the hallway is a giant circle, with a bathroom and laundry room in the middle. I turn left now and walk straight out the front door, barefoot with my heartbeat pounding in my ears. My heart is literally in my throat because now I’m scared that he’ll see what I signed so beautifully, in perfect cursive. Why didn’t I scribble it, at least? Make it unreadable? I could have put anything and told myself it was fuck you in Klingon. Why didn’t I do that? Why couldn’t I put my sun away for just one minute?

The grass is burnt and hurts my feet with its sharp blades. He stops me halfway through it and asks where I think I’m going. I already signed, albeit it not my name, on his stupid forms and I feel some bravery find its way to my mouth. I say a lot of things I’ve wanted to but I’m careful because I’m not trying to have the whole cul-de-sac see the shit beaten out of me. He’s starting to yell and grabs my arm, gripping tighter and tighter as I instinctively try to free it.

I’m furious. There is a fire growing in the pit of my stomach. This happens every time. I begin to get really angry at how he is treating me and this time, I feel it behind my eyes. I’m so over this. I cannot take one more day of it. I somehow break free of his death grip and run back inside, through the kitchen and to the utensil drawer. I hoped I was fast enough because I know I can’t waste any time looking behind me like this in scary movie. I rip the drawer open and my hand automatically goes to the steak knives. I blindly grab one and in two fell swoops I throw my left arm out and turn it wrist up. I run the knife hard down it, starting at my fleshy, fatty forearm and ending at my bony wrist. I want it to be deep, straight to the bone. Irreparable. Unforgivable. Hard. Quick.

Except, it wasn’t a steak knife. It was a fucking butter knife and now it’s too late because he’s there, wrestling it out of my hands. Tears begin to violently work their way from my toes up. Uncontrollable sobs are escaping my mouth silently and I crumple to the floor. My one chance thwarted, I have no energy to stand. He throws the butter knife in the sink, leans down, and hoists me back up to standing position. Drags me to the bedroom and lovingly places me in the bed we share, all while quietly saying whatever he wants to me.

“You stupid bitch. You thought you would get away that easy? You thought you could pull some shit like that when your kids are less than fifteen feet away? This is why you’ll never have custody of them. Just try to take them from me. I’ll tell any judge about this bullshit stint you just tried to pull. You aren’t safe. You are crazy because only crazy people try to kill themselves. Just remember that when you start to think you can pull some stupid shit again. You idiot,” he menacingly says as he caresses an errant hair from my face. Tender and threatening, gentle yet vile.

I mutely watch him walk over to the folder, remove the ten or so pages from it and rip them into shreds. As he finishes, my heart sinks to my stomach as I acknowledge that he will never lay eyes on my signed masterpiece.

 

**If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence and don’t know where to find help, click any of the following links for help:

Whatcom County Residents: DVSAS

Outside of Whatcom County: National Domestic Violence Hotline and Website

 

To my oldest, with all my heart

Sixteen years and one week ago, I was ridiculously round with angst and excitement, thinking I was about to push you out into this world. Even though you were a few weeks from your due date I was sure it was time. Except, you weren’t as ready as I thought I was so you held fast and stayed cozy.

FOR A WHOLE ‘NOTHER WEEK.

And this is what our relationship has grown into, love. Us waiting eternally for you because you’ve literally marched to the beat of your own trombone or baritone or whatever instrument you correct me on. A beat that we call Sam Sloth Speed.

Sam&I

I look at you with awe in the way I imagine most mothers do. Unbelieving that I once housed your heart in my body, that we shared thoughts and nutrients and laughs. I remember telling myself I would never forget the feeling of you kicking, or what it was like to hold you for the first time or kiss your cheek, but the thing is that I can’t believe I have. I sometimes stare at you and wish I had had you in improved circumstances or later on in life, you know, when I could have done it right and when I was ready. But life doesn’t work that way, does it? Here you are and who would you be if things had been different?

I know it hasn’t always been easy for you and can feel like I am unfair. I like to say that I am a cliche, having made all my mistakes with you. Except one-week-shy-of-sixteen continues to be the longest I’ve been a mother. Every day I parent you is the highest number of days I have been one so the mistakes keep coming. Thank you, Sam, for always having infinite patience in my motherhood journey. It hasn’t been lost on me that you’ve had to see my growing pains and yet you love me anyway. No matter where life has taken us, it continues to be us, you and me, making our way through it.

There were a lot of ugly days that we worked through. I know it was hard for you going into kindergarten only speaking Spanish and I wish I could take that back. All those days and nights that I tried to get you up to par in English so you could understand the six hours of class you were sitting in, trying to teach you how to rhyme words, and then breaking down and ugly crying, which probably scared you, when it finally clicked, so many months later. And then when I called Aunty Amber and we cried about it together because every day was work and every day was a challenge for more reasons than language.

And I know you want to drive. I remember that draw to be even more independent and grown-up when I was your age. I know I’m being tough about it but the thing is, I don’t know how not to be and we are working through that so bear with me and do your part and things might fall into place like you want them to. Or maybe they won’t because sometimes I’m ridiculous, in which case you are a pro at handling. I’m trying, love.

We spent the better part of a morning, recently, googling and discussing your future. Somehow you will be graduating in two years and neither one of us is ready. That’s the truth. I could tell you were overwhelmed and I get it but I also think you are so capable. Just remember that, Sam. After all, you are at least half of me and you’ve seen me do some seemingly impossible things. I know it can seem that you have to have your mind made up about what you want to be and where you want to go but you don’t. You can figure it out as you go and it’s okay.

You are so resilient and kind, Sam. Even when I’m upset with you I think of how lucky we are that you were born first. You shared your words about domestic violence which couldn’t have been easy, you sit and talk to us about things that are important to you, even if we disagree, you ask our opinions and listen intently. You walked me down the aisle, you took the job so seriously, intent on not making me fall even though you were nervous. Just as disappointed as I was with your grandfather but still trying to understand him and give him love, regardless. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared at you and wondered how I have gotten so much of it right. I know I can be a hard-ass and I know you think better. You might be right but only time will tell. Thank you for being my first-born, one of the bigger chunks of my heart, and for reminding me to slow down like only you can. I would say it’s an honor to be your Mother but the reality is that it’s so much bigger than that.

Sam

Photo credit: Shannon Sasaki Photography

You will always be my favorite meanager.

 

Jackets and Ten Steps

beginningsThe other day (I really mean it this time, because more often than not it could mean two days ago or twenty years ago, and that is just how I roll) I was hanging up some laundry and my eyes lingered on our coats/jackets/hoodies section. I mean, everyone has one of these in their closet, right? Outerwear to the outer-max, just busting at the seams. And that is what my heart was doing. It was muffin-topping out of my chest, as silly as that seems.

Six years ago, when I moved back to the mainland without my main squeeze (that would be Ku, don’t get confused there) I was in an in-between phase. No job to dive into, no money, and only two-thirds of my children. <– Yeah, you read that right. I was about to begin the divorce process and my couldn’t-be-ex-soon-enough had flown back with my baby-Moose three weeks before me. He was convinced I would get off the plane and into his grasp again, promising not to use my little as leverage, except I wasn’t born yesterday and I am not naïve.

Leaving Ku behind, as I boarded a plane with my two oldest, two suitcases and a carry-on heavy with anxiety, was hard. Not the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but definitely top ten. After almost two years on Oahu, we were coming back with less than what got us there. That’s practically zilch, friends. We went straight to my parents house and I tried to navigate how to file for divorce, how to draft a parenting plan, how to feel safe again, and how to keep the law on my side. I’m lucky in that I was Aria throughout so much of my decade-long marriage, going to sleep each night throughout those 3,650-ish days reciting the times he had hit me, remembering practically verbatim the times he made threats against my person, screenshotting as many texts as I could, especially in those last months. Not that I had to try hard because none of that is easy to forget. What I’m saying is I had no troubles establishing a case.

As I searched for a home for the five of us, this duplex in Lynden presented itself. I called and made an appointment to see it, being lucky in that the landlord had barely posted it on Craigslist five minutes before. I drove straight there with a gas tank full of hope. I told him the truth about starting over and not having much, that my deposit would come courtesy of my Mom, who also was the reason why Moose was back in my arms. I even pleaded with him. Said please over and over. I don’t know what made him say yes but all I know is Mercury was most definitely not in retrograde, all the planets were aligned and two plus two equaled four.

We got the place.

We moved in so fast, and I’m not trying to be funny here. I mean, how long does it take to pack up two suitcases and drive over to your new spot and then unload two suitcases? But it was ours and I was sitting there trying not to cry in front of my mini-men, because now I had a place I would never worry about moving out of again, unless I wanted to. I remember sitting on the floor that first day and just looking around. And then I recall the doorbell ringing and it was a furniture company with a surprise delivery of a set of bunk beds with mattresses and two couches, because my Mom is an angel and didn’t want us to sleep on the floor. I took the boys to Safeway and we got groceries for the new place, courtesy of food stamps (I’m never going to be ashamed of that, mmkay?) and I almost cried when Sam asked if we had enough to get cereal. I don’t care what anyone says, but when you talk about money for two months straight, it ends up giving your kids anxiety about food and that’s a sad place to be in, but we were and we worked through it. I’m 99% certain Sam doesn’t remember that moment like I do.

We loved in that home for almost three years. <–See, that is a feel good sentence, but it’s incomplete. We called that spot the “Ten Step” because it was T-I-N-Y. Anywhere you were in the house you could get anywhere else within ten steps. It was probably 700 square feet, which is INSANELY small for five bodies, three of which hadn’t figured out how to aim properly into the toilet. The one toilet. ONE.

Shortly after Ku moved in with us, and as we began rebuilding, together, she turned to me and said, “We need coats.” The closet in the living room, meant just for that, was so empty. We laughed about it and then promptly got to it, filling that closet to overflowing, and filling our home in general, but more importantly, filling our hearts. We stayed longer than we should have, mostly because it was never the right size for us, but also because we had plans and we aren’t above sacrificing. Now we have an abundance of jackets.

samat10

Ten year old Sam, in the Ten Step kitchen

It is not lost upon me that Ten Steps sounds like a rehab program, but in a way, that little home was. For me, at least. I had to learn how to stop attending every argument my ex tried to invite me to, and how to stop self-sabotaging my love with Kulia. That’s all just honest truth. Sometimes it was too good for me and she saw right through (and still does) all the fights I tried to start with her for no reason. I had to learn to not expect certain things when we argued and that I could lean on her to support me in all things my life. It was the first time I had to handle the boys being away and me being at home without them. The ten step helped my heart grow back it’s feeling every day we were there.

Sometimes, when people talk about their circumstances, they look at my chapter 10 and compare it to their chapter three. “You have so much going for you, you wouldn’t understand.” Or, “Look at all you have! I need to get there before I can (insert whatever it is they are holding back from).” The thing is, I freaking get it. So hard. Change is hard and rewriting your shitty first draft is hard, but the thing is, you can’t change what you won’t change. And you most certainly can’t change anyone else. I can’t tell you how many times I held back from leaving him. I gave myself all the excuses, so don’t think there is judgement here from me. There most definitely is not one drop coming from me. I took a long time to get the courage up to leave and he said a lot of lies to me that I started to believe over time, but let me tell you this, and listen closely:

As long as there is air in your lungs and your heart pumps blood, you can do it. You can start over and have nothing but the clothes on your back and you can make it. Everything can be replaced. Everything, except for the air in your lungs and the blood pumping through your arteries.

I promise.

So if you are sitting there, single-momming it, wondering how you’ll all eat and not still feel hungry but also keep the lights on, or if you hate your job and don’t know how you’ll handle being back in school while working full-time, or if you are living in a hell-hole and have zero dollars to your name, LIFT YOUR CHIN UP. You can abhor your circumstances but you can also turn them around.

Mmmmkmay?

 

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Abraham, Sam and Moose reppin Hawaii in the Ten Step

Raising Men

 

 

 

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Back when they were super cute and easy to handle. No, wait, that’s wrong. Easier? Agh, forget it. They were little.

This has been a tough week to be a growing man in our household. And it is only Wednesday, friends! What the hell?! Is Mercury in retrograde or WHAAAAT… Often times the boys will take turns on who is going to give us the most grey hairs but every now and again we are reminded that life isn’t fair because they all wake up on the wrong side of their bed and collectively come down and play Who-can-be-the-biggest-A-hole all at once. It’s fantastic.

Yesterday, which was only TUESDAY, was a real effin treat and I thought to myself, people think we have it easy. I don’t know why, I don’t understand what is giving them this impression, but it’s not true. Since forever, when I would be out with all three at once, old ladies would stop me at the grocery store or wherever and make sure to tell me how blessed I was. Never mind that this mostly happened in Hawaii and almost all the grandmas were Asian. Having three boys made me a LUCKY GAL to all of them. A hero walking amongst the commoners, with the golden uterus that only pushed out males. I didn’t take that crown so easily. Mostly because I didn’t feel lucky. I will say, though, that I never imagined myself with girls. I just don’t think I could have done this world any favors trying to raise a boss babe. I’ll leave that work to my darling gal pals who are crushing it in terms of raising empowered, strong, brave ladies.

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The fam bam

In the meantime, I’m over here, surrounded by crotch scratchers who love to fart and talk about things that are downright gross. Doing things that girls would never do because they’re all natural princesses who’s hair falls in perfect ringlets. No? I’m dreaming, you say? Huh. I was sure that was the law of the land. I get asked a lot how we do it. Ku and I both. “How do you do it? How do you raise three boys into gentlemen?”

Oh maaaaaaaan, am I glad you asked, because here come a whole heck of a lot of truth bombs. Buckle up.

#1: All boys are different

Whoooooaaaaa, did I just blow your mind there? What are you TALKING about, Vee?!? Yes, friends. I don’t lie to my fraaaaaans. While there are absolute similarities between my three boys, holy mooooosssseeeeessss, was I surprised at how each is their own person. One is quiet and awkward, one is articulate and political, with the remaining one athletic, stubborn and sweet. Yes, all those words can go together because I’m the one writing this. I’m the expert on making all the mistakes with them and so I get to choose how to string my words together. What I’m really trying to say, though, is that each one of them has to be handled uniquely. We use different tones and tactics with each one sprinkled with a healthy dose of losing our ish almost all the time. I’m not perfect, friends.

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When they upset me more than usual, I look back at old pics that make me smile. It’s the easiest way to get over the moment.

#2: It’s okay to lose your ish

That leads me right to this point. We are not without our own faults and one of mine is I can have goads of patience for almost any other little but if my own spawn come at me with ‘tude or sass or utter ridiculousness, I.WILL.LOSE.IT. I will start to huff and puff, roll my eyes, break out some serious sarcasm, and then say something like, “Are you friggin KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?” And then they shape up. Seeing the whites of my eyes really freaks them out. And when friends ask me how to not lose my cool, I have some suggestions but I always throw in that sometimes you will just lose it. And as long as you don’t rage on your children, it’s okay. We’ve all been there and we get it. It happens.

 

#3: I make up punishments that I hope I don’t get my bluff called on

Abraham used to be a total little ish to get to go the eff to sleep. He was so naughty. We yelled all the damn time at him to just close his eyes and stop talking. All.the.time. So, one day, I told him that if he kept it up I was going to make him sleep all by himself in the car. We didn’t have a garage then, we had this tiny little duplex in Lynden (so I wasn’t worried about his safety) and this carport four steps away where we parked Ku’s car. I didn’t really mean it and he figured that out and I remember like it was yesterday that Kulia turned to me and said, “Now you have to follow through,” which made me even more mad, because of course she was right and I never really meant it. All I’ll say about that is that luckily the cops weren’t called on us because he LEGIT screamed bloody murder in her backseat. But he went to sleep when we let him back in, so who’s winning?

#4: Bodily functions are funny. And safe in our home.

We try our damn hardest not to be pretentious. Not in our house. We allow burping, farting, itching, adjusting at your heart’s content. They have to be able to do it somewhere, guys. We let it be with us. I’m not sorry.

#5: ADHD is a real thing

When Sam was in fifth grade, his lovely teacher called us in for a conference. “He’s not dumb but he’s testing in at below average. I think he has ADD and should be tested.” I’ll make this short. He was tested, put on a small dose of medication and subsequently on the Honor Roll. Abraham was tested and we have tried almost EVERYTHING under the sun. He is a work in progress but I bristle when people make assumptions that ADHD is this or that. Over-diagnosed? Maybe. Not real? False. Just boys being boys? I have no words. Boys are a lot of things and they are most certainly a lot of energy, usually in the form of wiggling and playing and roughhousing. Yes. Sometimes, though, something is going on in their premature frontal lobe and it all starts to make sense. Trust your instinct. It’s not always taken care of with a certain diet or eliminating food dyes or making them do one thing or the other. Just stop with that judging. Mom-ing is hard effin work and the less you judge your fellow peeps, the better this world will be. And if your son loses his $350 trumpet for the SECOND time and you yell at him in the car because you cannot contain your words, just stop and take a deep breath and be grateful he’s not living with someone else who doesn’t advocate on his behalf and doesn’t try to understand him and doesn’t just friggin hug him when he needs it. I’m not trying to be uber specific there….I’m just sayin.

#6: Boys love their Mamas

And in this case, they get two for the price of one. My three are especially lucky. Each of them (false, I have to beg the meanager) is pretty loose in handing out hugs (what can I say, I love hugging!) and I make sure to try get one in on the roughest days. Except yesterday. Yesterday was ridiculous.

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We are ridiculous when it comes to Halloween. Or are we just ridiculous. That’s probably more right.

#7: Wine and coffee

I’ve already touched on how much of an anomaly I am when I’m out with my three guys. Aside from the elder adorers I gain I also have the younger ones who might blurt out, “Three boys?!?! (Insert incredulous face) How do you DO it?” I almost always blurt out, “Coffee and wine, friend. Coffee and WINE.” Emphasis on the wine. Did I mention we order it by the case? Yeah, we have quite the hookup through Barclay’s and I’ll send you a coupon code for a HELLUVA deal if you’re interested. Delivered to your doorstep and ready for the parenting magic because a) everything is funnier with a glass of wine in your hand and b) it’s okay to deal with a little help from the grapes. They are fruit, everyone. No shaming here. No shame.

#8: Not everyone is going to adore your kiddos. That’s okay

This one. It’s a conundrum. What do you MEAN not everyone is going to love the crap out of my offspring? How is that even a thing? Yeah, I know. I thought everybody would adore my littles and the reality is, they get on people’s nerves sometimes. They rub them the wrong way, maybe piss them off, say something unacceptable or just have that face that you can’t handle. They might feel like they can say that to you and it’ll be nutso because why would they think that? It always blindsides me and hurts my feelings because they are little projections of my persona. Of course it’ll hurt my feelings. But don’t fret, I’ll get over it and love on them harder. They aren’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea and I’m sorry that life is so harsh sometimes. Just keep loving them.

I’m not ending on a normal number. I’m leaving it at eight because I write this for a little bit of a laugh and a release. I fully realize that my heart is walking outside my body in three separate forms and I don’t take it lightly that one day they may be husbands and fathers. I want them to have solid foundations of love and respect with a whole lotta silly. And I want them to know I am not perfect and neither are they. Cheers to all you mamas, putting in the work and the care. We are raising the future, friends. That’s tough work.

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You don’t understand

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Not too long ago, someone randomly came in to my office at work and began telling me their life story. This in and of itself isn’t rare. I’ve shared how people tell me things. Unbeknownst to me as to why, I hear a lot of people’s secrets, feelings, unplanned thoughts, odd life stories, etc. It’s been known to drive those around me crazy. My ex used to get so upset, not only because strangers talk to me, but because I always respond. I attribute that to my father, who taught me to reciprocate courtesies. “If someone takes the time to say thank you, pay them that same respect by saying you’re welcome. Don’t just nod or say mmhmm.” It’s always stuck with me. Incidentally, when someone throws some salutations my way, I reply back. I smile at them. I make eye contact.

One night I was in Safeway grabbing some last minute groceries and I was working my way up to the registers. I cut up the personal care aisle and was about to pass an elderly lady looking at some products, confused. She turned and gave me this “Help me,” look. I couldn’t exactly explain why, but something propelled me to say hi. She reached out, grabbed my arm gently, much like my grandma or a family member would. Soft but purposeful, loving yet attention seeking. She had a box of Monistat 7 in her other hand and a look of concern in her soft, tired eyes.

“Does this work?” she asked me. Not in a creepy, weird or inappropriate way. There was a sincerity to her tone, mixed with a slight hinge of embarrassment. I remember standing there, grouping my thoughts together. Whatever made her decide to turn and ask me shouldn’t be discounted, right? She deserved some help in my book, without judgement. I could have easily kept walking and pretended I didn’t hear her but that’s never been my style. We talked and I remember walking away feeling lighter, like I had helped someone when they really needed it.

So flash forward to me, sitting in my office one day with my door open when someone stumbles in and shuts the door. While I don’t like being caged in by people I’m not super comfortable with, someone I hardly know, I recognize that she’s needing a pair of ears and some heartfelt time. Before I can ask how she’s doing, because sometimes people need coaxing to tell you why they want to chat, her mouth opens and the word vomit spills forth. Stories are being spewed in a rushed, emotional way. There’s a smidge of anger fueled by a whole lot of hurt in her words. She hasn’t had the best life. I hear instances of being forced to choose between two shitty options. I pull up a chair, allow her to sit and just listen. I see it coming before she does, there’s no doubt in that. This also happens to me, so I greet that old friend of comparison and stay still.

“You don’t understand. You have someone who loves you. You’ve never had the shit beat out of you. Your kids don’t hate you. You don’t get hateful comments thrown at you for being ugly. I don’t even know why I came in here. You have an easy life and I’m just a loser. You don’t get it.”

I let her say that to me. She was comparing her chapter 15 to my chapter 35 and while it doesn’t make sense, why she came in to my office and told me things that made me want to cry, I let it continue. You see, she didn’t know my stories and I wasn’t about to interrupt her. People need to be loved and listened to and it has to start somewhere and somehow that gets lost sometimes. What she also needed in that moment was a lack of judgement because I could see how that one word has caused her so much strife in her own inner value. Somehow, in my upbringing, I became really adept at compartmentalizing and being “stage ready” as I call it. Growing up in a restaurant and working in it from a very young age made me build a chest where I stored reality so that when I was out and about, mingling with our patrons, I wore a mask of happy.

It’s one of the first things Ku shared with me when I started to open up to her. She thought I was happy. It’s not admirable, friends. It’s more of a coping mechanism I’ve developed which really only makes it harder for me to deal with my own demons. I could venture to say she never expected to hear what I shared with her. That’s how good I was at being “on.” So while I’m sitting here listening to a tortured soul assume that I have the greatest life on Earth, what I say is, “We all have battles we are fighting.”

It can be the Mom battle, because we have this vision of motherhood and how we will excel at it in our head. We tell our friends and family things like, “I will never do this or allow that and NOT MY KID….” before we have babies. We see others raising theirs and we shake our heads at their inability to do whatever we deemed is right in our book. Or we see Moms who look like they got it down pat so we find whatever we can to criticize that because how dare she look so perfect? It can be the health battle and how we cannot believe so and so tried that shake or this diet and “maybe try eat less shit.” We can’t lose one effin pound so when they have success we tear them down. “She needs a burger. Vegans are dumb. Oh, another gluten free idiot, because how could they? It most certainly can be the relationship battle because they can’t be that happy because that’s all they post or how can she let him talk to her like that? We mock their highlight reel and we mock their low moments because judgement is a given in this world.

Before we know it the “I would never” becomes our truth and we are so caught up in our own little wars that we don’t notice those around us waged in their own battles, too. That old friend comparison sneaks in and we can’t shut her up because she’s loud and she’s everywhere and we are failing. We begin to break down those around us because maybe that’s what helps us for a fleeting moment but in reality, we all need to feel loved, heard and understood. We need each other to make it. Something I’ve really grasped lately is that it takes a village. Yes. Not just for the raising of the little humans, but for us, too. It takes a village to get so much done. So if you find yourself speaking with someone else, maybe take a moment and don’t assume they don’t understand. Ask them if they do. You might be surprised by their answer.

And if you see someone reaching out to ask you a hard, embarrassing question, do them the honor of at least hearing them out. Ok? Because life is hard. It takes strength to ask someone for help. Especially if they don’t know you. And if you feel like you know someone with a “perfect” life, befriend them and listen to them tell you about their struggles. Really, really listen.

Now go forth and do some good in the world. Say something nice to someone if you find yourself making a judge-y inner thought about them. It just might be what they need to hear today.

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What makes you Family?

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Looking fly at Waialae Country Club before Ka’eo and Denalee’s wedding 5/27/2017

In my 9-5, our team recently took a Strengths Finder assessment. It’s meant to aid in leveraging where people’s strengths lie, rather than focusing on their weaknesses. After answering a whole barrage of questions, a report was comprised, giving each of us our top five and explaining them. I wasn’t surprised by any of my list. In my last few years of self growth, mostly due to personal development and being honest with myself, I sort of already knew them.

The definitions of each strength were what really filled my cup. Knowing I love to learn is one thing, but an assessment stating that I probably collect books blew my mind! How could it know!? The best one, though? One of my strengths is connectedness. Just seeing the word made me nod my head in agreement. I thought it meant something about my ability to connect with others. How I reach out and force friends to stay in touch with me. It’s easier now, with everyone being cyber-connected. But guys, I used to send LETTERS to my friends. I thought I knew connected. And then I read the definition and was floored.

Connectedness: Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgements and in possession of our free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger. You are a bridge builder for people of different cultures.

That wasn’t all of it, just a smidge. However, I loved all the words it entailed. I have always believed that life is not a string of coincidences. How could it be when epic changes could happen from seemingly minute happenings in the world?

When I was in my seventh year of my own personal hell, my ex-husband decided we needed a trip. For his own personal reasons, that he didn’t disclose right away, he chose Hawaii. It’s one of those places that most of the world, at least from where I’m standing, dreams of going. I wasn’t a big fan. We almost never had money, and even when we did, it wasn’t managed well. He had control of that and it stressed me out to think what was being shelled out on this trip, when back home the boys were being fed with food stamps. There just wasn’t changing his mind when he wanted something. I remember being on the island of Oahu, driving down roads and seeing beaches and landmarks, gazing at them in awe.

Somewhere along a winding highway towards the windward side, he told me he was thinking of moving us there. I read it as: this will soon be our new home. It was pretty enough and promising enough that I gave no fight to the discussion. I sighed, asked him when and succumbed to the inevitable. It didn’t take away from how breathtaking Hawaii can be. The water is colors you can pick out of a Crayon box but can never replicate. You can see the bottom of the ocean, you can gaze out and see the curve of the horizon. The sun warms your face and slivers of that make it into your heart. Hawaii called to me and I let it. I remember the rest of the few days we were present, I would think about where we would land when we got there. What roads would become more traveled by me? Who would become my friend? How would my life change? I thought up so much and could never have imagined what Hawaii would come to mean to the boys and I.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written, hopefully it is the story of Ku and I and how we met. You see, meeting Ku was when Hawaii stopped being a place for me and became a feeling. My ex later described it as the biggest mistake he had made. For me, it was the biggest gift. Not only did I find who would captivate my soul and awaken my heart, but we found a second family. You see, I know the boys are loved by his family. They are his blood, too, and there is this fierce protectiveness and almost possessive feel they give to family get-togethers. It’s like the Lannisters incarnate, minus perhaps, the incest.

I won’t compare Ku’s family to Game of Thrones. A) they are human. They are kind and caring and I never feel like I’m about to be stabbed in the back. There’s no b. I do that, often.

Kulia’s family welcomed all of us with open arms. It has never felt forced or weird. There is this sincere love that you feel deep in your bone marrow that is so genuine. So pure. Hugs warm you like bowls of chicken noodle soup on a fall day and kisses on the cheek radiate rays of sunshine down to your toes. Her family and their love for the four of us was unimaginable and perfectly imperfect. I know that’s a hard level to achieve for most blended families so I cherish it and work to keep it seamless. I think it’s because I have seen weird and judge-y and mean (did you see how I compared my ex’s family to the LANNISTERS?) so I can be grateful for what we have been given.

The boys recently traveled to the East Coast with their Dad. When they came home yesterday, the meanager asked to speak with me. He told me about their trip and feelings he had while on it. He shared some stuff that was sad to listen to, about how they felt awkward around new family they met for the first time. It’s so alien to listen to because oftentimes I neglect thinking about the other side of what the boys deal with. The amount of time they are with us makes me think of us being their main family. It’s fair and yet unfair, right and yet not accurate. They have a whole other set of people that have come into their life in one way or another and I should have been preparing them for what might come.

My meanager reminded me of how treasured they feel in Hawaii. “Mom, you know how all of Ku’s family just loves us and never makes us feel weird?” he asked me. I struggled to find words because I just know it to be true. “It wasn’t like that in Virginia. We kept being reminded they aren’t our Aunts and Uncles and we couldn’t call them that. Her mom kept correcting us. We had to call them Mr. and Mrs. It was just awkward. Everything felt awkward.” This coming from the son who likes hugging the least. The thing is, our boys are lovers.

It was hard to hear and all I could do was tell him I was sorry to hear it. I told him I was so happy he was home because it’s never the same when they are gone. I hugged him and let him tell me how his feelings were hurt. I reminded him how sincerely and genuinely so many care for him and his brothers. That some people take time and maybe have a hard time accepting change, for lack of better reasoning.

I just really wonder what makes family, family. Ya know?

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Sam, AB and Moose at our wedding, melting our hearts and making everyone cry happy tears

In the throes of teen angst

I often share stories and insights from raising my meanager. People ask about it, reach out to me, thank me for it, you get the gist. Most times, I’m questioned if he really is mean and while the answer may vary depending on how he’s been the day I’m being asked, for the most part, he is not. He has teen moments, has begun his hand at trying to be sarcastic and witty, is becoming slightly moody, and sometimes is just downright pissy. More often than not, he is kind. He is caring. He is reserved.

Raising our meanager has not come with ups and downs, as I’m sure it is for anyone else in our shoes. Every time I was pregnant, I wished on everything and anything that I wouldn’t have any girls. I remember when I was in my adolescents and let me tell you, I could NOT handle myself if dealt the same cards. I was by no means the worst kid ever; I wasn’t a teen mom or became addicted to drugs, I didn’t have loose morals or party all night long at random houses, but I wasn’t an angel and I always thought I knew more than my parents. I had an attitude, I was miserable and made everyone else suffer along with me. No part of that made me want a daughter. Except, having boys hasn’t been balls easy (pun intended).

Having small men is constant energy. They are loving, curious, problem solvers (for the most part) but challenging. Raising boys has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Throw in the mix that we are raising them in a two female household, where neither of us has experienced wet dreams or random erections. Where we don’t understand the voice changing and giggle when the meanager speaks. We ask him questions in front of friends so they can hear the differences also, except he has caught on to that and is refusing to appease us. There’s the new fuzz above the upper lip and the increased body odor smells. We don’t physically and emotionally understand any of these things and yet we are balls deep in them, too.

For the most part, my meanager has been withdrawn. He spends most of his time in his room, where we let him escape the ridiculousness of his younger brothers because we understand he needs space. We ask pesky questions sometimes (read: I do) and from time to time we force him to engage in conversation or time spent with us. If he’s been particularly difficult, like failing a class and not getting his ish together, we might take him to Costco and make him hold our hands (read: me), gush over him and try to kiss him in public. Being a mom can be fun some days, friends. He almost always takes it in stride and knows we love him. We have each taken a role. He talks with Ku when he has girl questions or topics he feels I’ll blow out of proportion (as if that’s even possible). He comes to me when Ku isn’t around, because he’s convinced she’s more chill than I am.

I know, it’s damn frustrating.

And then there are times he sits down and asks me in his serious, sounds like he has a big loogie sitting in the back of his throat voice if he can ask me something. And I see a storm in his eyes that carries some emotional anguish. It could be something silly and yet it’s not for him so I take it serious and brace myself. I never know what’s coming but I know it has to happen.

“Mom, have you ever had suicidal thoughts?”

And there it is, a sucker punch to my side. I’m always on the fence with how real, how honest we should be with our kiddos. I mean Ku and I, because I fully understand every parent will have their own opinion of what is best. Sam is fourteen and I’m not so sure how in depth and raw I can be with him yet. Yes, I feel my chest tightening but I have to say something that makes him feel heard, understood, listened to. I decide to be real for a moment, because I don’t want to lie to my children, ever.

I tell him yes. That I remember being upset as a teenager, feeling like my parents didn’t understand me, didn’t care about me, that I was second to their business and their time. That I was fat and got made fun of, that I never got invited to sleep overs or parties. I wasn’t popular and I wasn’t good at sports. I was miserable a lot of the time and sometimes I thought about ending it all. I didn’t tell him about how I turned to cutting to feel better and have scars that will never fade from it. I keep it short and simple and then I ask him if he ever has.

“Yeah, after you and Dad split. I was really sad and thought I would never see my Dad again,” he shared. That makes sense. I had a protection order against him, he didn’t know our new address or phone number because he had gone from crazy to psychotic in the blink of an eye when I left. He was only allowed to see the children with supervised visits, which he refused to submit himself to. He went a long time without seeing his children and it was all of out selfishness. He wanted to know what would happen to him and his brothers if I died, where they would go if both I and his dad died. Things were clearly weighing on his mind.

When I think back to my decade of abuse in a violent, toxic relationship with their Dad, I find myself at a crossroads. On the one hand, I’m grateful that he never hit me in front of the kids because I can’t imagine what that would have done to my children internally, except on the other I feel like they still don’t fully understand why the divorce happened. Sam continued with the hard questions last night, asking me if I was sad the whole time I was married to his dad, why I didn’t leave sooner, how bad his dad hit me, and why.

“Why would he need a reason, Sam? Wouldn’t that be justifying doing something horrible to someone when really, there is no excuse good enough for hitting someone you said you would love and honor?” I asked him. And his response was unexpected but reasonable. “I’m not saying a reason makes it okay. I just want to know why he did it.” Except, there’s not always a reason. Often times I think he felt out of control so he would pick fights with me and goad me into answering back to which he would explode. Or I wouldn’t meet his expectations and he would lash out. It was many reasons and yet none at all and so how can you fully understand that?

Sam asked me about his dad’s family and how they treated me, he shared what he witnesses of how they treat his stepmom. He asked what brought me to finally leave and I was careful to be honest without unnecessary details. The whole time we talked he had silent tears slipping down his face and I felt like something deeper was trying to surface. Every now and again Sam does this. Just asks me a question out of the blue, with no notice and I never feel like I answer correctly. I always feel blindsided and yet realize it’s an important moment for him. And I always wish there was a manual I could reference because unless you’re prepared for these things, they just leave you feeling inadequate.

Throw in talking with your child about these deep issues you are still working through. He wasn’t done, though. He had looked over our list of attendees on the kitchen table and had seen that my Dad was a no. “Why isn’t Tan (what they’ve always called him) coming?” And when I explained that he wasn’t okay with our marriage, he asked, “But doesn’t he love you?”

It was hard not to tear up with him. Not only was he asking me some of the hardest questions of my life, ones I’ve asked myself a million times in private, he was hitting on some pretty raw situations. Yes, I know my father loves me and I don’t want to judge him on his not coming to our big day. I’ve accepted he won’t be there. I asked him so many times, hoping he changes his mind. He doesn’t comprehend it and for him to attend, he would have to in his opinion, so he can’t bring himself to be there. I get it, because I choose to. And I love him because regardless of our differences in opinion, my ability to love him isn’t hinged on this one moment. Yes, it’s major to me. It’s monumental to both Ku and I. I am simply choosing to try to see things through his lens and agree to disagree.

Last night was tough. Yes, I found being honest pretty difficult, but I also wanted to answer his questions without projecting my own feelings into our talk because I don’t want him to feel how I do out of solidarity or obligation. I want him to hear me yet draw his own conclusions and thoughts without just being upset with his father or my dad. And just finding the bravery alone to initiate the whole thing with me, the one who is less chill, was pretty awesome, regardless of how much I struggled through it. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be googling how to have difficult yet meaningful conversations with teenagers because shoot me before he surprises me again!

 

A Mother of a Day

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As we spent yesterday showering our Mother’s with a barrage of photo collages and lovey dovey sayings, I thought back on my time in this club, my very short almost fifteen years. One I used to think I wanted nothing to do with it, a membership that is wrought with judgements and finger pointing, defending, crying, feelings of absolute inadequacy and failure. A clandestine understanding of how to lose your shit, the million and one ways to ugly sob into your pillow, and the overwhelming love when you get handed a dandelion because the pretty flower had to go to you.

I was twenty when I found out I was pregnant with Sam. I spent the whole pregnancy in one dark spot or another, for so many reasons. Mostly, in utter disappointment with myself. I had imagined the trajectory of my life a completely different way and this felt like failure. Having grown up in a restaurant, many of the patrons felt close to me and had no qualms sharing their thoughts about my choices with my young self. More than a few shared their surprise. “You’re so smart, though!” some said when they heard. I was constantly defending myself and it was one hundred percent because I was right there with them. I get it. A small town girl saying she wasn’t going to be a mom or a wife right away and that is ALMOST EXACTLY what I did. One thing I was adamant about, though, was that becoming a mother didn’t make me any less smart.

Mother’s Day is a weird holiday. Yes, I love the concept behind it, but it gets so murky, so dirty and it takes away from what it’s trying to be. For me, the idea of what a mom is has changed numerous times in my first half of life. My parents divorced when I was two years old and I was lucky to get to stay with my dad. He met my mom (she’s mom in my book, no step-anything about it) in one of the best cute-meet stories I’ve ever heard. It isn’t mine to share, but let’s just say he was adamant he would get her number…

My mom chose to take on a role that wasn’t optional to her. I think there’s an inane amount of beauty in that, alone. I see the same majestic loyalty in Ku, just being a pivotal part of raising the boys with me. Being a step-parent seems like such a hard title, one that I cannot understand and it’s what I’ve been around since a young age. From the beginning, I was harmed by the ghost of my biological mom, although not because she died. She’s still very much alive, but she wasn’t in my life. She wasn’t around to see important milestones in my life and it was through no fault of anyone but herself. I want to judge her harshly most days and on good days I want to forgive her. Sometimes I think I have but I just never really know. She was battling her own addiction demons for most of my formative years and that kept her from being able to keep her word to me at any given time. When I think about it, I feel like she failed me. Because of her, I take it very personally when someone tells me yes, they’ll come to something with me and then they don’t follow through. If you say yes to me, I take it as a blood oath. If you don’t show up, I have a very hard time letting it go. It tears me up. I call her a ghost because she would call when she could, make impossible promises and then not show up. It haunted my soul. I always believed her.

“She said she would be here on my birthday,” I would tell my Mom as I peeked out the window on April 10. Then she would try to pick up my broken pieces and attempt to put me back together when she wouldn’t. She had to have known EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. that my BM (biological mom) wouldn’t follow through but she never let on, she never bad mouthed her. I was always so heartbroken and I never once stopped to think how it affected her, too.  How did she constantly soothe me as I was aching inside? Or when I would get mad at her for parenting me so I would say the easiest insult I could think of because I was young and children can be a-holes. How devastating must it have been to hear, “You’re not my mom!” from a kiddo that made you one? She is the unconditional mom.

When I was eleven, I moved to Mexico with an Aunt and Uncle for a year and a half. It was an incredible experience and helped me understand and learn my culture, proper Spanish, and family values. My Aunt became like a second mother to me, who taught me basic cooking skills, let me watch her put makeup on, told me about periods. She asked me questions about my BM, scolded me when I was getting too angry about it all, hugged me and held me tight when she could sense I needed it. She was tough love and deep love and gentle. She never trusted my ex-husband, took me aside and told me I deserved better. She adored meeting my Sam and told me I was an incredible mother full of love and she attributed it to all my heartache over feelings of inadequacy with my own experiences. “You are compassionate with Sam because you want him to know he’s loved, because it’s what you’ve been searching for,” she astutely told me one day. She was never more right about anything. We lost her to cancer a number of years ago and I think about the life lessons she taught me all the time. My aunt was a deep love Mom.

I remember hearing once that if you want to know what kind of a man someone is, to watch how they treat their mothers. It sounds legit, makes perfect sense but I am here today to tell you that is a CROCK OF SHIT sometimes. My ex-husband treats his mom like a queen and told me to my face that she came before me. He hit me in front of her once and she said to me, “You should have stopped arguing. He wouldn’t have hit you if you had stopped snapping back unnecessary comments.” Not all mothers are nice. Many are wearing blinders. It doesn’t even matter if your child is old and grown and pretending to be mature. Those blinders don’t always come off. She never liked me and the feeling was mutual and I’m so thankful every day that I don’t have to see or speak to her anymore. Her and her son hold no more power over me and it’s a beautiful feeling. She is the narcissistic mom. She’s not the only one I’ve known.

And then I met an absolute angel. Ku’s mom (and a lot of her family) are what I needed to see in terms of what a family can be. Even if it’s blended differently, even if there’s some divides, her mom has helped show me that amicability is absolutely possible, that motherhood doesn’t stop at any one age, that you will always worry about your littles, and that asking for help is okay. Asking for help is okay. Asking for help is okay. Sometimes you have to say things to yourself more than once so it sinks in. She teaches me how to be more thoughtful, how to love harder, how to let go when you need to, when trust is warranted, and how to talk about hard situations. I am so thankful she is in my life, all the time. ALL.THE.TIME. She is a thoughtful mom.

What I’ve been trying to say is that motherhood is a messy business. It isn’t always a happy feeling and one day a year doesn’t make it better. Sometimes motherhood is wished for, prayed for, pleaded for. Other times it happens when you weren’t expecting it, didn’t think you wanted it, don’t know how to do it. There’s the accidental mothers, the choose to be moms, the I’ll-be-what-you-need-me-to-be moms who fill voids and roles that you desperately seek. It’s a title with many sub-titles and those with the sub-titles, the prefixes, the add on, get inexcusably forgotten. It takes away from what they deserve and makes them feel less worthy. And almost every mom is a worthy mom.

A big I LOVE YOU to my Mom, my Aunt watching over me, and my Mother-in-Love. So much love. And to my Mom Friends, who inspire, motivate and encourage me to be better. Love to you, also.14264074_804611123011068_8170020838427018602_n