You don’t understand

comparison

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.

poehler

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

Dear Daddy

 

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Photo taken by: Shannon Sasaki Photography

Dear Daddy,

I got married last Sunday, the 2nd of July. It was the day after my grandparents celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary, which meant a lot to me.  I know you didn’t go and I know why, but  I wanted to share the details with you, because you haven’t asked yet and I really wanted to tell you about it at lunch the other day, but I would have ended up crying, and nobody likes a sad lunch.

From the moment I woke up, I could tell it was going to be gorgeous. The sun was shining and so was my heart. I didn’t think about whether you would change your mind or not, like I had for the last few months. I just felt excited and ready for all the memories. Ana and I went to get some decorations done first thing, which was a great idea. You remember Ana, right? She’s played cards with you at the restaurant before and she’s my best friend. She thought you would come even though I kept telling her it was a lost cause.

The weather could not have been more perfect. There was a slight breeze and so much light. Light in everyone’s eyes, in their hearts. This wedding meant a lot to many, especially me, and I wanted you to see that. I know you don’t understand homosexuality and gay marriage, but I know you understand love. I wanted you to see it. None of us could stop smiling or laughing easily at everything. I remember looking at all our friends’ faces and thinking, this is how I want to live every day for the rest of my life. Smiling and laughing this easily. It was a jovial sentiment and it was catching. I just know your heart would have felt lighter. You just had to make it there.

On our way back to the hotel, Ana and I, we had a deep chat. About being perfectionists and how to let things go. I think somewhere in our mix of wise words, I decided I wouldn’t fret about you on my day. I was going to practice letting go and I felt at ease. She wanted things to be just right for me and I think in a way, she was being what I would have wanted to see from you. Kulia talks a lot about how her parents will be there for me when you guys aren’t and sometimes I think that’s unfair. Except, not this time. Her father is not a fill in for you but he was so full of love and excitement. He clearly wanted nothing but happiness for her on our day. For us. I know for both of us. Ana filled in for you.

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We got to the hotel and started getting ready. There was a mimosa bar and food. Hustle and bustle and constant movement. I didn’t have it in me to think about you anymore, from that point forward. I was practicing letting it go, remember? Either way, I was having my hair and makeup done and chatting about Kulia and I’s crazy last five years together. How far we have come and how unstoppable we seem. It’s undeniable, Dad. We.are.good.together. We make goals and meet them, we push each other to keep growing. We bought an amazing house that we built, together. The boys, who I know were your biggest concern, are thriving. They have never been better. I know you see this. We all do.

I was thinking about that chat we had, our first serious one-on-one, when I moved back from Hawaii. I remember calling you on the beach, to say words to you that I had thought about sharing for over a decade. I was in an abusive relationship that I had finally left. I told you how he had treated me and you said, “You gotta respect yourself and do what’s right because you haven’t been living.” And then in the living room, that first night, you told me that divorce wasn’t the end of my life, but rather the start of a new one. Daddy, this new life isn’t what you imagined but I think it’s bigger than we could have both thought up.

I know it bothers you that I married a woman. I don’t see it that way. As I walked down the aisle, and saw the smiling/happy crying faces of those who love our love, I thought about math. Daddy, 3 + 1=4. I know that’s how you see it. But so does 2 + 2. So does 4 + 0. The thing is, there’s more than one way to answer a problem. All of those equations come to the same ending. That is love, for me. I didn’t fall in love with Kulia because she’s a woman. I fell in love with her soul. I feel like that’s more important than gender.

As we said our vows, I saw my Momma, Berta, Emily, Grandpa and Grandma sitting there and realized my wish hadn’t come true. Even in the midst of my own fairy tale, I couldn’t bippity boppity boo you there. And Berta was crying so many happy tears, full of love and joy for us. I almost lost it, in that moment. I almost cried.

We said our I do’s with the sun in our eyes and in our hearts. I am sorry you couldn’t be there to hear Kulia promise to respect and love me until her last breath. Isn’t that what every father wants? Someone to love their daughter almost as much as they do? Someone to help raise his grandkids to be gentlemen, to be life changers, to love and to respect? This is what I have, Daddy. And the thing is, I know you love Kulia for how she is with me. I know you can see it.

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The night ended as it should. With a beautiful sunset, deep hugs, fun photobooth pictures that I know you would have had no part of, and silly dancing. Everyone was floating on a cloud of love. Mom looked so happy, so full of excitement for our family. Berta and Gracia were loving on us and the boys. Everyone was there for the right reasons and while I’m not judging you, I think you weren’t for the wrong ones.

It reminds me of when I was around 10-11 years old. Working at the restaurant taught me so much, and sometimes without trying to. I was working with Uncle Louis one day, may his soul rest peacefully, when these two ladies came in. One had short hair, the other didn’t. I was bringing them their chips and salsa when Uncle Louis pulled me aside, laughing. Those are marimachas, he told me. I had no clue what he meant, so he explained to me what lesbians were. He defined that slang, offensive word. It was the first I had ever heard of them, and I got awkward. You pulled me aside and asked why I was being rude to our customers. You told me everyone was equal and you wouldn’t tolerate that behavior.

Where was that guy on Sunday? Did you think of me at all?  You told me, after lunch, that you love me no matter what. Did you mean, even if you’re gay and married to a woman? Is that my biggest travesty in life? I didn’t start this blog entry to be upset with you, but a part of me is, Daddy. I know I’ve taken you for quite a ride with my life. This is by far the least offensive; I feel that deep down. Loving her is more right than so many other things. At the end of the day, I will never regret it.

I love you, Daddy. No matter what.

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These five locos

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

What I got from 13 Reasons Why

vylitKu and I recently dove in, headfirst, to the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why.”

I’ll admit, I was hesitant at first. We recently had a young student in a nearby city take her own life, reasons unknown to me, but I hope not to her family. It shook me to my core, we both recoiled in horror when we found out about it. Suicide is nothing to take lightly, a serious act of which you lose control of righting it. It’s forever and leaves so much pain behind. I feel selfishly lucky that suicide hasn’t touched our family directly, but we felt total sadness at the passing of the middle schooler. Her name was Vylit (read: Violet).

Her death has been an upheaval for the town she lived in. Oddly, it hasn’t exactly brought everyone together. Lynden, where she lived and went to school, happens to be a very religious, Christian community. It is predominantly Dutch, with a large number or migrant dwellers, who move with the produce seasons. There is a divide, a feeling of judgement, an inability to integrate, just in general. Throw in something that has rocked every resident to their core, and it has become something short of ugly. There has been blaming, a desecration of religious beliefs, finger pointing, hurt, people have turned on the parents and family, or blaming the town, etc. We lived in Lynden for almost three years. Our kiddos were students there that whole time. It is picturesque, almost too clean, and definitely hard to feel welcome. We always chalked it up to the fact that we were two lesbians, not primarily Caucasian, living in one of the hardest communities to feel a part of. In all honestly, we never did. We lived on the same block the entire time and only knew one set of direct neighbors. We didn’t really know the rest.

During our time in Lynden, once deemed the highest ratio of churches per capita, we began dealing with two of our kiddos being diagnosed with two very different issues. Samuel, our oldest has ADD (attention deficit disorder). He had been failing fifth grade miserably, was repeatedly showing as below grade average for every subject. Doing homework was more work for us than him once he got home, he just didn’t have it in him to sit and do it. Abraham was diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). HE.CANNOT.SIT.STILL. He cannot follow multiple directions at once. He is definitely not calm, more emotional than his brothers. You can watch his mind go into overload in front of your eyes. But he isn’t unmanageable, he isn’t ridiculously outrageous with energy; not to me. Samuel was prescribed Ritalin and it was PURE MAGIC. He needed just a small dose and it was wonderful. All his grades went up. He was a different kid overnight and not at all in a bad way. Abraham, though. Complete different story.

AB began with Ritalin. It worked wonders for two seconds (read: a few weeks). Once the doctor realized he would need an adjustment of the dosage, she upped it a touch. It changed him. He became moody, withdrawn. My sweet, loving boy was turning inwards and it freaked us out. We switched it up to Adderall, to see if the composition of what is essentially a very similar drug, would make a difference. Again, the smallest dosage gave us a glimmer of hope, because it had begun to impede his learning. I want to note that we fully recognize medication isn’t the only way. It wasn’t our only method. This post isn’t entirely about Abraham and his diagnosis, nor do we want to be judged for medicating our children. If he had diabetes and needed insulin shots, we would have done that in a heartbeat. I see this as the same. That is my truth. It doesn’t have to be anyone else’s. So, his doctor wanted to try Ritalin with him. The smallest dose seemed promising, but when we upped the dose by a tiny amount, he got very dark. We noticed immediately. He was seven years old and had pure hatred in his small eyes. He was overly emotional, had extreme mood swings. We were coming home from Thanksgiving, around a lot of noise and family and he struggles with that. We could see it and were anticipating getting home to our little duplex so he could unwind. He was hard to calm in the car on the drive. He seemed so angry, just unreasonably upset for such a little guy. Our loving, thoughtful, funny mini-man.

We got home and I was on a phone call with an employee about something when Ku came in to the room, visibly upset. She asked me to get off the phone, that it was urgent. Abraham had been so pissed at life that he said the words you never want to hear, “I just want to kill myself.” How was that even possible?! How could a seven year old even KNOW about suicide? We were floored. I held him, hugged him. We told him how much we loved him. I asked him what I would do without my Abraham and he said, “You can find another.” We had never seen him this way and it freaked us out. We stopped the Ritalin. Apparently, changes in mood can happen but it is very rare. It makes perfect sense. AB is a rare specimen of a soul. He marches to the beat of his own drum, he is a natural problem solver, and wouldn’t you know that gets him into more problems than fixes them? His mind is naturally curious, he reads above his age level. He is too smart, sometimes, for his own good. We found him a counselor shortly after this and it was a major help, especially with us. We can read all we want on ADHD but his counselor was able to put into words what is going on better than any book; at least for us.

His being out there, different, unique has raised some concerns with us. He comes home and tells us about how he is bullied and we talk so much about it with him. The thing is, how do you teach your kiddos to stand up for themselves yet also develop a thick skin? Kids can be so mean, so honest, so hurtful. In turn, he started to be mean, also. It has been such a learning curve for us.

Enter in Hannah Baker, the protagonist of 13 Reasons Why. The show begins with her narrating the aftermath and explanation of her suicide. It has become widely talked about. Some people have felt triggers, based on their own history with suicide attempts, some want their teenagers to watch it. Some, like me, wanted to see what the buzz was about. It sounds sad. Well, of course it sounds sad. A teenage girl committing suicide? That’s a horror story we don’t want to be real. Ever. Ku and I watched it and talked about it. I feel like the show did a good job of making it feel like it could be any community any of us live in. It has not been without controversy, though. Is anything worth talking about ever, though? Without controversy?

I get that it can look like it’s glamorizing suicide. A part of me understands it so wholeheartedly and another part of me suggests that it has to, in a way, to really hit home with us. Or maybe there is added drama for the viewers to keep your attention. I know that this was a novel and that while it stuck pretty close (I’ve heard, I didn’t read it) to the book, some parts were changed, most importantly her method of death. It is much more gruesome in the series. There is also the notion that it’s pointing fingers. At 13 humans. Souls who, for the most part, are not bad people, but rather find themselves in situations where they either make a bad choice, aren’t mature enough to make the right one, or don’t know what to do so they remain silent. She put herself in a lot of terrible situations. Yes, I can see it. Yet, I also recognize that as a teenager, so did I. I made bad choices, wrong decisions, and that was how I learned. It’s how we all learn. The school is made to look like the bad guy. Yes, but our public education system can certainly seem like it’s failing our youth in many ways. Suicide awareness, bullying, rape culture, etc are all areas every school can improve in.

We recently learned that a friend’s daughter wanted to play on the football team. She is in fifth grade, but is beginning to develop. The boys on the team couldn’t stop asking her out, bothering her because she’s pretty, so she was taken off the team. This is along the lines of what Hannah talks about in 13 Reasons. Why is it always on the girl? If she looks too pretty, or dressed “scantily” she deserves to be raped. Was asking for it. How many times have we heard THAT argument? It’s horrendous. Our society has become one in where boys are being raised, even in the best homes, to believe that being told they are “acting like a girl,” is one of the worst insults for them. We aren’t teaching what consent looks like with the shows on tv, advertisements, how schools handle certain situations. A friend recently didn’t receive a promotion. She was told there was concern that the added stress of the position might strain her home life, yet the employee who was promoted has a family, also. He just happens to be male.

The inequality of genders is something I took away from 13RW. I also saw a lack of listening skills. Hannah tries to reach out at times, albeit clunky and not poised. Asking for help isn’t always gracefully done. Many times those she tried to tell were involved in issues of their own; it’s through no fault of theirs that they don’t hear her. She needed someone to stop and listen, or maybe not finish her sentences. I took away that I can ask my children questions and just stop my mouth and listen. Let them stumble through whatever it is they want to share. I can make time for them, foster them finding good friendships. Encourage them to talk to me. I watched it wondering how I would have responded to AB if he showed any of the signs that she did.

Suicide began to tear her parents apart. It wreaked havoc on friendships. I can’t imagine what it’s done for Vylit’s family, or her friends, or her classmates. I don’t even know that 13RW can create the right dialogue for anyone hurting from her loss. I certainly didn’t finish watching Hannah’s story and think, My kids need to watch this. Not one bit. I am thankful, though, that I did. I will say that it made me think about me, about my parenting, and how to be there for my boys. Yes, there was a lot more I can say, but I’m choosing to focus on this.

Much love to the VanderGiessen family. You are always in my hearts and I’m so sorry it’s because of the loss of your loved one.