Raising Men

 

 

 

littleloves

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.

threecrazies

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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15 Ways I knew I was in an Abusive Relationship

15 Ways to Recognize Abuse

October is fast approaching, which just so happens to be Domestic Violence Awareness month, but in all honesty, I feel like every month is it for me. I never lose that awareness. I never lose sight of what I’ve fought so hard to survive. When I think about my previous marriage and the things I went through with my ex-husband, all the red flags stick out. I recognize them now and wish my blinders handn’t kept me from acting on them during that long ten year period, but I want to speak them now, share them, give them a voice. It’s easy to call physical altercations abuse, because it’s so obvious, but it can be more than that. It’s also harder to acknowledge…

1 – He always wanted to know where I was

While we were dating, I thought it was understandable. We weren’t together 24/7 and so he just missed me so much that he had to message me constantly and would get upset when I didn’t immediately text right back. When I was pregnant, I made excuses for it. Of course, he had to know where I was because you never know when an emergency might happen, right? It took years for me to recognize this was his way of keeping control of me.

2 – He wasn’t nice to the waiter

I see this quote making its way around the web every now and then and I can instantly think of four handfuls of occassions when I witnessed my ex being extraordinarily rude to the waiter. You can’t be nice to some people and not others. Life doesn’t work that way. This in and of itself doesn’t spell abuser, but throw it in with a few more and it’s clear why I put it in here.

3 – He constantly judged my friends

Sure, we all have a crazy friend or two that might make your significant other wonder if they’re the best person to have around. We know why they’re our friends, but it’s not always easy to explain to someone you’re trying to keep around. My ex didn’t just like one person. He disliked all of my friends and he would nitpick each of them. It didn’t take me long to figure out it was easier to stop hanging out. When I wasn’t with them I wasn’t constantly answering texts on my phone regarding where I was or what we were doing, I wasn’t leaving early because he wanted me home for one reason or another, I wasn’t defending what I was up to, or explaining who all was there. The jealousy was overwhelming.

4 – He started making me skip school/work

I was a freshman at the University of Washington when we started dating. Yeah, it was cute to be convinced to skip one or two classes here or there, but it became a constant. One time he waited outside my Socioeconomics class until it was over, to make sure I came straight home after. I called out of work a bunch because “me being gone made him sick.” It was the worst kind of manipulation and I just kept giving in because his anger scared me.

5 – His anger scared me

This is the biggest red flag. I remember sitting with a friend recently, who was adamant she wasn’t in an abusive relationship and I asked her why she was certain she couldn’t go back home. She responded that it wasn’t safe, she wouldn’t be safe because she didn’t trust his anger. It was a sort of ah-ha moment that took me right back to the first time my ex got upset with me. He yelled so terrifyingly at me that I was legitimately scared. After that incident, anytime I could see his temper rising, I went into survival mode.

6 – He put me down in front of others

Whenever I did something commendable, he found something to be negative about. Sometimes it was obvious but more often than not, he found a way to say it in a way that made it sound constructive, helpful, or even right. Not everything we do will always be amazing, but constantly criticizing your significant other in front of people is deplorable. It’s no show of love, in my opinion.

7 – He kept trying to “teach me”

For some reason he had it in his head that I was a country bumpkin that hadn’t somehow gotten herself accepted to UW, which is not an easy task. Aside from putting me down, he would mansplain what I was doing wrong, no matter what it was. He would say things like, “I guess nobody taught you this, or nobody showed you how to be respectful.” Constant mansplaining. I am not stupid.

8 – He hit me

One day, after a major argument, his sister called as we were arriving at Target in North Seattle. He pretended as if everything was okay, as if he didn’t just yell at me until I was crying and felt two inches tall. He then had the audacity to hand his sister the phone so I could say hi and be “respectful” to her. When she asked me how everything was going, I said it could be better, if only he could be nicer to me. I said, “Tell him to be nice to me.” We never made it inside Target. We left right after the phone call, drove home in complete silence and as soon as we walked in the house, he exploded. It was the first time he actually hit me.

9 – He convinced me it was my fault

“If you hadn’t disrespected me to my sister, if you would have just done as you were told, if you hadn’t kept making me upset….” Two seconds after he struck me, I was apologizing. To him. The list of what I could do to deserve him losing his cool was neverending. NEVER.ENDING. For ten years. I could have written a 20,000 word book over all of the things that I DID to justify his rage. He always successfully made me think it was my fault. It was not my fault.

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10 – He monitored my phone

It wasn’t blatant, but rather sneaky. He was always reading through my text messages. He had the passwords to my emails. Not giving him the codes to stuff caused a fight. Made him accuse me of hiding stuff. While I almost never saw him reading my conversations, he would bring them casually up in arguments.

11- He took me away from everyone I knew

Right after we were married, he moved us to Southern California on the pretense we would be by family that wanted  us in their life. That was something he always threw in my face. My family isn’t like most. There isn’t this close Sunday-night-dinners and we-are-always-there-for-you feel like some people are so lucky to have. He did have that, to a fault if you ask me, and I could not have forgotten it if I wanted to. Eight years later he moved us to Hawaii because it was his last ditch effort to try to keep control over me. Moving away isn’t what makes it wrong, it’s making contact with those you need in your life impossible that is not okay.

12 – He corrected me in front of our children

I’m a firm believer in united fronts, as difficult as they may be with the undestanding that sometimes that won’t happen. In our case, whenever one of the boys asked me a question or if they could do something, he would override my answer or decision in front of them. It took away my credibility, which I feel like we still deal with sometimes, even now.

13 – He took away my method of communications

Things got especially heinous the year we moved to Hawaii. His answer to some mistakes on my end was to disconnect my phone, take away my car, deactivate my social media and monitor me even moreso. It was like living with the FBI. Both my Mother and my BFF at the time called the police to have them come check on me, which made matters worse.

13 – He allowed his parents to disrespect me

Whatever problems couples have in marriages, there should be some semblance of respect from either family. The thing is, even though we stayed together a whole decade, he always shared my downfalls to his mother, from the word go, so she constantly put me down. He allowed it.

14 – I always defended him

When my friends, family or anyone mentioned his behavior was questionable, I immediately defended him. I was about to type that I never understood why, but that’s not true. It’s because I took it personal, as proof that I had made the wrong decision in marrying him and desperately wanted to prove everyone wrong.

15 – He threatened me

Whether it was in regards to our children and leaving to Mexico with them, to “never be seen again,” or how if I left he would make sure everyone would know what a piece of shit I was, or that he would prove that I was an unfit mother, he would find the threat necessary to keep me from dialing 911, to keep me from seeking help, to stop me from leaving and to make me stay.

 

I haven’t even mentioned money. It’s a trigger for me. Yes, all of the above can be at any time, but finances and feeling like I have none will send me into a tail spin panic attack faster than you can say moola. Money stresses me out. Still. To this day. The thing is, domestic violence, which one in four women experience severe physical violence from their significant other, is a systematic pattern of power and control. It is not always physical. In all my reminiscing above, only one bullet point is about him putting his hands on me. The one constant component in each of my examples, is the constant effort to maintain both of those over me. Power and control.

My wish is that none of my friends have this in their relationships, but if you do, there is help. There is always help. Leaving isn’t easy. God, I know that is absolute truth. It doesn’t even end what was going on, because then, being “out of control” they become even more unpredictable, begin to harass and stalk and text ugly ish to you. Leaving is not easy, but it’s doable. And whether you’ve dealt with this for one day, month, year or decade, you can save yourself.

For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now.

If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.

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.

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Girl, be brave

brave

An AHA moment for me came recently.

I talk often of changing your life if you aren’t happy with it. Rewrite your shitty first draft, great things don’t come from your comfort zone, make today day one rather than  one day, etc. It’s a notion I have taken to heart so deeply, because life is so short. IT.IS.SO.SHORT. If you can do what it takes to stop being unhappy, I WILL CHEER YOU ON! Even 100 years is not but a ripple in the waters of this world.

Except, change is hard. I talk a lot about that, too. We all either work with or have worked with or know people who are hesitant/against/vocal about change. It’s hard, friends. I get it! Even the most adaptable people can find moments of struggle. I like to say that it takes one moment of insane courage to change your life. You just have to find it. A recent interaction with a friend experiencing a lot of change right now made me step back and re-evaluate my life motto. It’s incomplete.

Defining life moments can be grand when looking at them up close. Most of us can pinpoint very certain occasions in our past that changed our journey. We have to zoom out, though, to see that it was many, many decisions of bravery, of that insane courage that got us to that point. Not many things in life are sudden. Not many at all. I shared a story, a while back, of how my re-birthday was April 14, 2012 because that was the night I jumped out of a moving vehicle and ran for my life. Yes, it was such a big minute in time. If a movie were made about me I can guarantee that moment, so powerful and unmistakably brave, would have the heart stopping, dramatic music playing during the scene. I didn’t need music that night, though, because my heart was pounding hard enough in my ears to have drowned any sound out, anyway.

My story of leaving a decade of abuse is tough to talk about. Still. Yet, I keep doing it because a) it’s aiding my healing and b) it’s helping, even if a tiny bit, change the view of domestic violence, because there is a stigma. In my opening up about my experiences and how I left, what I learned about the process, my self-discovery and how I and my family still deal with it now has shown me something deeper. There’s a c) now. There have been people reaching out to me for help, to get some questions answered, or just to share their story. Not just about domestic violence, but so many issues. Eating disorders, self-hatred, molestation at a young age, rape. I’ve been told things that just break my heart.

There are statistics about domestic violence that I know very well. One in four women experience sever physical intimate partner violence, meaning they are together, or dating, or married. One in four. Without meaning to, when I’m surrounded by a bunch of females, I think about that number. I think about the many people who probably think it can’t possibly be that high, except when I’m in that group, that is me. One in three woman experience physical intimate partner violence, so maybe they didn’t have the shit beaten out of them, or were choked or forcefully shoved into concrete, but an abuse of force was used on their bodies. This doesn’t even account for the verbal, emotional and psychological abuse that organizations such as *DVSAS, of which I am on the board, recognize. The court system tends to only recognize physical abuse when requesting a protection order. The other forms of abuse are harder to get legal help with. They are even harder to prove.

I sat with a friend not too long ago, during a hard time in her life. I held her hand, hugged her, listened. It was hard. When I think of my story, the things I went through, my one big moment of bravery to leave, I only thought about it from my point of view. That makes sense, right? I watched it through my eyes. While I was sitting there, hearing reasoning and worry, vacillation between two shitty choices that just creates deafening guilt because there are repercussions either way,  and justifications being made, I listened harder. I thought of my experiences and how I did the same things. When we parted ways after, I got in my car and cried. I remember my one huge shift; calling Kulia on the side of the road in the middle of the night, trying to remember where I was and coordinating how I could stay hidden, just in case but she could still find me. All of a sudden there was a movie playing in my head of all the many other courageous moments I had, like when I shared that I was being abused and when I took the time to write down when he hit me that I could remember and put dates to them. I was back in my work’s lunchroom, sitting on a dirty 70’s style couch, dialing the numbers to numerous divorce attorneys and meeting no success because not having money gets you turned down from help really fast, friends. I was sitting across from my manager and assistant manager, on the eve of my last day of work with them, answering why I haven’t been myself the past couple of weeks, why my work was suffering. They thought I had leaving-itis. They made it clear I had let them down. Not once did they ask me if I was okay or safe. Not once did I offer that information up.

I never thought about Ku’s side. Of how it must have felt to hear someone tell you things no voice should ever share. As I sat in my driver seat, I texted her and told her I was crying. That I don’t know how she did it, I don’t know how anyone does. How do you sit there and have your heart break over words that cause so much pain, how do you hear them blame themselves, call themselves selfish and not scream out in agony? She listened so intently without telling me I was worthless, a piece of shit, only thinking about myself. She didn’t hurt me when I needed love. She was pure grace while I fell apart and I never even noticed how. And being kind of, not all the way, but sorta, in that boat was so.damn.hard. It shook me to my core. If it did that to her, I couldn’t tell. All she ever did was hold me. If you had that or have that in your life, someone who was unconditionally there for you, get up and go hug them. Run to them, kiss their cheek, tell them thank you. You probably already have, but do it again anyway. Life is short.

Yes, you can make a giant, easy-to-see step of epic proportions to change your life. Just remember that you are also taking baby steps, even if they are hard to see. And don’t you ever give up on them. Those baby steps are making progress. I guarantee it. If you need help, someone to talk to, or a place to feel safe, we are always here for you. I am always here for you.

*DVSAS stands for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services. This phenomenal organization is located in Bellingham, WA and is open to anyone needing help. You can find more information at http://www.dvsas.org including how to volunteer, donate and/or attend one of it’s upcoming events. Not everyone will be as vocal as I am. That’s okay. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

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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

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

 

Body Image Vibes

IMG_2377“Mom,” my oldest says to me one night. A deep, pensive night. He has stuff to say to me and I make sure to turn to him to give him some undivided attention. Sam, my meanager, as I lovingly call him, has always been a deep thinker. English is his second language; he didn’t learn it until he was in kindergarten. I thought it was the right thing to do, definitely thought it would give him a leg up in the world. Being fully bilingual before he started first grade would have been an awesome gift. Except, that didn’t happen. He was fully immersed in his class, had no classmates to converse with in Spanish, and began struggling from the word go. He doesn’t have either language mastered. His brain just wasn’t wired for it. I try to remember that when he is trying to chat with me and cannot find his words. Tonight is no different.

“Sometimes, when you come to pick me up at school, people see you and start laughing. They say, Sam, your Mom is so fat. It really makes me angry.”

What do you say to that? I want to tell him it doesn’t bother me, that my size doesn’t determine my worth. I find myself saying these words, but the truth is, it does affect me. I would be being untruthful if I didn’t acknowledge that. I feel myself go into robot mode, tell him that it’s a cheap insult and he should shrug it off. That him getting upset shows that he loves me and that’s all that matters to me. I speak slowly and with little emotion. The last thing I want to share with him is that I’ve been hearing it my whole life and it sucks and I try to not let it define me. Except, it does.

I can almost pinpoint the moment I realized I wasn’t looked at the same as some kiddos along with the moment I realized that when someone really wanted to hurt your feelings, especially if they were family or friends, they would immediately go for your biggest insecurity. It’s something I have a hard time doing today, even when I really want to. Cutting people with your words is easy, but what are you sacrificing to gain a moment of superiority? For me, it was my thighs. I’ve heard it all. Damn, check out those stumps! Oh, hey thunder thighs. Your legs are COTTAGE CHEESE! I started saying it myself. And what’s worse is when I’m having a really shitty day, even now. Even in these times, because nobody says horrible things to me like I do; I will stand in front of a mirror and tell myself I am fat, ugly, have the most horrendous thighs, the biggest baby apron, the widest bat wings. I tell myself all of it, because I’ve been hearing it for so long.

These thighs of mine have been the cause of a lot of stress, learning, working around. I’ve dealt with chafing, pants not fitting right, clapping when I go down stairs, ruined pants, not fitting in chairs, having to turn sideways to fit through aisles. They are chock-full of cellulite and jiggle. They are HARD.TO.LOVE.

Enter yesterday.

I was fresh back from NOLA, feeling really bloated and blah. Traveling makes me swell and even more self-conscious. I decided it was a fat pants day. Squeezing into my normal pants and feeling gross just didn’t sound like the kind of 24 hours I wanted to have. I headed to work and visited with friends. It was all making me feel better until I sat in the conference room and felt something cold on my inner thigh. And then it dawned on me. My pants had ripped in the inner thigh. AGAIN.

These are the kinds of things some people just won’t get. They don’t understand it. Their clothes don’t have to be replaced more often because their legs, butt, arms, whatever aren’t breaking down their articles of clothing faster. It’s humiliating and frustrating having to explain why I need a new pair of jeans or leggings. Why I don’t wear skirts or dresses as often as I want. It’s harder still to acknowledge that even though I am far into my journey of getting healthy and fit, I STILL HAVE BIG ASS THIGHS. AND A STOMACH. AND BAT WINGS. When I run into people, I feel like they are sizing me up (pun intended) because I CONSTANTLY size myself up. I don’t understand why I’m a year and a half in to this and I’m not a size 12 like I so desperately want to be. I try not to be envious of the people who cut out soda and lost ten pounds immediately. My body works against me every single day and I don’t get it. I got divorced and gained weight, which is opposite of most people. I get stressed out and gain weight. I stop eating and the pounds pack on quickly. I eat less and samesies. I weigh myself every day and it goes up. I weigh myself once a month and sure as shit, it creeps. Yes, I lose inches but my brain cannot love the scale no matter how hard I try to convince it.

I had packed my stuff for a run in the afternoon. I changed and drove to a nearby park that has trails. I told myself I would run for 2.5 miles and then go home. Becoming a runner has been one of the bigger surprises that I took on in 2015. I constantly told myself I could never do it, and then little by little proved to myself that I could. I am by no means a sprinter but I can go long distances. I remember being freaked THE HELL OUT to run a half marathon and so I committed to, signed up for, and paid for one. I dove into training and worked my ass off, but only figuratively. The day came and I did it without stopping once to walk and it was phenomenal. Except, then I stopped running diligently. I let excuses win more and more. I told myself it was okay, because I was still getting other workouts in. Sometimes.

Now I have another goal in mind, much different than a half-marathon. It’s Ragnar season and I was invited to be on a team for the second year in a row. The thing is, I was more prepared last year because I was still running some, not as much time had passed so my endurance was still up. I also took on a longer run position, with my first leg being over 5 miles long. Running 2.5 right now doesn’t seem like much, but it is. It’s eternal.

I was on the trail, going slow and steady; much slower than I am happy with but continually telling myself that at least I am out there. Usually I will incessantly check my running watch to see how far I have gone and what my pace is, but that makes me crazy and get hard on myself, so I mentally tell myself I won’t do that today. And I don’t. I stay true to my word. When I run, I don’t use headphones. Listening to things, especially music, distracts me. It’s bizarre and unheard of, apparently. Me? I like to run in silence. I’ve found a tranquility in the pain, beauty in the rhythmic movements. I focus on my breathing, control my gait as much as I can. I revel in the landscape and admire our Earth. Running did things I couldn’t find a way through. It reminded me how to be proud of myself, what it felt like to reach a goal. It helped me reconnect with my emotions on a very cellular level. Ku likes to joke that running made me human again and the reality is, she was right. I didn’t cry for a number of years after leaving my abusive ex. I was certain that all my tears were dried up for good. Running brought that ability to feel deeper back to me.

The one thing I had on was my mileage tracker. A velvet computer lady voice that tells me when I hit a mile. I hit two and thought, half a mile to go. I had fleeting thoughts about walking. My mind tried to convince me that nobody would know, because no one was around. Except, I would know and I would speak poorly to myself. Heaven knows I don’t need more reasons to do that.

As I’m trying to reach my goal, I pass a playground on my right, where there are two older kids playing on a tire swing. A young teenage girl is trying to swing a similarly aged boy and they are enjoying their time. She must have caught a glimpse of me, huffing and puffing along the gravel trail and she points and starts laughing.

“Look at that fat girl try to run.”

He turns and starts laughing, too.

Yet I just truck on, because they are right. I am fat. And I am trying.

I looked down at my run watch and realize I’m at 2.6 and then I think, well, that’s closer to 3 so I might as well run 3 miles today. What’s .4 more, at this point? And not far up ahead, a runner is coming towards me in the opposite direction, wearing a hot pink tank top and cute little running shorts. Now there’s a runner! As we get closer to each other, she smiles and in turn I smile back. She waves to me and says, “Great job!” It means so much more to me than those kids.

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You see, I do have thunder thighs but when I finished, I took a moment to stare down at them, with my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath. These bad boys helped me leave a decade of domestic violence behind me. They helped me jump out of a vehicle and run for freedom. They have taken me across multiple finish lines after so many miles, so many more than a lot of people have run, they have helped me walk into new opportunities that have been life changing and in NINE DAYS they will walk me down the aisle to the love of my life. Yesterday, I could have hated them more than anything but after a small poor-me moment, I reflected on how far these boom sticks have taken me.

And I loved them.

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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!

 

Three days of getting (re)fresh, as told by Vee

Guess who’s going to Hawaii in three sleeps (read: today)!!?!?!?! This beezy RIGHT HERE!!! My brother-in-love is getting hitched, saying I do, and bidding farewell to that bachelor life that he always made look so friggin fun. We are so excited! And you know what Hawaii means? It means you’ll be on a beach at least once, probably spending some hours at a pool, and wearing a lot less clothes than you have been for the last ten months because Washington gave you the longest winter in all of history. So you do a reality check, realizing that birthday month was a treasonous time in your life and you acknowledge that every article of clothing you wear now fits snug (read: tight) and you haven’t even worked out recently. As in at least a week. I figured it’s never too late to recommit to your health journey, so I ordered myself a 3-Day Refresh from my fave peeps down at Beachbody and read the rules yesterday to get ready.

Now, what is the refresh? First off, it’s a fancy schmancy title for a cleanse that restricts dairy, meats (read: proteins) and treats (read: wine) for a whole effin 72 hours. Doesn’t that sound like a nice cup of “stab me repeatedly with a fork for three days?” Needless to say, we ate pizza, drank wine and had fudge chocolate treats Sunday. We are the worst kind of cleansers. It is three daily shakes, a fiber drink, an ocean of filtered water, and rationed portions of fresh fruits and veggies. THAT.IS.IT. And here is an unbiased account of the ordeal:

Day 1: Today I woke up at 7 after hitting snooze an eff ton of times. I didn’t want to get out of bed. My eyes were so heavy. When you can finally manage to haul your bloated ass out of bed, you’re supposed to drink around 10 ounces of water to get your system (does this mean your digestive track? Like, get ready to poop?) going. I had a water bottle by the side of my bed but I had gotten thirsty at night so I estimate it only had around 6 in it. That may or may not be remotely right. I’m a horrible estimator of liquids. Suffice to say I drank the water and felt it hit the PITS of my stomach. Of COURSE I would wake up on day one of my refresh starving. Typical.

Within an hour of waking you drink your first shake. Yay there because I love my shakeo! Except I didn’t drink it on time because it’s frowned upon to show up to work ugly. And when I rushed to make it, I started out with too much water and not enough ice so it was a weird texture and consistency (super watery) so it felt like I was drinking super diluted iced coffee (I am drinking the vegan café latte for this). It didn’t feel like breakfast, when my shakeo normally does. Along with the shake you eat your first installment of fruit. Up first on the menu is a cup of cantaloupe that I actually measured! That’s already a win because I try to eyeball everything. My one downfall? I forgot to eat the fruit at the same time as I was drinking my shake. When I remembered I could have it, I SNARFED it down in two seconds. You guys. A cup of cantaloupe is just enough to make you CRAZY hungry but not enough to make you even feel like you ate. Throw on top of that a work lunch I’m planning so I was on the Fred Meyer’s catering website looking at pictures of baked chicken, fried chicken, sushi platters, sides. This is torture to the umpteenth degree. I am never as hungry as when I tell myself I’m doing something to feel better. Every time I think I need food I make myself guzzle some water. PS, I’ve gone to the bathroom six times and I’ve only been up for four hours. And because I can’t stop thinking about how empty my stomach feels, I set a timer on my phone for when I can have my next shake, which is the Vanilla Fiber Sweep. I foresee more bathroom breaks. Yikes.

Vanilla Fiber Sweep is done. I drank it fast because I’ve read other people’s accounts of the flavor of it so I was anticipating liquid death. I chugged it SO FAST because almost everyone says you can’t let it sit for more than a few minutes or it changes into a fire-breathing dragon that promptly makes you it’s meal. Shit, that dragon would be getting more of a mouthful than I currently am. Good news, there was no time to let anything evolve into anything dangerous and I basically shot-gunned a really tasty drink. I would equate it to an original orange Julius, which is doubly bizarre, being as it’s vanilla. The deed is done, either way and now I have to wait at least an hour before I can have my lunch. Yes, there’s another timer set and yes, I am going to drink more water.

1:00: Lunch time. FINALLY. I mixed my vanilla fresh shake, took my rhubarb salad out that I made yesterday, grabbed my baggie of strawberries and filled my water. I was making myself wait a little longer because somehow that felt much less dramatic. I mentally told myself I would eat slow and savor every bite because 2/3 cup of rhubarb salad IS NOT REALLY EVEN ONE BITE OF FOOD, that I would not down my shake like it was a margarita. YOU GUYS. I’m a liar liar pants on fire and lunch was inhaled in less than three minutes. It’s been less than an hour since and not ONCE did my stomach feel like it had anything in it.

2:23: I found a little Styrofoam box of pad-see-uw in the mini fridge from lunch last week Friday. I heated it up and told myself I would only have a few bites because I NEED FOOD. I picked out the broccoli and ate it because broccoli is allowed on the refresh even though I’m almost positive its not allowed when it has a delicious sauce on it (I’ll just double check what the list of guilt-free flavorings says about that) and told myself I wasn’t cheating. Then I told myself I could have two bites of rice noodle and that would be it. I then had four little bites because I can’t be trusted and then threw the box away because otherwise it was about to be shoved into my pie-hole (yum, pie sounds AMAZING) and because I started to get angry with myself. I am only seven hours into this shit-show and I’ve already messed up. This is why I have jelly-belly and this is why I have more than one chin. Send BOSS BABE vibes this way, because I need all.of.them. Now I’m drinking water and pissed.

4:00: I ate a teaspoon of almond butter and downed 700 ounces of water, at least. I’m not even exaggerating here. I feel empty but I don’t feel EMPTY. See, I’m so hungry ish isn’t even making sense anymore.

4:50: My iWatch just told me to stand up. That’s fine since I HAVE TO PEE ANYWAY.

6:00: I’m at my son’s baseball game and I have to urinate so bad that I have lower back pains. Ku texted me beforehand and asked if I wanted her to bring me strawberries and my response was something like, “Yes, I can have 12. And if you think you might want some also, please bring more than 12 because I need ALLMYSTRAWBERRIES. I texted that to my wifey, friends. And she didn’t throw fruit at my face when I got to the game and she didn’t threaten to leave me. I want to add that the fact she even stuck around the rest of the night without yelling PEACE and throwing her hands in the air is AMAZEBALLS. I would have run for the hills.

10:00: Went to bed listening to the relaxing sounds of my STOMACH GROWLING and some pretty horrendous releases of gas. Today sucked. I realized I am completely emotionally addicted to food. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been such an effin sourpuss all damn day. I may need more than 3 days to break this.

DAY 2

7:00: Woke up and said, “I’m starving,” right out the gate and then realized that wasn’t actually true. My stomach hadn’t even said good morning. It was when I downed my 10 ounces of water that I remembered my stomach had a bottom. All that water found it, quick. I also didn’t drink my shake within that first hour. I’m a natural rule breaker. I just can’t help it. PS, I ALSO forgot to eat the fruit at the same time again. Frick!

1:00: I’ve not stopped thinking about food and how hungry I am. I had to pick up lunch for the office, which is straight out of chapter one in the book of “Ultimate Corporal Punishment for your Subordinates.”

1:30: Got to the office with the FRIED CHICKEN, BAKED CHICKEN, BBQ CHICKEN, MACARONI SALAD (I love macaroni salad. I friggin LOVE IT) and POTATO SALAD. I don’t know why I just yelled that. I ran to my office and grabbed my effin rhubarb salad and my water and joined my co-workers in the conference room with every intention of not straying. And then five minutes later I had a sliver of bbq chicken and one teaspoon of macaroni salad in my container and I ate it super slow. I savored EVERY BITE and then got upset because I have done some pretty hard shit in my life. Why can I not control what goes in my mouth?

9:00: I told myself I was going to have a hard boiled egg because I’m certain not consuming protein is a death wish. There is no way this program knows what it’s talking about. But then I didn’t, so win there! Oh, let’s also throw in that I weighed myself this morning and I didn’t lose ONE OUNCE of weight yet. And somehow that’s determining my success with this. Goodnight, world. I cannot with today, anymore.

Day 3

I woke up this morning, drank my water and felt a little better. I almost just typed refreshed but I refuse to give this program any kudos. Yet.

Some point in the middle of the day: I am not starving. My thoughts are not consumed with food on the constant. I have felt more awake, more able. More in CONTROL and that is pretty phenomenal. The whole day goes by and I’m drinking my water, eating my food, following the plan and not once do I feel deprived today. I’m doing the thing. I’m friggin crushing it!

9:00: Ku and I pack for Hawaii and my whole time home I didn’t think about how I was so hungry and needed dinner now. I had a half a cucumber and felt good. WHAT THE WHAT? We went downstairs after getting a lot of packing done and Ku made some quesadillas and convinced me to have half of one. It was a whole wheat tortilla and some crock pot pork, so I decided to have it. I only ate the half, ate it slow, really enjoyed it and had ONE GLASS of wine. Over the course of two hours. If I won at anything, it was in THAT.

When I woke up Thursday, off the refresh, I didn’t immediately want food. I feel like I look the same, perhaps a touch less bloated. I took my after photos and see it, that the bloat is gone. I want to keep that ish going! Where the real transformation happened is in my mentality about food. I have not forgotten the feeling of absolute emptiness I had on Day 1 and Day 2. I always knew I was an emotional eater; I mean, I’ve been living this life for 35 damn years! Really seeing the grip my nutrition has on me made me realize why I haven’t had more success in my journey. It makes TOTAL.SENSE. Overall, I’m down four pounds. I don’t want them back. I’m cutting those toxic pounds out of my life FOR GOOD because they have been like herpes with my health journey. BE GONE!

I’m not going to say I’m going to be perfect from here on out, because I cannot lie to my friends. I will say that I’m going to try maintain smaller portions, remind myself I do not really need more food or carbs or an eff ton of meat (that was the hardest, giving up my meats. I don’t know how vegetarians do it!) or six glasses of wine. Because all of that has happened.

You want to try the refresh out? Hit me up. I would totally be up for torturing myself alongside you, because who doesn’t want to push the boundaries of just how much your loved ones will put up with. AMIRIGHT?!?!

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The trigger effect

forgivenessA car door slamming shut outside. Unexpected people walking up behind me. Fast movements out of the corner of my eye. Our account balance dipping below a certain dollar amount. Roses and tiramisu. Innocent questions about silly things like dinner or what I did all day. Tall men who tower over me.

All such different things but each with the same effect on me. They are triggers. My triggers that instantly put me somewhere scary, places where my breath is stuck, my heart is racing. They make me disoriented, flood me with adrenaline and put a wall around my brain within seconds.

A friend recently compared herself to me. She said she was an open book, just like I was and I really pondered that comment for days. Maybe even weeks. Am I really that open, I wondered? Yes, I put myself out there and talk about very vulnerable moments in my life. Are you an open book if you only share certain chapters? I will answer almost anyone’s questions as honestly as I can, and yet I think so much of me remains hidden. There are easy things to talk about such as being a mom raising three boys with my wife by my side. I can talk about my weight and what I’m doing to get healthy on the inside and even how I’m helping my brain and my mind feel better. I like to share love stories, laughter, the stupid things I do because the journey of rebuilding has been such a beautiful process. Even the lows are incredible highs compared to before.

I couldn’t even think about my decade long of surviving domestic violence until recently. Watching anything remotely like what I had put up with on TV gave me anxiety, made me look away with pain and disappointment. Friends would ask me some questions and I would freeze up, trying to figure out how to change the conversation immediately. Yes, I bring it up now, but still mostly in written form. My throat seizes up. It doesn’t even take asking. It could happen at the drop of a dime at any one of the triggers listed above, many more I can’t think of at the moment. For ten whole years, I was in flight or fight with sprinklings of okay moments I could handle. It wasn’t always horrible but I always felt unsafe.

About a year ago I downloaded The Book of Forgiving, by Desmond Tutu and would play it whenever I drove somewhere. At first I told myself that I had picked it out of a long list of books I wanted to read because it popped up on the “recommended” list and was on sale. The reality is that I needed this book in my life; forgiveness doesn’t come easy to most but it was undoable for me. I held on to things so fiercely. I began to listen to it with this “I will never forgive him” mentality. Let’s hear what Desmond has to say. Either way, I will not forgive him. I will not forgive them because I had an Arya Stark list of who had egregiously wronged me and it was written in stone.

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The book began and I was surprised at how calming it was. Desmond Tutu narrates it and while his voice is nothing close to monotonous, he manages to maintain his voice at the same volume, with inflection and emotion but never overwhelming. I found I couldn’t listen to it with the close-minded mentality I had hit download with. Little by little I found myself excited to drive somewhere. My commute to work was pleasant now, enriching my thoughts. I still felt like I couldn’t figure out forgiveness, but I kept listening. My heart was yearning for something and this was helping me listen.

**If you think I’m about to say I finally forgave my ex to which your response will be an eye roll or something equally justifiable, please bear with me.**

“Forgiveness means you are given another chance at a new beginning,” he said gently. I needed him to say that without fire or passion. I needed it to creep into my heart through the breaks and the cracks, and somehow he knew that was the only way. When I heard that, I parked my car in its normal stall, turned it off and took a few deep breaths. I have been so hell bent on rewriting my shitty first draft. I was CRUSHING it, in my opinion even though I knew I had some major road blocks. I didn’t think this was one of them. “If you can find it in yourself to forgive, then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator.” When he said this, I literally stopped in my tracks. Well, un-literally, as I was driving, but my thoughts did! It was in that moment that I realized I didn’t endure 3.650 days (plus some) of mental, physical and verbal abuse to spend ONE MINUTE more on it. “When we forgive, we take back control of our fate and our feelings. We become our own liberators. We don’t forgive to help the other person. We don’t forgive for others. We forgive for ourselves.”

And that was my ah-ha moment, friends. It was in that moment that I realized I needed first and foremost, to forgive myself. And I needed to forgive FOR myself, as well. The thing is, reading (or in this case, hearing) something said to me, no matter how absolutely perfect and full of sense it is, doesn’t fix the problem automatically. It still takes action. Requires a sense of desire, at least, to move forward towards that. One tactic Desmond shares, some wisdom he so graciously shared, was to give your hurt a voice. Don’t brush it aside and pretend it never happened, but rather, talk it out, talk about it with friends, write your thoughts down in a journal, pick a rock and name it your hurt. Carry it in your pocket and rub it in your hand and when you’re ready, place it somewhere. Leave it there. Behind you, rather than carrying it with you on your person.

I only did one of those things, and it was to begin journaling about it. Except, it was kind of an accident and it happened without me realizing it. That journal is this blog. Did I start this whole endeavor thinking, “What about my past life of hell am I going to share with my friends today?” No. But little by little, I keep thinking of things I want to share and often times, it’s about that. It makes perfect sense to me. My past marriage was wrought with so much pain on so many levels. I didn’t jump out of a vehicle and run for my life one night, five years ago to just move on and get over it in one day. Hell, it took me almost three years to even really start saying something to someone other than Ku. If someone would have said I would join the board of DVSAS even two years ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. I might have called you a liar. Even reaching out about joining gave me sky-high anxiety. And it was in that second that I knew I had to do it. Enough with being comfortable. Enough with wallowing in my inner pity party. I had to continue rebuilding and this was me staying on that path.

While listening to Desmond’s book has opened my heart up to understanding forgiveness, not just in the case of my ex-husband, but also other travesties I’ve held deep inside, I will say I didn’t come out SAVED by it. A book isn’t saving me any more than any one thing will. It merely provided me with some necessary tools to begin my own process. For me, forgiveness has become less about letting someone off the hook for something they may not even be sorry for, but freeing myself from all the negative energies that were binding me to them.

So, what about those pesky triggers? I can talk and talk about the act of forgiving; feel really good about life in general, and then I’ll hear a car pull into the garage and the door slam shut and before I know it I’ve jumped off the couch and rushed to the kitchen to pretend I was busy preparing a dinner I hate because I can’t cook and I already know nobody will like it. Except it’s Ku that walks in the door, excited to see me, giving me a hug and a kiss and I act like I wasn’t just in freak out mode, like I am not scrambling to make something because I remember that she was cooking dinner tonight. I hear one of the boys come in from playing outside and they are happy and everyone’s smiling and I realize I’m not in a small apartment with almost no furniture with someone yelling at me, pushing me against a wall. And it’s been over FIVE years.

Two weeks ago I attended a work luncheon about preventing bullying in the workplace. The facilitator was a retired law enforcement official. He was squirrelly, spoke robustly, but never made me feel intimidated. I suppose that matched the theme of his session, now that I look back. He went over what bullying is, why people do it, what to do if you see it happening, and why people don’t step in when they witness it. I found myself listening more for information that I could take back to my kiddos, especially Abraham. I wasn’t listening necessarily for myself, but rather to pass on when I saw fit. And then a face in the crowd asked a question that he read into deeper. He had said earlier that he estimated about 70-80% of any given crowd has been a victim of bullying, which he defined as an abuse of power that is repeated. He began discussing triggers, because we tend to respond differently to conflict when we personally feel triggered.

I perked up because I know I have some. Fearlessly, and I’m not sure where this came from, but I shot my hand up. It had just the right amount of gumption, because he saw it right away and called on me.

“Let’s say you recognize a trigger. How do you desensitize yourself from it?” I asked him. He looked around the room. “Does anyone else here want to know? It’s not really what today is about, but if enough people in the room are up for it, I can take a moment and give one desensitizing trick I’ve learned.” I’m guessing enough heads bobbed yes for him to dive in. “Here it is,” he said.

Step 1: Take a handful of deep breaths. Really deep breaths. Breathe in slow and breathe out slow.

Step 2: Tell yourself the date and where you are. This helps bring your brain back from whatever memory it decided to visit. It confuses it, stops the synapses mid-way and recalls them to somewhere else. Somewhere safe.

Step 3: Tell yourself you are ok. Say it as many times as you need to.

It could sound like this: Deep breath. Deep breath. Deep breath. Today is Monday, May 22, 2017 and I’m in my kitchen. I am ok. I am ok. I am safe. I am ok.

I don’t remember much of his other content. I’m glad he answered this and gave us some help. I’ve tried it out twice now and so far, so good. While I hope I don’t need to use it anymore, I know that isn’t logical so I will keep applying it, keep saying it, and keep breathing because I am okay. I am safe and I am happy.

And thank you for reading this. You are helping me heal.

Crazy Vee