Reserving Judgment

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***This all started as I thought to myself one day: we’re all on different journeys, at different rates, with different abilities and resources. I have to stop being so judgmental. I then decided to write this super long essay that somehow connected these thoughts to plants.

***

I’ve grown plants from seeds before. You fill a seed tray with fresh soil from the garden section of Home Depot and feel like a domestic goddess while doing it, wearing your new garden gloves that you bought while waiting in the check-out line (because you can’t find the other pair you never used). As you drive home you imagine all of the things you will grow for the gourmet meals you don’t even know how to make. Once you’ve distributed enough soil, then you carefully push a seed down into the middle of each cup–not too far down–but enough so each seed can be covered. Then, firmly pat the soil down before sprinkling a little water to moisten it. You will feel like a rockstar with a green thumb for successfully making it look like something that might actually be viable. Next: your vigilance for a few weeks to make sure there is enough water and plenty of sunlight (but not too much!). Assuming you didn’t mess up any of the steps, one day you’ll go outside and find tiny seedlings poking through the dirt. Each successive day will bring more growth, until one day you have proper plants in need of transplanting.

At this point I should disclose that this isn’t an essay on gardening. To tell you the truth, I suck at gardening. I have only grown sunflowers and strawberries with consistent success, but only because they are very forgiving plants. I just wanted you to have the image of the seedlings in your mind.

Here’s the thing about the seedlings: they are all guaranteed to grow differently. Some will never push through the dirt. There will be robust seedlings that grow quickly. Some will be the late bloomers. Even for the stronger ones, there is still a long journey ahead of them. They have to survive being transplanted. There will be more growing to do. It’s hard to say which ones will produce the prettiest flowers or the juiciest fruits or the crispest vegetables. Only time will tell. Also, a gardener has to consider numerous external factors that impact the plants, like insects and disease. Nothing is guaranteed–the seedlings could easily end up in a compost pile, decomposing amidst a heap of food scraps.

I was thinking about the seedlings in the context of our human lives.

I’m a really judgmental person. I’m trying to curb this. I want to get better. I want to have more restraint in the way that I tend to jump to conclusions. But here’s the thing: how can I not judge somebody for espousing rhetoric that is hurtful to other people?

Recently somebody posted on a mutual friend’s Facebook saying that women should be submissive to men, according to his interpretation of the Bible. Nobody else said a word on the string. Now, maybe people were just avoiding an internet flame war, but this wasn’t just trouble-making snark. This was a real conversation in which the individual truly believed that a higher being created females to be obedient to men. I can’t accept teachings that a person should be submissive to another person because of their sex. That’s absolute medieval hogwash and I find it difficult not to judge the man who said it, or the people who said nothing.

It’s hard to not judge people who have made hideous mistakes. The crack addicted parent who is negligent of their child, for example.

People who seem to constantly make bad choices that perpetually complicate their lives. I know you know those people. I know them too.  

Politicians who say racist things and make decisions that hurt people.

The people who vote for those politicians, the ones who stay silent even when other people are hurt.

People who exploit others.

Anyone who causes other people pain.

Dishonest people. Vain people. Greedy people. Lazy people. Shallow people. Fake people.

Even the jerk from this morning who kept weaving in and out of traffic and cutting people off. And the punk who parked behind me this afternoon and wouldn’t move.

The list could go on and on.

Still, even when I feel justified in judging another person, I need to get better at reserving my judgement.

I have to remind myself that I can not judge a life that I have not lived. It reminds me of what my dad used to tell us when we were kids: you never know the burdens that other people carry.

It’s not easy. We are human beings and we form opinions. I have a lot of opinions. I’m constantly having to remind myself to hold back, although I am getting better with age.

But how can I not form an opinion about people, thereby judging them? If somebody says or does something that hurts other people, or hurts me, I am going to have an opinion. If I stay silent, I feel like I am passively agreeing with their opinions. If I don’t say anything, I silently convey to the other person that it is okay to keep doing what they are doing, or saying what they are saying. If I turn the other way, it is a form of empowering the other person. But on the other hand, if I am quick to fire off my opinions, I will come across as judgmental. People don’t like judgmental. Judgmental shuts doors. It makes people clam up and not want to talk to you. If they don’t want to talk to you, then you’ll never have a chance to engage in dialogue that may lead to common ground, and then we find ourselves in a polarized society that no longer embodies our human strengths.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Things that matter.

I guess that’s the starting point. We have to figure out what matters, and then choose our battles accordingly. But like a child in a classroom who feels lost when their teacher says “only highlight the important points,” but never really feeling like they know what’s important without guidance, we too can find it difficult to discern what matters and what doesn’t matter. It is often easier to opt for “doesn’t matter” because that’s the path of least resistance, and we as humans tend to be prone to want to avoid confrontation, even at the detriment of others. It’s our selfish human nature. It’s something we have to learn to control rather than succumb to.

I think it’s a fine balance. People who stand for nothing are terrible in my book (there I go again judging!), but I can understand why a person may not stand for something important. I don’t condone it. I don’t promote it. But I can understand that they may have reasons.

I can’t stay silent about it.

Therein is the conundrum. How can we change what we don’t like without being judgmental?

I think it comes from our modeling–how we live our lives. How we treat other people. How we connect with other people. The value we contribute to society. A steadfast commitment to helping others and being willing to learn and maintain a growth mindset.

I like to think that’s what MLK Jr. meant when he mentioned silence. It’s not about your words. You can engage in internet flame wars and you can tell off your uncle at Thanksgiving or banter with your neighbor–words often do nothing but inflame. Actions are different. Actions show investment in your beliefs. Taking action shows a commitment. People respect action. People pay attention to the ones who are more than just words.

I’m not talking about the Westboro Baptist Church kind of taking action.

I’m referring to the kind of action where somebody stands up for another person’s dignity. Action that involves respect, love, empathy, and caring for others, even when things don’t necessarily directly impact us. Taking action to help people feel safe and included in society. Taking action to leave this world a better place for the generations to come–caring for people and animals who have not even been born yet.

I have to remind myself that people are just like the seedlings and they don’t all grow at the same rate. For humans, I’m not referring to physical growth, but rather their emotional intelligence, ideas, knowledge, perspectives, opinions, and experience. All of the stuff inside of us that make us who we are.

Somebody once mentioned adults not having any excuses because they are “fully cooked” compared to a child. I pointed out that I knew a lot of “half-baked” adults. There is no magical bridge you get to cross from childhood to adulthood where you become suddenly enlightened about everything in life. It’s a lifetime journey with no guarantee of any enlightenment.

I think about my own life, and how much I’ve learned from 20 years ago, 10 years, 2 years, even yesterday.

The problem is that we all experience life differently. Some people have terrible trauma as children that impact their development. Others, like myself, were lucky enough by some cosmic roll of the dice to live in households where we enjoyed vanilla upbringings and were able to grow in the cocoon of a safe childhood. We all inevitably experience our lives not going as planned, but for some people it happens later than others. For me, I didn’t feel that kind of significant pain until my husband died and left me a single mother when I was 34 years old. Ultimately pain impacts our identity. Our experiences, knowledge, relationships, and the good old fashioned trial and error–it all shapes who we are, and no two people will have the exact same experience. Even siblings who grow up in the same household will not have the same experiences.

I have a fondness for senior citizens. It sounds weird, but as a Girl Scout we would visit senior homes. I also have years of experience visiting my grandparents, much of those visits occurring in senior complexes. Senior citizens are fascinating to observe. At a certain age they all start to look similar with their wrinkled skin and white hair and the common ailments that make them dependent on walkers and hearing aids and such. I’ve observed how people become the neighbors of other people who they would have never associated with earlier in their lives. At the senior complex everyone lives in one place. They eat at the cafeteria together. Play bingo together. This would not have happened when they were younger and more judgmental about their relationships. There is something about aging that levels the playing field.

We start out that way as children. Children will play with anyone. They don’t see income or race or gender or anything. Children only see other young human beings. That’s enough for them. It’s ironic that it takes us a lifetime to revert back to our open-minded origins. 

No matter who we are, what color our skin is, how much money we have in the bank account–nothing changes the fact that we are all on a journey headed in the same direction.

And we travel at our own pace. We grow in our own way. Like the old proverb suggests, the best thing we can do is “bloom where we are planted.”

When I think about people in this context, it helps me soften my judgement toward them. Some people may be still half-baked. Be gentle. We all at our cores have fragile egos, no matter how tough we pretend to be.

Life is hard. Our hearts and minds are not shatterproof.

Recently I listened to a podcast that discussed meeting people “where they’re at.” I think that’s where the gentleness comes in. Big stick diplomacy never usually works. You can’t drag somebody alongside of you.

By not judging people, it isn’t that we agree with their choices or actions. It’s about giving people the space to continue learning and growing. Judgment writes a person off. Open-mindedness and respect gives another person the chance to do better.

We don’t do any of this through our silence. Rather, as Dr. King implied, we must take action in the fight for justice. Our actions and modeling are the most powerful things we can do to influence others. It is only through our action will somebody else want to walk beside us. People don’t follow words. They follow movements that resonate with their values.

Now I can’t help but think about people as seedling, with a judgey voice whispering into my ear (the one that isn’t supposed to be judgmental):

You got too much water.

You’re going to be a beautiful sunflower.

You’re going to survive…barely.

You won’t.

You need more time.

You’re a fighter.

You’re a fragile one. 

You’re a late bloomer.

But aren’t we all late bloomers in something? I know I am. A proud late bloomer. Proud to keep growing, because I know if I’m growing, that means I’m still alive. If I’m still alive, then there is always hope for sunnier days.

***

For those of you who didn’t see social media last week, I had an essay published on Tiny Buddha. The Betrayal of Expectations: Coping When Life Doesn’t Go to Plan. Check it out!

Taming of the Longing

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A few days ago, I was in Alamo Square Park in San Francisco with my three children. It’s a beautiful park perched atop a hill with views of the bay and the city, famously next to the historic Painted Ladies, which are the colorful Victorian houses that San Francisco is known for.

The park has a nice playground where my children were digging in the sand. I watched them with a sense of contentment, admiring their youthful energy and enthusiasm about such simple pleasures. Earlier in the day we had fun walking around Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, stopping to watch the barking sea lions and eating sourdough bread. We took a bus up Fillmore Street to the park, and we had plans to finish the night with Vietnamese street food for dinner. A perfect way to spend our final hours on the last day of a good trip.

I thought about how Kenneth brought me to that same park when we were single and had just started dating. I remembered bringing his son to the playground. Later, we brought our firstborn, Ethan, placing our hands near the small of his back as he toddled up the stairs of the slide. Kenneth and I smiled knowingly to each other, unable to believe that we were actually there as a family. The last time we visited was when Eloise was a baby. She was tucked inside of a baby carrier, pressed against my chest on a chilly February day four years ago. Now the children and I were there without Kenneth, our family having grown and shrunk since that time, and sometimes that truth still felt surreal no matter how much I had become at peace with it.

Eloise saw a French girl playing near the slide and I watched her abandon her brothers, scampering over to see if the little girl would play with her. There was a language barrier, and the French girl turned away and called out for her parents. Eloise’s face crumpled. She lingered for a few seconds and then climbed off the playset, returning to the sand that her brothers were shaping into a cake and putting sticks onto as pretend birthday candles. Eloise is always looking for little girls to play with, a problem when you are the only girl wedged between an older brother and a younger brother, and most of our friends have sons. A few weeks ago at a Christmas party she put on make-up with another little girl and reveled in the chance to be with her female peers. As I observed her on the playground, noticing the way she kept a watchful eye on the gate so she would know if any little girls came to the area, it made me think about longing.

I am also riddled with longing. After 5 days in the city with my children, and after 20 months of widowhood, I long for adult companionship. I remember when Kenneth and I used to drive up north every other weekend to visit his son. 8 hours each way. We never ran out of things to talk about in the car. I miss that. He was my best friend who would tell me how pretty and smart I was. We shared ideas and exchanged information, constantly learning from each other.

And now there was an intellectual and physical void in my life, and I longed to fill it. The problem was finding who could–not an easy feat.

It doesn’t matter what we are longing for. We are all longing for something at any given moment.

My kids long for their father. Other kids long for food on the table and a stable home.

I long for time to myself and to not be an only parent. Other people long for a child of their own.

Relationships. Love. Jobs. Friends. Places to live. Money. Status. We often confuse lacking any one of these in our lives with personal inadequacy.

There must be something wrong with me because I’m single, for example.

But when I was married, I felt longing. Sometimes deep longing. Sometimes all-of-the-time longing. I wanted my husband to be a better listener. I wanted him to stop making messes around the house. I wanted him to stop arguing with me. I wanted time to myself. I longed to be free.

Before marriage, there was lots of longing too. Longing to find a significant other. Longing to find “the one.” Longing for a career. House. Children.

My longing has always been an elusive shapeshifter.

It doesn’t matter if I am single or married, younger or older, richer or poorer, a parent or not a parent, fatter or thinner, the longing never goes away. The finish line of complete fulfillment is a mirage. A lie. There is no such thing. Every feeling, no matter how wonderful or terrible, is ultimately fleeting. Feelings are not sustainable; they slip out between our fingers like grains of sand no matter how desperate we are to keep them in our clenched fists. We simply can’t have them forever, for better or worse.

I’ve come to the conclusion that longing is just a part of being human. There is always something to want. You can spend your entire life feeling like you don’t have enough. Perhaps feeling like you are not enough.

Since we can’t get rid of our desire for something more, maybe the secret is to tame your longing. To see it for what it is–endless. Natural. Unavoidable. And then rein it in. Guide it. Mold it into something positive.

Longing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes our longing motivates us to accomplish great things. Other times it causes us depression and sadness when we let it become gnarled and overgrown inside of us. Taming our longing means becoming skilled at knowing when to let certain feelings go.

I am reminded by an important quote by the Dalai Lama. I try to remember it during stressful times in my life. The Dalai Lama said, “If there is no solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it.”

We often get consumed by our worry that we will never have something, or that something will last forever. The pain we feel comes from our fears.

It is more productive to be objective and tactical about our longing. Whatever I desire, I have to assess whether or not it is attainable. If it is, then I need to devise an actionable plan. If it isn’t, then I need to let it go.

It’s the idea of approaching our feelings with a strategy. Jealousy, desire, hopelessness–so many emotions can cause us varying degrees of pain. Getting stuck in a feeling doesn’t bring us any closer to solving what causes us the pain to begin with. There has to be a more practical and useful approach.

It is hubris to believe that we can control everything in life, or that we can have everything that we want at the snap of our fingers without putting in the work and effort.

I am reminded of the sentence tattooed on my arm, my late husband’s favorite affirmation.

“I am responsible.”

For remembering that I have yet to experience a life where I haven’t had longing, so I might as well recognize it as a known entity instead of a source of inadequacy.

For remembering an ability to adjust my perspective.

For remembering what I have.

For working toward changing anything I don’t like.

And working for what I want.

For understanding that there are factors beyond my control.

And knowing that I am responsible for always choosing the next right step. And that the next right step is never usually sitting on the ground in defeat.

By taming my longing, I can have the clarity I need to take action. Otherwise that longing, if left unchecked, may obscure what I see and how I live.

I’m too bossy to empower one feeling to dictate the terms of my life. I like to manufacture as much of my own destiny that I have reasonable control over.

 

This Time Last Year

…we were in Japan! Timehop reminded me.

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I tucked the kids into our hotel bed in Tokyo on the 15th floor after a long flight. I read the safety manual left on the desk, lingering over the information about earthquakes. I noted where the emergency flashlight was located (always mounted on the wall by the door in Japan). About an hour after I snapped this photo, I forced myself to go to bed. 30 minutes later I was startled awake when a 6.3 earthquake had the building rolling back and forth for at least 30 seconds. I suddenly acted like I didn’t grow up in California and had never felt an earthquake in my life.

My evening of studying the emergency preparedness manual had me jumping into action. I began to move the kids away from the window.  I could hear the automated voice echoing from the hallway: Do not be alarmed. You are experiencing an earthquake. This building is earthquake-proof. Please stay calm. 

I realized, holy crap, I took a vacation to an island that has tsunamis and earthquakes and has had lots of really bad, unfortunate things happen to it in its history. Definitely symbolic of my 2016.

This is what I posted last year when I returned from the trip in early January. It’s still relevant.

***

I spent New Year’s in Japan. It felt right to get the hell out of here. Start a new year a 12 hour plane ride away. So we did. The three kiddos and I.

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Kyoto, Japan

Japan was more than I ever dreamed it could be. It was magical.

What I wrote on our last day there:

1. Japanese culture has some issues (sexism, workaholics, mental health issues/suicide, they’ve got your usual dose of corporate corruption, and judging by the anime porn it seems they need to get a real BF/GF)…BUT…there are so many amazing things about the people here. They are kind, courteous, smart, elegant, classy, hard-working, organized, innovative, creative, and so many other wonderful attributes.

2. The best thing about the Japanese people that inspires me: their resilience. Through atomic bombs, war, earthquakes, tsunamis, whatever– they persevere. They rebuild and move on. They aren’t quitters. I feel it everywhere, woven throughout the fabric of their civilization. It’s exactly what I needed to start my new year.

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The atomic dome in Hiroshima.

The shikata ga nai is strong. “It cannot be helped.” 98% of the population is Buddhist, which comes out in their reactions to life, their attitudes, and dispositions. I need to be more mindful of my own thoughts.

3. I love the Buddhism traditions found everywhere, especially in Kyoto. There are temples and shrines everywhere. I love the incense and chanting.

4. Super kid-friendly. Nobody glared at me or made me feel stressed when Peter cried in public. Facilities were kid-friendly (changing tables, stroller friendly, etc.) The only downside was that playgrounds are scarce around here.

5. Culturally rich. This is an ancient civilization and us westerners are barely exposed to it. I feel like I stumbled upon a rare gem. I’m kind of bored of Western culture. We need to learn about different ways of living. We are ants in this big, interesting world. There is so much to learn and experience.

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Himeji Castle

6. Simplicity and purpose. Everything is so thoughtful down to the warm toilet seats to the pretty packaging of the most mundane purchases. But it’s simple too. Not excessive. If you buy snacks, they are individually packaged with just the right amount.

7. They are healthy and fit. Obesity is not the norm here. It makes you wonder…WTF are we eating in the USA?! The food has been great .

 

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Petey enjoying his giant bowl of udon in Kyoto.

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Chion-in Temple in Kyoto

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Hello Kitty Land, Tokyo

 

Holidays after Death

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I have come to the conclusion that I’ve been preparing my entire life for all of my tomorrows. Some of it has been purposeful, like going to college. But most of it has been a natural consequence of living. It’s an interesting thing to think about.

Maybe something doesn’t feel significant in the moment, but everything we do becomes a part of our foundation. New layers on top of old layers. Everything has something to teach us.

Disappointment. The big types and the micro-disappointments–it adds up over time to build tolerance for its more serious and life-altering cousin: pain.

Death: walking with my grandmother at the age of 12, coming across the scene of a young woman who seconds prior jumped off the edge of the parking structure. I remember her long hair soaked in blood.

Death: seeing my great-aunt die, one of her daughters telling her that she will soon see my grandfather. I silently wondered how that could be true.

Death: my paternal grandfather, bright green liquid coming out of his mouth like a scene out of the Exorcist, and then a flat line.

Death: my husband on the ground, face-down. On the phone with a 9-1-1 operator, but it was too late.

I’ve developed an ear for the final, prolonged exhale of life. It’s like going into labor. You spend months fretting about how you will know when it is time, but when it happens, you know.

I remember Christmases as a child, when there was family drama and this aunt or that uncle didn’t come to the holiday. I remember feeling sad, noticing the emptiness at the table. The times that my stepson didn’t come for the holidays. Having to celebrate Christmas without my grandfather offering everyone eggnog, or not having my grandmother stirring a pot full of Arabic rice over the stove.

I wasn’t entirely unprepared for the pain of an empty seat when Kenneth passed away. It’s just that his passing impacted me on a deeper level than any other loss, because his passing came with so many dashed dreams for the future. Losing my husband meant losing the life I thought I was going to live. But unbeknownst to me I had been preparing for it my entire life.

Holidays without a loved one hurts no matter how strong you try to be.

I suppose how to celebrate the holidays after death is really the last of my concerns in the grand scheme of life. But holidays are so emotional. They are anchored to memories and people and experiences. Consequently, holidays can be some of the worst triggers for a grieving person.

My first Christmas without Kenneth: I felt a looming storm inside of me over a month before it was time. The pain was gnarled and deep, intertwined with every fiber of my being. The memories of our past darted in and out of my mind, and I continued to try to reconcile what I knew to be true in my brain with what my heart still clung to from the past.

Us: our first Christmas together in the teeny tiny studio apartment in Belmont Shore. He held the camera and we took a selfie in front of the first Christmas tree that we got together. Our future was still big question marks, but the unknown had felt exciting back then. Not like our current unknowns.

Us: that time we filled his car with Christmas cheer and drove 8 hours north to see his son, before we had a family of our own. Watching my stepson open presents at a table in Starbucks. Both of us agreeing during the solemn drive home that we needed a proper Christmas next year.

Newlyweds: our first couple of Christmases, sitting on his parents’ couch while his dad took a picture for us to use on our Christmas cards. Colorful and loud wallpaper behind us on walls that would eventually become ours. Ten years ago, but it feels like more than a lifetime has passed.

Family: the Christmas when my stepson and Ethan wore matching Christmas pants that I sewed (the one and only time!) and opened identical amphibious tanks on Christmas Day. We walked to the lagoon and the boys laughed and laughed as they tried out the tanks in the sand and in the water, shooting tiny pellets at each other. I wasn’t sure who was more excited: Kenneth, or the boys?

Kenneth: wearing his blue teacher’s union shirt on Christmas Eve. “Dress up,” I admonished him, horrified that he chose to wear the same t-shirt he always wore. “Why?” he said. “I don’t want that stupid shirt in our pictures,” I said. He rolled his eyes, and didn’t change. There is a picture of us, me pregnant with Peter, our 2 other kids sitting on our laps, and him wearing that damn blue shirt.

Kenneth: shirtless, sitting on the ground, pieces of the dollhouse Santa was supposed to bring Eloise the next morning spread out all over the place. He was complaining about how much he hated that stuff. I took out my camera to snap a photo of him and he scowled, unamused. I laughed. That was the last Christmas he would ever assemble presents for our children.

Oh, Christmas. Now that I think about it, you are a source of immeasurable pain.

And yet so much joy.

I know I can’t give up on you.

I expected our first Christmas without Kenneth to be difficult. First, it was terrible that the children didn’t have their father. What a cruel world where small children wake up on Christmas morning and their father is still dead. They were so young that first Christmas without him: 6, 3, and 1. This is the age when parents are supposed to watch in amusement as their babies squeal in delight, ripping open wrapped boxes full of toys. When your babies sink their teeth into one more cookie and you let them. Instead of sitting on their Daddy’s lap, our children had to bring him flowers to the cemetery. This is a difficult reality to embrace.

Another major source of pain for me was having family events shoved in my face. Not on purpose. Everyone was just living their lives as usual. But I’d have to watch couples exchange gifts. I’d have to watch husbands help load Christmas presents into the car. I’d have to see intact families right in front of me while mine was broken and hurting and I had to digest the unfairness of it all, alone. Always alone.

The best advice I can give to others suffering from the anguish of grief during the holidays is that you just have to persevere. It’s okay to feel angry and sad and lonely. Give yourself permission to feel everything.

My strategy for our first Christmas without Kenneth was to overcompensate. I thought it was a brilliant plan. I bought the kids too many presents, lavished them with a party and outings and a trip to Japan, and that was how I got through the pain. I wouldn’t say that it was a bad plan. We had fun. We were distracted. We were creating new traditions and memories.

It just wasn’t sustainable. That’s the problem with band-aid solutions. They eventually come off.

I didn’t want to raise children who were addicted to consumption and overindulgence. Year 1 was my grace period of pain. Year 2 had to be different.

This year I don’t feel the agonizing pain cresting over my head like I did last year. The other families aren’t triggering me as much. I didn’t cry before taking family photos as a single mother like I did last year. In a bittersweet way, it is becoming our normal. Not ideal, but it doesn’t sting anymore.

We’ve kept a lot of the same traditions, and there are many new traditions being added. This year we’re celebrating with his family on Christmas Eve for the first time. For Christmas Day I ordered fake snow for the kids and I’m going to make them German apple pancakes, which I like to envision will be something I do forever, even as a white-haired grandma when the family comes over. I keep searching for something I can be good at–something I can duplicate year after year. I’m still searching for the perfect annual traditions. This year for Christmas we will have the quietest, most protected time ever with just us. We will take flowers to the cemetery. And then, a day of rest.

We started celebrating Hanukkah-style after Kenneth died, where the kids open up presents starting a week before. I started this last year, and I like the ability to focus on one gift, taking time together to really enjoy the present instead of getting overwhelmed by too much stuff.

I’ve been decorating the house a little different than when Kenneth was here, but we still put up his stocking. We still collect a new Nutcracker every year, and we set them next to Kenneth’s dad’s, and the other ones that have the year we got them scribbled in Kenneth’s handwriting underneath. Old family ornaments hang on the tree: some with my stepson’s name, some with Kenneth’s, some with just those of us still living in the home. Evidence of a family that has changed. Grown and shrunk and grown and shrunk. The ebb and flow of life.

My current survival plan is to continue blending old with new. To do what feels right. To continue evolving. Like birth and death, sometimes you have to just do what feels innately right.

My big planned step of progress is to take the kids to San Francisco. I haven’t stayed in the city since we went as a family a good 4-5 years ago. Kenneth and I used to go twice a month, back in the days when we drove up north to visit his son every other weekend. We have memories all over that city. When he died, I felt an aversion to it. I didn’t want to go. Didn’t want to be reminded of the park we walked through, or the restaurant where we ate, or the place where we went to the club on 80s night. There were too many painful reminders.

But now I think it’s time to reclaim my favorite city. I’m ready. The secret to dealing with grief is taking the next right step when you are ready, and then creating new memories. I will take my small people and show them some of my favorite places and try new ones. We will ring in the new year symbolically, with a little bit of old and a lot of new, ready to embrace all challenges and adventure, together.

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xmas 2009

(Our 1st family X-Mas Card Pic. That wallpaper, haha.)

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The Physics in My Life

Believe it or not, I took A.P. Physics in high school. Out of an entire year in the class, my brain decided to care about only one thing:

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In short: an object in motion stays in motion.

The reason I cared about Newton’s first law was because I translated its scientific meaning into something that made sense in my world.

In my world, right or wrong, I measure my happiness by my productivity. I have very definite things I want to do, and the stuff I have to do, and if I don’t make progress, I am miserable. It is an internal itch that has to be scratched or else I will tear my skin off (from the inside-out). I don’t know how else to explain it.

Yesterday I dropped one kid off at Japanese school, took another kid to swim class, and then back home to run and finish a few more chores before picking up kid #1. Then it was all about racing back home to get a few more things done, before heading out for a party and a family gathering, before collapsing in exhaustion when we got home at almost 10PM. It was not a good day for writing. By mid-morning I was feeling extremely unsettled about wanting to write but not being able to. I have a big project that I’m working on and not enough hours in the day (and dealt with a few big, useless distractions in the last week). This project nags and nags at me. I’m the kind of person who has to get things done or else my brain spins around in circles obsessing over it.

I feel antsy if I can’t get the big things on my list done: writing, exercise, and uninterrupted time with the kids. These are non-negotiables in my day.

The unrest inside of me stems from what I believe and know to be true about my productivity: an object in motion stays in motion. Newton’s law.

I have to write every day. I have to exercise every day. I have to clean around the house every day. I have to read every day. I have to make time to have uninterrupted time with the kids every day.

Otherwise, bad habits creep into our routines, and I don’t end up doing my priorities. Distractions.

Terrible resistance can easily build inside of my head and make me not want to take the next step, as if a giant brick wall suddenly appears and impedes my movement. It is so easy to get stuck. Blocked. Unable to take make the next move.

As stated in Newton’s law, an “unbalanced force” can disrupt the object in motion. For me, that has been a variety of things. Work. Family. Having babies. Relationships. Distractions. Illness. An overbooked calendar. An endless amount of possible “unbalanced forces.”

I love to travel. But when I travel, I swear, it always, ALWAYS messes with my schedule. First it messes with your eating patterns. I try to eat very clean at home, but when you’re traveling, part of the fun is eating good food in places where you don’t usually go. I’m not going to Paris and turning down their amazing bread and cheese and wine and pastries. Heck no. So that throws me off, because bad habits beget bad habits, and suddenly I find myself on an ordinary day back at home wondering why things don’t feel right, and it takes me a while to realize oh yeah, I can’t keep eating like that.

The same applies to travel and exercise. I find it difficult to run in other countries, especially when I am jet-lagged, unfamiliar with a neighborhood, and on the go all of the time. Also, I don’t travel with my double stroller. I’m a huge proponent of traveling light (as light as you can with 3 young kids). No double stroller means I can’t run. I’ve realized from experience that I can’t give myself days off from exercise. I have to plan to do it every day. Of course things come up here and there when I absolutely won’t be able to run. But take too much time off, and that’s it. I’m thrown off. Trying to re-start is like pulling teeth. I don’t know what it is, but it’s that resistance in my head. It builds and grows and makes it so hard to get started again. Suddenly I start feeling like I don’t like running. I don’t want to run. I’ll make up a thousand excuses in my head about why I shouldn’t have to run. So I don’t. Days pass. Weeks. Now I’ve dug myself into a hole that will take a ton of effort to get out of, and I struggle to go back to the rhythm of a routine.

The same is true with writing. Even when it’s a day or two of no writing, I can feel the resistance creeping into my mind. Writer’s block. Writer’s block happens when you do not write.

Combating the resistance is a lengthy, frustrating effort. It’s much better to stay in the flow. To keep going, rather than go and stop, go and stop, go and stop.

Yesterday I posted on FB: Thought while running today: what if pain isn’t a signal for “stop”? What if pain is a reminder for mindfulness? And then you take the next appropriate step.

People seemed to think I was advising 50+ year olds to bust their knees by overextending themselves.

No.

Although if your body is feeling pain, that may be a reminder to explore why.

I was thinking more along the lines of when I feel too tired to go for a run, maybe I shouldn’t immediately shut down. Maybe I should push a little harder.

If I’m feeling like a relationship is too difficult, maybe the pain that I feel isn’t a signal to shut down. Maybe it is a reminder to dig a little deeper inside of myself and process my thoughts, brainstorm, perhaps look at the relationship a little differently and identify the value in it and work a little harder.

Maybe I shouldn’t give up on dating after a bad date.

Or quit tennis after a crappy day of backhands.

If a job becomes frustrating and painful, maybe giving up isn’t the best response. I’ve had moments when I felt like I just wanted to quit and find a new occupation. Maybe the pain isn’t a sign to quit. Maybe it’s a signal to slow down, be mindful, to become aware. Fix what needs to be fixed. Do something different, but not necessarily stop.

When I feel the resistance infiltrating my mind, making me not want to sit down and finish an essay or type even another sentence, maybe that uncomfortable sensation isn’t an excuse to shut my computer off. Maybe it is a challenge to push back against it and to “unblock” myself by moving forward. Even if it requires a thousand teeny tiny baby steps. Any forward movement is good.

It’s much more likely for us to quit and avoid pain than it is to persevere in these micro-challenges.

When I talk about being mindful and choosing the next right step, I mean push past the pain, examine our thought process, think about our goals, maybe stretch ourselves a little further and do what needs to be done to have forward movement–any forward movement.

If you look around society, there is evidence all over of giving in to our pain.

We are quick to give ourselves instant gratification. Saying something stupid to make ourselves feel good in a moment of hot temper, just to hurt the other person and claim victory. Eating the junk food because it tastes good in that moment, versus struggling with the less pleasurable sensation of deprivation. We’re much more likely to watch that TV program instead of go do some push-ups.

We are more likely to choose pleasure over pain.

But perhaps there is an art to balancing pleasure and pain, to ultimately produce more overall pleasure?

I’m terribly unsympathetic about excuses.

You have a torn ligament? Okay. What can you do? What will your next step be? What’s the timeline? Something other than “I can’t.”

Too tired to finish a project? Sometimes you look inward and know that taking the night off is the best solution for you. Rest is needed. And that’s what you do. You were mindful, you weighed your options, you looked inward, and that was the right conclusion for you.

But taking the day off every day isn’t mindfulness.

There is a difference.

I want to clear up misconceptions about the things that I do. I work VERY hard to keep my weight under control. I was not born with the metabolism of a 10-year old girl. I will never be stick-thin. I do watch what I eat. I exercise. I continue to research diet and exercise. There is no magic or super lucky genetics involved. It’s a lot of hard work. Period.

My house is clean. Every day I make sure the kids pick up after themselves and I stay on top of things. No magic involved. Just a lot of staying up a little later even when I’m dead tired to make sure everything looks good before I go to bed.

The one thing I hate is when people say they don’t have time. Stop saying that. IT’S NOT YOUR PRIORITY, that’s why you don’t do it. There’s a difference. You have time. You choose not to make time for whatever it is you aren’t doing. There is choice involved.

In the end, our life is the sum of our choices.

I don’t mean for this to sound harsh. I just want to show the real side of life. That there is never any magic pills.

I am not perfect at any of this. Every day is a struggle of mind and body and 3-children-with-no-co-parent resistance. Every single day. I get no days off from resistance. The obstacles are never-ending.

I try to combat it with a variety of methods. I fight hard to implement Newton’s law: an object in motion stays in motion.

The more I write, I will keep writing.

The more I move my body, the easier it will be to move my body every day.

Another method of tackling resistance is studying what other people do to implement habits. Habits are everything, and yet super hard.

I study things that people do to keep themselves productive, like morning routine advice.

You can Google “daily habits” and find an endless supply of ideas from different people.

In an attempt to stick with what I’ve identified to be important habits in my life, I started using an app called “7 Weeks.” You can track habits and mark when you do them.

I also use another app called Time Recording. It allows me to check-in and check-out. I use it to log my writing time. This helps me see a number at the end of the day.

I’ve also tracked my habits by hand, like this:

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I don’t know which method is better. I find that I get restless with one method, so I go back and forth with what I have in my toolbox of tricks. I probably should stick to one method, but I guess if the end result is the same, then it’s not something I’m going to worry too much about.

I read books and listen to podcasts on the subject of productivity and habits. I consider myself an eternal student of life, and open to new ideas. I feel like I can always do better in everything.

I am never open to “I can’t.” That’s why you’ll see me running after a long day of work, pushing a double stroller with 80 lbs worth of kids in there. That’s why I’ll strap a giant toddler on my back and trek around Japan, even if it isn’t the best way to travel. But it keeps me out there traveling, and in my mind, that’s better than staying home.

I feel like this is all symbolic of my life: pushing through pain, because the alternative is to miss out on the things I want to do in life, and I’m not willing to accept that.

(Just so you know, my minivan is filled with crumbs, my garden is in dire need of weeding and composting, and I still have a pile of filing to do stuffed in my closet. But you know. Everything can’t be on the priority list.)

Why Can’t You Admit That You’re Wrong?

Alabama voters just elected a DEMOCRAT, choosing not to go with the Trump-favorite, anti-homosexual, anti-Muslim, anti-everything-except-sex-with-young-girls Republican candidate Roy Moore for the U.S. Senate.

People, this is huge.

I forwarded everyone I knew in Alabama a tweet earlier this week: Alabama would vote for a Dixie cup full of chicken shit if you draped an American flag around it and scribbled John 3:16 on it in crayon (credit: Left Coast Lucy). I honestly had no faith that they would do the right thing.

BUT THEY DID.

So I messaged all of those people back and told them how proud I was of their state.

It’s such a beautiful thing when people do the right thing. It takes so much guts and character to dig deep inside of yourself and do something that feels uncomfortable, but you did it anyway because it was the RIGHT thing to do.

For those of us in California, the Alabama election seemed obvious. But for people raised with the Confederate flag and in an environment of racism and bigotry, they had to on some level swallow their pride about voting for a Democrat in a very red state and say “the other candidate is wrong, no matter what party they belong to.” They had to do this even when their family and friends and neighbors weren’t willing to do it. Brave.

But it was the African American voters who came out in full force tonight for this victory. African American voters who have battled disenfranchisement for so long. They were brave enough to fight even harder to assert their political rights and cast their ballots. They were brave enough to say YOU ARE WRONG. And that is so, so, so brave. It’s not always easy to stand up to other people and tell them they are wrong. Our first inclination is to usually avoid sticking our necks out.

Why can’t we admit when we are wrong?

It’s hard to do, and we don’t do it nearly enough. This stupid, foolish pride of ours ruins relationships. All because it feels taboo to be vulnerable with other people.

I admit that I have my own difficulty admitting when I am wrong. I’m a little bit of a know-it-all, not in the “I’m-going-to-argue-every-point-and-show-you-how-smart-I-am” way like some people I know. More so in the sense that I have strong convictions about everything. Admitting I was wrong in my marriage was the worst. In hindsight, I wasted time and energy battling stupid things that meant nothing in the grand scheme of my short time with my husband. But I try to be more vulnerable and transparent as I get older. I’ve been making an effort to do better. There’s nothing more nauseating (in my opinion) than living a life of fakery. At the very least, we should strive for better.

As a parent and as a teacher, I try to make it a point to admit when I am wrong.

The other day I told Ellie to go do something and called her a brat.

“You’re a poopy-head,” she said.

“Don’t talk to me like that,” I shot back.

“You called me a brat.”

I stared at her.

“Say sorry for calling me a brat,” she pressed.

Oh she’s a handful, that one. Actually all of my kids are. Probably because they learned from one of the best.

My dad would argue that I need more discipline in my house. I run my home a little too democratically for his liking. (Yes, I got in trouble all of the time for my opinions growing up. The parentals will still claim they were right and I was wrong.)

Which may explain my method of parenting.

I said sorry to Ellie. And I agreed with her that she had a point. If I didn’t want to be called names, I shouldn’t call her names. She accepted my apology and told me she wanted to say nicer words to me too.

I don’t know whose parenting is better, or if there is even a right or wrong approach, but I have to live in a way that feels authentic to me.

I run my household the way I think is most fair and respectful to all family members, regardless of their age. I try (operative word is “try,” I’m not perfect) to treat the kids the way I would want to be treated. I constantly reflect on my own behavior in front of them by telling them “I was wrong” or “I should have handled it this way” or simply telling them that I made a mistake and this is how I’m going to fix it. I want them to know that I am an imperfect human, not a robot. I make mistakes, and I’m committed to working on my mistakes. That involves them giving me a lot of feedback, and me listening, even when it stings.

A child won’t take your feedback if you show them you aren’t receptive to feedback.

I firmly believe that as a teacher you should be able to admit to your students when you are wrong. Your first inclination is to dig in your heels. You’re the adult, you’ll think. You’re the professional. Who are they to tell you what to do?

But would you want your bank or insurance company or anybody who has made a mistake with you to not fix it? If you got overcharged at the grocery store, wouldn’t you want the money that was rightfully yours back? And probably with a smile and a sincere apology too? Being defensive in the classroom or at home might help you save face in the moment, but in my mind you chip away at the relationship, and you undermine respect. Real respect.

Not obedient respect.

Obedient respect is built on fear.

True respect is built on love. It is earned.

I guess that’s why I don’t rule my household with an iron fist. I don’t believe in using fear to bind my family together. Fear isn’t long-lasting. Fear is what drives people apart. Fear breeds resentment and makes ugliness rot inside of us. I want my children to be friends. I want to have healthy relationships with my children when they are adults. I believe this needs to be built on love.

Why is it so hard to say you’re sorry?

We would rather hurt the people who care about us than admit when we are wrong.

I don’t know how I can encourage growth mindset and healthy relationships amongst my children and students if I myself don’t model the ability to say “I was wrong. I’m sorry. Let me fix this.”

It’s not actually about the word sorry. I don’t think it necessarily has to be said. Sorry can be such a shallow word, to be honest.

Your actions speak louder. Fix it. Show people from the depths of your heart that you want to make it better. There has to be an attempt to resolve an issue.

I tell my own children: if you make a mistake, fix it.

It isn’t about admitting defeat. It’s about whatever you did or didn’t do–address it. Resolve it. Find compromise. Don’t leave it alone to fester. Show the other person that you care enough about them to resolve it, rather than just leaving them wounded.

Real relationships are built on trust that comes from both sides who show they are invested in each other. Trust comes from proving to people that you don’t intend to hurt them, and that if you do (which we all inevitably do at some point), then you will work to make it better.

It doesn’t always feel good. Nobody wants to be wrong. Nobody wants to give in. But you do it because the other person is worth it.

As a teacher, and as a parent, I have to show the young people that they are worth it. I’ll admit when I’m wrong because I’m invested in them, and if I want them to learn from me, I have to let them know that they can trust me. And they will only trust me if I show them that I respect them through my actions. That I genuinely care how my actions impact their lives.

Thank you, Alabama. Thank you, to everyone who has ever been brave enough to say they were wrong and that you want things to be better. It takes courage.

What They Won’t Tell You

I think we all fantasize about what would happen if we could just go back in time and tell our former self what we know now. The stupid mistakes to not make. The people to avoid. Relationships that would never work. The chances we should have taken. The people we should have ignored. The things we shouldn’t have said. The things we cared too much about.

You realize that there is so much you were never told about adulthood.

I feel like Real Life could have been made a little clearer. Instead, you get fed a steady diet of Disney fantasies as a child, dismissed as too juvenile and banished to the kid table, discredited based on age. People think sheltering children is the right thing to do. One school of thought is to “let them be kids.” But do we do that at the expense of not letting them become well-adjusted adults?

Your elders chuckle. “Just wait until you’re my age,” they tell you. “You’ll see.”

You don’t really think about what that means. When I was 18 I could only see as far as my 20’s. Everything after that was a blur. I never envisioned myself as a 30-something or 40-something or 50+ something. It’s just one of those things. Logically you know that someday you’ll get there, but not for a long time. No need to worry yet.

We grow up in an unrealistic bubble that is supposed to protect us from bad things. But really, it doesn’t prepare us for the inevitable pain we will experience.

Eventually we grow up and are forced into Real Life, some of us sooner than others. One thing is guaranteed: you are most definitely on a one-way ticket to Real Life. Your resistance only undermines your existence.

There’s no point begrudging all of the things you were never told. Except it bugs me. It bugs me and I know it’s pointless to let it bug me, but it still does.

I wonder if a better approach is to become the person you wish you had?

Maybe include the kids at the dinner table and let them be privy to conversations about politics. Let them know you value their opinion. Don’t be afraid to talk about tough subjects with them. Don’t feel the need to sprinkle their world with glitter and sugar-coat reality for them. Maybe instead of a spoonful of sugar, let them taste something bitter and talk about it.

Maybe learn from younger people. You don’t know everything in this world. It might go a long way to be open with them about how you are still learning too. That nobody really has life figured out.

You have not reached a level of adult perfection. (Life spoiler: there is no such thing.) Using the number of years you have spent on this earth as a way to dismiss other people is cheap. Stop hitting the easy button. Dare to be vulnerable.

Once I read an article about breastfeeding. It was about why breastfeeding levels are so low in the United States, and it explored why other countries had higher levels. One of their findings was that in the countries that were more successful, there were women (moms, grandmothers, aunts, neighbors, etc) who were there to help the new mom. A network of support.

This is everything.

People, we are not BORN knowing how to do all the things. Even really natural things like breastfeeding. We need others to teach us and share their experience. I had so much help with my first child. One of the perks of him spending 2 months in the NICU was a staff of highly trained nurses who were lactation specialists. They weren’t just my coaches in breastfeeding, but they would encourage me in so many ways about taking care of the baby and just talk to me about life in general. I was really sad to leave them when Ethan was discharged.

We aren’t born knowing what to do in relationships, or how to buy a house, or set-up a 401K, or what to do when something breaks. Heck, I just barely figured out how to use an air pump for bicycle tires.

I like to imagine what it would have been like to have a village of people to help with Real Life. Not sugar-coated life. Real Life.

To tell me what childbirth was really about. To warn me about the feelings you would have. The impact on our bodies. The fears and sadness and frustration, and also the joy. But it’s not the kind of joy you would anticipate. It’s a joy you’ve never experienced before, nuanced by pain and desperation and soul-draining fatigue that can only come from a labor of love. A priceless and fulfilling kind of joy that sometimes doesn’t feel joyful.

To tell me what it was like to be married. The real parts of marriage, not the fairy tale facade we like to project. I wish I knew about simmering resentment that creeps into relationships, and how relationships are like being a pilot who constantly has to recalibrate the path that the airplane is on, adjusting for various conditions. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt so alone when I thought there was something missing in my life. I thought these things were supposed to be easy, and when mine didn’t feel easy, I thought I was doing something wrong. But nobody talks about these things. I foolishly thought yours was easy and mine was hard, instead of realizing that everyone has to put in hard work. Maybe if I had people to talk about Real Life with I would have realized how ordinary my life was.

I wish people would have shared their pain from losing a loved one. Maybe then I wouldn’t have felt so alone amidst the bone-crushing pain of grief after my husband died. We’re just expected to deal with these things in isolation. Swallow it. Don’t talk about it, because other people are watching, and you might scare them. Better to just keep it to yourself. Smile. Pretend to be happy. It’s like we walk around with masks on and we can’t even see when someone looks just like us.

I was born an incredibly nosy person. I like to watch people. I learn a lot through this method. I’ve always been drawn to older friends. I’m a voracious reader. I want to know details. I like gory details. I don’t want PC details or pretty details. I want Real Life. I want to know all of it.

I guess that’s what makes me feel a responsibility to be transparent about my own experience in living. It’s what I would have liked to have in others, and maybe, just maybe, somebody out there wants it too. Someday I would like to be the person I wish I had when I was younger.

I’ll end this with 3 things I would share with someone.

#1: Getting older doesn’t mean you are getting smarter, worldier, more mature, or anything better.

I’ve heard “age is just a number” many times. But I think it’s usually thrown out there when people don’t want to feel older. It’s true. Age is just a number. You can live your entire life and still keep making the same stupid mistakes with no growth. People don’t “grow up” and cross a proverbial bridge into adulthood, where they then reside in a land of maturity and have everything figured out. Adults are children in grown bodies. That’s it. They still have insecurities. They are still catty and competitive with each other. They still throw tantrums. They can be unreasonable and cranky when they don’t get enough sleep. They get their feelings hurt. They forget. They make mistakes. It’s just that a lot of times their responses to these situations look different than a child’s. Or they are very good at covering it up. Or both.

#2: You will lose everything you think was the most important in the world…someday.

Nothing stays the same, so don’t attach so much meaning to everything. You have to be mentally prepared to embrace the impermanence of life.

Your expectations will change.

Your friends will change.

Your residence will change.

Your style will change.

Your preferences will change.

Your knowledge will change.

Things will break.

Your relationship status will change. More than once.

You will lose people in your life. Everyone will die at some point.

Maybe I was stupid. I married a man 18.5 years older than me and I figured…eh. He’ll probably die when I’m a 60-something. That’s like a zillion years away. No need to think about it now. By then I’ll be so sick of being married and I’ll just join a travel group with other retired people and yeah…that’s how it will go. And then when he was gone, it was like I had the audacity to believe that I wasn’t actually going to ever lose him.

Nothing lasts forever. Relationships definitely don’t last forever.

I felt like a fool. Why was I so oblivious to this truth? It was so simple and obvious, and yet I completely missed it.

Becoming a parent is a huge lesson in impermanence.

You start parenthood with cute little babies. And then they grow. Quickly.

Maybe parenthood wasn’t what you expected. Maybe you lost the innocence of your naive expectations.

I was oblivious with #1. But I distinctly remember the moment during my 2nd pregnancy when I said to my husband, “OH MY GOD. Something terribly horrible can happen. What if she dies? What if she has something wrong with her? What if…what if…what if??”

And here I thought becoming a parent was as cute as carrying around Cabbage Patch Dolls and smelling their baby powder scent and rocking them in beautiful wooden cradles and all that other stupid fantasy crap.

Becoming a parent is a great introduction to pain.

They get fevers. You have trips to the ER. Stuff starts to happen. There might be diagnoses. They grow and maybe they aren’t what you expected. They will get their feelings hurt. You will feel like you’ve failed them.

Children can die.

But nobody told you that Real Life was so brutal. You didn’t think about any of that when you thought it was a good idea to get pregnant and become a parent.

Bad stuff is supposed to happen to other people. Not to you. None of it is supposed to happen to you. Until it does.

You start to wonder if maybe there was a class on Adulting that you just didn’t get the memo about, and maybe other people learned something you couldn’t figure out on your own.

Today will not be the same as yesterday. Tomorrow will not be the same as today.

And that is totally NORMAL. You’re not doing anything wrong. It’s exactly the way things are supposed to be in life. Just buckle up and get ready for the roller coaster ride. NOBODY gets through life the easy way.

#3: Work hard at knowing who you are before you let someone else define it for you.

I mistakenly thought the goal in life was to find somebody as soon as possible. Get married, have kids–the natural order of things. I didn’t do it completely wrong. I lived on my own before I got married and traveled independently and all that good stuff.

But being alone isn’t valued in our society. It’s kind of considered weird. Sad. Lonely. And it can be all of those things, but it is also an important part of who we are. We need time to figure out what we like and don’t like, before we integrate other opinions (i.e. significant others, children, etc) into our lives, because all of these people will attempt to impose their wills on you.

When my husband died, there were things that came back into my life that I realized I had lost in the 9+ years I was with him. It’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing. As much as I worked on who I was before I met somebody, and as headstrong as I am, I still let a lot of who I was go in the name of relationship compromise. Things I didn’t want to let go. When they came back to me, I remember thinking, “Oh hello. Yes. I remember you. This is who I really am. Nice to see you again.”

Young people often are told not to rush to find a significant other. They often don’t listen, because who wants to be alone? Maybe I would take it a step further to explain to them that there are pros and cons to being in a relationship vs. being alone. There is no right or wrong. There is no timeline. Maybe we need to stop putting so much emphasis on finding a spouse as being a major life accomplishment for young people. Maybe it isn’t an accomplishment at all. Maybe it’s just something that we do, of no greater value than any of the other things we do.

What did you want to know when you were younger? What do you wish somebody would have told you?

I feel like I’ve just barely scratched the surface.