Wear the Coffee Pants

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We squeezed in two international trips as an intact family before my husband died. I have memories of my oldest son playing with the sailboats in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris with my overprotective husband hovering nearby. We sipped wine in the evenings at a sidewalk cafe. My son lost his stuffed animal in the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore across the street from the Notre Dame. My husband jogged there and back to retrieve the green turtle from where it had been accidentally left behind on a shelf of books. Those memories will always be emblazoned in my mind–one of the few things that can not be taken away from me.

When Kenneth passed away, we were a few weeks away from a trip to Germany. My three children were all six and under in age–the youngest still a nursing baby. I had to use the non-refundable plane tickets and went anyway, even though my grief was raw and it felt as if I were emotionally hemorrhaging. That trip marked one of the first big things I would do in our new family configuration. My first practice in the art of moving on with my life.

People ask me why I travel with the children. They question my motives as if I am doing something reckless. I get asked about the costs, as if nobody has ever heard of budget priorities. They wonder how I can possibly enjoy myself. I’ve been told more than once that my children will never remember these trips. I also have people who say they love that we travel and wish they were brave enough to do it, and some of them do.

When I was younger, my goal was to travel as much as I could before starting a family. Domestic life appeared to be a big black hole where people disappeared into once they “settled down.” I assumed you traded in your traveling cards for motherhood, and that the two didn’t coexist. Hence my plan to take advantage of my freedom while I still could. I crammed in a respectable amount of travel into those single and pre-kid years, walking on the Great Wall of China, crying in Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, gazing up at the Sistine Chapel, sleeping in overcrowded hostels and seeing many new places. I had no regrets.

I finally experienced the mythical black hole of domesticity when I got married, but it came in the form of a mortgage and daycare expense. For seven years we did not go anywhere, and year-after-year I felt the unhappiness and discontent grow and expand inside of me despite also feeling generally happy and fulfilled as a mother. Both feelings coexisted even though I spent my entire life believing there was no room for both.

I am glad that I nagged my husband until he finally agreed that traveling was just as important as our retirement accounts and emergency funds. We would have never had the two trips to remember if he didn’t. When I watched him take his last breath, in that final exhale I also saw all of the missed opportunities that he would never experience leave his body too.

I continue to travel. I choose to travel while I am still young and healthy and alive. I go to as many places as I can, and most of the times with my children.

Traveling is a great experience as a family. Being away from home, disconnected from the daily grind and housework and neverending obligations–this is a freeing place to be with your children. It is an opportunity to be in the present moment, focusing only on basic needs and pleasure. Having time to read and talk and meander. To see the world with beginner’s eyes–something the children always do, and now you can share it with them, together. Dealing with the uncertainty of a new place. Packing. Carrying luggage. Time schedules. Transportation. Deciphering where to go, what to say, what to do. Asking for help. Getting the children involved in these necessities.

People stare at me as a single mother with three young children. They ask if my half-Asian children are really mine. I am regularly reminded of my dead husband when I see the other intact families and couples together. I continue to struggle with these reminders, even when I’ve consciously decided to accept my reality and move on. Solo parenting is hard. Parenting is hard. Having young children is hard.

What I’ve found is that the tediousness of parenthood exists whether you are at home or abroad. It exists whether your are married or single. Life is tedious and hard and good and bad and everything in between, but these are all true in any situation. Single parenthood is grueling, but I wasn’t going to let it derail my traveling. If motherhood wasn’t going to stop me, I couldn’t let widowhood either. Sometimes you have to claw your way to happiness.

We were at the airport this past summer, about to fly home. I was running on four hours of sleep. When we finally got through the security and check-in rigmarole, I settled the kids down at a table with breakfast and drinks and their tablets so they could implode into Netflix and I could have a moment to drink my coffee. My oldest son offered to take a picture of me, and since there are so few photos with me in them, I agreed. When I decided that I didn’t look like roadkill in the photo, I decided to post it on social media and began to type a caption for the post. Everything was going great.

Until two seconds later when my toddler accidentally knocked the coffee into my lap, mid Instagram-caption-writing. My pants were soaked. I was about to board a 17-hour-flight home, and while I had spare pants in my backpack, they were for the toddler.

I deleted the caption. All was not well anymore.

I wiped up the coffee. Bought another one. Sat down for my second attempt at having a moment to myself, and then I took a deep breath.

The reality was that I would have wet pants wherever I was. This kind of stuff happens all of the time. Daily. Sometimes hourly.

I had a choice though. I could stay home with wet pants, or I could seek out new adventures abroad with wet pants. It could be hard at home, or it could be hard in a foreign country with cool things to see and experience.

We often can not avoid the coffee pants, but we can decide what to do while wearing them.

When you travel with children, there will be meltdowns. You can expect it. You can write off being able to go clubbing at night or doing anything wild and impetuous. The children will require naps and full bellies and sometimes they will whine. Let’s be honest–there will be a lot of whining, and sometimes they won’t be the only ones doing it. A trip to the museum might turn into a drive-by visit that involves lingering near the water fountain and telling the kids to stop touching the water. Anything is possible, but most of the time it will be manageable chaos. Most of the time.

There will be amazing moments too. The expression on your son’s face when he gets to see a rare opal in Sydney. Everyone’s joy at a savory meal in Italy. Swimming in the warm Mediterranean Sea. Walking barefoot across the cold wooden floors of a temple in Kyoto on New Year’s Eve. The memories and pictures that will keep you forever anchored in those experiences.

I want my children to know that there isn’t one definitive way to live. I want them to identify suffering with their own eyes. I also want them to know that there is more good than bad in the world, and to understand that kindness is found in different languages and cultures and food and traditions. I want my children to realize that they can choose to be a part of the love that exists in humanity. This is why I think traveling is so important.

Our years are too few. Time is fleeting. I learned the hard way that the future is brutally uncertain, and we have to deal with a lot that is beyond our control. But we also get to make choices, and this is where we have power. We can live our best lives even with coffee pants. Best doesn’t mean “without pain.” There will be many bumps in the road. But, the trip and the scenery will be worth it. We just have to choose to do it.

 

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A New Season

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When someone who you love dies, especially when that person was an integral part of your day-to-day life, something about the world shifts in ways beyond the actual loss. Sure, you miss the person. Sometimes you miss them so fiercely that the loss feels impossibly crushing and the future hopelessly long and empty without them. There are logistical things that you might miss too. A warm body next to you. Someone to do the dishes and pick-up the kids from school. Your Netflix buddy. I think those are all of the things you would expect to miss and feel.

But that’s not the shift I am talking about.

Grief moves something bigger inside of you. It carves into your soul. It changes your thinking and feelings and every fiber of your being. This movement permanently alters the way you live in this world.

Time feels like it passes faster than ever for me. The moments stitched together to make the tapestry of my days and weeks and years have become more precious than I would have expected in my previous life. I am hyper-aware that tomorrow might not happen. Sometimes I am terrified by this fact. Nostalgia oozes out of me. An understanding of an impermanent world makes me cling to the things I overlooked in my previous life. A simple trip to the grocery store might trigger my emotions, because you know, what an amazing opportunity that I can be at that grocery store, touching food that I am about to buy to share with my family, and what if this opportunity doesn’t exist tomorrow? 

New feelings emerge in this Great Shift. I can feel simultaneously sad and also immense joy and appreciation all in the same moment. In my previous life these two feelings would have never coexisted, but this is my new reality. There is no one without the other. Things are always good and bad. I guess you can say everything is bittersweet. Bittersweet is better than terrible. I don’t question it; I take bittersweet and all of its contradictions because if tomorrow is not a promise, then I want to collect whatever opportunities present themselves. I have become a hoarder of life’s mundane and exciting and everything-in-between moments. 

Change is hard for a grieving person. Change and the passage of time come hand-in-hand. Nothing stays the same. Change is evidence of a world that is different from the one you shared with your lost loved one. Change is everyone and everything moving on without your person. A new season. Bittersweet. You welcome it and cry about it. There’s nothing else you can do. You certainly can’t stop it.

I used to partake in the usual “Uuuughh I don’t want to go back to school,” grumbling with my husband (we were both teachers). We did our fair share of summer countdowns. And winter break countdowns. And “Is it Friday yet?” whining.

This doesn’t happen after the Great Shift. Another weekend is one more weekend that places me further away from the moment when my husband died. The passage of time makes my life with him feel less real and more of a distant memory. The reality we shared together seems like a fading dream that maybe never happened. Was it real? I don’t know. Your brain plays tricks on you. Another summer means I am getting further and further away from that old reality. This year was our third summer without him. The numbers stack up. One day, if I am lucky to live a long life, I will wake up and it will have been 20 or 30 or 40 summers ago, and will I even remember him at that point? The idea of a person is very different than an actual person. Things change. Memories fade. Time has a way of distorting facts and altering our consciousness. These numbers are a reminder of the growing distance that stretch and expand and isolate us in the most numbing ways. Numbers hurt. Who am I without that previous reality?

The Great Shift gives you no choice but to view the world differently. Changing seasons can’t be dreaded. We have to welcome the opportunity to live in a new season. It’s now or never. We have to enjoy right now, precisely because we don’t know what our tomorrows will look like. In the end, the only thing we are guaranteed is what we have in the moment. When you truly internalize this truth, you can’t help but become a different person.

The kids and I had a great summer, jam-packed with the things that we love to do. Traveling. Lots of traveling. We pet kangaroos in Australia and swam in the Mediterranean in Israel. We went horseback riding in Northern California and I caught up with domestic tasks like re-doing my filing system and getting some beautifying projects done around the house in the few weeks that we were actually home. Our summer cup of living was full. Overflowing, even.

I am happy that I strategically traveled a lot in my pre-kids, pre-marriage days. I am equally happy and proud that we managed to do a few trips as an intact family with my late husband, and that I have continued to travel as a widow and single mother. I often go back and forth with myself about budget priorities, wondering if I should ease off the traveling schedule and maybe travel less and save more. I often conclude that both are important. Maybe I’m foolish, but I think my traveling is a little more of a priority. There are certain things in my life that I have felt an urgency to pursue with a strong feeling that I am running out of time. Traveling is one of them. Even more so after Kenneth died. My gut feeling tells me that I need to do it while I can. I watched my husband take his last breath, and with that final exhale all of the lost opportunities dissipating into a world that would eventually forget him. I know what I am doing. I have to trust what I feel.

The end of this summer did not make me feel sad. School is back in session, and we are gradually easing into our new-old routines of schedules and lunch-packing and bedtimes and commutes and what we typically refer to as the “daily grind.” Yes, it can be tiring. Tedious. But I like the changing seasons. The new challenges and even the growing pains–all of which make me feel alive. It helps me appreciate my vacation time. When I am at work all day, the opportunity to eat dinner with my children in the evening is sacred. I want to savor their childhoods. I want to cling to the details of what we are going through each day. Our time together is limited and precious. That’s what changing seasons and life are really about: scarcity. We don’t have an infinite number of days and weeks and months. Could this be my last school year? My last winter? My last summer? Maybe I’ll have many more. Maybe I will have more than I ever need. But I will never be able to re-do this year with a third grader and a kindergartner and a chubby preschooler. I have one shot at it.  I’m running out of time with the things that I have right now. This is what matters.

That’s where I am at right now. Busy running a large household and working and living. Happy to do it. Sometimes cursing the late husband for leaving me in this situation, but on most days always hovering somewhere between sadness and joy, and acutely aware that everything can be much worse in a split second, so I hold my breath and try to be grateful. 

Before I know it, we’ll be on an airplane going to our next summer destination. Sometimes it literally feels like a blink of an eye and the season has changed. But for right now, I work on my fall and winter bucket lists and goals. Halloween costumes. Christmas plans. Family movie nights on Fridays. Making pancakes for the kids before temple on Sundays. Little bodies pressed against me at night in my giant bed, wondering when they’ll start sleeping in their own rooms, but knowing that their desire to be with me will wane. Taking big, deep breaths when the world feels too difficult. This won’t last forever, and that realization is so brutally bittersweet.

 

The Rest of Your Life to Get There

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We were in the middle of a long drive back to L.A. from northern California, somewhere just past the windmills near Tracey, having finally broken free from an epic traffic jam we had gotten caught up in getting out of the Bay Area. Now we were driving on what felt like an endless road that cut through neverending acres of crops and orchards, golden rolling hills in every direction, and a bright sun against a clear blue sky. The car windows were hot to touch; my AC blasted cold air into our faces and we sipped our cans of Spindrift sparkling water for something to do and played our music too loud, alternating between our favorites: Grateful Dead (my middle-of-nowhere music of choice), Fifth Harmony (Ellie’s), Simple Minds (Peter’s), and Ethan interrupting to share facts about gems from the book he was reading, pissing off his siblings every time I had to turn the volume down to hear what he wanted to say.

In the midst of what turned out to be a 9 hour drive home, I couldn’t help but notice how it felt like I was driving backwards. I try to be a mindful driver and leave a safe gap between me and the car in front. I’m not a granny driver by any means, but on the 5 freeway it is easy to feel that way with the number of cars that pass you doing about 100 mph. It’s always the same, too. The same recklessness. So much so that after a while you start to not take it personally even though they put your life in jeopardy. They do it to everyone, and many people do it. You begin to assume that there is something psychological about the other drivers’ impulse to pass cars, like the way a dog on a leash pulls to get ahead of other dogs, always wanting to be ahead of the pack. It’s primitive, and yet prevalent. The car behind you tailgates your vehicle, and then they zip over to the right lane to pass you. Inevitably they will then realize (somehow only after the lane change) that there is a big rig going much slower in that lane. But they are determined to get ahead at any costs, so instead of going back to where they were, they will squeeze between you and the car in front of you, despite the fact that there is no room. You then have to put on your brakes to accommodate their lack of impulse control, and hence the feeling that you are going backwards. It happens again and again and again.

I always feel angry that these people are putting us–my family–in jeopardy. I’ve heard too many stories about the gnarly accidents that happen on this drive. Entire families wiped out. A few weeks ago on the East Coast, an entire family except for the mother died in one car accident. I don’t know how I would continue living in that situation. Also, I’ve experienced the death of somebody close due to a car accident. It’s not fun reading the details of a police report that has eyewitness statements about a body flying through the windshield and a faint pulse when the person was found bleeding on the asphalt, but no signs of life when the paramedics arrived. Maybe that’s why I am particularly cautious about all of this.

During my road-trip-driving-vigilance, lost in my thoughts as the music blasted and the kids faded in and out of sleep, I remembered something my father told my siblings and me when we first started driving: you have the rest of your life to get there.

We used to think that saying was pretty hokey, especially coming from my dad. The homespun wisdom of Dear Old Dad.

But as the sun faded into the western horizon and darkness swept across the expanse of farmland on either side of the freeway and I passed signs showing that L.A. was getting closer, I mulled over those words. The rest of my life to get there. Not just in an actual driving sense, but existentially.

I am not in a rush. But I am in a rush. Why?

I used to think of “the rest of my life to get there” as being slow–deliberately slow. Dawdling, even. Like how my dad chooses to go the long way to every place he goes, no matter how many times we tell him there are faster routes.

In driving there are inherent dangers related to speeding and weaving in and out of traffic. It must also suck to live a life of stress to the point of feeling the need to race from Point A to Point B and not being able to enjoy your drive, listening to your music, noticing the lines of sunflowers that had been planted near the almond groves. What a way to live.

Of course, there are inherent dangers in dawdling and doing nothing too. Not in a physical sense, but at the risk of wasting your life. I balk at dawdling. Being aimless in my direction. It has always felt unacceptable to me. I perpetually feel like I’m running out of time and being productive makes me happy.

But maybe I wasn’t interpreting “the rest of your life to get there” appropriately.

Realizing that you have the rest of your life to get to a destination is somewhere between dawdling and racing, I think. It’s remembering the middle ground, being safe with oneself but still forward-moving and focused, and mindful to enjoy the journey.

There have been so many times when I’ve felt like I was failing in something. Not moving fast enough toward a goal. Not good enough. Falling short.

What if you told yourself, “Take a deep breath. You have the rest of your life to get there.” And maybe that simple phrase can alleviate stress and pressure and possibly free you to move forward with less obstacles.

Moving along at a pace that is right for you, enjoying the process and journey, without beating yourself up and going at a speed that is unsafe.

We have our favorite gas station on these road trips, and one is just past the grapevine on our way to Northern California. The kids know where the gas station keeps their display of Beanie Babies. They are allowed to choose one to purchase. They play with their beloved animal throughout the entire trip like they are the most special toys they’ve ever had. A koala for Ethan. A cat for Ellie. A dog for Peter. The kids go swimming with these “babies.” The toys get thrown around in the dirt and then washed off and dried and taken along for hikes and they sleep next to the kids each night. They are the sole object of each kids’ affection on vacation. But when we get home, the poor toys inevitably get thrown onto the heap of other toys that had once been sacred and precious at some earlier time too. Just like most things in our lives– amazing and then mundane. Everything in life is fleeting and impermanent. Immensely important one day, and buried and forgotten the next.

I know the rest stops and gas stations and fast food places and landmarks all too well on these road trips. I used to make the long haul every other weekend with Kenneth in the early years of our relationship. We would visit his son who lived 8 hours away. The long stretches of freeway and cow farms and orchards and slow-moving trucks hauling mounds of red tomatoes. There were hours and hours of conversation, usually something political or philosophical or about self-help. Kenneth’s favorite snack to buy was corn nuts, and he had his favorite Subways that he liked to patronize. Even though I enjoyed the time we had to engage in long conversations, I resented having to go on those trips, and having those trips lock us into rigid monthly schedules. Now, when I think back on that time that we had together pre-children and pre-his death, the memories feel fond and sacred. Those times went too fast. Our time wasn’t enough. Always too short–even when they feel long and stretched and laborious in the moment. I remember the homeless Korean war vet who set up near the fast food restaurants with his tent and signs. I remember running into a student at a rest stop just past Tracey. I can hear Kenneth’s voice, deep and pontificating about something important, maybe politics or school or both. His collection of CDs. I can hear Strawberry Switchblade playing or Francoise Hardy. I can see his black travel backpack where he always kept multiple flash drives in the front pocket, a first aid kit, a toy for his son, and a book he would have written notes all over.

I wish I could go back in time and tell that version of me to stop worrying about the things I needed to do next, and to just enjoy the moment. I had “the rest of my life to get there.” Yet I spent much of the time fretting about something or another. You race through time only to hit the wall of death, and then what? There is no rewind button in life. You get to experience time once.

And we have no idea how much time we have.

We don’t even exactly know where we are going. There is a fuzzy image in our head of what the road looks like in front of us, but we never really know until we drive past it. Where do we think we’re going?

Nobody knows.

The only thing we know for sure is that we have the rest of our lives to get there.

Whatever “the rest of our life” may be.

We might as well enjoy what time we have, as it happens.

Child of the World

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Growing up, I felt like I was caught in no-man’s land being half Palestinian (“Pal-a-what?” my classmates would say) and half “white” on my dad’s side. On the one hand I lived a typical white American life. Most paperwork that required demographic information placed me in the Caucasian category, but it never adequately described my identity. I had a grandmother who I called “Teta.” She made us Arabic food and called me “habibete”(sweetheart) and told me “yallah” (hurry) when I wasn’t eating her rolled grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice fast enough. My mom’s name is Halla, and she spent her childhood in another country, which was different from all of my friends’ moms, even though by the time my mom had me in her early twenties there was no trace of her former accent. Sometimes my mom made us lebani and zaater sandwiches in a pita bread for lunch, and classmates questioned what we were eating. There was always something slightly less “white” about me. I was in Ohio once visiting my dad’s family when somebody told me that I looked “exotic.” Of course. I had brown hair and olive skin in a sea of blonde heads and translucent white skin. I wasn’t that kind of Caucasian.

I usually embraced the different worlds I dwelled in. I could go in and out of those worlds whenever I pleased. I wasn’t constrained by traditions and rules; I got to pick and choose what I liked and followed, almost like a buffet table. This seemed better than being forced to adhere to the norms of a single tradition. It was definitely more interesting, even though I didn’t know anyone with my same no-man’s land predicament.

It wasn’t until I got married when I realized the extent of the no-man’s land I was in. I married a Japanese-American man. We didn’t fit in with my Arab relatives in terms of language or religion or smoking cigarettes in the garage over games of backgammon and strong coffee and a bowl of nuts. We also didn’t fit in completely with white people who generally still didn’t marry non-whites.  I became more aware than ever that I had spent my life with a leg on either side of a doorway, and when I married somebody who wasn’t white and who wasn’t Arab, I seemed to push myself further into that no-man’s land, taking my legs out of both sides.

In Israel, I am reminded of that no-man’s land. This is a place of no-man’s land. It touches upon the feelings of not relating to anyone in the dichotomy of my cultural and ethnic identity. How can this be the place of half of my Palestinian heritage, but the street names are all in Hebrew? The flag has a Jewish star and as we speak the government is back at it in Gaza, the people often referring to their ongoing issue as “mowing the lawn.” Cutting down weeds, essentially. Palestinians are weeds to them. They don’t belong. But this is my family’s homeland. How can that be reconciled?

I feel a connection to my family’s homeland, and yet it is not mine to claim since I have never lived here. Also, Palestinians don’t get free birthright trips like Jewish people. Somebody who can not even claim a single generation of family in Israel but is Jewish is considered to belong here more than my long-line of Palestinian ancestry. While I feel something special about the streets that my mother and grandparents and great-grandparents and beyond called home, there is also disconnection.

In the U.S., it is my home in every way, the place of my citizenship, my homeland, and yet sometimes I can feel like a mismatched puzzle piece over there too, never fitting in with the Arab-American crowd (as evidenced by my sheer terror whenever Arabic dancing is required at a party), and not able to relate to anyone who burns in the sun and had hair that turned green in swimming pools as a child.  

I am “American.” But this has always been a poor descriptor of who I am. Even as a child, the label never quite fit. I would ask my friends what their ethnicity was and they would often shrug and say, “American” or “white.” Just white. The alarming thing was that most of them never seemed to have the urge to know more. Either “just white” was good enough, or they believed the stories passed down to them about their origins. But mostly they were satisfied with not knowing.

Last year I took a genetic test. I expected my results to be straightforward. I hoped for a scandal though, like a long-lost relative or something. Instead, I got interesting insight about my genetic history. I expected to be 50% Palestinian/Middle Eastern, 12.5% Irish, and the rest German. At least that was what I should’ve been based on the stories passed down to me. My results came back showing almost no German, a teeny tiny pinch of Irish (despite an Irish maiden name), 14% Middle Eastern, and other random things like Balkan and even 0.1% Ashkenazi Jew. A hodgepodge of various European countries and a dash of Middle Eastern. The majority of my genes registered as Italian.

Italian. Never in my life did I think I had even a drop of Italian in me. That probably explains why I have traveled four times to Italy, and each time felt something tug at me–a connection–similar to how I felt when I drove into my grandmother’s hometown of Nazareth. It makes sense, the Italian thing, being connected by the Mediterranean Sea.

But what does any of this mean?

It is disheartening and frustrating to hear disparaging remarks in the U.S. about immigrants and refugees. The racism isn’t even masked anymore; the level of historical amnesia is infuriating. We have too many people in the U.S. who consciously and unconsciously feel inherently better than others because their cosmic roll of the dice landed them U.S. citizenship, most of the time by no effort of their own. They might point out that their ancestors immigrated legally, but when pressed about their origins, they shrug and claim to be “just white” as if that was their ticket into the land of the free (it probably was), or they might proudly inform you that they descended from a noble line tracing back to the Mayflower. Except, the pilgrims most certainly did not have a visa to enter North America when they claimed to break bread with the Native Americans.

People overlook these details though.

The “American” label is supposed to be a melting pot of every variety of human, but let’s not pretend to not know that most people consider “real American” to be white.

I wish we lived in a world where citizenship was where we paid taxes and spent our societal investment–like a Costco membership–rather than an exclusive club from which brown people aren’t welcomed.

Because you see, really, the confusion I have felt about being in the no-man’s land of cultural and ethnic identity is how I feel about existence in this world in general.

I belong everywhere, and nowhere.

I am a citizen of the world. That is what I feel. But legally, on paper, there is no such thing.

I am Italian in my DNA, but Italy won’t give me citizenship.

My 0.1% Ashkenazi Jewish heritage isn’t going to qualify me for Right of Return privileges.

I qualify for Israeli citizenship through my mother, but it is not where I want to pay my societal dues.

I am a U.S. citizen, but I don’t identify as “just white.”

I belong everywhere, and nowhere.

My children, half Japanese, half a lot of other things, are not yet confused by their mixed identities. They think I am Japanese too. The thought does not occur to them that our eyes do not look the same. They have traveled rather extensively for their ages and have seen people in various countries, ranging from Mexico to Denmark to Japan to Israel to Italy to Australia and more. We live in a diverse city and they go to a diverse school. It never occurs to them to notice how people look. To them, everyone is a human. What a gift children have, having the inability to sort other humans by color and religion and other labels that dehumanize.  

How nice it would be if everyone belonged everywhere and nowhere.

If we could see each other as purely as our children do.

If there was no such thing as a no-man’s land in identity.

If we were all just children of the world.

 

The Day I Started Quoting Chicago Songs

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I was feeling pretty defeated by Friday night. I went to bed, telling my Google assistant to play “Clair de Lune” as I slid beneath the covers, every ounce of my body exhausted, my mental energy eviscerated. You know you’re pathetic when you fall asleep to your late husband’s funeral music.

A barrage of sad thoughts did a landslide over my consciousness this past week. I’ve been mulling around in this state of mind for the last several days. I don’t always know what exactly triggers it, but it comes, like waves. These are baby waves compared to what I’ve experienced in the last two years. I can handle them. But they are still there.

Maybe it was the Fourth of July. I find holidays are difficult. I was remembering that time we were in our backyard together, bbq-ing, watching the kids splash around in their kiddie pool, our flag flapping around in a cool July breeze, all of us completely oblivious that everything would change by the next Fourth of July. Holidays are for families. Even in the best of mental circumstances, they manage to set off my triggers. It isn’t as traumatizing as the first couple of holidays as a widow and single mother, but there’s still a nagging void. Even listening to the stupid fireworks go off for hours. Those things are meant to be experienced together; they are supposed to represent joyful times, celebration, and happiness. Instead, they remind me of my exile.

I’ve been thinking about my upcoming trip to Israel. My late husband, Kenneth, wanted to bring Johnnie Walker to my cousins who hosted us for dinner when we visited four years ago. Kenneth was so impressed with the Arab hospitality that he vowed to bring back bottles as a thank you. I realized that I needed to buy some to pack and deliver to my cousins, from Kenneth. Since he couldn’t do it himself. And that made me sad. It’s just one of the many times I pause and think, shit, this is so unfair. Why did I have the shittiest cosmic roll of the dice? Why did Kenneth get this shitty fate? Why do I have to make these great trips alone now? Why am I stuck cleaning up the messes of three young children all day with no parental support? Why? Why? Why? Of course it never helps to go down this rabbit hole. It doesn’t fix anything. I vacillate between thinking it’s better to not think about it and that I should keep it all in, to believing it’s healthy to let it out every once in a while. Still, in the moment it feels gross. I give myself until the next morning to dwell in this emotional swamp, and then I cut myself off.

I was thinking about my visit with my grandma. My 94-year-old grandmother. How much longer will we have her? Each visit involves witnessing her age a little more. Loss of feeling in a finger. Slower moving. Walker-just-in-case. Definitely-need-the-walker-now. Tired. Losing weight.

I remember my grandparents coming to the courthouse during my senior year of high school to watch my Mock Trial competition. It feels like just yesterday, but also like maybe it never happened. Or maybe that’s me trying not to think about it too hard, because it hurts to remember memories that involve people who are no longer here.

I started visiting my grandparents almost 20 years ago when they moved back to California from Texas. Back then I was young, single, and a student. I would spend the night at their house and bring my homework along. My grandfather woke up early to buy orange juice and bagels for me, and he’d have it all sitting out on the kitchen table that my grandmother would later give me for my first apartment when she left that house after Grandpa passed.

I watched my grandfather pass away in his hospital room 13 years ago. My grandmother is the only grandparent I have left, and the thought occurred to me that perhaps I better start mentally preparing myself for the day when I won’t have a grandparent anymore, although I’m hoping Grandma is healthy and able to live much longer. I’m not ready for that yet. We’re never ready.

I remember visiting my grandmother with Kenneth. It was probably a lot to ask of my boyfriend (later my husband) to make the two hour trek each way to sit around chit chatting with my grandmother, but he did it dutifully. He would bring his magic set and do tricks for her. Disappearing coins. Mentalism tricks, where he would “read” her mind. She looked forward to them, and sometimes I felt like she enjoyed his visit more than my company. When he passed away, she was genuinely sad. I had never seen her sad before. Not even when we watched my grandfather pass away in that hospital room. We had visited her two days before Kenneth passed away. He had done tricks for her. He drove us home; we talked for two hours through L.A. traffic. It was an ordinary Sunday, and an ordinary visit with the family. Maybe my grandmother felt what I felt during that time: the odd realization that one day a person can be here, laughing, talking, performing magic tricks next to you, and the next day in the most unsuspecting second of our lives, that same person can be stone cold on a hospital bed. Just like that.

I guess I’m feeling a collision of emotions. Sadness that I’m about to go on another journey without Kenneth, to a place he wanted to go back to. Sadness that someday I won’t have any living grandparents. Sadness that life is so fleeting. Sad because Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” is playing and it’s making me sad. I’m also sad that I’ve been reduced to being the kind of person who listens to Chicago outside of a department store.

Perhaps I should be grateful that I’m feeling this way. That I remember how impermanent life is. These feelings are still so close to my heart, and it makes me hyper-feely. It helps me live more fully. Through the pain, I can enjoy life with more depth and gratitude. Each blow in life is less crippling when we know what to expect. It’s not all bad, but it does ruin my Ice Queen reputation.

To make this post more terrible, I will end it by quoting a cheesy Chicago song:

When you love somebody
‘Til the end of time
When you love somebody
Always on my mind / No one needs you more than I
When you love somebody
‘Til the end of time
When you love somebody
Always on my mind / No one needs you more than I

To Be 19 Again

four person standing at top of grassy mountain
Photo by Helena Lopes

Recently I was thinking about young adulthood and had a few conversations about it. I guess I’ve been reflecting about that time and space of youth when I had feelings of uncertainty about my future, juxtaposed next to the similar but different circumstances I find myself in today.

Do you ever wonder why we spend our youth trying to get away from our parents, clawing our way to independence and privacy and the right to live however we want without shame or pressure or somebody else’s rules and worldview imposed on us, only to throw all of that freedom away by getting married and/or having children? Back to square one. It’s kind of weird, right?

I guess I didn’t think that through when I made the leap into domesticity.

Young adulthood: the period of time in your late-teens/early twenties when you lack gainful employment, a place of your own, overall life experience, and your brain is still developing. You have lots of free time and a general lack of responsibility, but you do not realize this, and therefore will probably squander it. Emotions are high and low. Everything feels like do or die–there is rarely middle ground. You are more impulsive. Unsure. Your time is spent sleeping like a vampire during the day and staying up all night, and you are often in a perpetual trance of boredom. Scarcity syndrome rules your thoughts, and it always feels like the first person you fall in love with will be the only significant other you will ever have, and that first job you set your heart on will be the only one for you, and your current friends will be the only ones you will ever have fun with for the rest of your life. Everything feels scarce, like you can’t possibly duplicate whatever feels good right now. You spend copious amounts of time listening to music in your room with the door shut, lost in thoughts that you will eventually deem trivial. You can not visualize what your life will look like at 30 or 40 or beyond. You are caught in the present, and yet you are rarely present in your mind. Your mind is like a temperamental toddler prone to tantrums. Your life is stitched together by two threads: the greatest moments ever, or those moments when you feel like your life is over. There is an entire middle between the two extremes, but you don’t see it. You will not understand the power you had in that middle space until much later in your life.

This is all normal.

It’s tough growing into adulthood. By the time you fully figure it out, you’re dead.

I am 36-years-old, but in many ways I can relate to the 19-year-olds. First, I’m not married, like many of the young adults. I can understand their anxiety about relationships, or lack thereof. And yet I’ve been married before, so I also don’t feel a burning desire to force a serious relationship, or to settle for anyone who sets off red flags. If anything, having experienced both ends of the coin, I understand the pros and cons very clearly, and it gives me a better handle on time and perspective. There is desperation in youth; I am glad to have outgrown it.

The 19-year-olds and I don’t have our own privacy. The youngsters have to worry about their parents poking around in their business. Walking into the house in the early hours of the morning to be greeted by your mom on the couch, waiting for you, asking a zillion questions about where you were and who you were with. Personal belongings are subject to search and seizure. There might be siblings to contend with. Instead of parents, I have children who stymie my privacy. I have a 3-year-old digging around in my drawers. I have an 8-year-old asking me what something meant in my inbox. I have children waiting for me to return home. I have babysitters to juggle and domestic responsibilities to cover. I am neither free nor able to live in the comfort of privacy.

I lived alone before getting married. It was a high priority item on my bucket list. I knew I wanted to be a mother and that I wanted to get married, but I also knew I wanted to travel and live alone before doing it. So I did.

Here’s the thing.

I realized I didn’t want to give up traveling once I was married and a mother. I wanted to keep traveling.

It was hard to convince my husband that it was worth the money, but once we got past the financial fog of new home ownership and the sticker shock of having children, it started to become a priority again.

I once thought that you had to pick one or the other. That you could be the traveling type who did whatever she wanted, or you traded that in to be a mother and a wife who sticks around the homestead.

I never considered the fact that maybe you don’t have to pick.

You don’t have to go from one extreme to the other. It doesn’t have to be black or white. Freedom or domestic captivity. Privacy or no privacy.

You can find a comfortable spot in the middle.

I used to love to travel. I still do, so I take my children. Some people feel it is important to inform me that my children won’t remember their travels. Why they feel compelled to tell me this, I’m not exactly sure. Maybe they are justifying their own decisions out loud and forget that I am standing there. I don’t know. Sometimes people will make comments about the money spent. They apparently think the new car or TV or the many other things they spend their money on are not up for scrutiny, but my expenditures are.  Whatever the case, our lives are made up of choices. I make mine. 

Well, the short answer to why I travel with my children is that I like to do it. I refuse to submit to domestic captivity. I am afflicted by wanderlust, and I don’t want to stop. I hope my kids will grow up with a foundation that make them also thirsty to see the world. So far it’s working. I don’t expect them to have clear memories of that time they pet a koala in Australia, but they will have an appreciation for the world.

Do you take your kids to church? Why do you bother if they won’t remember specifically what they did each Sunday? I take my kids to temple on Sundays because a) I am building and shaping their foundations in life, and b) I want to go to temple on Sundays. It’s exactly the same with traveling.

There are other things I have refused to give up. Projects. I am more productive than ever at 36, even as a widowed mother of 3 little ones. What I lack in the time that I had as a 19-year-old, I have gained in perspective, experience, and the ability to control my mind and manage my schedule.

I believe that there is a core version of me locked inside of my inner being. She has existed since my birth. This is the authentic me. She has evolved over time. This version of me exists separate from the other identities I embrace, such as motherhood, wife, widow, friend, daughter, teacher, etc.  

I have to admit that the core version of myself had been buried beneath marriage and motherhood for quite a while. Deprioritized. Ignored. It’s easy to do when we get busy, or when we live with other humans. Women are particularly susceptible to the urge of sacrificing ourselves at the altar of motherhood and marriage.

It took widowhood to shatter the life I had grown into–a version that had strayed far from who I wanted to be because I somehow believed in rules that were not real. I had to become engulfed in pain and grief to finally emerge from the damage and recognize glimpses of the 19-years-old me again–that former life before domesticity dumped a blizzard of obligations and misconceptions over my head.

That was my opportunity to rebuild. On my terms, in a way that would be authentic to the person who I had always been. A time to do what I wanted to do.

I feel like being frequently around young adults has helped cushion the blow for me.

Young adults are a great reminder that I have been in that place of uncertainty before, that I have the skills to survive, and that it isn’t a bad thing to be a beginner in life. The fears, the anxiety, the nervousness, the not knowing–these were all part of the excitement. We don’t realize it until it’s over.

My situation, in an unwanted way, let me press the rewind button and put me back in a place of being a beginner. I didn’t ask for it. I got dragged into it kicking and screaming, but when I calmed down, I was able to see that it wasn’t all terrible. There could be happiness again. I didn’t have to have the 19-year-old scarcity syndrome. I could choose to believe, based on experience, that there are an infinite number of possibilities and paths to take in our lives. 

It’s easy to forget those early experiences.

We live in a world where there are very clear boundaries between people. We get locked into worlds that are not supposed to overlap. We segregate by age. Young people hang out with young people. Older people with older people. We segregate by reproduction status. Moms with moms. By marital status. Single people with single people.

I recommend staying close to 19. And if you’re 19, staying close to 45. And 85 and lots of other ages. This business of segregating ourselves by age and marital status and reproduction status is what tricks us into thinking we don’t have anything in common when we all do.

It takes just one second on a Wednesday morning to find your husband dying to find yourself single again.

It takes one car accident to leave you without the ability to walk, and suddenly you’re thrust into a group of people with similar challenges that you never thought you would relate to.

People have lost children and found themselves suddenly child-less.

People have lost their money.

Their freedom.

Their sanity.

When you begin to understand the fragility of life, you realize that everything you have right now–these things you think define you–can all be lost tomorrow. Then who are you? Many people go their entire lives without ever finding themselves.

I think about all of this in the context of Madison, our family’s babysitter-19-year-old-honorary-family-member-too-old-to-be-my-honorary-daughter-too-young-to-be-my-sister-somewhere-in-between. (We really need to a word in English that means family, but not by blood.) Anyway, it’s fascinating to witness her stretch her wings in the adult world, as a 19-year-old. I remember what it was like. To be unsure. To venture into new territory. To be inexperienced. To not want to fail, but not knowing what to do either, and to inevitably make mistakes. Over and over again. 

The 19-year-olds remind me of where I came from. What I went through. It makes me appreciate who I am right now, and I realize that maybe I have something to offer them in terms of experience and insight. There are so many ways I can’t relate to a 19-year-old today, and numerous ways that I still can through the human experience. My older friends have life experience I can’t relate to yet, but I enjoy their company and the unique perspective they bring to the friendship. Since I have always had older friends, there have been many ways I’ve learned from them. Learned what to do. What not to do. I’ve been inspired. Disappointed. It has helped me visualize who I want to become in the future by watching my older friends experience their lives. We need people to learn from. I especially think young adults need older friends to learn from. Nobody gives us an instruction manual on how to be human. How else are we supposed to do it?

Recently I read a New York Times article about Mr. Rogers. It talked about how he viewed children as superior. Their innocence. Their lack of jadedness about life. It talked about his respect for those in need. “And here is the radicalism that infused that show: that the child is closer to God than the adult; that the sick are closer than the healthy; that the poor are closer than the rich and the marginalized closer than the celebrated.” Even though I am Buddhist, and therefore not God-subscribing, I respect this reverence.

Removing feelings of superiority, and believing that there is something to be learned from everyone. Realizing that you can help others, and by doing so, you are also helping yourself.

We are all interconnected. We all came from the same origin of life, and we all die. We don’t control our beginning or ending, but we have power in the middle. Our 19-year-old selves didn’t know what to do with our middles, but our older selves should know better. The question is, do we use that knowledge? Those middles are meant to be shared. The middle of our lives, the time and space between our birth and death, is much better lived when we do it together, with kindness, empathy, and a heart to want to help others. The world would be a magical place if we all helped each other live our best lives irregardless of age or sex or race or economic status or religion or any of the ways that we force people into the categories of “other.”

I believe, in the spirit of Mr. Rogers, that we can start by taking small steps toward that goal.

One step might be widening your circle of friends. Talking to people–people who are not exactly like you. Share your stories. Listen to each other. Have a sincere desire to want to help people live their best lives, and to seek your own best life. Share your life with a diverse group of friends. 

I feel like all of this certainly begins with investing in our youth, but realizing that the support has to continue into young adulthood and be ongoing through the various stages of life.  Supporting each other. We are all in need of support. 

It’s a shift in our mindset, to start seeing us all as one.

The Invasion of the Fern Plant

close up photography of fern leaves

We were in the front yard on a late summer afternoon. The sun dangled low in the sky before dusk approached; the temperature was right at that sweet spot before you needed to put on another layer of clothing in the chaparral biome of Southern California. My two younger children squealed from where they played together on the sidewalk with their motorized Audi and Hello Kitty cars, requiring me to look over every couple of seconds to check that they hadn’t wandered out into the street. Ethan, my oldest, stood loyally by my side, waiting for a way to be useful in my latest garden project. I was on a rampage. It was summertime and I had the next two months off and a mile-long list of tasks I wanted to accomplish around the house. Closets to clean. Files to organize. Walls to paint. Roses to fertilize, garden beds to weed. These projects are never-ending.

Me: (on my knees, gloves on, pulling out the roots and stems of an overgrown fern plant) I can’t believe I passed by this every day and didn’t notice how it was growing over the rose bushes and the Peruvian lilies. Have you ever been so busy that you don’t notice something?”

Ethan: Um, no.

Me: Shoot. I guess that’s just a stupid adult thing?

Ethan shrugged.

The fern was stubborn, its roots firmly planted in the ground, fronds intertwined with the old thorny rose bushes that my father-in-law planted, the ones I was apparently killing with my lack of a green thumb and inattentiveness. I got too close to the thorns and scraped my elbow, drawing blood. Dirt flew into my eyes. Weird bugs crawled out of hiding. In my fury of yanking out the fern plant, I was impatient and pulled out too many of the Peruvian lilies in the process. The rainbow sorbet rose bush, the most fragrant of them all, was completely engulfed by the insolent ferns. I couldn’t believe the audacity of this uninvited plant spreading its spores on my property.

How did I not notice?

How could I walk by something every single day and not see it? It made me wonder what else I was oblivious about in my life.

When did I become a stupid adult?

I am not a handy person. But neither was my late husband, so I don’t feel completely bad. I’m trying, though. Two years into widowhood and with my youngest child finally potty trained, I am emerging from the thick fog of grief and the daze of early motherhood, ready to tackle projects on my to-do list.

I give myself pep talks. Come on, Teresa. You can figure this out. Use that college degree to problem solve. What tool in this garage will help you to pull out those damn ferns?

I use unorthodox gardening methods. Okay, okay. The truth is that I don’t really know what I’m doing.

Once I had been trying to weed a planter for days. It was my first attempt in my post-fog to fix up the garden. I was barely making any progress. Days into it, my dad casually remarked that I wasn’t getting it done because I was using a square shovel–for things like cement–and I needed to use the round one.

Thanks, Dad, for waiting until day 5 and ungodly amounts of sweat to pass on that knowledge. But now I know!

Sure enough, the round shovel did the trick, and lo and behold I had it in my garage the entire time, unbeknownst to me. It’s amazing what we don’t see right under our noses. It’s also fascinating to know that with the right tools, life can be a lot easier.

A day into my fern project, my dad came around and raised an eyebrow at the sight of my gardening. I told him that despite the hack job, it was the effort that should count. I’m a gardener-in-training. I claim to be nothing more.

This fern project has been bothering me for going on two weeks now, ever since I noticed that it completely overtook the colorful flowers with its boring and intrusive green fronds. I’m still not done getting rid of it, but I’m close. There’s a big gap in the planter and I will need to buy a new rose bush to fill it in. I know nothing about roses, so it is likely I will buy something and then kill it within the first month and then have more fretting to do in the near future. I’m worried the lilies are gone forever–my father-in-law planted them, and we take them to the cemetery for Kenneth and his parents on a regular basis. There is sentimental value attached to these flowers, and I tore them out like an idiot. The fern plant basically set off a cascade of problems, and none of this would be happening if I had only seen it sooner, before the damn thing grew out of control.

I swore to Ethan that I would never, ever let that fern plant grow wayward again. Sometimes Ethan chimes in with his 8-year-old perspective when I am going over my big plans and thoughts, but often he just listens. Ethan does not understand my adult afflictions, but his presence is a useful reminder that life doesn’t have to be this way.

I thought about children in general. Recently I confiscated the Incredibles band-aids that my kids love to use for decoration (you know, like sticking them on a wall and watching me explode in all of my OCD-ness). I thought I was going to outsmart the kids for once and hide the band-aids in a make-up drawer. A completely new location. Surely this would stop the band-aids-in-random-places problem in my house.

Yeah, it didn’t matter. They immediately noticed the band-aids were missing, and they found the new location within the day. These kids are like hound dogs with excellent noses for tracking. They know when there is something new in the pantry to devour like termites. They spot a delivery box at the doorstep before I even turn the ignition off in the car. They see the lady bugs crawling on the cucumber plant leaves. They know just when I’ve made my bed, so they can run into my room and cannonball themselves onto the neatly tucked-in blankets, wrecking the pillows I lined up for aesthetic appeal. They know how to drag sand into the house–always a few hours after our cleaning people leave. I’d say it was just kids being kids, but why can’t they ever do it the day before? Why is it always the day of, as if they wait for the most opportune moment to soil a newly mopped floor? Between them and the dog, I don’t have a chance in this house.

Kids notice everything. Everything. Maybe that’s why they take it so personally when the adults overlook details in their lives.

We all start out like them: simple, slow-paced, with attention to detail (of course, on our terms). It’s amazing how a kid can spot a teeny tiny spider in the corner of the shower and use it to hold up a teeth-brushing routine before bedtime, but they can’t remember to flush the toilet. There is definitely choice involved in what children choose to acknowledge. But at least they are seeing these details and making a choice. Half the time us stupid adults don’t get that far.

Over time we leave behind our childhoods and grow into adult lives. We become busy. So busy that we frequently forget to see what is right in front of us. Sometimes we forget big things. We might neglect the people in our lives. We take these loved ones for granted. We make assumptions and get carelessly comfortable with people. Our relationships become strained by our inattentiveness and sometimes we don’t notice until it is too late.

We don’t see projects that need to be done. We might forget small things, like fern bushes and filling the gas tank and picking up those supplies your kid’s teacher requested three weeks ago, which of course is due first thing in the morning and you already have a meeting to be at.

I am deathly afraid of becoming just another stupid adult. The truth is, I’m kind of a control freak. Not in an unhealthily-attached-to-outcomes kind of a way. I have come to terms with the unexpected nature of the universe. But I am super crazy about managing my personal effort. I don’t like to live passively. I demand hard work from myself. Always. Often something like an overgrown fern plant is enough to drive me crazy with thoughts that maybe I’m not trying hard enough in my life.

And yet a fern plant seems like a small thing in the grand scheme of life, right? Like maybe I’m making too much of a big deal about it?

But I hate the idea of drifting so far away from the childlike qualities that embodies the ideal of what human beings could be. I hate to think that I am devolving into a jaded and overworked stupid adult on a fast descent toward death.

I am convinced that I can outsmart whatever it is that turns us into stupid adults. I let these questions and thoughts swirl around in my head, churning and brewing and simmering into something I can unpack in my desire to find meaning and set personal intention.

I’ve come up with a few conclusions (faster than I’ve taken out that fern plant, sadly.)

First, adults are riddled with the enormous task and stress of prioritizing our lives. We have too much to manage. Insane amounts of responsibilities. Infinite possibilities; the propensity for piling too much onto our plates. Some of this is unavoidable. I have three small children and I’m an only parent. There’s no getting around most of the work I have to do on a daily basis, but there are ways that I can be more strategic about my time. The fern plant fell off my priority radar, but I probably needed to make it at least a little bit of a priority before it got to be a problem. It was miscalibration on my part. I can do better.

That brings me to my next point. Priorities need to be recalibrated, and you have to do this often. Different seasons require new priorities. As we get better and stronger, our priorities shift. Attention should be redirected to weaknesses and places in need of growth. Some activities in our lives are temporary; projects don’t last forever. Life isn’t stagnant. Conditions are always changing and we have to be ready to respond accordingly. Recalibration is about living strategically.

I used to get frustrated with myself for having to constantly tweak my schedule and habits and perpetually feeling like I was falling short. It felt like I was chasing my tail and living as an inefficient person who couldn’t nail this adulting business. Surely I must have been doing something wrong, I thought. Now I feel like having a flexible approach that involves constant recalibration is the only way to manage an impermanent life. I’m no longer convinced that I was the problem. This is just what I have to work with.

There are general understandings about myself that I have become attuned to over time. Trial and error, the only way to live, I suppose. I get bored with monotony. Simple strategies like changing the format of my to-do list or changing the time that I go running during the day can help me stay focused on what I need to do without losing interest. Creating a short list of tasks I absolutely must do–the bare minimum– helps me feel content with my productivity for the day and can help me avoid the debilitating effect of discouragement. I track my habits, set annual goals, and make seasonal bucket lists. All of this helps. I journal and reflect often about my progress, problem areas, and what I’d like to do better.

And yet the pesky ferns still creep into my life.

Recently I was fretting over the work I wanted to get done around the house. Naturally I have a list for house projects. A list for work. A list for writing. A list for experiences. I have lists for lists for lists for lists.

My dad heard me going over the house list and he rolled his eyes again. “Teresa, Rome wasn’t built in a day you know.”

I rolled my eyes back.

But really, it’s not just Rome that wasn’t built in a day. It’s not just houses that can’t be fixed up in a day. A human being isn’t developed in a day. It takes us a while to figure out how to live. We spend our entire lives learning the ropes of how to become a fully enlightened human–some of us never figure it out– and then we die.

That’s okay, I think.

Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better do better.”

I feel like this is all part of the adventure of life.

Keep learning. Keep doing better. Keep trying harder. Learn to spot the invading fern plants. Slow down. Be intentional. Be kind to yourself.

We don’t have to be stupid adults.

We can choose to retain some of that childlike wonder that we once embodied. Zen Buddhists refer to it as the “beginner’s mind.” This is the idea of looking at the world as if you saw everything for the first time. Noticing details. Being present for the experience and maintaining curiosity. No matter how old we are, we can still channel this beginner’s mind.

It’s just a matter of whether or not we think the effort is worth it.

I think it is.