What I Learned On My Girls’ Weekend Getaway

This past weekend, a few fellow mommies and I went to SF for a Girls’ Weekend out. We lolled about, walked without considering small children, ate a ton and drank in the day time! Heck, we even drank at night! Awesome! It was so enjoyable and relaxing and truly fun. Thanks, ladies and husbands!

Here are a few things I learned this weekend on my first weekend trip without the kids in two years.

1) I didn’t really miss my children. Not even the baby. But I did talk about them at least 65% of the time and checked in with Hapa Papa every few hours.

2) Hapa Papa did fantastic with all three kids – even without having lactating breasts! Clearly, this is a sign that I need to leave more often.

3) Getting to know new friends is really fun. I’ve slowly been getting to know some of the moms at Cookie Monster’s preschool better and it has been wonderful. I don’t know why I worried so much about getting along with the other mommies. It gives me great hope for the future when the kids start elementary school.

4) Finding out what the other moms did before becoming SAHMs was a revelation. In our group, we had two lawyers, one child psychologist/school counselor, a financial advisor, and a preschool teacher. I had the least amount of education out of them all. They were all slumming it!

5) There is such a thing as too much chocolate. We attended a chocolate festival at Fort Mason and by the end, I was a bit sick of chocolate. Also, turns out I prefer truffles over bars. The best thing that I put in my mouth this weekend.

6) Valet parking in SF is totally worth it.

7) After attending an Asian American Film Festival, I realized I might have to start putting my money where my mouth is. If I want to see more Asians in film, I need to support their work.

8) Even though I’ve had my pixie cut for at least a month, I’m still not used to my new look. I am constantly surprised when I see myself in pictures and reflective surfaces.

9) I still get carsick.

10) Things that I might’ve found titillating or risqué a few years ago are now boring and contrived. Not because I am jaded or inured to sex. I’m just older and wiser and find some of the more desperate actions really sad.

11) I can’t control myself in bookstores. Especially when it comes to books that feature Chinese or Japanese stories for the kids. I’m also a sucker for coffee table books with tons of art/pictures.

12) Staying up until 3am chatting is better than sleep.

13) After coming home, say, “Thank you” to Hapa Papa and try to curb the urge to point out everything you see that is wrong with the house. It makes Hapa Papa feel shitty and me seem like an ungrateful jerk. Which I was for a few moments. Sorry, Hapa Papa. You are an awesome dad and husband and I am so fortunate to have you.

Since all the husbands performed admirably (one hit it out of the park by taking his boys on a spur of the moment camping trip to Santa Cruz), we clearly can leave our children more often. Any suggestions of where to go and what to do next?

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Why I Am a SAHM

Sometimes, I think I am damaging my children’s understanding of what women can do by being a SAHM. Are my boys going to look for wives who will only be homemakers? Will my daughter think her career options are limited? Am I reinforcing gender stereotypes?

Of course, I know intellectually that the whole thrust of feminism isn’t to force all women into the workplace and devalue motherhood and being a homemaker. The point of feminism is to give women and men equal rights and opportunities so that if I want to work, I can work. If I want to stay at home, I can stay at home. (Same goes for my husband.)

Hapa Papa often jokes that I pulled a Bait and Switch on him. I looked good on paper: graduating from UCLA, working in marketing then becoming a financial advisor. And then, BAM! I popped out Cookie Monster and decided I never wanted to work again. (No, this is not a discussion on whether or not caring for children is work. Yes, it is. But I am merely referring to “work” as in an occupation for which I am paid taxable dollars.)

I always assumed I would work after I had kids. My mother worked and my brother and I turned out fine (dare I say, AWESOME?). But I do know that as much as I appreciated the freedom of being a latch-key kid and the hours and hours of TV we’d watch after school, I envied my friends whose mothers were home. Part of me longed for someone to welcome me home when I got back from school, perhaps with snacks.

Please don’t misunderstand me. My mother never missed a concert or school event. She always knew the gist of what was going on at school. (This is especially impressive since she was an immigrant and this was all PRE-internet!) She knew who my friends were and was incredibly strict regarding who I was and wasn’t allowed to hang out with. I am incredibly grateful – especially now that I realize just how easily influenced I am! (I am no stalwart independent. I am quite the follower and easily misled!)

At any rate, as soon as I took one look at Cookie Monster, I knew I would never work again. I didn’t want to miss a single moment of his little life and the lives of his siblings. I wanted to shape my children, for better or for worse. When the kids eventually go to school, I want to be there at pick up and drop off. I want to know their teachers. I want to be involved in the PTA and their classrooms. (Ok, I take that back. I definitely do NOT want to be Room Mom. NOPE. Not for me.)

But mostly, I want our home to be a sanctuary. A hub. I want the kids to bring their friends over after school, play, hang out, do their homework, eat, and bask in the inanities of life. I want to be in the background or foreground (depending on what is needed). I want to be the constant heartbeat of their lives until they launch themselves into college and young adulthood. I want to be their security. Their home.

I want to provide my children with the stability I never felt when I was growing up. I want to be their rock.

Of course, many parents provide these things even while working. But to me, I want to be home full time. Even when all the kids are in school, what place of work would have me work from 10-2? No one in their right mind would hire me unless it were shift work. Plus, I am more than certain those precious child-free hours would be quickly eaten up by the millions of little things it takes to manage a family of several children.

I am just so grateful that Hapa Papa’s job makes enough money so that we can live comfortably on one income without hardship. I am grateful that Hapa Papa supports me being at home. I am grateful that I get to be present for almost every glorious, boring, mundane, infuriating moment with my children. It is an incredible honor.

If I Had To Do College All Over Again

Since we’ve been talking about college so much, whether about missing it or getting into it, I thought I’d share what I would do differently at college if I knew then what I know now. (Of course, some of you know how I freak out about alternate timelines so this is only in the case that my current timeline wouldn’t be affected because if my action were to erase my three beautiful babies I would just GAH!!!)

Anyhow, my mild hysterics aside, here are some things I would change:

1) Study. I was a smart kid in high school and got by with minimal studying and relied mostly on my smarts. Unfortunately, what I failed to realize once I got into UCLA was that EVERYONE who got into UCLA was smart so I wasn’t anything special. Therefore, the students who actually studied would do better than the smart but lazy students. Futhermore, no matter how intelligent a person is, smarts are meaningless in the absence of actual knowledge. My being smart was useless since I didn’t have ANY knowledge about physics or advanced microbiology.

2) Change majors. I had this weird idea that being “Undeclared” was a highly laughable situation for hippies who wanted to “find themselves” and had nothing but contempt for them. I mocked people who kept changing majors but in reality, it was a case of “the lady doth protest too much.” Why was I so hung up on being consistent and faithful to a major that I didn’t really understand what it was when I chose it? I was sixteen years old when I applied for college. (I didn’t turn eighteen until my second year at UCLA so I was nicknamed “Jail Bait.”) Why would I expect my sixteen year old self to know ANYTHING about majors and what they entailed?

I don’t really know what I would’ve changed my major to. I knew pretty early on that I no longer wanted to go the Pre-Med route but was too afraid to tell my parents since I had convinced them to let me go to UCLA on account of UCLA having a great medical school. I was worried that if I changed my major, my parents would tell me to transfer to Cal (which was far too close to my parents’ house for my liking).

It’s not that I didn’t like Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, it’s just that everything was so SMALL and required a microscope. And looking into microscopes make me nauseous because of the constant changing depth of field when going back and forth between the microscope and my lab book. It made me motion sick. I should’ve taken that as a sign.

However, looking back, I would’ve liked to switch to Chemistry (I found that endlessly fascinating but was terrified of Physical Chemistry so I chickened out) or Psychology (too bad I thought it was such a pseudoscience at the time). Or Asian American Studies (which screams, “Hire me”) or Business (I didn’t want to take more math). And now that I’m older, perhaps even Computer Science (at the time, I didn’t even understand what programming was – just that I wasn’t some geeky Asian dude who played video games all day or the fact that my father said I wasn’t smart enough to do it).

3) Get a job. Technically, I had a job as a Program Assistant my senior year but I didn’t really do anything and am surprised I kept my job all year long. I didn’t know how to do interviews. (I showed up to an interview in glasses, barely combed hair, a thermal long-sleeved shirt, and torn jeans. I also marked that I had a misdemeanor because I thought a speeding ticket was a misdemeanor. One of my friends who was really good at her job was completely appalled that that was how I showed up. She coached me so I could actually get the PA job.) I didn’t know how to write a resume. I didn’t have confidence that I could do anything at all – so having a low stakes job in college would’ve been really helpful. However, I was convinced my parents didn’t want me to work and focus only on my studies, so I never asked. (Sense a theme, here?)

4) Be less self-righteous and rigid with my beliefs. Granted, I graduated when I was twenty so as a teenager, I thought I knew everything. I was convinced that I had being a Christian all figured out and that my parents were total hypocrites and Pharisees (when really, so was I!) and was such an ungrateful little shit. Besides, it’s really easy to be all “Jesus loves everyone and we should give all our money to the poor” when you have never worked an honest day’s wages in your entire life and had everything handed to you on a silver platter. (I went to UCLA during the dotcom boom so we were pretty flush.)

5) Not be so obsessed with boys and being in a relationship. How many hours of my life did I waste on drama with boys? GAH. So stupid. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Some of the boys were fine people. (Many were not.) But how sad that I focused so much of my self-worth and time on boys instead of myself? LAME.

6) Pursued interests other than my Christian Fellowship. I loved my Christian fellowship (InterVarsity). I learned so much about Jesus and most of my conviction about social justice came from them. However, they were not the only things I loved or cared about. I wish I had taken the lead role in a musical my senior year instead of turning it down. (I said it was because God wanted me to spend more time with non-Christians on my floor, but really, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to memorize all those lines and songs and would fail in a spectacularly public way.) Instead of letting InterVarsity take over my entire life, I wish I had the strength to pursue other interests without bowing to the pressure (whether intentional or not) to do EVERYTHING InterVarsity.

Sadly, like so much of my life, much of my decisions in college were influence by fear. If there is one thing I am realizing my blog is about more and more, it’s about living a life without fear. Who knows what I could’ve become had I not been so afraid of my parents, my self, or other people’s opinions? Alas, I will never know. But it definitely encourages me to live my life NOW without fear.

What would you do differently?

What’s the Worst that Can Happen?

So, on Monday, I was very nervous about posting my thoughts on SCA5 because quite frankly, it required facts and citations and I’m terrible at those things. I would make a really shitty journalist. There is a reason I was not in one of those majors that required writing multiple term papers. After all, you can cram organic chemistry and wing an exam (albeit, poorly) but the only way out of a ten page term paper is to write a ten page term paper (even with double space).

The other reason I found it hard was because it is such a polarizing topic. I was prepared to be called a race traitor or naive or whatever. In particular, I was worried about alienating my Asian friends who were against the measure. I didn’t want them to think I thought they were bad people or cause any trouble. After all, people are allowed to disagree with me – and when they do, they are not always crazy or insane!

I admit, I didn’t even know what SCA5 was about until I saw a friend post about it. Because I learn a lot about the news and the world through Facebook (I find that my friends are endlessly fascinating sources of information), I wanted to see what SCA5 was all about. Once I did, I realized that I very much wanted to vote for it. However, as I am usually wont to do, I didn’t say anything about it on Facebook because in general, I dislike talking politics because I hate arguing issues (see the first paragraph re: facts).

But, after seeing an ever increasing number of friends posting “No on SCA5,” I just couldn’t stay silent on the matter anymore because I firmly believe that SCA5 is a good thing (just like some of my friends firmly believe that SCA5 is a bad thing). Furthermore, I didn’t want my black and Latino friends to think all Asians were against SCA5 and that I was among that group.

Now, before I started Mandarin Mama, I tended to post solely on neutral things. You know, pictures about my kids, rants about my day, funny comments, etc. I purposely avoided posting anything that would even contain a whiff of the controversial. In fact, I’m one of those people who absolutely HATE changing my profile pic to support things. I think it’s the internet version of peer pressure and refuse to do it even when I agree with the issue. (This is just my personal baggage. I am aware people are perfectly capable of changing their profile pic to support issues for completely valid and non-conforming reasons.)

But after regularly posting my opinions here, I realized I was sick of being “neutral.” I was sick of being afraid what other people would think of me if I actually voiced my opinions. I wanted to be brave. I wanted to have opinions about Real and Important things (even if my two cents were just a mere pip in the surrounding cacophony of voices).

I wanted to step away from fear. Fear that my friends would drop me. Fear that I would look stupid. Fear that I would be wrong in public. Fear that I would muddle facts. Fear that I would actually have to research facts. (Funny enough, that didn’t kill me!) Fear that I would have to write in a different style than I was accustomed to. Fear that I was becoming more and more myself – and if people rejected me, they would be rejecting me versus some carefully crafted version of me.

It is scary to put my thoughts on controversial issues out there – particularly since I keep telling myself that I am bad at research and facts. But you know what I discovered? Thanks to the internet, facts are pretty easy to find and check. Also? I am capable of writing something that is not just “slice of life.” And the best part? My friends are a lot more gracious and a lot less petty than I am.

The Myth of Meritocracy

ETA: Apparently, this post has attracted a lot of attention. (Much to my surprise although Hapa Papa has graciously mocked me with, “Do you NOT know how the internet works?”) At any rate, if you are new to my blog, might I kindly steer you to my Site Disclaimer & Comment Policy? You don’t have to read it, but you are responsible for adhering to it. I don’t mind if you disagree with me – that is totally your right. Just like it is my right to not allow any personally insulting or attacking comments. Free speech is guaranteed by the government, not my blog. 

When Hapa Papa and I were first dating, he used to mock me for using big words in common, every day speech. He told me that I was being an elitist and that no one normal could understand me so I should stop showing off. I was greatly offended. I told him, “I had twenty SAT words drilled in my head every week from the 7th grade through Senior year in high school. I read over a hundred books a year. These words are a part of my vocabulary. What the hell were YOU doing in high school? Didn’t you study for the SAT?”

Hapa Papa just shrugged and said that he took the SATs once during his senior year. He didn’t study for it. Didn’t really know he could study for it. He just showed up to take the SAT his senior year. His parents had never spoken to him about college other than telling him he couldn’t go to an expensive one. He assumed he’d attend a community college or something like that. His parents didn’t encourage him to go to college. (ETA: For those of you who are new to my site, Hapa Papa is half Japanese and half German. I am Pro SCA5 even at the supposed detriment to my own children.) He knew nothing about college applications. No counselors told him what to do. He only took one AP class (he can’t remember which subject: English or History) and applied only to one school, Cal State LA (CSULA), and got in (along with some scholarships). That’s it.

I was astounded. More like incredulous. I thought his parents and school were horrible.

“They didn’t tell you anything? You didn’t study at all? You just, ‘showed up’ one day to take the test?”

“Yep.”

“Did you go to school in the inner city? Are LA schools really that bad? How is it possible you did not know ANYTHING?”

My sheltered little brain couldn’t conceive of a world in which the parents and teachers did not provide a united push for the sole goal of getting their kids into college. The thing is, Hapa Papa actually went to a pretty good school in LA. (The school where they filmed Grease.) College just wasn’t a big deal for him or his parents. Even now, I still have trouble processing this fact.

This scenario of his would have NEVER occurred in my family or my friends’ families. NEVER. As in IMPOSSIBLE. ZERO% chance.

By the time I was in 7th grade, the next six years of my educational life were geared solely to get into college. I had tutors. Bought SAT books. Took as many AP classes as possible. Joined extracurricular activities in order to look good on my college applications. Took summer school for “easy” throw away classes so I could make room for more AP classes. I had piano and voice lessons. I was in choir and marching band and the Colorguard. Took the SATs (both the original SATs and then the SAT I and II) multiple times in multiple years. Took PSATs. Took assessment tests for the standardized tests. Took multiple AP tests. Went to college fairs and information sessions. Our classes were geared to getting us into as well as succeeding at college.

All my friends were like me to varying degrees. My best friends made up the top 5% of my class and I rounded it out, the dumbest of all my super smart friends. And even then, my weighted high school GPA was well over 4.0. (I’d tell you the exact number but I really don’t remember.) College was NEVER not an option.

Another time, we were hanging out with Hapa Papa’s CSULA friends, (who incidentally, were mostly Latino), and they started reminiscing about college. Wanting to contribute to the conversation and bond with them, I started talking about the dorm life and how the cafeteria food was amazing and like restaurant quality when I realized his friends had all fallen silent and just kind of gave me a blank stare. Embarrassed, my voice petered out and never finished what I had started to say.

Later, Hapa Papa gave me shit for being completely tone deaf to the situation. His friends worked through school and either lived with their parents or in the super cheap fraternity house. Their dorms weren’t fancy and they didn’t have amazing restaurant quality cafeterias. He called me a spoiled little rich girl. I felt foolish and ashamed.

I remember a Latino friend at UCLA telling me how angry he was when he realized just how different his schooling was from the majority of other UCLA students. He felt constantly out of place and kept thinking he didn’t deserve to be at campus even though he was in the top of his high school. He had started to think he was stupid and slow at picking things up when he realized it wasn’t because he was stupid. It was because the other students had ALREADY learned these subjects in high school and were taking them again for an easy “A.”

I remember a black friend at UCLA who was clearly smarter than me, worked harder than me, came from a similar socioeconomic background and completely deserved to be at UCLA and yet, people always assumed he got in because of affirmative action. Even back when I was at UCLA, a time before Prop 209 killed affirmative action, at most there were one or two black students in my classes of three hundred. There were so few black people on campus, even though the student population in the late 1990s was approximately 35,000, they knew all the other black students by sight if not by name.

Where am I going with all this?

This past week, I have seen many of my Asian friends post “No on SCA5” on their Facebook feeds, linking articles on how the bill is racist and discriminatory and how it is a new version of the Chinese Exclusion ActSCA5 would repeal provisions of Prop 209 and allow the State of California to deny an individual or group’s rights to public education on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. In layman’s terms, SCA5 would re-allow CA to use race as admissions criteria for UCs and CSUs. Basically, to re-allow affirmative action in UCs and CSUs.

According to UC data, the UC’s 2013 freshman class was 36% Asian, 28.1% white, 27.6% Latino and 4.2% black. At some campuses, including UC San Diego and UC Irvine, Asians are more than 45% of admitted freshmen this year. As of 2010, Asians made up only 14.9% of CA’s population.

If SCA5 passes and UCs and CSUs want to increase Latino and black student populations, due to the immutable properties of math, Asian and white student populations will decrease. And since Asians make up the predominant group, it is highly likely Asians would be the most affected. Understandably, many people (especially Asians) are up in arms over this.

I get why my Asian friends are angry and upset over SCA5. When I was applying for colleges, I remember debating whether or not I should tick off “Asian” when applying. After all, that could hurt my chances to get into school. And now, if SCA5 passes and isn’t repealed, when it comes turn for my children to attend university, their chances of getting into their colleges of choice will also be impacted.

It doesn’t seem fair. Why should blacks, Latinos, and heck, whites, get my kids’ spot just because of their race? They should work hard, get good grades and EARN their way – just like the rest of us.

But what is fair? On the surface, merit-based ONLY (the status quo) seems fair. But is it?

I want meritocracy to be true. I don’t want to admit that I did not get to where I am by myself – that I had help. But truthfully, I did. I benefited from tutors, better teachers, schools, and environment. I grew up without the expectation of violence. I had trusted advisors (who had already gone to college) show me what I needed to do in order to get into UCLA or similar institutions. Many of my extra-curricular activities were possible because my family had enough money so that A) I could do these things and pay for the materials they required and B) I wouldn’t have to work because I wasn’t expected to contribute to the family income.

In addition, I grew up in an environment where attending college was the rule not the exception. Being Taiwanese and the daughter of two MBA graduates makes it assumed that I would make good grades and go to a good school. Whatever you think of the “model minority myth,” society constantly reinforced the idea that I was smart, great at math and sciences, and would likely become a doctor.

I want to believe that I am singularly awesome and responsible for my success. I don’t want to believe that the black or Latino student who didn’t get into UCLA likely could’ve gotten in and done BETTER than I had they my advantages. Who wants to think that of themselves?

But when I honestly look at myself and my work ethic (or complete lack thereof), if situations were reversed and I was in an environment where succeeding at school was considered being a “race traitor” or I had few examples of academic success or all of society was telling me that I could only be successful as either a rap star or an athlete but never an intelligent human being and that I was most likely a thief, a thug, or a drug dealer and going to be knocked up at fourteen or incarcerated, I really don’t think I would have the mental fortitude or personal strength to overcome all of that. 

Even just from the anecdotes I included at the beginning of this post, without doing any research at all (which also backs up what I am saying), it is evident that there are huge differences in student backgrounds.

Money, neighborhoods, schools, race, and cultural expectations make it impossible to have a level playing field. 

Obviously, not ALL blacks and Latinos grow up in poverty. That is clearly false. However, at 12.6%, Asians have half the poverty rates of Latinos (23.6%) and African Americans (24.2%) in California. (Whites are at 9.8%.) So, even though not ALL blacks and Latinos have to overcome immense hurdles, many do. Besides, I’m not worried about the rich and middle-class black/Latino kids. They would get into the UCs and CSUs without affirmative action. But this helps blacks and Latinos who may not have the same grades (especially weighted grades) or access to AP classes, tutors, etc. and had to overcome overwhelming odds to get the opportunity to attend school.

Furthermore, even though Asian households have the highest median income in America, that fails to distinguish between different ethnic groups with different histories. When divided up by ethnicity, the majority of economic and academic success is concentrated in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian Americans. Cambodians (14.6%), Hmong (16%), Laotians (13%), and to a lesser extent, Vietnamese (26.1%), have college graduation rates lower than the US national average (28%). Additionally, one in five Hmong and Bangladeshi people live in poverty.

These are the Asians most likely to be hurt by SCA5. (Not the vast majority of Asians who are protesting on Facebook.)

There are no easy answers. There are limited spots. But sometimes, people in privilege have to give up some of theirs in order to allow other people a seat at the table. That is the burden and responsibility of being in a “majority” or in a seat of privilege. And in this case, I would consider Asians to be in the majority since they occupy a huge portion of spots at the UCs and CSUs.

Remember, Asians benefited greatly from the advocacy and rights of blacks and Latinos. We benefit from their fights for racial equality yet rarely do anything to help out their causes when we could. We Asians think that we achieved all our successes by ourselves when we wouldn’t even be in the conversation if it were not for blacks demanding their civil rights. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

How hypocritical for Asians to demand opportunities in situations where we clearly benefit but not offer others that same opportunity where we would NOT benefit? Where would we be in other areas (bamboo and glass ceilings) if many whites did not give up some of THEIR privilege? Where would we be if blacks and Latinos had not fought for equal opportunities in employment, housing, and education?

Though much of our personal successes are due to our hard work, how much of that would have mattered if our rights were not secure in the first place? We Asians forget that we stand on top of the backs of our black and Latino friends as they paved the way and fought for our right to be here. 

What good does it do us if we succeed at the expense of blacks and Latinos? Who will come to our aid when we need it? (And believe me, we will need it.)

We are too afraid and pinning too much of our hopes and dreams on getting into certain schools. The truth is, there are so many opportunities out there. It SEEMS like a zero sum game where there is one pie and fuck it we’re losing some of our slice to blacks and Latinos. But in reality, our kids who would succeed at UCs and CSUs would succeed in many different schools. They will be fine. There are SO MANY pies. (Mmmm… pies…) UCs and CSUs are NOT the only game in town. There are many ways to succeed.

We do not need to fear.

Ultimately, is SCA5 fair? I don’t think so. But until I see Asians rallying with equal fervency against the unfairness of impoverished schools, the many Latino and black kids in underperforming school districts, living in areas of violence, drugs, broken families, and hardship, which, unsurprisingly, leads to it being much more difficult to do well in school (especially if you may be the first kid in your family to go to college), I am going to vote Yes on SCA5.

Suggested Reading:

Top 5 Anti-Affirmative Action Myths About SCA-5

NY Times: Asian Americans in the Argument

Civil Rights 101

14 Important Statistics on Asian Americans

Poverty in California

Reflections on the Rise of Asian Americans or Don’t Believe the Hype

Intelligence Squared Affirmative Action Debate (Hat Tip: Andrea Lee)

Myths and Realities of Affirmative Action for College Bound Students

Minorities and Whites Follow Unequal College Paths

A New SAT Aims to Realign With Schoolwork

Sometimes Love is Easy and Sometimes, Not So Much

The hardest part of love, for me anyway, isn’t loving people in spite of their faults. In fact, it is the near constant reminder (especially when caring for small humans and listening to my own mother) that it is MY character flaws that prevent me from loving people well.

Yes, some people make it hard to love them due to prickly personalities or extremely annoying habits, but in general, I would say the fault is mostly mine. If love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self seeking, is slow to anger, keeps no record of wrongs, (among other things) I am screwed. (And that was just this morning.)

Truthfully, I love my kids with all my heart and soul. But then they talk back or don’t listen or scream or throw tantrums or revenge pee (I’m looking at youGamera) or do any number of things that drive me almost insane with frustration and anger and I yell or say mean things and I feel like a shit. Then we somehow make it to bedtime and they’re asleep and angelic and gorgeous and it is all I can do to contain my vast and unending love and devotion to them.

If only love were a feeling only! Then I’d be the most loving mother and wife in the whole world – the whole universe, even. But no. My kids (and most people in general) can only experience love by my actions – not my beautiful feelings. This is incredibly unfortunate for any number of reasons – first and foremost, that I am incredibly selfish and controlling.

Before I had kids, I never understood why Old Testament people would sacrifice to idols or perform any number of rituals or sacrifices to prove their love and devotion. I couldn’t comprehend why people seemed to love their rituals, superstitions, curses, magic, psychics, and fortune tellers, etc. But now that I am older and have three small humans I love and adore, I totally get it.

I totally get why people would make sacrifices at the altar of a god they could see, touch, and feel. Why they would flock to mediums for divination or healing.

It is about control.

You see, I would MUCH rather prove my love and devotion to God by following superstitions and religious rules and traditions. I want an instruction manual to get what I want, when I want, and HOW I want. Some people think the Bible is exactly that: a really huge and thick How-To manual on how to earn God’s favor. Hence, you get those health and wealth preachers and nonsense like The Prayer of Jabez.

If I am honest to myself, I often want a sure-fire way to get what I want from God. If I just do XYZ then I am guaranteed my kids will grow up healthy/happy/successful/whatever. I don’t want a relationship with God – I want God to give me the stuff that I want! I want him to be a magical genie in a bottle. A supernatural slave.

In the same way, I would prefer to demonstrate my love and devotion to my kids by following a restricted diet than to not yell. It is much easier to sacrifice or follow rules than it is to have an actual relationship – you know, where I am kind and patient and have actual conversations versus just staring at my phone instead of dealing with my children as human beings with feelings and wants and desires of their own.

Usually I learn lessons about God through my interactions with my kids as a parent. Today, it’s the opposite. I guess I just assume I want a relationship with my kids (although now that I think about it, obedient robots can sound extremely tempting!) and don’t assume I want a relationship with God. Make of that what you will.

Embrace Empty Space

Up until recently, I always thought the point of cleaning was to get as much stuff as possible into my closets and cabinets. I would clear out and give or throw away items we didn’t use and then, there was all that empty space just burning a hole in my proverbial pocket. I would plot things I could put in the newly cleared area (whether stuff we currently owned or stuff we were going to currently own) and sure enough, within a week or two, that space would be jammed full of stuff and I would have to clear out crap again.

It was as if I was physically incapable of having any “wasted” space in the house. In my mind, if I had an empty cabinet or shelf, I wasn’t efficiently using my house. My possessions were like gas molecules, expanding to fill the whole space of my house. That, and apparently my nature (not the actual Universe) abhors a vacuum. (Nerd alert! Two, count ’em, TWO science allusions in one paragraph! Whooo!)

In reality though, the point of clearing out my house is to have more SPACE.

This concept blows my mind.

In the same vein, before I got a smartphone and kids, I was always late. I wanted to maximize my time and use it as efficiently as possible. Therefore, I hated being early. I always plotted ways to arrive as close to a meet up or start time as possible. Of course, because I never built in a time buffer, inevitably I was quite often late. Apparently it was ok to waste time as long as it was other people’s.

Once I had kids, I realized I hated using my children as an excuse for my poor planning even MORE than I hated being early with nothing to do. (And with kids, I now never have nothing to do.) So then, I started to build an extra half hour to my travel times and still I sometimes run late. (Amazing how quickly that half hour gets eaten up. My favorite is when the kids are all strapped in and ready to go and somebody poops. Explosively.)

Plus, on the rare occasions I go out without my kids, my incredible fears of having the dreaded “Nothing to Do” is ameliorated by my joining the 21st century and finally having a smartphone with internet capabilities. Now, I rarely have Twiddling Thumb Time. (No, I am not talking about texting. If I were, it would be a lie. I text practically every waking moment.)

But now I have to wonder, just what is my problem with empty space (be it literal or figurative)? What is so horrible about being bored or mentally unoccupied?

In regards to the actual physical space, it is hard to break free from a hoarder’s mentality. The overarching fear that as soon as I get rid of something, I will need it. If I give away this toy or this fondue pot (never used after 7 years), what will happen if the kids should all of a sudden want to play with that toy again? Or OMG, if I NEED a fondue pot?

But the truth is, my kids would only think about that toy if I take it out (and even then, they’ll briefly play with it and seem to be ok when I tell them we’re giving it away). Plus, I have NEVER needed a fondue pot. I wish I did. Or more likely, I wish I weren’t so lazy that I would’ve actually used it. Mmmm… fondue…

As for mentally unoccupied times, for awhile, since I was actively avoiding thinking terribly deeply about my life and only living on the surface of things, I hated those still moments where my brain would inevitably go find the one thing I didn’t want to think about and then think about it. Nowadays, I don’t mind the stillness so much since that’s when I come up with blog ideas or insights into my life. However, I don’t make nearly enough room for myself.

I find that when my house or my life is crammed near bursting, I can go weeks (or months, even) without a single deep thought (or if I think it, no time or desire to pursue it). When I am surrounded by things and the stress of finding places to put these things (and the new things I keep buying), I feel crowded and cramped and boxed in. But when I clear out my house, I feel fresh, clean, and free. As if my things no longer own me.

Unfortunately, it seems as if I never learn this lesson and each time I make room, after a few days, I pile on the stuff again. Now in some sense, I suppose that is just the way of things. Clean spaces will eventually accumulate the detritus of five people going about doing stuff and I will have to clean them again. (I try to do a monthly sweep in all the corners of my house. This is clearly an ideal and does not happen once a month, but I do try!) However, other times, I use the clean spaces as an excuse to buy another item since hey, I just de-accumulated – don’t I deserve another something?

Well, this year, I am actively going to try and keep empty spaces empty. I already wrote about not buying new toys in 2014 (that includes new to us toys). But I also think I need to make room in my mental space, too. Instead of always filling my time with reading, surfing the net, texting, and a myriad of other “white noise,” I will attempt to allow my brain to wander and God forbid, think.

What about you? Does your life need more empty space?