Posted by: Cecilia | March 5, 2010

My blog has moved

My blog has undergone a slight transformation – same topics but new place, new look. Please visit me at

Only You

http://onlyoublog.wordpress.com/

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Posted by: Cecilia | March 2, 2010

Silent Love…(Marriage Telepathy)

From an early age my little guy was good about showing his concerns for Mommy. Even before he could speak in complete sentences he would bring tissue or stroke my hair if I cried, and now that he is older, he will ask, “Are you okay?” or “Why are you sad?” if he senses something is wrong. Like the other night, for example, when I started coughing after the lights were out. I’ve had this bug for a week and it had started to get worse.

“Are you okay, Mommy?

(Cough cough) “Yes, I am. Thank you so much for asking.”

“Are you okay? Are you okay?”

“Yes, I am okay.”

“No, I’m just saying that for the next time you cough, and the next time after that, because I’m gonna be asleep.”

Awww…

About 30 seconds before the alarm went off the next day, Max pulled the covers off abruptly and got out of bed, shuffling to the bathroom with throaty breathing that told me he was half sleepwalking. After about 90 seconds he went downstairs to the kitchen and I began to hear the light banging of the cutting board as it was pulled out of the cupboard. Our unspoken system is that whoever heads down to the kitchen first is the one to make Fred’s lunch and 2 snacks for the day, a slightly heavier task than getting Fred dressed and driven to school since it involves some amount of brain straining not to mention getting out of bed sooner.

But lately Max has been doing the heavy lifting, and I figured, the Nyquil the night before should have equipped me with enough power to at least pack a few meals. 

“I’ll make lunch.” I whisper because my voice is gone.

No response. I strain a little harder.

“I said I can make lunch.”

“Okay.” Max goes back upstairs.

An hour later, Fred is off at school and Max is back home. He comes into the office and turns on his computer.

“Fred was ok?”

“Yeah.”

We type, going on about our work. Max interrupts occasionally with something or other about a client. And I am waiting. I am waiting for him to ask me if I’m okay.

Two hours pass. I decide to initiate this conversation.

“You know what was so sweet last night? Fred heard me coughing and he said, ‘Are you okay?'”

Max nods, smiling.

“Fred! He asked me if I was okay.”

Max nods at me again, as if to say yeah, I heard ya the first time.

“He’s a child, and he always asks me if I’m okay. Why haven’t you even asked me how I feel? Don’t you care?”

“Of course I care! You know I do.”

I do, and yet…wouldn’t it be nice to actually be asked?

We weren’t always like this. I remember those days, some time before 2002 or -3, when my girlfriends back in Japan would ask voyeuristically if Max tells me “I love you,” and I would send them into a fit of school girl giggles by responding that not only did he tell me he loved me, he would tell me a minimum of 3 times a day. Nothing went unspoken – I love you, You look nice, You’re beautiful, This tastes great. This was true of the negative stuff too; after we fought there was always an apology, the actual words “I am sorry.” And there would be talking, going over what happened…there would be words to make sure we were on the same page. Somehow, somewhere over the course of our 9-year marriage, more and more became unspoken, but then more and more became understood as well. We don’t apologize as frequently as we used to after a fight now, but somehow we could feel the remorse in the actions that follow – a gentler tone, an attempt to break silence, a noticeable effort to change an annoying behavior. Love also shows up more quietly, understated. We let the other person splurge on a writing class, premium ice hockey tickets, a crate of books from eBay. We stick to our ritual of staying up to watch t.v. together even when one of us might feel tired enough to go to bed. We do the heavy lifting when we sense the other could use a breather. We get up first to pack lunch.

We get comfortable and we know each other more intimately as time goes on. We can anticipate what our partner is going to feel or say or do even before it happens. It reminds me of the way the Japanese communicate – because of shared and common thinking, alot is communicated through the unspoken. But still…wouldn’t it be nice to still hear from time to time the words that drew us together in the first place?

Posted by: Cecilia | February 27, 2010

Introducing my husband’s past and my son’s future

I have a stepson. Or, that is, my husband has a son from his first marriage is the way I usually say it, when I do say it. And he is visiting us from Japan next month. Maybe half my friends know. As Fred gets older, I need to come to terms with the presence of my husband’s past in my family.

It’s been almost nine years, so I’ve had alot of time to evolve and think about things. I didn’t initially like Tak, but not because of anything he had done. I resented him simply because of what he represented. I suppose one could choose whom to marry, but I couldn’t chose whom to fall in love with. And I fell in love with someone who had already had a full family life long before I heard my first “I love you,” long before I wore my first wedding dress and long before I took my first pregnancy test.

My attitude completely shifted when I became a mother. Who would’ve guessed that children would become different people to me after I had one of my own? How is it that I never saw them? How is it that I never really saw Tak, never saw that he had lost his father, never saw that I was the threat, and not the other way around?

Now that I am back in the States I am back in close touch with a number of friends, many of who don’t know that my husband has a son, that I have a stepson, that my son has a brother. The family in which I grew up disapproves of divorce. I was made to swear to not tell a soul about Tak or about Max’s past. There is also a part of me that has a hard time rolling “stepson” off my tongue because that small part of me still believes I don’t have “that” kind of family. And yet I do. Between my side and Max’s side of the family, there are at least 4 divorces that we can count right off the bat. And yet I’m the one who always said, “Just because people aren’t divorced doesn’t mean they’re happy.”

Fred’s early love for his half-brother was touching to the point of eerie. We had a number of friends over to our place when Fred was an infant and toddler, but he gravitated toward Tak with inexplicable attachment, as if he knew. While I keep our story quiet (don’t ask, don’t tell), Fred will tell anyone who’s willing to listen that he has a brother, and several times I have had to respond to teachers and other parents about whether it was really true.

The times that I have finally broken the news to my friends about Tak, that is what I have done: break the news, as if I were reporting a sudden earthquake or bridge collapse. It was something to prepare them for, unexpected news that begged my apology and their understanding and forgiveness.  But a child doesn’t need to be forgiven for simply being. I know that. And I hope that when he comes to visit later next month, I will be able to simply introduce Tak to my friends as Fred’s older brother, with equal pride for both my boys.

Posted by: Cecilia | February 22, 2010

Go wipe yourself!

At 5 Fred is still lazy about doing alot of things himself: getting dressed and undressed, brushing his teeth, etc. He can do all these things but he just won’t if he knows that I’m around to do them for him. And whose fault is it? On an almost regular basis I get him out of his pajamas and into his day clothes so we can make it to school on time or I’ll do the brushing so we can postpone the inevitable cavity diagnosis. But he is turning 6 soon so over the last few weeks I had decided that I would need him to get used to doing some of these essential self-care tasks himself, starting with wiping himself after potty. 

My first step involved conducting “wiping training” which Fred calls my “classes.” (“Mommy, you have to come in here. Remember you have to teach your class?”) These “classes” involve me sitting on the floor opposite him and walking him through the steps of good hiney hygiene: (1) measure out an appropriate number of toilet paper squares; (2) tear; (3) fold into an appropriate length; (4) wipe; (5) assess; (6) repeat until clean; (7) pull up pants; (8) flush toilet; (9) wash hands with soap; (10) dry hands and leave bathroom, turning off the lights.

Whew! 10 steps. An average wiping training class takes as long as the actual pooping session itself. It’s no wonder I’ve been doing the express method instead. But I know, I know…teach a 5 year-old how to fish and…

My classes have met with some success. Fred is a cooperative pupil and he comes home now with snow white underpants. But I wonder if yesterday I decided to graduate him too early. I had a cold and had just comfortably settled myself into bed in the middle of the day. (Max was home so I could do this.) Fred made the usual announcement about needing to poop and headed to the bathroom. This time when he yelled “I’m done!” I decided that he should wipe himself in consideration of my condition. However, he refused to comply and screamed “No” repeatedly from the bathroom. Normally I am the loser in these battles of the will, but today I was determined to teach him a lesson in consideration as well as independence. I was going to stick to my maternal guns until I exhausted my arsenal of bright ideas and psychological manuevers. I was down to my last weapon.

Me: You know what, I’m going to start charging you for bum-bum wipes.

Fred: Huh?

Me: I’m going to make you pay me money. You know, I can be lazy and not wash my own bathtub. I can hire someone to wash it for me. But I’d have to pay her.

Fred: No fair!

Me: Oh, it’s very fair. Because who’d want to come to my house and wash my bathtub and get her hands dirty for free? I’m going to charge you $1 every time I wipe you.

Fred: NOT FAIR! (continued wailing)

Me: It’s not like you’re a baby! You can do this! It’s bad enough I have to wipe my own butt. Why do I need to wipe yours too? It’s a job, so I should get paid.

Silence. Maybe this did it. Finally, I thought, and my shoulders began to relax under my blanket as I gave myself mental permission to stay in bed.

Fred: Okay, okay! I’ll do it!

Me: So you’ll wipe your bum bum?

Fred: No, I”ll pay you!!

AAARGHHHHHHHH……

Needless to say that what felt like an exasperating and hair-pulling half hour later I ended up wiping Fred, flushing the toilet, washing my hands with soap and turning the lights off myself.

Correction: always I am the loser in these battles of the will.

So after about 3 pretty good semi-complaint-free weeks in the Chinese program Fred’s pleas to put him back in his former after school program came back Monday, in stereo. What made it worse this time is that he stated a concrete and legitimate reason for “hating Chinese school” (the space issue) and his teacher confirmed Monday his lack of motivation: “Fred didn’t do any work today. He said, ‘I hate Chinese.'”

Despite the fact that his teacher considered this behavior “unusual”, Fred’s griping confirmed my nagging doubts that maybe he should be having more fun, that he should have a bigger and better space in which to run around. It’s been a month and he still remembers the other program. Okay, I told Max…maybe we need to consider taking Fred out at the end of the month. I don’t want Fred to be unhappy and neither Max nor I want him to begin associating language learning with torture.

So flash forward 23.5 hours and I decide to pick Fred up 30 minutes earlier than usual in order to minimize his misery.

I step into the large room that is Fred’s – and 60 other children’s – classroom. His jacket and the various contents of his backpack are strewn on the table that belongs to his class, but Fred is nowhere to be found. I walk around, scanning the small faces of other Asian boys with closely cropped hair. Fred almost literally bounces out of the boys’ room, smiling widely.

“Hey Fred. Let’s go.” I make my way to the table to grab his stuff.

“No!”

“What do you mean, no? I thought you’d want to go home.”

“No! Not yet!” 

And with that he took off, racing to his table where he sat down with three other classmates and began to shout out Chinese poem after Chinese poem from his textbook. As one of the few kids who doesn’t speak Chinese at home, and the one child who enrolled a full semester late,  Fred had trouble keeping up, his lips working hard to synchronize with the fluent rhythms of the other three girls. But there is one poem about the months of the year that he loves, because he knows this one by heart: Yi yue da, er yue shiao… 

“Mommy, let me read this to you!”

And so he did, for the next 50 minutes at the school, on the car ride home, on our short walk to and from the mailbox, and in the kitchen when we got home for his dad to hear. Today, in a rare moment of cooperation, he even got on the phone when his grandmother called and recited proudly (albeitly nervously) to her the poem.

Had I ever pulled Fred out, I would have missed that look of pride on his face when he realized he had accomplished something pretty significant. I don’t have any false hopes that he will become fluent in Chinese. If nothing else, I’d be ecstatic if he walked away from Chinese school feeling just a little more capable and confident than he did the first time he stepped foot in the class.

How do I know when my child’s truly miserable, and I’m pushing him too much? How do I know when it’s better to have him stick with something so that he’d learn the meaning of perseverance and commitment? I had shot off 2 emails to my friend K. in the last 36 hours. “I’m pulling Fred out.” “I’m keeping him in.” K. is the one who reminded me that 40 trumps 4. Today I reminded myself that no one ever loves anything 100% 100% of the time…and that is okay.

Posted by: Cecilia | February 11, 2010

Writing My Family’s Memories

It is hard to keep writing.

There is a Japanese expression mikka bozu that translates literally as “3-day monk.” This label is used to describe people who start something off with zeal only to quit after three tries. Max thinks of me as Queen Mikka.

I was pretty good last week, with my fingers typing nearly as quickly as those blog topics were popping into my head. And then I stopped. I’m writing too much, I thought, making my blog too dense. My writing class was just talking about “cooling” one’s “jets” and that’s exactly what I did. The problem is that once I began to cool off, I also shut off completely. The adrenaline stopped flowing even if the topics were in queue.  

Five years ago I started two projects that required regular writing. I began a journal each for Fred and for Max. In these little diaries I write short letters to them every so often. I started out writing entries every month or so, and over the last year that has spread out to every few months. And that’s Fred’s journal. Last night while moving things to our new bookcase I found my diary for Max, in which I had written only six entries since 2005. Fatigue, fighting (that increased during those first years of parenthood) and the feeling that there was nothing “interesting” to write about kept the pages of the heart-covered journal empty. Assuming I’d never pick it up again, I confessed to Max last night that I had meant to fill this diary up and present it to him on our 10-year wedding annniversary (which is 15 short months away). Now that the secret was out of the bag, I decided to read to him what I had written.

Isn’t Fred sooo adorable and lovable?? He is now 1 year, 3 months, 1 week old. Over the last few weeks he really had a developmental spurt: he knows to put things in the trash, recognizes music from our CDs and DVDs, gives kisses, jogs in place, and just otherwise seems to understand us.

Today we went to the hospital to get my breast checked by the specialist. Even though I am likely okay, I cannot feel completely at ease until we get the results.

So now we have 5 clients…do you think we will continue to grow??

We have decided we will move to the US in spring 2008. It will be a huge step for us…I am grateful to you for being willing to do this.

My writing was barely legible and my prose was hardly literature. It was foggy writing done at the end of marathon days: typos, scratches, choppy and to-the-point sentences. But these messy pages brought back memories my overloaded mind had long ago stopped storing. The mini-reports and emotional outbursts mapped our history as a family and traced my hopes and emotions as a mother and wife. They also told my husband things he never heard from or knew about me: how I loved him and needed him even when we were fighting, even at times we both feared that things would never go back to the way they used to be.

I was wrong. I did have interesting things to write about. Life, whether recounted during peaks of creativity or through bleary-eyed exhaustion, is still worth telling and remembering. I’ll continue writing and I will give Max the diary on our 20th anniversary.

Posted by: Cecilia | February 1, 2010

Bad Mother Confession: I don’t enjoy playing

I write this as Fred is enjoying his time at Jack’s house, where he’s spent a good part of the weekend already. Jack’s mom and I finally crossed that early awkward line of what a playdate means – a double date between mom and child or the golden babysitting opportunity. We now freely call up one another to ask for babysi – er – a playdate, or, in our more spontaneous moments, physically bring the child by the house and ring the bell, on the usually on-chance that the other mother will take the kid in. You see, it’s easier with two kids; they have the built-in energy, same-interest loving and annoyance-rolling-off-your-back ability to just delight each other to no end, thus making it possible for us adults to grab some quiet time to fold laundry, catch up on celebrity gossip or sneak in a nap.

Okay, I am giving just one side of the story here. Hopefully if you have read my previous posts you will know instinctively just how much I love my child and how I have built my life around him. We became interested in such playdates because we were so happy that Fred has met another friend whom he loves – and that’s the word he uses – so much. “We tell everyone at school we’re brothers, Mommy,” Fred revealed to me one day. And Jack’s mother tells me that Jack says he no longer needs another sibling if he has Fred. At the ripe old age of 5 they’ve discussed plans to go to middle school together and Fred is already in love with Jack’s girl friend. It doesn’t get more brotherly than this!

But let’s face it: I love this free time, and it’s not only because Fred gets to spend it with his “brother.” I love it because I get to numb my brain in front of the internet, read a juicy mystery novel or just snooze away in the sunlight. It’s taken me years to allow myself to admit this. Does it mean I prefer Facebook or a paperback novel to quality time with my child? That is the part I find hard to accept in myself. I will admit that sometimes, usually when I am exhausted – and that is my usual physical (and mental) state – cries of “Let’s play Bakugan Brawlers!” will send waves of dread over me. Suddenly I have this inexplicable preference to sanitize all the shower curtains and toilet bowls in the house.

I had never been good at playing. I had never been good at being a kid. As a child I related more to adults and preferred the company of adults. My mother said she could put a book in my hands and forget I even existed. Consequently I never became really popular as a high school or college student; I was too square and well-behaved to be any fun, hip or cool. And the funny and ironic thing is that I was in HOT demand as a babysitter! To be sure, it wasn’t easy to find a straight-laced and authority-respecting teenager. I wasn’t hip or cool but that probably made my stock higher among the parents looking for a sitter. I was responsible and a good role model. But always I was aware that the kids deserved someone “fun.”

So God didn’t help any by giving me a boy. The day my ob told me the ultrasound revealed a little penis, I literally burst into tears. How do I raise a boy?? I didn’t know what I’d do – as a child I had liked reading, daydreaming and drawing pictures in solitude and I was afraid that any boy with my genes would only turn into a playground target. Though Fred was just a fetus, I loved him enough at that early stage to believe that he deserved someone more…”fun.”

Fortunately for me Fred shares my love for words and art. And fortunately for Fred his father shares his love for sports, silliness and sometimes over-the-top action. I do spend alot of time with Fred, despite the time I need to spend on our business. But Fred is already in school 5 long days a week…and I am feeling guilty for still relishing some of my own time on the weekends… 

The other night after his shower I noticed that Fred waited for me to be done cleaning out the bathtub before he went into his room to get dressed.

“Go on and get dressed, Fred. I’ll be right there.” I told him. But he stood in place, silently signaling to me that he was going to wait.

“Fred, you really should be more independent.”

“What does ‘independent’ mean?” he asked, his body looking even smaller in the oversized towel.

“It means being able to do things by yourself. So go on. You don’t have to wait for me.”

“I know I don’t. But I love you so I just want to be with you.”

I have no conclusion. I haven’t figured it out. I love Fred. I love my free time. I wince to see Fred grow up so quickly. I often long for uninterrupted hours to myself. All I know is that I’ll continue to feel guilty until the day comes when I will indeed have plenty of long, uninterrupted hours to myself.

Posted by: Cecilia | January 27, 2010

Love

I experienced the most humbling moment of my 5-year motherhood career tonight.

Fred and I were chatting about his friends, and I realized when I started hitting a wall of shoulder-shrugging “I dunno”s that I should get him to try understanding and expressing his feelings about his friends. “Why do you like Jack?” I asked. We went back and forth several times and couldn’t get past “Because he’s my age and he’s a boy.” 

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll make it easier for you. Why do you love Mommy?” I realized this was a better example to start with. He smiled and crawled over to me and pressed his cheek against my hand. “Because you’re soft…”

“And?”

“Because you make me sleepy…” I am the person he feels safest with while drifting away from his waking world each night. I knew what he was feeling but I wanted  him to try. I decided to change my line of questioning to get him to think some more about why he loves the people that he does.

“Would you still love me if I yelled at you all the time?”  He sat up and his smile flattened.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“Would you still love me if I were a totally mean person?”

“Yes.”

Why?” I wanted an explanation. I wanted to know why he’d forgive and love anyone who could ever do anything short of loving and respecting him. No one would deserve that, not even me.

“I don’t know.”

But he said all this without any hesitation, without any hint of facetiousness, as if this – his unconditional love for me – were a given, as certain as day and night.

He knew. He knew the way I’d always known the way a mother’s love works. But I did not know fully, not until tonight, how a child’s love works for his or her parent. I didn’t appreciate fully until tonight just how much power I have over my child.

Posted by: Cecilia | January 26, 2010

Locker Room Talk, Kindergarten-style

Last night my kindergartener summed up for me the language of his sex, providing me a bright preview into the smelly 4-letter word- and beer-filled world of his future locker room society: “Pee, poop, toilet, and FAT. That’s what boys like to talk about, Mommy!” And he punctuated that revelation with a full and self-satisfied laugh that sounded nearly as sweet as his first “I love you.”

The forebodingness and significance of that little quote were not lost on me. I quickly made a point of letting his father know just what came out of his offspring’s little mouth. “Did you hear that, Max? Fred said that boys like to talk about pee, poop, fart, and fat.”

“NO! I did not say fart! I said toilet! Pee, poop, toilet, and FAT.”

I stood corrected. Maybe “fart” will come later this spring when surely a first-grader will introduce to Fred’s posse the coolness of the word (and concept).

What do I do in such cases? My responses are typically, “No, we do not talk like that.” “No, no bathroom language. It’s rude.” “No, let’s not talk like that at the dinner table.” I’m fairly…slightly…sort of firm and I admit I do not say it until I’m blue in the face. “No bathroom jokes” ranks a notch or two below “I’m sorry” and “thank you” and expressing feelings using words. In terms of cutting it out with the bathroom talk, I must say also that Max is neither a consistent nor staunch ally.

As someone who is teaching Fred to knit and encouraging him to be verbal with his feelings, I believe that boys will not have to be boys. I remember what my college friend M. said to me when I told her we were having a boy: “Well, we’ll know that there will be at least one sensitive male on this earth.” (She was going through a bad break-up at the time, I think.) Yes, I’m trying to pass on all my gender-neutral and human “rules” of living to Fred: that it’s wonderful to be creative (whether it’s through Legos or yarn); important to communicate (it’s okay to cry and show pain and weakness); and critical to be yourself (don’t be afraid to admit you like pink or still need mama). But try as I do, Fred still gravitates toward race cars and dirt and bugs and bathroom jokes. I see him at school with the other “guys”, see how they slap him on the back or give him high-fives with as deep of a grunt as a 5 year-old boy can emit, and I can’t help but feel a twinge of…pride…and massive relief. Relief that my boy is “one of the guys”: accepted, liked, respected…which in Motherese translates into some peace of mind that her son can hold his own in a world that will only become too harsh and hardened, a world from which Mom will one day feel too powerless to protect her baby.

Posted by: Cecilia | January 25, 2010

40 Trumps 4

My friend K. rescued me with that reminder, and it has since gone into my figurative handbook of motherhood mottos.

I ended up enrolling Fred in a Chinese after school program. I e-mailed the principal with questions, managed to land myself a discount, and signed Fred up faster than you can say yi, er, san because…

  • He had expressed interest in learning Chinese for some time now (as evidenced in the Char Siu Bao post below).
  • The location is just right.
  • It would be great for him to get the basics of his family language, and I could, indirectly, do something to make my Chinese parents happy for a change.
  • This is a great time cognitively for him to learn a new language.

This was a no-brainer for me.

I then called my Chinese friend to see if she had enrolled her son in the program too. After all, it was just the week before that we were saying how it really is impossible for a child to maintain a language unless s/he were exposed to it on a daily basis. No, she said, she’s going to leave Jack in the regular program because he likes the computer games there so much. Plus the facilities really aren’t ideal. She’ll wait things out and see how the program pans out in another semester. Bump me down a notch on the new mom confidence scale. 

Then came the real test. “Fred, Mommy found a Chinese program for you! Aren’t you excited??!” “No,” pout, “bleh,” I forgot how he responded exactly but it was pretty clear where he stood on the matter. My heart was starting to sink as quickly as my guilt was beginning to rise. How instantaneously my maternal instinct that this was the perfect opportunity morphed into self-condemnation that I was pushing my child over the top, tearing him away from his friends and teachers so he can get a head start on the path of academic prowess. NO – get a hold of yourself! (that is, I said to myself) – that was never my intention but how easily I can let a simple protest turn me into a self-labeled monster mom.

Opportunity and future versus comfort and the familiar. My friend K. (who after a few more posts like this really will deserve a real pseudonym of her own) reminded me that I do have a few extra years of experience under my widening maternal belt. Yes, if I were to consider Fred’s “happiness” at every decision, we would be having mac and cheese and ice cream 7 nights a week.

Fred came home from his first day of Chinese school a tad bit obsessed with the Chinese characters, practicing 3 straight hours until bed time. I was giddy with relief and nearly called my mother. Then as we lay in the dark getting ready to sleep, he whimpered, “Mommy, I don’t want to go to Chinese school. I want to go back to the regular after school.” And my heart again took a nosedive.

Over the weeks, I’d come to realize, Fred would continue the back-and-forth until the comfort of his former program was replaced by the faces and rhythm of his new program. He’d have such a ball at Chinese school that it would take us 20 minutes to leave, then when he’s tired or cranky he’ll ask to go back to his other program. Two weeks later, the complaints are coming less frequently. In fact, the other day he said, “You know, in Chinese after school they let you slide down the railings. In regular after school you can’t.”

40 trumps 4. I’ll keep that in mind.

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