14 Days of Love: Day 5 – Speaking Up

14 Days of Love, BEING A MOM

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At a family dinner, a 19-year-old young man was criticizing his 8-year-old cousin: “Why aren’t you eating more? Don’t pick out the lettuce. Why are you eating the lettuce on its own? You’re not supposed to do that!” No one else was saying anything and he got pretty angry. “Hey, when did you become the dinner police?” I joked.

If that kind of criticism came from the little girl’s aunt or uncle (not her mom), like it often did, I wouldn’t be surprised. But what does a college freshman guy care about a little girl picking at her food?

When I asked him later, he said “I don’t know.” Probably nothing, is what I think. “Is it possible that you’ve been criticized like that when you were little, and when your cousin was littler, that you’ve internalized it?”

I never spoke up in school, even if I knew all the answers. Even when it was the loud kids who were popular and the outspoken, opinionated kids who were seen as the smart ones. Now I’m not always certain if I have the answer, and I know that people, especially my older family members, might not agree with what I believe is right, given that people have different views, experiences and values. And I’m still terrified to say things that others, especially the loudest voices of the group, may not agree with. But now I am compelled to. Now I feel the need to.

Because if I’m silent on something that I don’t agree with, my daughter might think that I agree with it. Because some people talk loud and sound very certain, and they mock others who disagree, and they have smart comebacks that others don’t know how to argue with, so I want my daughter to know that this doesn’t mean what they’re saying is the truth, or the only truth. Because the voices of judgement, criticism, praise or encouragement all turn into our children’s internal voices and become the way they will talk not just to others, but to themselves too.

Day 4: Boundaries 101

14 Days of Love, LOVE

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There was one mission I set for myself during 14 Days of Love: speak up when my boundaries are crossed, and set them with whoever crosses them.

This is a hard one! For a beginner like me, it takes people to inadvertently upset me to realize that’s a place I need to set a boundary. Brene Brown advises that we keep a “soft front, strong back”. Approach it kindly and politely, and be firm and assertive at the same time. This is important advice because it is really hard to do.

A week prior to 14 Days I defended a certain boundary for the first time and I was the opposite of “soft front, strong back”. This boundary seems so common sense for me that whenever it was crossed before, I’d find excuses for the violator such as “It doesn’t happen often”, “They’re just trying to help”, “Don’t make a fuss about it”. I even bent backwards to defend them, like “You should just be grateful that they’re here to help at all”.

That voice that persuaded me to let it slide is Fear. My Fear is scared of conflict and confrontation and worried that I’m not being a “good person”. But feelings don’t go away. Each time the frustration sticks itself into my heart like a splinter. I become more and more sensitive to pain and on that day that I decided not to push another splinter into my heart, my body pushed all the splinters out, onto the violator.

In other words, the day I decided not to take it any more, I got really mad.
Since I never got mad about it before, it might have been quite shocking to the violator. I hope they got the message.

A week later a similar situation was about to happen, and I wasn’t going to rely on hope, because to be fair, with all the words that came out of my mouth, none of them explained what made me so mad. So the night before, I set the boundary. It wasn’t perfect, but doing it imperfectly, as I did when I first defended that boundary, is better than not doing it at all.

For any of you who’d like to learn about boundaries, I recommend these two pieces: “Ten Steps for Developing Effective Boundaries” at Life By John shows us what boundaries look like. And “The Alpha Mare” by Elizabeth Gilbert shows us what a boundaried person looks like. 

14 Days of Love: Day 3 – say YES to (pokemon) adventures

14 Days of Love, LOVE, SHORT STORIES

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Arachnophobics be glad this was hard to photograph 😉

After the baby was put to bed, husband suggested we go play Pokemon Go, while his parents keep an ear out for the baby. What constituted today’s Act of Love? Allow husband to ask for help and accept it. Step outside of your routine, even if you’re a little tired, and say YES to that little new thing, and have a guilty pleasure adventure-date on a weeknight.

For the first time I went to a library not for the books. We haven’t seen the place by day, but at night it is Spider Central. A 10-meter stretch of railing is full of spiders in their intricate webs, dotted with their prey. The railing is lit too, making it a showcase of “the most spider and webs you’ve ever seen”.  What attracted them all to camp out there? Maybe this place over the river is also Flies Central, where spiders come for their dinners?

The spiders are not the spooky part. There is bronze statue of a seated life-size boy with his head down reading a book. We call him Redo and I say hi to him and talk about him when we walk past, as if not acknowledging him is going to make him come alive and tap us on our shoulder the second we turn our backs.

We’ve since been going there quite often and we start to recognize some fellow Pokemon Go players. One night when we arrived though, all three poke-stops had a lure going on, but there was NOBODY there. Where is everyone? Who put the lures out? There are no pokemons around either.

“Wait, husband. It’s not the Pokemons. WE are the ones who got lured to this place!”

Soon this woman who brings her dog appeared, she’s a regular. Then a man with a couple kids arrived. Did the woman put out all three lures? We’ve overheard this same woman talk about a Magmar nest across the street. Finally the Magmar showed up on our “nearby” radar, and we decided to go explore. Before the crossing, we found her in front of us. “Let’s just follow her,” I whispered to husband. At the same time, she turned around and invited us to come right along.

She crossed the street with her head turned towards us, not seeing the car coming at us and we hurried her to cross, her little dog barking at us the whole time. We walked through an underpass, a dark opening to the community center to the left, and to the right, a bridge of unknown length, lit only by one lamp, with the freeway roaring overhead. I thought we didn’t need to go any further, since my Magmar appeared at this time. But while I focused on catching it, husband and the lady with the dog had made their way down the dark bridge.

Their Magmar shouldn’t be far away. I took a couple steps down the bridge but mainly stayed put, waiting for them, while still struggling to catch my Magmar. The phone screen was too bright compared to our surrounding that when I looked up again, I was blind in addition to it being dark. I made out only faint flutters of movement way ahead into the darkness after my eyes adjusted, and I started running towards them, my shadow waddling in front of me as I prayed that mine would be the only shadow I see.

Traffic continued to roar overhead, I felt like a little mouse caught in the space of a train track. Finally I got to the end, husband and lady with the dog stood there, finally found their Magmars. Just as I thought it was time to go back, lady went further into the darkness ahead. A dog park by day, it is now a vast stretch of darkness, there was not a single lamp. Are those trees in the distance? What’s in the trees? Anything behind the trees? I remember the warning that came with the Pokemon app update: “Don’t go into dangerous areas while playing Pokemon Go”. This lady just strutted into it no problem.

 Maybe she wasn’t the right person to follow. Can we just turn around now?
“How far do you usually go?” Husband asked her. We stood on the edge, watching her.

“Oh this is as far as I go!” She turned around. “Yeah I wouldn’t have come alone if someone hadn’t shown me. And I always bring my dog with me because he’ll let me know if there’s anyone around!”

The place was still lampless. Traffic was still so loud like it’s threatening to fall on my head. There’s still the dark bridge to cross back. But there is a new light. The light of knowledge that this lady is not crazy.

 

 

14 Days of Love: Day 2, and how much is too much

14 Days of Love, LOVE

 

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Day 2: I finally went to see the movie Finding Dory. I quite enjoy going to a movie alone, do you? I do, because I don’t need to wait for anybody else’s schedule to clear. 🙂

There are different levels of self-love, I learned. Some acts of love are obvious, like treating yourself to a food, item or experience that you have wanted for a while. Just be careful not to indulge in overeating or overspending. Indulgent behaviors like that are signs that you’re not in tune with what your body and soul need. I think what we usually call a guilty pleasure is about just right – a one-off, or a controlled occurrence, of having ice cream, getting a massage, doing a  Netflix-marathon, the thing that your heart desires.

But how much is too much? I check my satisfaction level.

With watching TV shows, I’ll enjoy one episode at 100% satisfaction. I might clamor to watch a second, but after the initial few minutes where it resolves what’s left off from the first episode, satisfaction wanes to 80%. If I watch a third, I just might not feel the thrill any more, even as the storyline keeps moving. Satisfaction has dropped to 60%. That’s where I’ll stop, so that I can enjoy this show another night at the full 100%.

Apply this satisfaction check on things you easily do on autopilot, like eating chips. Or scrolling through Facebook. Too much is where you’re not really interested but you keep scrolling, wanting to find the next exciting thing, just one more, just one more, and the one more never comes because your mind is no longer sharp enough to be interested. The moment you realize that satisfaction is low, is the moment to physically remove yourself from that activity, so that you can do something else more satisfying or constructive.

By the way, watching Finding Dory was 200% satisfaction!

 

14 Days of Love: Day 1

14 Days of Love, LOVE

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Three weeks ago I started this game where I won’t “complain” about something to my husband for two weeks. I see my “complaints” as very legitimate issues that we have to discuss, but multiple hours-long arguments over the course of one weekend was too much, even for me. I decided to take a break from pointing out the problems and find things to be grateful for instead. To let us rest, to let us heal, to make repairs. I read that sometimes when you want something, you can get it by first giving it to somebody else. So I would summon the gentle Rebecca back, who is better at showing love, attention and care to her spouse and being nice to his family, so that I can start to feel more love and connection too. I would call it 14 Days of Love.

However, before I even started this game, I felt drained at the mere thought of having to act really nice, caring and attentive to them. Would it really make me feel better?

And then my inner voice spoke, like it often does, when I was taking a bathroom break.

NO, she said. Clearly, with how tired and under-appreciated you feel, YOU NEED YOUR LOVE MORE THAN THEY DO. It’s time you learn to care for yourself. Let yourself rest by letting husband take care of the baby. Let yourself heal. And learn to give yourself attention and care.

Immediately, I felt light and comforted, as stress, pressure and expectation that I didn’t know were there, melted away.