poem: Genie in a Bottle

For Moms

Grant me non-bleeding nipples
Grant me a well fed babe
Grant me Freedom
from the breast pump
Before I go insane.

We fear the imperfect
We mistake the Ideal
as Natural
We worry we fret we believe
In battle.

Baby formula!
You’re a genie in a bottle.
For if I can’t survive the now
There’s not going to be a tomorrow.

 

a poem: Bubbles to her ponytail

A poem that’s not risen from an abyss but dropped from heaven. Based on a true day at the park (lol)

~Bubbles to her ponytail~

The sun arrived with us at the wooded park.
I took the bottle of soapy water
Sold four for a dollar, and blew
Transparent pearls to her ponytail.

Her cheeks are full and golden like a freshly baked cream puff.
I blow a kiss through the hoop.
Up and down, up and down
Bubbles flow like musical notes
Of a song about birds and rivers.

She’s fixated on other things.
The tactility of mulch, or the possibility
Of hidden treasure.
My floating kisses skim over
The top of her ponytail.

And from the far side boys come running,
Arms flailing and legs tripping,
Crashing their boyish might on every bubble.
They laugh as they run, coming too close.
She stays unmoved in her peril,
Still pondering her handfuls.
The wind carries my next breath of bubbles
Whistling for the boys to follow.

I hope she doesn’t mind, my darling daughter,
That I’m having rather a lot fun
Watching the boys chase fairies.

relationship status: it’s complicated

Some people write Facebook posts about how lucky they are to have their great and loving mother-in-law. I have, in case you haven’t noticed, been secretly doing the opposite here. When I used to hide it all behind a weak smile, thinking I wasn’t supposed or allowed to feel such a thing, a dark venomous slick sprawled all over the walls of my heart.

We can all be amazing people with the best intentions and golden hearts. But circumstances, context, fatigue and life challenges can make bitches out of us.

Last night I went to the window and saw her bent over the flower bed. We had just finished eating dinner that she made. I was just throwing invisible arrows at her back. But now, thirty meters away, with a wall and window between us, she seems more like an ordinary, humble, wounded animal.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered towards her. “I know what it looks like. I’m the Blastoise, the tortoise Pokemon with machine guns popping out of its shell. I may be quiet and slow moving, but I’m not a friendly creature when I’m around you. You don’t deserve this, for all the things you do that make my life easier. It’s just that there’s a part of me who is still a sensitive, scared and insecure budding mom. I need to protect and give her room to grow.”

I waited, but that was all. No love, hugs, or promises that the Blastoise will go away. But perhaps, beginning on this day, whenever I feel any gentleness towards my mother-in-law, any tender respect, reluctant gratitude, or retrospective understanding, I will not stump it to preserve my victimhood. Instead, I’ll let it flow. To trickle through the vast space between us, an inch at a time. To swirl and begin to wash away the venom built up in my heart.

the least grateful mantra

One night as my blood boiled at 12am from experiencing all the unfairness, weaknesses, mess-ups and stuck-ness of life and myself, I searched in the dark for that miracle creature that’s supposed to make even the most miserable people happy: Gratitude.

I have not done my gratitude practice for months because: 1) The day is obviously 30 seconds too short for anyone to have time for deciding and writing down the happiest moment of their day. 2) There are a couple things that I wish to/should/must be grateful for, but I can’t feel it. And that’s where my mind likes to get hung up on. It gets too busy feeling a lack of gratefulness to notice the little things like friendship, husband, health, stability, etc.

In my dark hell of a mind I would not have found anything to be grateful for. But I breathed out and felt “Hmmm it feels so good to finally lie down on the bed.”

Finally, the tail of Gratitude brushes past my fingertips. I held on. Actually it might just be its toe nails. But I saw it as a miracle nonetheless. I recited silently “I’m grateful I get to lie down now. I’m grateful I get to lie down now in a very comfortable bed. (body sinking a little deeper into the mattress). A very comfortable bed indeed with pillows and covers…”

It’s like drinking milk after you’ve eaten some hot jalapenos. Then I drift off to sleep as if I have not had a bad day at all.

your door, my door

Just like a lot of you, I live with people, and I find living with people is hard. One day I was really brooding over a certain bedroom door, wishing it was a wall, and blaming it for just about every problem I have. Because when you get upset over people, you tend to think the people are causing you upset.

And then the door talked back,

“There’s no way you can keep me closed, because I serve only the people who live behind me. We are of no real threat to you but you think we’re an intruder. And sadly, when you keep your eyes fixed on me, you nail your heart with fear.

But look, and remember, I have a twin just across the hall. Her name is Your Door. You are free to open and close it whenever you need, whenever you want. That’s the boundary that you can control.

We all live together, I know you wish things were different. But you’re OK, because you have a door. You don’t have to let anyone or anything in that you didn’t want, even if they ask. And you are free to let anyone or anything out. You didn’t know you could, did you? You thought it would be rude, and that’s kind of why you thought you have intruders in the house.

So now I’d like to ask you to stop giving me your evil look and angry vibes, and just see and trust that you have a door, your own boundary, and it’s been here all along for you to use and control.”

And then.

A few days after that door talked to me, I’m standing at its threshold. I’m being greeted at the door to hand over something I’m bringing. When I did, I had a flashback. I saw myself barging in very self-righteously. I can understand it but I am sorry now to recall that I had stood in the middle of that room that isn’t mine, and thought that being asked to leave my thing at the door, as opposed to bringing it into the room, was a violation of my boundaries.

life in a cupboard

My daughter points to the corner of an apron trapped by the closed door. The apron is one of the few items that belong to me in that pantry cupboard that is packed from ceiling to floor. This cupboard is the magic on the fingertips of my mother-in-law. Mysterious and potent herbs casually filling up jars with their now lying mayonnaise or mustard labels. Jars of calories that I had bought, I noted, now seem to mock me with their bellyful of healthful ingredients that I’ll never know the names and uses of. They stand there unassumingly as a symbol of a traditional Chinese mother’s cooking, a feminine power far superior than my tinned tomatoes, brownie mixes and that still-brand-new, full-color hardback Chinese cookbook written by a Chinese-American I bought a couple years back, which I’d started to pretend isn’t even mine.

The other half of the cupboard is the hospice for empty jars and boxes. My father-in-law likes clear surfaces, but won’t leave storage spaces as spaces. For him, filling spaces with something, anything with an illusion of being useful such as the worry that we’ll need a seventeenth plastic yoghurt tub, is better. As if junk is harmless.

I thought this was the battleground I lost because I neither have a lot of cooking ingredients, nor a habit to hoard. When I open the door to tuck the apron back, my daughter goes in and start moving things to the floor, doing whatever pleases her toddler’s heart. She is the person with no cooking skill and who takes up the least physical space. Yet, she is at home and I’m not. Now I see that even though none of the jars, cans, boxes or cookbooks belong to her, and maybe because none of the values, habits and traditions are weighing on her, she’s having fun. That fun is hers. That freedom is hers. Now I know that I’ve had my head stuck in a narrow cupboard that has little to do with me, and now I can stop trying to squeeze myself inside it. Because there’s a whole lot more space and a whole lot other things that I can get myself into. Or not. It will be my choice. It will be how I make myself at home.

it’s all in your head: an example

What’s causing you pain and suffering is all in your head. That’s one of the main teachings from The Power of Now. I had a very vivid experience of this recently.

Our Little Precious The Most Beloved woke up crying in the middle of the night. I dragged my body out of bed to soothe her and even enjoyed cuddling her for the first few minutes. It’s always when your expectation sets in and your child is happily dancing far away from it that even a great patient mom like me begins to lose it. It did not help that husband GRUNTED and turned in the bed, as if he was having a hard time.

Part of me was feeling okay, but another part has woken up now and tapping me on my shoulder. She seemed very desperate, very concerned and very scared for me that I wasn’t doing a good job. She says, “Hey you need to shush your baby and put her to sleep.” I told her it’s fine, this isn’t so bad, I’m losing some sleep that’s all it is. But she kept going. “No you should have been able to make her sleep by now. And a decent mom and wife would have taken the baby with her somewhere, so that her husband doesn’t get woken up.”

“It’s not my fault!” I blurted out loud and blamed my husband’s grunting for it.

Finally baby was back in her crib, I went to the bathroom and next thing I know my head was in my hands and tears are dripping from my face.

What?

The desperate woman’s voice was still here. There’s no baby to distract me now and in the silent of the night, she’s screaming in my head “You’re such a bad mom Oh my gosh what have you done You’re just hopeless You’re the worst mom and wife ever”.

What?

See, up until this point, I had been tired and frustrated but not that upset that I would cry. The baby waking up did not do it to me. My husband’s grunting did not do it to me. I was sailing along. It’s that critical, mean voice in my head that did it.

It’s that voice in my head, not my baby or my husband, that I battled with.
It’s that voice in my head that made me feel so worthless and upset that I cried actual tears.

It’s not the outward circumstances that upset me that night. It’s my internal thoughts that crushed me.

What is that voice? There are many names. Call it Thought. Call it the Shame Gremlin. Call it a Deceptive Brain Message. Call it an Old Tape. Call it Negative Self Talk. The one thing people who have identified and studied it agree upon is that We Don’t Need to Listen To It. And most of the time, It’s Not True.

xxx

If you want to know more, here’s an interview of Eckert Tolle, the author of The Power of Now. If anything, just listen to his voice and the voice of the interviewer. Both are so soothing they gave me goosebumps on my head.

 

leave or stay

In Diner Escargot, Rinko left her small village home at the age of 15 for Tokyo and lived with her mother’s mother in the city. Her mother ran the village nightclub and made ramen from a packet for meals. Her grandmother, on the other hand, was very traditional, elegant, reserved, quiet, gentle and yet stubborn in her own way. It was through her grandmother’s incredible cooking that Rinko discovered her own talent and passion for preparing food. In the absence of husbands and fathers, Rinko concluded that her mother acted out to defy a traditional mother, while Rinko herself acted out against a frivolous and wild mother and became exactly like her grandmother.

A year before reading this in Diner Escargot, as a struggling and exhausted new mom, I had wondered if I’d just made two of my life’s biggest mistakes. What people say turned out to be very true, that when you marry someone, you are also marrying their family. That was the first mistake. Then the second was to have a baby with this man, which was literally handing his family a piece of my own flesh and blood and beating heart. It turns out that letting them take a piece of me killed me. It turns out that we have known each other for years but we barely knew each other, because we’re masters at acting nice and acceptable.

When I was little, I learned that the reason I didn’t have a maternal grandmother is because she left. She left and abandoned her six children while they were still young. I thought about this grandmother. Might some things like personality trait and fate pass on every two generations? How much did it take for my mother’s mother to leave her children?

In the movie Anna Karenina, Anna’s husband pressured his unfaithful wife to stay in the marriage, not just for social and economical reasons, but also for their young son. Anna replied, “I can die for [my son], but I won’t live like this for him.”

Just as not every woman wants to have children, not every woman likes being a mom above being a woman and being an individual. Fathers and husbands who walk out seem to get away easier than women would. Mothers and wives are held against an impossibly high standard that can drive women crazy and possibly away from their families.

After Rinko’s grandmother and mother died, she found out that her grandmother lived in the city because she abandoned her young daughter to elope as a politician’s mistress. She loved Rinko dearly, perhaps to compensate for leaving her own daughter. Rinko’s mother, on the other hand, was, deep down, the opposite of the woman she knew. When she became a single mom, she accepted the job at the village club so that she could live a simple life there together with her daughter. Rinko also learned that her mother had never given herself to the man who was widely known as her boyfriend, because she devoted herself only to the first man she’d ever loved and sworn to marry.

At a young age, I didn’t care much about the absence of my maternal grandmother because I have a loving mother. As a new mom, I ache for the little girl who lost her mother. I don’t know that mother’s story but I did have a glimpse of a desperate impulse to leave.

Her world, My world

Every night I hold my baby, with her bottle, and sit on the couch next to the window. Often times she sits up after a few sips and tug on the blinds. “Let’s look out the window!” I say, and pull them up. The room is dark but the lights from the nearby mall are bright at this time of the year, since all the trees went bald. I let her look, or I play with her for as long as she wants. It ever only lasts for a little while before she settles down again. Lately she loves to push her bottle along the window sill until it topples. I go catch it every time as if it was about to fall, she laughs. I pretend to punish her by tickling her neck, she laughs. We’re not afraid of the dark; this is our happy hour.

Her world outside is so big she can’t even imagine. She looks intently and curiously at this place that she’ll one day explore and learn about and love. While I, I just cannot take my eyes off her little face, the curls by her ears, her twinkling eyes, baby nose and the two teeth peeking out from her smile.

We sit there quietly. She’s looking outside, I’m looking at her. Each of us admiring and curious about our world.

the most special birthday

unnamed
this is my little one 🙂

The Happy Birthday song to me has always been something you’re supposed to sing with a happy voice, or that you should keep a smile on your face while it’s being sung to you. It’s never been anything special at all. That is until my baby turned 1.

I decided to sing it to her the week before her birthday, kind of to prepare her of the big party where people are going to be singing at her. For a song that I can sing on autopilot, I choked on the first two words because this huge lump in my throat totally got in the way. And then tears start crawling down my face. Good that I started practising this a week prior.

When I told my husband, G, he said “Shouldn’t you be happy about her 1st birthday?”

Yes I was, because we made it. We made it through the first year and she’s the best thing that’s happened to me (second to meeting my husband). She makes me happy and she makes me strong. I didn’t know how to love until I met her.

Yet, as much as it is a celebration that we reached this important milestone, quietly singing “Happy Birthday” to her as she fell asleep in my arms felt really sad.

It felt like we’re saying goodbye.

Something’s going to be gone. Something is already gone before I know it.

It makes my heart break a little, but I love this part too. The sadness alongside the joy just makes this whole motherhood experience that much richer and more beautiful.