Retrospective is everything

“Every five years or so I look back on my life and I have a good laugh” – Indigo Girls, Watershed

“Perspective is everything” – Aimee Mann, Invisible Ink

My friend Foxglove surprised me with a phone call one day. She’s a special ed teacher who deals with challenging kids all day and while going home she was thinking about how the parents of her students were going to manage over the weekend. This led to thinking about parents and parenting and how difficult it was to be “on call” 24/7, and her various friends who were now parents.

Gusto ko lang sabihing ang galing mo!” (I just wanted to let you know that you are awesome!), she had said, and when I asked where this was coming from she went into a discussion of Katie and me and all we’ve been through and just that she was happy about where we are and what we’ve become. “Biruin mo, a few years ago kung san san lang kayo nakikitira tapos ngayon.. basta ang galing mo!” (A few years ago, you lived from friend to friend and now…you’re just great!). Thanks Foxglove!

My friends have always been encouraging, and are the type to freely give a kind word. But lately, these affirmations have been resonating. It’s always pleasant to hear and gives me a certain high to be told I’m a good friend/listener/mother, and that someone believes in me especially from people who know our story. But for some reason, I feel I am really only hearing and believing this now that the shitstorm we went through is over.

The thing about difficult situations is that it is hard to find their value while you are in it. Five years ago, I didn’t think I was a good person– I was dragging my almost 2 year old from couch to couch, scrounging for food money, wallowing in debt and self pity and all I could think about was how to get to the next day and that I would have to do it all over again. I felt I was being unjustly punished. I felt bitter and that life would never be the same. I felt hopeless and that I would never be happy again. More days than not I contemplated “the end” and the relief that ceasing to exist would bring. I prayed I wouldn’t wake up. I prayed my ex would be struck by lightning. I prayed one day that God would stop hating me.

Dark days indeed.

During these days my therapist would tell me to focus on what I was doing as accomplishments. I was navigating a system foreign to me, as best as I could. That I was in an temporarily unpleasant situation but was doing extraordinary things. That I was doing the right things: getting help for depression and trying to get our life on track. That time would bring healing and that someday I would look back at all of this in awe.

Just as the newborn days are a haze of sleep deprived never ending hours where much happened and little is remembered, so are my dark days. We survived with the help of many, but also (as bestie Maya often reminds me) through my sheer determination and stubbornness. Now, 5 years later, I feel vindicated, validated and strong. Above all, I feel more human: more able to accept my mistakes and more likely to reach out to someone else who might be in the middle of their own dark days.

This is not the last shitstorm. Things won’t be smooth sailing forever. But retrospective is teaching me that life isn’t crummy all the time. And that somehow you become a better person because of what you’ve endured.

Yellow means go slow

An ex-roommate and very good friend once told me that setbacks are allowed by God to give us a chance to pause, reflect and warn against a bigger danger. Getting sick is a way for the body to replenish and renew. Vacations rejuvenate and change perspective. In short, waiting is good and has its own purpose.

There’s a really good song by Simon and Garfunkel called Feeling Groovy. The first few lyrics go

Slow down you move too fast
You gotta make the morning last

Who does that, though? My every day is filled with the desire to catch up- with reading, cooking and cleaning, getting to places on time, work and laundry. It’s a frenzied no-mistakes-allowed-self-imposed miserable cycle. So suddenly a wrench gets thrown in the well oiled but overworked machine and you can either curse at your “bad luck” or you can embrace it.

I am proud to say I’ve gotten better with every wrench thrown my way and see the bigger ones, in retrospect of course, as blessings. From the time I had 3 months to get back on my feet after a nervous breakdown, to Katie’s stomach bug/flu/pinkeye mega week after Christmas, to the surprise flat tire that led to needing 4 new ones, all of these were a message.

Slow down.
Make the morning last.

The latest bump in the road came in the form of a traffic citation. I was in a hurry to pick Katie up from a friend’s house after work. It was kinda foggy and darker than am used to on my commute home. And I had a big bite of summer roll in my mouth (the other half was in my hand) and wasn’t paying attention at a non busy intersection when the lights came on. Turns out eating counts as impedimented driving and so I was cited for that on top of failure to stop* for a whopping $140. Incidentally, $140 is what I spent at Market Basket for the next 2-3 weeks of groceries so the fine is a really big deal.

Except it’s not.

Because I have been getting cocky on the road and speeding here and there. I guess I needed the reminder to be more damn careful. The citation also made me think of having Fluffy’s (my car) brakes checked and sure enough they do need to be changed ASAP. To be honest I haven’t seen the silver lining of an impending $430 brake job yet but see? All about attitude.

As I dropped her off at her Nana’s house last night, Katie told me “Enjoy the break”. Last week I started planning a vacation am getting really excited about. Tonight am going to my friend Mrs. R’s house for girl talk. It’s a lot of slowing down am not used to but it’s all good.

Here’s to moderation and slowing down in 2014.

*Incidentally, my mother taught me to drive. And she taught me that when the light turns yellow you have to go faster so you are through it before the light turns red. My citation above can totally be blamed on a lack of commitment and a moment of indecision due to prioritizing food. But that is a whole other post.

Making quality time out of nothing at all

20130722-105101.jpgThis is a picture Katie and I made last weekend. It took us 2 days to finish and possibly makes up for all her other drawings on paper where she didn’t use all the white space. You probably can’t tell but it is a castle with rainbow turrets, a yellow flag for me, a pink flag for her and a fabulous green background with multi colored polka dots.

This is Katie’s idea of quality time.

I am going to look at this picture to remind myself that quality time need not be that carefully planned, perfect moment. That making memories doesn’t always require going someplace new or spending a lot of money.

I am going to look at this picture when Katie asks to play/read/snuggle and I am thinking of the things I think I have to do (like fold laundry) or want to do (like take a nap) instead of playing/reading/snuggling.

I am going to look at this picture when she is talking to me and I am itching to take out my phone and people-watch on Facebook. Or check my email. Or play Candy Crush.

I am going to look at this picture and remember that right now she wants to hang out with me and it’s not going to stay like that forever. I only maybe have a couple of years before I become uncool.
20130726-161026.jpg2013: still on the favorite list.

This morning Katie announced “I wish it were tomorrow so it’s a Nanay and Katie day with no camp and no work”. I have a feeling we are coloring again tomorrow. Or playing princess tea party. Or dancing wildly. Or maybe even sorting socks and putting away the spoons and forks. Together. Whatever it is, I am preparing to give my undivided attention (at least in 10 minute chunks).

The days are long, but the years are short. And I know I will never regret time well spent with my best girl.

At home in the streets of Boston

Today was a perfect day to go to a sprinkler park. We made a day of going to Downtown Boston with best friend Wubby, them in swimsuits and me in my trusty summer hat. The girls were a cheap date. We took the T ($2), played in the Rose Kennedy Greenway Rings fountain (free) and had ice cream from Emack and Bolios ($3/kiddie cone) while looking at seals in the New England Aquarium (free). The girls decided to walk to the Frog Pond for more water play (free) and a carousel ride ($3) with the caveat that we would rest as needed. Rest turned out to be Dunkin Donuts (munchkins for them, dark roast iced coffee for me) and Bath and Body Works for personal sparkly hand sanitizer ($1.50 with case).
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How refreshing it is to explore the city with children. They donned their sunglasses and sashayed like they owned the place. They took turns looking for the “red brick road” aka Freedom Trail that would lead us to our destination. They tried not to chase the pigeons and waited for me to cross the street with them. Wubby was more genial than my daughter, chirping a bright “Hi!” or “Hello” to every tourist, baby or dog that came our way. Inevitably, we met people for whom the streets have become home. And before I could stop her, she was already talking to a girl who looked like she was in her 20s.

Wubby: (reading from sign) Every bit helps…homeless. (To lady) What does homeless mean?
Girl on street: It means I don’t have a place to live.
Katie: Why?
GOS: I lost my job so I can’t pay for a place to live. But I am looking and hopefully soon I can have a home.
Wubby: My family is moving to another house but you can’t live in our apartment because the people downstairs are having twins so they are moving upstairs.
GOS: That’s ok. If they are having twins they must need the space more than me.
Wubby: (pointing to backpack) What’s in there?
Katie: Is that ALL of your stuff?

We try to shield our children from the unpleasant, and the ugly, and hope they will never have to deal with these things. Avoidance makes it easier to tune things out and pretend that all is well but we lose the opportunity to teach tolerance and compassion. The reality is that the world is not all pink and fluffy, but black and white and infinite shades of gray all of which our children deserve to know about, if not experience. In their innocence, neither girl was uncomfortable discovering the harshness of life.

We resumed walking and I answered more questions. I stopped myself from telling Katie that we were homeless too, once, and that Wubby’s parents had been one of those who had offered us a place to stay. I held their sticky hands when what I really wanted to do was give them a big hug.

“Peng, how come some people can’t have a place to live? Why isn’t there work for everybody?”

“I wish me and Wubby could be fairies and unicorns with magic so we can give her a home.”

“If me and Katie were giants or Martians maybe we can give that lady a job and we can MAKE her a house.”

Thank you Katie and Wubby. You are hope for the future.
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***
P.S. While chatting, we found out that our new friend had worked with animals before she lost her job. I was able to tip her about applying to my old workplace. I hope she finds work soon.

The male guppy named Flower Princess

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Meet the newest member of our family: a blue and yellow male guppy named Flower Princess (FP). I should clarify that our receipt said he was male but I haven’t really done the anatomical investigation to confirm the gender.

FP is the result of months of persistence (Luke 18:2-5). Katie has wanted a fish ever since she met O’s 2 betas: Cinnamon and Superman. She has wished for one for both her birthday and Christmas last year and the desire has only grown since she found out that both her cousins M and K as well as her BFF Wubby had some.

I think pets are good. Fish are the perfect pets for us since
1. They do not have hair (I am allergic);
2. They teach responsibility; and
3. They are inexpensive (and if it comes to it, easily replaced).

I had been dragging my feet re: getting the fish for a while now because I was hoping the desire would wane. But as Katie received a starter 1 gallon fish tank for her birthday (Thank you A and T!), it was time to get our feet wet.

The Brighton Petco people were helpful in setting us up and pointing us to the right purchases. Katie was talked out of getting numerous fish because of our small tank (1 inch fish/gallon rule) and into getting a guppy instead of a goldfish (goldfish poop more) or tetra (better in groups of 5).
20130629-011937.jpgrinsing gravel

20130629-011951.jpgletting the tank run for 4 days

20130629-011920.jpgta-da! A new home for Flower Princess

Setting up the fish tank has been a lesson in patience. It involved 2 trips to Petco, once to buy gravel, plants and tap water treater and another to get fish and food. There was stuff to rinse, stuff to dry, stuff to acclimatize, stuff to assemble and a whole lot of waiting. My daughter and I are not very patient people and there were moments of frustration and threats. But in the end, we have a new friend who is happily swimming. She gets to feed it tomorrow and can’t wait!

Petco
304 Western Avenue
Brighton, MA 02135
617-254-8800