Tuesday Mood: Don’t Wanna Cry

Something fun today. My daughter and her dance team Eclipse (kpop dance group)  recently released their latest cover video seen here. I am so proud of their creativity and perseverance to always outdo themselves.  Also, dancing on the beach, how cool is that, eh?



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I’ve been thinking a lot about perspectives lately maybe because my son has just graduated from High School and would soon be leaving home. With this leaving, for the first time in the last twenty years, I would be completely without a dependent child living at home. I would have to wake up, not to tread over to a room to make sure my child get up in time for school, or in the evening, not to holler that dinner is in fact ready but to quietly sit down and eat my own meal.

It used to be that there were two children at home, and then one left, and now the other is about to leave. It used to be that I would either go up the stairs, stand in between two bedrooms and say, “Time to eat” to get my teenagers to leave their rooms. It used to be that I could look up in the rearview mirror and steal glances at two faces I cherish more than anything else in the world. It used to be that my backseat was occupied by two crying toddlers/infants, then noisy singers and hummers, then sullen teenagers or young adults laughing (or staring with annoyance) at their mother’s foolish attempts to engage with them.

There are a lot of “It used to be” in my vocabulary these days.  You can’t avoid this sentimentality if you are a parent, no matter how much you force yourself to look forward to the road instead of glancing back. The future is scary. The future is exciting. The future is kind of lonely, and loads of anxiety producing. Of course, the future now also gives room for my own activities such as yoga at 6 pm, or poetry workshop that goes until 9:30 pm without worrying about hurrying home.

The other day I was thinking about how much sitting around I do in the car, having to commute one hour each way to work. Since I’ve been working for 20 plus years, that is a lot of moments lost in the car. Just when I started to feel sorry for myself, I remember the wonderful High School both my son and daughter have gone to, where something like 26% of the graduating class (The Class of 2017) scored higher than 30 in ACT, and 13 Commended Students and 12 Finalists qualified for the National Merit Scholarship Program. My son being one of the finalists. This is the school where teachers care about the students, and an emphasis is placed on academics as well as athletics.  Oh yes, the best thing is that this school that has given great educational foundations for both of my kids is a public school.  This is the school my kids could go to because we live here in this town.

So, then, my twenty plus years of lost moments in the car with NPR (in my earlier commuting days) and podcasts such as Tim Ferriss Show, The Good Life Project, and Tara Brach these days are not really lost moments, are they? I have raised two great kids who are empathetic, intelligent and open-minded, (who can hum to the tune of “All Things Considered” at the age of four from over exposure to NPR)  and who at the moment are pursuing higher education: my daughter is currently finishing up her second year in Stanford University, and my son is heading to The Ohio State University in the fall. Besides, have I not learned so much from listening to the mentioned sources? How else could I have known about morning rituals, meditations, radical acceptance, stoicism, refugee crisis, immigrants striving for survival and what a good life means to me?

Considering all of that, what am I lamenting about? What am I really tensing against? The future is unknown, as it always is. Hindsight is so clear as it always has been. I have always placed an importance on education and character while raising my kids. Now, here I am, about to let both of them go out on their own. Already my daughter has been on her own for two years, making decisions, good or bad; and striving and trying to establish her own identity. I rarely hear from her during the school year, which I used to take personally as if I had failed as a mother to connect to a child. Recently, I have been looking at her independence, and her desire to be fiercely free of intrusion from parents, as proof that she is an adult now. She will be okay without me. Isn’t that what all parents want? That their child could stand on their own to brave the world. Imagine having a kid who constantly texts the parents for validation, assurance and approval. Then, I’ll have something to worry about.

So all of this writing and thinking is the roundabout way to assure myself that everything will be as everything should be. Good, bad, pretty or ugly, that is what present moment brings, and this reality is nothing new. Whatever this brief span of life brings, this is what I live in, like it or not. I don’t need to make it anything else. I don’t need to stand from the outside and look in. I don’t need to be anxious about. I am already in. So be in this wholeheartedly.  That’s the new perspective.  Here’s what I have found to be working for me these last few weeks: take a walk outside (2-3 miles each day, or aim for over 4 miles on a good day), take in the view of the trees and each blade of grass, each petal of yellow wild flowers, each inhalation of the scent of nature. Look at the green on the side of the road, the turtle crossing the road, the “Share the road” sign which I love because I think about all the things we are sharing on this road: the dogs barking from the windows of the passing cars, the joggers whose sweat pour from their foreheads, the older couples walking hand in hand, the hummingbird fluttering about, the kids on their scooters  rolling downhill effortlessly. And after all of that, even if I try not to, I can’t help but feel my mind shift from worries to celebration.

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Try saying Yes.

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Try saying yes to things even if they are hard, especially if they tear you like you’re a piece of  paper, hurt you so much that your vision blurs. Try saying yes to a difficult day when doors are being slammed in your face and no amount of combination keys will crack open a way. Try saying yes to the pain in your ankles when you walk and run; it’s a sign that you’ve been trying to go somewhere.

Try saying yes to the block-jammed traffic, where cars stalled, tempers flooded the roads, everyone out to get everyone else, and you curse at a stranger because it’s easier to “Fuck you” than to solve your real problems elsewhere.

Try saying yes to your fear of missing out, your fear of not being enough, your fear of your old friend Insecurity, for they too want a hug, a place to be held, where they are not judged, but accepted tenderly.

Try saying yes to a lot of things that never make you happy although at a glance they seem like the answers you’ve always sought. Trying saying yes because you’ve tried a thousand No’s, and No’s never lead you anywhere. Try saying yes when you are alone and you think this loneliness will become you. Try saying yes when you are happy, for the wrong reasons or you think they are the wrong reasons.

Try saying yes to all the No! people have shoved in your face, stuck on your back, slapped on your cheeks. When they do it again, you say, Yes, Yes, Yes. Failure is an option to learn something new. Try it. Try saying a lot of yes, because you want to and not because you ought to or you need to.

Try saying yes to a day that never rises to expectation, but does not fall flat either. It’s just a day, like any old day, where you wake up breathing and go to bed breathing. This world, this reality, this truth, they are your Yes.

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I took a walk



FullSizeRender (1) I I took a walk this evening trying to pay attention to each blade of grass, each scent of the roadside flower, each pollen tickling inside my nostril, each breath labored with each uphill track, each stride, each breeze cooling my face and neck, each heat rising up within my body, each nod I gave to the other walkers, each half smile I awkwardly manage as they passed by, each memory of “Oh, this is where my son/daughter ran/fell/biked/laughed/talked/sulked/cried”, each notation of “Oh, this tree/shrub is this tall now”, and each muttering of “this is now, this is now, this is now”. I took a walk in the neighborhood seeing old things as new and new things as old friends: the new pond, the old vine wrapping around the trees, the humming bird hovering above the yellow wild flowers, the little dogs, the big dogs, leashed and unleashed. This is now, this is now, this is now. I am alone save for the shades of the past and the rustling of what to come. This is what empty nest is. This is what half life span is. This is what a person who has lost so many of her moments to fearing. This is what life is about. It is full to the brim with what has been and what to be.

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Friday Quote

I don’t have to believe my thoughts. – Tara Brach


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Happy Mother’s Day, Ah May.


First memory: A large bedroom. Four beds in a row next to each other. You told stories at night. You always had the sweetest voice. We lied on the bed underneath the mosquito nets listening about the little princesses. There were always three of them, just like us; except it would always be the youngest one who would go home with the prince or gets the love of father. I wondered why there were no stories where the middle daughter gets to win at love, boy, jewels, friendship, something, anything.

Second memory: The three of us crawled from one bed to the next, because our father had rolled up the mosquito net between the beds, pinning it with safety pins, making sure there were no gaps for the mosquitoes to sneak into our beds. He made a tunnel for us so that we could visit each other.

Third memory: You let us draw on the white walls of this house and we went wild with our pencils. I drew house after house, with flowers in the front garden, trees in the backyard, a car, a dog, with the sun smiling above. The university students had left their drums in the living room, and we lined them against each other, making a fort. We played the drums so loud that Tiny, our tiny Dachshund, would go crazy running around the room. Later, I got the idea that we should sneak into the kitchen at night for a late night snack although no one would have stopped us and there was no real need for this covert operation. It seems even then, I liked the sense of mischief and adventures, only if they are safe and sanctioned.

Fourth memory that sticks: I did not get to see you when my father died. Don’t come back, you said to me. What’s the point now? Stay there and finish school, you said. It would be another two years before I’d get to see you and my sister. From the moment I saw you, you could not stop talking about his last day, his last breath, your last interaction with him. You told this story to me, or to anyone who would listen. I understood then that once some things were seen, heard and lived, they cannot be unseen and unremembered. One night, we were visiting a family friend, and you started to sketch the scene again. My sister and I hid in the bathroom trying to unlisten. I knew your heart was in pieces. It was your way of gluing back what’s left knowing there would always be a gaping hole in the middle of it. The missing piece of the love of your life.

Fifth memory I love: It was your 80th birthday and how happy you were surrounded by everyone you love: your daughters, their husbands, their children. Other mothers get to be with their clan as often as every month, if not every weekend. You, on the other hand, get to be in the same room with your whole family once every six year or longer. This would be the last reunion with the full sets of us. Tragedy would strike us again within days and we lost our beloved brother-in-law.

Sixth memory of my picking: The mornings I lied in bed with fever, you’d come to my room, put your cool hand against my hot brows and would say something soothing to
me, like “No school today”. You’d request the kitchen maid to make a chicken soup for me, with detailed instructions of how to make it. You’d make bread custard pudding and store in the fridge. The cool soft taste of this pudding on my fevered tongue tasted like unlike anything. This was something I would yearn for, would die for, when I first left home and there was no one who would make anything for me or lay a finger to feel the temperature of my skin.

Sometimes I think no matter how much love I had received from you, the child in me is never feeling full. When sick, when lonely, when terrified of abandonment, this child seeks you, your touch, your unconditional love, your admiration that she is smart, she is beautiful, she is enough. Then she will remember the cool fingers on her forehead, the cold sweet dessert on her tongue, the warm chicken soup in her belly, the sweet singing at night, the stories of Mae Htwe Lay conquering every evil person and living happily ever after.

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Let me tell you about

self-image. There are days, like today, I hate every part of me and I resist my reality to the extreme. I am getting older and my body shows it, it knows it. For example I just came back from a yoga class, where instead of finding my Yin, I became deeply sad and depressed about my body. When I say body, I mean every inch of it, from the tip of my hair to the edge of my toe nail.  I hate every bit of it.  This aliveness that holds me up, carries me around every moment of my life is being subjected to abject hate by the person living in it. Why? Because the mind saw the pretty young girls in Lululemon yoga pants. Because the mind knows this body has the soft belly, the weak thighs, the wrinkles around the eyes. How the body does not fit into the mind’s perception of perfection!

You would think at my age, lack of beauty should not bring a woman down to her knees. But it does. The little skinny girl of childhood always lurks inside me, she is still hearing the taunts, the name calling, feeling the constant need to prove her worthiness.  No one has ever told her she is enough when her being alive is enough.

But then at what point in one’s life one has to get over the scars of childhood? I know what Tara Brach would say. She would say, tell myself, “awww I am feeling this sadness,” without judging or what she called “second arrow” and to give the little girl love, to put a hand over my heart and imagine hugging this little girl, who had to try so hard to be accepted, to be validated as worthy for whatever reason, and tell her “I love you sweet heart”. And do this over and over without judging, without analyzing the emotions. Do this every day as many times as I need.

The truth is and I know this deep down, even if there is not a single person in this world who thinks she is not enough (there is plenty though in fact), I love her enough, I know she is enough. How many women have felt this way? How many of us need to be reminded to peel this “reality” filter over my eyes, and know this truth.  What feels real is not the truth, Tara Brach has said.

This truth is bigger and freer once I step outside of my head.

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This night, this life.

It sounds like a cliche but I blink and the last eighteen years flew out the door. My son is graduating from high school in less than one month. My daughter is three quarters into her Sophomore year in college. Soon, she will be in her twenties, and he will be out of the house. I look around and still see the traces of their childhood in the house. Every step, every door handle, every corner of the wall, every piece of carpet, every hollow space holds their sounds, their essence, their imprints.

It’s so easy to look back into the past because it has already happened. I can see every dot that was placed, and could connect them without looking.  It’s so hard to look forward into the future. This unknowingness nips at my legs, the way my cat Emmie nips at my toes when I am trying to write a poem. Where would we be in five years, ten years, twenty years? Where would I be? My father had his heart attack at the age of fifty-five, and dead within ten years. How many dreams were buried when he went?

Am I making too many mistakes along the way? How many things will remain undone or done in the most wronged way? Always, fear marches in and I am practicing my mindfulness with so much difficulty.

This life flies. I could almost hear the whooshing sound it makes as it runs at full sprint.  Tonight, this poem by Jane Hirshfield speaks to me. Every word makes a powerful impact. Every word forces me to pay attention.  (Plus I love the title).

My Sandwich
By Jane Hirshfield

So many things
you’d not have thought of
until they were given.

Even the simple–
a cottage cheese sandwich,
a heron’s contractible neck.

You eat. You look.
Then you look back and it’s over.

This life. This flood–
unbargained for as lasting love was–
of lasting oddness.

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Photo on 2-26-13 at 10.35 AM #2

Photo on 2-26-13 at 10.35 AM

That was only four years ago, a brief span of time in a lifetime. Looking at her now, she looked so young. I didn’t know it then, of what I know now. That I looked so young, enough to pass for a thirty year-old at times. I didn’t know it then, of what I know now. That without estrogen, skin, like all elements of this body will become a stranger too. That it would thin and crinkle like a wad of tissues. With time, eyes will house every tragedy of this world. And my hair will lose its sheen; the little bird now sings with a crackle and a longing. My mood will dip watching  my lover estrogen leave. Every morning, I make rituals in front of my make-shift alter  chanting this life, this life, this life when every cell of this aliveness tenses for what’s next, what’s next, what’s next.

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Miracles/aliens/angels/science on this day in 2011:

March 11, 2011 at 8:14am


We were excited to see it. It was my son who pointed it out to me as we drove onto the highway from the hospital plaza where the kids just had their dental cleaning. I said we have to take a picture. Told them that it was worthy to share, to capture, to keep, to remember for later. And he took the phone from me, as I handed it to him from the front seat to the back where he and his sister had been sitting licking their teeth, and grimacing at the fluoride taste for the past fifteen minutes since we left the dentist office.

It’s a miracle, I said perhaps too eagerly, wanting them to cherish the sight. I am in this teaching mode always but often, there is no student. We are all teachers here. No, it’s not, they replied in unison. It’s science, my son added with conviction. Well, I paused, sensing a losing battle but not quite determined to give up yet. It’s like the rodeo, this thing I do with my kids, where I try time and time again to get on the animal desperate to teach, to tame but in the end, I go away, often with a noticeable limp. Well, I tried again. Miracle is everywhere. Seeing this beautiful sky is a miracle. You and me being here in this car is a miracle. You see?

He frowned, or I guessed he frowned. I couldn’t really see his face, as I was driving on the highway, looking ahead. I heard him fidgeting in the backseat, with the phone camera and with the conversation about miracles his mother was determined to have. It’s not a miracle, he responded but I could tell his focus was now on capturing the light shone from the sky, peering in between the gray clouds.

I can’t get it right, he muttered in frustration. You try, he said, handing the phone to his sister. She started snapping away, without much fuss. She’s like that. No worry. No second thoughts. She just goes. He, on the other hand, is a little body full of careful deliberation. He debates and ponders, considers and agonizes over every details. It’s an alien ship, spotting the church, she chimed in with a smile. Or the little angels tearing the clouds, playing flashlight tag, he started playing along.

Are you going to write a poem about it? my son wanted to know after a while. Maybe, I told him, unsure of my ability to come up with something decent. Recently I’ve cleared out clutter in my head, and along with it, my supposed ability to compose poems went.

Write a poem, he insisted. Call it “Heaven’s light.”

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