Givin' it to Yourself

photo(3)One of the (many) challenges about the holidays is they often mean you’re on your spouse’s turf. Whether staying in the house he grew up, visiting college friends, or smiling through the extended family dinner, you might feel the strain of not doing things your way. Even after 8 years of Christmas visits to the northern part of the US, I still long for the warmer temperatures of Florida, my own friends, and favorite haunts. These longings don’t need long to be fulfilled however, as my husband and I are part of the lucky few: every year we have enough vacation time to subject each other to this cycle. First we see his family, and then mine.

This year the cold, the second child, the jet lag were conspiring to make me particularly grumpy.

Needless to say I counted myself lucky when a friend let me crash her mommies night out. In place of the innocuous, “Oh, you live in the Middle East, that’s far,” comments and then blank stares I often get from people, this was a group of gorgeous, smart women. They all had two (several of them three children) were well within their target weight for their size, dressed fashionably, were wearing makeup, and didn’t interrupt if someone was speaking.

And they were all wondering if they were good mothers.

“I try to be a good mother,” one woman is completing a residency in psychiatry said. She described a seven day week where she cooks homemade meals for her children everyday, alternating her parenting challenges with stories of how people in her profession are routinely killed by their more disturbed patients.

Each of them had a version of this, wondering if they were doing their children justice, critiquing themselves on how they were doing in various areas: challenging the kids in extracurriculars, helping them with homework, doing the right thing in sleep training.

I had an Oprah moment.

“Tomorrow, I want us to wake up and the first thing we say when seeing ourselves in the mirror should be: I am a good mother.”

They looked at me blankly.

“Whatever they’re getting from you, they’re better off than if they didn’t have you in their lives,” I said.

I wanted them to give to themselves what they give to their children and husbands: acceptance. Love. Support.

There are so many cliches around the holidays which still fail to mitigate rampant commercialism.

The best things in life are free is perhaps the most flagrant one.

This Christmas I want to give to all mothers (and fathers, though I rarely hear men talk about their fears about parenting) a gift: the gift of confidence.

We are all doing the best we can. And relaxing into that truth make this your best Christmas ever.

I know it will for me.

What’s one gift you’d give someone this year that they really need?


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Birthday Parties Are the Bane

My little man on a ledge.
Photo by Justin Harbor Photography.

Birthday parties are the bane of my motherhood. Not because they are filled with sugar overload opportunities for my almost-three-year-old who is a tornado of activity when not under the influence. Or because they tempt me with treats when I’m trying to reclaim from figure from the damage wrecked by baby #2, now three months old.

Birthday parties are my bane because they are a minefield of triggers for my almost-three-year-old who has the persistence of a heat seeking missile but I cannot predict what capture his determination.

On a normal play date, for example, we can chat in the car on the way to his friend’s house. “Sharing is caring,” we sing to a tune I made up. He then kicks his feet in the car seat, naming all the trains in the Thomas and Friends’ universe that he must share. “Share Rosie, share James.”

“Share all the toys,” I agree, nodding, my eyes flicking to his in the rearview mirror.
If there’s a new toy, as there was last week, the host of the play date can get smacked in the face for his quest to obtain the pursuit of his goal. I did manage to convince him to apologize to the stunned other toddler and the gasping mother which I counted as a victory.
Birthday parties? The horrors of the unknown.
Like the time we met up with friends at the park for a five year old turning six. My friend, a fellow career woman, was displaying a homemade Lego inspired cake, with due pride.

My son began screaming in earnest when he realized the cake was not for immediate consumption.  “Birthday caaaaaake!” he hollered as fat tears dribbled down his cheeks as the other children played on the state of the art playground. My husband and I took turns trying to engage him in other tasks. Nothing worked. We waited, exasperated, until the cake cutting. And left shortly thereafter, annoyed with the toddler for ruining what would have been a perfect Saturday afternoon to burn off excess energy.

Cue last week, when we were in the living room of another friend’s house, one of the frequent play date sites, and he was climbing the bookshelf to get to a Toy Story DVD.

“Woody! Wooooooddddddddeeeeeee!!!!!”

I took him, squirming and all, at one point carrying him by the ankles (yes, he was flailing upside down) to the car for his pacifier. Lucky for me, him, and the other partygoers, once inserted, he returned to his pre-toddler-Hulk personality. I quake in fear of the summer ahead when the time of No Pacy is fast approaching.

The louder he gets, the quieter I am. I get closer, whisper in his ear. It doesn’t always work. And if he happens to hit me in the face, as he did the other weekend when I was taking him up for a nap, there is surely a spanking coming.

Somehow, the contrast of my whispering while he is screaming helps my brain maintain a semblance of control. The quieter I get, the longer I’m able to be patient and wait out the tantrum.  Lucky for all of us – and any future fellow partygoers – the storms seem to be more quickly dissipating.

Did I mention he has a younger brother?



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I Prefer Girls

My momior, free to download until May 15th.

When I found out I was pregnant, my mind immediately began preparing for a girl. My sister has three girls; my cousins are a dozen or so girls with my brother and one other male thrown in, and so I never thought about the other 50%.

The 50% that people all over Asia aspire to have because they will grow up and take care of their parents (meanwhile as children the girls drop out of school to help parents take care of young siblings).

The 50% that are so favored many Asian countries have stopped allowing sex tests or sonograms because of the rate of abortions of female babies.

Imagine my shock – my husband said I went white – when the doctor said, not only once, but twice, I was having boys. That’s right: me, the mother of two boys. I did the right thing and paid lip service to the fact I hoped the babies were healthy. Deep inside, I tried to manage the shock.

What would I do with a boy? How would I avoid the Asian tendency to favor and indoctrinate them with male privilege?

This Mother’s Day, I’m happy to say my boys are a delight. And I’m back at work with a second newborn and toddler at home.

Why? Because, as I explained to my colleagues, my mother sacrificed her entire life, not finishing high school, in order to get married and raise us. She’s now finishing a university degree, one course at a time, in her 50s. If that taught me anything, it’s that children need strong role models. And strength comes in different forms. Her sacrifice will not be wasted.

A friend also offered this great perspective:

I know you wanted a girl the first time, and you probably wanted a
little girl the second time too.  You say you wanted to empower her, to
strengthen women.

But you know, you've been blessed with a way to empower women in a
greater way.

On my mother's side of the family, women were to be seen and not heard.
It's the hillbilly way. But on my father's side, as you already know,
women are the leaders.

So my father taught my mother how to be strong, to think for herself,
and to lead.  And that value was then passed to all of us kids, even the

I've seen it where a daughter marries a male dominated household, and
the sons grow up with the male dominated view. Sometimes the girls are
lucky to be empowered at all. And sometimes the households fall into a
lot of conflict, especially if the boys are not taught to respect women.
In my own life, my son does not respect me. He never did and that's why
I lost him. His father is and always will be a poor example. I should
have chosen very carefully and researched his father's family well. I
did not, to my regret.

So maybe this is the powers helping you in your mission, with a very
strong weapon indeed.



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