The Best Marriages Appreciate the Little Things

I always get that look of pity or a lecture about prioritizing my relationship when I make a comment about how my husband and I only go out maybe once or twice a year for a “date night”. They assume its a backhanded comment about my husband refusing to take me out. They assume our marriage is broken somehow. That relationship can’t be that strong if you don’t go out to some fancy dinner where you blow $100 on food that lasts for 20 minutes in a crowded restaurant that is often either too loud you can barely hear each other or too quiet to want to bother the silence with a conversation. The thing is that this scenario isn’t fun for me. I don’t find it appealing. I’m awkward enough without putting myself in this position of feeling even more awkward.

The thing is that I enjoy being at home in sweatpants, curled up with my forever partner. We’re not “go out for romantic dates” people. We sit at home and eat trash food together while playing a board game with the kids or catching up on Netflix when the kids go to sleep or even playing video games together. That’s our perfect date night. We don’t need to doll up and pretend we are something that we aren’t to be considered normal. The whole point of marriage is to love your partner for who they are, not turn them into who you want them to be.

Every couple is different, but I think that the one thing that people need to remember is that it isn’t how much your spouse spent on your ring or how massive the diamond is. Rings break, they get too small/too big; it’s about making sure the marriage doesn’t break. I barely wear my wedding jewelry. I’m not a huge jewelry person, though I do have a weakness for bracelets. What does matter is how my husband just knows when I’ve had a long day or how he knows that I’m exhausted and brings me a coffee made exactly how I like it. How if I’m sick, he steps up and makes my life as easy as he can. Those are the things that are going to last. Jewelry will tarnish, but the person I chose as a partner should be as reliable as ever.

Marriage isn’t about the shinies or the parties. It’s about being in the trenches for even the most difficult times. It’s not about how many times you go out on dates. It’s about standing by each other’s side as your children undergo surgeries or dealing with their “quirks” as a team. It’s about having their back, even when you think they are wrong. It’s about fighting even harder when you know they’re right. They aren’t your spouse; they’re your partner. It doesn’t matter if you argue 1000 times as long as you resolve it and move on. No relationship will be perfect to the outside world; it only matters what’s perfect to you and makes you happy. Because if you aren’t happy, then what’s the point?

Mommy’s Little Monsters

Anytime someone talks about how easy parenting is, I wonder how much they pay for a nanny every month. I have pretty awesome kids and I have it much easier than some parents, but I don’t think I’ve ever once said “This is easy. I’ve got this.” Usually, I don’t. Usually I’m taking a “hope for the best approach”. People tend to think that I’m a terrible mother because I have a more “sink or swim” approach to raising my children. As much as I want to control every aspect of their life to make sure that they don’t make the wrong choices, they have to learn accountability. Maybe if I regained control, I could have an “easy time” too.

For instance, I will help some with their homework sometimes. But they need to work through the things themselves. I won’t babysit them to make sure they do everything, because I can’t be there all the time. If they don’t finish their work properly because they wanted to speed through it or not do something at all, then they should face the consequences of that. Some people view this as harsh, but kids need to learn consequences or they never learn to be accountable for themselves. For my own sanity and their own level of responsibility, I can really only do so much.

The thing that we have to remember is that no matter how hard we think it is to raise them, imagine how much harder it is for them to grow up. They have those struggles of wanting independence, but still wanting their mommy to give them a hug or have brownies waiting for them. They want to do well, but they also want to hear you say how proud you are of them. Sometimes they forget that we love them unconditionally. Sometimes they forget that even if they get a bad grade or have a bad behavior report that we are still going to love and accept them. My youngest son got his first “yellow” card of the year a little bit ago after doing so well, and he was convinced that he was going to be punished forever for it. Some of it could be my own failings as a mother. Some of that is just your normal anxiety that young children have.

Kids think that they need to do 10000 activities to make us proud. That they need to be perfect and excel at everything. We may be well-intentioned in trying to keep them busy, but we may also be setting them up to burn the candle at both ends too much. My kids have the choice if they want to do an activity or not, but they need to something aside from screen time for a little bit each day. My oldest does sports in winter and spring, taking the fall and summer to relax. He does well in school and I think this is a perfect balance for him. Plus as a junior with 2 AP classes, CCD, volunteering, and college stuff, he shouldn’t take on much more than that. My youngest doesn’t really have any interests in those things. He prefers to play games or work on building/drawing something. That’s who he is. Rather than change that, I ensure he gets plenty of exercise, he goes out and has experiences, and get him to play puzzle games that are meant for critical thinking and not just fun. That works for him. Every kid is different. Plus, I think I’d go insane trying to juggle all those activities. This is as much for my sanity as it is for theirs.

My boys are Mommy’s little monsters. They fight with each other, they destroy my house, and eat everything in sight. But every time I want to yell at them for how hard they make things or because I’ve gone insane by 5pm, I just image what they are going through. Maybe my oldest had a bad day but because he’s a teenager, he doesn’t want to talk about it until he wants to or never. Maybe my youngest had an anxiety attack at school and he’s got his second wind of energy. Those boys are struggling as much as I am some days, and that’s something we can often forget.

And It Just Breaks My Heart

I wasn’t the best student. Teachers would probably point out how bright they thought I was, but they would also probably point out that I was wasted potential. Some people would probably agree with that statement still today. Maybe they are right. Maybe not. But I understand it now, as a parent.

I worked hard to get into a good college, though it took me a couple of years to get back on the college track that I realistically was never on. I didn’t have any real goals. Then I was pregnant at 18 and my only goals became preventing my child to turn out like me. I was determined that he was going to be better. He watched me work hard every day at my hotel job. I know I worked a lot and it seemed I barely saw him. But he deserved the world and I wanted to give him everything. When I went back to school, I made sure he saw how hard I worked. I wanted him to have goals. I knew he was smart. But I didn’t want him to waste it like I did.

Things always came easy to him. When they didn’t, he became easily flustered. He was a perfectionist. I didn’t care about perfection; I cared that he did his best. I would never punish him for doing his best. If he needed help, I would make sure he got the help. He never needed it before but I would do anything to make sure he got what he needed.

Then, I saw him struggle with his homework. Homework in a subject he has always been fascinated in, despite never actually taking a course. He spent all the time he had on the assignment, and he kept getting one question wrong over and over again. He grew more frustrated. He began to get himself worked up. He snapped when I tried to help or told him to take a deep breath. He called himself “dumb”…

And it broke my heart. As adult as these kids think they are, they are just hormonal kids struggling and too afraid to ask for help. He knows he’s not dumb. I hope, anyways. I told him that he should ask his teacher for help. That was what he’s there for after all. He was determined to figure it out, even after the deadline that his homework was due. I saw him unravel and it just breaks my heart.

Junior year isn’t for the faint of heart. This is when things get real. The classes get harder. The expectations are raised. They have the added stresses of SATs and college fairs, driving school, the acknowledgement that adulthood is sneaking up on them. It isn’t easy for the parents, but it’s even harder for the kids. I’m hoping that we both make it out in one piece. But I’m worried that if he cracks this much now, it’s only going to get worse. And I only have myself to blame for that.

I see so much of myself in him. There was a time where I worked hard in middle school until I realized that I was a nothing that was getting bullied relentlessly. When you see your homework get tossed out a window and no one cares, you start to not care too. It’s easier to fail when you detach yourself than to fail when you tried so hard. But when you put everything you have into something and fall short, it’s hard. It’s how you deal with this failure that can determine your success in life. You can get flustered, but as long as you keep trying to succeed, that’s what matters. But sometimes, admitting defeat and asking for help is what the strongest person will do. This help could be exactly what you need to get to that next level. By getting stuck on the basics, you won’t have the building blocks that you need to stay on track.

I hope this was just a moment of being tired. That he burned the candle at both ends and needs to realize that you can’t do it all. Maybe now that driving school is done, he can refocus. But what happens when swimming starts? It’s hard to teach balance when you struggle with balance yourself. I hope this is a passing phase. I hope he realizes that life will get harder and that taking it too sensitively will only make things harder. That you have to accept that you aren’t a natural at everything just because it has been so easy so far. But most of all, I hope he realizes that he is loved and supported and that we are so very proud.

Another Year, Another NaNoWriMo Challenge

Every year, I try to sign up for NaNoWriMo. I know that I may or may not succeed. I have succeeded more times than I have failed, but failures are still rough. Especially on those years when you put all of your sweat and tears into something, only to fall just short of your goal (last year, 30,000 words out of 50,000). I’m someone who does take those things hard, but I’m also someone who shakes it off and moves on. Maybe it was just that I chose a difficult thing to write about, like one year when a story hit too close to home that I scrapped it. Or maybe I just get myself into some knotted plot hole and I can’t get out of it. Or maybe I just run out of ideas on how to make the story go forward. Short stories are where I seem to excel. Writing longer pieces seem to trip me up.

I try to have a plan every year. I take book ideas that I have worked on and tried to figure out which one will be the “one”. This year, I have decided to again attempt a thriller of sorts. My business manager/husband thought the topic was interesting and he gave me his confidence that I could do it this year. His supportive nature allows me to keep going on this path, even when other people think it’s a joke.

As October rapidly approaches, the goal is to start doing an outline and get things planned out. I attempted this last year, but I feel as though my outline wasn’t as detailed as it should have been for the story. Then, towards the end of this when I take a weekend get away in my favorite place in the world, I intend to find a nice little spot to get some final details done before November 1 hits. My fingers are crossed that this year will be successful. And let’s hope for some workout time to indulge in my favorite “brain” food that tends to help my writing process. (Send Dunkichinos, Flaming Hot Cheetos, and Peanutbutter M&Ms my way if you see me in November.)

Challenges are meant to be overcome, and I intend to try my best to achieve my goal this year.

They Are Only Shoes Little One

While I generally just buy clothes for both the boys for back to school, I let them pick their own shoes. I know their styles enough to know what they like to wear. Both like skinny jeans. My oldest one loves simple t-shirts, video game/novelty tees, and long sleeved thermal shirts/those 2-tone baseball shirts. My younger son is a bit pickier than that, but he rarely complains about what he gets. He especially loves Gap and Nike shirts. The only shirt he really hates wearing is his “I Know I’m In Trouble When They Use My Full Name” shirt. It was appropriate for him and it was funny.

Shoes are all up to them. I won’t buy shoes without them because A) I want to make sure they fit right; and B) They know what they find comfortable. Before going out to get shoes, I asked them what they wanted so I knew where to go to buy them. My oldest knew that he wanted a pair of Chucks, then a custom pair for his birthday. Easy enough. My youngest, first Googled “Cool Sneakers” and decided he wanted a pair that were $900. Nope. That’s not happening. Eventually he decided that he really liked his Skechers GoRuns because they made him “run super fast”. So he wanted a new pair of those.

We took them shopping. My oldest went to a couple of stores before he went back to the first store to buy a pair of blue Chucks, which were hilariously enough the same color as his school’s color and his championship swim coat that he lives in. We went to another store, allowing the younger son to wander around until he found a pair of shoes that he loved. They were a cool pair of blue/neon green GoRuns and he thought they were the coolest shoes he had ever seen. He loved those shoes.

….Until he didn’t. My younger one complained about his new shoes, how he now hated them. “Well, you liked them when you bought them. You’re not getting a new pair.” My son started to get anxious about them. Finally, with tears in his eyes, he mentioned about how his friends were making fun of his shoes because he didn’t have the “right” shoes. He’s 7. I carefully tried to explain to him about how it didn’t matter what they said. That they are only shoes. That he was a person and that shoes didn’t matter. The shoes didn’t make you a better person. They didn’t make you any cooler or more likable. That it didn’t matter what these kids were saying.

I lied. Things like that do matter to other people. They do matter to make people more likable because kids judge other kids on things like that. I know I lied. He knows I lied. But I was right; they were just shoes and he was awesome no matter what shoes he wore. Those weren’t cheap shoes. They were nice, name brand shoes. Mostly because we’ve tried getting shoes from stores like Target and Walmart, and he tears through them in a month. At least the name brand shoes last him a few months before he destroys them.

I told my husband about this. My approach was to just let him wear the shoes, to try building up his self-confidence in standing up for himself. My husband’s approach was “what shoes do the kids say are the right shoes?” I wasn’t surprised. He told me before that he grew up being laughed at for being Asian, because his mom was “different” from the other moms, because he didn’t have the “right brands on”. I was bullied pretty brutally myself growing up. My husband felt that he was going to give them one less thing to bully his son about. He couldn’t change the fact that our youngest has anxiety or was “too Asian” or that he needs to wear noise-cancelling headphones to function sometimes. But he could change those shoes.

So he did. We went and got him a new pair of sneakers. He considered it a birthday present. Throughout the ride home, we kept trying to reinforce the idea that what other people think doesn’t matter. If you like your shoes, then they can buzz off. That it only matters if he’s a good person, a kind friend, and a compassionate individual. He didn’t care. He could only talk about how no one was going to make fun of him for his shoes now…

We’re guilty of spoiling our children. We know that. But I’d like to think my children never rub that in someone else’s face. We try to make sure that they appreciate the nice things that they have, but how they are lucky to have it. That not everyone is that lucky. That doesn’t make them better than anyone else. And when you have more, you are supposed to give back more. I see my oldest one taking these lessons, slipping money into donation bins or asking to buy things from a shopping list for donating to charities. We make sure that we donate grocery bags to charities during the holidays or donating here and there for various causes, and putting our kid’s names on the paper. This way they can feel proud that they helped.

It’s hard to be a mother when something like that happens. It’s hard not to want to be petty and buy the most expensive pair of shoes that you can to help your kid one up the ones making fun of them. It’s hard not to let your kids see how angry you are when these things happen. It’s hard not to do everything that you can to prevent bullying from affecting your children. But at some point, you need to realize a couple of things. One is that you need to do what you can to help their self-confidence. The other thing is that you can’t control the fact that other kids are going to bully your kid. It sucks and there’s only so much that you can do about it. They are only shoes, after all.

Voting In Your Local Elections

I would argue if you aren’t going to bother with voting in major elections, because you don’t think your vote counts, you should at least focus your attention on your local elections. These are the elections that are going to have a significant impact on your everyday life. The people you elect in these elections impact your schools and safety. They will be the ones that decide things like stupidly small trash barrels and overpriced but cheaply made yellow bags for your overflow trash. While the national elections have an effect in ways, these local elections are crucial to your way of life.

Today in my city, we are having a preliminary election. The big piece of this is narrowing down the list of mayoral candidates, though some wards also have candidates fighting for their place on the city council ballots. In my ward, our councilman is running uncontested which isn’t a surprise. He seems like a reasonable person that genuinely cares about his job and his constituents. Even though the outcomes on my street are probably going to go back to exactly how they were, he tried to make the street safer. I don’t fault him for anything other than trying to make everyone happy.

The big race comes down to the mayoral candidates: a past mayor who wants to run the city again, a guy who thinks of himself as the heir apparent to the position, a public servant of the city for a long time, and another candidate. This list needs to be narrowed down to 2 candidates.

I struggled a long time with who to choose here. Well, I already had the list down to two people. One already had their chance to run the city. The other, well, my personal opinions based on what I’ve seen made that a non-starter. That narrows it down to the perceived heir apparent of the city and someone who hasn’t really involved himself in politics. After a back and forth on that decision and meeting one of the candidates, one thing hit me. One of them had a place to make positive change in the city, to say no to those ridiculous trash barrels, to come up with some solution long before the “Oh crap, what do we do now?, and chose not to. The other seems to have a genuine heart to improve the city and serving in those schools my children are/will attend so he understands what can make these schools even better.

It may only be a preliminary, but it’s still an election. The city needs a positive change and today is the first step in making that change. So getting out and voting is a necessary thing to do today.

Kids Learn More Than You Think

My oldest child is at that fascinating age of almost 17. There are so many things that make this age interesting. This is where they start doing their driving school thing. But even more interesting than the shift to adulthood as far as physical growth, is the other aspects of it. It’s the watching them learn to navigate through life. It’s watching them carefully think and form their own opinions. It’s watching their struggle as they try to break away from you while still understanding there is a lot that they have to learn in the world.

For as long as I can remember, my son wanted to be a forensic scientist. Eventually this grew into a want of being like Abby from NCIS: a forensic chemist but also a cyber forensic specialist. His goal has long been to work for the FBI to help solve crimes and make a difference in the world. I never told him what to be. But, apparently my fondness for crime shows rubbed off on him. Though now he is also wondering if he should be more like Spencer Reid, boy genius. It’s his life. I’m just here to offer support and advice as he asks.

That’s another fascinating thing about this age: your shifting role as a parent. With my younger son, it’s all about teaching right from wrong. It’s doling out punishments for not going to bed on time. It’s picking out their clothes until they learn that stripes and camo is not a great look. You give 6/7 year old choices, but you are still the one making their decisions for them. They don’t know any better yet. At 17, you’re done with that. Sure, you still make them take out the trash and do their chores, but now it’s about them. You give them a curfew of 12am, and remind them that this means they need to be walking in the door before the click hits that number. But you aren’t there to run their life anymore. Now, you let go and hope to whatever entity that you believe in that you did a passable job.

You’re not going to be there when they are at that party where they are offered a beer or drugs. You have to hope that they hear your voice of disapproval in their ear. You have to hope that if they did make the wrong decision in that moment that you were compassionate enough so that they call you instead of getting in the car with someone who is under the influence. I always told my son “my 10 minute lecture the next day is better than not having a next day”. I won’t lie and say that I won’t be disappointed in his decision, but I’d rather him alive than dead because he was too afraid to call me. I’d like to think that my child is always going to make the right choices, but I’m a realist. He’s going to screw up. I just hope that he knows I’m here to help pick him up afterwards. With my judgement of his situation to come later.

But what’s even more fascinating is the things they learn. My son reads the news, and like me doesn’t trust anything he reads. So he reads more until he’s down a rabbit hole where he feels like he has a good grasp on it. He talks about social justice, asking why things aren’t this way. Then I explain the logistics of “it may sound like a great idea, but like most great ideas, people ruin them”. He doesn’t like that answer. Even more recently, he has become fascinated by cold cases from watching crime shows with me and fascinated with things like false convictions. It turns out, these are things that have further inspired him to follow his current dreams. He doesn’t want good guys to get locked up because someone didn’t do their job in the crime lab. He doesn’t want families to not get justice for their loved ones. So much to the point of when he read “The Lovely Bones” for summer reading, he got so mad that he read the end of the book before he could move on because he couldn’t stand the fact the bad guy got away with it.

I say this a lot in these blogs, but you are not raising kids: you’re raising adults. Whether you realize it or not, your every action can impact your kid and this will either set them on the right path or the wrong one. It’s a big responsibility raising the next generation, but that’s what you signed up for when you made the decision to become a parent. Somewhere along the line, parents stopped remembering that and look where we are now because of that. Kids bully others because they see adults bully. They show kindness because they saw kindness. They work hard because they grew up with a work ethic. If we don’t teach these kids properly, other people will. And that usually never ends well.