Day 15: love requires effort

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One day, I was sitting on the bus and I thought: Wow. So much has happened lately. I’ve done so much. It’s been tough. I’ve been tough. I’m tired but actually quite satisfied.

I took out my notes and realized it was the 15th day.

14 Days of Love came about because I was overly exhausted and needed some love from myself. It didn’t turn out to be bubble baths every day, or renouncing all baby duty, nothing indulgent and unreasonable like that. There was a layer of self-care where I cut myself some slack, take half a day off work, go on a trip, say yes to fun and rest. It lets you recover, and the real magic lies in you taking back control of your life. 

Then there was the deeper layer, where I began defending and setting boundaries, speaking up, being honest with myself, and saying no. This is where it required a lot of effort. A lot of nerves and adrenaline, confrontations, discomfort, messing up, admitting to messing up, accepting that messing up is okay and then not giving up. You don’t feel happy in those moments, but you’ll feel a bit stronger, a bit more grounded and even a bit more free, every time you’ve dealt with it. Love is not just about feeling good and happy. It seems that Love, or Life, for that matter, is about trying to respond honestly and authentically to whatever happens. It’s not about banishing or avoiding discomfort and problems. Life is supposed to be richly woven in all shades and flavors of experience.

Day 14: Boundaries 103

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(my caption for this: not graceful but I did it)

Life doesn’t stay still. For the past few days in 14 Days of Love, only good things have been happening. Haircut, taking time off work, going on a trip with my husband, G. And the day after I come back, BAM! The phone rings and with it brings a Boundary Violation Alert!

I’m still not in a place where I can be wholeheartedly grateful for family members doing things for me that I have asked them not to do. Does such a place exists? In fact, I’m in a place where I’m starting to get angry about it, and where I no longer want to persuade myself that it’s no big deal, and then twist myself into smiling and sounding like I’m glad they did it.

There was time for me to think about how to handle this one, and I tried to come up with what to say using “I” sentences instead of “You” sentences.

It went about 80% according to plan, which would have made this a success. But it turned out that I did not like the script I wrote. I seemed a bit disingenuous and passive-aggressive. I sort of went over the top. So, I remind myself that this is like learning hip hop dance. You do get better at it by trying and practicing, but better can sometimes look like a new kind of bad. It’s okay. Doing it badly or imperfectly is not a reason to stop doing it at all. It’s all progress.

14 Days of Love: Day 13: say you don’t like it

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This is the act of love for Day 13: we ordered Papa Murphy pizza for dinner, which would be a nice act of love but actually, this was it: I told G that I actually no longer like Papa Murphy pizza.

It’s been a favorite takeout for years in the family. We get the stuffed family size with the most toppings. It’s an exciting sight for the dinner table and everybody likes it. But for a while now, it’s been slowly occurring to me that I find the crust either too thick or too crispy, and that I actually have a favorite kind, which is thin, doughy and just slightly crispy on the edges. The toppings are varied and heavy, and none of them stands out or complement each other. The pizza is not greater than the sum of its parts. There’s no magic.

For a while now, I let my feelings towards the pizza pass. My other voice says, “It’s no big deal, it’s just pizza. It’ll be over it in a few minutes.” Out of habit, I feign some kind of excitement, an “oooh” or an “ahhh” when it comes out of the oven. When others take their first bite and there’s a chorus of “Hmm it’s good”, “Yum!”, I’ll actually even join in, albeit unenthusiastically, like “Yeah it’s quite good.”

At the end of it, my stomach is heavy, a job has been done, and I am a liar who didn’t like that she lied but also didn’t care that she did. What I do care about now though, is why I lied about something that is not worth lying about.

As soon as I realize I’m lying, I understood why. It’s not just about the pizza. The pizza means something else: Everybody in the family likes that pizza; I no longer do. It means I no longer “fit in”.

Except it doesn’t, right? It’s just pizza!

Even if it does, how long can you keep lying for? The pizza will pass through your system, but I have the feeling that the lying stays and becomes a habit.

I wonder how many other things I’ve been pretending to like even though I’ve outgrown them. Speaking up and self-honesty can be on bigger issues like that I wrote about on Day 5, but it’s also about admitting, at least to yourself, that you no longer like a certain kind of pizza.

 

Day 12: mom takes a break

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In addition to a haircut, I scheduled for a half day of PTO to see the Seattle Art Fair. Initially, an 8-5 day at a hotel where I stay in bed the whole time, just sleep, read and do nothing would be great, but I haven’t found out how to do that! Husband, G, decided to join me after the Art Fair and took me out for a one-night trip to Bonneville, WA. We listened to the podcast Dear Sugar radio, we sang along to songs, and to feel like I was completely free from any responsibilities, that I didn’t even need to be on standby, made sitting in the car for hours like a treat. This was the first time I left my baby for a whole day and night! I expected myself to miss her in the evening, but guess what, I didn’t! I must have really really needed this break.

This was a simple lesson: It’s not required to wait for an ideal “long enough” stretch of time to take a trip. It doesn’t need to be perfect. What matters is what you do, how you feel, what you make of it while you’re there.

Trip highlights: Bridge of the Gods, where Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon) in the the movie Wild ended her months-long, alone-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. We listened to Cheryl’s podcast Dear Sugar Radio on the way, it completes my introduction to G about her.

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Fried cheese and jalapenos at a Mexican restaurant, YUMM.

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Bonneville Lock and Dam

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Day 11: awkward is okay

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Some other things I’ve done during 14 Days of Love was to schedule a haircut and a day off from work. On Day 11 I went to a salon that a friend recommended. I booked a stylist who’s a Japanese lady who enjoys family time with her son, hoping I’d get a chance at conversation. I sat in the waiting area facing the windows, she called my name from behind, I turned around and she was already walking away. I compared it to the other stylist who walked all the way over to look and smile at her client. When I sat in the chair she said we’ll wait for the shampoo station, which was fully occupied. She then walked away to the back, came back, and stood by the wall to wait, a few feet away from where I sat. She’s clearly made the choice not to interact with me while we wait.

This was very different from what I expect. I often half-dread the chit chat that hairdressers engage you in, but this distance seemed awkward too. But then I remember how I actually prefer less chit chat. I remember the many times I wish I could have just walked away or stood away on my own instead of having to make small talk with strangers. Granted, I didn’t have a customer, just a party full of people, but still. What’s really wrong with that? I might have done the same! And when we get down to business, we have plenty of time to pretend we were never averse to small talk with strangers.

Day 10: the courage and disclipline to nap

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Lately I’ve been letting my husband help more with baby duty. He’s always offered but I would try to cope alone as much as I could. I had a lot of help from family during my first month of being a mom. The help would come when I needed to eat or wash, or when my arms are about to fall off. Yet, when my baby is whisked out of my room, the first thing I often did was cry and wish my baby back. Oh why do I have be hungry! Why can’t my arms and back be made of steel! Why do I need sleep! Why did I want to brush my teeth? Motherhood for me demands probably the most self-care I ever needed to date, yet it also gave me this baby who is the only one I want to think and care about.

As months go by, the initial panic and overwhelm calms down, though the workload doesn’t, and we start to feel overworked and under-appreciated by each other. Finally I see how sometimes I start a fight with my husband not really because of anything so important it has to be discussed at the time, but because I’d waited days for my own nap time that never happened and the backlog of things I yet have to do, or could do. Under more favorable circumstances I might not have gotten hooked on that one tiny thing, a choice of word or a certain tone of voice. I may be steady enough to steer my own ship than be carried away by the currents of thoughts and emotions.

Such more favorable circumstances as “being well-rested enough” don’t come by easily. It can only come by if I let my husband – not help – but do his share. I’m still practising not to jump out of the bed to do something when it’s finally my nap time.

To be honest I think it’s to do with the fear of being “lazy” and “not-done”. People praise productivity and efficiency and I know I’m unskilled at either. People are impressed by those of us who gets a ton of things done. I’ve never heard anyone gush about how someone has such wisdom, confidence and freedom that they can resist the voices of society, insist on listening to their body and shove the world to one side so they can take a nap. They have so much optimism and faith in the world that it’s not going to stop spinning just because they have allowed themselves to lie down and check out for half an hour.

Day 9: why write and share

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For Day 9 I posted a blogpost to my personal timeline on Facebook. For a long time I struggled to justify why my writing needs to be shared. Is anybody really interested? Shall I just talk instead of write about these things with actual people? (But like, is anybody going to be interested?) I suspect this need for justification is an excuse for not sharing, because sharing is frightening. Unless you’re sharing pictures of your dinner, or flowers, or anything that guarantees likes like kittens and babies, posting online is vulnerable. Sometimes so much editing occurs that I give up on the whole thing.

But.
There comes a day when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than it was to blossom.

The truth is, I want to show up to the world as the real me as much as I’m afraid of it. I don’t know how to talk about some things, I’ll write. I kind of just don’t want this part of me to be hidden away and die. I think she’s pretty awesome.

When I spend more than half an hour deciding whether to hit publish, I should remember these advice:

  1. You are entitled to create, to share and express, just like everybody else. (learned this from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic)
  2. There will be likers and haters, and silence.
  3. When the risk to remain tight in a bud is more painful than it is to blossom (Anais Nin), blossom. It’s inevitable. Otherwise:
  4. Unused creativity is not benign (Brene Brown in this podcast by Elizabeth Gilbert). 

One more thing: Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly cautions us to share only when your healing is not dependent on others’ response.

Day 8 – nice girls evolve

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Husbands, partners and parents of Nice Girls ask yourselves: Will you still love her when she isn’t so “nice”?

Nice as in she agrees with most things, she smiles, she says “I don’t mind” and “It’s okay” a lot, she rarely gets mad and when she does you probably find it funny than serious, and she doesn’t really stay mad. She’s not mean, she’s not pushy, she’s not very critical, she’ll go with the flow.

But maybe one day she’ll get tired of it, tired of being nice. Because being nice sometimes meant she was not heard or that she was not taken seriously. Because being nice, agreeing and following what you like, left her own want and needs unattended. So maybe one day she no longer tries to be nice. She no longer hides all her anger, she says “No”, she becomes more vocal, assertive, adamant. And she asks you to listen. Listen and respond and act, not just to hear and let it out the other ear. Being honest and real with herself and with you becomes more important than being “nice”.

Will you be like “Wow. This is not you. I’ve never seen you like this. This is disturbing. I don’t know how to deal with this new you.”?

Or will you tell yourself: “This is her too. This is very different so this must be serious. I’ve got to really pay attention now.”

And can I ask you husbands, partners and parents, because you are the closest ones, to Let her be. Let her be mad, let her be sad, let her be loud, let her let her feelings out.

Will you still love her when she becomes more of herself? Will you still love her when she grows in mind, strength and confidence? Will you still love her now she doesn’t always seem so “nice”?

Day 7 – a squeeze

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Husband and I took his 8-year-old cousin, Lydia, out to play Pokemon Go one evening. Lydia and her parents live in Canada and they come and visit us once or twice a year. I was her best friend at one point (during these visits). I used to get goosegumps on my head when she read aloud, which is one of my most favorite sensations; and I had played really boring games with her because she found them incredibly funny. Since I’ve had a baby though I’ve been too busy to spend much time with her when she comes.

It was a chilly summer night, we went to our usual spot at Spider Central. She came out of her shell and babbled non-stop. “Do you love me? No you don’t love me! Oh yes you DO love me!” She kept saying to the pokemons in the game, very melodramatic. My husband was rather embarrassed. I realized that I missed her and I wanted to put an arm around her shoulder. Would she mind? Would she think anything of it? Is she too old for it? Am I too old for it? Does she love me? Does she not love me?

Now that I have this idea to put an arm around her shoulder, all I feel is the distance between us if I don’t. Would she notice it too? That I’ve become distant since I had a baby? If I don’t, it wouldn’t change anything in her world, would it? If I did, would it?

“Oh Lydia!” And I did. And I gave her a little squeeze.

Day 6 – Boundaries and Dance 102

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This summer I’ve been taking a really fun Adult Beginner’s Hip Hop dance class. Sometimes I watch the instructor and I think, “Hmmm, OK, I get that”. But when it’s our turn to do it, it surprises me every time to see how much my body struggles with it. “Whoa, wait, I don’t speak this language!” After a bit of practice I finally have it down, except I lose it again when we do it as part of a sequence! I don’t know why I would underestimate how hard it is. I probably looked at the word “Beginner’s” and forgot that it’s still a “class”, where you have to learn. I’d be proud of myself to have kept in time and done about 60% of the choreography, even if you can’t tell it’s hip hop.

So doing boundaries is very much like learning a new dance for me. You’ll try it and repeat and it wouldn’t look right. But with enough practice, I believe, it will become second nature. It really won’t be as fun as dancing, sorry to break that to you. But it should allow you to have more fun in life.

On Day 6 of 14 Days of Love, I did the whole routine: defending a boundary that I hadn’t set before, and then actually setting it. 

One thing about having someone close, like a family member, cross a boundary is that they most likely had good intentions. My Fear voice, who tells me to not say anything because “they’re only trying to help”, is right about that part. After I, essentially, shooed the family member away, I began to doubt if I’d done the right thing or if I just made a mess. It was an easy moment to give in to the voice of shame, who was running at me shouting “Look what you’ve done now! Told you you shouldn’t have said anything at all!” But I’m learning to listen to the other voice. She held my head in both hands and said, “Hey, come figure with me how we can have this boundary without hurting the family member. Guilt and Shame are coming after us but ignore them, let’s focus.” I believe her name is Love.

Love and my brain made a great team. I admitted that the family member had a (semi-valid) good intention and I would address that by letting them know what course of action would have been okay with me. I admitted to myself that I am responsible too, as I had never communicated this boundary before.  

In half an hour, when I saw the family member again, I was able to do set my boundary without being accusing, defensive or critical. In fact, I have a new found sense of respect for them. Before, when I kept to myself when they crossed my boundary, I had begun resenting them and labelling them negatively for it. But now, the decision to communicate my boundary requires me to respect them enough to allow for the possibility that they might actually be able and willing to respect my boundary.