Why can’t boys wear dresses?

The other night, as I was tucking her in bed (our usual night time ritual), I had a conversation with my daughter. Somehow, we got on the subject of clothes.

“I love wearing dresses,” she said proudly. Full disclosure–Lily is very girly. She adores dresses the same way that I adored wearing shorts when I was little. At her age, my parents dressed me up in the frilliest dresses that they could possibly find and would parade me around our village. There’s a suspicion that my dad must’ve put me on his shoulder too many times to show me off, and that’s why I developed a fear of heights.

But of course, my daughter isn’t like that. She’s about as girly as they come. And she loves the attention she gets from wearing dresses.

“You know why I love dresses?” she continued. Whenever she begins her sentence with, “You know why...” it usually means that she already has a reason. I follow along anyway.

“Why?” I said.

“Because it’s pretty, and it’s sparkly, and I can twirl around in it!” she exclaimed.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes, I love wearing dresses to school,” she added.

“Does anybody else in your class like to wear dresses?” I asked her.

“Hmm…” she pondered for a moment, then said, “Victoria,” (one of her friends) and then she rattled off some other names that I can’t remember.

“What about the boys? Do they like to wear dresses?”

“No!” she cried, as if baffled that I would even ask such a question. “Boys don’t wear dresses.”

“Why not?!? Girls wear pants and shorts, like boys do,” I replied. “So why can’t boys wear dresses?”

She paused for a moment to consider. Finally, she said, “Boys can’t wear dresses to school because the other boys and girls would laugh at him!”

Cha ching. She’s right on the money. At least she understands the dynamics of the playground, I thought. But I wanted to make her think even deeper, so I asked, “Would YOU laugh at him?”

She sat up on her bed, pursed her lips, moved her eyes back and forth for a moment, and I can tell she’s pondering her answer. But instead she said nothing. Her face had that look that says, “No comment.”

Smart girl.

I love having these short little conversations with Lily because I can ask her these kind of questions and she always gives me a very intelligent, thoughtful answer. I want her to think deeply about bigger issues that tends to pervade adults’ lives, things that begin its roots at the playground. Societal expectations of gender behavior is one of them.

I also want to teach her to challenge the status quo. Just because something has always been that way it is doesn’t mean that it has to be.

It’s clearly obvious that in our society, if a little boy shows up to school with a dress on, all the little kids would laugh at him. That’s the reason why, if a little boy wants to wear dresses, he does it at home, when no one’s looking. I’m sure there are plenty of boys who raid their mom’s closets and try on their pretty things. But we just don’t talk about it.

Let’s not forget that in ancient times, men wore togas and skirts, things that literally wrap around them. In some cultures today, robes and skirts are still acceptable (Scottish kilts, anyone?). In Vietnam, for example, men wear a type of robe that extends all the way down to their ankles, making it appear like a dress, when really, it’s just another version of the ao dai.

For now, I hope that our conversation helped her see the other side of the coin.

Who says fairies can’t be boys?

This is not the first and certainly not the last conversation I’ve had with my six-year-old about gender. And for what it’s worth, I can’t remember exactly everything that was said between us, so this is my rough translation of the conversation.

Yesterday, while in the car, Lily said to me, “I love the Fairy books.”

She’s referring to the series by Daisy Meadows, who isn’t actually a real person but rather a collective between four different women from England, all with backgrounds in books and children’s literature, who came together and started the series.

“You know why I love the fairy books?” she continued.

“Why?” I said.

“Because the fairies are all girls!” She responded.

“Oh okay,” I said. “So you like it because it’s all about girl fairies?”

“Yes,” she said. “But I wonder why there are no boy fairies.”

Hmm, I thought. Probably because the term “fairy” has been used in a derogatory manner before? But I didn’t say this out loud. Instead, I was like, “Yeah…why do you think that there are no boy fairies?”

She said, “Maybe it’s because Daisy Meadows only likes girls. So she wrote the books for girls.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But why can’t boys be fairies?” I posed this question in a rhetorical manner. There isn’t really an answer to this; it’s just how the world of children’s literature and the media has portrayed fairies over the years. Fairies, for example, in Sleeping Beauty, were women–older women, but still. Then there’s the fairy godmother in Cinderella, who is a woman. And let’s not forget Tinkerbell.

We continued on, our conversation kind of ended there, but it made me think–if a boy wants to be a fairy for Halloween, he should be one. But unfortunately, in this day and age (and pretty much throughout all time) fairies have always been girls, just like knights have always been boys (except for maybe Mulan? Maybe?) because of their relative permissive, punitive nature in need of a rescue because they’re so fragile or something.

But my daughter’s naivete interpretation of why the fairies in the Daisy Meadows books are girls is funny, almost endearing.

A girl can dream, right?

Yesterday, while driving to the library for storytime (one of our usual weekend activities), Lily declared from the backseat, “I’m going to be a singer when I grow up!”

“Oh, really?” I responded.

“Yeah.”

“I thought you wanted to be a teacher,” I said. She’s told me about her grown up dreams of wanting to be a teacher, then an illustrator, and now, a performer, all without me ever asking.

“Well, I do,” she said.

“You can’t be a teacher and a singer,” I told her. “How are you supposed to teach and sing?”

“I can be a teacher during the day,” she responded. “Then, after I’m done teaching, I can go to the theater and sing and dance!” She said this with the gleeful exuberance of a six-year-old daydreaming about multiple jobs as a lifestyle choice, not knowing that this concept is called a “side hustle,” something that my generation does quite a bit in order to be able to support themselves, sometimes by choice, but usually not. Of course, her dream of performing on the side, during off-school hours, are simply that–a passion.

“We’re going to be on the radio, TV, and phone!” she continued.

Images of Destiny’s Child and TLC flashed in my mind. “Oh, you mean you want to sing with a group?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “We’re going to be called The Sweet Girls!”

My daughter has the biggest imagination sometimes. She conjures up names, places, and things and puts them together in a story that makes it sound like anything is possible. I remember as a child, I had an active imagination too, but while hers involve future activities, mine was more on the present. I’d imagine the roles that I have along with the roles that the boys I was playing House with would have, and what we’d do in order to run the house smoothly.  And whenever I’d play with dolls, I’d dress them up in pretty clothes and imagine them in certain situations.

Recently, I read an article by Adam Grant, one of the greatest organizational psychologists of our time, in the New York Times called, “Stop Asking Kids What They Want to Be When They Grow Up,” in which he outlined his reasons for why we, as adults, should stay away from asking this cliche’d question. I definitely agree with what he said–about how we’re limiting our children to think only in the scope of careers whenever we ask this question. Sure, it’s cute when a child tells you that he wants to be a firefighter. What little boy doesn’t want to be a firefighter? And what little girl doesn’t want to be a princess? But as we all know, not everyone can be a firefighter, and not everyone is born as a princess.

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Future teacher, or performer, or both?

To my knowledge, I’ve never once asked Lily what she wanted to be when she grows up. (If I did, we didn’t go into detail about it). She’s always been the one telling me instead. I think it’s important to have dreams, even grandiose ones, and that’s why I’m recording it here–that as a six-year-old, my daughter wants to be a teacher and a singer–so that when she grows up and becomes a doctor, lawyer, zoologist, accountant, nurse, engineer, or anything else that is not even close to performing (or teaching) she will have a record of the dreams she once had. Part of my parenting philosophy is to record the moments, but like Adam Grant, I don’t prefer to ask my children the age old question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” because to me, it doesn’t really matter. What they end up being is of their own volition, as long as they’re truly happy.

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Lily, circa Oct. 2017. Even then she knew how to pose like a performer.

Like many parents, I want success for my kids, but I’m certainly not going to tell them that they can be anything they want to be either. I think that’s one of the worst things you can tell a little kid. I want them to be able to figure out that dreams are only a small string of what will hold you together when things go awry–when your dreams don’t become a reality, when your expectations are not met, when failure happens. Dreams will propel you far, but it won’t take you to the end. Commitment, grit (the unwillingness to give up), and connections will take you much further.

On parenting and religion

This afternoon, I was intrigued by what I saw in a New York Times newsletter. It said,

“Consciously or not, many parents either replicate or rebel against their own upbringing.”

This pretty much sums my up entire childhood and how I feel as an adult, as a parent of two kids. I am a rebel, so to speak.

I was born into a Catholic family and baptized at two months old. This baptism somehow solidified me into the religion so I grew up reading the Bible and memorizing them. I even went to a Catholic preschool and attended church every week dutifully. When I was about seven or eight, I experienced my last rite of passage–my first communion.

If you’re Catholic then you know that the first communion is a pretty BIG deal. It’s almost like the quinceanera or the bat mitzvah. There’s a ceremony in which you get to stand with other little kids your age and recite things you don’t understand just because the adults want you to do it. You also do a lot of bowing down and kneeling. Basically, you’re committed to god now. You’ve given yourself to him.

That’s me getting baptized

I remember around the same time of my first communion I also experienced my first confession. Again, as a seven year old, I didn’t really understand why I had to confess. Was I a bad person? Did I do something wrong? What was I supposed to say to the priest in the confession booth?

So I did the only thing I could think of at the time–I made it up.

Yep, I told the priest that I stole something from another kid, even though I hadn’t, and I felt bad about it. He told me to recite ten Hail Mary’s and think about my actions.

It’s that easy? I thought. Once you committed your sins and you confessed, all you had to do to repent was say a few Hail Marys?

It wasn’t until much later in life that I finally understood that justice was not like that at all. To truly repent is not just to demonstrate your guilt and shame and promise to not do it again. It’s a much more complicated thing.

Years later, in high school, I had a friend who got pregnant during her senior year. She wasn’t that much older than the rest of us–it was a crew of about five Asian girls (I also had a Russian best friend) who stuck by each other. So it was a surprise when we found out that she was pregnant. It became hush hush. Nobody ever talked about it. What was she going to do with the baby? Was she going to graduate? What about the father?

First communion

Because religion typically dictates people’s behaviors, it creates a feeling of being immoral when you want to do something that the religion deems as “sinful,” such as sex before marriage. As a teenager, nobody told me that it was perfectly natural to feel sexually attracted to someone and want to do things with them. I never got the birds and the bees talk. It was such a closed door policy. And I truly believed that my religion — or my family’s region — played a big role in that.

In high school, I rebelled. I started thinking deeply about religion and why I had to go to church all the time. I questioned the horrible things that happened, like 9/11–if god did watch over us, then why did he let these things happen? Why did he let my friend get pregnant? Why did the Holocaust happen? Why do humans seem to want to dehumanize each other?

I think it’s ironic that people use religion as a moral backbone to dictate their behaviors, and yet, at the same time, they also use religion to justify the injustices that they bestowed upon other humans. What was the Ten Commandments for if not a great fallacy? It didn’t make any sense to me.

I didn’t tell my mom any of this. I just wasn’t comfortable enough. Even after college and after I got married and now that I have kids, my mom would once in awhile, sit on my dining room table chair and declare that abandoning my religion is turning towards the devil, and because I have done so, I am turning over a satanic leaf.

My husband told me to ignore these comments, but he doesn’t get it. My mom is one of those people who wholeheartedly and truly believe that whatever religion you’re born into you must remain in it, no matter what. She’d say, “Your husband may not be Catholic and that’s okay–he just doesn’t understand…but you–YOU are a Catholic girl! You must stick with our god! You must! Or you’ll go to hell!”

Young Catholic life

So when I read Julia Sheeres’s article in the New York Times about raising her children in a non-secular way, I was reminded of myself. For as long as I’ve been a parent, I’ve rarely taken my kids to church or steered them towards any particular religion. We don’t say grace or Hail Marys in our house. We have a statue of the Buddha in our home that drives my mom crazy even though the reason we got it was not to worship him–we simply thought it was neat. My daughter has seen me naked plenty of times. She knows the roles that women play with their body parts. I don’t hush her when she asks about girls bodies. I simply let her ask the questions, because that is what I would have wanted for myself. I wanted to have a mother who was more open to discussing safe sex, relationships, our bodies, and religion as a choice especially the fact that there are more than one religion in the world, that Catholicism is not the dominant one. I would’ve wanted her to listen to my fears and reaffirm them with wisdom and kindness. But that was not what I had, and therefore, why I rebelled against my religion. I want my kids to understand that religion is a choice that only they can make. It was a choice that I did not have.

The picky eater

It happens like clockwork. Every night, when we sit down for dinner (sounds crazy, I know, but we do it), my son James will take one look at his plate then immediately says, “nana” or banana.

This request frustrates me to no end. Many nights, I sit there seething, glaring at him while my daughter concurrently tries to eat as slow as possible. She picks at her food and spews out at least five sentences before putting two bites in her mouth.

But my daughter’s dinner habits are nowhere near as frustrating as my son’s. James always asks for a banana, and he always gets it. That’s because my husband and I realized that in order to keep the peace at the dinner table, it’s better to just give the little man what he wants. Besides, it’s just fruit. There are worse things to be addicted to, I suppose.

On days when we don’t have bananas on hand, and he asks for them, and we tell him no…boy oh boy–those are the nights when we all incur the wrath of James.

Luckily, tonight we do have bananas and as usual, my husband hands him one. He takes a bite of the banana while my husband and I eat and Lily chirps away with her words. My husband then said to James, “Here, try some.” (He does that a lot). He takes a tiny bit of the curry that he made and tries to get James to taste it.

Oh boy, I thought. Here we go. Another attempt, another failure.

But instead of refusing it, James reluctantly takes it in…and it was like my whole world erupted in fireworks. Then, much to my surprise, he asks for more!

“More!” he says, “More!”

It was at that moment I realized two things–one, my husband is brilliant! Not only can he cook waayyy better than me (I will never be able to compete, even if I become a better cook than I am now), he is also slick in his ways of getting our son to eat the foods he makes! This is why I married him! (Not the only reason, of course, just one of many).

As he continues to feed James, he said, “This is like that time he ate most of my duck curry at the Thai restaurant.”

Ahhh yes, I remember. Several weeks ago, we all went out to eat on New Year’s Day, at a Thai restaurant nearby and by husband ordered a roast duck curry, and he had to feed it to James because James was so into the sauce.

“I guess he’s a big fan of the saucy, pudding type of textures,” I said.

Just minutes before this event happened, I had lamented to my husband, “He eats like 50% of what you make, and like 10% of what I make,” to which he responded, “Well, at least he eats most of what I make.”

“It should be more like 80%,” I said.

Now, here I am, moments later, sitting there watching my son eat and realizing that not only is my husband a brilliant cook and good at toddler convincing, this is also like stepping back into the past.

You see–I was a picky eater myself. When I was around James’s age, I refused to eat most foods. It didn’t matter if it was catered by the world’s best chefs–the only thing I would eat is rice with sugar sprinkled on top. So my parents gave in and gave me that. It’s not really healthy and it certainly doesn’t help your teeth, but hey my parents are like us–they didn’t want a ruckus at the dinner table either.

Much to my chagrin, my son turned out to be pretty much the same way. Granted, he’s not as picky as I was–he still eats a lot of different foods for breakfast and his lunch is still a bottle of milk, but it’s only dinner when he gets the nerve to ask for a banana, knowing that he’ll get it every time. I, on the other hand, was very strict in what I would eat.

James

Luckily these days I am no longer a picky eater. I grew up to be a very flexible eater. I love trying new foods, and I’m open to just about everything.

See, that’s the thing that they don’t tell you–that if you were a picky eater yourself, you might end up with the same kind of kid! It’s a 50/50 chance but chances are pretty high to me. It’s almost like fate telling you, “Hey, how about them apples huh?”

I think we know for sure that James will eat curry in the future. And oatmeal. And yogurt. He loves all of those gelatinous, mushy, soft pudding-style kind of foods. He’s definitely my kid.

Breaking up with bad habits is hard to do

2018 First quarter recap

Every morning for the past three months, my alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. About five minutes later, I’d trudge out of bed, slowly at first, then stumble into the kitchen, turn on the coffeemaker, and then make my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth and go to the bathroom. Once I’m done, I head back to the kitchen, where the coffee is almost ready, then I’d go over to my husband, still sleeping on the couch (we sleep on a fold-out sofa bed) and nudge him out of bed. After a few minutes, he begrudgingly does the same.

After he’s done in the bathroom, we’d go into the kitchen, where we’d drink a cup of hot, steaming coffee, sigh with satisfaction, exchange a few words here and there, then sit down on a small kiddie chair (him) and a step stool (me) and we’d start reading. This would go on until I have to go to work or one of our kids wake up.

We’d go on about our days as normal, him taking care of our kids mostly, and me at work. After the kids go to bed, we’d step outside and do our workout every other evening. On the evenings that we don’t exercise, we either work on a jigsaw puzzle or watch a movie or use it to take care of personal business.

This chain of events would never happen if we weren’t parents. It certainly would not have happened while we were poor college students. Back then, if I woke up before 8:00 a.m. I’d give myself a high five. Waking up early to read and exercising consistently 4-5 times a week is utterly incomprehensible to me up until a month ago. You might think that we’re crazy–you may ask, “Aren’t you tired after a long day with the kids or a long day at work?”

“Hell yes, we’re tired as ever, but we have goals to reach,” is what I’d say. When you want something to happen bad enough, you do whatever it takes to make it happen.

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Photo by John Baker on Unsplash

Earlier this year, I had several realizations about myself. The first one is that I am not great at finishing things, mainly books. In a typical year, I’d start about 30 books but rarely ever finish them. Second, like many people, I went to coffee shops a lot! Of course, my justification was that if I only went twice a week, then it’s okay. Umm, not a good justification, because I don’t make the kind of money that allows me this particular luxury. Lastly, I hardly ever exercise. All my life, I’ve been skinny. I weighed barely 100 lbs in high school, and continued to be small throughout college and in my twenties. I never once thought that my weight would catch up with me. I thought my metabolism was invincible.

Boy, was I wrong. Earlier this year, I started to notice that my weight had climbed up a little bit. By BMI standards, I was close to being considered “overweight.” This translates into being 131 lbs. Ouch. For an American white female, this is normal, but for a short Asian female, it is not.

I wondered to myself if whether those pounds added up gradually because I had two kids or because I’ve had a sedentary job for the past year and a half and I’ve been going to Starbucks a lot to compensate for the long days.

I realize now that it is most likely the latter. The holiday season certainly didn’t help with my seasonal depression. I was feeling down because I didn’t have any money and we were living off credit cards, and I felt pressured to be jolly. Then February came, and I was greeted with a heaping portion of baked goods, to which I accepted. It wasn’t until the end of February when I went to the doctor for an annual check up and my doctor mentioned the phrase, “holiday pounds” that it clicked in my head. Yep–office job, the holidays and its sweets, then more sweets in February (Valentines Day and my birthday is only a week apart) is what got me to where I am today–being almost overweight for my age group and ethnicity. I cringed when I saw the number on the doctor’s office scale. Not watching what I eat and not exercising has been detrimental to my body. The scale doesn’t lie. This is the heaviest I’ve ever been without being pregnant.

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Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

I remember a customer that I used to help when I worked at a local credit union. His name was Paul, and when I first met him, I decided that he couldn’t possibly be older than 50. Then I looked at his profile and saw that he was in his mid-seventies! He looked incredibly healthy and fit. Not surprisingly, he worked out everyday and taught fitness classes for bus drivers. I was in awe, and admired him for his strength.

Then I examined those around me currently–at work, at home, in public places. And I was blown away by the evidence of unhealthy lifestyles all around me. At work, for example, I see at least three individuals who are extremely overweight and have trouble walking even three blocks. Plus, they looked so incredibly old for their age. The evidence was clear in their physical appearance–they did not eat healthy foods or exercised, two components necessary for maintaining a healthy weight.

I’m more inspired from seeing what I don’t want to be versus what I would like to be.

I thought about my bad habits and how they do not align with my values. It became obvious that changes need to be implemented right away.

So at the beginning of March, I stopped going to Starbucks. If I can manage to do this for an entire year, I’ll save at least $400, or $35/mo. I started my reading routine and invited my husband to do the same. My husband has never been the type of person who’d wake up early to read either. For him, it’s a real game changer. I also created a workout schedule, and even signed up for a 5K, something I never imagined I would do.

As March continued on, I started feeling better. My insomnia was almost nonexistent. Surprisingly, I looked forward to working out, because it meant quality time with my husband. And because of the consistent reading, I’ve finished three books in January, three books in February, and five books in March. My husband has also finished his own share of books. We’ve completed two jigsaw puzzles together. I went to Starbucks zero times (okay, I cheated– once to a Dutch Bros. thrive-thru, and once to a convenience store, which comes to a whopping $5 total). I spent roughly $16 on coffee for home brewing, and still have coffee for next month. I bought lunch exactly once. It was the best $5 I’ve spent in a long time. I exercised for fifteen days. During the month of March, I ran approximately 26 miles and averaged 9709 steps, roughly 3000 more steps than I’ve had in the past six months. Simply put, I’ve doubled what I’ve done in terms of exercise. I’ve saved a lot of money by not going to coffee shops as often. And I’ve nurtured my brain with jigsaw puzzles and reading every day.

I realized that if I’m going to allow my kids to eat only Cheerios and no other sugary cereals, then I must treat myself the same way–with restraint. I must practice eating healthy and resisting the urges that ignite in my brain whenever I’m bored/anxious/sad/angry/whatever. I have to learn to distinguish between a true need and a simple desire.

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Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

I ran into Paul several months ago on the train platform by my house. We exchanged a few brief words. He still looks the same as he always does–fit and happy. And it made me think–if I want to be as healthy as him in retirement age, then I need to start early. I need to start now.

The first few days were incredibly difficult. Like stepping on hot coals for the first time, you feel a sense of shock as the pain registers in your body—as mine did in the first few runs. The “fight or flight” response is in full swing at this point. Instead of choosing to quit, I chose to fight. My determination overrode my fear of becoming a depressed, unhealthy individual.

I’m not going to lie–it’s been hard. But if there’s one thing that I learned from the past month it’s this–determination is the driving force to success. It starts in the mind. To me, there are three elements to achieving a goal. The first is deciding on which goal to tackle. The second is putting it into action. Lastly, continuing that action until you see active results. This is the part where a lot of us get hung up on–patience. Success doesn’t happen overnight, and for many of us, myself included, impatience gets in the way. Bad habits manifests itself in your thoughts, like the devil whispering on one side of your ear telling you that you are not capable. Being able to shut out the intrusive thoughts is difficult, but this month and beyond, I plan on continuing my path towards developing better habits.

I came, I conquered, and I’m here to tell: the story of my twenties

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. – Joseph Campbell

This year in February, I turned 33. Exactly ten years ago I graduated from college–the first in my family, in fact. It was a proud moment of my life. What was supposed to be the grandest achievement in the greatest year of my adult life was about to become the greatest challenge that I would face in my youth.

One of those challenges was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I had to have a job, but what? I didn’t spend a lot of time while in school trying to figure this out. That was my first error. That error, along with a great force of divine intervention, put me directly in the middle of one of the greatest recessions of all time–the Great Recession of 2008-09.

We all know about that. The one where the real estate market crashed. Just about everyone who owned a home lost value. People lost money left and right. There were no jobs available anywhere. It was an economic downpour that led to an enormous thunderstorm which would take years to recover.

This particular period wasn’t the brightest one in my twenties, and it was something that I was willing to never think about again, until I read this article.

I felt that the article was talking about me, to me. It talked about a concept that I’ve never heard of before called transformative resilience–the ability to improve because of a setback.

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Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

My story began in 2008. I was a new college graduate, eager and excited for the real world. But as I’ve mentioned above, my first error in navigating the “real world” was not spending time trying to figure out what career path to pursue. Thus began a journey of almost a decade of struggles, both personally, professionally and financially, before I was able to see any clarity in what many would call “the prime years” for working.

I was in a comfort zone in college, a bubble that didn’t burst until after I graduated. I was lucky to find a job right away. It was an internship doing marketing for a local health benefits administrator. I had a good working relationship with my boss, and because of that (and my expressed desire to obtain a full-time, regular position) she referred me to another department in the company when they had a full-time opening. The job was nothing fancy–doing data entry work, but nonetheless, I was on cloud nine because I was making more than I’ve ever had in years. This equates to about $13/hour, great for 2008.

Then the gossip came. My coworkers whispered that we might be out of a job, due to the recession. I didn’t think that was possible. I was doing well, so it came as a surprise to me when I was called into the manager’s office and told that I would be let go–they had to cut labor. Of course, they could not do that to the older, long time employees. It would have to be me, the newest bud.

Earlier that year, right after I graduated, I got married. My husband also just graduated from the local community college and had gotten a job at a hotel, working the front desk. The pay was nothing short of minimum wage, but it was what he wanted to do at the time–work in the hospitality industry. Little did he know that during a recession, not many people travel for pleasure. It was mainly for business.

The next blow came when I called the unemployment office to seek out benefits after being laid off. After waiting thirty minutes on the phone, I was told that I didn’t qualify. I was flabbergasted. The representative told me that the hours I did work during the last year were not regular hours because they were mainly work-study, subsidized by the government. I hung up the phone in tears.

Next came another strike when my husband and I sat down to do our taxes. I remember us so clearly–hunched over tax booklets and forms (we were still using paper and pencil at the time), one person reading the instructions, and the other writing down numbers and doing the math. Several hours later, we discovered that we owed $1500.

We had never done our taxes before, so I figured we must’ve made a mistake. I demanded that my husband take our taxes to the nearest H&R Block for a free review. He came back with the same consensus–yep, we did owe that money.

Problem is, we didn’t have that money in the bank. We were living paycheck to paycheck. Heck, we had just gotten married, so funds were dried up from the wedding.

So we decided to ask his dad for money. We knew that our moms didn’t have much money, so his dad was most likely to help. I was shocked when my husband came back and said, “Nope.”

The reasons are still unclear–he was either unwilling or unable to help. We decided not to dwell on it and moved on. The next task would be to find me a job–any job, really. Living on one income, especially one $9/hour income wasn’t feasible, especially when you have to pay back $1500 in taxes and student loans and a car payment.

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Photo by Aidan Bartos on Unsplash

 

I was lost. All my life, I was brought up to believe that once you obtain an education and get a job, you’d stay there and move up in the world. This upward mobility, stay-in-one-place path would prove to be something that many millenials do not do, and certainly not I. Nobody told me about the challenges of finding a job that fits your values while also utilizing your skills. Nobody told me that getting a job, any job, would be so hard. But that was the reality.

By this time, I was in the third stage as mentioned in the article–in the middle of chaos, where self compassion is absent, denial is in full swing, and panic sets in. Add on the lack of self-esteem, confusion over one’s abilities, and desperation, and you have a recipe for a full blown career crisis. This kind of crisis would put me in a blinding confusion that would last for many years to come.

I bounced from not having a job to having a job within a month. Sounds lucky, right? Except this was the first job that I found. It only paid $9/hour. The hiring manager made it clear that it wasn’t a very fancy or high paying position, but I took it anyway. I was desperate. It was either this or wait for who knows how long before I can get another job. I clung on to the first raft that I found, not realizing that it would drag me down so tremendously for the next year.

Almost every day, I came home from work crying. I had a devious, controlling coworker who’d watch everyone like a hawk and went to the manager immediately upon seeing an infraction of any kind–whether it be that the person was not putting things in the correct order, or was not telling people that they were going to the bathroom–in general, very small infractions that clearly did not dictate their overall capacity to perform the job. But she found it where she could and made everyone’s lives miserable. She assumed managerial responsibilities and barked orders at everyone even though she was not a manager. We all hated her, but there was nothing we could do, so we ignored it. I ignored it for awhile, until it bothered me. It filled me with a rage. Finally, I went to my manager to express this, and although she listened, she did not do anything to correct the issue. Not only that, I was doing three different jobs–something they did not disclose to me during the interview.

I was doing three jobs for $9/hour–it was not worth the stress, I knew it. But at the same time, I didn’t know what else to do. I had gone from a situation of a comfortable job to no job, no unemployment, no savings, and no parental help. Our country was in the middle of a recession–there were hardly any jobs to be had. So it came as no surprise when my husband found out that his company instigated a two-year pay freeze. Nobody would be allowed any raises for the next two years. Ouch.

Not only that, we had to pay back our taxes, so my husband and I devised a plan to save as much as possible in order to make the payments. Part of that involved being diligent about what we were spending our money on. We decided that we would limit our grocery budget to just $30 per week. We had no money for lunch or dinner dates, so the $30 would have to last an entire week for two people. This equates to around 72 cents per meal.

Now that I think about it, I remember it so fondly–us dragging our “grandma cart” down to the nearest Grocery Outlet (because driving costs money) talking and laughing, all the while calculating our total before we got to the register. We had to be precisely on budget or under.

I have to tell you that we did not frequent food pantries at this time. I suppose we could have, but being young and somewhat ignorant, we did not know how to seek out help. We vaguely knew about food stamps, but we never seek it out. We figured we had to be self-reliant. I thought food stamps were for low income immigrants, and I didn’t think of myself that way. In reality, that’s exactly what I was. The combination of pride and shame prevented us from seeking out government help, especially after getting rejected by one of our parents.

Looking back on it now, I remember we were in the stages of chaos and struggle for several years. During this time, we followed the $30/week grocery budget strictly, never went out, never bought alcohol or got massages, spent $10 or less on haircuts (which were rare), always shopped for things on sale, utilized coupons, used second hand furniture, and rarely drove our car. For fun, we stayed home and watched movies that I got for free from the library, and went camping & hiking in the summer.

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After a year, I left my miserable job, and I found another one at a bank as a teller. Eight months later, I moved on to a credit union, where I would stay for the next four years. The experience at the credit union is another story altogether, reserved for another day, but the point remains–I was still confused about what I should do with my life, I was holding onto a raft that was dragging me down again. I explored and researched many career paths but never actually made any leaps of faith. Having just barely survived the recession, I favored stability over adventure, or rather misery over excitement.

Luckily for my husband, he survived his company’s pay freeze, and went on to become manager in the dining department. He stayed there for several years until he became stifled himself, seeking out new opportunities. But after having worked in only two main industries, it was difficult to transition to another industry without a certain level of education or experience, so he decided to step down from his position and go back to school.

Then a month after he enrolled, we found out that I was pregnant. Thus begins the next chapter of our lives–he started college with no kids and ended with two. It was challenging to say the least. We would not have made it without his grants, scholarships, student loans and government assistance. He was working part time, and at one point, I left my job to stay at home with my daughter so I could figure out what I was going to do career-wise.

Time flew by. We focused on raising our kids; he focused on finishing school. We were in a trance for a long time. Despite all of this, we still managed to come out on the other end slightly untethered. We paid off the taxes that we owed to the IRS. I educated myself on taxes so we would never be in the same boat again. We increased our credit rating and kept it at a consistent high. We paid off our used car loan of roughly $7000. We also paid off my husband’s community college loan. We started retirement funds and took advantage of 401Ks. When we had kids, we started their college funds too. We also saved over $10,000 in the course of four years, which was later used in 2014 when I was a stay-at-home mom while my husband worked part-time and went to school full-time. With the help of my mom, we bought a new car outright in 2015. We haven’t had a car payment since 2011. We took a trip to Vietnam to visit my family in 2009. We saved up for a trip to Hawaii in 2012, and it was amazing because every dollar spent was worth it knowing that it took almost a year to save up that money–our money.  If you were to measure our wealth in terms of experiences, we were rich.

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When you fall down and get hurt, it’s easier to stay in one spot and complain about it, and wait for someone to rescue you. But it’s also another to get back up and move on, to face the unknown ahead and say, “I can do this.”  As the article mentioned, all of us will experience a challenging circumstance in our lives, regardless of our socioeconomic backgrounds or ages. It’s what we do with it that matters more.

I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and the main thing that I’ve walked away with about my twenties is this–it was a challenging period in my life, both professionally and financially. I had no sense of direction whatsoever. I made lots of mistakes. But I’ve also learned a lot. It was from those mistakes that made me the person I am today. If I had not been forced into unemployment, or been depleted of funds, or worked at jobs that paid very little, then I never would’ve learned the value of frugality. I never would’ve consciously chosen to live within my means. I never would’ve felt the desire to save money, and I never would’ve felt the pure joy of spending the money that I saved. There were periods of time when I went crazy and spent more than I should have, and sure enough, I paid the price for that.

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Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

Late last year, I met with a financial advisor (for free, of course–who can afford one with my salary?) and we reviewed my retirement funds. He told me that my husband and I are above average for people our age. It felt great to know that we were on track, that we were much better than the average millennial. Having kids really changed a lot of perspective. Being low income for a long time really put things into reality. I no longer felt shame that I had to rely on food stamps while my husband was in school and I wasn’t working, or when I was working but part-time with two kids. Although we have ways to go in terms of our career paths, things are looking up, and it only took about a decade to see it in its full clarity. I just wish I had seen it sooner.

My not-so-proud parenting moment

One of the facts of life is this–none of us are perfect, we all have flaws, right? But for some reason, these flaws don’t make their appearance until we become parents. At least, for me anyway. When you’re young and self-absorbed, you tend to push your flaws aside, thinking that while you acknowledge their existence they don’t make a full impact in your everyday lifestyle.

Then you become a parent, and things start coming out of the closet.

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Just 10 days after turning 28, my daughter was born. I officially became a parent. My world from that point on changed completely. I learned to take care of someone else besides myself, and if you are one of these people (parents) then you know what I mean. I worried like most parents worry. I slept little like most new parents slept. I handled explosive poops and temper tantrums like most parents have to do.

Like many parents, I wondered how my daughter would turn out. And everything I did seemed to revolved around the thought of, “How will this look like in her eyes?” Her perceptions of me were more important than what other parents thought of me.

When Lily was three and a half years old, she started preschool. I remember dropping her off on the first day and feeling a sense of nostalgia–my baby was growing up, but I wanted her to stay little. She was a talking, walking and discovering little toddler, with thoughts and questions now. I gave her a hug and a kiss goodbye, and for the most part, she was excited to start preschool. She was perfectly okay with me leaving her there for half the day. As soon as we arrived at her school, she’d start in on an activity, as if to say, “Mom, I’m good, thanks. You can go now.”IMG_0918.jpg

Fast forward another year or so, this separation agreement evaporated completely. It started at home, when my husband told me one day that Lily had a problem with him going outside for a bit. He had to take out the trash, do the laundry, etc.–things that involved stepping outside our apartment. She’s always been one of those kids who were okay with this, but all of a sudden she was not.

Did it make it hard to do chores? You bet. Every time he had to step out, she’d dissolve into a pool of tears which ballooned into a full freakout. I was not there for the majority of these freakouts (because I was at work), but got the full frontal experience one day when my husband was at work himself.

As any typical day goes, there is laundry and trash and dishes to be done. After doing the dishes one Saturday morning, I had a bag of trash that needed to be taken out. Not only that, there was the looming presence of laundry–so full that it looked like it was about to burst out of the hamper, and I needed to take care of these things immediately.

This is the part where I feel like Homer Simpson whenever he goes, “Doh!” and slaps his head, because it was not very smart. I thought I could get away with it, if I was quick enough. And I planned on being as fast as possible, to not allow Lily to figure out what I was doing. I was a ninja in my head, I thought.

 

Homer Simpson Doh Sound Effect Download I15 image in Vector cliparts category at pixy.org

So, while she and her brother were playing in her room, I sneaked out with the bag of trash and laundry. I ran to the dumpster as fast as I could, dumped the trash in, and rushed to the basement of our quad, turned the laundry on, and felt relieved that I only took about five minutes or so.

As I stepped out of the basement, I heard what was no doubt cries–piercing cries coming from my apartment upstairs. I walked up the stairs, and not surprisingly, the cries were doubled. Turns out, whenever Lily freaks out, her brother also freaks out, because he’s a baby and other people crying and screaming that loud scares him.

I let out an exasperated sigh, and braced myself for the drama. Deep breaths, I told myself, but all I could feel was anger rising in my chest. I mean, for God’s sakes, it was only a few minutes! What the hell.

When I stepped in and opened the door, there she was in her full crying glory–babbling away incoherently words I didn’t understand, and her brother being completely freaked out next to her. By this time, things are getting LOUD in the living room.

It was then that I just lost it. I mean, completely lost it. I don’t remember the exact words I yelled, but it was something like, “What the hell’s wrong with you?!?! I was only gone for like five minutes! What’s your problem?!? Can’t a person go outside for a few minutes to do chores without coming home to this??? WHAT THE FUCK!!!” I slammed the door hard and demanded that she go to her room.

By this time, all three of us were crying–me because my toddler wouldn’t allow me to leave for a few minutes to do chores, her because of the fact that I did it, then yelled her at her, and James because he was scared at the commotion between the two of us.

Because the crying was amplified, my neighbor from downstairs came up to see what was going on. I had my door opened by that time, and she just walked in and immediately gave me a hug. She didn’t say very much, but I knew she understood because she’s a mom herself. I cried and cried, feeling resigned, like I couldn’t handle any more of this drama.

Then she left me be and went to my daughter, gave her a hug, and whispered something in her ears that made everything a little bit quieter. For the next few minutes, Lily and I were in separate rooms, stewing by ourselves. It was that toxic.

And that, my readers, is one of the lowest, if not the lowest moment of parenting in the past five years to me. You know it’s bad when the neighbor comes up to help you. The last time she did that was when James was born. That’s another story.

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In retrospect, that incident taught me a lot about patience. Heck, becoming a parent taught me a lot about patience! But when your toddler pushes you to your breaking point, and you don’t know what to do…well, there’s a sense of helplessness there. It’s a vulnerability that we all have, but a trait that rarely comes up for some of us. On that day, I felt a lot like Homer Simpson, not just because I had a “Doh!” moment, but also because I wanted to wring her neck. I felt like Homer whenever he grabs Bart by the neck and say, “Why you little…!!!”

With all dreams of abuse aside, I knew I would never do that. After all, she was going through what is typically known as the “terrible” ages–Terrible Twos transformed into Terrible Threes. Anyone who tells you that you only get to experience the Terrible Twos is lying. I think that the terrible ages last well into early 4th year. As soon as you start feeling like they’re on a good schedule, sleep-wise, they enter the Terrible Two stage, which by itself, is a test of your physical and mental endurance.

As I’m writing this, I’m happy to report that the phase she was in have dissolved. Finally, we can go out to the dumpster by ourselves! And down to the basement to do laundry! Or to the car to pick up something! Hallelujah!

I never thought I’d be so glad to say, “I can go out to the dumpster by myself,” but I am. There you have it.

When Your Toddler Knows A Little Too Much (and other news)

Hi guys,

Welcome to a new edition of “Kids Say the Darnest Things” where I co-host with “TMI (Too Much Information)” and this time, I’ll share with you things I’ve recently discovered that my daughter knows, also known as “Things a toddler should not know YET (until he/she reaches high school).” Now, I consider Lily to be a very normal, average kid. She weighs about 33-34 lbs (the exact number I’ve forgotten), and is about 39″ tall, with brown hair and brown eyes. She’s this adorable little chub chub.

However, what is abnormal about her is her proclivity towards learning of adult things. When I say “adult things” I don’t mean adult entertainment, porn movies, or sexual positions. I mean, things that adults typically talk about, but not children. For example, childbirth. My daughter is obsessed with childbirth, so much that she’ll take some of her toy pieces and “pretend” to give birth to it by putting it down her shirt, then letting it drop out of her shirt, all the while proclaiming that she’s pooping out babies.

Yep, that’s right. Pooping out babies. All because she witnessed her mom giving birth to her little brother. Mind you, this was not planned at all. Home births are not my thing. I prefer to be in a hospital, with a staff that is trained on childbirth and is there to assist me in all aspects in case something goes wrong. However, my little boy decided he could not wait even 30 minutes, and popped out before we even made it to the car. Before her dad got home and delivered him, Lily saw me on my (almost) knees, leaning over the railing of the staircase and screaming at the top of my lungs. Then she saw what happened afterwards…which was her brother coming out of a spot that is usually reserved for closed door activities.

(And while we’re on the subject of babies, one time she declared that she was going to live to a hundred and have babies when she’s 25… which technically isn’t a bad age to have children, and the babies will come out of her just as easily as toy pieces. I resisted the urge to say to her, “Oh honey when it’s your turn you’ll be screaming a hell of a lot before the baby actually comes out. But I spared her the drama).

This is a story that is made for history books… the history of our family, that is.

Do I want my daughter to know about body parts and how they work at such a young age? Not exactly. I was planning on telling her about childbirth when she gets older, or whenever she asked me about it and is old enough to understand. As with many typical parents would prefer to shield their child’s eyes and minds, I thought that wouldn’t happen for at least another 5 years.

I gotta admit – I don’t feel ashamed about her knowing the female reproductive parts. I don’t want to be one of those parents who shun their child away from talking about what our bodies can do. I want her to feel comfortable talking about it, and learning about it…just not so young. Regardless, she does know now, and that is that. I don’t claim to show her my parts all the time, but I do take her into public restrooms with me whenever I have to go, so before this “incident” ever happened, she had already seen me (partially) naked. She is no stranger to body parts.

Speaking of body parts and what it does, not only does this girl know that boys and girls have different parts, but she also knows that it makes them do the same things differently. For example, the other day, she stood up on her bed, put her hands to her privates, held it there, and said, “This is how Daddy goes peepee.” Then she sat down and said, “This is how Daddy goes poopoo.” I was like HUH?!?! how the heck does she know that??? I grilled her further, asking her how does she know how daddy goes potty and she let on that she had peeked in before. Say waahhhhhtttt!!!!

a real conversation between her dad and I

We are not purposely telling her any of these things, I SWEAR.

In other news, this morning she said, “Mom, will you marry me?” I don’t know if I should be flattered or weirded out by this. After all, is it the fact that women can get married to women or the fact that she wants to “marry” me because she loves me? Either way, I’m a little baffled.

It’s a good thing she doesn’t know how babies are made…yet.