Learning to Be Human

(Trigger Warning: Physical and emotional abuse.)

I am afraid to talk about why I am angry with my mother.

Well, I’m not currently angry with her.

By that I mean I’m not actively mad at her. Like, she hasn’t done anything to incur my wrath or anger. She has been her normal, wonderful self.

But.

am mad about a lot of things from when my brother and I were growing up.

I am very angry about it, in fact.

So angry that though I have been aware of these feelings for quite some time, I rarely allow even more than a blip of it to manifest.

Even now, when I have discussed it occasionally with my therapist, Dr. T, I only skim the surface of my anger.

I am very afraid.

I am afraid that if I think about it, dig it out, and look it in the eye, that I will be so angry that I will not be able to be around my mother, whom I love.

I am afraid that if we ever talk about it, I will explode and then it will ruin what I find to be a perfectly acceptable relationship with my mother. That it will play into the same script of how my mother and I handle conflict with each other.

That it will justify her insistence that I am just like my father.

I am afraid because I love her and love the relationship she has with my children and if I break it, then my children will lose out on her presence in their lives.

I am afraid even as I write this piece. There is a pit of dread in my stomach. I have been circling around this topic for years and I want to vomit just typing these words on screen.

My fingers are trembling.

I am deeply afraid.

When I was a child, I adored my father.

He was so fun and exciting. He told the best jokes, was the life of every party, was so clever and smart and big and handsome and larger than life.

He was everything to me.

I loved my mother, of course. But in my memory, she’s not really there. Not because she wasn’t present, but she seems to me a shadow in the background. How could I even see her in the shade of my father, the sun?

Of course, it wasn’t fair. My father went back to Taiwan to work when I was in the fifth grade and was gone for months at a time. My mother was left to be a single parent, supporting us, providing for us, doing everything for us – including the hard part of parenting us.

My father would come back for two weeks every three months and be fun, take us on trips, play games, injecting life into our family.

How could she possibly compete?

I did not know that even then, he was already having affairs and deceiving us.

How could I? My mother never told me.

Sometime in the intervening years, I placed my mother on a pedestal. She was the victim in our family saga. The injured. The wronged.

If anyone dared criticize her, I would be inflamed and respond in a rage.

She was the offended party. How dare anyone make any remarks on her choices? She did the best she could! She was so young! She was alone! Her Taiwanese and Chinese Christian culture trapped her!

YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND HER HOW DARE YOU JUDGE HER?!?

And of course, those circumstance are still true; still valid.

But it is no longer enough.

It is no longer a narrative that fits.

It no longer fits because it is not entirely true.

It is not the whole of it.

Part of the reason it is so hard for me to think about my anger at my mother is because I am such an extreme person. In my mind, you are either a good person or a bad person. Hero or villain. Perfect or damned.

There is no room to be human.

I have cast my family narrative with my mother as the victim, my father as villain, and my brother and I as the supporting characters. The clever children upon whom plot points hinge, but never the main characters.

Only my father had agency. The rest of us revolved around him and reacted to whatever bombs he exploded into our lives.

But that is not true, either.

The other day, Dr. T expressed surprise that I described my father as so full of life, so fun, so vibrant. She said up until that point, I had always described my father as a horrible human being.

I have been seeing Dr. T for three years.

This is how deeply I have entrenched myself in this narrative.

My father, the devil himself. The consummate con artist. The truly terrible person my mother thinks I am exactly like.

I am afraid to poke around the anger I hold of my mother because it doesn’t fit the narrative I have created in order to cope with my father’s abuse and her role in it.

I am afraid to talk about how she utterly failed to protect me and my brother from my father because I can feel the rage and despair and fear and hurt and bewilderment rising in my chest, lodging itself there because I refuse to break down weeping in public where I am writing this.

I am afraid because though she was young and afraid and so many things I will never fully understand, she failed.

She failed her fundamental job as a mother: to keep us safe.

She did not protect us from my father. She kept us in his thrall. She taught us to lie and pretend to everyone that everything was okay. That we were safe.

She stayed with him for 36 years.

She, more than my father, more than anyone else in my life, she taught me how to lie.

And to add insult to injury, she does not remember. Claims she never knew. Has the audacity to react indignantly and say, “What kind of father would do this?”

What kind of mother allows a father to do this to her children?

What kind of mother then forgets? 

I tell you this truth.

If Hapa Papa or anyone (including myself) ever treated my children the way my father treated my brother and me, they would no longer exist in the realm of the living. I would have removed them.

In fact, the only reason I would allow them to live unharmed is because if I did end them, my children would be taken from me.

I am afraid to see my mother as human.

If she is human, then my father might be, also.

If he is human, then I might have to re-consider my decision to cut him out of my life.

If I have to re-consider my decision to cut him out of my life, I have to re-examine my childhood, his role in it, and then, my mother’s role in it, and then, I might have to encounter my anger again.

It is a vicious cycle.

Despite my mother never outright saying to my face that I’m just like my father, I know, to the core of my very being, that that is what she believes.

She does not have to say it.

It is all over her face. It is in how she responds to conflict with me – no matter how minor.

My brother and I can say the exact same thing to her and she will get mad at me but then turn around and do what my brother suggests.

It is a slap in my face. A constant reminder of how my mother really sees me.

If my mother believes I am my father, how can it not be true?

Dr. T suggested a few weeks ago that because I believe I am my father, this root belief makes it really hard to change my outward behavior with my children. That I have several deeply rooted beliefs that make it difficult to change because ultimately, my subconscious rejects all my attempts at a new identity.

She posits that part of the reason I refuse to see my father as human is because that way, I’m justified in continuing to reject him. (Note, she is not suggesting that I allow my father back into my life. Just that my reasons are manifold.)

Also, because I believe that I’m just like him, that I am literally cutting him off in an attempt to cut it out from myself and avoid the pain of this belief in my life.

But I am not my father – no matter what my mother says.

No matter what my brain says.

Because if I were my father, every time my mother pissed me off or said something I didn’t like, I would literally try to silence her by ending her life. I would try to smother her with a pillow or stick a butcher knife to her throat or wrap my hands around her throat and squeeze.

If I were my father, I would hit my children in the face, slapping their glasses clear across the room when they talked back at me. I would throw their plates in their faces or into their laps or on the floor when they refused to eat their dinner. I would spank them so hard over minor infractions that their bottoms would have welts and would require salves.

If I were my father, I would have Hapa Papa force my children to apologize to me for getting me so mad that I hurt them. I would have my children swallow all my abuse and then make them apologize to me for it. I would never apologize to my children or take steps to get better.

If I were my father, I would lie all the time just because I could. I would connive to make myself the victim in every situation and resent the success of my friends and family. I would do everything in my power to create the illusion of success and power and control.

If I were my father, I would have endless affairs and then when Hapa Papa finally demanded the truth, I would blame him for making me hurt him with the truth. I would blame everyone except myself. I would never take responsibility for anything in my life.

That my mother believes I would respond like my father wounds me.

I am deeply insulted.

I am furious.

I make light of it instead.

I am excellent at deflection.

When I first started seeing Dr. T, she mentioned that I avoid feelings and that I was not in touch with them at all.

I was so pissed off.

I discussed it with my friends and we all agreed that it was a ridiculous statement.

Of course I felt things. Of course I was in touch with them. I was a writer for fuck’s sake. I wrote about my feelings all the time! What the hell was Dr. T talking about?

Clearly, she had no idea what she was doing. Perhaps I should find a new therapist.

Now, years later, I finally realize what she has been saying all along, in multiple ways, as kindly as possible.

This last year or so, I have been considering stopping therapy. It takes a lot of time, costs a lot of money, and creates disruption for my children and for Hapa Papa.

But mostly, it was because I had fallen into a routine of just talking to Dr. T about my week and daily life and nothing seemed to be happening on the surface and I was better than when I started going to see her so maybe I could stop soon?

This fall, I cut back to every other week. And though at the beginning of this year, I mentioned I wanted to talk more about my anger with my mom as well as my relationship with Gamera, I still kept reverting to talking about my week.

Anytime the subject started scratching the surface of deeper feelings about my mother or my daughter, I would make a joke or change the subject and lalalalala until our session ended.

I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

It was deeply unsatisfying.

It is hard for me to see my children as human. (Truthfully, I have a hard time seeing anyone as human.)

I mean, obviously, they are humans, but I have an incredibly difficult time seeing them as human – with the full range of emotions accorded to humans.

It is especially difficult with Gamera because FFS she is SO EMOTIONAL all the fucking time. Just get it together already! (But don’t repress yourself!) BUT OMG FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY PLEASE STOP CRYING.

My mother has occasionally mentioned that I was a rebellious teenager. I would brush the statement off but recently, the thought of her saying this makes me incredibly angry.

She thought I was a rebellious teenager? Why? Because I didn’t agree with every single thing that came out of her mouth? Because we would have disagreements and fight?

I cannot even fully put into words how mad this makes me.

Our family was a wreck. She was rarely home. Neither was my father. And when they were, they fought and my father was violent.

We had all the risk factors for me and my brother turning out spectacularly badly.

I was a good kid. Didn’t do drugs. Wasn’t sexually promiscuous. Got excellent grades. Hung out with the “good” kids. Was a youth leader at church.

I was a textbook model child but because we argued and fought and I wanted to do things they didn’t want me to do, I was “rebellious.”

You know what?

My mother was lucky.

She was lucky that my brother and I turned out as well as we did. She was lucky that despite my parents’ inadequate parenting and terrible marriage, that we grew into reasonably well-adjusted adults with healthy marriages and families of our own.

She was so fucking lucky that I cannot adequately express my fury and disdain and disbelief that she believes I was rebellious as a teenager and that I am still the rebellious one.

I know I have mentioned this before but it bears repeating.

My father used to punish me for my perceived thoughts.

If he was being an asshole, or even just doing his job as a parent, and I was angry about it, even if I didn’t say it and just had 臉色 (lian3 se4) – a Chinese expression describing a mutinous face – he would say, “I know what you’re thinking and you’re wrong.”

I would get punished for things I didn’t say, or possibly, even think.

Last session, Dr. T mentioned that as a child, I was not allowed to be human.

I was not allowed to have or express a normal range of emotions. I was not allowed to be mad or cry or whatever else it was I was feeling. I wasn’t even allowed to have thoughts that were my own. I was only allowed to be what my parents expected and wanted.

And then it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks.

I was like, OMG I AM DOING THAT TO GAMERA!!

I started laughing because of course. It was hilarious. And ironic.

And then I stopped laughing because it was and is so fucking sad.

It is so hard for me to trust and acknowledge Gamera’s pain and emotions. I sucked it up so why can’t she?

And so, I do to Gamera the same thing that was done to me.

I am uncomfortable with emotions because I never really had the safety or the space to be human.

My parents didn’t model to me what it meant to be human. They did not teach me how to deal with the chaos they created – let alone the maelstrom of normal teenage emotions.

We were a family constructed of lies and denial. How could the honesty of feelings and emotions survive?

As an adult, I now deflect pain or discomfort by being funny or getting mad because they are easy and acceptable emotions for me to reach. They are my armor, protecting me so I rarely have to allow myself to feel pain or take my pain seriously.

Even in therapy, where I am paying $160 an hour to work through my shit, I deflect a lot of my grief and constantly make jokes, trivializing truly terrible things.

I want better for my children. For my precious Gamera.

She is not even six years old (although close enough). My job is to teach her how to be human and how to feel things even if they’re inconvenient.

Perhaps especially when they’re inconvenient.

And yes, to figure out how NOT to cry all the time but somehow not have her repress her emotions and hate herself and who she is and why she has these big emotions even though it seems overblown and ridiculous to me. And sometimes, to distract her out of a rut of screaming and crying.

But mostly, just to tolerate it and let her be. To resist the urge to shut her down and tell her to suck it up.

To let her live.

To be human.

To give her the gift of the fullness of her humanity even if it triggers every single button I have from a lifetime of self-protection.

Perhaps then, I can also give that same gift to my mother, to my father, and most importantly, to myself.

Thank you, friends, for giving me the space to be human.

Is Me Saying Fuck Really What Most Offends You in 2017?

In the last week, I have been language policed twice.

Now, many of you know that I am very liberal with the swears so perhaps you are surprised that it’s only twice in the last week.

However.

Regardless of the quantity (nevermind the quality) of my swearing, it’s really none of their business unless I am swearing AT them or their children. I will even concede swearing in front of their children.

Neither of these instances were that.

Let me give you some context.

In the first instance, I posted my article, Why I Homeschool, on a bilingual homeschooling Facebook group. Keep in mind, I post my Chinese and homeschool related blog posts there approximately twice a week and have been for the last 2-3 years.

I do not edit my posts for this group and many of them contain curse words – often times, MUCH more than the two F-bombs I had in the Why I Homeschool post.

I have never had a problem. Not once. Not even a whisper or private message saying, “You know, perhaps you should lay off the swears.”

Well, that is, until last week.

In the comment section of the post, I see this:

Quite frankly, I’m amazed that I had the self-control to not write something scathing back. But you know what? I recognize that she does not like swear words. That is her right. And I also recognize that my blog is not for her. That’s fine. Not everyone needs to like my blog or find it useful.

I accept that.

But then, she goes and insults and personally attacks me and everyone who was not offended by my post and possibly, even liked it. And not only that, when confronted by multiple people, including the admins, she doubled, then tripled, then quadrupled down with really questionable logic and then left the group in a self-righteous huff.

Some examples:

She says, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Of course she is a Trump supporter.

People.

Trump and his normal human behavior in public is acceptable to her but my two uses of the F word in regards to white supremacy and my kids being woke as fuck on my own private site are NOT.

The amount of self-righteous hypocrisy is astounding.

Look. It’s not as if I walked into her living room and dropped F bombs at her and her children. It was on MY site. I left a LINK. Where it is generally common knowledge that the internet MAY HAVE SWEARS.

Furthermore, as a friend said, is using curse words to express myself worse than insulting others with zero curse words? Because saying that discerning people would not like a blog that uses curse words is actually insulting, to both me, the writer, and the people who enjoy the blog.

It was intended as an insult.

I would further break down her fallacious arguments, but why? WE ALL HAVE EYES AND BRAINS.

Plus, she pulled in another person and between the two of them, advised me on how to use my words and be a better parent. Clearly, they did not take the hint that yes, it’s possible for other people to have different opinions – even on the subject of curse words and their appropriateness on the internet, for children, and as a human.

I am not providing screenshots of the second person because later, they messaged me and apologized – which I appreciate. Personally, I find it hard to admit when I do something shitty or wrong or inappropriate – let alone apologize to a total stranger on the internet. So, I absolutely appreciate her apology. It took guts.

Anyhow, back to the drama.

Keep in mind, the main reasons I did not eviscerate either of these women in the comments were because:

1) I do not want people to think I am an asshole.

I mean, I am an asshole. (And if this post is any clue, I’m petty as fuck and DON’T YOU FORGET IT. Also? I KEEP RECEIPTS.)

But at that point, public opinion was most likely on my side, me being the victim of this sanctimonious eyeroll of a human.

However, if I annihilated her publicly on Facebook, she becomes the victim.

THAT CANNOT BE TOLERATED.

So, I screamed and vented and came up with scathing commentary to my friends, but in public, I did not.

Side Note: I don’t believe in doxxing or ruining someone on the internet (unless they’re a white supremacist – then by all means, doxx the shit out of them) so I have blurred out her name and her kid’s face (because I’m not a savage). But since I also believe in public shaming, I have kept her face in tact.

2) My friends were the admins and I did not want to put them in the awkward position of having to delete my comments or even remove me from the group.

I know from personal experience that administrating Facebook groups is no fun. There was no need to make their lives harder.

3) I would have felt awesome temporarily and then I would feel like an asshole. But by then, everyone else would also know that I was an asshole so even deleting my comments or posts would be too late.

Yes, I realize that this is mostly a regurgitation of Point 1 and not really true remorse.

What can I say? I’m shallow.

I thought this instance was a one off situation until the other day, on another Facebook group, someone posted an example of text that a teenager or adult could read with ease.

I wanted to see if I could read this text (despite it being in Simplified) and what should I find but CURSE WORDS. The word, “fucking,” to be exact.

I found it hilarious and thought to myself, “OMG, what if they had posted to the homeschooling group?”

But then, someone posted a translation of the story in the comments without the offensive word and I was really confused. So, of COURSE I had to stir shit up and ask:

AND LO AND BEHOLD, one of the next comments:

PEOPLE!!!!

PEOPLE!!!! WHYYYYYYYYYYYY?!?!?!?

We are literally talking about a curse word that is ALREADY in the text – but in Chinese. This group is FULL of LITERATE Chinese people.

And if the original poster recommended that parents could test their teenagers on the topic, THEY SHOULD KNOW.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO PEOPLE??

I feel as if I am living in some strange, alternate universe.

Since when has the mere presence of a word become so terrible that it’s more offensive than pretty much EVERYTHING that is going on in this world – including, but not limited to, our current sitting president?

I am so annoyed (because mad is too strong for what I’m feeling) and bewildered that I want to react in as juvenile way as possible and just write a post with some click-bait title and then have the post be just an endless string of FUCKS.

Instead, I have written this screed because it amuses me and I am petty and I guess I really am puerile.

People.

This is the fucking internet.

There will be things that offend you. And unless it’s dangerous, incendiary rhetoric (oh wait, that’s 45‘s Twitter account), you can choose to not go back to that site, not engage, and scroll on by.

You do NOT have to insult people or tell them they are wrong and are bad parents. Perhaps, you can tell them they are bad writers. I accept that. (But don’t all go rushing in to tell me this, ok?)

Just because I swear does not mean I am incapable of not swearing. I swear because I choose to use those words because those are the words that I want to use. By no means do I think that these words are always necessary, but that is my choice to make.

And sure, who couldn’t improve upon some judicious editing? But again, that would be my choice. After all, even though the original posts that I turned into my book, (affiliate link) So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese, included many swear words, I excised them from the book because I felt that was more appropriate.

I have plenty of friends who do not curse so on their Facebook wall and in their presence, I choose not to use words that offend them because that’s what kind and respectful people do.

Likewise, when they are at my house or on my Facebook or my site, they do not preach and tell me that they are super offended by my swearing because they, too, are kind and respectful people.

And to be clear, I am not annoyed at the lack of swearing or even the belief of not swearing.

I am pissed off by the self-righteous hypocrisy exhibited by the people who are moralizing to me about the “obscenity” of my words while behaving abominably using “clean” words.

So, yeah. My petty is showing in full force today. But at least I own it.

What Do I Really Want?

I know I say it a lot, but it bears repeating. How is time flying by so fast? And why does it always seem as if I am treading water and accomplishing nothing?

I know it’s not true. And yet, it always seems as if my ambition outpaces my willingness to work (and work hard). I could blame the children, but let’s be brutally honest. I highly doubt I would be busy working hard on my ambitions even if I were without family obligations.

I mean, seriously. What did I do before I had kids?

Nothing. A fat lot of nothing.

One could argue that it was the forced break from things that having children required that finally shook me out of my farce of being a financial advisor. And then, even a few more years of being a SAHM that made me really consider what I wanted to do.

Would I actually spend all day writing and hustling after paying gigs if I were unencumbered by my kids? Or would I do what I always did? Fritter away all this precious time with the usual suspects?

I have my money on me pissing away my time like I always did. Because although past performance does not always predict future performance, it’s a good indicator.

Is this what a mid-life crisis looks like? Albeit, a bland, milquetoast, non-explody kind that doesn’t detonate an H-bomb in the midst of my family life?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not UN-happy. I am pretty OK with the way things are going.

But is that all we are made for? To be OK with things? To be floating along on the river of our life in an inner tube of contentedness?

Not that there is anything wrong with contentedness.

In fact, I thought I was content with my life until this moment. That is not true.

The absence of unhappiness is not the presence of happiness. And as I was about to write, “the absence of discontent is not the presence of contentedness,” I had to stop because I realized that I am discontent.

I have been discontent for a long time. Perhaps for always.

Discontent doesn’t mean that I’m not happy. I am often happy. I am even content with most areas of my life.

I AM MAKING NO SENSE.

I feel disintegrated. Scattered.

I have been going to my therapist for two years now. Maybe three? And yet it always seems to circle back with what Dr. T mentioned that first appointment. She thought I was in there to speak to her about my identity – and I laughed at her.

But it’s so true.

Who am I and what do I want? And once I figure that out, will I do what I can to get it?

I am afraid to want so many things.

I feel as if I just started going after what I want – and instead of being satisfied, it opened up a giant maw. A gaping mouth. A hole in my soul demanding to be fed.

More.

More.

Always, more.

That’s why Roxane Gay’s book, (affiliate link) Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, struck such a chord inside me. She hungered for so many things.

I hunger for so many things.

I feel greedy. Ungrateful.

I feel as if I am just like my father. Always grasping. Always lusting. Always leaving.

Always.

Always.

Always.

But that’s the lie, right?

That’s The Lie.

It’s okay to want things. It’s okay to pursue things. It’s okay to hunger. To want.

It is okay. And it is human.

It is in the how of things where it can go awry.

How do I fill this hunger? How do I fill these wants? And do I fill these wants? Or do I do what I always have and shove them down, deep down, burying them in the minutiae of daily life?

For me, I am choosing to be different than I have been.

I know.

I seem to be constantly choosing this. Constantly blogging about this.

It seems as if I will always be stuck.

Always.

I tell myself that changing directions in life is not a one and done.

It’s like changing directions in a large battleship cruiser at full speed. You can’t just make a sharp turn and then expect to be in a different direction. First, you have to decelerate to a safe speed and then turn, slowly, and then re-accelerate.

Making change in life is not just ONE decision to change your life. It is a constant series of small decisions. Seemingly insignificant decisions.

Do I go to sleep early or stay up late to work? If I stay up late to work, will I actually work or will I Facebook or watch TV or read or goof off? If I will actually waste time instead, am I okay with that or should I just go to sleep instead?

Do I stay at home and work or do I leave the house? If I stay at home, am I okay with my children constantly interrupting me? If I leave, am I okay with spending money or burning through the time with commuting? In all instances, am I going to actually work or am I going to procrastinate even more?

A million little choices.

Our dreams are made or broken from a million little choices.