The Right Philosophy Won’t Save You

Ladies and Gentlemen, as I’m sure many of you have realized by now, I am a Control Freak.

I know. It caught me unaware, too. (I kid, I kid!)

And I am this way, a grasping, clamoring, rigid, inflexible, unreasonable person because I am afraid. I try to control everything because I am controlled by fear.

I find it most prevalent in my parenting. I’m sure it shows up in other ways, as Hapa Papa has surely experienced personally, but I notice it most in my parenting because strangely enough, my children happen to be little humans and do not obediently truck with everything I demand of them. (For me, this is the single, most infuriating and crippling thing about parenthood.)

I think I would have far fewer full on nuclear standoffs with my children if I just saw my belief systems as what they truly are: a way to order and control my children. (In fact, I believe this to be true for all belief systems – whether they be religion, political affiliations, even science. They are our methods to order and control our worlds.)

Instead, I fool myself into believing that what I’m imposing on my children is a life or death battle – the key to them growing into upstanding citizens and good people. I draw these ridiculous lines in the sand wherein if they don’t finish their yogurt for breakfast I am going to let them starve to death and never feed them again or if they don’t put on their helmet I’m going to throw away their scooter and all their other fun ride on toys and never let them go to the park again.

I do so because deep down, I am convinced that if I just make my kids do XYZ, then they’ll get into Harvard (or UCLA) and then they’ll become a doctor or something and be successful and have a good and happy life. Yes. All this from eating their fucking yogurt.

Until I had children, I never realized just how superstitious I was as a person. After all, wasn’t I an enlightened and educated person? Didn’t I believe in a God who was bigger, more powerful, and more merciful than even my education and religion? Didn’t I also believe in science (albeit, less powerful but still pretty awesome)? (And no, I do not find God and science to be mutually exclusive.)

After I had Cookie Monster, I used to pray over him when I nursed him to sleep at night. I would start out praying for Cookie Monster to have one or two traits that I thought would be key to him being a good person – but then, I would just keep adding to the list – and then qualify the entries with other “must haves.”

I wanted him to be happy, but not too happy. Suffer, but not too much suffering. Just enough to give him character and compassion for others. Be smart. Work hard. Have enough money but love the poor. The list kept growing longer and longer and more and more qualified, until I realized several things:

1) My laundry list of things was indicative of my True beliefs – the REAL desires of my heart. They were the things that I thought made a good life and would make Cookie Monster happy.

2) I have NO idea what makes a person happy or have a good life. Plus, my prescription for what I thought a good life entailed may well have turned Cookie Monster into a horrible person.

3) Ultimately, I want Cookie Monster (and all my children) to become people whose desires are after God’s own heart. And to beg God to allow me to be unbroken enough to recognize it when I see it.

But let’s be real. That last prayer is terrifying. God is not safe. God takes who you are and changes you. And that change usually hurts. A lot.

It’s hard to admit that having the right philosophy about child rearing or race or sex or religion – all that good stuff and the stuff of contentious culture wars – all that stuff won’t save us.

No matter how great our theory, we still have to go through the messiness of life. Kids still get cancer. Spouses still cheat. We might lose everything. All sorts of shitty things still happen – and we have no control over any of it.

I am owed nothing. Tomorrow isn’t promised. It is not guaranteed. God isn’t obliged to me. Doesn’t need me. Doesn’t even maybe care about my elaborate prayers or rituals or must haves. I mean, he probably cares WHY I do these things – but the things themselves? May as well be empty gestures. Superstitions.

That is what I find the most maddening. Isn’t that why I subscribe to these various thoughts? These various dogmas? To guarantee my kids won’t be drug addicts, will get into Harvard, won’t be teenage parents, and won’t be sick or poor?

But what’s the worst that could happen? (Well death, I suppose. But if I truly believe in Heaven and the goodness of God and how this life is just a preview, then though I be grieving, is it really the WORST?)

I can’t even open myself up to these “worst” possibilities because my overactive brain will continue to spin out of control and next thing you know, I have barricaded my children inside of our home and only allowed Hapa Papa to go out to work because some risks are acceptable in order for me to keep the lifestyle to which I’m accustomed. (Jokes! Them be jokes!)

Times like these, when fear threatens to overwhelm, I can’t even turn to God.

Why? Because God doesn’t promise me that life I want. He doesn’t promise me that everything will be smooth sailing and easy. He just promises to be with me. And what’s the use in that if I didn’t get what I want? (Of course, I bury these thoughts deep, deep down. You know, as if it were actually a secret from God. Mercifully, God has done little to shatter my illusions thus far.)

No, instead, I turn to statistics. Cold, hard numbers. The odds are ever in my favor and that is enough to comfort me for a little while.

Here’s the thing about my small, fearful heart. I do not believe that God is really that good, let alone that God is actually enough. I don’t believe it and I NEVER want to be tested and taught that is so.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

Truthfully, even if I had the “correct” theology, it won’t save me. No philosophy or religion will.

Or even in the narrow scope of parenting, no matter how perfect I am in my parenting (be it Attachment Parenting, Free Range Parenting, I Don’t Give A Fuck Parenting), my kids could still end up a drug addict, in prison, homeless, or dead in a variety of ways.

All my tightly clenched fists have done is unravel me. I am falling apart. My words on paper seem together, but I am not. I am a hot mess right now.

I feel as if I’m coming apart at the seams. As if something inside me has shaken loose and won’t play ball and go back to its proper place: hidden.

Change is hard, my friends. I confess, since my last breakdown back in November/December, I’ve gotten into a more placid place and evened out a bit. I had deluded myself that 4-5 months of therapy was all I needed and BOOM! I am healed!

But, no. The things that drove me to therapy just got ably pushed down and buried after the first few weeks. I have been deflecting and skimming the surface of what I am now for the past few months, mistaking candor for vulnerability.

They are not the same. And I am not very vulnerable.

I feel cracked. And I fear I am cracking like a mirror to be shattered rather than an egg birthing something new.

I really want to be made anew.

 

Longing For Grace

For those of you who know me in Real Life, you know that I freak the fuck out and go from 0 to 60 in a eye blink. One second, my MIL is asking Gamera if she has a boyfriend (FFS, she is three years old) and the next thing I know, Gamera will be a stripper who needs men for attention and will be a strung-out junkie with a pimp.

Totally within the realm of plausibility, folks. Totally.

It is possible, perhaps, that my reaction was not in keeping with reality. That my MIL’s one off-hand comment will not forever alter the course of Gamera’s life. But that’s the way my brain works, people. I never said it was pretty.

I blame this all on a sermon I heard once (I think, anyway) about how all the choices we make in life can either keep us on the path of righteousness or diverge and take us away from that same path. Minor bad choices are actually slippery slopes. Like how an acute angle in geometry starts off at a minor angle, with the lines minutely apart, but if we go further out in time, at some point, the lines will be infinitely apart. I am plagued by the idea our choices in life are like these two lines, and if we make the wrong choice, no matter how small in degree, at some point further in time, the distance between the Path of Righteousness and the Path of Ruin will be infinite and they will NEVER MEET AGAIN. One misstep and you will NEVER get back to the Way, the Truth, the Life.

Imagine Time = r, Theta = minor misstep, and s = the space between diverging life paths.

Imagine Time = r, Theta = minor misstep, and s = the space between diverging life paths.

After all, the way of the Lord is narrow. And Hard. And difficult. And the way to Hell is broad and easy.

But what a terrifying way to live. What a stifling and constraining and graceless way to live.

I feel like this is my life. Graceless. Constant self-condemnation and judging. And fear. OMG, THE FEAR.

But the truth is, life is not an immutable straight line. There are infinite chances and opportunities. Infinite opportunities for “course correction.” And who is to say that there is only ONE correct way to live? I mean, just given the evidence based on 7 billion lives on this planet, and the 7 billion unique-ish situations these people find themselves in, I know that is not true.

Stated in a positive way, the idea that there is only ONE way to live, that it is the One Path to Rule Them All, is FALSE. A horrible, pernicious lie. (A lie that I hear often in churches, but let’s face it, comes in any and all directions. Just take your pick: organic, liberal, conservative, you name it, it’s got it.)

True love drives out fear. And if I truly believed that God offered perfect love, the kind of love that drives out fear and offers freedom, why do I buy into this pack of lies? (And it is a worthless pack of lies; a twist of the Truth to pervert and poison and obfuscate who God is.)

I long for freedom. I long for grace. I long to live a life as if it were okay to fail and to fail spectacularly.

I long for my kids to experience true freedom.

My heart breaks that even though Cookie Monster is so small and so young, (too small and too young, to be honest), he is already hampered by fear. He is already so afraid to fail. To look foolish. To be rejected.

I see it in the way he doesn’t want to try new things at preschool (mostly physical activities). I see it in the way he hovers on the edge of groups, the desire and yearning to join in on whatever activity the group is doing so painfully etched on his face, but him being too afraid to ask to play with the kids because they may say, “No.” I see it when he refuses to ask me for something he wants and instead makes a negative statement like, “I can’t play Halo” so that he has already rejected himself before I can dash his hopes.

I see it in the way Gamera will lie just to get my approval. And the way she cries and clings to me when she thinks that I disapprove of her.

It breaks my cold, dark heart.

I am devastated.

If only I could live my life the way I live my writing.

When I was in high school, I used to resent having to write first and second and final drafts. I found it the height of stupidity and a fucking waste of my time. I would literally have to “fake” a rough draft so that my final drafts looked sufficiently different and altered from the original. I mean, what was the point of writing a first draft? My first drafts were perfect. I would edit as I wrote so there really was no need to go back and change things. I mean, isn’t that what computers were for?

Then, in my twenties, I decided to write a book and that is where my perfect first drafts became my downfall. I would write a section and then edit. And then edit some more. And then edit some more. Then read my perfect words. Then edit some more. Which is great and all, to have a perfect set of 1,000 words, but 1,000 words does not a book make. Most books have about 65,000 words (a little more than your typical NaNoWriMo at 50,000 words), but either way, I was 64,000 words short.

So, I read about writing (because when writing, nothing is more useful and productive than reading about writing) and all the blogs and books I’ve read since then universally agree: you have to write. Just write. It doesn’t matter if it’s good, bad, utter shite. Nothing is harder than a blank page. You can’t do anything with it. Just write. Accept as a truism: You will write crap. A lot of crap. It doesn’t matter; that’s what editing is for. But you can’t edit what you don’t have, so you have to write.

That’s the beauty of writing: once you have stuff written down, you can delete it, you can write more stuff that is good/bad/meh, you can move entire paragraphs, you can do whatever you want when editing. Whole worlds are created and obliterated during editing. And then you can edit some more. But at some point, you will have to stop and move on. At some point, your writing will be good enough (or, sadly, as good as it will ever be).

Move on.

Accept that there may never be the perfect sentence. Just a bunch of good enough sentences.

And that, I find, is my perfect analogy for life. (If only I could buy into this theory in practice – and not just believe it only of my writing.)

You are never done until it’s done. (Even then, who is to say that is a permanent state of being – well, I suppose, for the sake of this argument, you are done in this plane of life.) There are few permanent mistakes (the laws of physics not withstanding) from which we cannot recover.

Most of life is a rough draft. We can edit and delete, but ultimately, we move on. We accept grace and forgiveness and try our best and we move on until we Move On.

So this morning, I wish you grace upon grace upon grace. Grace enough for parenting fails, for work fails, for life fails. Grace enough to cover a lifetime of sins, real and imagined.

Denial Is A River

Lately, I’ve been trying out (again) Julia Cameron’s suggestion to write three pages a day first thing upon waking. The idea is to just write and brain dump everything out of your head and that will kickstart creativity. Even if you have nothing to say, you write, “I have nothing to say” (or something similar) for three pages.

It’s been less than a week.

Who knew my brain would freeze so early on in this daily process? I feel as if my thoughts are chugging through molasses. I didn’t think I’d have to resort to, “I have nothing to say,” over and over again for at least a few more weeks. I suppose constant interruption by Glow Worm isn’t helping but that can’t be helped. Otherwise, when would I get anything done?

I have to get used to this new reality. Which is hard because I insist on eating uninterrupted or reading or writing or cleaning or whatever. Of course, when I try to do these things during the day, I am interrupted constantly.

I hate that.

No, seriously. I truly despise it. So I try to cram in a whole day’s worth of stuff from 9pm-6am. No wonder I get nothing done because by 9pm, I just want to do fun things – certainly not write or do work or anything remotely resembling productivity.

Dr. T has repeatedly told me that I just have to get used to doing things in small ten minute increments during the day. Hapa Papa, too. But it is frustrating and I don’t care that I am in complete denial. LET ME JUST DO SHIT IN BLESSED PEACE AND QUIET ALREADY!

However, the other day, I was reading a recent Christianity Today article and the writer talked about how she was no longer able to have quiet times now that she is a mother. And that’s Ok. And her relationship with God still grew.

I can’t believe that was a crazy thought to me. OF COURSE her relationship with God could still grow. And yet the article was freeing. In fact, I DO think a relationship with God has to look a certain way – you know, like a college student with a moleskin journal, some hipster glasses, sitting in a cafe drinking tea leisurely or staring at a beach or something.

Not only that, I expect mealtimes or errands or cleaning or writing to look a certain way, too. In relative ease and silence. On a laptop in a cafe. Or in blocks of uninterrupted time. Which is crazy because that is no longer a reality. Or a remote possibility. Unless Hapa Papa doesn’t work and stays at home with the kids. (But then, we’d have no money or food so either way, these situations would not resemble my fantasies.) But even if he were at home, he wouldn’t particularly care for it if I left the kids to him the whole day (which I have done) all the time just so I could eat, run errands, clean, or write. He really is a saint.

I think a lot of times, I am so angry or frustrated because what I’m experiencing in a given moment is not what I had hoped or expected or wanted. Which is so crazy because how long have I been a parent? 5+ years now? HOW CAN I STILL BE SURPRISED THAT THIS IS MY LIFE?

But perhaps I’ve lived in denial so long (eg: lying about my father, to my father, to my family, lying about work to myself re: financial advising, lying to myself about my major or WHATEVER) that I’ve lost the ability to correctly see reality – especially as it pertains to me and what I want or desire.

OMG.

I just realized that I am rather inflexible a person. I am not as I previously prided myself in being – an easy-going person.

I have turned into my mother.

I am reminded of the high/low maintenance concept. (I always thought I was a low maintenance woman. But really, I am – according to Hapa Papa – the worst kind of high maintenance. I’m high maintenance but pretend I’m low maintenance.) It’s an alternative version of the Madonna/whore complex. Just another way to control women. To keep them in their place. To make us want to please men by having us compete and compare with one another.

But I digress. (And one day, I will write my overdue rant about high/low maintenance and how that is all just a crock of shit. But again, I digress.)

It’s like how I am with the kids. Easy going until I’m not. And you never really know when that threshold will be crossed. How are my kids ever to know when Mommy is going to be ok with something or not? Talk about walking on eggshells.

It reminds me of my father forcing me to listen to classical music and saying when he comes back, he should be able to stop a piece anywhere and I should be able to sing the next few bars accurately. Otherwise there would be consequences. Not sure what they would have been, but whatever. I would panic and right before my father came back to visit, I would play the tape over and over again (especially while I slept) so that I wouldn’t get in trouble. It didn’t matter. My father never remembered. (But what a way to kill enjoyment of a thing, yeah?)

My father really was a dick.

Where was I going with this? Oh, yes. Denial.

I think I would be much happier if I saw things as they really were: messy, chaotic, and full of frustration. Then, when my children didn’t miraculously eat everything quickly and silently, or when I inevitably ran late for school, or whatever, I wouldn’t go insane with fury.

I have more to say about Reality and Denial and perfectionism and how I often perceive people making truthful observations as judgmental and personally insulting, but it’s late and this post is meandering enough. I will expound upon that in some future post. Until then, we’ll see if calibrating my expectations to align more with reality makes a difference. Hopefully, that isn’t just another, subtler form of denial.

Wish me luck, friends! And give me some tips. How do you deal with your reality when it is not what you hoped?

The Blame Game

If today’s post is semi-incoherent, blame my virtually non-stop reading of The First Law series (starting with The Blade Itself) that I recommended on Monday. I’m about a quarter of the way through the last book and I am not going to let a trivial thing such as sleep deprivation and Hapa Papa being in NYC until Thursday deter me. No, sir. I’ve got priorities. (Also, I really should finish the latest Pat Rothfuss novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, since it is due on Thursday but it’s hard for me to get into but now I’m getting off-topic.)

Anyhow, it has come to my attention this past year or so that I’m very keen to blame someone or something when things go awry. Whether it is something as stupid as a blown out diaper or as serious as the car dying in the 2nd lane of the freeway (as in, the engine just cutting out and me barely making it to the side of the freeway) while I was driving back from getting ramen at 9:40pm two Friday nights ago (I’m looking at youHapa Papa), I always seem to look for a person to blame. (Looking at Hapa Papa again. Sorrynotsorry.)

I zone in on whether or not the diaper was properly put on, wrapped, or whatever. And then I am quick to accuse and berate and verbally harangue my poor husband. And then sometimes, I realize after being a jerk that it was I who diapered Glow Worm last and then I mumble an apology and try to justify my assishness. (Is that a word? Enh, it is now.)

My children have now picked up on this bad habit. (Well, let’s be real. They probably would have done it anyway – but I’m sure they’ll lay the blame at my feet when they, too, are in their mid-to-late thirties and in therapy.)

And well, lately, it has occurred to me that perhaps this quick to blame and find fault part of my personality and character is perhaps not a good thing.

Here’s the thing: I think I do it because I want to feel in control of my life. Like, if I could just find that moment, that tipping point, then next time, whatever it is I am so keen on avoiding will be avoided because I will have not done whatever it is that caused the thing in the first place.

You get me?

The problem is, lots of times, shit just happens. Maybe if Hapa Papa had paid more attention to the low oil pressure light in his car or got the tiny leaks that Jiffy Lube noticed that morning fixed immediately instead of sitting on that information, maybe then the car wouldn’t have died while I was driving it at 65mph on a late Friday night.

Then again, maybe the car was just old. (It was.)

We can never really know.

But man, it sure feels good or at least, less terrifying, to hang the fault on Hapa Papa’s actions versus just random bad luck or bad timing. (To clarify: I’m not mad at Hapa Papa about the incident. I just like to give him a hard time because that’s the kind of supportive, caring, loving wife he married. Try not to be too envious of the man.)

It is far easier to get mad or point a finger than to accept the unpleasant reality that life is unpredictable and at best, they are just annoying hiccups to deal with and at worst, they are life-changing in a final and horrible way.

I deflect a lot of my feelings in order to feel in control. Control of myself, my feelings, my life. I blame others. I blame myself. I get angry. I scream. I make a joke. All so I don’t have to feel afraid or sad or lonely or adrift or small.

I find this illuminating because you know what? I do all these things multiple times a day and I never really realized that until just now.

Does this mean I often feel afraid, sad, lonely, adrift, or small?

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

 

We Are All Made of Stars

Author Note: Sorry the post today is so esoteric and navel-gazy. My thoughts are all in a jumble lately. A hazard of too much introspection, I suspect.

Going to a new therapist is like dating. You look for chemistry, a general sense of whether the therapist “gets” you, and whether their observations resonate with you and can engender change. Of course, all the therapist can see into your life is what you choose to tell them – and how you choose to tell them. And so lately, I’ve been in the odd situation of telling my doctor (heretofore known as Dr. T) about myself or what I think and feel, and then feeling as if she’s not quite getting me.

Of course, as I am not a trained psychologist, I’m sure she also takes into account a bunch of other things, so she isn’t totally going on what I say alone. And since we are still feeling each other out, there are bound to be misunderstandings. I get that. (And I’ve been quick to clarify or speak up when I feel it’s not quite right. At $140/hour, I’m not wasting sessions!)

But it got me thinking: What makes us who we are? Can we ever see ourselves clearly? Or are we destined, as Paul writes, to see ourselves “through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor 13:12 KJV) until we reach Heaven? Will we ever see each other “face to face”?

I find that not only can I not see myself clearly, I cannot even adequately explain myself without resorting to metaphor.

I am an infinite onion. Just when I think I’ve unlayered myself enough to get to the core, I find that the core I was looking for was really more layers. And that each section I peel back reveals not really my heart, but more protective layers. 

I am an archaeological dig and what we are searching for is my true self. My true motivations buried under centuries of dirt, to be found only after much digging, sifting, and patience. Even then, a dig is only a glimpse of the past, not truly the past.

When Dr. T asks me questions and I answer, and then she draws a conclusion and asks me if the comment rings true, I find myself scrabbling to explain myself.

I am a mixture of oil, vinegar, water, and other debris all shaken up, waiting for the different layers to settle and split. I am all mixed up, all these different aspects of me both true and untrue. I am unsure which is the deepest part, the most true. 

Even this post seems unnecessary opaque; impenetrable.

But seriously, how do we explain who we are? How do we begin to sum up decades of life and experience and feelings? Am I only my thoughts? My deepest, cruelest thoughts? My greatest hopes and dreams? Or am I merely my actions? My worst sins? My best moments? What is the Real Me? And does it matter?

I think of how millions of faithful Christians were devastated to learn that Mother Theresa harbored deep-seated doubts of God’s reality and did not feel His presence for the back half of her life. Does that mean she was not truly Christian? Faithful? Her whole life a lie? Or does that make her even more faithful because she persisted in doing her work and laboring as if God did exist?

And if even Mother Theresa didn’t have herself all figured out, how can I have a chance?

I tell myself that the map is not the terrain. That we are all paradoxes.

I hope that is true. That I am not only just one-dimensional. That we are all infinite. That we are all just a coin toss away from being gods and goddesses.

 

Fear and Loathing

Author’s Note: Not sure how to preface today’s post. For my friends who may worry about me, please know that I am ok for the most part. These thoughts are not the usual state of being for my brain. They do tend to run this way when I spiral into shame or when I despair. (As was the case when I wrote this.) When I was younger, these bouts would last days or weeks. But now, they last for at most, a few hours. 

This is not to say that I am perfectly fine. But mostly, my thoughts are manageable and I am not sitting in pain throughout the day. I am grateful that is the case because I know for many people, this condemning internal monologue is the norm and any respite from it is the deviation.

If you are suffering from Depression, please, GET HELP. You are not alone.

Deep down, I am deeply afraid.

What if they’re right? That I am nothing but a bully. Not good enough. Bad. Causing untold trauma to my kids.

I want to scream, “I can be good, too! I am not all bad!”

But I drown.

I want to stop breathing. Black out. Cease to exist. Except that would cause further trauma to my children.

How can I want another baby?

Jesus, have mercy. Jesus, help.

How do I get out of this dark, closeted space? Could this darkness be a mercy? If so, it is a severe mercy indeed.

I want my heart cut out. I want the earth to open up and swallow me whole. To curl up in a corner and die. Literally die.

Depression lies. 

Please let that be true.


Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255. (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

Despicable Me

My thoughts are slippery, refusing to be pinned down. Every time I try to peer into myself head on, I catch my real feelings in my peripheral vision, already slinking back into the recesses of my secret, dark heart. When I still myself, a rising panic sits heavy in my chest; overwhelming.

I twitch.

It’s that feeling you get when you want to wail and gnash your teeth and weep but you are afraid to start. Or maybe, you do let some tears gasp out because they can no longer be contained, spillover water in a lock and key, but you don’t dare to really let it out. Even while sobbing into your hands in the nursery and your baby boy is toddling around, somewhat confused at what his mommy is doing, you don’t dare let yourself go.

What if you can’t stop? What if you cry yourself hollow? What if you cry so much that your insides are sucked out and then what are you going to do with yourself now that your insides are on the outside and your outside is stretched and gaping and loose and no longer tightly wrapped and ill-fitting and totally useless?

What are you going to do now if you are completely undone?

So you stop.

You stuff everything back into your too small chest and you wait it out. You breathe. You think of something else. You look at your baby boy and smile through the burning in your lungs. You check your phone. Facebook will rescue you. It always does.

That thick, dense boulder is no longer laying siege to your chest.

You get up and close the door.

There is a reason I keep dithering while writing this post. It’s been brewing in my psyche for months now, and coming to the forefront especially this past week.

It is an ugly thing to see your own sin laid bare.

Every so often, when we are discussing my father and my paternal grandmother, my mother mentions that my grandmother acted as if other people weren’t “people” (人家不是人). That in my grandmother’s eyes, only she and my father were “people” and everyone else was contemptible and stupid and worthy only of their disregard. And that is the reason my father never accepts responsibility for his actions, always blaming other people for “forcing” him to act in reprehensible ways. The reason why my father is always seething when other people, even his friends, succeed and surpass him. How could it be possible that people, who are so much stupider and less talented than he, have a better business/career/house/bank account/family when he is clearly far more deserving?

There is a Chinese phrase, “看不起 (kan bu qi)” which means “despise.” Literally, “can’t look upon.” Personally, I think the literal translation is far better at capturing its contempt and scorn.

“You have no idea how you sound, do you? The way you speak to me. To your mother. To your grand aunt. To my mother. To everybody. How you make everyone feel like they’re so unbelievably fucking stupid. Do you think so little of us that we can’t tell? That it isn’t obvious with every word out of your mouth? How dare you? How dare you?

I drown in shame.

When Cookie Monster was first starting to walk, he would often stumble and fall. I remember one of the first times he fell, I ran to his side and I hit the floor with my hand saying, “Bad floor! Bad floor!”

I froze.

A memory popped into my mind, crystal clear, of my grandmother doing the exact same thing when I was a child.

I never did that again.

This past week, a thought has been floating in and out of my mind. Occasionally, I catch a full glimpse of it before I banish it to the nether regions of my soul. Sometimes, I chase the thought down, trying to grasp it before it wisps out like smoke through my closing fist. Usually, I just change the song on the radio.

But it whispers back, sleek and seductive.

Other people aren’t ‘people’ to me until I hurt them.

The thought terrifies me. But it is not a surprise.

“Why are you being so mean to her? Can’t you try to imagine how she must be feeling? To meet you and Mom for the first time? As if meeting Mom weren’t intimidating enough, you’re being an asshole. Stop it. I care about her a lot. And if you’re going to be this way, I won’t want to come home anymore. So stop. Give her a chance. Be nice.”

Until that moment, I had only seen her as someone who wasn’t good enough for my brother (whatever that means and incidentally, is not true) and not as a person. Until my brother pulled me aside to rip me a new one, she wasn’t real. Only when I realized that I hurt her did I consider her a person in her own right.

This was not an isolated occurrence. To her or to other people.

Well here it is then. My not-so-secret confession: I believe that other people aren’t “people.” Only I am human. Only am a person.

At times, if I am feeling generous, I see my friends and family as extensions of myself so they are lent “person” status. Their injuries are my injuries. Their joys my joys.

But left to my default state, other people are obstacles. Roadblocks to getting what I want. If people aren’t interfering with my objectives, then I am easy going and pleasant. But as soon as we are in conflict, I suit up. And I play to win.

I get mine.

And then, if I hurt someone (as is inevitable), I am never quite sure if I feel bad because I hurt someone or because I don’t want to be seen as the type of person who hurts others.

You would think that I would at least consider my immediate family “people.” But alas, no. In true fact, I am worst to my family. After all, there are social consequences if I am a complete asshole to my friends and other people. That, at least, keeps me in check. Who, except those who have no choice, would put up with that shit from me?

It is hard to be my children. My husband. My mother. I am a hard person to be with.

I am a fucking two year old.

When I look back on my childhood memories, I have few of my mother. I’m not sure if it was because she wasn’t there, or if my father’s presence was so large, so looming, so hard, that he squeezed her out. I adored my father. His betrayal broke me. It isn’t until this past decade that I feel as if my mother has slowly, ever so slowly, emerged as a person in my mind.

The thought of this makes me weep.

I have no soft memories of my mother. No memories of her love, of her kindness. I mostly just see her, slightly out of focus, hovering in the background. Weak, unable to protect herself – let alone me. Steamrolled by my father.

You would think that now that I am a mother, I would be able to understand or empathize with my own mother better. That I would somehow grasp how my mother feels about me. How she must love me. I mean, if she loves me even a fraction of how I love my children, her love must be vast and unending. She has thirty-six years of loving me compared to my five of loving Cookie Monster. How much more must she love me.

And yet, when we fight, she is my enemy. I cannot fathom her coming at me from a place of love and concern. That she says things out of love and not as an attack.

I remember once, when I was particularly vicious, her pleading with me. Begging. Why did I think she was always attacking me? How could I even think that of her? That she only ever wanted to love me and would never dream of saying things to hurt me.

It is healing to watch her adore my children. Every now and then, it occurs to me that she must have loved me in the same way. Or at least, wanted to.

I don’t know. I can’t remember.

After witnessing years of my father crushing my mother, beating her down, I vowed to myself that I would never let anyone treat me this way. Ever.

And so, instead of turning into my mother, I am become my father.

My therapist says I do this because this was how I protected myself from my father when I was a child. That it is appropriate Hapa Papa says I “suit up” or “gear up for battle” (often with my children) because that’s what I am doing. I am putting on a suit of armor, this inability to see other people as human, in order to protect myself because no one protected me when I was small. And that this defense mechanism has worked for awhile, but now no longer fits. That I now see everyone as an enemy – even my children. That it is time to let some parts of this armor go.

I am terrified.

Jesus, have mercy.