Finding Your Tribe

Finding Your Tribe

I love the internet.

I know there is a seedy underbelly, but on the whole, I don’t venture in those parts. Instead, I worship at the altars of Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Wikipedia.

As an extrovert, one of the hardest things about being a SAHM is the isolation. It’s not so much that I need to be surrounded by people and constantly in networking/party mode. (In true fact, I HATE those modes. Nothing is worse to me than the same vapid conversation over and over again and my face hurting from plastering a friendly smile on my face when I have zero actual desire to smile. I digress.)

I think I just don’t like being alone. What I love is the comfort of someone else being around me – but not talking to them or interacting with them unless I have something to share (which is more often than not). Once I have the security of guaranteed company, I am more than glad to ignore them.

As a result, even though I choose to be with my children all day, I crave and desire company. Unfortunately, it is not enough.

It’s not as bad as it used to be when Cookie Monster was first born. I didn’t leave my house for four months and it took me nine months before I finally sucked it up and ventured out to meet other first time mothers. I am grateful for that first playgroup – it gave me structure and I committed to going every week. But even though I enjoyed their company, it wasn’t the type of deep, soul-connection I was longing for.

I was still lonely.

Fast forward six years and I am flush with kindred spirits. I have finally found my tribe. (Well, tribes, really.) And it is all due to the internet.

I love you, Internet.

So, what do I mean by “finding your tribe”?

I mean, you have found where you belong. Your Cheers bar where everyone knows your name. Your home. Your people. Your soul mates.

You have found a people who are like you in the ways that matter to you – be it your passions, your hobbies, your interests, your humors, your loves, or your hates. Although, I would avoid the hates because I think that’s a sad and empty way to model your life. On second thought, commonalities in the stuff you dislike has its uses. But ultimately, a better way would be to find people who love the things you love, and might love it in similar enough ways.

So what happened? How did I get from being super lonely to happily belonging to several tribes?

I did mention that I love the internet, right?

I want to say the turning point came when one fortuitous day, I saw a post in our local Asian American Parenting Meetup Group about a Mandarin Playdate at an old elementary school friend’s home. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Until that moment, I had spent the first 15 months of Cookie Monster’s life just muddling through, wanting to find Chinese preschools and teachers but not knowing where to go or who to trust or ask.

All I did was speak to him in Chinese all the time (and that was really weird). I risked feeling uncomfortable in public, at English speaking playgroups, at the park, etc. It was very lonely and I was starting to panic. I only had a vague sense of what I wanted to do – but no real plans other than some vague “speak Chinese a lot” and “send to Chinese school.”

I was so lonely.

But because of that playdate, I reconnected with Irish Twins and met Tiger WooNot Another DB MBA, and Fleur. I felt an instant chemistry and for a blissful few years, we were nearly inseparable. Our husbands would complain that we were always hanging out with each other and never at home.

Because of these women, I found two amazing Chinese preschool teachers who have taught (or will teach) all three of my children. We have all chosen widely varying paths to Chinese fluency for our kids, (to varying degrees of success), and they have enriched both my life in general, as well as eased the lonely marathon of teaching my kids Chinese.

And thanks to my iPhone, even when we are not all together in person, it feels as if we are because we are constantly texting. We text so much that it is almost like we’re living in that commune we so desperately wish we lived in together. One day, I will have Varsity Jackets made with The Boba Ramen Crew embroidered on them and give them to each of us. We can wear them while trolling people we hate, sipping on boba, going to Korean scrubs, and slurping up ramen.

A girl can dream.

Also through pursuing Chinese fluency for my kids, I met one of my new besties, GuavaRama, through the Raising Bilingual Children in Chinese & English Facebook group. I basically am her biggest fan. In fact, I think The Boba Ramen Crew members are all her fangirls and eager acolytes.

Somehow, I’ve conned her into wanting to be my friend and now we have an art co-op for our kids at my house and we go on “Working” Mom’s Night Outs where we blog, plan curriculum, and discuss Chinese books and Mandarin immersion and language nerd stuff until 1am when they kick us out of a local Hong Kong cafe.

Plus, I have given her all of my money to support my drug addiction of choice: Chinese books. Seriously, if GuavaRama didn’t have her own blog already, I’d call her The Dealer because she is such an enabler.

Also, through friends of friends and constant commenting on each other’s posts and about my blog, I have met a few other women with whom we’ve all formed a loose sort of community based around our shared mediocrity. We have a lot of laughs over keeping each other accountable and on task for the things we have to do during the day. It also helps that we’re on board this Chinese immersion train.

And now?

Now, I stay out until 1:00am talking with old friends about books. I remember driving home in the middle of the night energized, a ridiculously goofy grin on my face. I could have geeked out all night.

We were there for a book club that I had started because I was sick of the run of the mill book clubs that chose books I was only marginally interested in. Our book club focused on science fiction, fantasy, and graphic novels. We’ve only had two meetings in the last 6-7 months, but I am certain it will be one of my favorite outings.

Now, GuavaRama and our mutual friends stay out until 1am talking about Chinese books, our kids learning Chinese, homeschooling curriculum, and Mandarin Immersion. I am always reluctant to end these gatherings and am bitter that the Bay Area doesn’t have more 24 hour options.

Now, I tricked a few of my fellow moms into playing monthly mah jong with me where we stay up until past 2 or 3am and nonstop smack talk in Chinese as I give all my pretend money to the other players. (Incidentally, that would be one of my children’s preschool teachers talking the most shit; she has been very educational).

Now, I have blogger friends that I met at my first Type A Con and have kept in touch through Facebook. This group of kickass women support me and my writing goals and understand my crazy life and choices. Plus, there are also a few who get me and my social justice leanings.

Now, I am finally known and no longer adrift and I am ever so grateful.

So my friends, if you are lonely, if you are feeling isolated and unknown, I encourage you to use the shit out of the internet and find your tribe. The world is much smaller and fuller than you think.

Accepting Mediocrity

Lately, it has come to my attention more and more that I am not what I was – and perhaps I was never even that to begin with. In my own mind, I pride myself on – in fact, hang my identity on – being a “successful” person. But truthfully, the last time I actually attained a goal was possibly 1995 when I was graduating high school.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure I’m intelligent and capable and ambitious (and was in the intervening years), but the last time I could actually accomplish anything was in high school where my only goal was to get into a good college. After that, I was set adrift with no clear goal other than “graduate college.”

I’m the Al Bundy of Type-A’s.

I mean, I have my assortment of go-to excuses, but if I am truthful, the common denominator is ME. Not the external situations or circumstances (sadly). Not my upbringing or parents. I mean, sure that likely contributed but FFS, I’m 37 years old. I have been outside of my parents’ house for twenty years already! How long am I going to shirk my responsibility?

In fact, the only thing I have been able to commit to and actually follow through on is Chinese language learning for the kids. It’s only been six years so I shouldn’t get too self-congratulatory, but overall, I am both surprised and pleased by this development.

Since this is my only success in the last two decades, I thought I would deconstruct why I have actually followed through in this situation versus others. So, here then are my thoughts for our mutual edification:

1) I recognize that learning and mastering Chinese takes a really long time. As in years.

Why is this important? Because I don’t get frustrated on days or even weeks or months when it seems as if Chinese is getting the short shrift. I don’t give up or just stop completely because I know that a few bad moments aren’t going to ruin the whole endeavor because I have all the time in the world. Or at least, eighteen years per kid where I can force Chinese down their throats. And even after my kids leave my house for their own lives, that doesn’t mean Chinese is over. It’s not like they leave the house and just forget everything.

If I could only transfer this knowledge and ability to see the Big Picture when I am frustrated at forming new habits or changing my lifestyle. I’m not sure if you noticed, but I tend to be a little extreme. I am very black or white. Things are either successful or failures. I am either all in or out.

This is not a very forgiving state of mind.

Part of the problem is that I am easily excited and riled up about stuff. I want to make all these sweeping changes in my life and I want them right now! But after a day or two, water finds its level (as they say), and I am back to the way I was. Schlubby, mean, and meh.

I try to combat these things by forming new habits – because after all, habits are things you no longer have to think about and just do. They say it takes 27 days for a new habit to form – but get this: I have yet to make it 27 days consistently doing ANYTHING (at least on purpose).

People, you are talking about a person who has to have twice daily task reminders to brush her teeth and wash her face.

I’m sorry. I wish I were exaggerating.

I mean, shit. Isn’t this basic stuff we covered in preschool? Please don’t answer. It’s humiliating enough just asking the question.

2) Having my kids be fluent and literate in Chinese is SUPER important to me.

In fact, judging by my actions, I think it is THE most important thing to me. Or at least, the most important “education” thing I have in mind for my children.

The weird thing is that I actually don’t think it’s the most important thing for me to teach my children – but it’s the most easily quantifiable. I can see tangible results that are sometimes immediate.

I mean, I know it’s lame that I can’t brush my teeth (but I do floss religiously, puzzle that one out, friends) but I guess oral hygiene just isn’t super important to me. (Sorry, Hapa Papa.)

This is all just to say that if something is SUPER important to me, I will pull out all stops to get it done – provided, of course, that it proves to be easily quantifiable and has easy to follow, discrete steps. (Key word: easy.)

3) As I just mentioned, I have a plan. An easy, measurable plan that has easy, discrete steps.

I send my kids to Chinese schools. I speak to them predominantly in Chinese. I have them consume Chinese media. I test them in terms of vocabulary and reading. I just follow my general mental outline of what to do with my kids and focus on exposing them to as much Chinese as possible.

Again, if only I could remind myself that any huge task before me can be broken up into chunks and then made more digestible. Eating an elephant et al.

4) I recognize my limitations and ask for help. I even pay for it.

I know my Chinese isn’t at the level I hope for my own children some day. I also know that I am inherently lazy. So, again, I send my children to excellent Chinese preschools. I have asked folks for advice (and more importantly, followed the advice). I buy supplemental materials.

I brush up on my own Chinese. I tell my kids to learn from my mistakes and they enjoy rubbing in how much better they are at Chinese than I am. (I allow them that pretty fiction for now because hey, it’s only a matter of time before it is true.)

Now if only I could pay for someone to live my life – or at least, take care of the shit work. I suppose there are people I could hire to do those things, but I have spent all my money on my children’s Chinese education.

I’m also spending a ton of money on therapy. Thus far, it seems to have been worth it.

5) I have fully integrated Chinese into my daily life.

This again, is where I’ve been trying mightily (and failing mightily, too, I might add) to sneak in better habits and routines into my life. Trouble is, sometimes, I can’t even muster up the mental fortitude to do it once – let alone 27 days in a row to make it an actual habit. I’m really far better at forgetting to do things consistently than actually doing them.

6) I have lots of support and for the most part, the way is smooth and without much trouble.

My husband, my family, my friends – they are all hugely supportive of my kids learning Chinese. Even my kids are really into it (as they know no other way of being). I’m not sure how I would’ve stuck with Chinese if my kids were super rebellious or I had an unsupportive environment.

I could do this for when I want to add a repeated habit, however, it does seem ludicrous to ask for support in one’s daily ablutions. And yet, I really do need it. (This is where I retreat to my corner and sob.)

Anyhow, this is how I have been able to follow through on ONE thing in my life. I wish to be already at a place where I can say the same for a multitude of other things. However, it has yet to be.

At any rate, I decided to form a group called The Mediocrity Support Group for us “failed” Type-A’s. All we do is list three tasks we’d ideally like to get done each day and try to complete just one. Anytime any one of us completes a task, we celebrate with an embarrassing amount of happiness and kudos. After all, we’re mediocre.

Obviously, the group is very tongue-in-cheek, but truthfully, it is either be silly and self-deprecating or crumble into a useless heap and weep inconsolably at our lamentable states of mediocrity. We choose to be ridiculous instead as a salve to our egos.

Thus far, it seems to be working out ok. It’s nice to have a few friends know and support me in my daily attempts at not being a useless blobby thing on my couch.

A surprising bonus to admitting my mediocrity: there is far less pressure to be perfect. After all, if I’m just “meh,” anything I do beyond “meh” is quite the accomplishment. Yes, I know the bar is super low, but hey. Sometimes, that is all you can do.

Alright, this nonsense has gone on long enough. Off to bed for me and for those who celebrate: a Happy Labor Day to you all.