The Elephant in the Room

Today’s Guest Post is from my friend, SW Chica. When I read her first draft, she had included a line from her mother that seared straight into my soul. “I love you, but I don’t like you.”

I didn’t realize just how damaging a statement like that could be to a child and I am ashamed to say that I may have told Gamera the same exact words before. I’m not sure if I said it out loud, but I certainly have thought it. 
SW Chica’s piece made me think of Gamera in a kinder light. The last thing I would want is to make her feel the way my friend feels now. It would break my cold, dark heart. 
Because of SW Chica’s post, I hope to be a better mother to my sensitive little girl. I thank her for sharing and trusting me with her heart. 

I told my Mom last January I didn’t walk to talk to her or my father anymore.  It was hard, but it was the right thing to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it obsessively and want it to be different. I do. It just means that right now, looking at how my family treats me, I don’t want to be treated like that by anyone, much less the group of people who are supposed to be there for you.

This being a good decision on my part became more clear when my mother emailed my husband that she was sorry, “They didn’t address the elephant in the room sooner.” She apologized to him, not me. In her eyes, he is the one hurt in this scenario, not me.

I told her that I don’t feel I get respect from them at 40 years old. Her reply to me was, “If you feel you have not received it in 40 years, I feel you have never given it to us in 38.”

It took me a few weeks of being away from her and my family to have a little epiphany about what the elephant was. The elephant was respect. She wanted respect from a 2 year old. I was 8 and 10 years younger than my siblings. But so was my dad. And so was his dad. I wonder how each of their parents treated them growing up.

I imagine it was similar experience. Being thrust into being more mature than I was. I didn’t really feel like I was treated like a kid when I was one. I was left home alone at 8 years old so my parents could go golf on Sundays. My sister was at college; my brother had his friends and did not want to always have to watch after his little sister.

My parents wanted a break by that time. They were 40, more successful than they had been in years past. They wanted to enjoy their life, not always be saddled with a young kid who talked too much. Or was overdramatic. Or a pill, or a pain. Or whatever other adjective my mom and family used to describe me.

Who they would just treat as a disappointment.

I get that now; I was a disappointment. At age 2 I didn’t behave like a proper 8 year old. I don’t remember how I behaved, but having seen my friends’ 2 year olds, I can’t imagine I was much different. I’m sure I wandered around the house, pulling plugs out of the wall or pushing my plate of food away.

I bet I was actually better behaved than most two year olds, not because I was awesome at 2, but because I had a Mom and Dad correcting me for misbehaving, and a brother and sister telling me to stop it as well.

So if at 2, the elephant was that I was expected to behave as though I was 8, then at 8 I was expected to behave as though I was 15. I was left at home a lot as an elementary school age kid. I didn’t really enjoy being left alone at home on the weekends. My parents would play golf all day on Sundays and come home and want to go out to dinner. Which meant more alone time as I was told to be quiet and colored on my placemat.

At 12, when I was bullied and picked on at school. I tried to talk to my parents about about it, but, if it was happening, it had to be my fault. I had to have done something other than exist for this to be happening. I talked too much. Or was overdramatic. Or a pill, or a pain.

News flash, it wasn’t my fault.

The bully wanted my seat during a movie shown in class. She demanded it from me and I said, “No.” It’s entirely possible I said words around the word, “No.” Extra wording aside, I was not wrong in this scenario. So when the bully beat me up over it and I fought back, I got in trouble at school and at home.

I got beat up and I got in trouble at home.

I stood up for myself and I got no comfort from my family.

At 14, the elephant was I had my own way home from work or a friends house. My mom was tired of being chauffeur and if I couldn’t fit my activities around her schedule, then I had to figure it out for myself. So I’d take the bus or ask for rides from older kids instead of my parents coming to pick me up. I knew how to get to Berkeley on my own from the East Bay as a freshman in High School and would often go to Telegraph Ave to buy cheap jewelry from the street vendors. I would also hang out at Rasputin’s Record store and get lunch at Blondie’s Pizza. At 14.

As an adult the elephant is that I don’t want to be their friend. I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars a month on drinks and dinner with people who treat me poorly.

Once I moved out I really never invited them over to my home or host a holiday for my family as an adult. No one asked me why, they just felt I was rude.

The reality was that I never felt my homes were good enough. I worked full time jobs since I was 19 and I would just live in my home, happy that I had one. I would ask my Mom to help me with cleaning or rearranging a room and would be met with all the things she had to complain about my homes. Dog toys on the floor, my coffee cup in the sink. God forbid if I didn’t make my bed that day.

She has been a stay at home mother and wife all my and my siblings’ lives. When she would criticize my home and my cars, she turned the shame I felt as a child for being a disappointment into to resentment.

I resented those comments. They would play on a loop in my head until I drank them away. And when I stopped doing that, then I just began to not care.

The elephant became just dealing with them as best I could. I tried to let them go. I tried to not let the resentment build, but it did. I didn’t handle it properly. I didn’t do yoga or pray. I just tried to be polite and respectful.

I still didn’t invite them over to my home. I dogged every other invite to go to my parents’ home so they would not be suspicious that I didn’t want to spend time with them anymore.

It didn’t work.

The resentment I felt was still there and was not being dealt with properly. I had no outlet to share what I was feeling. No place that felt safe – just like when I was a kid.

Then, a major life change came.

I took an opportunity for a big career change. I was excited about it. I felt it was a good opportunity. As I went over to their home to excitedly share my news, I was greeted with, “Why would you ever leave the job you have now?”

It hurt.

They took all the wind out of my sails. The elephant this time was they couldn’t even fake being happy for me.

When I failed miserably at the new opportunity, I resented them even more. I blamed them. I felt like I was cursed by them, which I know is not right.

It’s not their fault I failed at this job. I accept it. I was bullied and squeezed out. It’s not right, but again, I needed support and it wasn’t there. When it was all said and done, I still got blamed for not being grateful that my family was there.

Really, they just think they were there for me. But I got no comfort from them when I was hurting. The elephant was them feeling taken advantage of because I didn’t process my hurt the way they wanted me to. And in the end, being alone was the best way for me to overcome my hurt.

My husband said to me, “If you are trying to be a better Christian, then you need to forgive them.”

I said, “I do forgive them, but that doesn’t mean I am willing to be hurt by them again.” I can be a good Christian and forgive them and still decide the relationship is not healthy and stop forcing it just because we are related.

If the elephant all along was respect that I feel I have never gotten, and they feel they have never received, then what am I really missing out on?

How to Angry Toy Purge Your Home

Lately, I have gotten Hulk Smashy a lot more frequently than I have in the past year or so and quite frankly, it’s because my house is a disaster. There are toys, with teeny tiny parts, all over the floor, in every room, and in every place.

I don’t even know how it happens.

I swear I constantly throw away toys and yet, WE KEEP GETTING MORE. And apparently, the only place to put them is ON THE FLOOR.

Just when I think I’m getting a grip on all our crap and stuff and have finally cleared out spaces in my house so it looks tidy and if not clean, at least neat, we have a birthday or a family visit or SOMETHING and BOOM! My house is exploding at the gills again.

Do houses have gills? That seems weird.

The front room looks like a craft store vomited a thousand bits of construction paper. (Boooooo on my kids being obsessed with cutting and gluing lately – I mean, ummmm… yay on creativity and non-screen time?)

Why do my children seem incapable of putting their crayons/markers/stickers/glue sticks/scissors in their rightful containers and instead, THROW THEM ON THE FLOOR?

WHY DOES GLOW WORM (4) CEASELESSLY TURN THEIR CHAIRS UPSIDE DOWN SO THEIR DANGEROUS CHAIR LEGS CAN BE HANDY SPIKES OF DEATH?

I have all these questions and no satisfactory answers.

I have tried culling and getting rid of markers and crayons and stickers but again, THEY MULTIPLY. Is there some type of asexual fission going on that I don’t know about?

And now, Glow Worm, bless his heart, is obsessed with all my expensive Taiwanese logic games and he takes them out and plays with them (not in their actual usage but I guess I should just be happy that someone is playing with them) but then he LEAVES THEM OUT SO ALL THEIR EXPENSIVE PIECES GO MISSING.

Ok, I get that he is four. And I do make them clean up after themselves. But quite frankly, we have too many toys. TOO MANY.

OMG SO MANY.

Clearly, the only solution is an Angry Toy Purge. In fact, the solution is multiple Angry Toy Purges.

And because I’m a giver and because I both hope that I am not alone but wouldn’t wish this verklempt on anyone, I have conjured up the instructions so that you, too, can have your very own Angry Toy Purge.

1) Become enraged at the thought of your home.

When the sight of your house in its current state makes you long for lighter fluid and a match because dealing with arson investigations, insurance, and possible prison time is preferable to being in your house right now, you have reached the point where an Angry Toy Purge is in your near future.

2) Emit an odd combination of strangled sputters of fury and unleashed bellows of cursing.

Indiscriminate throwing or kicking of toys is a bonus. Background weeping and cowering from your children is also possible.

3) Get several giant garbage bags. Start filling them.

One is for straight up throwing away shit. Because OF COURSE there are calcified fries in the DUPLOS box. Are there toys that are cracked and broken and missing pieces and cannot be salvaged?

Throw them away.

No, seriously. No one else wants that garbage either (and it is garbage).

You will be amazed at how with each damnable item you throw away, your shoulders will feel lighter and that clenchy feeling in your under parts (and not the happy clenchy feelings in your under parts) starts to lessen.

4) Give away all toys or books that make you angry.

I posted about this at length last year, but in short, any toy that makes you mad, GET RID OF IT.

I don’t care if your child weeps and gnashes their teeth. GET RID OF IT.

Okokokokok… perhaps don’t toss your kid’s favorite toy, but it really has to be an actual favorite. Like, there will be untold trauma and therapy bills in the future if you throw away their lovey.

Don’t throw away their lovey.

But, if your house is full of tertiary, quaternary, quinary, or even senary toys, PUT THEM IN THE DONATE BAG. (I am just super pleased to use quaternary in a sentence.)

GET THAT SHIT OUT OF YOUR LIFE. OUT OF YOUR HOUSE. OUT OF YOUR ZIP CODE.

Chances are, your kids may put up a brief protest because hey, they haven’t seen that toy in awhile. But after repeated cullings, your kids will wise up and gladly, nay, joyfully, throw their lesser liked toys in the sacrificial pyre as an offering to appease the Angry Toy Purge gods.

5) Give away (or sell) all toys, clothes, books your children have outgrown or no longer play with.

This is admittedly a little bit harder. After all, what if you’re not done having kids? Or what if you have kids in multiple age ranges?

Or what if your kids don’t play with these toys because you have too many other toys and they forgot about these toys?

By all means, don’t donate the high chair if you’re still using it. Or the bouncer. Or whatever it is that is useful and needful.

However, be honest.

I have about eleventy-million teething rings that not a single one of my four children played with. I am only just now, giving them away. I also have rattles, baby toys, crinkly toys, stacking toys, and who knows what else that somehow survived my previous Angry Toy Purges. I can only surmise that they are still here because we ran out of garbage bags the last few go-rounds or that they were buried somewhere and only recently unearthed.

I also felt guilty about purging toys my oldest played with all the time that my third child rarely played with because he leveled up to what the older kids were playing with and that my youngest child will NEVER get to play with because I am selling it as I type.

This doesn’t even include all our trains.Case in point, after years of debate, I am finally letting go of our train set. I have spent close to $900 over the first few years of Cookie Monster’s (~8) life collecting trains, tracks, and special pieces. I got most of them used and second hand so I can’t even fathom how much this would have cost if I got them new. (The $900 includes a ride-on train and train table, too.)

The only thing that pains me is that I’m selling them at a deep discount because my children ruin everything and have broken things and played HARD. Also, I want them to exit my house with great expediency.

Is it an end of an era? Yes? But truthfully, these train tracks have been sitting unused for at least 3-4 years. Wouldn’t it be better to free up the space and let other kids enjoy these toys? Haven’t we learned anything from Toy Story 3?

Again, be honest with yourself.

Are you actually going to sell this? If so, TAKE A PICTURE NOW AS YOU ARE PURGING AND LIST IT.

Otherwise, you are just delaying the inevitable and lying to yourself. Get it out of your house.

6) Include your children in the process.

First, to have them feel as if they have agency and choice in which toys will be among the soon departed. This way, you take into account their feelings (OMG WHY DO THEY HAVE SO MANY FEELINGS?) and spare the toys they love (and they’re ever so grateful so MILK THAT).

Plus, you might be surprised by the toys they are willing to forego.

This year, over the course of many purges, Gamera (6) and Glow Worm (4) told me they no longer wanted any princesses, dolls, dollhouses, or My Little Ponies. Gamera came to this conclusion earlier, but she allowed for Glow Worm to keep them because he wanted to play with the dolls. He has since moved on.

Second, I involve them because THEY MUST EXPERIENCE PAIN.

Yes, I am a petty, petty person.

I don’t know WHY I am such an asshole, just that I am. But whatever the reason, I want them to experience some loss and super minor suffering.

Granted, they are practically immune to the pain because we have so many toys that they really aren’t giving up anything precious to them.

So, you see. I have not only built up their resilience, but I have inured them to future hoarding. #parentinggoals

7) Remove these items from your house ASAP.

Throw your bags away. Take your bags to the thrift store. Put it on the curb for those curbside charities. Drop them off at your unsuspecting friends’ doorsteps. (NO! Don’t do this unless it would bring them joy. Otherwise, you’re just spreading the anger. Don’t do that!)

8) Somehow, magically accumulate more shit you don’t need until you explode once more. 

It’s inevitable. It makes me sad, but it’s true. I mean, I still have Christmas presents from at least 2-3 years ago that I still haven’t given my kids. This is in addition to the toys I already bought my kids for Christmas.

It’s a vicious cycle.

The only way to truly break it is to not buy any more things. But until I commit to that, Angry Toy Purge will have to do.

Now, go! Angry Toy Purge away and come back to post before/after pics and tell me all about it.

How to Taiwan with Kids

Upon hearing that I took four kids 7 years old and under (including an 8 month old) by myself for a month, most people immediately say, “You’re so brave!” This is usually immediately followed by, “How do you do it?”

Well, the short answer is, “With a lot of yelling.”

The long answer takes a lot of time (and a lot of swears) but because I’m a giver, here is how I personally get through it (and without any alcohol, too!).

1) Ask for help.

I cannot reiterate this enough.

Do not be a jerk. Do not let pride get in your way. Either ask for help or accept help when people who love you offer.

I will be honest. I was offended and pissed off at my mother when she told me she didn’t want to go to Taiwan in the summer but was only going to help me on the plane (even though I did not expect her to come – NOR DID I ASK). She just could not fathom how my children would go to the bathroom.

I tried to explain that Cookie Monster (7.5) and Gamera (5.75) could go by themselves. I really would only have to help Glow Worm (~4) and as for myself, I have gone to the bathroom plenty of times with Sasquatch (8 months) strapped to my body.

I was a little less offended that my cousin rearranged his travel schedule to the US in order to accompany us on the trip back.

Either way, I felt as if they were saying I was not a capable person. After all, don’t I take care of my four kids every day?

But you know what? FUCK MY PRIDE. My mother and cousin were helpful. And I accepted their help (despite internal grumbling).

Even though my mom ended up not sitting next to us on the plane (and only checking in once for about a minute), she was still helpful at the airport, going through customs, and when we moved into the apartment. She helped me at bedtime for the ten days she was there.

THAT IS NO SMALL MATTER.

Plus, my kids got to spend extra time with her – and she is so wonderful with them. They got to hear stories and just laughed and laughed and laughed.

And on the way back, I forgot that since we did not have a direct flight, we would have to go through customs with all our luggage then recheck them in for our domestic flight.

I could not have gotten it done without my cousin there. It was hard. SO HARD. (I was still recovering from the flu and I just could not manage all our luggage along with all my children.) I am SO GRATEFUL he was there. Even a minor thing such as him being there allowed me to go to the bathroom without worrying about my kids being alone.

As for during our stay, several times, my cousins would bring food over (both in terms of dinner and in terms of fruit and snacks). They also lent me supplies that I needed for the kids’ school so I didn’t have to buy them. Super helpful!

2) Make a packing list at least a month (or two) in advance.

That way, you have enough time to order stuff on Amazon or go to a physical store and buy. And of course, anything you forget to purchase, you can most likely buy in Taiwan. It is, after all, a developed country. The only problem is that everything is in Chinese.

THAT IS A REALLY BIG PROBLEM. (If you are mediocre like me.)

Here’s a pic of my packing list. Obviously, YMMV.

3) Know your limits.

If you are going to be single parenting it in a foreign country (or really, anywhere – and quite frankly, even if you have a partner in the picture), you really need to know your limits.

You have to be brutally honest with yourself about your capacity and ability to handle shit. BECAUSE SHIT WILL HAPPEN.

So, I know that I have a really low tolerance for sightseeing stuff – especially with so many wiggly and crappy kids. I also hate eating out with my kids. Or really, doing ANYTHING with my kids.

As a result, we saw nothing. We ate out at ONE restaurant. We avoided anything that I hated doing. If I knew something would piss me off if the kids were with me, I would either not do it or only do it when they were in school.

I also made sure I got enough sleep because I know that when I’m sleep deprived, I am even meaner. And because I have a low noise tolerance level, I was okay with the kids having a lot of screen time. Like, A LOT of screen time. Because that is the only time they are guaranteed to be silent. Because their brains are rotting.

4) Be OK with feeling stupid. ALL THE TIME.

I am not kidding.

I spent 99.9% of the time in Taiwan feeling like an idiot.

It’s sad, really. I always forget and think that I’m fluent in Chinese when I’m in the US because really, my Chinese is pretty good. When I am in the US.

When I’m in Taiwan? MY CHINESE IS SAD AND JUST ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT I AM MISSING SOMETHING IMPORTANT.

I cannot wait until my children’s Chinese is better than mine so they understand what people are saying to us. Better yet. When they can read the Chinese so that we don’t have to speak to anyone.

I don’t know how to explain to people who have not experienced this, but ultimately, it’s not that we don’t understand Chinese. It’s just that everyone speaks so quickly. Or they use obscure terms. Or super polite terms. Or super official sounding terms. Or normal terms that our parents never saw the need to teach us. Or terms our parents didn’t know to teach us. Or terms they might have taught us but we never retained.

Couple that with my functional illiteracy, I end up asking questions that are obviously labeled and answered IF ONLY I COULD READ ALL THE WORDS. OR IF ONLY I COULD COMPREHEND WHAT THESE WORDS I CAN READ MEAN TOGETHER IN A SENTENCE.

5) Have a routine.

This seems silly but routines saved me.

They ensured that I remembered to do things like pack lunches, refill water bottles, had clean clothes, sunblocked and bug sprayed my children, and washed the dishes.

I mean, would these things have gotten done WITHOUT the routine? Yes. Of course. How could they not?

But my life was much less stressful because these routines became muscle memory and I didn’t have to expend as much brain power trying to make sure everything got done.

6) Appropriate footwear is key.

I am a big fan of kids having covered toes and sneaker like shoes because Taipei is an urban city and the last thing I want is for their flip flops or crocs to get caught in an escalator or snag on uneven sidewalks and then end up at the hospital to replace a toe.

So, I made sure we had shoes that were breathable, had sneaker like tread, but could dry quickly if they got wet in the rain or water. I chose to buy (affiliate link) Stride Rite Phibians. They’re boring and sturdy and get the job done.

7) Take out is your friend.

I don’t understand how some of my friends would physically bring their children to restaurants and then eat dinner during prime people eating time. That sounds like my personal version of hell.

Maybe it’s because I have never trained my children to behave in public. Or that there are too many of them. But by the end of the day, I can’t think of anything my children want to do less than sit still and quietly while waiting for their food (that they might not eat) and then eating it. (And also hoping there are forks because only one of my kids can use chopsticks.)

No, thanks.

Instead, I found a place by my kids’ camp and bought off their menu almost every week night (before even picking them up) and then we would eat it at home while they zombied out on iPads.

8) Indoor play spaces are also your friend. (But they are expensive.)

Look, maybe my feral children are unique, but they are used to a lot more space in the States and being at parks and running around to let out their boundless energy.

It’s not that there aren’t parks (and great parks) in Taiwan. It’s just that it’s hot and there are a lot of mosquitoes. Nothing makes a park less fun than a blazing sun that is trying to melt you and incinerate your body with fire. And when you’re hiding from the sun, eating you alive with evil, tiny black mosquitoes.

Nope. No thanks.

So, indoor play spaces are great.

9) Make sure your kids understand how to navigate a city.

Since my kids are born and bred in the sprawl of an American suburb, they are not used to the density of people, the pace of the movement, and the rules of city life.

So most of my stress was making sure my kids weren’t impeding the flow of traffic by coming to a dead stop in front of an elevator, turnstile, stairwell, escalator, MRT door, middle of a crosswalk – YOU NAME IT, THEY’VE JUST STOOD THERE LIKE IDIOTS WITH MOUTHS AGAPE.

Oh, I was also worried about them plummeting to their deaths from the 3-4 story high escalators.

Also? My kids are not quiet. Or well-behaved.

Taiwanese children apparently know that they’re supposed to be quiet and well-behaved in public and on public transportation.

So, other than trying to civilize my children, I also had to make sure I didn’t lose them among the crush of people on escalators, MRT trains, buses, and THE SIDEWALK.

10) Remember, your children get culture shock, too. And jetlag. My God, the jetlag.

You know how everything is hard and foreign and overwhelming to you? It’s the same (and perhaps moreso) for your children.

Be kind. And gracious.

If you can remember. (I often did not.)

11) Get internet access for your phone.

You can buy a SIM card with a Taiwanese phone number at the airport and/or at local telecom stores. Or, you can rent a hotspot. Either way, YOU NEED INTERNET ACCESS.

In Taiwan, you buy two separate services: talking minutes and data. You need to buy both, but data is VITAL.

How else will you find what foods, attractions, activities, and addresses are by you?

12) Google Maps and Pleco are your best friends. 

This is, of course, predicated on having internet access.

Google Maps has improved so much since I started going back to Taiwan three years ago. (Has it really only been three years?)

As long as you know your destination, Google Maps will tell you how to get there. Of course, you can always take a taxi – and Google Maps will tell you how long that will take.

But, it will also tell you how to get there (and how long it will take) via public transportation (MRT, bus, train, etc.) or walking.

Plus, now if you click on the bus numbers, Google Maps will show you all the other buses you could take, how many minutes until they arrive, how many stops there will be until your destination, and how much it will cost!

Just keep in mind that there is sometimes more than one bus stop in a given location. It took awhile for me to realize that the buses are grouped by each stop (logical) versus just listing all the possible buses you can take near you. You need to click on the separate bus listings to see all the other possible buses that are available to you.

Also, you can also change the date and time when you’re searching. This is important because if you search directions in the middle of the night, you might think there are zero to no options when in reality, during the day, there will be lots of options. Or, if you search during commuting hours but then travel on a weekend or during non-commuting hours, you will think you have more options when really, you have few.

Ask me how I know.

For the MRT, Google Maps will tell you which exit you take (there are many exits per MRT station) and trust me when I say, the longer you can stay within the air-conditioned confines of an MRT station and avoid the fiery ball of gas outside the better.

As for Pleco, unless you are native fluent and also functionally literate, YOU WILL NEED A GOOD TRANSLATION APP.

Some people prefer Google Translate. I prefer Pleco.

Plus, Pleco has OCR where you can just scan characters and it will tell you (for free) how to pronounce the characters (but not their definitions). That is useful if you understand Chinese but just can’t read. Not so useful if you don’t.

13) Don’t bother with car seats. 

If you are super worried, just take public transportation or walk. For the rides to and from the airport, you can call ahead and book a taxi that will rent you up to two carseats. (In this same vein, there are companies where you can rent pack ‘n plays and other baby things.)

Just keep in mind that no taxi will wait for you to install/uninstall a car seat – and even supposing you do find a taxi that will, are you really going to be walking around Taipei carrying a car seat along with your children?

Get over it. Kids here ride ON MOTOR SCOOTERS.

Anyhow, I hope this was helpful.

If you have a lot of time on your hands or just want more of me, here’s my Facebook Live video that discusses a lot of these same things (but unedited and with perhaps some more swears).