MamaScholar Spring

Photograph of the author wearing a Pokemon mask and a multiracial little girl holding a running medal

It’s Saturday morning and I’m stressed about a talk I’m going to give in a few hours.

My little girl has a soccer game in an hour and a half. I will miss it because timing was too tight to get there and to my talk which is close, but not quite close enough.

I’ve only been to two soccer games and two practices this entire spring season.

My 16-year old has his last orchestra concert of the year tonight. I’ll make that, but only because I’m leaving the post-conference reception early.

I’ve been away from home nearly half of the last 6 weeks, including last weekend when 6 had back-to-back soccer games and 16 was playing trombone at an all-district event.

It’s my little one’s birthday in less than two weeks, just between the last class of the semester and graduation.

Next week, we volunteered to bring birthday snacks & goodie bags for her soccer team & we’re going to host a birthday playdate for her class.

Which means this weekend I need to get invitations and prep goodie bags and figure out snacks, while also coordinating the panel and activities for my last class…while also grading lesson plans and fieldwork reflections, and giving a virtual book talk.

My partner will help with many, if not most, of these things, but I will need to organize them. And, I will have to let go of the fact that I cannot be all the places at once; I cannot do all the things; the goodie bags will be good enough; and I am doing the best I can.

My family knows that this is their mama. They are proud of the work I do. They love me unconditionally. They remind me it’s okay if I’m not at every thing. They are happy when I am at the things I can be at.

But it weighs on my mama heart to miss moments with them.

It weighs on my teacher heart to feel pulled in a million different directions and wondering if I can do more.

It weighs on my scholar heart to not have time to reflect, as I know reflection brings growth.

This is a post reminding myself and other scholar parents (particularly mama-scholars) to breathe. I can unlearn and choose differently, but I can’t really make any choices in a state of reactivity and disequilibrium.

And we are okay.

Costco & Party City are our friends.

The kids don’t care about perfection, they prefer presence, and play. They prefer play.

The people who come to hear me and engage with the ideas I share will take exactly what they are supposed to take.

Students in my courses are growing in incredible ways as teacher candidates, and I am moved by the ways they are committed to seeing and acknowledging students’ humanity & identities in their lesson plans.

I can only continue to move forward when I remember my own humanity and identity, trusting in the process, acknowledging what is, and the possibilities of what can be.

Holding Space When Humanity Shows Up

3 bouquets of flowers at a gravesite

Showing up for my foremothers with flowers & gratitude

It’s been a long week, full of humanity.

Way back in February, I gave a TEDx talk on humanizing pedagogies, which in short asked what might happen if we re-conceptualized our perception of excellence, specifically educational excellence, but generally was really talking about what happened if we really started listening to and learning from one another. This week, that talk finally went live on the TEDx YouTube channel, an exciting moment I’ve been waiting for, well, throughout the entire pandemic-borne time of social distancing.

It dropped on a day when I had a very human and humbling moment, saying something out of frustration that didn’t assume the full humanity of a student, within virtual earshot of the student. I took responsibility and owned the impact of my words, but it certainly was not a shining star moment, and it led to a restless night and some good use of the skills I’ve been working on in therapy.

I realized that my reaction to this student, my assumptions of intention, my frustration was bred from my own sense of internalized perfectionism and internalized expectations of performance. This happens a lot when there are situations in which I feel I am dealing with entitlement or where I am working to meet someone 95% of the way, and they want me to move even further. I feel angry, angry that I’ve had to work so hard to get to where I am when others feel that they deserve time, energy and efforts that I have given and given and given at the expense of myself and my family.

Tonight, I read responses from a survey designed to get feedback from students about their online learning experiences. When one student responded, “Nothing” to the question of what professors, the program and university had done to support his online learning, I felt struck, as if all of the efforts that I have put into making this semester work for us all meant nothing.

I also feel these feelings, this frustration, sometimes towards my family, like all I do to keep us afloat, to support their learning and growth as human beings, to love them in the midst of big feelings I am struggling with, is not enough.

I know this is misdirected anger at myself. I hear the echoes of their humanity, or see them struggle and I feel a sense of my own inadequacy.

But it is not inadequacy, it is humanity.

They are teaching me humanity.

This weekend, I posted a Twitter thread after listening to a beautiful conversation that the Black Gaze Podcast (Drs. Shamaine Bertrand & Kisha Porcher) had with Dr. April Baker-Bell about Black language and linguistic justice. Hearing this conversation reminded me of where the internalized perfectionism and expectations of performance came from. It reminded me that these words that I swallow, that only rarely escape (and that I beat myself up for when they do), that this anger, comes from internalized oppression, from years of not feeling good enough around a society that I tried to prove my worth to, instead of accepting that my worth was in me.

Here’s the thread (revised slightly because I caught grammar mistakes in the first tweet that irritated me so I have to correct them now):

Let me tell you, I am declaring being done w/ the shame spiral & apologizing for my #AsianAmerican identity. There’s a lot of work to do as a community, but we can’t do that work if we can’t acknowledge that shame is part of white supremacy that keeps us in our place/

First, I want to shout out Black feminist & linguistic scholars, including the fantastic @BlackGazePod convo w/ Dr. @aprilbakerbell, @DrPorcher & @dr_s_bertrand. Your unapologetic stance that Blackness will save Black people reminds me to stand in my own truth/

Okay, and also shout out to the fantastic essay by @poetpedagogue that reminds me that we cannot abolish systems that promise us opportunity if we play by the rules until we conquer our own internalized oppressive mindset/

So here’s the thing, like many #AsianAmericans, I have made choices, my parents & ancestors made choices. For me, those choices have been rooted in assimilation for survival bc they thought it was the best option/

I am making different choices for myself & my own children, to embrace who we are and reclaim our complicated identities as #AsianAmerican as #TaiwaneseAmerican, as descendent from Han colonizers of Taiwanese indigenous people/

As people who have made choices or had choices made for us that separated us from linguistic identities that themselves were cloaked in language and cultural oppressions that we don’t know, but are our histories/

But I am not ashamed. Part of humanizing ourselves & others is the true belief that people do the best they can w/ what they have & that people, even the best of them, have human moments. When we know better, we must do better, but sometimes even then, we stumble/

Now, what there is for me to do, is the hard work of reclamation, of building community from an insider-outsider space, of listening/ learning/ seeking/ speaking, not from a space of shame, but from one of power, of visibility w/o performance/

Last thank you to @DrK_WhiteSmith for reminding me that we can be responsible for our actions w/o apologizing for ourselves. #Nomoreapologies for my existence. I will own my mistakes & my humanity, but I refuse to apologize for who I am. /end


Today, I went to put flowers at the gravesite of my foremothers (my mother, grandmother and aunt). Their strength gives me the strength to demand better for myself and for my children, even though I will falter along the way. Even though they faltered along the way.

We are always only human. We are always only learning.

And I am holding space for myself to be however I am, even when I am so imperfect.

And I am proud to be who I am, even when I am so imperfect.

This is the hard work of reclamation.

Reclaiming space to be exactly who I am, in each moment.

Holding space and striving to be in integrity with my most powerful, generous, and loving expression of self.

And loving my full humanity.

Growth in Parts

The author as a 2-3 year old girl in a red dress with a white apron looking at the camera

Me, at 2 or 3

I am growing, and learning, a lot, this summer, at a rate that oftentimes feels overwhelming, and when I feel overwhelmed, I’ve learned that a big part of grounding is writing through it.

I recently got myself back into therapy, and am working with a wonderful Asian American female therapist who sees and gets me in a way that is profound and affirming. Whenever she says, “That must have been really hard for you,” I get emotional. I mean, I am getting emotional writing about her saying that because I feel seen in those words.

It was hard for me.

Sometimes, it is still hard for me.

And so often, the hard parts, the hard feelings, the loss, the mini-traumas, the major-traumas, are the moments that I’ve swallowed, hidden away and masked, in a desire to move forward.

My therapist asked me, in one of our first sessions, to spend some time drawing the different feelings and emotions I was experiencing over the time between sessions. I had been feeling a lot of anxiety recently (we are, after all, living during a pandemic, and for people with trauma history and experiences of sudden loss, nothing is more triggering than a situation in which you experience a complete lack of control) so I thought that would show up predominantly in my drawings.

But, what really showed up, was overwhelming sadness, masked as frantic movement to get things done.

I am so sad.

I have been so sad.

I have been carrying this sadness for such a long time.

It is exhausting, hard, and destructive.

There is so much weight to this swallowed, silenced sadness that is protected by an image of incredible strength, competency and hard work.

It had become overwhelming.

And then I saw it, in my own sketches.

So, we worked through an exercise based on parts therapy, which, as I understand it (and clearly, this is not my area of expertise) helps parts of yourself that are stuck at certain ages (your inner child or children) come to resolution, or at least, be seen and acknowledged for what they felt or are feeling, as it’s triggered in your current life.

And here’s what I realized through that work:

  • I’ve struggled with being seen for so long, since I was little, with feeling like the work I’m doing will be accepted by people I want to like me.
  • I’ve struggled with not knowing how to play the right game, with feeling like people are too busy to see me or talk with me or play with me.
  • I have felt alone in the midst of so many people I wanted to be in community with.
  • I have internalized that all as not being good enough.
  • It is at the core of my sadness.

But I’ve also realized this:

  • I can be responsible for my own healing. I can heal myself (with support and community, of course, but also by paying attention to the little me).
  • At the core, I have always been and will always be a survivor.
  • I don’t have to swallow my sadness anymore.
  • There are people who do love me, just the way I am, and it’s okay to let them in.
  • When my sadness surfaces, often what I need more than anything is to pause and be with it.

Doing this self-work (self-care, self-preservation, self-sustainability) is not easy, and it’s a process. I see myself getting triggered all the time. I still am engaging in hard-to-break harmful patterns of overworking and negative self-talk. But, I am hopeful. And grateful to the community that calls me into all of my work.

The process of change and transformation is not linear, straightforward or easy.

No one said it would be.

But, I am nothing if not committed and hard working.

Only this time, the goal is pushing towards liberation, for myself, my communities and in my work.

It is time.

Growth in parts.

Towards this goal.

The Reckoning

According to a quick google search via the Oxford dictionary, reckoning has several definitions:

noun: reckoning
  1. the action or process of calculating or estimating something.
    “last year was not, by any reckoning, a particularly good one”  (You can say that again, if by last year, you mean the last 6 weeks)
  2. a person’s view, opinion, or judgment.
    “by ancient reckoning, bacteria are plants”
  3. a bill or account, or its settlement.
  4. the avenging or punishing of past mistakes or misdeeds.
    “the fear of being brought to reckoning”

The last 6 weeks of social distancing has been a reckoning in many senses of the word.

It has been a time of reflection, an accounting for how my time is spent, and how that aligns with what I want my life to be about.

It has been a time of judgment and opinions, despite my best attempts to show grace to myself and others, despite my belief in humanization as a guiding light and love as enacted through recognizing our shared humanity.

It has been a time when many bills and accounts have come due, both financial and metaphorically: spiritual accounts, familial accounts, trauma accounts. So many accounts.

It has been a time when I have chosen to bring forth my past mistakes, misdeeds, missed opportunities.

It has been a time when I’ve been seeing myself in others’ stories, that connect to parts of myself and my history, parts I thought I had lost that I could never find again. It’s been a time for me to discover and piece together parts of my history and my family story that I have been holding for a long time, but have been afraid to confront.  It has been a time when I have realized that as much as I search for love and strive to be loving, I cannot find that love without truly embracing myself.

bell hooks in her All About Love says, “Commitment to truth telling lays the groundwork for openness and honesty that is the heartbeat of love. When we can see ourselves as we truly are and accept ourselves, we build the necessary foundation for self-love.”

The reckoning.

Seeing myself as I truly am and accepting myself.

There has been so much shame which has led to so much destructiveness. Constantly feeling not good enough. Not speaking my heritage language. Not saving my parent’s marriage or my mother’s life. Not doing enough for my oldest daughters. Not being available enough for my younger children. Not being anything (pretty, smart, Asian, courageous, knowledgable) enough. Staying silent when I wanted to speak. Feeling like I had no place to speak. Wanting to be loved and admired so much that at moments my integrity was gone. Literally and figuratively rendering myself invisible, starving myself so that I might disappear, and in disappearing be seen.  Running away from grief only to be confronted at every corner.  So much destruction.

…yet, all with a smile and determination to move onward.

I could not move onward without being dragged back.

There has been so much exhausted determination to continue moving forward.

In this time, I have begun the reckoning.  I have begun to see all that there is that has been at the root of this destruction of self.

And I am realizing that while these voices are within me, they are not fully me. They are products of institutions, structures, ideologies, generations, recitations that did not start from me.

I own them as part of me.  They have also made me. They help me to understand humanity intimately.

The reckoning is a fire, but it is a healing pain.

I am beginning to heal.

Nowhere to Go

Sunset over silhouetted trees

We are beginning to adjust…

…to a new normal.

There are parts which resemble the old normal: work, e-mail, meetings, weekends where we’re all in the house, the boundless energy of a 4-year old, exhaustion, moments of joy, underdeveloped self-care habits.

But there are so many parts that are different: being home all the time with all the family, wearing the on-duty mom and worker hat all the time, being as afraid that leaving my house could lead to physical harm based from someone who is racist as from an unpredictable virus, having so much trouble focusing on simple things, staring at screens for so many hours of the day.

There is nowhere to go, but I somehow still manage to run from all the feelings (not literally, because well, I am still recovering from some type of upper respiratory infection that won’t let go from several weeks ago).

But, I cannot keep running from all the feelings.

So perhaps, with nowhere to go, I must finally be still.

Even in the midst of crisis, there will always be things to do.

But, perhaps, with nowhere to go, I must finally be still.

I have been waiting for the wave of emotions to come bursting through in the moments of stillness, as it has in the past.

But this is not the past.

It is a new normal.

One which invites me to be still, and in that stillness, find a moment of peace, a moment of refuge from all there is outside and all there is inside.

Those things will not disappear, but the stillness gives me strength to meet them. The stillness gives me breath to release them, if only for a moment. The stillness gives me grace, to stop doing and start being.

I am beginning to reclaim myself.

It is a new normal.

One where I cannot keep running.

One where I can just accept doing the best I can. Because what else is there to do?

One where overwhelming frustration and moments of pure joy balance one another out, or they don’t, but they do coexist.

One which requires faith, hope and love, on a constant basis.

One which requires rest.

Perhaps there is nowhere to go, but perhaps this is exactly the place I need to be right now.

Making space for a familiar friend

Today has been strangely hard.

Until about 5 minutes ago, I really didn’t understand why I’ve been feeling really bleh today.  I made an excellent first-timer Eggs Benedict for my son this morning.  I had back-to-back phone calls with colleague-friends who are amazing. I got to have lunch with my sister-friend whom I love dearly. I got a decent amount of work done. I even watched the end of Toy Story with my little girl before tucking her into bed.

It was a good day.

So why was I feeling so bad? And why was I doing the things that I know I do when I’m trying to avoid being with something.

Then I realized that tomorrow is February 1st which means Monday is February 3rd.

My mother died on February 3rd.

Today is a Friday that my son has off from school.  He hurt his ankle yesterday and was limping around the house today.

My mother died on the Friday between semesters, a student in-service day. She had hurt her ankle earlier that year, twisting it in a hole as she ran to see me start a race.

There have been so many sudden deaths recently, of young parents, before their time.

My mother was 56 when she died.  I was 16. She was healthy (still recovering from her major ankle sprain, but otherwise fine) and a fighter.  She was everything to me, the person who knew me best and the person who I always seemed upset with.

Until she was gone.

So, I took a deep breath and said to my grief, “Welcome home. I’ve been expecting you. You’re a little early this year.”

My mother died in a car accident on February 3, 1995.

It will be 25 years since she died on Monday.

Some days, it still literally feels like yesterday.  Or today, even.

Some days, it feels like it’s been 25 years.

Today, it feels heavy, but calm. Sad and present, familiar.

Today, it feels collective, as my local community still grieves a very public, very sudden loss less than a week ago.  And yet, it feels private, this version of grief that I have been carrying for 25 years.

Right now, I am breathing.  I am taking this moment in.  I am sitting.  My grief is sitting alongside me. I am waiting for more words to come or for me to know that it is time to end this post.

Be gentle. Make space for my friend, my grief, my survival. Make space for me.

There are battles we don’t see.  And there are those we see but don’t know.

I’ve learned to make space for it all.

Cultivating Joy, Letting Go of Shame — A Lenten Journey

It’s the mid-semester struggle time.

Somehow I thought that since this semester, I am supervising student teachers rather than teaching a full class, I would not feel the struggle that typically comes up in mid-March.

But, in the midst of too many service commitments, multiple spring semester presentations coming up, a mid-term in my Chinese class, my commitment to spending more time with and energy towards my family, data collection, analysis and attempts at writing, I find myself struggling with the typical exhaustion and overwhelm that comes around week 7 of every semester.

Fortunately, it’s also Lent, a time that I’ve taken over the last couple of years to reflect and focus on regathering myself.  This year, my church is engaging in a study around what we are cultivating and letting go. I’ve decided to use these 40 days to cultivate joy and let go of shame.

Cultivating joy has been surprisingly easy and wonderfully encouraging.  Most joy comes through family and community: seeing those I’m deeply invested in thrive around me, spending time with friends (many of whom are colleagues and students/ former students) who I don’t often get to connect with in person, being present in everyday moments with my family, remembering to live purposefully.

Letting go of shame has not been as easy (as it’s my default emotion when I make a mistake), but I’m grateful for the accountability of posting about the journey as I walk it and the encouragement of my family and friends in this respect as well.  Yes, I am on a continual journey of letting go of overcommitment, but I’m also going to be gentle with the fact that 40 years of overcommitment isn’t undone overnight.  I’m going to rely on my “accountability besties” to help me prioritize. I’m going to do what I can, find joy in the journey and let go of the things I really don’t need to feel badly about.

During the busiest, most overwhelming part of the semester, intentionally finding and cultivating joy while letting go of multiple sources of shame inherent in academic institutions, a mom-shaming culture, and a too-busy life, these shifts in perspective goes a long way.  And, in my own way, they are an act of radical resistance to engage in Lent in a way that does not promote continual self-deprivation, but focuses on a regathering of self to fulfill one’s calling.

I’m going to breathe, cultivate, let go, and keep walking.


I miss running.

I haven’t been able to run in 19 days.

I really shouldn’t have run for a few weeks before that, but I was training for the Surf City Half Marathon, and despite some nagging hip pain, I figured I could just push through it and finish the race, then rest a couple of weeks and get back to it, since I have another race scheduled at the end of March and then again at the beginning of May.

And then I ran injured, and pretty much felt like I was manually lifting my left leg from the hip joint through searing pain with every stride for the last 2 miles.  I still managed to finish just a couple minutes behind my time from last year for the race, but about 8 minutes off my time from Long Beach in October and with the clear realization that I wasn’t going to be running again for awhile.

I was limping badly for at least 10 days after the race.

The last 9 days, with support up stairs and with weight bearing, I’ve been able to walk almost normally.  I feel the difference in my gait and my husband sees it, but most people who don’t know me can’t really tell that there’s still pain occasionally.

But, I can’t run.  I tried jogging down my hallway yesterday, and there was pain.  I even instinctively ran after my husband (as the garage door was closing) when he forgot his coffee on the stairs. Pain. I can’t even really walk quickly and going up and down stairs is still hit and miss.


I hate being sidelined. I hate breaking my routine.  I really only like resting when I sleep or go on vacation. Not running has made me more irritable, exhausted, and scattered.  I’m sad, and I miss it. It is especially hard (ironically) when I have so many other things going on in my life because running is my time to not think, but just be.  It is the time where I am in motion, but not in deep thought.  I am just being.  And I need that space to be.

I’m finally going to see my doctor today. I’m hoping that she’ll refer me to a specialist that can help me get back on the road again sometime soon.  I imagine it’s just more a waiting game.

For now, it is an opportunity to develop my patience game, more patience with myself, more patience with my body, acceptance of what is, even if I don’t like it and can’t do anything about it.  It is an opportunity to really work on being without doing, even without running.


Take Good Care

It’s been a rough weekend.

When I think about it, it’s just been a busy weekend that wasn’t much of a weekend.  I had a work commitment from 9-3 on Saturday then went straight to church then stayed for a Social Justice committee meeting.  All of this was great and would have been fine except that my husband, who rarely gets sick, was ill, and even sick, had to take my son to Tae Kwon Do practice and my daughter to a birthday party.  By the time I got home, he was down for the count, leaving me to do his usual chores (dog walk, dishes) in addition to my chores (folding laundry) and, of course, because I saw my brother’s post about doing his taxes, I realized that I should probably get my own done.

Sunday was a little better, but with my husband still sick, I shuttled my son to Chinese school, took my daughter to Target, took care of all 3 meals and 2 dog walks, made sure to confirm interviews for a research study this week and student teaching appointments, had a long talk with my son about an inappropriate comment at dinner, and finally settled in to finished our taxes, which, not completely unexpectedly, show that we owe the government quite a bit more than last year because of changes to the tax laws. Sigh.

I still cannot run as my hip flexor area continues to bother me up and down stairs and when I walk too fast or put too much weight on it.  I suspect that I have bursitis, but am hoping rest will help me to avoid a cortisone shot to relieve the pain.  In the meantime, I’m still half limping around and not getting the exercise I so badly need.

I haven’t been blogging much either and I’ve been spending a lot of spare moments lurking on social media.

I know all of these are yellow flags — signaling a warning that I’m overcommitted, overwhelmed, and looking for mindless escape.  The yellow flags remind me that, in spite of not having very many breaks in my schedule all week, despite it being Valentine’s Day week, Nate’s 13th birthday week, and Gospel Fest on Saturday, I need to create some space for rest and reflection, again, even if the words aren’t so profound.

So, as I planned my week this week, I have one goal: Take better care of myself.  I need to check in, take the time that I need, eat better, sleep better, breathe. Go slow to go fast.  Access those resources on letting go that my friend reminded me about.  Focus, pray, breathe, eat, rest, let go.

Take good care.

The Incredible Power of Love and Community

There are times in life when thank you seems inadequate.

This is one of those times.

Yesterday, in desperation, I wrote a post about a situation our family, namely one of our older daughters, was facing.  I didn’t know what I could do, and compounded by my own grief and exhaustion, I wrote the post because I needed to move it from my head and my heart out into the world, because it was a burden too heavy to bear alone.

I didn’t even know if anyone would read this post, but it didn’t matter.  What mattered was that it was not our family’s secret and burden to bear alone anymore.  Saying it made it real, allowed me to reflect on it and gave me a space to let others into our world.

But what happened after that was extraordinary.

Literally within minutes, I had several friends respond and reach out to me, offering various gifts: time, space, legal consultation, to set up a GoFundMe site, advice, prayers, and understanding.

I did not expect any of it.

I had thought about crowdfunding, but was hesitant.  I knew my daughter’s need was great, but the sense of my own guilt at not being able to provide everything she needed was really strong. And, neither my daughter nor I ever have been comfortable asking for handouts or asking for even what we need. I felt like I really needed to just figure something else out.

But, when a friend texted me to offer to set up a site for us, and made a compelling argument for allowing others to contribute to what was an acute need in an ongoing journey, I hesitantly agreed. I told her I’d set up the campaign myself so that I could control what parts of our story were told (I’m fiercely protective of my daughter’s privacy despite my own openness to the world). I did so, but resolved to share only once on my page and then just be grateful for even $5 and love.

The crowdfunding and offline donations raised the equivalent to almost 4 months of our support for our daughter which has already allowed her to pay off accumulated debt from this last acute flare-up of her illness (complicated by flu & food poisoning) and provides just a small cushion to keep her in her apartment for a few more months as she tries to figure out how to cope with her ongoing condition. It allows her replace things that had to be thrown away when they were infested with insects.

But, more than all of that, it provides her hope that she is not alone.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than hearing your child, who has done nothing but try her best to do things on her own for her entire life ask you, “Why is all of this happening to me? What do I do?” and having no answer.

But, I have learned that there is nothing more powerful than the love of community–not just through money (although we are SO GRATEFUL for the monetary support) but also through time, encouragement, advice, emotional support, and prayers.

Every single thing means everything to us.

So, even though it is not enough, thank you.  Thank you. Thank you.