Legacies of love

Photograph from the bottom of a canyon looking up with a tall tree in the center

29 years ago, my mother died unexpectedly in a car accident.

A year ago, I was interviewing for a job that would be a significant turning point in my academic career and bring enormous change to my personal life.

Although the moments where I can recollect my mother’s physical touch and even her voice become scarcer and scarcer over time, my proximity to her and her guidance to me is as strong now as it has ever been.

There have been so many benchmarks that I wish my mother could have been physically present for:

  • My high school, undergraduate, and doctoral graduation ceremonies
  • My marriage
  • The birth of each of my children
  • The start of each of my professional careers (middle school & university teaching) and positions along with the moves that accompanied several of them

Yet, as I reflect, I know that my mother has always been with me in these moments, that I have been even more aware of her presence through her absence, that she has been guiding me through the choices I’ve made (including the many mistakes along the way). Through her loss, I feel the depth of her love; I’ve come to understand the strength in her sacrifices; and I’ve arrived at a place where I feel that my healing is a healing that spans generations and brings the best of her into the lives of my children, even though they will never meet in person.

Somehow, although to my knowledge, my mother never set foot in Seattle, I feel closer to her when I am on Coast Salish lands. Perhaps it is because of the deep relationships that local indigenous tribal communities have with both the lands and their ancestors. Or perhaps it is because I somehow feel she guided me to this part of my journey, reconciling with a place that caused a rift between us before she passed. Perhaps it is because I am healing and choosing what to bring through the present transition to this new place.

This week, through work with my therapist, I realized that I’ve been holding on to guilt, particularly in relation to my mom — survivor guilt, mainly, but, in many ways also, guilt for many privileges that feel undeserved and guilt for never being able to give back to her when she gave so much for me to be where I am today.

It is a process in letting that guilt go, in embracing that what she would have wanted was for me to live my best life, and in fact, that this was, in her heart, much of what drove her. I understand this, as I feel these same emotions towards my own children.

For perhaps all of these reasons, unlike many years in the past, today, I feel a certain peace, or, at the least, a movement towards peace. It is a peace punctuated with sadness and loss, but overwhelmingly filled with love and gratitude.

That is my mother’s legacy, not one of loss, but one of deep love that I’ve tried in all ways to pay forward to those in my life.

I will never not acutely miss my mother or wish she were here with me physically. But today, I feel her near me, more than ever, reminding me that I am stronger than I think, than the world might think I am, that I carry wisdom of generations, and that I will weather the seasons and transitions ahead.

She is in my heart, and the legacies of love she (and her mother) have passed down to me are as alive today as they have ever been.


Photograph through trees of a body of water and a mountain

I am in a long period of transition.

It is extremely taxing and exhausting.

I think this is because this transition is transformational, pushing myself beyond who I know myself to be, which in turn forces me to reckon with all that I have been.

In that “all I have been” space are many moments that are hard. It is these moments which seem at the forefront of my mind as I leave old spaces, move into new spaces, and find myself wandering across spaces that are both strangely familiar and unfamiliar.

It is all around disorienting.

I know I am not alone, both in that I’m not the only one going through extended transitions, and that I am grounded in communities through all the spaces.

Yet, sometimes, it feels so very lonely.

A year ago, I was preparing for a job interview that would change the course of my academic trajectory, that would set in motion this transition in which I currently find myself. I was preparing for an interview which was to take place partially on the hardest day of the year for me, the anniversary of my mother’s death.

While I know the ancestral wisdom, the deep values, and the sheer will of my mother, and her mother before her, always guide me and are always with me, as the anniversary of her transition comes again this year, I am acutely aware that I am moving away from her again, at least the physical space where her ashes lie. It feels unsettling even as I know it is what she would have wanted for me.

Transitioning from one space to another has always been closely connected to loss.

What do I take with me from all I have been here? What do I leave behind?

Who will come with me and continue to walk alongside me? To whom will I say goodbye?

This transition is my choice, but many of the questions and feelings remain the same.

Dear ones in my life remind me to give myself the space and grace of this time, but it is hard to remember in a world that rarely slows down, when there are so many things to do.

I worry that even if I give myself grace, others will see it as an excuse, an unearned respite from carrying burdens which have been with me (often hidden carefully) for so long. I worry that something urgent will arise and I will forget. I worry that time will continue to slip by, an elusive record of all that is left undone. I worry that the things I do will still not be enough, that I will not be enough. It is the “all I have been” and all I am becoming merged in the present.

I am tired.

When I am tired, I need to stop. I need to reflect. That is why I created this space.

Yet, in these moments I am mostly likely to run away, even from myself, to the silent judgment within me that makes me feel acutely alone.

I am breathing. I am grateful to come back to myself. And yet, I am also only here in moments, struggling to find my footing while keeping on a path that keeps moving without me.

It is all what is.

It is transition.

A long period of transition.

Family, Grace, and Thanks

Today, my mother would have been 85 years old.

She is eternally 56, but I often think, and always on Thanksgiving, particularly when it falls on her birthday, about how my life would be different if she were still here, how we would celebrate her, how we would celebrate with her.

I feel (more) acutely her loss, and the longing for 28 years of memories that were not to be.

This is the first time in quite awhile that I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with my mother’s side (my side) of my family, as I’m with my cousin (my mother’s sister’s daughter) celebrating this year. We’ve had a beautiful and joyful time of laughter and exploration this week with our two families. I’m so grateful.

For a long time, because I was hurting and because I was also the youngest in my family of origin, it had never been my task to keep connected with the family. I didn’t know how to reach out or who to reach out to. I missed out on connecting with my mom’s side of my family, which was, in effect, the only side of my family I had ever known.

These were hard times where I felt incredibly alone. There were periods when I didn’t feel like I had any family that truly knew and loved me. They were there, I just couldn’t feel it.

These feelings have taught me incredible empathy, and an understanding when things happen in my own life and people I love need to distance themselves from me, or when I need to distance myself from them. Sometimes this is just something that happens. It is hard, but sometimes it is what it is. I have learned to trust that when the time is right, if the relationship is meant to be (repaired), it will be.

It has been, in some ways, a very hard week, at the end of a very hard month. And it has also been an incredibly joyful week as I reprioritize parts of my life, and I work hard…at rest.

I am grateful for the generosity of grace and space, of people who are able to make space for me and give me grace in my imperfections and in the spaces we may never agree, for the people who hold on to love for me anyways. I am grateful for the ability to be fully human and to write from a place of that humanity. I am grateful to make memories with my family in the midst of times of grief and loss on so many levels in so many places. I am grateful that we can hold hard things alongside beautiful things.

I know that many people, many who are grieved on many levels, struggle with this holiday season, particularly with a holiday that has a tainted historical origin and that is so connected with family. I am holding space for all those suffering, near and far, today.

It is both this particular day (and holiday) and every day that I am also so incredibly grateful, for the life I am blessed to have, the fullness and light, and the loneliness and darkness.

I am coming into myself and the presence of all the things. I am grateful in the midst of it, even when things are hard, and especially when they are beautiful.

Thank you for being here with me.


Me holding a sign that says "Go _____. Our number one runner" to cheer for my daughter's race Photograph of two grave markers with 4 bouquets of flowers in front of them

May is a beautiful month for me.

May is also a hard month for me.

This year, as it has been for the last eight years, my daughter’s birthday and Mothers Day are within the same week, with the end of the academic year the following week. I am tired. I often wonder if there will be another Mothers Day that does not feel exhausting, as my heart and mind are divided between wanting to celebrate my daughter and the extraordinary gift of her life, deeply missing my mother, particularly as I get closer and closer to the age she was when she died, and the bustle of the end of an academic year.

May is a time of internal and external conflict. Outsourcing birthday parties, while easier, is pricey, and seems to add on to my perpetual discourse of inadequate mothering, even in this busy professional time, full of events and celebrations, for students, staff, and faculty in my college. This year, as department chair, it is particularly busy, as there is more to support and coordinate with less of the heart work and interaction with students that brings so much light to my academic work. This year, I’m also in the midst of final preparations for a grant-funded conference that is the work of my heart, and while I am confident everything will work out, it is a stressful time in terms of coordination according to the timeline that works best for my head and heart. And our college graduation coincides with two awards ceremonies for my son (school-sponsored and countywide) which I will have to miss as a member of the platform party.

In a few hours, my daughter will celebrate her birthday with my husband’s family, our family, and my sister. It will be a beautiful time, and a hard one. It makes me remember how different our lives are. It makes me remember whole families and how mine still perpetually feels broken, even as I try to repair it in this generation. I am so very tired. And I am holding a lot of sadness. I am also holding so much joy in her having this time with her aunties and uncles and cousins and abuelos, swimming and playing, in her full joy.

In these last several years, I have been working on making space where there is none, and holding space for all of the complexities of life, particularly as someone who loves deeply and whole-heartedly.  I have been working on giving myself the grace I so freely give to others. I have been working on being with what is, while working towards what is better.

It is beautiful work, and it is hard.

I hope that if you’re reading this, you will also hold space for me today, for others who are balancing grief, joy, and the myriad other emotions that may come during this time of year. I also hope you’re holding space for yourself. I hope that you will feel the warm embrace of love surrounding you, that you will have moments where you’re able to laugh freely and cry loudly, as you want and need to. I hope you will hold on to better when the moment feels not good enough, and that you will find, make, and take space for yourself in the midst of all you are doing and all that you are for others.

I am, you are, we are beautiful, in this midst of these hard times.


My little girl in a red qipao that belonged to my mother

Today, it has been hard to stay present.

We had planned to get together with my in-laws to make dumplings for the new year.

Then I woke up this morning to the news of the Monterey Park shootings and it felt like the world froze.

I protect myself from grief. I am good at surviving.

Today, I decided it would be the day for my little one to try on my mother’s qipao, one that I’ve had for years, that I wore at 19 (and through my 20s). It fit her perfectly. (It’s longer on her than it was on us, but otherwise perfect.) My whole heart. How I wish my mother was here to see her granddaughter in her dress, or how I wish she had seen me in it, for that matter.

I protect myself from grief. I am good at surviving.

We went to make dumplings, to my sister-in-law’s house. As I began chopping the scallions and ginger and garlic, to mix them with the ground meat, soy sauce and rice vinegar, the familiar smell of home, of new year, of myself, flooded my senses. I wrapped the dumplings with my kids and my sister-in-law. I made dipping sauce as my husband cooked the first pan. We savored the dumplings, then devoured them, until there were none left, until we were full. It was joyful.

That joy was resistance.

But it was also not all there was to the day.

I protect myself from grief. I am good at surviving.

On our way home, the wave came for me, sweeping me in its undertow, as I found out more about the shooter, more about people close to me who had people close to them with ties to the dance studio, as I began to breathe, as I attended the pain in my back that I woke up with this morning. The wave came as I sat with the dehumanization I’ve witnessed on social media today, since coming back from my hiatus, the lack of respect for grief, the inability to sit with what is, in our quest to have answers about why.

Of course the why matters, but our humanity matters more. Families are shattered, lives were lost; we are left again feeling unsafe. It is time to draw from our shared humanity to come together, to hold space for grief, to push past the numbing needed to survive, to allow for the heartbreak that is the first step towards healing.

I am present now. And I am so incredibly sad. I don’t want to simply survive and raise my children in a world where the best they can hope for is survival.

I know that my path is to continue to push for transformation, for a world that is better, where there is hope and where the humanity in us connects with the humanity in “them,” where we recognize that us and them are constructs that we can move beyond, if we truly want to move past the fear that constrains us.

But tonight, I am just so, so sad.

I am letting myself be just as I am, because not pushing down that grief, making space for it to be, is the first step towards a world where we are free to be.

And that is everything.

Today and every day.

Monterey Park

Growing up, as a Taiwanese American in a predominantly white Northern LA County suburb in the 1980s & 90s, outside of my family, Monterey Park WAS my connection to Asian American identity and the Asian diaspora in America.

My single mother was not a fan of freeway driving so we only went to Monterey Park a few times a year, but these times were important, formative memories in my childhood.

Monterey Park was where we would get Asian groceries (at Hong Kong Supermarket). It was where my maternal grandmother could see a doctor who understood her language and could explain her treatment to her. It was where we would come to visit my paternal grandmother, many years after my father himself was out of regular contact. It was where I felt my mother found a piece of herself, a piece of her homeland, a glimpse into the life she had before she chose a new life here in the US.

Monterey Park always represented a part of myself that I felt adjacent to. It was perhaps the one place where my mother felt more at home in this country than I did. I felt out of place, like I should have fit in, but I just wanted to get out. Like so much about my Asian American identity growing up, it was something I didn’t know how to embrace because I didn’t know how to embrace myself.

When we moved back to Southern California ten years ago, Monterey Park still became a (similar and different) sort of hub for us. I was coming towards my Asian American identity, after years of running away from it, but I still was unsure about what my place was in the Asian American community in Southern California. There was a lot to still sort through.

Monterey Park was where I would visit my aunt and later my uncle in the hospital before they passed, where we would come for dim sum and eat together. During the pandemic, we went on regular “foodie adventures” to get out of the house and pick up take-out in the greater Los Angeles area. Several times these adventures took us to Tokyo Fried Chicken, and as we drove through the streets of Monterey Park, down Atlantic and Garvey, I would remember driving through these streets when I was a child. I pointed out places that were still there, and those that had disappeared, a bit of my history for my children. I realized that coming back to this community, that I was never REALLY a part of, but that had been a part of me, was healing. It showed growth and hope and a path towards the embrace of all of who I am, all of who we are.

This morning, I woke up ready to celebrate the (Lunar) New Year, the Year of the Rabbit, a year of peace and prosperity. I had prepared red envelopes for my children and my sister. We have plans to make dumplings with my husband’s family. This is a year where I feel growth on the horizon.

I woke up.

Then, I saw a text from a concerned friend.

I checked Twitter.

I saw Monterey Park trending.

I knew before I knew in the way one always knows.

The details change, but the collective grief is the same, familiar feeling, in waves.

I always wonder how close this time, how many degrees of separation, how unsafe I will feel today, tomorrow, next week, next month, in this body, in this country, in this society.

I never have answers in the moment, and they have become less important as I remind myself to just be because all of these answers will be what they are, and I can only be with them if I allow myself the space to fully grieve.

To hold space for those lost, who were just out to celebrate the new year, to dance, to be in community, on one of the most important days of the year.

To hold space for the families of those lost, who will never be able to celebrate new year in the same way. Who will never be able to hold those they lost.

It is so much.

It is too much.

I know that joy is a form of resistance. I know that only in community can we find healing.

But this morning, there is only stillness, reverence, sadness, heaviness, anger, exhaustion, borne of love and proximity, and too much senseless loss and targeted violence.

Minutes, Hours, Days, Months, Years: A Lifetime

Black and white photo of a flag lowered to half mast with a church tower in the background and the words Love Wins in script on the left side

Ten years ago today 26 people, children and educators, died at Sandy Hook school.

My nephew was a second grader at Sandy Hook that day. He survived, but his life was forever changed.

Today, my nephew is a senior. My son, only 3 months younger than my nephew, is a junior. He would have been in first grade that day. If we had lived in Sandy Hook instead of my brother, we would almost certainly not be sending him to school to take a math test and struggle through an English class today. My daughter is in second grade, just as my nephew was 10 years ago. I walked her to school this morning and hugged her extra tight as I watched her walk through the school gates.

I remember every December 14th.

And we are a family of survivors.

Grief and trauma touch so many of us in so many ways that are often unseen and unknown.

We were “lucky” on December 14th.

But “unlucky” on February 3, 1995, when my mother was killed in an accident crossing the street from our house.

I survived, but my life was forever changed.

Today, I am not as prolific as I have been on December 14th in the past. I am tired.

In a few minutes, I will have a call with a faculty member who has a student who lost two close family members within weeks of one another this semester. And I will somehow need to bridge a communication gap which was created by a gulf of grief. The faculty member has done everything “right” with documentation and with intended care, but the student has been struggling with grief, in ways that as a fellow griever, I feel deeply. The facts are the same, but the lived experiences, lenses, and impact differ. How do I make space for it all when my heart hurts so much, when I am so very tired?

I don’t know.

But, this morning, I received word that my latest piece, “Making Space for Ourselves, Making Space for Each Other: Humanizing Practices in the ELA Classroom & Teacher Education” was published. My writer self reminds me that part of trauma-informed teacher education is always making space for ourselves and one another, is remembering our own humanity, on days like these.

That is the best I can do.

Walking Towards the Light in a Time of Darkness

Photo of a candle from House of Intuition called Winter Solstice

I had dinner with my friend Cait last Wednesday night, on the eve of NCTE and we were near a store called House of Intuition where they sell crystals and candles. I was drawn to this one: Winter Solstice. It is not yet winter. I am not generally drawn to things of this color or candles in general, but I kept coming back to this candle.

The salesperson in the store said that the crystal in the candle was calling me to it. They remarked that my clothes matched the candle, which I hadn’t noticed. I turned the candle around and it had this empowering mantra, “I am steadfast in tending to my needs.”

I was similarly drawn to a small piece of Black Onyx.

The card next to the black onyx said, “Black Onyx is a stone of strength and guidance. In times of stress and loss, it allows us to maintain our grounding and not feel overwhelmed. The protective aspects of this stone take negative energy around us and transmute it into something more positive. With this stone, negativity becomes positivity, aggression becomes strength and apathy becomes perseverance.”

I typically am not one who believe in the power of crystals and candles.

And yet, I believe God (and the Universe) brings you what you need in the moment you need it, if you trust.

Oh dear friends, how I am struggling to tend to my needs. Even in the light of the obvious nature of them, I am hiding in the shadows, running from the peace and calm that God (and the Universe) wants me to have.

It has been a day after a weekend after a week after a month after a semester after a year after a lifetime of running away from the very things I am seeking.





I know all of this is here for me in abundance.

But I must slow down.

I have to allow myself to have needs, to feel loss, to be present, if I am to transform my frantic pace into intentional pause.

“The Universe is providing resources and time, you do not need to rush in taking care of your needs in the dark of this Winter before the Spring brings a new dawn of possibility.”

Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 84 years old. It is the year of the Tiger. My mother was, ironically, a “Tiger Mother” although not in the sense that has been popularized. She was fiercely protective, strong and brave. She was brilliant, loving and kind. My mother was imperfect, but she was a model of humanity, of someone who always tried her best and supported others. She was a light. She continues to be a light to me.

I am often frantic in this time. I cannot focus. I feel lost as the light becomes less in the year and as the distance between my life with my mother and my life as a mother continues to grow. I become focused on controlling all the things. I don’t want anything to go wrong. Yet, I am acutely aware that the smallest and biggest of things can go wrong at any moment.

Maybe if I work harder, I can prevent tragedy this time. I have to believe I can do something to make things better.

This is the time when I am anything but “steadfast in tending to my needs.”

To tend to my needs, I must recognize them. To hold myself to them, I need accountability.

I need to rest.

I need to breathe.

I need to prioritize and set boundaries on work, which will, if I let it, consume me.

I need to trust.

I need to hydrate.

I need to write.

I need to reflect.

I need to hold space for myself, my grief, and my joy.

I need to listen to the ways I treat my family and make sure they are aligned to my love for them.

I need to listen to my body.

I need to feed myself even when I don’t want to eat.

I can be steadfast in attending my needs, if I let my community support me, if I listen to those who love me.

I must keep walking towards the light in this time of darkness even as my survival has been hidden in the shadows of solitude and fear.

“As industrious Autumn falls away, allow time to renew your energy. As the Sun enters Capricorn, allow its light to give you the patience to arrange and rebalance your home and sacred spaces. The Universe is providing resources and time…”

Fathers Day

Photograph of an Chinese man holding a small Taiwanese American little girl who is his daughter, in front of a church. She is a baby with a pacifier and a white dress with a red checkered kangaroo on it. He is wearing a suit.

Tomorrow is the first Fathers Day since my father passed away suddenly last October when I was away in France, between my sister’s birthday and mine, with his last communication wishing me a happy birthday just a couple days before he passed.

It is the first Fathers Day where he is not alive, but it is one of many where he is not present.

The picture with my father at the top of this post is one of a few that I have. My mother and father divorced when I was a toddler, and I have no recollection of ever living with my father. He was in Asia most of my life, and came to visit once a year (or so) between the divorce and when I turned 6 or 7.

I don’t have many memories of my father in my childhood, only that once I waited for him because he said he would come. I watched out our large bay windows, as it rained hard outside.  I waited and waited, but he didn’t come.

When he did come next, my mother told him that he had no right to keep me waiting like that; they fought. The other fight I remember my mom having with him was about taking me anywhere alone. She was afraid he might try to run away with me, steal me to spite her. Maybe it was the same fight. I don’t remember.

But I do remember that I didn’t see my father between 7-16.

I deeply wanted a father who was present. I felt an inconsolable silent melancholy when father-daughter dances happened or during every Fathers Day in my childhood. I didn’t let on that not having a father bothered me. I didn’t want to hurt my mother. I celebrated my mother on Fathers Day because I didn’t know what it was to have a father to celebrate. But what I did know is that it was lonely.

My father returned to the states when my mom died, to attend her funeral. He was at my high school graduation. He came once when I was in college and I had dinner with him and my cousin in San Francisco. He came to my wedding and I invited him to join my brother in walking me down the aisle of my wedding which he did. I saw him when his mother, my grandmother died, and he came to the states. It was my son’s first birthday, now over 15 years ago. I didn’t know it then, but this would be the last time we would see one another in person.

It is strange to me that I can almost count the number of times I saw my father, in person, in my life.

I would exchange messages with my father via e-mail occasionally. I would ask about his new family in Myanmar, who I only heard about through my brother until randomly, when my sister was 12 or 13, he asked me to send books in English to her for her studies.

When the deadly government coup happened last year, I wrote him to check up on my sister and his family. He wrote back, “I’m surprised you remember that you have a family.” Channeling my mother’s rage and my own that I, his child, had ALWAYS been the one to reach out to him and had no obligation to him or his family, but cared because I loved the sister I had never met. It shocked me because he had generally been kind to me prior to this interaction, which was my effort at checking in with and seeking to help my family. I wrote a strongly worded e-mail back and started communicating just with my sister. This was my first time experiencing his callous accusations, and I made it clear to him that it would also be my last.

My father calmed down and apologized. I forgave him.

He was nothing if not consistent in his life, speaking before he thought, in ways that were hurtful to those who most loved him.

And I am nothing, if not forgiving.

In the brief period between when my sister arrived in the US, just over a year ago, and his death 8 and a half months ago, I probably talked to and saw my dad (on video calls) on a more regular basis than I ever had. My sister was used to having him around (by phone & video call at least), so we talked almost regularly. These three months helped me see my dad as a (very fallible) human being.

My relationship with my father wavered between non-existent, inconsistent, approval seeking (I somehow felt if I could be perfect enough, I could get him to notice me), and finally accepting.

My father was who he was.

And who he was is often the antithesis of all I strive to be.

But also, he is a large part of me.

And he is the father of my brother and my sister. They are gifts to me, in all of their humanity.

I loved my father, in spite of all the things, the complexities, his humanity and imperfections.

He has taught me, in his absence, so much about humanity, pride, and a deep desire to fix what is broken.

He has taught me the consequences of being unkind to those who love you, but also that even for those who are unkind, there are still those who are loyal to them, that no one is really unlovable.

He has taught me that people are infinitely complex, that they can be deeply revered by some and despised by others.

He has taught me that there can be so much good in a legacy that comes from a deeply flawed individual.

He has taught me that we can’t deny who we are, any of it, that humanity is about embracing all of who we are, if we want to be in true community.

I feel a deep sadness that there is no longer hope for further mutual repair of any type of relationship with my dad. Among my siblings, I am the one who never grew up living with my dad and spent the least amount with him. For me, there is not anger or resentment, nor is there loss in the traditional sense. There is only emptiness.

That emptiness carries forward in my life to this day. I don’t know how to celebrate Fathers Day because I don’t understand it. I am terrible at celebrating the father of my children (my husband) and his father (my father-in-law), my brother (who is a father and was always a father-figure to me growing up), or the people closest to me who are fathers. Most of these people are AMAZING fathers. I love them and honor their parenting. They have helped me reconstruct an understanding of fatherhood and co-parenting.

But Fathers Day itself still creates a lot of cognitive dissonance for me.

Like Mothers Day, Fathers Day is complicated for many people (including me). I get it and, for myself, I am working on giving myself grace as I try to figure out how to make space for all of it. I wish there was some better resolution, but for now, there is only a void, a longing, a profound and enduring sadness as I long for something I have never known, and as a daughter, now, will definitively never know.

Waking Up

Photo of a young Asian American girl (the author) and her mother in metal frame that is an angel with sunflowers all around the photo

Early this morning, I dreamt of my mother.

This doesn’t happen often, and this was a strange dream. My mother was the age she was when she died. She resembled a picture we had blown up for her funeral. She was smiling. She was teaching in a school with mostly Black and Latinx students that had clearly been recently painted, not so different from the school I taught at during my whole middle school career. I saw her there, and then when I came back to see her, she was gone. There was a young man in her place that resembled a friend from the Bay Area, where I used to live. I opened the door and asked where she had gone.

A round-faced boy replied, “That lady? She got really sick and left.”

I had many questions in the dream. Why would he call her that lady? (It was said matter-of-factly, without contempt, just as a point of information) Wasn’t she the teacher? I asked about the teacher and he knew who I was talking about. He didn’t correct me, but didn’t say her name. Why didn’t she call me when she got sick? Where did she go? Where was she now? Did she get COVID for the second time? (I remember thinking this in the dream) Should I call the doctor?

Then I woke up.

None of this makes a lot of sense. My mother never taught in the US (only for a few years in Taiwan). She would be in her 80s if she had not died in a car accident over 25 years ago. Yes, she disappeared, in a sense. Car accidents take people away suddenly. Yes, I wondered how she could be there and then not there. She was so real and then she was gone. But aside from that, it didn’t make a lot of sense.

It was a disorienting start to the day, a day that promised to be long.

It was my first big day of being president of the California Council on Teacher Education, a big day because I was hosting and facilitating a hybrid leadership retreat on my campus. A day focused on humanizing leadership because that is who I am.

Today, I planned in our core morning activity (one that asked us who or what we bring into our work that is beyond the professional) to talk about my children. They are safe to talk about. They are my compass points and guiding lights in much of my educational work. But as my mother came to me this morning, I changed my mind and talked about carrying her, carrying the grief of premature loss, remembering the way my world shattered when she left it so suddenly, and how, as a teenager, I rebuilt. Little by little, moment by moment, day by day.

That has been the way I get through many days. I am sad most days, but I smile because I hold sadness alongside gratitude. I am grateful nearly every day, for the community of people that hold me up, for my mother and grandmother’s legacy, for my children who are gifts, not only to me, but to the world. And the gratitude buoys me because the weight of the sadness is a lot. These are not always safe things to talk about in one’s first big day in a leadership role. But who would I be without my mother? And so, of course, she is who I bring.

It is the end of the day. It has been a beautiful day, full of humanity and community, building together, and the reminder in multiple ways, that we carry wisdom from the work done in the past and those who came before me. My mother is speaking to me through those in my community. Do not be foolish, and start again from nothing, when we stand on the shoulders of giants, when there are legacies of wisdom. Respect your elders in a completely different sense that honors their contributions and keeps them alive.

I am sad ending today, and I am grateful.

I carry the sadness and the gratitude carries me.

I am both/and.

It is not easy.

Little by little, moment by moment, day by day, I am building from the legacies of those that came before me.

Little by little, moment by moment, day by day, I am rebuilding upon a strong foundation of my foremothers’ dreams and all they poured into me.

Little by little, moment by moment, day by day, I am carrying and being carried by my full humanity. I am learning to embrace it, to be with it, to sit quietly at the end of the day with a warm cup of tea and write about it.

I am learning to breathe and be, in the brokenness and the wholeness of my humanity.