Space

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.

How is Your Heart?

Photograph of a mural with bright orange and blue flowers that reads Everyone is Different, Everyone Belongs

Over the last month, our college’s Black Lives Matter at School book club has been reading the wonderful Gholdy Muhammad’s book Unearthing Joy. There are many, many things I love about this book and the way that it centers Black joy, culturally and historically responsive teaching and learning, and attending to children’s spirits as much as their minds. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

One of the questions Dr. Muhammad asks us to reflect on in the book is, “How is your heart?” From the moment I read this question, I had to pause and sit with this. I felt this question deep within me. Generally, people will ask, “How are you?” or “How are you doing?” or even “What have you been up to lately?” These questions (for me) are easy to answer on reflex, rather than with reflection and connection to our hearts and our breath. I typically answer these questions with, “Fine” or “Okay” or “It’s been pretty busy lately, but I’m sure it will get better eventually.” But am I fine or even okay? Will it get better eventually?

I don’t actually think, for myself, that “it will get better eventually,” without a lot of intentional attention, care, and unlearning. How am I doing? If I think about it, I actually don’t know, because I don’t know how I am doing half of the things I take on, things that require more energy and effort and time than I really have, if I am doing the work of attending to my heart.

So I return to Dr. Muhammad’s question, “How is your heart?”

I pause.

I inhale deeply and exhale slowly.

My heart is tired. My heart has been tired for a long time, tired from carrying around years of grief, and from running (metaphorically and actually) from one thing to the next. My heart has been tired from sustaining a body and mind that always keep going. My heart has been tired because it is attached to a mind that is unforgiving of itself when I have human moments, when I let someone down, when I am less than my best self, when unlearning is slow.

But today, my heart is also full. It is sustained by community, joy, laughter, good food, fellowship, music, my family, my children, my passion. It is uplifted by educators committed to children’s well-being and belonging, committed to justice and the work of learning and unlearning. It is uplifted by beauty in nature. Today, my heart is bolstered by fugitive spaces of resistance that have existed and exist still, around me, with those I love.

Today, I had the privilege of attending the second annual Teaching for Justice conference at the University of California, Irvine. The conference this year was focused on AAPI belonging and well-being. The first workshop I attended was led by Dr. Stacey Lee Gobir who is the Assistant Director of Pepperdine RISE (Resilience-Informed Skills Education). In her workshop on resilience, she reminded me of these things that I wrote in my notes:

  • You deserve to take your time.
  • Be gentle with yourself.
  • Resilience can also be honoring our capacity to say no.

It is a journey that I am on. There is always more to do. But I have to return to my heart. I have to return to who I want to be. I deserve to take my time on this journey, to be gentle with myself.

If I continue to get caught up in all there is to do, I will not be who I want to be. I know this. And when I let myself, I feel this. Resilience can be honoring my capacity to say no.

How is my heart? It is strong. It is beating. It is expanding its capacity for love, rest, and joy.

How is your heart?

Holding Space for Ourselves, Holding Space for One Another

Picture of buildings on the Chicago river at night

It’s been quite an AERA 2023. AERA ends my spring semester travel season and is the last of 5 conferences in 7 weeks. It has been a lot in this season, almost certainly too much.

So now, before I head back home, I am taking a moment to pause and reflect.

What is here for me, above all, is gratitude and a deep presence to my own humanity.

This particular conference comes at the end of a non-stop 10 days of trying to manage my life, administrative duties (at work), two conferences, hosting international colleagues, travel, and for half of it, time with my family. I have told multiple people that I have felt deeply as if this has been a season of running into a brick wall, bouncing off of it, blinking in disbelief, and then running full force back into it.

This is not sustainable.

There was a period in my life during which I would have looked at the lack of sustainability, acknowledged it briefly, and then excused it as just what had to be done.

But it is not that time.

I am learning about listening, taking in, and taking action. At least 5 people I love and/or work closely with have told me in the last few days that I look exhausted, that my energy is off, that I need to rest.

I am breathing and acknowledging that they can see me before I can see myself.

This has been a time of recognition. I have been seen and uplifted in many ways that I have not expected. I have been taking in how deeply and genuinely I am loved.

And in all of that, there are those who do not know me, do not love me, who, though we may share many identities & commitments, do not walk alongside me or celebrate my victories.

There was a period in my life where I would have tried harder to make myself into something different, to shape shift into something I perceived as better so that I could be seen by those who do not care to know me.

But it is not that time.

I am seen by so many and loved so well. It is my time to breathe deeply into my being and to hold space for others. It is my time to acknowledge that in my humanity, I will not be everyone’s cup of tea. I will make mistakes. There may be moments where I cannot show up, where I need rest, where I let someone down or do something that requires accountability. There will be opportunities that I can pass on to others. There will be times where I do not measure up to some external standard that I may not have agreed to.

All of this.

This conference, I have asked myself, “For whom will it make the most difference for me to show up? Where and with whom can I be the most present? How can my time honor myself and my commitments? How can I be honest about where I’m at with all of the things?”

I did my best. I attended & served as discussant at sessions of people that I love deeply and wanted to show up to contribute to, panels of early career scholars & graduate students (including a former student that I taught in middle school who is now in a doctoral program), sessions of friends who continually challenge me to dig deeper and be better. I had tea and brunch and dinner with others that I love and value, some of whom I have never met in real life. I met people on bridges and in bathrooms and hallways. I gave hugs as I waited for sessions & attended receptions. I met new people who knew me even if I didn’t really know them.

I didn’t do it all. I didn’t see all the people I love. I surely didn’t get enough time with some people I love deeply. But, I am proud to be going home having honored who I am in the choices I made and having been present in the spaces I was in. I am grateful for a bit of time at home with a family who loves me and lets me fly (literally & figuratively) in ways that are sometimes hard on their hearts.

I am breathing, writing in an airport lobby that hasn’t yet filled up because my dear sister-friend wanted to make sure I planned enough time to get here  so I could get home. In doing so, I am grateful because things work out the way they are supposed to.

I will continue to breathe and be and not be everyone’s cup of tea, and honestly it will be okay, as long as I get to walk alongside my people and build in community and love.

Reconnecting with Humanity

Sunrise over the St. John's River in Jacksonville, Florida

I had initially sent out to write a blog about all that I’ve been learning on this trip to Jacksonville, Florida for the Association of Teacher Educators annual meeting, and particularly what I’ve learned being a part of this year’s W. Robert Houston ATE Leadership Academy. It’s been a moving experience that has challenged me to find ways to walk alongside our friends and colleagues in spaces that are facing greater situational challenges than I face. It has renewed my commitment to centering those who are most marginalized. It has given me so much.

But when I started to write that blog, this blog, that wasn’t there. In fact, that whole last paragraph and this one, are only coming after I wrote what comes next in the post. I may write that other blog, or maybe I won’t, in that form, but it’s okay. There can be no room for committed action, if there is not room for the reflection that allows for us to step into ourselves. If we are not present and authentic, we are just going through the motions. I do not want to lead at a frenetic pace from an absent space. So here’s the blog I needed to write today:

I have been extremely overwhelmed lately.

This is not a particularly new feeling.

In the cycles that make up the year and make up my life, I have become accustomed to periods of overwhelm, from both exciting and hard things. In the past, I would power through these periods, snapping irritably at those I loved who might try to slow down my frantic whirlwind in an attempt to connect with me and in hopes that I might honor any form of self-preservation. These attempts often failed and I would inevitably collapse in exhaustion or illness. During these periods, there was no time for pausing, breathing, or stopping. There was no time for my own humanity.

There is a distinct feeling in these times of acute anxiety, the sense that although I am doing so many things, it is never enough. Every small request or critique feels like a huge obligation, and things that I normally want to do become burdensome things that I have to do. Everything within me wants to withdraw from everyone, particularly the people I love the most.

I don’t do this, but in some ways, I do. I offer a small shell of myself because it is what I have accessible. Then I feel badly because I am not fully present, my attention pulled in a million directions.

I have been working on this a long time. I am learning to pause and recenter. I am realizing that the old habits of withdrawing are a desperate cry by my own brain to have some space, some pause, to free itself from the obligations it puts upon itself, but also from the many demands it feels by commitments made to others. Perhaps it is my brain’s way of drawing boundaries.

I am not perfect at this unlearning, but yesterday, I found moments to pause:

  • Walking at sunrise across the St. John’s River, breathing and taking in the birds chirping and the water flowing
  • Writing a Narrative Ethnosketch/ Emulation poem (see below) under the guidance of Drs. Rudy F. Jamison, Jr. and Chris Janson.
  • On the bus between destinations in Jacksonville.
  • In my room, reading The Art of Stopping and trying to actually practice stillpoints as a form of pausing.

Although I still feel chaotic in this busy time, I am reminding myself that part of entering this next period of my life is about coming back to myself, honoring who I am, and remembering what I bring to people, places, and communities. I have seen time and time again that when I can reconnect with myself, I am also best for others.

I wrote this Narrative Ethnosketch in a workshop yesterday as part of the W. Robert Houston ATE Leadership Academy. We were given the prompts: I come from a place where … –> I went to a place where … –> I am still going to a place where … :

I come from a place where…

my mother left all of the life she knew for a chance to bring better to her children, yet unknown

a place where she was told that the best way for us to succeed was to speak “perfect English”

a place where my success meant turning away from her (our) histories, her (our) heritage, her (our) language

I come from a place where who I was never felt good enough,

where I always felt between two worlds, never belonging to either

where I was not seen as a leader

where my voice and its power surprised others

I come from a place where I knew I was not what everyone hoped I would be

where I was surrounded by others but always felt invisible and alone

I went to a place where…

I had to lose almost everything I cherished to find myself.

where I had to prove myself at all times

where I began to build (in/with) community to survive, and eventually to thrive

I went to a place where chosen and created family filled the void of lost love

where I began to educate myself rather than believing all that I had been told

where I began to reclaim my own power and become comfortable with my own voice

I went to a place where I began a journey to reclaim my (our) histories, my (our) heritage, my (our) languages

I went to a place where I could see and honor my mother’s choices for me, rooted in her humanity and love, even as I make different choices for my own children that are similarly rooted in my own and our shared humanity and love.

I am still going to a place where…

my heart is an asset instead of a liability

where I can fully embrace and hold space for my own humanity

where I continue to grow in community even when it is challenging,

especially when it is challenging

I am still going to a place where love flourishes in collective movement that does not always mean agreement but that calls me in with love, courage, and grace, knowing I can receive and grow.

I am still going to a place where I recognize and honor who and whose I am in the ways I walk & work in the world.

I am still going to a place where there is space for sustainability, rest, and thriving in all of this.

What Is Often Unseen

This week on Twitter, there’s been an ongoing debate about mental health days and what qualifies one to take a mental health day, considering the burden that it may place on one’s colleagues.

First, let me begin by saying that it is not up to individuals, nor should it ever be, to be responsible for systems that are not able to incentivize or support enough substitute teachers to be present when teachers take time off. As an educational leader in a higher education setting, I recently had an instructor approach me and ask what would happen if she needed to leave a course mid-semester. I honestly didn’t know, but I told her, if that was the case we’d figure it out. She ended up staying as we talked through possible shift that could make the course workable for her to continue, but had she left, it would have been my responsibility to figure another arrangement to make sure that students got the instruction they needed. That’s my job as a leader, to support the instructors in my department and to make sure students are getting what they need, which is sometimes less than ideal, but we do the best we can in the circumstances that we have.

Beyond this, however, the conversation on mental health days was extremely triggering to me and it took me a few days to realize why. At first I thought it was because I am a fierce defender of teachers, particularly teachers with whom I’m personally connected and those who have shared their stories in my research, who are going through so much suffering right now.

And that’s true, that does upset me, but there is a very personal layer to this story as well.

I have always been a performer and someone who compartmentalizes. After my son was born, I went back to the classroom less than 4 weeks after his birth (when my sick time had been exhausted) because I was deeply concerned that the subs that my students had were not supporting their learning. I planned all the lessons while I was out, continued to grade work, and refused to consider temporary disability to stay home with him until he could get his two and four month vaccines before he went into daycare.

The week after he entered an infant daycare, he got extremely sick, and because I was poorly insured at the time, my entire income for the rest of the academic year went to paying his ER visit (on top of what it had cost of labor and delivery). At the time, I was also supporting my two older (adopted) daughters with the transition that came following my son’s birth. I was exhausted and began losing significant amounts of weight.

I put everyone ahead of myself, particularly my students & colleagues and my children. I normalized and justified this, but over time these choices had devastating consequences.

Two years later, after my oldest daughter had a serious mental health crisis, and I was trying to deal with a continually tenuous financial situation which led me to work my full time job and 4 additional part time gigs, the academic job market (and finishing a dissertation), a toddler, and a second teenager, I hit a wall.

I entered the hospital at an incredibly low weight and was admitted to an inpatient eating disorder treatment program, which after 10 days was stepped down to intensive outpatient treatment.

During this whole time, I was trying to keep teaching a university class (which the instructor of record pulled from me because I was hospitalized for the first section) and get back to my classroom as soon as I could despite a medical leave note that had me out for 10 weeks. I still tried to send lesson plans and keep up with my students. At the time, I let some follow me on Facebook, and I sent a notice to please try to be good for the subs and that I’d be back as soon as I could.

A parent saw my Facebook post and called the principal saying that if I was well enough to be on social media then surely, I wasn’t that sick and should have been at school teaching their child. The administration notified me that maybe I shouldn’t post anything while I was out.

I understand the parent’s concern. I know the kiddos in my class that year didn’t get my best, but I was completely devastated that a post made on social media, which was my only real connection to the world outside and my world (my students), had been taken to mean that I was fine, perfectly healthy, and faking my sickness to avoid teaching these children that I loved deeply. I was also so sad that I was being asked to take myself away from what had been a lifeline for me, during a time of extreme isolation.

At the time, I was incredibly mentally and physically vulnerable. The parent’s comment broke my heart and nearly broke my spirit. It could not have been further from the truth in characterizing how invested I was in my profession and my classroom. It has been nearly 15 years since that incident, but I still remember it. I was so sick, but to the outside world, or at least to this parent, it seemed like I was sitting on social media, chilling out, and collecting a paycheck while those around me tried to cover the slack I had left behind.

We don’t always know people’s stories. We don’t have a right to them.

But we can hold space for the humanity of teachers who are trying their best to stay in this profession and maintain their love for teaching, students, and education generally. We can come from a place that assumes that most people are trying the very best that they can with what resources they have in the moment that they make choices. Sure, there will always be counterexamples, but I believe that they are exceptions rather than the rule.

I hope we’ll move away from shame culture and assumptions based on single social media posts and towards building sustainable educational systems that affirm the humanity of everyone who is within them. But it’s much harder to build when we feel broken, when trust is broken, and when you are building on a foundation that is cracked, or when we continue to hold on to being right about a person or people instead of trying to see their humanity.

Let’s hold on to each other, take care of one another and give one another the space and trust to know that we’re really always just trying to do the best we can.

We are very much imperfect, but we are trying

Tonight, we celebrated my son’s 17th birthday which was earlier this week.

My son is an extraordinary person.

He was born an old soul and has always been ahead of his time in both wisdom and depth.

He and I share an inability to do less than our best and a sense that when we give less than 100% to anything, we are letting others, and more importantly, ourselves down.

Even though others encourage us to give less, it leaves us feeling like everything is getting short-shrift, like we are letting everyone down, and like we really need to do better in our lives.

It is quite something when your children reflect the hardest parts of yourself back to you.

Tonight, my son started his birthday dinner saying that he needed to do better at surviving. He was near tears. He has been like this a lot lately.

I have been worried, but much more than that, I have been sad, that someone who is such an incredible human being would feel such a depth of despair.

But also, I understand.

So I asked, “Is there anything we can take off your plate? Is there anything you feel like you’d want to give up?”

He named a few things. One is not for now, and can be pushed back a few months until he feels like he can give more of himself. One is perhaps not for ever, something that he tried because he loved, but which morphed into something that felt more like an obligation than joy.

I see his potential in all the things, so in some ways, I could see why he didn’t even want to say aloud these things. He was worried he would disappoint those who had invested in him, those in his community, us. He was choosing to continually disappoint himself (not having the time, energy, or strength to give his all) to avoid disappointing everyone else.

He is not a kid who gives things up easily, and he is someone who has always been cautious with his time. But school is a lot, and between school itself and multiple extracurriculars, it is too much.

Yet, he looks around and sees others doing more, and he worries it is not enough.

I understand.

Tonight, as we were waiting for our first course to arrive, I looked at him and said honestly, “You know, I think that’s great that you want to set some boundaries on your time and that you want to give yourself some space to really devote your best to what you’re doing. I get it. I can’t give less than 100% to things either without disappointing myself. I wish I knew at your age how to let some things go.”

His body has been rebelling lately. He says there are days he feels more like he is 70 than 17. I told him that maybe his body is telling him he is doing too much as well, that our bodies hold wisdom our minds don’t allow us to consider.

He understood.

He decided to talk to those in leadership in the two areas he is going to delay or take himself out of. His initial concerns about what they might think of him somewhat assuaged by the assurances that it is likely they will understand, and by the reminder that those who truly know him and those who truly love him are there for him because of who he is, not anything he does.

We had a really good birthday dinner. He was able to enjoy the food and come back to himself. He was relieved. I am grateful.

But most of all, I am reminded at how much I have to learn from my children and from mothering.

I have felt so much of what he is feeling recently, so much of not wanting to let anyone down but feeling so limited in time, energy & spirit, that I am, in effect, letting everyone down. I am not capable of giving less than my best. I can’t fight against that.

So I have to do less.

Take things off my plate so that I can enjoy the feast that is in front of me.

Trust that people will understand when balls and plates and activities drop.

Trust that those who love me do so because of who I am and not what I do.

We are on parallel journeys, my son and I, to accept our own humanity, the limitations of our time and energy, and to make wiser choices that allow us to remember who we are, instead of trying to be all things to all people.

We understand.

We are very much imperfect, but we are trying.

We are in it together.

And we are well loved.

Past, Present, Future

28 years ago, my mom died.

Since then, life has never, of course, been the same.

And this date, February 3, has never been the same.

Some years, it is easier than others.

This year, it has been, in the small hours of the morning, easier than others.

Today, I am miles from home, but I am also home in my heart.

I am years from where I was 28 years ago, much closer to my mother’s age than my age then.

I am someone I hope she would have been proud of; I am someone who is striving to heal us both; I am someone who embodies her courage, her hopes, and her fears.

I am her daughter.

Today, I am thinking about the past and also about a future.

Today, I am living in an abundant present.

Today, I am present to the hope of healing, to the power of community, to the abounding love that surrounds me wherever I am in the world.

I am grateful, even as I remain present to the longing for my time with her.

Today, I will breathe and be. I will take in the joy and beauty around me and partake in it as I know she would have wanted for me. I will be kind to myself and remember to show myself the grace for my humanity that I would show a million others.

Today, I will keep her in my heart, alongside so many that I love and am holding.

I am ready for today.

When Words Weren’t There

A "Positive Office Referral" that reads: This student was sent to the Office for: Being a kind and compassionate friend. J is always the first person to ask, "Are you okay?" and encourage with "It's okay" You're awesome!

I have always found comfort in words.

When I was a young child, I had big feelings. (I see a lot of those big feelings mirrored in my very enthusiastic and lively 7 year old.) But big feelings don’t always have a place when a family is in survival mode and when the way to survive is to keep your head down, work hard, and try not to make mistakes.

I often felt lonely and out of place, growing up. I felt apart, partially a part of many worlds that those around me didn’t understand, but never in a place of full belonging. And though I was well-liked and well-loved, I very rarely felt seen.

So I began to write. Writing became the place where I could sort myself out. Writing became the place where I could be messy, where I could find my own voice. It became my most honest place, my most vulnerable place, and my most joyful place.

After my mother died, I wrote in a journal every day for a year. I still have those journals although I’ve never reread them. I keep them for when I’m ready to hold that girl who went through all the ups and downs of a first year of grief while also being 16 and a junior then senior in high school. I am glad that she had writing, that I had writing, to help through that time.

This last week, initially, after the Monterey Park shootings, the words were still there.  I even wrote about (but shared less) the waves of emotions, I was riding the day after. But as the week wore on, with the news of the Half Moon Bay shootings, with the release of more information and the video (which I will not watch) of Tyre Nichols’s brutal killing at the hands of police officers in Memphis, and closer to home, with my little one ending the week on lockdown at her school because of an armed hostage situation in the neighborhood, I found myself without words.

I tried to write during the week and no words were there.

I was able to compartmentalize to get through the week. I found it easier to talk to those I didn’t know, at a distance, than those who know me best. Friends texted and messaged to check in, and I didn’t know what to say other than facts and the truth that this is such a hard time.

All that was there was a profound sadness, searching to displace itself in self-critique at points because being mad at myself is easier than being with the deep sadness at a world on fire, multiple crises of dehumanization, and the fact that, at any moment, someone I love more than the world itself could be taken from me.

This morning at 4am, the words returned, so I am writing.

Writing feels strange. It feels transformed in its purpose.

It is, all at once, my most intimate and vulnerable form of communication, but it also requires some distance.

There was a rawness and an unhealed self in the journals I wrote as a child, a space of figuring oneself out.

Now, I write, still in an unfinished state, but also to be seen and heard without having to say all the words out loud.

I write to reassure community that eventually I will be okay, that we will be okay, if we continue to love on one another, be with one another’s humanity, hold ourselves accountable and forgive ourselves and others when we make mistakes and hurt one another.

Eventually, the words will return.

They may not be the same, but they will be there.

Eventually, we will return to ourselves. We will return to each other.

We may not be the same, but, if we engage authentically, we will find our people.

This coming Friday will mark 28 years since my (single) mother was killed in a car accident. It was the defining moment in my life. There was life before this moment and there has been life since this moment, with a chasm of unknown between them.

This Friday also will be a day of possibility, when I need to be and bring my fullest and most authentic self to be among many people who don’t know my story, when I will need words and presence.

I cannot know the future. I cannot stay in the past. I am learning to be in the present, as painful as it can be. I am learning to bring as much humility and humanity as I can into this world which sometimes feels like a dark void. I am learning to hold on to the light, to hold on to those who love me, to return to the messy.

“Are you okay?” my daughter is always the first to ask, says her teacher, and then she follows up with, “It’s okay.” (she says she actually says, “You’re going to be fine.”)

I’m okay, Mama. I’m hurting, but I’m okay. I’m going to be fine. Really. We’re going to be fine.

Waves

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.

Stillness, Happiness, Hope

Photo of a small square black card on a red background with "Do what Makes you Happy" written in white script

It is a new year.

For the first time in many years, in the first two weeks of this new year, I have been held, I have been hopeful, and I have been (relatively) still.

I get stuff done.

I am always running.

I am often running from myself, from my fears.

Sometimes, I am running from what my heart wants most, and then running headlong towards it because I don’t know how to move towards the best things in my life with intentionality that honors who I am, what I deserve, and the communities that care for me so deeply.

This year, I want to move differently.

I want to do less. I want to force myself less. I don’t want to settle for less than I deserve.

This year, I am beginning with a pause.

In pause, there is space.

In space, there is creativity. There is beauty. There is hope. There is anticipation.

I am leaning into these things.

I am still afraid.

But I am sourcing courage from those who love me most. I am learning trust. I am trying to be patient.

I am working to do what makes me happy. I am allowing myself to want and to feel with my whole heart.

It hurts sometimes.

But sometimes it hurts to heal.

I am working on being more honest with myself, with my heart, with my limits.

I am being held (accountable) by those that love me more than I know how to love myself, who stand for better for me when I am unable to stand for myself, who are pushing for what’s best even though, in the immediate, it’s not what’s easiest.

The answers are all around me. I just have to look. Today, my daughter bought a box of “Happy Cards.” She left the one at the top of this post on my desk, and when I went to pin it on my cork board, I was reminded of these things:

A picture of two cards side by side, one that says "Believe in Impossible Possibilities" (Eva Evergreen, Julie Abe) and another that says "Create the Life You've Always Wanted" held up by a magnet that says, "Let's Do This"

It is a new year. I am trying new things. I am letting go of things that I’ve held onto so tightly because I was scared that they would slip out of my grasp if I loosened my grip. I am trusting that what is for me will be mine, and what is not for me has still taught me so much. I am breathing in gratitude, even as I feel sometimes adrift is a sea of grief.

I will breathe.

I will be still.

I will move towards happiness.

I will keep hope.

Happiest of New Years to us all. May we all move towards creating the lives that are our heart’s greatest desires.