Broken Teeth, Broken Hearts & Healing: MotherScholaring & Holding Joy

Yesterday was a long day to end a week of unlearning.

When we commit to honoring our humanity and embracing joy and healing, I suppose it’s to be expected that our humanity will show up in full-force. I mean, honestly, our humanity is always showing up, but I guess I’m more attuned to it now that I’m not shushing it or judging it and trying to instead, acknowledge and nurture myself.

So this week, plenty of mistakes were made in all the areas that tend to activate my self-judgment the most: finances, mothering, and time. I also did things that were hard but necessary, offering public comment at a commission on teacher credentialing meeting, admitting to myself that not everything was going to get done, and holding my little girl’s hand while she went through an emergency dental procedure.

This last event leads me to yesterday afternoon. I had just finished my last call for work and was looking at a paper revision while waiting for my nail salon date with my dear friend, Anna. My phone rang and the name of my daughter’s school office came up. My daughter has had many a share of accidents in her young life. We generally get 1-2 calls a month about her hitting her head on something and have gotten used to concussion protocol. So when I saw the office number, I was concerned but not alarmed.

When I answered the call, I realized that this accident was more serious. She had tripped on the blacktop and hit her front teeth. There was a lot of bleeding and crying. I rushed out the door and ran down to the school (which is fortunately a 10-minute walk; 7-minute jog) from the house and found my little one in pain and in need of serious dental intervention.

After dealing with the frustration of my phone refusing to connect to the internet to find her dentist’s number which I somehow didn’t have programmed into my phone (or maybe I do, but I didn’t look there in the moment), my husband arrived, found the number, called the office and we were on our way.

My youngest daughter is one of my greatest sources of joy. She brings light, energy, and joy into every space she occupies. She is bold, hilarious, and amazingly self-expressed. She is also kind, caring, and incredibly loving towards those around her. My little one is the one who has always called for me to be home more, to make time for her, to take care of myself. She is goals for me in so many ways and she holds me to high standards as a mother.

Because of all these things, as I was walk-running to her, the inevitable heartache and self-questioning began. Yes, I was there for her in this moment, but what if this accident had happened next week or last week (when I’m traveling)? What if her accident had been more serious? (This is a huge fear of mine because I have extreme trauma from accidents.) What if she didn’t really know how much I loved her?

These are hard questions that I struggle with a lot. Because of my commitment to my professional self, I have missed out on major events for my kiddos, both good and bad, and it doesn’t ever get easier. Even when I’m ACTUALLY there (like yesterday), I still have guilt triggered about the moments when I’m not there. My children have an incredibly competent and loving father in my husband, but I am still often left with not feeling like I’m the best mom they could have.

Fortunately, the immediate fix for my little girl was quick (although not covered by insurance) with follow up in a few weeks to give her teeth time to heal from the trauma (hopefully) and re-root in their place. Depending on how they’re doing in a few weeks, she’ll have additional procedures, and they’ll reconstruct cosmetically a part of her chipped tooth, but eventually everything will be fine. After sleep, she’s feeling better although still adjusting to a tooth splint and some very sore gums.

I’ve realized, however, that the tensions around my MotherScholar life aren’t going to go away (at least not for a while without more explicit unlearning).

Still, I am lucky to take my cues from my little one who slept it off, cuddled with me this morning, and is happily using baby medicine syringes to feed herself mango smoothie this morning. We’re going to go to the library later to check out graphic novels, after my make-up nail salon date this morning. I’m grateful to take my cues from my son who is spending his morning playing video games before his last concert with his high school orchestra. I’m even (more begrudgingly) taking cues from my dog who is always resting, eating, and self-soothing.

This is, I suppose, my full humanity. I continue to work to embrace it. It is not easy, but it is joyful and authentic, and if anything, I know how to do hard things.

Rest & Care

Photo of a screenshot from my Twitter (X) account that reads, "I love teaching. Also 14 hour days are a lot and now I am going to eat pasta, then maybe collapse in a puddle of exhaustion and tears. 😭"

Whew, friends. The last couple of weeks, especially the last three Wednesdays, have been A LOT.

I love teaching.

There aren’t even really words to fully express the joy that I feel from teaching. Teaching gives me the opportunity to profoundly connect with others and (often) support them in learning, while also challenging me to continue to grow. It’s a huge part of my professional heart. It brings me energy, life, and sheer joy.

And also, it’s exhausting.

This semester, I’ve returned to the classroom to teach a double section of a Masters (teacher) (action) research course (online) which I’m picking up from two other instructors mid-way through a two-course series that is split over the spring and fall semesters.

I could have spent my last semester teaching out a course (in-person) that I helped to create and transform, that I’ve taught before, to credential students, and that I love. But, for a variety of reasons, I chose to take on a new prep, also teaching something I love (and I always love students so that is what it is), but with very different constraints.

I love these students. I love teaching (teacher) (action) research (in parenthesis because this is not exactly how the course started in the spring for almost half of them). But it’s been a rough semester of transition for students and for myself, that has involved a lot of support, unlearning, and co-construction. I know we’re all going to be fine, but it’s…well…a lot.

Beyond this, I have a foot in (at least) two professional worlds as I transition universities (between fall and winter), am at a peak moment of motherhood, as I support my eldest biological child into college (my older daughters did not choose to go a traditional college path so this is a first for me), and have been working to wrap up initiatives and support others in my professional and personal circles. I also have multiple writing projects I’m working on, lots of them with people who are deeply important to me, going on consecutively. Fall conference season is quickly approaching. Oh, and I decided to start a new (part of a) study. It is all the things.

Not to mention that I am a whole human being, with feelings (lots of them), limits (working on them), and only so much energy.

So this week, after my third consecutive 14-hour Wednesday, I kinda hit a wall.

Or an ocean.

I mean, something in my path that stopped me (insert your favorite nature metaphor here).

If I’m being completely honest, I began to rapidly approach the wall/ocean/ inserted metaphor last week, feeling a deep sadness & loneliness, in spite of being surrounded by people and all the things there are to do. I was not taking a moment to pause and be with myself, to nourish myself in the light of those I care deeply for and love the most. I was just pushing forward without care or acknowledgment of what I was experiencing, without pause.

Urgency doesn’t bring, bridge, or build community.

I knew it was bad (good? making its own space for itself?) when I cried in a meeting with our new department chair, the third time that week that tears welled up in front of my computer.

Still, I felt compelled to work over the long weekend. That compulsion often comes up when I’m feeling out of control, a remnant of years where professional/ academic accomplishments were the only consistent validation in my life.

But this week, after Wednesday’s exhaustion, I couldn’t keep pushing on.

So yesterday and today, I am pacing myself. I am reminding myself that the work I need to do, especially the work that involves writing and femtoring, requires my full self, and my full self requires time, breath, and the modeling of wholeness (and regathering) that is not on a defined timeline. There will still be things that get done, but I am breathing into them, rather than rushing through them, and I am working on being willing to let some of them go, if they are not for this moment.

I am working on this. I am still highly imperfect at it, but I’m sharing this as a work in progress because that is a part of the life and times of an evolving academic, I suppose, and more importantly, it is part of the life and times of an evolving human.

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.

Do What I Say…

Photograph of a sign that reads Progress Not Perfection

I try not to be hypocritical. I really do.

The problem is that I love other people so much more than I love myself.

So, I remind them to do all the things that I know are important in order to maintain our humanity in the midst of a dehumanizing world: sleep, eat well, spend time with those you love, breathe, prioritize, remember that YOU are more than you produce, pace yourself, hydrate, give yourself lots of grace, honor your truth.

I know these things.

I pray for them, hold space for them, offer grace and advocate for them, support them through the their struggles.

I do these things.

I feel the difference when I live in ways that hold these truths and these spaces for myself as well.

And yet, so often, I am not the model for others that I want to be.

I am working towards honoring my truth by living it.

I am starting by taking time each day to reflect.

I am feeling the impact of not living my truth.

I am making space for the progress and set backs.

I am giving myself grace when I need it.

It is a work in progress.

I am a work in progress.

But progress offers more promise than perfection and I am working towards loving myself.

Opposite Action

When I was actively in major treatment for my mental health, I was encouraged to explore opposite action.

I realize that for me, opposite action is probably what typical action is for a lot of people.

When I am tired, my emotional response is to work more, because it is my autopilot response, and there is always more to do.

But tonight, in my exhaustion, I am pausing, and reminding myself that what got done today was enough.

I am going to take a bath, drink a cup of hot tea, and go to bed.

I am proud of me.

Tenderness, Tension, Community & Connection: Reflections on #NCTE22

Photograph of a stage with a lighthouse and a circle with the words ¡Sueños! Pursuing the Light and the National Council of Teachers of English logo

What does it mean to dream? What does it mean to pursue the light?

This year’s National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention theme was ¡Sueños! Pursuing the Light. It was the first annual convention held in person since 2019, and it was held in my current hometown of Anaheim, California.

I was on the program 10 times, and had the honor of facilitating a conversation with Dr. Seema Yasmin on her new book What the Fact: Finding the Truth in All the NoiseIn fact, all of the program appearances were an honor: from work related to chairing the NCTE Research Foundation Trustee Board (whose mission is not only to promote research within the organization but also to support the Cultivating New Voices among Scholars of Color program), to presentations with colleagues and friends who are amazing and brilliant educators, to work with my beloved professional home & family: the Asian/Asian American Caucus, to supporting the work of mentoring and networking (a session I had to bow out of, but to which I hope to return). All of it is important work that is close to my heart. All of it is work to support community & commitments that I hold dear. All of it is good.

But all of it together is too much.

On the night before Day 1 of the conference, I began to lose my voice. By the morning of Day 1, it was almost completely gone. I did not feel sick. In fact, I had recovered from a recent cold, tested every day for 3 days to make sure I was not COVID positive, and felt better than I had in awhile. I thought maybe the laryngitis was a result of new allergy medication I took. But whatever the cause, I could not speak like myself.

I also could not fully rest my voice, given the schedule that I had: a board meeting to facilitate on Thursday, two presentations on Friday and a full Saturday schedule including the MainStage presentation, after an 8am session and before the 11am Caucus Open Forum.

In between all these things, I was coordinating an important, time bound project at work (even with my out of office message on). I was also running into people I hadn’t seen in years who I love deeply in the halls between sessions, snapping a quick selfie and moving on because I had to get to the next place.

As I saw people, those who knew me best heard my voice, looked at my face, had seen my name on the program, and said, directly and indirectly, that they were worried about me.

I was not in my body enough to worry about myself.

Finally, as I was leaving the Caucus Open Forum on Saturday at noon, my friends, Jung and Grace, told me that I needed to duck out of my scheduled session to eat and to rest. They knew I had another 3 commitments in the afternoon/ evening and that I would have just kept pushing forward if they didn’t forcibly stop me.

So, I excused myself from the session & was given so much grace by the session organizer, ate some food with Jung & Grace, got a couple of books signed, saw some really lovely and dear friends, then went to rest.

Then I got up and did the rest of the conference like I had done the part before Jung & Grace’s intervention.


My very last session of the conference was with people who I consider family. It was a small session, mostly just the presenters and a few dear friends. So, we chose to forego the typical academic format, and talk truthfully and justice, grief, healing, community, family, rest, resistance, humanity, dehumanizing institutions, and how we live our truth. It was a healing and authentic space where I could breathe.

And yet…

In that session, there was a moment where I began to choke on my own breath. I tried to take a sip of water, but I began to choke on that too. I left the room, sat on the floor outside the door, in the registration hall, and coughed until I was crying. A woman I did not know began to approach me to see if I was okay. I signaled that I was, because physically I knew I could recover myself, but I realized that I also was not. I was not okay. I had fallen back into the trap I know so well. Doing, doing, doing to the point that I was choking on the very things that gave me life. I could not be with the things that I needed to live.




My body knows more than my mind. It was telling me that I am human, that I cannot do all the things. But I refused to listen. I had gone on autopilot.

When I give control of my body over to my mind, I can run on reserves until I am a literal shell of myself. My voice was silent and then strained. But I would not stop talking.

So, my body made things that should be automatic and reflexive: breathing, drinking, swallowing, into things that had to be intentional. I had to slow down. I had to pay attention. There was no other way.

My dear brother, Shamari K. Reid, reminded me that I, like so many other women of color, have to slow down, have to stop, pause, breathe, rest, or we are enabling our own death. We become complicit alongside the institutions that would kill us. I know this, but when he reminded me, I felt it.

My dear sister, Sakeena Everett, reminded me that so many people want me to live. But that if I am to go, it is my children, my own family, that will not be able to replace me.

They said these things in love, with tenderness but firmness, with conviction and care that called me in, to myself and to community.

It is up to me to listen. It is up to me to live the life I choose, to model what I wish for those I love. They are looking to me. I am looking at myself.

There was much joy at NCTE this year, so many moments of reconnection and community. There was abundance, but I wonder how much richer those interactions could have been if I had allowed myself the space, time, rest, grace that I deserve as a human being. I wonder how much more present I would have been with pause.

There is always tension when one loves, between depth and breadth, between others and self, between fragmentation and wholeness.

I am navigating this tension, imperfectly.

In this tension, I am grateful for the love and tenderness, the grace and understanding of those around me, the strength and reminders that I have much to live for and strength to choose.

I will need help. I truly believe that without community, I would not be. I never want to disappoint anyone. I will need to know that the bond we share is not dependent on doing, but on being. Or perhaps I will need to let go of the energy to maintain so many strong bonds and let go of commitment, but remain always with affection.

It is hard. It is a lot. I do not know. I cannot yet feel the answer.

So, I return to this:

What does it mean to dream? What does it mean to pursue the light?

I do not know yet, but I know it cannot be done without space and the courage to come out of the darkness.

How Do We Care for Ourselves? How Do We Care for One Another?

A photograph of a rainbow taken from an airplane over a city

Content Warning: Trauma; multiple possible mental health triggers related to teaching; disordered eating

It has been a long week.

I am tired.

Among a myriad of meetings and getting a semester off the ground in my new role as department chair, this week, I began analyzing a large data set of current and former P-12 US teachers. The question I started analyzing was:

Please explain (in as much detail as you feel comfortable) how teaching has impacted your physical/ mental well-being

There are 514 responses. Early thematic categories: stress/ stress related effects; anxiety; depression; exhaustion/ fatigue/ sleep disorders; PTSD/ trauma; burn out; disordered eating/ weight fluctuation/ digestive issues; addiction; bullying; self-harm/suicidality; blood pressure issues/ hypertension; migraines; respiratory issues; bladder/kidney issues. Most respondents indicated multiple concurrent issues.

The stress of the profession comes up a lot in the data. This stress comes from administration (mentioned often) and chaotic school environments, parents, high stakes testing, challenges balancing the overwhelming demands of teaching with life outside of teaching (including the struggle to prioritize one’s own family and one’s health & well-being), fear of (or actual trauma from) school shootings, high stakes assessments, targeted attacks from the media. Sometimes educators also reported stress from students themselves (although as a source of stress, students were mentioned often in the context of not being able to support/ address their needs).

There are multiple stories of young teachers who are told by health practitioners that it’s unusual for them to have x condition at their age and it’s likely stress-induced or related. Others tell stories of mental or physical health issues that disappear on weekends, over the summer, or post retirement. There are many participants who report taking medication for mental health related illnesses or self-medicating through food or alcohol.

I am only through coding 8 of 28 pages of data.

To pace myself, I can only go through 2 pages of responses a day.

It is a lot to hold.

And it is so relatable, in many ways.

I have always loved teaching.

I only know how to teach with my whole heart.

I constantly push(ed) myself to do everything I could to support my students, work with their families (when I taught middle school) and improve professionally.

My first year of teaching, I would go the entire day without eating or using a restroom, and then be ravenously hungry and pull into one of the fast food drive thrus on the way home, sometimes finishing an entire meal in less than 5 minutes, my first of the day, as I was driving home around 6pm.

I went back to teaching 6 weeks after my son was born. He was tiny in daycare and got really sick almost immediately. We had to rush him to the ER when I was worried he might have meningitis at 2 months old (he didn’t, but it was super scary for our family, as first time newborn parents). I had terrible insurance. I spent the rest of that year trying to pay off the bills from my (and his) hospitalization following his birth and then the subsequent ER visit.

I’ve been in my classroom, with students, under a desk, during a lockdown with an active shooter that was not a drill. (If you’ve read this blog for a long time, you know that I have close connections to multiple mass shootings so active shooter situations are extremely triggering for me) I’ve taken on much secondary trauma, when a popular student at our school died suddenly on our campus, when students have reported abuse (that I have subsequently had to report) to me, when my students have lost friends or family members to violence.

I have struggled with balance. I continue to struggle with a tendency to overwork because there is always more to do. This puts my family behind my work and myself last.

I have had periods of serious disordered eating which has landed me in the hospital, major mental health challenges, been verbally attacked (once while pregnant) by parents, challenged by administrators for advocating for more humanizing grief support for our students and my colleagues. I’ve had multiple oral surgeries due to night grinding because of stress; I had migraines for a period while teaching. I used to get laryngitis every week and get my voice back Sunday night, just to start all over again.

All of this (well, I haven’t seen night grinding yet, but sleep disturbances are there) is in the data. Over and over. And more. Different but the same.

I left one type of teaching (middle school) for another (teacher education). I never have really been able to imagine a time when I wouldn’t teach in some capacity. Even though all of it. Because I love students and I love education, and I believe in the transformative power of learning, particularly in, with and for community.

Then, last year, I took a sabbatical. And had a mid-life crisis. And began unpacking years and years and years of ignoring myself. I had almost forgotten the sound of my own voice. I had forgotten what brought me joy. I had become so much a product of productivity that I lost myself.

The irony of the core of my work being about humanizing education was that I had completely lost touch with my own humanity.

I see this in so many of the responses shared in this survey data. I feel it in my bones. I know it, viscerally.

I know it’s structural, that we have to work to change the systems that demand such labor. I know it. I am working towards it, in multiple ways, with multiple collaborators.

But, I also know (well, I’m learning…I have a ways to go) the power of boundaries, of saying no, and of refusing to put myself last.

So, how do we begin to care for ourselves? How do we begin to care for one another?

I’m not sure about the answer for others, but the answer for me is always found in community. I could not be learning about boundaries without a 7 year old who demands her mother, friends who throw shade at me until I stop taking on more things (and threaten to fly from their homes to mine to say no for me if I don’t say no for myself), office colleagues telling me to go home and stop sending e-mails after hours, and accountability partners who remind me that I am more than my work, that I am loved for who I am, and that I am better when I am really present rather than really productive. I am reminded when I take the time to connect with myself and with those who I really love, when I let go of that one last thing to do, when I breathe deeply, laugh loudly, brew a perfect cup of tea, then I can bring myself to fight for better, to bear witness, to advocate for others, just as I am standing for myself.

If you’re reading this, I hope you have community, and if you don’t, I hope you’ll make it a priority to create community with people who get it, with people who value you and have your back, with people who will call you on your stuff, and remind you that you’re more than (even) the (extremely valuable) work you do, and that you’ll distance yourself from those that drain your energy, as you can.

I know that individual choices don’t solve institutional problems. I know that there must also be real changes to working conditions for teachers, we, as a society, must respect and value the work teachers do, we must invest in schools, transform the ways we structure teacher time, trust, honor & value teacher expertise. We have to pay teachers better, we have to make teaching sustainable. Teachers deserve better. Students deserve better. Our society deserves better.

I know all of this, and that this will not happen (unfortunately) overnight.

But pockets of humanity remind us that there is another way.

There’s a lot more data to sort through, a lot more (formal, published) writing to do, a lot more work to do for my day job, a lot of things to manage for my family.

But tonight, my act of quiet resistance is sitting, in a quiet house, where everyone else is sleeping, with a cup of perfectly brewed jasmine dragon pearl tea while writing this blog, releasing for a moment all of it, breathing, being, and soon going to sleep myself.

We can begin a revolution of care…for ourselves, and one another. We must because what is now will never be sustainable.

In the Smallest of Things

Photograph of two bright bouquets of flowers

I had a great day today.

And I also had two panic attacks today, which were not great.

I just returned for several days away for a work conference, am hosting a retreat next week, and then hope to take a vacation with my 7-year old which we’ve been looking forward to for months (provided that we don’t get caught up in the current COVID surge). This morning, I had a series of great and productive meetings, humanizing but intentional, and moving work of my heart forward.

Then, when they were done, at separate times in the day, the panic set in, quite suddenly and fiercely, stealing my peace in waves of uncertainty.

Panic attacks are hard. They are exhausting both emotionally and physically. I have had both panic and anxiety attacks for at least 15 years. I have learned to be with them, make space for them, breathe through them, mask them, function in spite of them. But they are still hard and very draining.

This evening, after my second panic attack, I texted a friend to check in. While waiting for a return text, I went shopping at Trader Joe’s. I had planned to buy flowers for myself, and chose a bouquet that was vibrant and beautiful.

Then I turned around and saw a display of peonies. I love peonies.

So I debated about whether to put back the flowers that I had chosen and get myself the peonies, which would also require filler flowers because there were just five stems. They weren’t as good a “value.” They weren’t yet in bloom. What to do?

As I stood there, my mind drifted to my mother, as it often does when I am buying myself flowers. My mother hated cut flowers when she was alive. She thought they were wasteful because they would just die. It was like throwing money away, she used to say.

But everything dies. And everyone.

I had to unlearn that ephemeral beauty and the joy of individual moments are worthless. In fact, what I’ve come to learn instead is that they are sometimes the most precious things in their short and vibrant lives, in our short and vibrant lives.

I had to learn that things that had “no purpose” actually, in fact, had such an important purpose. That time that had “no purpose,” time not doing all the things, actually was the most important time. Time to be present. Time to breathe. Time to be.

My mother didn’t have a chance to know these things. She didn’t have the same life, choices, or circumstances that I have. But I often remind myself that she dedicated much of her life so that I could have this life, these choices, and the best of the circumstances I have.

We are not the same. We might never have seen things in the same way. But, she would have wanted my happiness.

My mother loved me like I love others.  But, she did not love herself so I did not learn to love myself.

We are not the same. We might never have seen things in the same way. But, she would have wanted my happiness. Just like I so desperately wanted hers.

It would have made her sad to know that I have panic attacks. I probably wouldn’t have told her. Maybe she had them too and never told me. I don’t know.

And maybe, just maybe, because she knew it made me happy in a way that she might never have understood, she would have bought me flowers on days that were hard and great at the same time, or on days that were just days because every day deserves beauty.

Probably not, but that is okay.

I have been mothering myself for 27 years, trying to honor who my mother was in the way I made choices in my life. But in honoring what my mother may have done, I may not have honored what she would have wanted.

I cannot know these things. All I can do is carry her with me, and her mother before her and all of my foremothers. I carry them in my heart, and with them, I carry all that they carried. All the love they gave, all the sacrifices they made, all the dreams they dreamed. And in healing myself, I am healing them.

Today, I bought myself a bouquet of prearranged cut flowers…and a bouquet of 5-stem peonies, with another small bouquet of filler flowers to keep the peonies company.

Today, I talked to a friend who reminded me of who I am. I texted with friends that made me laugh. I arranged my flowers, one bouquet for the kitchen and another for my “office” in my bedroom.

These are small things, perhaps the smallest of things.

But we are healing through them, in the humanity and grace of accepting all that is and is not. It is there that peace exists for as long as I can be with it.

For that, I am deeply grateful.

Entering a New Year, Entering a New Season

Photograph of brush painted horse tattoo

It is Lunar New Year’s Eve, and many places that celebrate Lunar New Year have already entered into the Year of the Tiger. My mother was a tiger. Tigers are brave and protective; they can be stubborn, but are also generous and intelligent. She was an earth tiger: strong-minded, determined, always ready for a challenge, honest and independent. My mother was all of these things.

I am an earth horse. Earth elements like my mom and I are about balance (fitting since I’m also a Libra). Earth horses have many friends and are always trying to help those they love. They can be indecisive and like to get involved in (far too) many things. They value freedom & independence as long as they also feel supported and encouraged. Sometimes they can be temperamental. I am all of these things.

When my mother died 27 years ago this week, I was 16. With her sudden death, I lost a large part of myself, being thrust into a world that I was unprepared for, and it took me many years of searching to find her, to find myself again.

Today, on Lunar New Year’s Eve, as I start the week of the anniversary of my mother’s death, and as I continue a journey to reclaim my own identity, learning and unlearning, growing and evolving, I got the tattoo in the photograph above. I have been thinking about this tattoo for over 10 years. Originally, I was scheduled to get it at the end of last year, but COVID delays meant that today would be the day for this tattoo to find its home.

It is even more special as my former student, a Taiwanese American woman who I’ve always shared a kinship bond with, did the tattoo for me. We spent hours catching up on years and sharing stories, like I always wished I could do with my mother. We spent an afternoon of borrowed time together. We spent hours of time unpacking shared and distinct histories.

I am so grateful.

This tattoo is me and it is for me.

The Chinese character for horse is the single radical: 馬; the Chinese character for mother adds a woman radical before the horse: 媽; the Chinese character that indicates a question marker is the mouth radical + the horse radical: 嗎.

This horse is me the earth horse, me the mother (both to my children and to myself, as I carry forth my foremothers from previous generations), me with more questions than answers, with ever more to know.

I carry me, as I have been doing for many years, but with the freedom and wisdom to know that all of me is moving forward.

I am so grateful.




The Other Side

An Asian American woman standing in front of the Garonne river with the Pont de Pierre behind her

A blurry picture of me in Bordeaux at night

Last week, I went to France.

France is a strange home where I have never been a permanent resident. But it is my heart’s home. It is the place where I am able to most be myself and to be the self that I most want to be. It is the place where the rhythms of life match the rhythms of my spirit. It is the place where my voice finds clarity, and where my full self finds acceptance. It is the place where I feel most free. It is the place where I have experienced the most joy and acceptance in my life.

I had not been to France in 15 years, since my son was just an infant.

I almost did not go last week.

We are still in a pandemic and I’ve had many friends who I love deeply that have been affected by breakthrough COVID who have warned against unnecessary travel. I have all the responsibilities of all the roles that I fill and all of the things that I do, personally and professionally: mother, sister, wife, friend, mentor, professor, church leader, PTSA executive board member. I did not think I could step away from these responsibilities for such a long period of time (even though I’m on sabbatical, recorded videos for my family each day, and planned my schedules around this trip).

I did not want to be irresponsible in my choices, as if I had not considered these things. Taking 8 days to travel to France in the midst of these contexts felt incredibly selfish and impossible.

But I did it.

(Note: I hope that those who love me won’t judge me for it, because honestly, judgment is still a huge fear for me that I’ve only been able to overcome by making peace with the choices that I’ve individually made and the thoughtfulness I’ve tried to put into safety and connections throughout this trip, and by the fact that I have to understand and accept responsibility for my own choices but can’t control the judgment of others.)

The act of choosing to take this trip in and of itself was extraordinary in what it required from me.

It was also an incredible gift of time to reflect, wander, and breathe.

I spent 8 days in museums in Paris, walking for hours in the city, returning to Bordeaux, which is truly the city of my heart, seeing old friends, returning to places that I’ve loved only to find they’ve completely changed, or that they’re still the same. I spent 8 days contemplating what it means to truly be able to love with one’s whole heart, what it means to choose oneself and to choose for oneself, what equilibrium looks like, how unhealthy my life has been for so much of the last 16 years, what it means to be free of obligation and full of choice. I spent 8 days not responding to (many) e-mails, telling people no, actively choosing not to work, and not worrying about what I was running late for (except for the train I almost missed, but that was yesterday’s post). I spent 8 days eating beautiful food, with amazing people who I love with my whole heart (chosen family), being present to the gift of my life.

It was probably the most extraordinary single week of my life.

I realized at multiple points in the week that I had lost touch with some of the best parts of myself, that I had sacrificed them to the gods of overwork in order to prove my worth.

My friend, Carmen, who has been a big sister to me for nearly 25 years, said to me before I left that it’s good to have these realizations while we’re away from our lives, that sometimes we have to get away in order to see what our lives have become, but if we return to our lives as they were then perhaps this respite hasn’t served its greatest purpose.

She’s right, but this means many changes for me.

They are changes that many people who I love who are close to me have urged me to make FOR YEARS: learning to pace myself; reminding myself that just because I can doesn’t mean that I should; not always doing everything at 150%; taking time for myself; not working all the time; learning to say no; guarding my energy.

These are things that I have known for years, that people who love me have been telling me constantly, even more loudly in the last year.

My refusal to choose myself, to listen to these people in my life, has not been intentional.

At first, it was a matter of survival.

Later, it became a matter of habit.

Until, gradually, I forgot who I was, in the process of taking on so many roles that required parts of myself, but that didn’t have room for my full self.

I am beginning to come back to myself.

Because I am who I am, I want to come back to myself all at once, to bring the equilibrium and joy that I found on my trip home with me and to make all the changes tomorrow.

My life is not set up to make these changes all at once though. They are hard changes. They will require time and pacing, grace and growth. They will require the community, locally and globally, that knows my heart and holds space for the parts that are best and worst.

Already, I am changing. I am learning to listen to what I want most in my heart versus what I think I should do. I am learning to honor stability, to choose my boundaries, but not limit myself in ways that come from insecurity. I am learning that sometimes when I want to watch junk television or rest, that these things are not just okay, that they are great. I am learning that if I want to be most present for the people I love, I have to be present to my own desires and my own needs.

I’m learning to choose myself.