Alpha Mom » Elizabeth Jayne Liu parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Thu, 13 Aug 2015 17:13:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Making Our Moments Count Fri, 20 Feb 2015 16:19:26 +0000

If I had to give top billing to just one talent from my list of skills, it might take time to evaluate and rank the extensive list. I would need to implement some tie-breaking criteria for the top dozen. The whole affair seems too laborious, so I’ll just trust my razor sharp instinct and pick “good at doing side-eye.” I probably spend at least ten minutes a week thinking about this talent. It’s a “chicken or the egg” causality dilemma for me—am I good at side-eyes because I do it so often or do I do it so often because it’s an inborn gift? I don’t shy away from tough questions because it builds my mental acuity.

Until recently, I had been throwing a lot of side-eye to the “Life is short, seize the day!” movement. What am I ever gonna do that’s longer than living my life? I even separated my to-do list into one task per day to ensure that I wouldn’t be bored as a senior citizen because I’ll still be finishing chores from my 30s. Doesn’t everything becomes more meaningful once you’ve stressed about it for twenty or thirty years?

I felt like I had so much time—maybe too much time—when my daughter, Cal, was younger. She couldn’t wait to start each day and rose before the sun. Her energy and eagerness to understand and learn, well, everything often outlasted my stamina. Sometimes one day felt like three, especially after she decided that naps were for babies, and she was “no baby because I two now!” I retreated into a corner of our kitchenette before directing my side-eyes at the microwave instead of Cal. Children under the age of thirteen are exempt.

If I could go back and visit myself in that long ago moment, I wouldn’t bother with a gentle pep talk about time—how, more than just accelerating in pace each day as my daughter gets older, it seemingly disappears in large chunks—because I know how stubborn I can be. Instead, I would most likely have to push that younger me in the face and craft my words as a command rather than reasonable dialogue. It’s hard to be reasonable when you don’t know, and you don’t really know until it’s too late sometimes.

I didn’t spend as much time with my daughter as I could have nor did I feel the urgency to teach her all of childhood’s important lessons or plan special experiences because, not only did I think I had an abundance of time, but I was also afraid of losing my identity. I wanted to make sure I ended up as the person I was meant to be. I needed a lot of “me” time pursuing “me” inclinations for “me” success. Yet, here I am today at 34, with a 15-year-old daughter, and I’m certain that I’m still not the person I was meant to become. But, she’s no longer a stranger to me. We’ve met and she seems all right, except her fondness for writing instruments. (I need to nip that hobby in the bud right now because the future me is poor but has a sizable collection of expensive mechanical pencils.)

Cal isn’t considering any colleges close to home, so once she’s gone, I don’t realistically expect to see her more than a few times each year. Actually, that thought didn’t really sink in until I typed it out just now. I’ll be right back after I go rock back and forth in a corner for a minute.

It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of difficult questions about the past: When did life become so short? Why did I wait so long to make the most out of my time with my daughter? Why didn’t I take those oil pastel crayons out of my hoodie pocket before washing a load of brand new workout clothes?

When school started again after winter break, I explained to Cal that I wanted to focus on growing our relationship and devoting a lot more time to us. She looked scared. “How much more time? Not ALL, right? Does that mean I can’t do my after school clubs?”

I could tell by her reaction that I had made her greatest unspoken dream come true. “I just meant I want to be more mindful about the time I spend with you. Maybe we can find a hobby we enjoy together and do it regularly. Plus, I want to teach you the stuff I wish I had known when I went off to college, like how to do laundry or put air in a tire.”

“Do you know how to put air in a tire, mommy?”

I don’t know why children always become fixated on unimportant details.

If I let myself think about the moments I didn’t make matter, I’m consumed with grief and guilt. I lose two moments this way—then and now—so I force myself to face forward. When the time comes for me to let her go, I suspect a part of me will go along with her. I am grateful for the time that stretches before me and for the memories we’ll build together. I’m going to make it count. Because, YOLO.

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Advice to My Daughter on Navigating Teen Friendships Wed, 16 Jul 2014 15:15:16 +0000

As my 14-year-old daughter’s circle of friends expands, I occasionally catch myself thinking, “I wish it were socially acceptable to push other people’s children in the face.” I am surprised by my lack of empathy each time I dislike one of Cal’s friends because I used to be that kid other parents singled out as a bad influence.

It’s rare that I understand one situation from multiple viewpoints, but I’ve navigated most of the possible paths when it comes to teen friendships. I’ve been the outcast friend, and I’ve also been the daughter who fought for a friendship after my mother deemed a particular person “inappropriate.” Now, I’m on the mother side. It feels strange to dislike a kid and something in me says that I should be better than that because, I mean, kids aren’t even real people yet so I should cut them a break. But there’s a huge chasm between the way I want to think (“I need to be more open-minded”) and the way I conduct myself 99% of the time (“Man, I have no idea what my kid sees in this hellion”).

When I was sixteen, I had a boyfriend, Jae, who my mother disliked so much that he was not allowed to cross over the threshold of our house. He could come to the door to pick me up, but no further. We were also prohibited from leaving the confines of my subdivision, so our date choices were limited to walking through the neighborhood streets or monopolizing the swing set in the park. What bothered me more than my mother’s rules was that she didn’t trust me enough to pick good friends for myself.

I stayed with that boyfriend long after my interest waned out of sheer defiance. I felt constricted by what I thought were ridiculous limitations, and it made me want to become even closer to the people my mother didn’t like. I don’t know why. Teens are assholes sometimes.

I’m often torn between dictating what I think is best and trusting Cal to make good decisions. Since I’m the type of person who disregards good advice and opts instead to learn everything the hard way, I understand that firsthand experience is incomparably effective. But it can also be painful and time-consuming. I try to strike a good balance by staying connected and sharing my own experiences without using language that seems forceful or domineering. Delivered the wrong way, my advice seems like I’m criticizing certain friends just to maintain control over her.

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I would like my delivery to come from a place of love and non-judgment, but that’s not what really happens. I am guilty of using terms like “devil’s spawn” to describe a girl who is thankfully no longer one of Cal’s friend. Just as my mother voiced her own concerns in an unfiltered way, I found myself doing the same after learning that Cal’s friend and lab partner (let’s call her Tia) bowed out of a joint project, leaving Cal with all of the work. When confronted with the unequal distribution of work, Cal’s friend asked her mother to talk to Cal, who then shamed my daughter for not picking up the slack since Tia was very busy with a multitude of after-school activities. I regret not keeping my composure, but no, mommy don’t play that.

It’s now easy for me to understand why my mother became so wary of Jae after she caught me handing over the money I had earned from a garage sale because my boyfriend claimed that since he had given me the idea, the money was technically his. I don’t know why. Teens are stupid sometimes.

As I spent more time with Jae, I found myself associating with his friends more than mine. My new friends regularly skipped school and stayed up late on school nights, hanging out at the local bowling alley or pool hall. I wish I had realized then that the company we keep is how we are viewed as well.

Soon, I missed the group of girlfriends I had known since middle school. When I reached out to them, several told me that they were no longer allowed to hang out with me because their mothers were nervous that I had adopted bad habits from my newfound friends. They were prohibited from coming to my house, and I was not welcome at theirs. Until we graduated high school, I maintained a “school hours only” friendship with a group that I had been so close to in the past.

I’ve told my daughter this story numerous times, and with each retelling, I color in a little more detail. We’ve talked about peer influence and how the people around us affect our lives even when we think we are immune. During our latest chat about friends, I finally admitted that my mom was justified in being wary, and that those friends from so long ago did affect my life in a deeply negative way. “Cal, don’t become friends with a girl who behaves the way I did as a teen.”

“Mommy, you are truly one of the weirdest people I know. I’ll try to remember your advice, but I don’t think people know about good until they know bad.”


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Advice to My Teen Daughter on Finding Her Personal Style Thu, 15 May 2014 22:07:44 +0000

“Personality begins where comparison ends.” -Karl Lagerfeld

I wish I could stop talking about this, but I think about it all of the time and it crowds out the other thoughts in my head. My daughter, Cal, leaves for college in three short years, which makes me an empty nester at 36. Both of those truths alarm me in different ways. I feel so proud that we’ve gotten this far, but I feel a deep sense of loss already. Now that she’s 14, I’m getting to know her as an independent young adult rather than a helpless child, and I like her. A lot. She is so different from me in every way. She teaches me about life because her fresh perspective makes me feel like I’m looking at everything for the first time.

I can’t decide if I’m relieved that my daughter is different or if I’m just the tiniest bit perplexed. I mean, her body is essentially formed from my body, so we should be carbon copies of each other. Or is that not how biology works?

Our personal styles seem to be an outward manifestation of our inner distinctions. A few weeks ago, Cal made this very clear when we were discussing a trip to the mall to buy new summer clothes. I started to ask if she’d like to browse the stores that I frequent but changed my mind. My favorite stores were probably too boring because I consider my personal style to be modest and I rarely accessorize.

The most accurate description of her facial expression would be “horrified.” “No, mommy, you don’t dress conservatively,” she said and then pointed at herself. “I dress conservatively. The only way you could be less conservative is by wearing a corset in public.”

“Oh. Does Halloween count?”

Cal reminded me that the emails I receive from my favorite retailers include subject lines like “Show some skin” and “Calling all party girls.” She claimed that my mostly black attire and delicate jewelry did not make me modest. Rather, her preference for crewnecks over low cut v-necks and her habit of buttoning all the way to the top when she wore polo shirts—those were the telltale signs of a conservative dresser.

Hmm. I see.

We assume certain things about ourselves to be true and then we never think twice about it afterwards. I don’t know why I’m so nervous about my daughter living apart from us. If she can survive an entire childhood with me as her mother, the rest of her life should be a breeze.

Cal is excited about branching out and creating a more sophisticated personal style. Her attitude reminds me of the enthusiasm I had at her age when I stopped wearing animal-print sweaters and bought my first flannel shirt. Grunge was trendy, and I wanted to fit in. Later on, when clogs were the rage, I bought a pair even though I never mastered walking in them, and I still have several faint scars on my legs from tumbles off the curb or into brambles.

My style is still evolving (much to the relief of my daughter), but after spending years and many, many dollars on fashion that didn’t suit me, the one belief I want to instill in Cal is that it’s okay to be exactly who she is. No edits required. And because it’s almost never our personality that people see first, I want her to feel comfortable about expressing the inner Cal. Her style should be effortless and a statement about who she is rather than who she thinks she has to be.

I have almost every picture from 1993 to 1997 safely tucked away in a corner. A very hard-to-reach corner. Those family albums chronicle a series of fashion no-nos. The younger me looks happy as I hold the same pose in almost every picture: hands on my hips, turned at a 45-degree angle, wide smile on my face. I apparently thought I looked extra fine in my paisley polyester rompers and velvet chokers with a dangly cross. As much as those pictures make me cringe, I’m grateful that I got a chance to explore every wrong choice because, by process of elimination, I finally understood what I liked and what actually flattered my form.

I look forward to watching Cal’s personal style journey. If she doesn’t remember anything else from my extremely long and rambly Mother-Daughter Talks when she sets off on her own, I hope that she at least remembers this: You can rock anything as long as you do it confidently. And I’m not just talking about fashion.

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Modeling Healthy Relationships (Without Ever Seeing One) Thu, 10 Apr 2014 21:19:23 +0000

I still haven’t figured out the mechanics of a good hug. When someone leans in to give me a hug, I’m not sure what to do with myself. Do I keep my arms by my side? If I raise them, do they stay low or go high? What’s an acceptable amount of squeeze? My hugs are usually followed by an apology because I inadvertently hit a cheek or brush against a body part I should not be touching. It seems like such a simple act, but there’s a whole science behind it. Since science was my 6th favorite subject in school, it’s really no surprise that every hug is a debacle.

The whole concept of affection mystified me because I didn’t experience it often as a child. My parents rarely showed affection to me or to each other. I didn’t even know what I was missing until I became a parent. Holding another person that close felt foreign. Each time I rocked my daughter, the love that flooded my insides was so intense that it made me feel queasy.

But it was delicious.

For a long time, it was just the two of us, a mother and her daughter. Then, when my Cal was almost eight, I got married.

Romantic affection was not my specialty either. The first few I love you’s caught in my throat as I said them to my husband. Everything I knew about love came from movies and TV shows, and I wanted less Dynasty and more The Cosby Show. Except for the part about Mrs. Huxtable being a lawyer. I think you have to study a lot for that career, and that’s not really my style.

I didn’t want to repeat the pattern I witnessed as a child: passive-aggressive jabs, heated arguments, then long periods of silence. I preferred the noise of their disagreements. Silence can be so overwhelming. After witnessing this cycle for years, I didn’t have an optimistic opinion about marriage. Love seemed like a lot of work with very little reward. There was no happily ever after. Even love had an expiration date.

A small part of me used to think that we all grow up to be exactly who we are meant to be, despite bad parenting and difficult life situations. Eventually, we all blossom into functional, happy adults. I needed to believe this because it made it easier to tell myself that I had made it through to the other side, and there I was, an adult with a family of my own. And in this way, no matter how many mistakes I made with Cal or however many bad examples of toxic love she witnessed, she would still be fine.

I know now that not one part of this belief is true. Actually, what I want to say is that I was stupid and What the hell was I thinking?!, but I’m being kinder these days, not only to others but to myself. It’s important for children to see healthy examples of love and commitment and teamwork and forgiveness as they are growing up. I hope that my daughter will understand as a grown woman what kind of behavior is acceptable and what counts as a “deal breaker.” She will know how to respect herself by setting boundaries and her strength will allow her to walk away from unhealthy relationships.

Cal would know all of these important lessons about love because I would model them for her in my own marriage. Exactly how, I did not know, but I’m not one of those people that gets discouraged just because I’ve never done something. In my mind, I’m already extremely good at it, and I just wait for my subconscious to formulate a plan and catch up with my conscious belief.

Luckily, my husband is the product of a happy marriage. My father-in-law is a stoic man, but he has, not even once, talked about his wife without a smile on his face. Even when he complains about the 704th figurine she purchased for her angel collection, he does so with a chuckle. In my husband’s childhood home, he witnessed two people showing each other respect and consideration. He learned the art of reasonable disagreement. To him, two people disagreeing about an issue doesn’t signal divorce. It signals two people who….um, disagree about an issue. Not everything has to be cataclysmic.

We can give our children lectures about right and wrong, but sometimes there are no words for the most important lessons about good and bad. They learn from watching and absorbing. But I’m not opposed to using words either. I love you. You are special to me. Thank you for being in my life. 

It’s hard to move away from everything I know, but in the place I know, those words do not exist. I have never told my parents that I love them.  In this new life, I can choose to create a place where peace is the norm. And, for no particular reason at all, we might hug in a totally non-awkward way and say I love you. You are special to me. Thank you for being in my life. And we mean it.

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Should I Become a Tiger Mom? Wed, 12 Feb 2014 21:48:34 +0000

I often feel like a failure as a mother. I question my parenting choices and replay my decisions, hoping to find a little more direction in a complicated maze of ever-shifting boundaries and beginnings and dead ends and obstacles. Then I look at my daughter, who is now 14, and push aside the doubt and fear so that I can marvel at the stellar person she has become. Cal is self-motivated. Empathetic. Earnest. Funny. She is a straight-A student. Basically, she is everything I was not at that age…or this age.

When other parents take notice of Cal’s achievements, they are not shy about asking: What exactly did you do to produce such a motivated student? How long do you force her to study each day? Do you punish her if she doesn’t bring home all “A”s? Is she allowed to go to sleepovers? Does she get to pick her own extracurricular activities? Was her first toy an abacus? Is that why she’s so good at math? Can she do my taxes next year?

They deliver the questions as casual jokes, but I get it. Since I am Asian, I must, of course, be a Tiger Mom. Some crazy shit must go down in our home, and Cal probably never has any fun or a reason to smile. My child probably doesn’t even know how to smile.

Do animals have opposites? What is the opposite of a tiger? If “overparenting” sums up a Tiger Mom, then I am an “underparent.” I am not neglectful nor am I uncaring, but my personal parenting style is less about the end result and more about the process. Edging out my daughter’s childhood for the sake of realizing every last ounce of her potential just isn’t worth it to me. This is not to say that I don’t have my moments. I recently told Cal that if she didn’t stop watching online videos and start her homework, she would end up working at a dry cleaner like I did for part of my 20s. I also once asked her if she was serious about college when she brought home an A- in science. Look, contrary to what a lot of people are saying about me, I’m not perfect, okay?

Amy Chua perpetuates the model minority myth and the cultural stereotypes that surround Asian mothers with her hyped-up, fantasy-like narrative in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The book depicts a tense home environment, rife with threat tactics and hours of forced practice. She pokes fun at the western style of parenting for being too lax and producing unmotivated, less accomplished, dependent kids.

I expected her parenting methods to blow up in her face. Don’t prisoners revolt when conditions become unbearable? I saw that happen in a movie so it must be true. Then her oldest daughter was accepted into Harvard. And then her second daughter got into Yale. She set out to raise overachieving students. Which she totally got.


Perhaps I need to rethink my parenting choices.

I mean, yes, Amy once called her daughter “garbage” and threatened to burn all of her toys, but now that garbage is going to Harvard. While I don’t believe that an Ivy League education guarantees success or a happier life, elite schools can offer more opportunities and it still looks pretty damn impressive on a resume.

My highest completed level of education is high school. I didn’t boost my marketability by pursuing a college degree or vocational training. My lack of skills and higher education meant a lack of opportunity for my younger self. I flitted from one low-paying job to another. At one point, I was the temp of a temp of a temp (like, seriously) wrapping gifts for eight hours a day in a warehouse. I worked for a high-end retailer that mostly sold European children’s toys. All day long, I was surrounded by toys that I left behind at the end of my shift because I could not afford to bring them home for my own child.

I want my daughter to have an abundance of opportunities. Lots and lots and lots of opportunities. I want her to know what it’s like to have choices.

I probably spent a SOLID seven minutes thinking about becoming a Tiger Mom. By choosing that route, I might increase Cal’s chances of being accepted into an elite college and would lay the groundwork for a successful career. She would make stacks of cash and buy her mother lots of beautiful jewelry.

I thought about it. Then I decided against it. The balance we have in our family is hard-won. Cal is a good kid and tries her best most of the time. That’s a lot more valuable than any bling.

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A Happy Holiday Season for Blended Families Tue, 24 Dec 2013 15:39:58 +0000

My daughter and I celebrated eight years of special occasions and holidays as a duo before my husband became a part of our family. Although she prized the small, familiar rituals we developed over the years, Cal welcomed our new status as a trio. But even the most wanted changes can still require some adjustment. Our new family was less than four months old before we were enveloped in a holiday whirlwind of family and travel and activity.

Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas that year, I caught Cal staring intently at a group in front of us while we were waiting to take a picture with Santa. When I followed her gaze, I found a happy family of three, a mother and father with their infant daughter. I tapped Cal’s shoulder and asked if she was thinking about anything in particular. She hesitated before asking, “Is it okay if I still call him Harv even though everyone else says he’s my dad?”

“Of course,” I replied. “Does it make you feel weird when people call him your dad?”

“Not really. But I think they want me to call him that. Plus, he bought me an American Girl doll.”

I tried not to laugh at her logic. It made sense. Even though Harv and I told her numerous times that it would be okay to address Harv by his first name for as long as she wanted, my extended family and friends had already embraced my husband and some of them couldn’t understand why Cal wasn’t eager to do the same. Especially since he was so loving and generous towards her. They were not shy about sharing their thoughts when we got together for holiday meals and parties. I wish it were socially acceptable to tape someone’s mouth shut.

On the drive home, I did my best to explain to Cal that our family should set traditions based on what worked best for us and that she shouldn’t feel pressure to abide by what others defined as acceptable or “good.” This seemed to ease her anxiety, and it helped us create a memorable and joyful first holiday season.

As we near the milestone of spending as many years together as a trio as Cal and I had celebrated as a duo, these guidelines have helped us navigate through the unfamiliar:

Consider Each Family Member’s Needs

Cal is an extrovert. Harv is an introvert. I can go either way depending on how much caffeine and processed sugar I’ve had that day. Since Cal likes being with “her friends” (anyone she’s known for more than three minutes) so much, I always accepted holiday invitations in the past. We’ve become much more selective about the events we attend, and we’re mindful about spending meaningful time together over fulfilling social obligations.

Set New Traditions and Incorporate Old Ones

Our mother and daughter holiday routine centered around staying in our pajamas all day, although we would change the activity to fit the occasion. On Thanksgiving, it was pj’s and pie. On Christmas, pj’s while unwrapping gifts. On New Year’s Eve, we changed into pj’s before the sky even got dark and tried to keep each other awake till midnight.

Harv doesn’t feel comfortable walking around in pajamas after 8 am or before 8 pm. No biggie. He still participates in our holiday rituals. He’s just in “real clothes.”

During our first holiday together, we spent an afternoon shopping for ornaments. As we picked out our favorites, we shared personal details about why those stood out to us. We learned so much about each other, and our ornament hunts became a new tradition for our new family.

Be Flexible (Also, Be Realistic)

I somehow manage to forget each year how stressful and chaotic holidays can be. In my fantasyland, my home suddenly grows six more guest rooms to accommodate a large number of extended family members. Each evening, we sit in front of the fireplace as we drink eggnog and form an assembly line to stuff beautifully embossed holiday cards into foil-lined envelopes. In reality, I have to plan separate dinners because this brother isn’t talking to that uncle or his wife insulted her sister-in-law. There is no assembly line because, for the third year in a row, I haven’t ordered any cards. While I like the idea of a perfect holiday celebration, I’m in love with sanity even more.

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Please Get Off My Back! (The Perils of Overprotective Parenting) Wed, 04 Dec 2013 18:57:52 +0000

My daughter collects rocks or anything that bears a strong resemblance to a rock. Polished agate, rough quartz, chunks of concrete, “rocks” that once left someone’s mouth as a chewed wad of gum and hardened over time-every small and dense object has a special place in Cal’s heart.  Sometimes when she is at school, I will root through her rock collection and wipe the ones that look especially dirty with a disinfecting wipe as I silently pray that Cal uses her hand sanitizer before lunch.

I wish this was my only overprotective and neurotic parenting quirk, but it’s not. I don’t allow Cal to check the mailbox after sunset. Multiple times a week, I ask if school is too stressful. It’s always in a gentle manner because I don’t want to stress her out about being stressed out. When she brings home Halloween candy, I check each piece to make sure it’s “safe to eat” after I take my 90% cut as payment for her long and difficult delivery fourteen years ago. I worry a lot that she isn’t drinking enough fluids. Dehydration causes a myriad of side effects. Like death.

Since my own mother was overprotective, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of zealous parenting. It became a source of friction and embarrassment as a teen, and I promised myself that I would be different. Better. Calm. Easygoing. A friend-like companion. Showing restraint would be easy because I would love my daughter much more than my mother ever loved me.

My mother now looks like an absentee parent in comparison. I no longer care about being my daughter’s buddy or being the cool mom that all the other girls envy. Nope. I’m too busy texting her to make sure she has a light sweater in her backpack in case the temperature drops below 70 degrees. Actually, I just prefer she has a sweater at all times. Classrooms can get chilly. Hands that are rubbing together for warmth are not taking notes. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking this through.

I don’t define happiness in terms of money or medals or moments. To me, it’s the absence of discomfort and sadness and pain. I don’t want Cal to understand sadness the way I do. If I’m really honest with myself, I can admit that I don’t want my daughter to know sadness or pain at all.

My hopes are unrealistic, but I can’t help hoping anyway. There are so many factors out of my control. Knowing this makes me extremely unreasonable. I may be the most uptight person I know. And I know a lot of uptight people.

It’s most important to me that Cal never feels like she is fending for herself, which is a feeling I carried for most of my childhood. Even though my mother placed tight boundaries for daily details that didn’t matter, when it came to crisis, she believed in silence and non-action. No child should have to be their own advocate. It’s a mother’s job to voice concern when a problem exists because, really, kids are inexperienced and dumb.  I’m guilty of over-voicing, if there is such a thing.

I want my daughter to know that I have her back. My daughter mostly just wants me to get off her back.

Cal recently asked for more decision-making power. She promised to be responsible and asked for my trust. I realized then that the consequence of my overparenting was Cal believing that I didn’t trust her and that she wasn’t capable of making the best choices for herself. This isn’t the truth at all. My daughter is more mature as a teen than I am sometimes, even now. Of course I trust her. Of course I believe in her. I just don’t trust other people.

But I can’t keep her boxed in forever. It’s been difficult to keep my lips sealed as she leaves the house without a sweater. I try not to interject during carpool if a conversation becomes heated. I am my daughter’s advocate, but she’ll be leaving for college in less than four years, and I want her to understand that her voice is important too. Part of growing up is having the freedom to fall down and pick yourself back up. I just want to be there with a first-aid kit.

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Perfect and Good: Promoting a Healthy Teen Body Image Thu, 31 Oct 2013 21:35:00 +0000

  1. 10-year-old boys like washboard abs.
  2. It’s possible to intensely dislike a child.

Both of these revelations came while I was chauffeuring my then 10-year-old daughter and her friend to a school carnival.  My only source of entertainment during these trips is eavesdropping, since my music playlist is questionable at best and my interjections are wholly unappreciated. I’ve learned a lot about Cal during these unguarded moments.

In the midst of a conversation about the girls basketball team, Cal’s friend asked, “Are you working on your six pack? I’ve been doing crunches, but I don’t see any lines yet.” The question wasn’t delivered sotto voce, and there was nothing hesitant in her manner. I stayed facing forward and forced my lips shut because I wanted to hear my daughter’s answer.

“No. Why would I do that?” Cal replied.

“Boys like toned stomachs.” There was a hint of impatience in the tween’s voice. It’s the same edge I get in my own tone when I am forced to explain something obvious.

I pulled my foot off of the gas pedal. What would be the best way to ask a child to leave my car? I was pretty sure that her conditioning exercises would help her traverse the steep and winding curves of Mulholland Drive.

“I don’t show my stomach to boys. I don’t even wear a tankini at the pool.”

Cal’s friend sighed loudly and changed the subject. Maybe she decided that my daughter was a lost cause. Besides, she would get first dibs on all of the boys with her hard-earned physique.

For the rest of the drive (with both girls), I debated whether I should say something once we got to school. I try my best not to parent other people’s children, but as my initial anger and judgment turned into sadness, I found it difficult not to intervene. But I didn’t.

Why did I foolishly believe that girls today wouldn’t obsess about the same body image issues that I agonized over as a teen? I didn’t have access to a fraction of the media my daughter does because my parents couldn’t afford cable television or magazines subscriptions, but I was exposed to enough images and words to know that I needed to be fixed. I never want my daughter to go through any of the anxiety or shame or self-doubt or self-hate that I allowed into my childhood. Actually, I am still tethered to these filters, and they color everything around me.

When I’m feeling nostalgic, I often flip through photo albums that my mother meticulously organized by “era.” They range from our years in South Korea to our early school years and then as high school students. Two narrative tracks run simultaneously as I relive old memories. One recounts particular details: the who, what, where, and when. The other track digs into the mental monologue as I posed for each picture: How I would remind myself to keep my lips together so my crooked buck teeth wouldn’t jut out. Or how much I hated being photographed in my biker shorts because my knees were too knobby and my thighs too spindly, especially if I didn’t have the bulk of my neon fanny pack to hide my stick figure.

My body was too thin. My chest was too small. My hair was too frizzy. My toes were too stubby. My nose bridge was too flat. I was too short. It’s strange…I can’t think of much else in life where too much of something denotes a lack instead of an overflow. But that is how I saw myself. My body wasn’t good enough. I was lacking.

Even now, I’m very self-conscious. Until ten days ago, I did not own a single photo of myself in a bathing suit. I’m not that much taller than I was as a tween, nor has my body magically filled out. My ass is still concave. My friends good-naturedly tease and ask if I purge or withhold. “I would swallow tapeworms if I could be your size.” “Petite women are so cute. I just want to put you in my pocket.” I always go along with the jokes because I never felt like I had permission to talk about my insecurities. When I slipped into the bathing suit I hadn’t worn in four years except in the dressing room before purchasing it, it was my way of saying, “I will not hide anymore. This is good. Not just good enough. But GOOD.” It still didn’t stop an inner monologue of self-doubt as my friend snapped several photos by the pool, but, like, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

That’s the unshakeable truth I want my daughter to own. That she is good. Beautiful. Perfect.

What I don’t want is for her to someday be 33 like me and believe that her body’s worth is based on a standard set by others. I don’t want her to wait for external approval before she feels like she has permission to love herself.

I still regret holding back during that carpool several years ago, but Cal and I have had multiple conversations since about that afternoon. She knows:

  1. Washboards abs do not guarantee happiness. Or a boy’s affection.
  2. Don’t bring that girl over no more.
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I Tried to Get Along With Every Other Mother and Then I Came to My Senses Fri, 27 Sep 2013 15:04:11 +0000

“Welcome to hell.”

Those were the first words I heard after standing in the corner with my then-toddler, Cal, for several minutes after arriving at our first pay-to-play group. The woman’s deadpan expression coupled with her screaming daughter immediately put me at ease. I liked that she found humor in the messiness of motherhood.

“I don’t mind the noise. At least I haven’t seen any hitting yet.”

“I wasn’t talking about the kids. This is a gossipy bunch. Watch yourself,” she said, as she tried to unfurl the tiny fingers around her hoop earrings. (Side note: Much respect to women who wear any kind of jewelry around very young people. That takes a level of bravery I don’t have.)

I assumed that all mothers were willing and eager members of the same sacred team before I had my daughter. Kind of like a gang, except this was a Do No Harm gang.

It didn’t matter if two women spoke the same language. At the very moment those women became mothers, they would suddenly understand each other through a secret ritual of head nods and hand gestures. A left-leaning head and a sneer meant Hey, I’m sorry your baby had gas and cried during the entire Los Angeles to Frankfurt flight. It happens to all of us. Can I get you a soda or something?  A raised middle finger signaled I told you that Little Tommy can’t watch Caillou because he has nightmares about losing all of his hair, and you let him watch it anyway for six straight hours, but I embrace you and celebrate your style of parenting.

That’s not what I mean when I raise my middle finger. Not even close. But there’s no fellow member to rally my community spirit because, as it turns out, there is no team. At least not a magnanimous, all-inclusive one anyway.

I thought I was alone in feeling alone until another friend moved to a different city and her twins started a new middle school. Most of the other women had known each other for years and cemented their bonds as their children glued down shapes and learned to spell in elementary school. “They asked about my skinny jeans like I shouldn’t be wearing anything with the word ‘skinny’ in it. Maybe I’m just being paranoid.”

I’ve used that word for years to describe the uncomfortable, out-of-place feeling I get every time I stand in the schoolyard for afternoon pickup. Or when I check my spam folder repeatedly for the Moms Pottery Painting Palooza. I don’t even like painting pottery. I would chide myself for feeling paranoid. Then, I would give myself a lecture on not actively getting involved in moms groups or striking up conversations at school.

I must try harder! I must be the change I want to see! (That last sentiment is etched on an acrylic magnet that used to taunt me every time I faced the refrigerator. I took it down because, I mean, who needs that kind of pressure? There is no place for exclamation points in my life.) I tried harder. I made mental notes of interesting current events that did not touch on religion, politics, or vaccinations to use as small talk starters. I wiped the scowl off of my face. And complimented footwear.

Since follow-through is not one of my skills, I didn’t stick with this routine for very long. It was exhausting. I’m one of those people that can only plan one major activity per day because the rest of the day is either gearing up for or recovering from that activity, and this Befriend All business became the one thing every school day. Just….hell no.

What I’ve realized is that not even motherhood is enough of a commonality to forge bonds. Many of us will experience the same joys or overcome similar hurdles, but it’s more of a parallel play situation. It becomes an interactive adventure when we make friends with women who would have been our friends anyway.

I’m still friends with Jaime, the woman who welcomed me in playgroup so long ago when our children were just toddlers. And along the way, some of the closest friends I have are other mothers I’ve met through Cal’s school or activities. We like and respect each other as people, and not just for the roles we play. I feel less lonely because of our genuine connections. Ok, and also less hungry because they can cook far better than I can. (I promise that’s not the only reason we’re friends. I swear.)

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“Why Do You Only Have One Child?” Mon, 19 Aug 2013 19:59:52 +0000

“Wow, that’s really rude, ma’am.” For the first time this spring, I finally said the words that have teetered on the edge of my lips since becoming a mother in 1999. People have asked in many different ways why I only have one child. Sometimes, the question is straightforward. Other times, it starts as a concerned inquiry about my reproductive health or my priorities in life.

I had imagined being bold dozens of times before it actually happened, so I was disappointed by the response. In my fantasy, the offender always apologizes and promises to be more sensitive and then her mouth disappears. But in reality, my comment left her unaffected. Even the addition of the word “ma’am” didn’t have the desired effect.

“Well, I’m sorry if you’re sensitive about it, but you really should consider having a spare,” the woman continued.

“A spare? Like a tire?” Clearly, I have a problem with knowing when to disengage.

“No, silly, a child. It’s really selfish to put all of your hopes on an only child. What if she can’t live up to your expectations?”

I wanted to tell the woman that my daughter, Cal, has already fulfilled all of my greatest hopes as a parent. She can do single digit addition and subtraction in her head; she whips up tasty, somewhat nutritious snacks using five ingredients or less; and she understands my complicated laundry system that involves three different detergents. Instead, I shrugged my shoulders and walked away. I felt my insides boiling, and it would be a pyrrhic victory if I had broken through to this woman.

As a teen, I wrongly assumed that peer pressure exists only in the microcosm of high school. The desire to fit in led me down a dark path when I experimented with alcohol and drugs and boys. It didn’t really matter that I didn’t like what I was doing. I ignored the parts of my core that were my own personal truths and sacrificed what I believed in because I didn’t want to be different. The most valuable lessons I learned from those poor choices were to do what was right for me and to make important decisions based on my own timetable.

The peer pressure I feel from Occupy Uterus campaigners makes me doubt the choice I’ve made to focus on Cal for the time being. Doubt then spurs guilt and shame.

I bet your daughter is lonely. Our family didn’t feel complete until our second (third, fourth) child. You’re too young not to have more! Don’t you want a buddy for her? Are you afraid you won’t have enough love for two kids? Don’t you want to know what it’s like to have a son? Are you at least trying? Are you infertile? Is he infertile? Are you having problems in your marriage? Do you not like children? Are you afraid your body won’t snap back into shape? What if something happens to your daughter?

Since my husband adopted my daughter after we got married six years ago, I also get asked, “Don’t you think your husband deserves a child of his own?” It’s difficult for people to digest that Harv feels a deep connection with Cal and is perfectly content with our daughter being his only child. “He may just be saying that to take the pressure off of you, you know.”

Silence has become my companion during these awkward moments. I no longer offer excuses or an explanation. Restraint isn’t easy, especially during rough moments like my miscarriage, when I wanted nothing more than to say, “You don’t know anything. Be quiet.” But those who offer judgment often tend to be the loudest because they want to be heard; they need to feel heard.

I wish I could say that it doesn’t bother me at all when people make assumptions based on just one or two facts. That might not ever be the truth, but I can say this with certainty: There’s no such thing as the “right” number of children. We can only do what is best for our own family, and it’s okay if that vision changes along the way.

Also, it’s important to mind our own damn business.

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