Knowing Our Limits: What Not to Say to Each Other

IMG_0811There’s this thing women seem to have started saying to each other when we come up against something we’ve decided we won’t put up with, whether because we shouldn’t or because we can’t. When we say we’ve learned we have more needs than we wanted to admit, or that we’ve learned the boundaries of how much we can give unrequited, or that we’ve found the outer reaches of our self-esteem and self-respect, we tell each other: “At least you know that about yourself now.”

I’m not sure if this is really a Thing That People Say since I’m not living in a western country and am not as embedded in American culture anymore, but it’s been said to me on multiple occasions by very different women. And it’s been said in the exact same way, so I can only imagine that it didn’t just pop up out of nowhere.

It sounds like such a lovely, enlightened sentiment too. “At least you know that about yourself.” Because increased self-awareness is a good thing, a thing we strive for right? So learning more about yourself can only be a positive contribution to heightened consciousness. Right?

Except in each circumstance, it felt the opposite. It felt like such a patronizing thing to say. As in, “Oh you’re not as giving as you once thought you were? How sad. But hey, at least you know that about YOU.” Like, “Oh, you failed that exam, but hey, at least you tried, and that’s cool. I still got an A.”

There’s a thing that activists do where they try to out-activist other activists. When you’re committed to a cause, there is intense pressure to prove how committed you are: to do more in support of it, to identify with it more, and the peer pressure pushes people to be more extreme and uncompromising. Sometimes this manifests itself in beliefs and political stances. Sometimes it manifests itself in what initially would be a positive trait: giving, kindness, forgiveness…until you push so hard you get burnout.

Moms do this to each other too. However committed you are to a certain belief or behavior is exactly as committed as one should be. Anyone doing less or differently is less of a mother, anyone doing more is just crazy. Right?

Of course not. But we do this to each other.

Until you realize you are actually tired, stressed out, angrier than you should be, and maybe you do need to take better care of yourself in the ways that matter to YOU and fit in with YOUR lifestyle.

So if a friend of mine tells me she needs weekly spa treatments to feel human again after working full-time, mothering X number of kids, pursuing/finishing a degree, running a business, or frankly, with some of my friends, doing all of the above, or if she tells me she realizes she needs to demand a little more from others in order to keep herself afloat, I hope I never say, “At least you know that about yourself now.”

I hope I have the presence of mind to tell her something more like, “It’s not a bad thing to discover we all have boundaries.” Having boundaries is not something to feel guilty about, and it’s not something only certain people have. Everyone has them. Knowing where they are just means you can more efficiently find out in what areas you need to protect yourself and in what areas you can more freely give. Just because there is an outer limit to how generous you can be in certain circumstances does not mean you are not a generous person. Having a limit to kindness does not mean you are not kind. Having a limit to your selflessness does not make you selfish. Asking for the things you need is not being unreasonable. It’s just the smart way to ensure you can perform your best, whether as a wife, a mom, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a boss, an employee, or a warrior.

It took me many years to understand this, but I finally now get this saying, “You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.” Fill yourself up first. When we are full, we can give so much more to everyone else.

Life Around the Bend

IMG_0615Around the time I decided to change up my approach to blogging, I made some other adjustments that really brought me so much relief and renewed focus. I’ve been working at finding creative ways to contribute more to SOLD now that my life has changed with the onset of motherhood. I’m working from home, and with a baby, I just can’t travel back and forth the way I used to. Last year, that meant cutting way back on things I could do for SOLD. But now that Cy is getting older and (dare I say it?) marginally easier, I find myself confronting a gnawing desire to contribute more and feel more productive.

IMG_0785One change I made is I’ve devised tasks for myself that I can do from my phone when Cy is napping. I do a lot more scholarly research now and save notes to myself that I can then type up into memos to share with the staff to help everyone keep up on the latest news and knowledge.

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Another change I’ve made is I’ve gotten a lot more unapologetic about using whatever resources are at my disposal to make my job easier and more efficient. Instead of fighting with crappy tools, I looked around and found iPhone apps that streamline what I do. Instead of spending days and weeks of my time carefully (and often incorrectly) trying to translate my work into Thai, I’ve decided to put up the cash to hire a translator. There are seasons for trying to do everything yourself. This, for me, is just not one of them.

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And I’ve consciously decided to feel less guilty about having hired help around the house. Can I clean the house myself? Yes. Do I want to? No. Is my life more efficient, focused, and productive when I can outsource that task? Yes. Do I like having someone up in my business all the time? Not really. Do I like having a clean house and not being the one to do it? Heck yes.

I used to wait for opportune moments. I did a lot of waiting. My new mantra in life: Do what it takes to Get It Done.

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Of course, just as I got into a lovely pattern and flow, feeling focused, centered, and productive, creating several memos for SOLD that the staff seemed very happy to have, cooking more fresh and healthy foods at home, keeping our house nice and clean, and still managing to be with Cy to meet his needs….I had to let our maebaan (housekeeper/nanny) go.

It’s a long story, one in which I basically was really having trouble trusting her. The death knell in our relationship, however, came when I found her playing at dangling Cy and swinging him playfully out over the edge of our 2nd story balcony. I’m sure she thinks it was just a dumb mistake.  For me, ugh, I don’t even want to talk or think about it anymore. She’s gone. We need to find someone else. That’s about the sum of it.

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I’m taking on a lot more nowadays, and I’m tired at the end of it, but it’s a good feeling. It’s good to feel that I’m contributing to SOLD again, and it’s good to feel like I’m not torn in too many different directions. Before I felt like I was spinning my wheels more often than not. Now I feel like I’ve got things more in line.

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In the meantime, Cy has been great. He just gets to be more and more fun as he gets older. We had a blast visiting the islands, he was a stellar traveller as we schlepped him all over the country, and it’s just so fun to watch his personality develop. I feel our relationships with him are only blossoming deeper, and I feel like all the hard work of the first year is really paying off.

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This week he hit a bit of a rough patch, however, and has suddenly started banging his head against the floor when upset. Things that upset him today include:

- me telling him he shouldn’t eat vegetables that are still frozen
- me telling him he shouldn’t bang his head on the floor
- banging his head on the floor
- me not letting him startle Dot by stomping on her while she’s sleeping, and
- me being unable to carry him AND the water tank I needed to put on top of our water cooler

I think he’s teething. And he’s probably grumpy because he has a stuffy, runny nose from the poor air quality thanks to smoky season. And also he’s a toddler.

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On the plus side, his spoken vocabulary seems to be exploding. In about a week, the number of words he can say has more than doubled. He can’t pronounce the ending consonants so he calls tuk tuks “thoo thoo” and eggs are “E!” But he can say things like mama and papa, Dottles, bubble, hot, door, choo choo (train), google (logo), and a few different animal sounds.

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I used to think balance was an elusive concept when you throw family into the mix. I’m starting to think maybe we don’t always get it in any given moment, but that maybe it just comes more broadly over time.

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Flying Solo

I’ve been parenting solo this week as T is on a business trip back in the U.S.
The first day T was gone, I told Cy, “Papa went on an airplane.” I don’t think he believed me.
Then when we were doing our bedtime routine, Cy turned to where T normally sits on the bed, wanting to give the goodnight moon book to his papa, who normally reads the story, but he got confused when T wasn’t there, and he didn’t know where to go.
I said, “Papa went on an airplane. A big bye-bye. But mama can read your story. Can mama read your story?”
He chucked the book back in the crib (where it’s kept) and lay down to sleep.
No papa, no goodnight story, I guess.
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Little by Little

Playing the Waiting Game–in Life, Marriage, and Motherhood

Strung out on a line

Strung out on a line

When I was in college, the largely unspoken, but prevailing belief seemed to be that smart, strong women could have plenty of fun dating around, but would want to get their degree and all their career ducks in a row before settling down. For some, random hookups were the mode de jour; for others, dating was one long stream of bad men. Only a few had really long relationships. And motherhood? That was for way later, if at all. Pregnancy would practically mean the end of your life. Taking birth control was the only smart choice.

The trouble is none of us had any idea how difficult it could be to find a good partner after college. When you join the work force, you enter a pool of widely varied, but highly limited options. There’s usually a huge age range—which makes finding unmarried age-mates more difficult, and when you spend the vast majority of your life in one office, meeting people outside that milieu gets incredibly hard. If there aren’t any suitable mates among your coworkers (and let’s not even get into in all the potential trials of an office relationship), you can be hard-pressed to find the time or place to even meet anyone else new.

I remember when I was a teenager, I used to dream that I’d go to college, get a fancy career started, find an awesome apartment in a big city, and then find my future husband, whom I’d marry, preferably around the age of 28. After a couple years of marriage, we’d have our first child, probably when I was around the age of 30. Thirty sounded like a good child-bearing age. That still would give me a couple of years to have my second child at 32 or so, and be done well before that fertility drop-off at 35.

I assumed getting pregnant was easy because all you hear, when you’re young, is about the girls who got pregnant even though they only had unprotected sex “that one time.”

I don’t know if it’s by luck or by choice, but I never had a string of bad men or bad relationships. Sure, I dated a jerk or two and a few guys who, though nice, weren’t going to captivate me long-term. But those were always obvious from the start and I never was one to stick around with a losing bet (I distinctly remember one relationship that had a shelf-life of “Four Tuesdays”—my best friend from college will get this reference; there were lots of fun, crazy memories from that episode in our lives). My relationships either lasted a few weeks or a few years—the long ones, even the ones that didn’t work out, were great while they lasted, and important learning experiences in preparation for marriage.

It turns out, I met my husband in college—though neither of us was anywhere near ready for marriage at the time. But we fell in love, probably to both our surprises, and we stuck around each other, even though “not ready” was a big light flashing above both our heads. Toby took a year to travel the world after he graduated college, and in the interim, we had both grown a lot. By the time he came back, I knew I was ready to think about marriage, even if we weren’t anywhere near ready to marry each other. We loved each other; we knew that much. I probably broke a slew of dating rules by doing this, but I told him, in no uncertain terms, that if we were going to be together, it would be with an eye towards marriage. Though we both knew there were no guarantees in this trial run, I wasn’t going to waste time with someone who was only in it “just for now.”

Luckily for me, he was on the same page, more or less, and the years following were a steady learning experience in which we tried out what marriage might look like, what commitment meant, and what it would mean to devote ourselves to another. By the time he proposed to me, I was 26 and we were ready. We had grown into marriage together. We had become ready together. When we did exchange vows, I had just turned 28.

But marriage isn’t the only odyssey one embarks on—there’s also parenthood. Having just gotten married, I wasn’t in any rush to have a child. There was my doctorate to finish and a career to start. Toby was only just getting his career off the ground, and a job in the tech industry at that time seemed volatile and uncertain. We lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and had other dreams too, namely involving travel. Maybe living abroad for a while. There was still adventure to be had and a baby seemed more like a huge complication and intense responsibility than the next inevitable step in our life progression. The biological clock had started ticking, but I ignored the bell toll.

Though I had heard that fertility decreases with age, I still assumed it would be easy enough to get pregnant. I did have one friend who was trying to get pregnant and had started fertility treatments. She warned me getting pregnant could take time. I heard, but didn’t hear.

When I turned 30, I finished my doctorate and we made plans to move to Thailand. Work with The SOLD Project was already lined up; all I had to do was get to northern Thailand. We were leaving everything we knew behind. That wasn’t the time to start thinking about babies.

After we got settled in Thailand, and Toby’s work situation seemed solid, I was getting integrated at SOLD and halfway through writing a manuscript, I began to listen more carefully to that biological clock. I went off the pill slightly before entirely ready, thinking it would take a few months for the pill’s effects to clear my system, so that, fingers crossed, I might be 100% ready when it did.

Then, I didn’t get pregnant. Our jobs got even better, visitors came and went, we had grown into life in Thailand…I still didn’t get pregnant. My best friend from college was also enduring her own trial of fertility problems, and my best friend from grad school had suffered miscarriages, and another friend was going through a divorce…so by this time, I was really hearing it: Yes, it can be freaking hard to get pregnant. We traveled to Hong Kong and saw more of Asia. I still didn’t get pregnant. We spent a month in Europe, I didn’t get pregnant. We went back to the U.S. for a month…if I didn’t get pregnant soon, we’d have to think about fertility treatments. I didn’t even want to know what that cost would look like. My mother and sister had both had miscarriages before being able to carry a child to term. My cousin is 40 and still unable to get a baby to take, despite almost a decade of treatments. I knew that even if I did get pregnant, it might not work on the first try, and I had to steel myself for that possibility.

It turn out that it was only when we no longer had a stream of life and travel plans that, after more than a year and a half off the pill, I got pregnant. I’m turning 33 next week, and my dreams of having two kids are now looking more like I’ll be blessed to have one. I’m okay with that, and even saying this, I want it to be clear that I’m not complaining. I doubt I’d make different choices even if I had the chance. I love the years Toby and I have had together, and I think the stability we’ve built and the life experiences we’ve had, having had that time, will only serve our child better.

But I feel incredibly lucky. I feel like it’s only partly our choices, and mostly by chance that things have worked out for us (so far—I don’t want to jinx this!). I look at women I know who’ve been trying for years and years to get pregnant, or friends who’ve suffered miscarriages, or others who still can’t find a life partner, and I know how easily it could have gone a different way.

It’s a myth we tell ourselves when we’re young that we can somehow control life and when and how it happens to us. We make plans for what sounds like a good age to marry, and to have children…and these days, that “perfect age” is getting later and later. Instead of right after college, many push it off to their late 20s. Some women, realistic about demands certain careers make, push it off into their 30s, or even later. We don’t factor in the potential for complications. When we make our timelines, we don’t consider the possibility of divorce. We don’t consider the possibility of infertility.

Though I did get married at 28, the truth is I met the man I would marry when I was 20. It took us 8 years to get where we needed to be. If I hadn’t taken my feelings for him seriously way back then, when I still felt I had other life goals to meet first, or vice versa with him for me, who knows where either of us might be? Maybe we would have found other people to love. Maybe there is such a thing as soul mates, and we really are the only ones for each other. Who can really say? Meanwhile, people perpetuate this fear that marriage really hampers one’s freedom and independence. We’ve found this to be entirely untrue for us. Marriage has given us each a strong foundation from which we can both fly—both separately, and together. It’s made us stronger than we would have been alone.

We tell ourselves, when we’re young, that to be real strong, smart women, we have to put education and career before absolutely everything else. The truth is, life goals can exist side by side. You don’t have to put your ducks in a row…sometimes, you just kind of herd them along together. The trend now is to stave off marriage and family until you’ve lived your life first. What makes for “the right time” is an incredibly personal decision and it varies widely from person to person, but I do think we women do ourselves a disservice when we don’t make clear to each other that there are potential tradeoffs when we put off childbearing; that while you’re busy living your life, it can become increasingly harder (and harder than we think it will be) to be able to bear life. We underestimate how fragile life can be, and how uncertain fertility is. We all popped our birth control pills every day for years, each of us never knowing if we’d be the one who’d get pregnant on the first try, the one who would need years of fertility treatments, or the one who couldn’t get pregnant at all.

We can’t control when life happens to us, but we can be honest and informed about the consequences of our choices, and we can listen carefully to our inner guides about who is right for us and when we’re ready. From an employer’s perspective, there’s never a good time for a woman to get pregnant. But your life is your own. External deadlines matter little compared to the timeline we feel ticking along inside.

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This post was inspired by this one, “26 and Already Pregnant,” by Kate from Eat The Damn Cake. If you’re interested in more fun facts about delayed marriage and child-rearing, check out this post, “The Sweet Spot for Tying the Knot,” by Susan Walsh at Hooking Up Smart.

Random Friday Musings

I was planning to write a Books to Savor post sharing a good read I’d come across recently, and I may still get to that later today, but in the meantime, I’m in the mood to share some random things going on in my brain bucket today.

Here they are, in no particular order…

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- Our little Dot is a pretty dang obedient dog and a sweetheart…except in one area. She is nearly uncontrollable when it comes to barking at the neighbors, gardeners, and any other being that commits the grave sin of existing anywhere near our house without express permission. Because our house is rented, we can’t fence her in properly so she’s free to wander, which was fine when we didn’t have neighbors. But after the flooding in Bangkok prompted people to start moving up to Chiang Mai, we suddenly have neighbors. Neighbors who like to have visitors. So you can imagine how many times a day we have to yell at her and chase after her. Dot doesn’t respond well to negative reinforcement. It only makes her more stubborn and recalcitrant (or worse, she gives us this look like we’ve totally failed her), which makes it really difficult to teach her NOT to bark because it’s kind of ridiculous to only be able to praise a dog when it doesn’t bark.

It’s hard to get completely mad at her because it comes from a protective instinct and she’s only doing what she thinks is her job. But since I got pregnant, her protective instinct has been elevated from day job to High Calling, which is both sweet and utterly obnoxious. So after trying every other thing we could think of or find through copious online research, we’ve decided to try a shock collar on her. It makes me feel incredibly guilty and worried, especially given her usual response to negative reinforcement and I really didn’t want to break her relationship of trust with us. But…after just a few days with it, I have to say…

IT WORKS.

Toby has worked carefully with her in using it and keeps it on the lowest possible setting, so that it’s more a sensation than an actual jolt. But the part I really appreciate about it is that you can press a button, via remote control, to emit a little warning beep before resorting to the shock. He only had to use the shock on her twice before she learned to stop barking, come right back to us and sit down, at which point we envelop her in praise and treats. Now that little warning beep is pretty much all she needs to get her to stop barking and come home. And she doesn’t seem to be exhibiting any signs of feeling upset or hurt by us or the collar (maybe because it’s done by remote control, so the connection isn’t clear to her?). So as long as the warning beep is all it takes to get her to obey when we tell her to stop barking and come home, I think I can slowly get behind using this thing, though I still hope there might be a day we won’t have to use it at all.

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- Sometimes, I get really tired of how debate is handled with political stuff. Almost every day in my Facebook feed, there is something about how people are shooting people up in America and we need to do something about keeping slaughter machines out of the hands of crazy folk and why do we only care about people dying when it’s a bomb and not a gun AND/OR something about how we need to cling to our guns and freedoms, and clearly not having an AK-47 = tyranny, and because one person managed to use a gun successfully it’s a good idea for everyone to have easy access to them. The media, which exists to sell itself (and these days, doesn’t even pretend to care more about sharing real policy information than entertainment), THRIVES on this kind of conflict, pushing wedges where really there aren’t any. The truth is, on most policy issues, most people are pretty moderate (which, turns out is kind of a reasonable place to be, hey?). But the way we talk about these issues is like two echo chambers existing side by side, rather than actually communicating. Which is really sad because it makes it impossible to advance the conversation. I’m tired of hearing the same old drumbeats on either side. I’m tired of people painting each other as crazy and stupid when they clearly haven’t listened to what the other really wants. And here’s a hint: you’re not listening to people if you’re spending the entire time trying to figure out how to prove that they’re wrong and you’re smarter.

Here’s two things I wish people would think about more. 1) If you think the answer to a policy problem (especially a controversial one) is really fucking simple, then you’re probably not looking at it carefully enough. 2) You’re not contributing to an effective solution if you can’t hear or address the concerns of those who disagree with you. Be opinionated all you want. Having strong opinions is good. Being engaged in the world around you is good. But it’s still not actually helpful to assume your opinion is the only one worth having and to only want to hear other people tell you that you’re right.

The really worrisome part is that perpetuating these divisions make people really, REALLY angry, and I fear that not only does it not contribute to good policy, but that it makes people really hate each other, dehumanize each other, and makes it seem okay to be more violent with each other, so that it is no longer possible to reach each other with words. People begin see no other recourse than weaponry.

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- Something else I’ve been thinking about lately is that it can be a challenge learning how to adjust to a parent who is aging. I think part of growing up is dealing with the disillusionment that comes when you realize your beloved parent isn’t quite the superhero you thought they were when you were 5, but alongside that comes the beautiful part of getting to know them as they are, which can make you love them more deeply and more expansively, and can add wonderful new dimensions to the relationship.

Sometimes, though, it is a challenge when you’re confronted with a parent whose age has turned them into someone they didn’t use to be, especially if some qualities you admired have been replaced by something you don’t. I recently realized that, when you factor in time with a relationship, part of loving someone means letting go of them as they once were and finding love and acceptance for who they are now. Sometimes, the change is so drastic you have to find new ways to connect with them, demonstrate love, and support and encourage them. It’s like you almost have to build a new relationship. It’s not easy. But realizing that brought me a long way closer to making it okay.

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- Today I’m baking 5-minute artisan bread. The dough has been resting in the fridge for two days, and I’m anxious to see how it turns out. I’ve made it a few times before, but for some unknown reason (changes in humidity/weather? different flour used?), it comes out differently every single time. So it’s like a surprise every time. We’ll see how well it works today!

So that should probably have made up three posts instead of one. Thanks for indulging me! Tell me, what’s been on your mind lately?

Creating a Family Narrative

My sister, my mom, my brother, and wee little me, back in the days when we lived in a tiny apartment in Mississippi.

An article in the NY Times recently argued that the best way to instill resilience and self-confidence in children is to provide them with a strong family narrative. It’s a fascinating read. Much like other social groups, there is greater cohesion when the group shares its history – the highs as well as the lows – and forms a strong core identity in which children are helped to feel that they are part of something larger than themselves.

As I read the article, I saw how it reflected my own family. I knew where my parents grew up, I knew some of the darker skeletons in the closet, I knew the story of how my parents met and how I came to be, and my mom told me more times than I can count that blood is thicker than water; that friends may come and go, but that family – whether you want them to or not, and even if they sometimes go about it in really kooky ways – will always be there for you.

It wasn’t just words either. I saw our family banking system in action: when one member needs a boost to qualify for a home, the various relatives scramble to put it together, knowing full well one day it’ll eventually come back to them, though they’d do it regardless; when another gets married or has a baby, the older relatives pull together and set up a nest egg; when the younger members get older, they send money home to the grandfolks or even offer them a place in their own homes, and they continue the cycle of sending money down to help out the younger generations. The insurance is better than anything the FDIC can offer and it’s interest-free.

I saw unconditional love in action: no matter what was said, no matter what hurt was dealt, you could always come home. It might not be easy – justice would always be meted out – but you would never be turned away at the door.

Why does a strong narrative instill resilience? How does the family story bring strength? The article suggests it has to do with “sense-making,” identity creation, and group cohesion. Based on my own experience, I think it’s about more than that. Whenever my mom sat me down and gave me her blood is thicker than water spiel, I always took a deep amount of solace in that knowledge. I took comfort in knowing that I always had a home base, that I would never be shunned no matter what I did (I might surely have to pay the piper, but ostracism would never be the price), and that I always had a gaggle of supporters cheering me on from the sidelines.

Besides, when the family unit is strong, there’s no one better than an older, indulgent sibling, who once kissed all your boo-boos and got you that thing no one else knew you really wanted, to tell you when you’re being a schmuck. Because if you’ve gotten to the point where even they have to say something, then you know you better get your butt in gear. Crying about it is not going to make you shine any brighter in their book, so man up.

The flip side of that coin was a deep sense of duty. I’m not sure it was ever put into so many words, but because I had that comfort and the experience of seeing the family in operation, I knew I had a role to play too: that when others needed my help (whether it was asked for or not) the best way to show love was to jump in and do what was needed, that one needs to learn to be open-minded enough to see love in the kookiest of gestures and appreciate even the quirkiest of personalities, and (this was never expressly said, but if it’s true that I would never be ostracized, then the transverse must also be true) that the worst thing I could ever do would be to turn my back on family because they would never turn their back on me.

It’s part of what gave Toby & me the courage to take a leap and fly across the globe. We knew, no matter what happened or how miserably our experiment might fail, we could always have a soft spot to land at home. It’s what kept me going in the darkest, hardest parts of my most painful experiences…when I wanted to give up, when I would have simply let go if it were simply up to myself, I hung on for my family. When I couldn’t do it for me, I did it to honor the ones who never dreamed they could do it for themselves.

This NY Times article shone a light on an aspect of my family that I hadn’t put into quite the same words before. But if it’s true that a strong family narrative creates stronger children, I know what I’ll do when my child joins the fray. I’ll show them each and every day not just how I love him* and not just how my husband loves him, but all the ways all our aunts, uncles, grandmammas, grandpoppas, and cousins love him and what it means to love back. I will tell him again and again where and who we came from, and I will show him that whatever we did and no matter from how far away, we did it together.

* And by “him” I mean “him or her.” No, we don’t know the baby’s sex yet. 

For the month of March, Bigger Picture Blogs is celebrating the turn from winter toward spring with the theme: Rejuvenate! Come join us: Rejuvenate your heart, rejuvenate your soul – pick up your pen, your camera, and your spirit!

Find all the ways you can blow some fresh air into life and link it up with us at Bigger Picture Blogs!

Live. Love. Capture. Encourage.

Missing My Womens

Before I came to Thailand, I had spent about 10 years studying and working at a university in a town three hours’ drive from my family. Three hours isn’t so bad; it was just enough space that I could pop down for a visit every couple of months or so, or if I was REALLY in need of family time, I could (and did) drive down on a whim. It was also enough space that I felt what it was to not be near your family.

Of course, moving to Thailand makes that three hours distance laughable. And these are the choices and trade-offs we made: we traded in closeness to those we loved for adventure, freedom, economic security, and life challenges and the lessons they bring with them. (Sadly, one thing I’ve learned is that the best Thai food is still my mother’s.)

But there are days I miss that closeness – that ease of being able to call and not worry about the time difference; the simplicity of being able to just drive over, raid the fridge, and catch up on the family gossip over a bag of chips; and the stories of the non-main-events, the ones that kind of tell you more about what’s really going on with your loved ones than the main-event stories do.

In particular, I miss the women: mothers (in-laws included), sister, cousins that might as well be sisters, nieces, aunts. I miss their stories, banter, and wisdom. Shared memories and experience.

I wish I could shop with them, cook with them, eat with them.

Take my nieces skating…

…see their burgeoning sisterhood through alternating urges to hold on tight or egg each other on.

I missed seeing my cousin become an American citizen. Wish I could have watched him pledge his allegiance to the flag.

But we adjust.

Instead of phone calls and impromptu visits, we have Facebook and Skype. We can see their faces and still hear their laughs from time to time. And we’ve been so lucky to have such a constant stream of visitors that we haven’t had much chance to feel lonely or alone. We know that even when we don’t hear their voices, their thoughts keep us close: that when we cheer, they’re cheering along beside us. When we celebrate, they’re having a party over there too.

And that’s okay. Because love is deeper than distance. And we are very loved.

For the month of February, Bigger Picture Blogs is celebrating LOVE! Share a loved or loving moment with us – it can be anything: a poem, a memory, an ode or yearning, so long as it comes from the heart!

Bigger Picture Moments
Live. Love. Capture. Encourage. 

This week we’re linking up on the Bigger Picture Blog’s website!

A Coffee Chat

This morning, I’m sipping my coffee in South Carolina, where I’m feeling the brisk chill of autumn for the first time in two years. I haven’t been this cold since we were in Poland! We flew in yesterday and it’s really only now dawning on me that I’m back in the States, as is evidenced by the sucking dry of my skin and hair that the climate change has wreaked, causing me to run to the store for moisturizers to bathe in, and the fact that I get to pull out my woolly socks.

Woolly socks make me happy. Except at night. I can’t sleep with socks on, no matter how cold my feet get – much to my husband’s chagrin, as he becomes my personal heater. I just know he misses me putting my icicle feet up in between his legs and my frigid hands up on his stomach every night. The gasping sounds he makes are certainly signs of affection.

And now we’re back in a place where I can wear my woolly socks and still make my husband gasp. It’s a far cry from sweaty tropics and mosquitoes. People have been calling us globe trotters, but I feel like we haven’t been trotting the globe so much as flinging ourselves about it. I’m discombobulated.

Only a little bit though. I just had to say that because I like the word “discombobulated.”

But it especially gets weird when I’m here and I hear other people talk about their memories of Thailand. Or when I’m answering work emails and making plans, giving directions in Thai.

I’m sure that by the time I adjust to being here, we’ll be boarding our next plane out.

I kvetch, but truthfully, it’s been great to be back. I got to hang out with my sister and cousins, while drinking some of my favorite beer (and melting in a puddle of bliss).

Rogue Brown Hazelnut Nectar Ale…oh how I missed thee.

And I took my nieces to the skating rink and taught them how to skate.

It was wobbly at first.

But they soon got the hang of it.

And, despite being a tiny bit afraid, they had a blast.

And so did I – I’m so glad to have had the chance to do something like that with them. Missing watching them grow up is one of the hardest parts of being away, so this feels extra special.

Anyway, this week, I’m looking forward to a little down time and catching up with Toby’s mom. I hope to get some writing done, and maybe a little reading. A fun day trip to Charleston is also in the works.

I may even do a little of this again.

Don’t worry; there’s nothing back there but more woods and maybe a creek.

Seriously, how is it that two weeks ago I was eating sticky rice with impoverished children in a community center in a rural village in the north of Thailand? And a couple of weeks before that, sipping cocktails on a rooftop bar in the center of high society in Bangkok? Then last week, baking cookies and driving a convertible in California, and now eating chili and cornbread in the deep backwoods of the South? Flinging myself, I tell you.

At least good food is always involved.

What’s in your cup this week?

Scenes From My Weekend

I never knew a Rogue Brown Nectar Ale
could make me so happy
but there you go.
A late night out with cousins
cookie baking, roller skating, and miniature golfing with nieces,
Rooibos tea
and strawberries
make for a fabulous weekend.

::

Also linking up with Communal Global

The Melting Years {A Bigger Picture Moment}

My sister is thirteen years older than I am. When I was very wee, she played second mother to me, helping my parents feed, bathe, and clothe me. She helped babysit when my parents worked, in a way, sacrificing a good portion of her youth to take care of little me.

By the time I was old enough to develop a relationship with her that I could remember beyond snatches and glimpses, she was graduating high school, moving out, living with friends, and getting married. She was trying for babies while I was watching The Lion King.

Her first husband was a long story, so I’ll skip to the part where she moved back closer to family, where she has been ever since. But by the time this happened, I was the one moving out, going to college, and falling in love far away.

There was love. Always a tremendous amount of love between us, but little else in common with so many years, life experiences, and differences in the way. We would spend holidays together, with the whole family, laughing and joking. But we didn’t share thoughts, or clothes, or inside jokes like other sisters might, and neither of us likes talking on the phone. There were a few breaches in the age wall – like when she found a new man and started asking me for dating advice, and when I went through a major breakup for reasons much like her earlier divorce and I stayed with her for a week as I nursed my wounds – but still, 25 and 38 make for different people and different life phases.

But then she got remarried. And I got married. She had a second baby, and I was maturing enough to start playing aunt, albeit still from a three-hour drive away. I poured love into her babies as proxy for all the love I couldn’t express to her when I was younger.

And now she’s come to visit and I’m discovering there are no awkward pauses. No shuffling. No wondering what to say or what to do. I’m showing her my home in the country of her birth. I show her the markets and restaurants I love, and watch with a smile as she buys up more food than anyone can reasonably be expected to eat. I laugh as we both reach for the same purses, home decor, and hand-carved goods at the night market. We whisper back and forth about prices and conspire over whom to buy from and how much to bargain down.

We sit by the pool, sharing guavas and dreams, and I’m discovering 33 and 46 aren’t so different after all.

The years, they’re melting away.

*     *     *

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,
but by the moments that take our breath away.” 
- Author Unknown 

 What moments stole your breath away this week? 

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. Capture. Share. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up HERE!

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