Running

I hate running. I hate it with the fury of a thousand hates. My body feels like a sack of rice each time my feet hit the ground. My feet feel like two bags of bricks. I am a sack of rice running on bags of bricks. My endurance level is pitiful, and I can’t seem to get my breathing rhythm down. It’s always been this way. I wanted to attribute my weakness to my VSD (a tiny hole in my heart that created a murmur), but who was I kidding. It never affected my health. The cardiologist told me it wouldn’t close up this late in my life — though it was nothing to worry about — but it miraculously disappeared after I had Elliott. So, I can’t blame my lack of athleticism on that damn hole in my heart anymore.

Runners always say you just have to keep pushing yourself. Push through the pain and somewhere along the way your body will enter this euphoric runner’s high. What are y’all talking about? It hasn’t happened yet. When I tell people that I just can’t run, they’ll tell me they can’t either. They’ll say, “I can’t run either. I run two miles, and then I’m winded.” Two miles! That’s my longterm goal lol. I think I can make all said “non-runners” feel like Olympic athletes.

I’ve tried training once before in the past. It lasted a few weeks maybe. A friend reminded me that we were training for a 5k back then. Ha! Well, at least she trained for a 5k. I didn’t even have the nerve to do that. I don’t think I had the proper running technique or motivation, and I binged on food afterward because I was so hungry. It didn’t go well. Now, with the invention of the internet, I think I have a better grip on how to do this running thing. Recently, I got up to a 12-minute mile (started with a 14-minute mile) without feeling like the world was swirling beneath me. That is a record in my book. Seriously, I literally wrote it down as a record in my notebook.

Aside from the internet teaching me proper running form and techniques, I also had this revelation. It was a true revelation amidst almost tripping over my own feet on the treadmill. Initially, I started running because the elliptical just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. And I thought it could help me get in a quick workout, however dreadful the task. In the middle of a run, I thought about my tendency to remain comfortable. I know I welcome challenges for the sake of growth, but — and this is the big but — I want challenges to happen to me. I can be the passive receiver of these challenges. Whatever comes my way, I’ll handle it. Multiple deadlines. Aggressive people. Even sad or unfortunate events. It’s happening anyway, so I might as well make the best of it and make something of it.

Stepping into a challenge on purpose is another thing. Putting myself in a position of discomfort for the sake of growth. Not trying to brag here, but I think I’m in the best shape of my life. I’ve been exercising and eating healthy for a while now, as an overall lifestyle, so running wasn’t something that I felt I had to do. Could I push myself to do it?

We’ll see. I’ve gotten it to a solid 11-minute mile. But I always feel like stopping immediately after I hit the mark. I feel like I’m running just to see the goal completed, not quite pushing myself to new distances.

Some good ol’ running parallels:

You can’t be good at it overnight. It takes practice and endurance. Which leads to another parallel…

I know where I want to be, and I just want to get there quick. Actually, I just want to be there already. I don’t want to have to try. The journey is something to proud about, though, and not to beat yourself up about. I think about why I didn’t start this earlier in life, or why I’m so unathletic. My body is the way that it is for many reasons, but it doesn’t have to stay stagnant and unchanging. Just like my mental, emotional, and spiritual state. Literally, every step is a win in this case.

Everyone has their own pace, and you can’t compare or try to be like someone else. You could hurt yourself in the process.

Be kind to yourself in the process. Some days, you just need to rest before you can keep going.

Seven

It’s been a sweet seven years.

We moved to Chicago a week after we got married. It’s where we began our lives together, a place I’ll always consider a home away from home. This year, we’ll be moving back to Atlanta. We’re actually less than two months out from moving, and it still hasn’t completely sunk in. I know it’ll be different than how I remember it growing up, but I guess I can’t believe we’re making such a big move again. I thought we’d have more time here, but I’m not sure time is ever on your side.

Initially, we made the move here for Stan’s residency. I finished up grad school remotely, took on a few jobs (some I hated, some I loved), had Elliott, and decided to stay home. We weighed the options and decided it was best for our family. Over the years, I’ve felt the need to justify our choices. My choices. But as time would have it, I’ve come to thoroughly love and appreciate being at home while our child is young. Who knows what will happen next, but for now it’s good.

I haven’t always thought it was good. Admittedly, I’ve been at odds with every big thing that’s happened with Stan. Marrying this guy that, on paper, was everything my parents wanted in a husband for their daughter. ONLY ON PAPER. Haha. A pursuit of theirs that I rejected vehemently in all my angst. Moving far from home. Having to be the flexible one because his schedule is demanding. Deciding to stay at home for our kid. Moving far from my second home.

He’s always postured himself to give me freedom to choose. While I wrestle with doubts, we talk. Though I’m trying to make sure what I want is really what I want for us, he’s the only person I want to talk to about it. Somewhere in our cycle of talking and listening, I think of how well he cares for me, how he’s always ready to put me first, always ready to learn, always ready to lay himself down. He’s shown me this time and time again, and it’s quelled any doubt.

We’ve come a long way, these last seven years. Leaving Chicago is still a tad bittersweet at this point, but I’m ready to do anything with you. These years have gone by so fast, and it’s been so full already. I’ll give you some more years, beb. You better be good to me. ūüėČ Just remember — time may not always be on our side, but I’ll always be by yours.

What’s the meta with you? Punned.

I went on a four-day trip a couple weeks ago. I’ve been away before, but they were short weekend getaways taken mostly by car. The last time I did that was well over a year ago. Stan told me Elliott cried for a second after dropping me off at the airport. Which then made me want to cry. But I got over it as soon as I got to stroll leisurely through security with my one [nearly-empty] suitcase.

People ask all the time if there’s anything I miss about the no-kid days, or something of that variety. I probably ask Stan once a month what he’d be doing without me/us right in whatever moment he’s in. He usually says he’d be sulking and eating a microwave dinner. That smug son-of-a thinks he can pull one over on me. But…it’s my favorite answer. No doubt it’s true. Of course, there’s a list of little things that are so much easier to do without a kid in tow. I can rattle off a few things I miss, but — this happens every time — I feel myself getting bored of what I’m saying as I’m saying it. And I can feel the other person’s disinterest. Because, really, the list seems so inconsequential. At the end of it, you come back to your kid. He is flesh of your flesh, and the ways you feel that are sublime. Magical. Unspoken.

My inner voice tells me it’s harmless — these questions, cliches, ubiquitous and ordinary things we talk about. Then, all too often, my obnoxious outer voice wants to throw a tantrum at these refrains that have taken on very little meaning. Being a parent is the hardest job of all, and you don’t get sick days! Or ones that seem to mean more than what’s being said.¬†I just personally can’t stay at home…but it’s much harder to stay at home. And then the ones that might mean something completely different to the person you’re talking to.¬†When are you going to have kids? Are you going to have more kids?

This could happen with a lot of things, at any stage in life. The point isn’t to filter everything we say or craft the perfect conversation or only ask questions that sound smart or only speak when you have a proper answer. I think we do that enough. We do that a whole fucking lot. I’ve always suspected that I get a little too picky with words and have my own issues to work out on a multitude of stuff. And while my obnoxious outer voice that wants to throw a tantrum may be an indictment on my personal state, I also think…we’re all so fragile now, but trying so hard not to be because we don’t see anyone else as fragile as we are. I can’t even get this post out because I keep holding back and deleting things.¬†I have a hard time saying what I mean. I have a hard time saying something that I might need to take back later and admit to making a mistake and having to apologize. So, I fill the space with safe things and, every once in a while, feel myself getting bored of myself.

Let’s rewind a bit. I went on an amazing four-day trip and met up with people I love. I forgot to download all the things for the plane ride because obviously I forgot what flying without a child is like. I sat with myself for a long time.¬†I had one book with me. It wasn’t a page-turner, and I flitted in and out of sleep while reading it. But one passage stuck with me in my dreams, the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn a la Henry David Thoreau — “To the extent that we are chronically preoccupied and invariably pressed for time, we may be significantly out of touch with the richness of what Thoreau called the “bloom” of the present moment.”

Since a few weeks ago, I’ve been having a lot of meta moments thinking about what is in¬†this moment. A big part of this is because I feel I owe it to this one God-given life, but also we owe it to each other and ourselves. This is humanity. What am I feeling? What are you feeling? Are we being authentic right now? What can I learn about you or myself right now? Can I value this moment genuinely, unpretentiously — not forced, coerced, staged, or fabricated? What is in this moment that is not a space filler? It’s not like a checklist of stuff. More like one big gaseous feeling bubble that arises from that inner voice of mine. Meta stuff. I can’t tell you that I come up with any words, but I do feel like I can come up with more honesty, appreciation, and presence in the moment. That’s all for now.

 

 

Questions

Red or blue, I’m proud that Chicago showed up for Clinton and not the other…whatever you want to call him. Clearly, she wasn’t the perfect candidate. But clearly, I mean CLEARLY, the new leader of America has led us down a frightful path already, one incited by fear and hate. All before he’s taken office. Even though Chicago’s been blue for decades, I’ve found myself tossing and turning at night wondering about and praying for Elliott’s future, for the future of all our kids.

Our household is still baffled and in mourning, especially thinking about those who are most vulnerable at this time. I don’t know where to go from here. As Stan put it to me the other night — it might just be that we must go high, higher than high. Pick up heavier crosses, pick up crosses that were dropped. I think it’s relatively easy for us to say, “What can we do? It is what it is. Let’s move to Canada.” The privileged few can say these things. But the most vulnerable cannot. So for now, we mourn.

It probably doesn’t help that I saw this at my polling place, an elementary school. Um, why??? Why was this child [presumably] trying to practice making the perfect swastika like it was a letter of the alphabet???

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I’m sorry.

I’m an asshole.

He rang all of the buzzers in the building, over and over again. I could hear them echoing through the floor. He started shouting something from the sidewalk below. I peeked out of our window and retreated quickly, pushing Elliott back¬†so he wouldn’t see us. Elliott was offended and grunted at me. Our neighbor downstairs started yelling something back, but it was inaudible. I hear something about, “Come to the window…it’s open!” No one went to the window. I went downstairs to ask my neighbor if he knew the guy. No. He went outside to check on the situation, but the guy was gone already.

Our garage was wide open. He wanted to let us know. Stan had left not too long ago, and probably forgot to close it or it went back up on its own like it does sometimes. He didn’t ask us to come out, just to come to the window so he could tell us our garage was open.

He was a black guy donning a hoodie. It’s cold and rainy outside today. His hands were shoved in his pockets, and he was shouting because no one would come¬†to the window and no one would answer the door.

I read about stuff¬†black brothers and sisters are afraid of doing because of the color of their skin. Going for a run¬†at night, wearing certain types of clothes, walking towards a white lady when you’re the only two on the sidewalk, looking too large, too dark, looking like a bad dude. And I completely perpetuated that fear. To my utter shame, I perpetuated that fear.

I’d like to think of myself as an advanced, post-racial human being. I’d like to think that my faith, my theology, being here in this urban setting, being involved in urban ministries — I’d like to think that has gutted my rotten core. I tried to rationalize this in my mind. I thought he was one of those pesky energy assessment guys. My neighbors didn’t answer the door either and they’re black. I could tell my neighbor felt a little odd about it, too. “The guy was just trying to be a good samaritan…,” he dragged out the sentence and looked away.¬†No need to justify this in any way. Today, I assumed something about a man of color, and I got scared.

This, Donald Trump, is implicit bias.¬†I am an asshole. I’m really sorry.

Expletives

I won’t go as far to say that I may as well be pulling the trigger¬†when I remain silent. I won’t go as far to say that I may¬†as well admit that I’m a¬†closet¬†racist when I remain silent. I won’t go as far to say that I am preserving the white supremacist’s God-damned American Dream¬†and status quo when I remain silent.

But I said it. Ha. Silence is a silent killer.

#BlackLivesMatter

 

Snapshots

I thought I knew love, here on earth, at its deepest¬†before Elliott was born. Then, he was born. He took his first breath apart from me,¬†and now I¬†find¬†myself wanting to breathe in all of his air.¬†I love Stan and would choose to marry him over and over again, even when we have these saucy fights about tickling, our backs turned on each other in bed. And in all seriousness, waxing philosophical, we¬†say things like, “Why can’t you admit that you’re just psychologically ticklish in your armpits?” “You just want a free license to tickle.”

This little boy, though, he grips my heart. He came from us, his only mom and only dad. This is how he entered the world. He was formed in my womb.¬†At night, I could feel him hiccuping on my lower left side, then giving me a series of roundhouse kicks. I waited to see if a handprint would appear from the other side of my belly so I could give him his first high five. Nothing. But it was still just him and me, me and him. The nurse placed him on my chest, skin to skin, immediately after he came out. Physically, he had just been detached from me, and I covered his messy forehead with kisses while the doctor and nurses tidied up. When¬†he was able to open his eyes for the first time and take in his surroundings, he looked right at me. His small, black eyes staring and blinking and staring with acknowledgement that this relationship must mean¬†something, even if he didn’t know what it was yet. No words, no thoughts. Just primal awareness that we belonged together.¬†He smiles with my¬†eyes. He pouts with his daddy’s¬†lips. He propels himself forward on his belly with this outrageously strong left big toe. He looks like a soft, round potato when he sits or squats. In public spaces, he observes. In the security of home, he lights up.¬†When he laughs heartily, my soul sings. If he gets hurt and cries, the rest of the world goes mute.

I didn’t always feel this way, and this feeling isn’t always present. I don’t think I could function as a normal person if this feeling always stayed with me. The feeling brings an¬†inexplicable¬†joy and a deep anguish, all at once, vacillating so quickly that they’re almost indistinguishable. Monumental joy and anguish. Joy and anguish. Joy and anguish. They can’t be separated. They can’t be reproduced.

I can’t comprehend it, but sometimes I try to test it by thinking of scenarios in my mind. It’s kind of melancholic. It’s kind of crazy. But I think that if I can withstand a mental disaster, I’ll be able to¬†grasp at some meager understanding¬†of this intense love. The understanding is on the tip of my tongue, a pregnant pause that has no end in sight.¬†Like, what if the baby and I were home alone for the weekend, and I fell and bumped my head in the bathroom while he was taking a nap. And I didn’t wake up. And he would wake up. And he would coo and squeal, calling out in his crib like he always does when he wakes up, but no one would come get him. He would stand up using the rails and wait patiently for me to get him. Patiently, at first. I usually stop my mind from going too deep past the at first.

There’s a photo of my baby¬†on the nightstand next to Stan’s side of the bed. Elliott’s swaddled comfortably in a fuzzy blue and white blanket, pacifier tucked into the swaddle so it won’t fall out. His eyes are closed, and he’s sleeping peacefully. This photo was taken around the time he was one month old. We arranged for my sister’s boyfriend to take our first official family photos. Elliott played along for a second — just for a second and no more — until he had enough. He was so sleepy and cranky and waily and hollery. Newborns. Go figure.

When we finally decided to call it quits after doing some ironic family photos of a blissful mom and dad gazing upon their lovely shrieking baby, he slept instantly. In the photo on the nightstand, he looks like he had been asleep for a long time. Peaceful, restful, unbothered by the world. He didn’t care that four grown adults were hovering and breathing over him, a camera clicking away trying to get in a few more shots.

Even though there were moments during these last 10+ months where I thought I’d break, and moments where I let out an audible¬†“wtf,” they pale when I see him wrapped up tight, so cozy and safe. All I seem to hold onto are those ironic moments where Stan and I are laughing about posing with this extremely unhappy baby of ours. Then we say, “Okay, okay, sweet pea. Mommy and daddy hear you. We got you.” And he gets wrapped up tight and closes his eyes as we’re doing so because he knows he can.

I’m not saying that those crazy moments don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and I’m not trying to give some pat answer that everything turns out all right. Admittedly, I’m still traversing back and forth on a bridge between feeling like nothing else matters in the world to everything else matters in the world because I’m a mother. But I guess I think both my darkest and brightest days have made me a better mother for my son. Maybe I’ll wear this path down some day, maybe not. I know there’s a lot I still don’t understand and will never understand. There’s no concrete ending or explanation for any of this, no final say or parting wisdom.¬†Only this feeling of a kiss and thought on my messy forehead — that even a glimpse of love that surpasses knowledge is much more than I could¬†ever ask for.

Resurfacing

WOAH. Time to resurface from the depths of dirty diapers, spit up, goos, gaas, and getting lost in sweet, gummy smiles in the first morning light. Needless to say, the past few months have been a blur, but we’re alive and…well, we’re all alive.

I think much of what I’ve experienced this past year with pregnancy and the actual birth and care of a newborn is pretty textbook stuff. That is to say, there were no big surprises or anomalies.¬†Sleepless nights towards the end of the last trimester due to a burgeoning bowling ball sitting on my pelvis¬†and having to pee all the time. Feeling the anticipation when the due date fast approaches, wondering when the baby will decide to come out. The rush of excitement getting to the hospital in the middle of the night in between contractions 2-3 minutes apart. Saying that I wanted to hold off on the epidural as long as possible to see if I could do without it, and then changing my mind immediately. The difficult — and I mean DIFFICULT — few nights of being home on your own after leaving the comfort of round-the-clock nurses, lactation consultants, and other capable hands in the mother-baby unit. Watching baby sleep so peacefully and wanting to wake him up to play with him. Wanting baby to go back to sleep when he wakes up. And baby blues. Oh, baby blues.

It was textbook stuff until it wasn’t. I knew that a lot of mothers didn’t feel an instant connection with their babies. Some mothers say breastfeeding helps with that, but…nah, not all the time. Breastfeeding is the pits. I mean, it’s amazing what women’s bodies can do and how God created us to sustain our little ones, but dizzamn! Why is it so hard and painful? I’m always thinking about my lady parts on top — plugged ducts, need to pump, is there too much foremilk, am I leaking, is he getting¬†enough, it feels like someone’s zapping my chest, my letdown is way too forceful, need to pump. I tried clipping baby’s fingernails while he was calmly nursing and accidentally pinched his tiny finger. His bottom lip quivered, he let out a cry, and continued on while glaring at me and holding up his sore finger the whole time. Reminding me of how I failed to take care of him. Now I think he glares at me from the corner of his eyes, daring me to do it again with his furious little mouth on a very tender part of my body. Add that to the list of concerns. I digress. Breastfeeding doesn’t always help with bonding.

What about feeling an overall sense of grief? That wasn’t in any book or article I read. I didn’t know I’d feel grief.¬†I had¬†many late nights in the rocking chair, nursing, tears streaming down my face, thinking about a life lost even with a beautiful pint-sized life gained. It wasn’t until I started talking to other moms about it that I realized that it was a common feeling, too.¬†New mothers go through¬†a blur of days and nights during the first few months trying to meet the needs of a vulnerable little being, and that seems like all we¬†do. I wanted to go out to dinner and not feel tied down. I wanted to hang out with my husband without being interrupted. I wanted to take off on the weekend and go on an adventure. These wants¬†sound menial in the grand scheme of things, right? And, really, my life wasn’t defined by dinners or¬†my husband or weekend getaways. But suddenly, life seems whittled down to a 7 pound, 11 ounce baby and the confines of a 1200-square-foot apartment because you’re either too tired or semi-afraid to step outside into the real world. By the way, I’ve developed an odd habit of talking to people with syncopated phrases while¬†bouncing my shoulders up and down. I thought it was from talking to the baby all day, everyday, in the confines of our apartment. But it’s not. I don’t talk to the baby like that. So now I know I’ve just formed a socially awkward habit.

Even when I did go out to dinner, my lady parts on top were a persistent reminder of a dramatic change in my life that I needed to cope with. Pair that with major sleep deprivation and you feel like you’ve lost yourself, and you don’t know when or if you’ll be able to find yourself again. Your old self, the one that only had to care about yourself. The most common phrase I’ve heard since baby was born is — “It gets better.” It’s like a salutation for moms across the world. I give one sidelong glance, and I get that reassurance from another knowing mom. It gets better.

And it really does. Somehow. Right when I think — if I have to wake up again in the next 1.5 hours, I’ll surely die — it gets better. Or what does this cry and that cry mean? It gets better. The baby just projectile sharted across the living room. It gets better. I wish I knew how to solve the grieving equation and add that to some new parenting textbook (and then become a millionaire and hire a nurse maid and a nanny haha just kidding maybe *shoulder bounce*). I guess I just felt better knowing I wasn’t the only one who’s ever felt that way. You take it a day at a time. Sometimes it’s taking it an hour at a time, one feeding at a time, one diaper change at a time. And then suddenly, baby manages to bust one chubby arm out of his swaddle and I’m wrapped around his tiny little pinky. He pouts with his bottom lip sticking out and I’m putty in his little vinegar-smelling hands. He tries to make eye contact with me when I’m putting him down for the night, giving me a big, goofy, toothless smile and I melt. A certain part of my life was lost, and I won’t be so cliche to say that this new life is so much more rewarding. I mean, I think you make the most of your life with the circumstances you’re given. Somehow, after giving your all to this baby who can’t even tell who you are eight inches away from his face — you come in close, he gives you a big, goofy, toothless smile, and it gets better.

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Making Way

She lost me once and forgot me twice. Ma-ma¬†had¬†three daughters in a row, an abortion, and a fourth (and last) daughter that¬†kindled embers of depression and¬†anger. I¬†know she carries the¬†guilt around relentlessly. Losing,¬†forgetting, ending. Shouldering the self-condemnation is punishment in and of itself, but there’s also a guilt that won’t let her let it go, as if forgiveness would be harder to bear than shame.

When she read my stories for the first time, when I was days away from getting married, when I left one home to make a home hundreds of miles away —¬†ma-ma always quietly shuffled over to me, eyes wet with tears that would refuse to fall. They were apologetic eyes, full of remorse, pain, and an agony of love. Late in life, she always apologizes for not being¬†home more often, not giving us more, raising us better, or being a nicer mom, never losing and never forgetting. It’s hard to convince an immigrant parent who only knows sacrifice that what she did was more than what I could ever ask for.

Ma-ma¬†was a nanny for a while and took care of a newborn baby boy. Sheepishly, she told me and my sisters that she was trying to love and care for the baby the way she wished she had with us. She loved him so hard that when the baby burped after being fed,¬†ma-ma¬†almost wanted to take in all of his spit-up. We told her to place her right hand on the Bible and swear that she’d never, ever repeat that to anyone ever.

Even though it was a bizarre thought, I understood what she meant by it. The urgency, the yearning, the one last plea to mend what was broken. (I’m thankful for writers like Amy Tan and Nora Okja Keller who have helped translate these thoughts from generation to generation.)

She prayed that I would conceive a baby boy and firmly suggested that I look at Stan’s baby pictures daily. I suppose my body would give into the coercion. The 50/50 odds proved to be in her favor. Deep down, I wanted a baby boy, too. There were times that I grew suspicious of my wants and predisposition.

I’m 6 months pregnant with my first child, and I can sense the endearment in my mother’s eyes. Boy or girl, I know it really didn’t matter. She¬†lights up and laughs when she sees my belly for the first time, her soft, strong hands instinctively reaching out to cradle the life inside my womb. It’s the kind of reaction you’d expect from your mother, but it still imbues a¬†sort¬†of surprised empathy and contentedness that leaves me¬†feeling like a child and a mother¬†all at the same time.

I can’t imagine fully understanding her story, getting¬†under all the pain and¬†suffering love that lent to her¬†narrative. But I hope that as baby boy grows, he’ll run to grandma and ask her to retell her stories, tales that will make him wonder and revel. I hope he’ll soak in all of the richness of history, and, steadily, forgiveness would have its peace.

mom's prayer

Home

I’ve tried to¬†dissect the wonder and fear out of it all, out of life and existence. It’s like looking into the depth and across the vastness of¬†a canyon, or being mesmerized by hallowed¬†desert skies. You have no words in the moment, just¬†a sweep of intuition and cognition — of wondering and knowing — all at the same time.

We travelled the 700+ miles from Chicago to Atlanta and back again. Memories floated by with each mile marker, the sun still letting the moon have its way in the morning sky. All I ever saw were headlights in the rearview mirror, an obstruction to the view I was hoping to see one more time. No matter. What was I trying to capture, anyway? A dawning piece of conviction in the early hours of the day?

Home is where the heart is, and, well, my heart is in pieces. But I’m okay with that. I’m okay with never settling, never coming to a complete understanding of this life, always being in a state of brokenness. I’ll plant my roots deep where I can, whether canyons below or desert skies above, and thank the Lord for the fruit that abounds.