Monday, May 27, 2013

Giving What I've Got

In my last post, I wrote about being ambitious, taking risks, and pushing boundaries.  This week I remembered how important it is to also respect those boundaries.

My son's school is asking parents to serve on the PTA Board.  I'd ignored the emails asking for volunteers, but then I went to a meeting for parents of incoming 1st and 2nd graders.  Their plea was compelling.  The school does rely heavily on parents to raise money for school materials, field trips, and even some staff.  Still, I felt okay deciding to wait another year.  Both of my children would be older and need less of my time and attention.

Then I stopped to talk to two moms I know.  One of them may be moving away, but she said if she decided to stay in the area she would definitely serve on the PTA.  The other mom expressed confidence that I would do well, going so far as to call me "leadership material".  I felt both moved and embarrassed by their encouragement and their commitment.

I thought about how much I should volunteer.  Part of me felt that if I were going to volunteer, I shouldn't do it half-assed by doing the easiest job.  This is from my inner Perfectionist.  If I really want to help and make a difference, I should do the most challenging, time-consuming, and beneficial job, right?  And then I would get accolades from other parents about how selfless I am, and I would practically be a hero (cue the confetti and me doing the princess wave while wearing a tiara).

I had half-convinced myself to volunteer for the Fundraising position, which is the biggest, hardest job.  Then I wondered what my husband would say.  He's my sounding board for a lot of things, and even though I resent when he tells me not to do something, he's usually right.  I pictured  how tired, frustrated, and terrified I would be, trying to organize and motivate people I didn't know to give their time and money.  I remembered how badly I treat my husband and children when I am tired, frustrated, and afraid.

I realized I'm simply not capable of giving that much time and energy.  I looked through the open positions and chose to volunteer for the Hospitality position, which involves buying stuff and setting up for PTA meetings and events.  It was in fact the easiest position available.

I wrote an email to the two moms I had spoken to earlier, explaining my choice.  I confessed that part of my decision was based on the fact that only 3.5 years ago, I was hospitalized for planning suicide.  I had not attempted it, but I had made a mental shopping list and chosen a location.  At the time, I was pregnant, exhausted, and had totally unrealistic expectations of how to be a "good mom".  But I still have the passing thought that life would be better without me.  I know that that isn't true, and that it would devastate my family and friends, so I let the thought pass and accept that I just feel overwhelmed sometimes.

Still, after I sent the email, I cried.  That really hard, ugly cry.  I cried because I'm sad that I can't give more to my son and the other kids at school.  I cried because I felt again that fundamentally "I'm broken" or "damaged" somehow.  That I'm less than emotionally stable, mentally balanced people.

The two moms wrote back really compassionate, understanding, and kind responses.  I felt relieved.  I still worry that some people who read this will think I'm just being a crybaby and a slacker.  I heard or read a quote that I can't quite recall, but it was something about understanding and accepting that each of us has a different container that holds our capacity to give.  Some of us have a gallon container, some of us only have a cup.  I'll still give more than I think I can, but not as much as I think I should.

Please note in the comments your thoughts and experience about how much you give to your neighbors, your church, your kids' schools, etc.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Makin' and Keepin' It Real

I'm not very good at Wushu, but I competed once last year, and I've registered to compete again in a few weeks.  Why do I do this?  It's certainly okay at my school for adults not to compete, but I'm inspired by the adults who do.  They're gutsy, and I want to be gutsy too, even if I'm still just pretending to be.

One reason I compete is because I am a total slacker when it comes to practicing.  I can easily come up with excuses not to train: I'm reading a good book that I can't put down, I'm cooking dinner for my hubby, or feeling like, "I'm so bad at it, I shouldn't waste the teachers' time."  So, I figure signing up for competitions forces me to put all that aside and just get to work, doing my best and being okay with whatever that looks like.

I just found out that in competition the form I'm working on is only supposed to take 45 seconds to perform.  My teacher timed me, and I did it in about a minute.  Doing it that quickly with that kind of pressure makes all of my movements, especially the punches and kicks, more powerful and I think, more realistic.  I move more like I am punching and kicking "someone," not just thin air.

I recently read this quote by Ira Glass on Buzzfeed: " a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap and your work will be as good as your ambitions. It's gonna take awhile. It's normal to take awhile. You've just gotta fight your way through."

I think that's what I've already been doing with Wushu, and now I need to do that with the rest of my life.

I'm writing a short story, and I was thinking, "Well, I can use it as just an exercise, just practice for the 'real writing' I'll do some day when I'm a good writer."  Then I realized that in order to get better at writing, I have to make it count.  I'm not planning on publishing a novel yet, but I think I could work on this short story enough to submit it for publication in a literary journal or something.  It doesn't have to be an insurmountable goal to start, just something that's real and tangible.  "Risk nothing, get nothing," right?

I think to really excel at anything, you have take risks and be ambitious, more than you think you deserve to be.  I love this quote from Marianne Williamson: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be?"

I'm going to continue competing in Wushu, I'm going to keep bringing drafts of my short story to my writers' group meetings each week, and I'm going to keep posting to my blog once per week.  Please post in the comments something you can do in your life to make a practice more real, more risky and more rewarding.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Friending in Real Life

I’ve started joking with my friends that I’m becoming my own social network because I've collected various fabulous friends along the way, and I'm starting to introduce them to each other.

One of my friends jokes that I have a “posse”.  I do belong to a mommy group that has been active for over five years, but I doubt any of them would consider themselves part of “my” posse.  We’ve just really been there for each other while we've learned through trial and many errors how to raise our kids.  We’re still asking each other for advice and suggestions as the kids grow older and become slightly different challenges to our sanity.

We realized we shared a love of books, so we started a book club a few years ago, and recently a few of us started a writers’ group.

I really liked one of the moms I met at my son’s elementary school so I invited her to join our book club, and ended up redefining and renaming our group so we could start inviting people who weren’t part of our original mommy group.

Then I reconnected with a friend I had lost touch with and invited her to join the book club and the writers’ group.  She doesn’t live in the same city as the rest of us, and she doesn’t have any kids yet, but she fits in great, and I’m hoping this is another step in making our groups even more diverse and fun.

This is such a complete reversal of what I was like growing up.  I'd always lived far away from my classmates so I never had anyone to play with on the weekends or after school.  I didn’t really have a social life until I was 16 and got my driver’s license, and even then I was still very socially awkward and inept.

I was so insecure I didn’t even really know how to be friends with anyone.  I alternated between being shy and not saying anything with being a know-it-all and arrogant, trying to prove I wasn't as worthless as I felt.  I was so ashamed that my father had been in jail and was in the U.S. illegally when most of my friends’ fathers were lawyers, doctors, or diplomats.

Thanks to some self-help workshops (The Landmark Forum and North Star Life Coach Training), a few years of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and learning from some really awesome, supportive, and inspiring friends, I am still insecure but much more comfortable in my skin.  I’ve made it a habit to thank people often and let them know how much I appreciate them.  I’ve forced myself to admit when I’m wrong and apologize, even though I’m terrified people will reject and condemn me for making a mistake.  Almost every person has graciously accepted the apology and continued the friendship.

I’ve made a commitment to be vulnerable and let people get to know me, warts and all.  And to show that I honestly want to get to know them.  I’m trying to let the people I interact with know how much I value them.

I think we can all be a little more inclusive.  Maybe it’s no accident that we run into the same people at the supermarket, at the coffee shop, at the playground.

Are you already part of a group that meets regularly?  Think about the other people you interact with, is there anyone else you can invite to join that group?

If you’re not in a group that meets regularly, ask the people in your life if they’re part of a group you can join or if you can start a group together.  There are so many interests that people can meet and talk about: books, gardening, movies, restaurants, music, theater.  Make time to revel in something you love and surround yourself with people who accept you and encourage you to be yourself.

Friday, May 10, 2013

There's Something About Gnomes

I started reading online about suicide running in families and got depressed after two web pages.  I started a blog post about how I experience depression as rage, and realized it's going to take a long time and many drafts to describe it well.  And to make it worth reading.

So now, for something completely different and not depressing, I'm going to confess a deep, dark, well, not particularly deep or dark secret.  I have a thing for gnomes.  Garden gnomes actually.  "Fetish" sounds creepy, "fascination" isn't quite it, and neither is "obsession".  So it's just a "thing" I have.  I love garden gnomes.  They make me happy.  They are the embodiment of "idyllic" (extremely happy, peaceful, or picturesque).

My favorite gnomes look slightly drunk, like they've just had a few pints of Guinness or butterbeer.  They remind me that there are still moments in life that can be carefree, innocent, or just plain silly.

They also speak to the part of me that wants to believe in magic.  I studied Scandinavian folklore at UCLA, and I remember my professor talking about "nisse," household spirits who help take care of farmers' homes and families.  It's not like I believe my garden gnomes will brush our cat or keep away the raccoons (if they're supposed to, they're clearly doing a crap job), but I'd rather have a garden gnome as a lucky charm than a rabbit's foot any day.

Garden gnomes are usually older folks, and I suppose I romanticize what it'll be like when I'm 80 years old.  That I'll have lived through so much I'll finally stop worrying and just accept life as it comes.  I'll feel more gratitude than regret.  I'll know with certainty that in the end, everything is going to be okay.

I like turtle statues and Buddha statues (the smiling dancing ones anyway), and the sleeping kitty statues, but there's just something about garden gnomes that makes me feel welcome and at home.

If you want to see irreverent garden gnome photos, follow me on Twitter (@prtndurgonodatit).


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hugging my Waistline to a Baseline

I've come to the realization (again) that I need to eat healthier.  I'm 5'2" and Asian, and most of my body is pretty slender, which makes me even more self-conscious about my waist (blush), which is to say the least "prominent".  I swear I think I must look like a snake that's swallowed a watermelon.  Every few months someone will congratulate me and ask, "When are you due?" even though I'm not pregnant.

The "ideal" weight for my height and frame is 9 lbs. less than what I actually weigh, which makes me think I probably only really need to lose 4-5 lbs.  I recently calculated my waist-to-hip ratio though, and realized my waist is almost the same width as my hips, which apparently puts me at greater risk of developing coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and gall bladder disease.  To get to a healthier ratio, I need to lose about 2-3 in. off my waist.

When I've thought about losing 4-5 lbs., I've thought, "Gosh, am I just being a perfectionist?  Shouldn't I just accept my body the way it is?  Other people probably have more weight to lose or worse health problems, am I just complaining about nothing?"  I've felt guilty about thinking I should eat healthier.  Does that sound as crazy as I think it does?

When I think about losing 2-3 in. off my waist, it sounds harder, but also much more worthwhile.  Diabetes runs in my family so I've known for some time that I need to take care of my health, but I didn't have specific data to really give me the kick in the butt that I've needed.  I'm hoping this goal will.

I recently spent 2.5 years in therapy, and we made great strides in controlling my temper, accepting and experiencing painful emotions, and challenging self-destructive beliefs.  One thing we could never make headway with was eating healthfully.  I did the South Beach Diet, and it worked for the two weeks I was on it.  Then I went back to my indulging in empty calories throughout the day.  For example, one day this week I ate a chocolate croissant, frozen yogurt with Oreo bits and peanuts, ice cream, a couple of chicken wings, and a slice of pizza as SNACKS, in addition to three full meals.

I know the benefits of eating healthfully.  It doesn't help.  I know that I tend to get cravings around 9 am and 4 pm.  I know that I eat when I feel anxious or angry.  I know that I use food as rewards for not yelling at my kids (even though of course I still yell at them, just not as often or maybe as loudly) or doing a ridiculous number of errands in a short period of time.  I know that I get more moody when I eat empty calories because I end up on the sugar high and low roller coaster.  Knowing all this has not helped me start nor maintain healthy eating habits.

BUT, this is my first attempt at eating healthier since I started this blog.  I'm going to let all the past attempts stay in the past and not treat them as predictors of a future failure.  I'm going to practice what a fellow blogger suggests, asking, "What else can I be thinking about instead of eating cookies/scones/mochas?"  I'm going to order iced tea instead of mochas if I go to a coffee shop (I'm a mom, there's no way to avoid coffee shops between kids' story hour, book club, and writers' group).  I'm going to remind myself that I'm not eating pastries or mochas until I've lost those 2-3 in. off my waist.  I'm not actually going to measure my waist until I can feel a significant difference in the tightness of my pants.  I'm not going to worry about anyone judging me for my weight loss if it's smaller than anyone else's.  It's my journey to a healthier, happier me, and it's totally valid.  I'm going to remember I'm not alone in this endeavor.  My fellow blogger Miss Bookish Girl recently wrote about her struggle to be a foodie while on Weight Watchers.

I'm going to accept that I'm okay the way I am now, and I'm still going to be okay when my waist is a little smaller, and maybe a little smaller still.  I'm going to remember that "treating" myself is more about giving myself a break, sometimes by leaving chores to be done later or by forgiving myself for making mistakes.  I am going to DO THIS.