Balance and Family

Life is full of balance, and my weekend family vacation was all about that lesson.  It was a trip that seemed simple and even exciting to start, and as the party in my room grew, so did the stress.  At first it was me and Kid3.  He’s easy and enjoys the shenanigans with his cousins.  My mom convinced Kid2 to go and I began to worry about sensory integration and his needs coming first because it’s not always easy when you go on vacation but autism doesn’t.  Then my Dad wanted to come and I was going to drive him and I was worried about him and his health on such a long ride and in extreme temperatures.

Earlier in the week, I suffered for my procrastination by having to order my bathing suit online.  I have been blessed by my late grandmother and my Mom and I had a hard time finding a swimsuit that could accomodate my top as well as comfortably fit my bottom in stores, so I opted for a bikini I found online because at least then I could choose by bra size.  I got the suit and while it was slightly tighter than I liked, it fit my new body shape.  The suit I had last year doesn’t fit.  I wore it one Sunday and the band no longer fits, but the halter top knot left my neck in so much pain for a few days.  It’s a lot of weight to wrap around a neck that is used to holding my head. A while back I had to get past the fear of wearing a bikini in public without the protective and admiring gaze of a husband that was mine.  It was probably a bigger deal than I explained here, but I was excited to wear my new bikini. It was even better to realize the sarong I have now fits in many other ways because my body is smaller than it was when I got it. 

As we started on our long road trip, there were good moments, but I was with my Dad and there were not amazing moments.  I went into them here.  At the end of the day, he’s my Dad and no one else can make me feel like a teenager.  Well, almost no one else, but this post isn’t about him. And we’re talking different ends of the spectrum on the fun levels of re-living my youth.

The real fun was all about Saturday.  After getting into Laughlin and being greeted with late night lightning that was fierce enough to startle the locals, we got up and took a lot longer to get going than I was happy with.  It was an effort with kids and Dad taking their time because it was vacation and I needed the reminder to slow down.  I just didn’t like it. We stay in Laughlin in Nevada and drive into Arizona during the day. We got to Katherine’s Landing where the family enjoys calm waters.

As we were on the water, my sister told me about an unspoken rule for the moms and wives in the group, as the family vacation includes a lot of her friends and all of our children.  It’s a family outing and the moms and wives cover up their bodies out of respect for the group.  I was shocked by this.  My nieces were quick to point out I’m not a wife anymore, but I get the culture they are trying to cultivate and out of respect, I covered up.  It reminded me of an amazing Muslim woman I knew.  She was smart and confident and as a medical professional and business woman, I was in awe of the power and authority she commanded and like all muslim women willing to cover up, I admired her faith.  We talked about the hijab and burqa.  She explained that it is a woman’s job to not tempt a man into sinning by covering herself.  I could see her point of view, but I left feeling thankful that I’m not Muslim.  That is a huge responsibility to carry but I admire the honor in their faith that is so strong it’s announced before you ever get a name.

A short while later my Dad wasn’t feeling well in the heat and I got to take him back to the hotel room with Kid2 who was happy to go with us. While taking care of my Dad, I was able to get him to mellow out because the stress of not feeling well was making him feel worse.  I put on my playlist of classical piano instrumentals that I usually write to when I’m trying to be creative.  I encouraged him to practice breathing deeply, and I brought him cool drinks and propped him up with pillows.  There was something calming about knowing he was being taken care of and comfortable and I didn’t have to worry about him.  His blood pressure stabilized. He calmed down and he looked like he was feeling better and I got to take Kid2 down to the hotel pool, where I kept my phone by my side in a waterproof case, while I stood in the shade and watched my son enjoy looking at the bottom of the pool with his goggles on.

I stood in the shallow  water under the sun and enjoyed the warmth on my skin and the laughter all around us.  I saw a woman in a white version of my bikini and had to ask if her boobs kept trying to pop out of her suit too.  We laughed and agreed that Victoria’s Secret needs to learn that mature boobs flop and float and we’re both at the age where we really don’t care.  I stood next to a few other people and chatted as they kept offering to buy me drinks, but I was on Dad and kid watch and not into the idea.

After checking on my Dad and finding out that Kid3 was really happy with cousins and my sister was taking great care of him, I took Kid2 to an all you can eat buffet.  I have wheat sensitivities.  It’s extreme.  I try my best to avoid wheat and anytime I think there might be wheat flour in a dish, I will ask to be sure and avoid it to be safe.  I ate something at the buffet that I reacted to.  I was planning on spending time poolside with the family but ended up in serious pain and vomiting. Being ill means I try my hardest to think about anything other than being ill, and I may be overthinking things, but I started replaying the bikini situation in my head.

This was a third trip for my family, but the rest of my family has been going for over a decade.  My ex never wanted to go, so we didn’t go, but the first year I wore a one-piece and the second year I wore a bikini. Last year the trip was cancelled and this year I was called out on my bikini.  My first thought was no one complained the year I had a husband and over 30 extra pounds.  Then I really started to think of the implications of expecting the women in the group to cover up.  I know a few readers have already considered the internalized rape culture that runs through the group.  If you haven’t, I’ll unpack it for you.

I had my partying days in my youth where I was weather proof and wore tiny dresses, no matter how cold because I wanted to be cute.  Those days are long gone, but it was hot, and I was wearing a bikini, which covers just as much as the matching bra and panty sets I’m in love with lately. It was totally appropriate considering that was what everyone else was wearing, except the women in our group that wore a one-piece or swam with a cover up.

I actually had to dig for the courage to wear a bikini in public alone.  I was proud of that.  Then I was asked to cover up because I’m expected to help the men out by wearing more clothes.  The situation made me angry because the moment I tell my sons their gender excuses them from responsibility for their own actions, is the moment I’ve failed as a mother to my sons. Saying a woman should dress a certain way is assuming she’s responsible for the actions of someone else.  It wasn’t the men policing the issue, or even making me uncomfortable with their looks.  It was the women in the group, policing other adult women. This excuse is a slap in the face to the men that have self control and respect for women.  This rationalization opens the door to victim blaming and slut shaming.  I’ve already touched on those thoughts.

In my life, I have been honored with being secret keeper to more than one woman who has shared her experiences with rape and physical violence with me.  I’ve stood between a man with raised fists and his victim because I was willing to fight for a sister.  Once was right after high school.  Another time with different people was with a toddling Kid1 near my feet and after the ex realized what was happening, he chased the guy off for us. It would dishonor that trust to ever imagine anything they could have done or done differently would have affected the choice of one human being to violate trust and the personal rights of another person.

As I was feeling sharp pains in my upper back, and writhing in pain, from a bad food choice, I had both Kid2 and Kid3 surrounding me in bed.  They needed to be close to me.  I would toss and they would adjust and throw little legs and arms back over me, in a protective embrace of sleep.  At one point my Dad was on the bed across from us, and he saw this and laughed because it tickled him to see my boys treat me the way he and my uncle treated my grandmother. It reinforced how important it is that I import the value of respecting a woman in my sons, no matter how strong she is, or how much she needs their protection.  They trust me and it’s my duty to offer my best. 

There were other great moments with my Dad.  There was singing and laughter.  My kids caught a glimpse of my Dad’s discipline and the way I grew up.  It gave them appreciation for my parenting style and reminded me that I really did marry a man just like my Dad.  It was a bad visual, but it was necessary.  I needed to notice.  I need to do what’s right, and I need to not do what hasn’t worked out in the past. The ride home included laughter and singing and it wasn’t just my perspective that was shifted.  The good came with bad, and that is where there is balance.

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Transformational Training

The end of this week has been spent in a personal development course.  I had a friend really push me toward the course because it was amazing to her and she saw the potential for it to be amazing to me.  I didn’t want to go, but more than that, I didn’t want to disappoint this friend.  I started without real expectations and came in with a boatload of skepticism.  The course is called, “Basic” and it’s held by Mastery in Transformational Training.

An initial online search and sycophantic encouragement from a room full of people at this friend’s birthday party had me convinced it was a cult.  I joked about heading off to be brain washed to friends because I was curious, but not convinced it was a wholesome experience.  There were too many red flags for me.  There were definite moments where this was reinforced.  Everything is done with the intention of taking all of your beliefs and restructuring them based on new perspectives.  It’s not far from where I had gotten in writing by myself.  I am not the child I was when pain first left it’s mark in disappointment.  As an adult, I can honor that pain, but I no longer reside in it.  It is not my reality.

The class has games and directed meditations that will deepen your perspective of the life you lead and your motivations.  There are moments when your classmates will work together to cull the person you want to be out of the heaviness of who you’ve become.

There was a moment of being called out and it hit me so profoundly.  Part of what I was told was that I am arrogant.  There are other words, but this was the most meaningful, because immediately I found this to be true.  It was a moment that brought shame, but as the thought settled into the fine lines of my identity, I considered where it came from.  I have spent so long feeling like nothing that the idea of being more than I was became a drug and a balm and a protection to me.  I couldn’t decide if this arrogance was a bad aspect of my identity.  I still can’t.  At the same time, one of the things I deeply want that I don’t feel I have is confidence.  My arrogance is a mask and a protection.

The class also showed me that I don’t take risks because of the control I need and the underlying fear that stops my development.  I want to take risks. I want to live in bravery despite my fear.  I want to do more and be better. I need to take the unknown road and commit to a bigger gamble.

There are other areas that have shifted and expanded for me . . . areas I didn’t know existed.  Through writing, I was fairly certain I had worked through my Mommy and Daddy issues, but there was a deeper layer I had never explored because I didn’t realize it existed.  It is a layer that at times makes me give space without realizing the pain it likely causes the people I love. How do we deny ourselves to others? How do we ignore them, and in so doing, what kind of example am I being to my sons? I learned from an Uncle that we are either the parent or the child in our relationships and we can choose what to be.  I’ve since learned that as an adult, I can be an adult with my parents and it may actually learn their respect. I realized that it breaks my heart that I don’t often see my parents profoundly joyful, and it’s hard to see them age into the natural order of life when they have always been so strong, secure and independent.

I have sibling issues.  Birth order issues.  I did not know this. I saw it in a game we played and it is an example for the life I lead.  I didn’t want to learn the rules of the game.  I wanted to sit on the sidelines and pick a side that had more to do with the shade of lipstick I love.  I wanted to listen and laugh at the snarky opinions I held that labeled the others in my group.  I do this in life and with my family.  Being the baby for as long as I was, my opinions weren’t valued.  To this day, I wear a skepticism that negates any possible praise.  My older siblings have moments where there is awe and acceptance for some of the major ideals that I share and this awe feels like condescension that I could come up with valid ideas that are too strong for a baby sister.  I see myself as the baby and have yet to see myself as an adult.  It was something that played out just on Father’s Day.  I had an opinion that I negated without trying to be heard and at the end of the day, it was something we did and we all enjoyed.

Mostly the class so far has given me this perspective of authenticity in relationships that is in many ways still a haze of nebulous beauty.  I don’t want to feel like my motives are ulterior and I want to give a fully disclosed transparency to others.  I want them to know why I feel they are amazing and why I want their time.  I want to understand what makes me see others as any less than beautiful and what could I do to make the interaction one where I don’t feel victimized by a power struggle but empowered by mutual respect and love.

I’m not a crying type but I left last night’s training after a day of tears that surprised me.  It wasn’t all sorrow.  There was dancing and deep connection and hugs that brought so much joy and sorrow that there were tears and smiles and encouragement.  There was a shift and there was growth.

I headed to the beach because that is where I reboot and decided I would feed a hungry person.  I ran into Patrick with the blue eyes and he remembered me from the last meal I gave him.  We sat for a bit and I listened openly to him tell me about being younger in Arcadia and he now lives near my Mom.  I was in a state of giving because of all I had received.  Today is the last day and then we graduate.  They suggest we surround ourselves with family and friends but I’m choosing not too.  Everything is so fresh and raw and I’m hollowed out in places that I want to heal before I reach out with healing scabs.  I need to process it still.

It’s not a cult, but they will scrub your brain.  In a good way.

 

Amusement Parks

Every summer when I was a kid was spent at amusement parks.  We went to Six Flags Magic Mountain the most and Knott’s Berry Farm came in second.  There’s sweet nostalgia in the biting smell of chlorinated water, the burn of heated oil frying funnel cakes, and the clank and roar of a roller coaster loaded with excitement.

We would go in groups and make sure we were able to ride together, asking strangers to ride ahead of us. We were in large groups, playing hothands or slide in line as we would laugh and gossip and talk about cute boys.  Sometimes we would split off to ride different rides, and meet up for lunch at a designated spot and time.  It was an endless day of rides, plotting our day in a progression across the park, acre by acre, ride by ride, greasy treat followed by too much sugar.  And water rides.  The water rides were a morning, noon and night treat because in the morning and at night the lines were short, and at midday, we talked and got sunburns and didn’t mind waiting two hours for a ride that lasted less than five minutes.

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” – Carl Jung

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Boysenberry ice cream, and topping with Bavarian cream, whipped cream and churros.  Jealous? It was too sweet toward the middle. 

I was given about $40 and I had to really consider if food was more important than an airbrushed shirt.  All day in line with a cute boy and hand holding was different from back in the real world where we had friends that watched closer and had opinions.  I still remember a ride on Free Fall at Magic Mountain with a cute boy holding my hand and giving it a squeeze right when we dropped and for the first time really yelling on a ride because I generally smile and enjoy the drops and turns. He was flipping his baseball cap on and off his head with the visor and his hair was slicked back like a helmet. His name was Manny.  He changed the experience that day. 

“She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.”—Kate Chopin, “The Awakening”

Yesterday I took kid3 to Knott’s Berry Farm.  His older brothers were at Anime Expo with their Dad so we had a mother and son date weekend. Age has done some wicked things to my body and things feel different.  They look different.  There was a determination to make the day one where my son could just be a kid.  It happened on our way into the park when I was telling him that my last trip was before I had kids when I went with my Dad.  Knott’s honors our Veterans with free admission around Veteran’s Day.  My son wanted to go then so it wouldn’t cost me.  It was then that I realized he was so concerned about having enough that I wasn’t allowing him to be a child.  He was worried about money. Before we set foot inside the park, I looked him in the eye and said the only thing he needed to worry about is how much fun he could have, and keeping me from puking.  He kept having moments of making a request, and then covering it up by saying he was just kidding.  I spent the day telling him that his thoughts, opinions and desires are important, and he doesn’t have to be kidding, but any requests that had to be denied came with a reason that even he could validate.  If at anytime he had to go to the bathroom, was hungry or thirsty or wanted to see or do something, it was up to him.  There were limits, such as climbing on railings, but I wanted to stress how important his childlike innocence is to me.  Figuring out being a single mom is stressful and I didn’t see until that moment how much it was weighing on him as well.

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I kept picking up the geode and putting it down.  When it was finally cut, it was beautiful but I laughed because I immediately saw a vagina.  I’m such a child. 

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” – Carl Jung

My stomach was different when I was younger.  It was stronger.  I was able to ride anything and shake it off to ride the next big coaster by the time we got through the long line. I loved the loops and riding backward. Now I don’t.  Now the loops and spirals make me want to vomit.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been able to stomach a Merry-Go-Round.  I get dizzy.  But rides that twist and spin tend to make me want to vomit now so I avoid most rides that are not wooden coasters.

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” -Carl  Jung

There were many rides where I stood in line with my son and waited with him, only to step through and wait for him to ride alone.  Or I asked if others would ride with him.  It wouldn’t have been fun for either of us if I got sick and we had to sit the whole day.  I know my limits. Mind you, only a few weeks ago, I got car sick in someone else’s car.  (It might have just been a bad date and a reaction to him.) Wooden roller coasters are made for steep climbs and tremendous drops.  I love the weave back and forth. While Ghostrider made me burp like it was a Beerfest, I didn’t want to hurl.  I was smiling throughout the ride.

At one point there was a family behind us complaining about the long wait. My child started to grumble.  I pulled my son into a hug and told him the long wait wouldn’t get any shorter if we started complaining and it just means more time to hang out and give him my full attention. Then we started tickling each other. 

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung

My son loves terrifying rides.  He feels fear and excitement and will talk about being afraid, but he’s also very determined to ride in spite of his fear.  This is bravery and I am so proud of him.  At one point his determination made a grown woman suck it up and go on a ride she almost backed out of. 

Throughout the day, I was declining rides because of a fear of being sick.  It’s a solid concern considering how consistently I get sick, but still, I kept chickening out.  The times I did get on rides, I laughed and screamed in joyful exhilaration while my son rode next to me with terror etched in his 9 year old features.  At the end of the ride, he was happy and excited and wanted to ride again while I was happy during the ride, and sick afterward.  I’m not sure what it means yet, but it means something, right?

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” -Carl  Jung

Native Californian

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I’m a native.  My Dad grew up in Houston, Texas and my Mom in Samut Songkhram, Thailand.  They met in Thailand when my Dad was on R and R from Vietnam.  When Dad finally got permission to bring Mom stateside, they landed in Houston, but set off for California to chase Dad’s dreams of making it big in movies.  He acted.  He wrote screenplays.  He still writes.  I was born at Cedars shortly after they moved from the blue Scientology Building in Hollywood.

Last night was another beautiful beach sunset for me.  I spent the morning at the mercy of a headache and doing housework.  By the end of the day, my escape hatch became a craving.  I watched the sunset and smiled at text messages from a handsome skater boy.  I took the advice of another man with beautiful greenish hazel eyes and a gift for finding healthy and good food and walked to the Promenade to pick up dinner.  On my way back to the pier, I pointed at my ear buds and said, “I can’t hear you,” to the two men trying to talk to me.  I kept walking and a block later while waiting for a light to change, they caught up to to me to tell me how much they appreciated my walk.  It’s more of a strut. One foot in front of the other. They walked another block with me, and we chatted a bit and once again I was struck by the awe of people who think being a native is a big deal.  I suppose we are.

Growing up we weren’t well off, but we weren’t poor either.  I had two parents that always made sure I had what I needed and often the frivolous things I wanted as well.  We lived in East Hollywood until we moved to Echo Park right next to Dodger’s Stadium.  My next home was in North Hollywood and I’m now in Lincoln Heights.  I’ve never left my county. I don’t want to.

We live in one place but visit every other area because we can.

Los Angeles spreads out pretty far.  From the time we were kids, it was normal to live in one area but get into shenanigans elsewhere.  When we were little we went into Hollywood a lot.  My sisters would take me to Westwood.  We would take the bus to Santa Monica.  When I was with the youth group in church, we were often in Glendale or Burbank.  I got older and Pasadena was where we would end up.  Being a native means we’re less likely to want to stick to places that are walking distance.  We’ll do it, but why?  We can go to the mountains to be knee deep in winter snow and be at the beach for a bonfire in the same day.

Hollywood is a right of passage.

We have decent weather most of the year, so filming a summer or fall scene in February isn’t a big deal.  Set dressers make that magic happen.  We’ve grown up with film crews in our neighborhoods and on our streets.  My highschool is a fairly popular setting for television and film. Modeling or acting schools pitched our dreams to us in school and yes, my Mom shelled out tuition to John Robert Powers for me. (That’s where I learned my strut.) I spent a few months being an extra or background artist. I was acting behind the actors in my favorite television shows and loving the free food and dating scene. Eventually you will know someone that is successful in their career behind the scenes and you went to school with at least one actor that has a regular gig that lands them on television. We have friends that get paid to work in local theaters. We know that going to movies means we will get approached by someone trying to get a screening filled for a free movie and unpaid focus group. People in the industry are idealists and a bit neurotic, but they feel like home.

We trust street vendors.

Most of us trust street food.  We had ice cream and produce trucks drive through our neighborhoods, playing a warbling tune on bad speakers or a fancy horn to let us know they were outside.  We walked through parks with men selling cotton candy on wood trees.  We wanted elotes, and tamales, and freshly cut fruit with pico de gallo, lime and salt. We know how good a bacon wrapped hot dog tastes with grilled onions and peppers.

Growing up with LA Nightlife  was a navigation.

We knew where to get the fake ID near MacArthur Park, but mainly we knew that getting into a club when underage was more about walking in with the attitude of someone that belonged there.  Our clubs were either empty warehouses painted black with a few go-go boxes, or plush couches, artwork to perch on and psychedelic paint jobs. I was also into flyer parties and raves with happy balloons, and dollar beers. We knew which homeless men were willing to buy our beer at the cost of a 40 ounce.  We knew which clubs would let ladies in free before 10.  At the end of the night, we always had Tommy’s.  It tastes like nostalgia and makes a satisfying cold breakfast when you’re fighting a hang over.

We know our weather.

We know our weather shifts but not by much.  There’s rainy days where I wear flip flops.  Wet feet dry faster than wet socks, and it’s warm enough that wet feet won’t really suffer.  We know the warm caress of the Santa Anas and that she is dangerous during fire season and will make you suffer with allergies.  We know fire season scorches the hills before raining season and that’s why there is flooding and landslides.  It’s on the news but we’re still shocked every year. Typically we won’t need more than a sweater.  A hot day gives way to frigid temperatures when that day is spent at parks and beaches.  A hot day in Los Angeles means it will be comfortable in the local mountains but there’s a good chance you’ll end up in a summer mountain thunder storm in Big Bear, and if you head to the beach, expect it to be much cooler. We also know our water quality will make you sick, but we venture into the water anyway, knowing to dive beneath an approaching wave and to swim parallel to the shoreline when you notice a riptide is trying to take you away. You learn that jellyfish stings are quickly soothed by human pee and it’s really not a fetish at that point.

Our freeways are not very free.

Growing up, we didn’t have many toll roads.  There were carpool lanes and you just needed a travel buddy or two.  When travelling by freeway, expect certain times of day to be a parking lot and the 405 is good at making a short commute feel like 4 or 5 hours. This is when it comes in handy to know the many streets that will get you to your destination.  Sometimes there are feeder streets along freeways and other times there are long streets and side streets. I used to keep a Thomas Guide in my car and pull over for a quick alternate route, but Waze has replaced that in recent months.

Gangs were a reality.

Junior high was more than first periods and a new set of boobs.  Gangs were actively recruiting kids to join them because you were vulnerable during school and on the way to the house you had to let yourself into.  Kids were killed while we were supposed to be going to school dances and having first kisses.

Neighbors.

We had a few neighbors that we were able to call family because they came from other cities, but eventually having neighbors meant you didn’t get to know them.  They wouldn’t be neighbors for too long anyway.  People in Los Angeles often get sucked into the glitter and glam and spend through nest eggs to enjoy the sparkly bits until they have to go back home.

Earthquake Country

We have earthquakes.  The first one can be terrifying, but eventually you get used to the idea that the earth will shake and you just need to ride it out.  You will feel the ground rumble with trucks, but eventually you will look up to lights and anything hanging.  When chandeliers sway, you’ve just been through an earthquake.  Eventually you will try to guess the magnitude before the newscaster tells you.

Melting Pot or Bouillabaisse?  

When my parents arrived, interracial couples were still taboo. Even in church. They were asked to not return to a church once. Being mixed meant there really wasn’t a cultural niche. We lived in an area with Hispanic people from all over Central and South America. We had black and white neighbors. There are areas that have now become Koreatown, Little Armenia and Thai Town, but when I was a kid there was just the old and new Chinatown. My hair and word choice made it hard to fit in with the black kids and my skin and lack of language made it hard to fit in with Thai kids.  I don’t blame Mom for not teaching us Thai at birth.  She came here when it wasn’t okay to be who she is, and her adaptability made our family the international bunch we are.  (One day I’ll wow you with my family composition.) I have a hard time stomaching bigotry because it was never normalized for me. I’ve been to quinceaneras where I learned to salsa and punta.  I’ve been to bar mitzvahs and been lulled by the song of an ancient language.  I’ve tried to stomach chitterlings and menudo.

Love with a Native

I realize most of us are unique in our loving styles, but there is something about being from a big city full of people vying for that special snowflake attention.  We tend to see everyone as eye candy.  It’s a geographical hazard.  Love becomes what we can feel from others, rather than what we can contribute to the lives of others.  Southern manners are desirable because we just don’t function that way for the most part.  Relationships are fleeting.  Family and friends don’t care unless it gets serious because we’re used to it not getting serious.  Everyone will chime in because we can see the step down you just took and we know you deserve better because we are vapid and better is on the next corner. We can see what you are too busy feeling.  But when you find it and it’s real, you hold on for dear life.  We all crave more but rarely look past what we would look like together.  A nephew from Alabama just introduced Facebook to his girlfriend, and all the southern family has greeted and introduced themselves to her in a comment.  In Los Angeles, we haven’t met her and we’re not holding our breath.  She’ll come around eventually if it lasts.

We love our gays. 

I didn’t grow up with friends getting beat up because of their skin, but because they were into people that shared their sex. When I was young, Sunset Junction was the only place to find an annual “Fag Fair.”  That’s what we called it and where we would enjoy carnival rides, eat great food off of trucks and watch men wearing chaps and a thong while holding hands. Some of my favorite men would talk about boys with me and we understood the fun and heartache of horny teenaged boys. My curious phase was met with acceptance and encouraged. Deciding that I was curious and then really don’t like women was never about rebellion. It was something to try and no one cared either way so there was no pressure for me in letting go then letting it go.

 

 

The Day I Knew I Wasn’t a Teacher.

After I finished my undergrad, I took the CBEST.  I passed all areas in one day without studying.  Not studying was because I don’t know that I was taking it seriously, but I felt good in knowing I am smart enough to teach kids.  I majored in English because reading and writing are my passion.  Studying literature tried to kill that passion, but most English majors go into teaching or law. Teaching is a fast track career in comparison to law school, and my kids wouldn’t have to become orphans to the stacks.  I wanted to see what teaching would be like before committing a year and a half of my life to a teaching credential.

I was brought on as a substitute teacher at a local college prep school.  I had a long term teacher’s aid position with kindergarten and a lot of hopping around through all of the other grades.  I also had a long term teaching assignment as a high school English teacher. I was covering a couple of classes at the end of the day, a few days a week for a teacher that found a better opportunity teaching a class in a local college. I won’t go into the bad side of private schools for students or teachers, but I will say I will never again teach at one, nor have I ever wanted to put my children in one.

The kids were great.  They were bright and friendly and energetic.  There were a few girls that reminded me so much of myself as a teen.  I wanted to wrap a sweater around them and tell them they were so much more than what they looked like.  I wanted to prove to them they could get attention from their work, and they didn’t need it from the football team or a Dad that was always travelling for work or at work so he could pay her tuition fees.   There were lots of bright exchange students and kids that were so hungry for the attention that comes with being smart as a birthright.

One afternoon, I had the high school English class break into groups of three.  Throughout class as is often the case, some lunch time drama was spilling into class and rather than break it up, I let things fall where they did.  Don’t get me wrong, when the kids talked about a fight after school, I was the first person to bring it up to the Dean.  When bullying became teasing through text, I confiscated cell phones. This was different.  This was a boy acting like a jerk, and thinking he could get away with it.  I’d seen him do this throughout the semester and didn’t intervene before.  This time, she said (loudly and with authority) that she had taken it long enough. She went into a fully expressed tirade and I stood silently and let it continue until she was done. She stood up for herself in the last few minutes of class, then stormed off.  I quietly had a friend of hers go get her and come back to me once the bell rang. After hiding in the bathroom, they both came back.

The rest of the class started to tease him, and I intervened enough to regain some decorum.  We spent the last two minutes going over the papers they were critiquing for each other.  I couldn’t quite find my joy in making their papers bleed red with corrections.  I felt conflicted because I knew what I was expected to do and didn’t do it. Once the bell rang, I assured this boy I would have a talk with this girl, and to try his best to get on with his day.

When she returned to class, I had her sit for a bit with her friend and promised I would be held accountable to their next teacher. I won’t forget how her delicate shoulders were still trembling with what she had done. It was a free period, and I wasn’t in a hurry.  She calmed down enough to start explaining why she was justified in telling him off. I stopped her.  I told her that she didn’t need to make me feel better about her choices.  I told her that friendships are a two way street and if you find you are becoming the road instead of heading in the same direction together, it’s okay to find a new direction and travel buddy (a lesson I’ve needed to remind myself about my marriage repeatedly).  I also told her that the changes that teenagers go through can mean an uncomfortable shift and we hurt the people we trust the most, but that didn’t make it his right to make her a punching bag.  It also doesn’t mean it’s too late to heal their friendship but it would require her to decide it’s what she wanted.  I asked that next time standing up for herself might happen out of my classroom so it’s not a reflection on my ability to keep order in the classroom.

I went home that day and thought about the situation and how I handled it.  I saw what I should have done as a teacher, and couldn’t see how I might have done it differently because I didn’t want to.  That was the day I knew I wasn’t cut out to be an educator.  I can’t teach people how to do what is right in the classroom when the Mom in me was standing on the table and cheering her on for standing up for herself and kicking the patriarchy in her life.  That, and I couldn’t find passion in the classroom.  I watched the clock right along with the students.

Have a Drink with me, part 2

My kids are home this weekend and the coming storm means we’ll be home.  That makes them happy and it means I can lounge in pajamas and maybe bake some comfort. This coming kid free weekend I will be working up to the idea of relaxing inebriation, but I’m learning it’s not just my comfort zone that needs stretching.  My family is used to seeing me as the designated driver because I put my ex’s wants first.  They’re used to seeing me sip a soda or water or anything non-alcoholic because I needed to be ready to Mom through a situation without worrying if I need a driver. I’ve written about my relationship with Drinking in the past, but I’m fleshing things out a bit today.

Kid3 was with me last night and asked for soda.  We rarely have it in the house and I gave in to a 12 pack of Coca-Cola for my boys because a once in  awhile splurge should feel like a splurge. I picked up a purple bottle of Viniq.  I used to love Alize and Moscato d’Asti was my favorite wine until I had a reaction that required Benadryl.  I think it might be a good thing to try.  Over ice.  With a splash of club soda. I have a great drunken memory of drinking Alize on the floor of Pro’s Billiards and telling my friends they were beautiful and asking if I could kiss them on the nose. I was loads of fun until I ended the night calling the boy I was nuts about and asking him why he was such an unfeeling asshole.  (I’m so not kidding about not being able to handle my liquor.)

Kid3 didn’t like the idea of me drinking and didn’t want me to buy the bottle of Viniq. A few months ago he said his Dad drinks a lot when they aren’t around, but I never prodded.  We’re grown ups.  We can pay taxes, vote and buy our own booze and cigarettes. I wasn’t planning on drinking in front of my kids, but he was determined to let me know he doesn’t want me drinking. I promised him I wouldn’t drink it in front of him because I wasn’t going to drink in front of my kids anyway, and I wanted it because of the pretty shimmery swirls. It was on clearance and cheaper than his lava lamp. We got home and kid1 had a problem with it too.  He pointed out that nothing good comes out of drinking.  My pretty bottle may remain a pretty bottle for a while.  I have other bottles that have gotten far less attention and no one will notice a dip in their levels. This morning I told my sister about the bottle of Viniq and she said, “wow, you’re going all balls out.” That made me giggle, and yes, we talk like that.  I very rarely write like that but spend enough time with me that I feel comfortable telling you the many things that I don’t write about and I will talk like the teenage mom that doesn’t want to grow up.  My walls come down and my censor is silenced. When I’m comfortable enough, I talk with my inner child more than I talk to my inner porn star and my inner porn star has made a few appearances on this blog. I’m very in touch with who I am and what makes me special.

Right out of high school the start of my week was about pizza, beer, cigars and Monday night football.  Sometimes alone, but often with friends.  A normal gathering included one to three 18 packs of beer for a group of 4 or 5 .  Back then it was MGD or Corona and sometimes Heineken and Mickey’s. It took a while to decide I wasn’t nuts about beer, and when alone, I would experiment with a bartender’s bible in one hand and a jigger in the other.  I loved peach schnapps and would often drink Sex on the Beach when home alone. At bars, I ordered a Cape Cod because back then I was often in dive bars where the drink was different depending on who made it and people rarely got cranberry juice and vodka wrong. I liked apple martinis that tasted like blow pops, and not at all sour.  I don’t remember how to make these anymore and I misplaced that bible many years ago.

With family, we used to drink Hennessy and it was my late grandmother’s favorite. The one from Thailand would drink it straight up with a can of Pepsi next to her.  I have no idea if my grandmother in Houston drank. The family shifted the shared bottle of Hennessy to Courvoisier. Drinking with my family is fun and funny and not every time I’ve had a few drinks was scary, even if my last drinking post gave you that impression.  I had plenty of scary moments that I could never reconcile with being who I want to be as a person and as a mom but they were nights when I wanted to drink alone in public. It’s not the drinks I had, but the choices surrounding those drinks that aligned with the path to self-destruction I was determined to walk on. I’m not afraid to drink or drink alone.

Alcohol never left my home.  I make coq au vin with red wine and cognac.  I add too many capers and a little white wine to my chicken picatta. My beef stew starts with beer and the darker the better, but I’m not picky.  I deglaze pans with dry red wine when I make pot roast.  Pork chops glazed in peach schnapps with shallots will always be a favorite.  I make hot buttered rum batter every Christmas and use spiced rum and whipped cream if a can survives the day with kids around after they’ve gone to sleep.  My kids still freak out a bit when they see me cook with alcohol, but then they taste what is familiar and see it’s okay.

Every holiday we gather at my mom’s house and there’s drinking. The holidays are a time for love and silliness and just enjoying each other. I rarely join in on the drinks but I plan on changing that when I am kid free and don’t have to worry about rushing out in the face of a sudden meltdown or ER visit.  I know I can hang around, grazing on too much food until I’m sober and not going to endanger the general public. I know I’m safe with family and that no one will judge me for not being able to talk without giggling or being overly affectionate. I’m not a binge drinker.  Not anymore.  Once I feel warm, I stop sipping and just enjoy the relaxed haze of intoxication. When it comes to drinking, I’m past testing my limits because we’re well acquainted and I have nothing to prove.

My Children’s Autism and Our Codependency

april 3 sunset

Street level bliss in Lincoln Heights.

I was reflecting on a Facebook post from two years ago.  I’m regurgitating some of it here.

Our home isn’t just autism aware for one month. I know it’s in my home. It’s like the alarm clock that won’t shut off and reminds you it’s not dead every nine minutes. I don’t hide my kids. I like to think of each melt down, escape from overstimulation or apology I utter as teaching others that I am in fact autism aware. I occasionally enjoy the apologies that shame others for their ignorance. (I’m not always nice when you poke the sleeping bear’s children.)

It’s not enough to know autism is creeping into more homes. It’s not enough to know what characteristics to look for and hold your parenting ideals against another parent who faces things you are lucky enough to never know. Accept what is different without trying to figure out how to make someone else fit who you think they should be. Offer to babysit. There is no greater gift than knowing your child is with someone they love and you trust while you can just be. And it’s not personal if they decline your offer. It means they care about the people they are responsible for. This applies to any person trusted with the care of a person who cannot take care of their own needs. I need to know you would act in gentleness, even if my child is having a meltdown and acting out in aggression. I may know and love you, but that does not mean I will trust you with my children.

Yesterday I spent most of the day at a birthday party for my niece and kid brother, both turning 11 this month.  My kids were with their Dad.  I was in a mood all day and it wasn’t pretty.  I used to say I hate kids because they were so needy, and one of my sisters thought I was back to that yesterday, but this trauma runs deeper than preference.

Most of the kids at the party were neurotypical.  There was one child with autism there. His mom and I both have two kids with autism, one more severe than the other. She has thicker skin than I do.  I heard him in the throes of a meltdown, and I came running with my hackles raised, and ready to cut a kid (not necessarily, but the rage potential was primed). There’s a unique dynamic when you throw an autistic child into a group of neurotypical kids without an explanation.  They sense something is off, and bullying starts because they don’t understand the autistic child is already othered, and they need to mark the differences to separate themselves from it. It’s a moment of playground survival and it’s usually at the expense of the child who misses every single social cue. They can always find the most vulnerable in the pack, isolate and annihilate them. It’s like blood in shark infested waters. They sense something different and their jump house play starts to look like the moon bounce mafia. They turn gangster.  With all of the gangbangers I dated, and even the one I married, gang life was about creating a family to fill the void of the families they were born into. There was a bond or unity they missed and they tried to fix it with friends and an idea of earning a place of safety.  Family bonding meant bullying anyone who wasn’t family.  How is that for family value systems? I was fried by the end of the day, and after giving myself several time outs, I had to leave early.  I didn’t go to the beach, I went home and fell asleep in exhaustion.

Over the years, I’ve met a few kids that were genuinely sweet, nurturing, and articulate. They were usually wise and well spoken and extremely observant.  They have a hunger for connection and will often say the most humbling things. They are sometimes emotionally neglected and forced to mature quickly.  Those kids are amazing and some have remarkable parents, but others are beautiful human beings that bloom in spite of their parents.

I’m paranoid about my kids playing with other kids. It’s a problem but it’s my problem.  I took my kids to a kid party once.  They were playing a game where my child was on all fours, pretending to be a dog while the other kids laughed at him.  My son didn’t understand how it was a problem that he was the only dog on a leash being petted. We left and I cut all ties with that mother who probably didn’t even know what I was upset about. I drove home, crying for my sons as they sat in confusion. I was babysitting one summer and the kid I watched was with me while mine were in summer school.  At first his competitive streak and being unable to lose annoyed me, but it wasn’t a big deal.  He was a kid and kids do what they do. I pitied him. We drove down the street one afternoon and saw a man on a bike.  I live in a neighborhood transitioning into trendy gentrification, but it’s still primarily low income and hispanic.  This child’s bigotry took on adult tones and after that summer, I was fine with never speaking with his father again. Some things are taught intentionally to our children, other things through careful observation of what is modeled to them.  Bigotry is taught.  Homophobia is taught.  I did my best to shift his perspective, but I knew I couldn’t replace the anger his parents fed him.

I will be the first person to tell you there is no such thing as a bad child.  There are children that need love and attention and if the only attention they can get is negative, they will still do all they can to get it.  I always tell my kids they are doing what they are supposed to do. They are being kids and nothing is wrong with that.  My ability to deal with it is what changes and when I yell or snap, it’s a failure on my part, not theirs.

I was having a discussion today with my Dad about my codependency.  I was determined to share my thoughts and feelings, no matter the cost or how much I was afraid to reveal. He asked if I ever told my Mom how I felt about their divorce.  I told him I didn’t have the words, but she saw it when I kicked a dent in her car door while barefoot.  I showed her when I broke a wooden baseball bat over my desk.  I showed her with my house parties she couldn’t control, but I couldn’t tell her.  The way I was raised never offered that permission.

I am raising codependents.  It’s a cycle I’m working on breaking in my own life because it’s a change worth making for my children.

When I turned 18 and my Dad filled in my voter sample ballot, it told me that my opinions didn’t matter.  I went from following his leadership to the next man to lead me because I was taught to do what the husband/father/person with the penis says. For years I looked for a person to lead me because I wasn’t really sure I could do it on my own. I would enter relationship after relationship, believing that the person I chose to lead me would have my best interests in mind, even if I thought he was being dumb.  (This is not about today’s political climate.  I promise.) It often looked like lip service, while I did what I wanted, hiding my choices in shame and deceit.  We all have natural consequences for our actions and I invariably did my best to protect many men from theirs.  I danced on eggshells at my own expense because I was more worried about how he would feel and react, than the fact that I had to hide and lie about what I thought and felt.  All of my romantic relationships mirrored my relationships with my parents.  I often have a hard time seeing where they ended and I began because I needed to make things okay for everyone. It’s a self inflicted pressure they could never imagine.  My Dad has told me that he learned how to parent with his sister, and my oldest sister after that.  I pointed out he learned from them, without unlearning from his parents first. Ouch. I’ve set walls about me and I’m breaking them with jabs, punches, and kicks in every belief I let shape me.

The cycle is renewing itself in my children.  I want to shelter and protect them, but that removes them from the natural consequences of human interaction and learning from the boundaries they attempt to push. I don’t quite know what is preference and what is need when it comes to sensory integration dysfunction, social anxieties and what it is to be autistic. I have a hard wired need to do what I think is best to help and nurture them, and I call it protection, but it’s setting them up for splendid failure.  I see it and I’m trying to get the conductor to stop this train and I’m not sure how we can disembark from this journey. At the same time, their individual brilliance has taught them to manipulate my fears into what suits their desires.  I expect too little and they prey on my expectations to manipulate their environment.  Never underestimate an autistic person.  Their beguiling brilliance will enchant you before they abuse and reduce you to tears.  Never dismiss their needs because as difficult as it is for me to help them navigate our world, they face the most difficulty in just being and trying to do so in a way that is socially acceptable.  My kids are praised because of how well they are doing, but it often includes a complete collapse at the end of the day because they have been working so hard just to be perceived as what we consider normal.  We need to remember that autistic and neurotypical are both normal and natural.