Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I don't always do the right things as a parent.

I don't always ask the kids to set the table. I don't ask them to take out the trash. I don't have a chore list that they must check off every day or week. I don't hold back from doing things for them instead of helping them become more independent.

I don't expect them to be at the top of the class. I don't demand straight As. I don't ask them to read more minutes than the school's minimum. I don't make them do their homework before having screen time.

I don't speak enough Chinese to them. I don't enter them in music competitions. I don't always put them in summer enrichment camps outside of school.

I don't always have a great selection of clean, folded clothes for them to choose from each morning. I don't always turn in permission slips and school dues on time. I have even forgotten to pick the kids up on an early release day. I don't always empty out DD's Take Home folder and check her school work.

One day in late January, after DD's accordion folder was so overfilled with take-home work that I was embarrassed to look through it, I looked through it. I came across a worksheet that seemed like a New Year Resolution question/answer sheet. But instead of "resolutions," they were more fill-in-the-blanks for what one wants to do in different areas in 2014. Examples: A new skill I'd like to learn; A place I'd like to visit; A new food I'd like to try. It looked interesting, so I read on in detail.

And then I came to one that made my heart skip a beat. I had to read it again and again to make sure I was reading it right.
A person I hope to be more like: 
And her answer:
My mom because she's encouraging.
I read it over and over to make sure that I read the prompt correctly and the answer correctly. I deciphered her irregular cursive strokes to make sure it said mom. And encouraging. And reread A person I hope to be more like.

Then this lump began to grow in my throat and my eyes started to blink faster. 

This Johnny-come-lately mom had to tell her daughter how touched she was reading this response, um, only a few weeks late. Then this skeptical mom had to ask her daughter if she wrote that answer because she couldn't think of anyone else to write about.

DD was gracious enough not to be offended by that question.

Perhaps I seem a little too surprised and overjoyed to read something like this. It seemed sort of no-big-deal to DD. But I am a sentimental schmuck. And a MOM.


Encouraging. You know what else is encouraging? That DD's words have turned around to encourage me, a parent who seems to actually be doing something right.

Friday, February 21, 2014


I just finished an almost-800 page book, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. It has been described as a literary piece that comes only half a dozen times in a decade. It is said to be "Dickensian," "sweeping," and "a masterpiece." Numerous essays and reviews have been written about this novel that took twelve years to write.

I will not attempt to write about this book because I cannot do it justice, as other readers/reviewers have. But it did inspire me to think about a particular topic. The novel begins with the protagonist, Theo, telling us how he lost his mother in a tragic accident at age 13. This loss, so overpowering, comes through in his way of grieving her: "I miss her so much I wanted to die: a hard, physical longing, like a craving for air underwater." Over the years, he'd dream of her constantly, but
"...only as absence, not presence: a breeze blowing through a just-vacated house, her handwriting on a notepad, the smell of her perfume, streets in strange lost towns where I knew she'd been walking only a moment before but had just vanished, a shadow moving away against a sunstruck wall. Sometimes I spotted her in a crowd, or in a taxicab pulling away, and these glimpses of her I treasured despite the fact that I was never able to catch up with her."
First, these images made me ache for Theo's heart. Then, they made me think about my own dreams, many of them recurring: those fleeting sightings of objects or ideas just beyond my grasp; momentary flashes of emotions lasting only seconds; and the unearthing of feelings that have been buried for decades.

I remember, as far back as age 6 or 7, having the Falling dream. Though I've never "fallen" from considerable height ever in my life, these dreams seem so real. All the elements of falling--the gravitational pull yanking me downward, the acceleration of my fall through thin air, and the panic flooding my entire body--are as palpable as being face-to-face with my Demise. Except I never hit the ground; I wake up instead. That Moment never happens, yet over and over, I wake, stunned, gasping, and bewildered at the authenticity of that chilling sensation.

There's also the Chasing dream. There's danger behind me, and I'm running for my life. Except my legs and arms can only move v e r y s l o w l y. Yet the person chasing me is still running in real time. I just can't run any faster (to save my life). It's as if a film editor accidentally superimposed a slow-mo action scene over a real-time scene. It toys with one's perspectives.

Thankfully, the frequency of these two types of dreams have decreased over the years.

What I have been having more in the recent years is the Facial Distortion dream. Hair falling out by the handfuls. Teeth of odd sizes or colors appearing in improbable places in my mouth. Ginormous zits sprouting where they don't belong. Being unable to remove my over-sized contact lenses from my strangely minuscule eyeballs. Yep, the really weird stuff. I'm either really vain or an overachieving hypochondriac.

Every now and then, I still get the Relive-the-Pain dream. Complete reenactments of childhood memories, like scenes from a familiar play, conjuring--with great artistry and precision--feelings of guilt, shame, and blame in me. I can be a child, an adult, or my current age in the dream, but all the raw feelings of my child-self still come flooding back. The mind remembers things in obscure ways: experiences from way back and deep down still pop up when one least expects them.

On a lighter note, I also occasionally have the Rejection-by-DH dream, whereupon I wake up mad at him because in my dream he had turned his back on me and walked away. I'm not sure how this gets into my head since that has never happened in real life. Like, ever. The poor guy wakes up facing an angry wife with a temper tantrum.

I've been told that I have a dramatic flair for defending (what I "think" is) reality.

Finally, there's the Just-Out-of-Grasp dream. Mouth-watering Peking duck on the table and poof! it's gone cuz I'm lying in my bed and there's no duck in it with me. Or the one where I'm about to get some sort of major recognition in front of a large crowd, and that glorious moment pops like a pin-pricked balloon because oh, I just woke up. I find myself in bed with no applause or glory. Only darkness and disappointment.

So close, yet so far away. Always a moment too soon, or a second too late. 

No doubt dreams are subconscious expressions of one's fears and anxieties, as well as ultimate desires and yearnings, as in Theo's case. Which makes me wonder: why don't we have more pleasant and happy dreams? I cannot think of one dream where I felt warm and happy, complacent and relaxed. (Okay, well, I did have the Baby-Moving-in-My-Belly dream, where I felt overjoyed re-experiencing the feeling of carrying a baby. But that happy feeling soon turned into an OMG-I-CanNOT-Be-Pregnant anxiety and the happiness is all gone.)

So, do we not have more positive dreams or do we only remember the negative ones? Is it because of our conscious suppression of negative thoughts during the day that land them in our subconscious dreaming in the night?

If Theo could control his dreams, he wouldn't be chasing his mother's absence. If I had my way, I would spend less time being a nervous wreck in my sleep.

And eat lots of Peking duck.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


One of our most prized possessions is our collection of books. Ever since college, DH and I never hesitated to buy (albeit used) textbooks and books for pleasure reading (as opposed to renting or borrowing them). Even as starving college students, we'd forego new clothes and sometimes food, but paid for our books and kept them. Twenty plus years of books (except one box of lost books from our cross-country move, which, in fact, contained many of my Norton Anthologies, sigh) means there are bookshelves in every room in our house.

And they all possess a very special trait: proper alignment.

Each book is aligned exactly the same distance from the edge of the bookshelf as another. All the books are flushed against an imaginary line about an inch into the shelf.

I realized DH had a compulsion for such (dis)order, among others, early on. I'd have a friend over who borrowed a book, and DH would know exactly which book it was with one glance on his bookshelf. That tiny little gap left between the neighbors of the missing book or the unevenness of any cluster of books would be all the clue he needed to know which book is gone.

This behavior was so amusing to me that there may have been occasions where every few books or so got pushed in all the way in to the back of the shelf. Cuz there'd be some serious reaction from a dorky mate the Love of My Life. Until I realized that I was the only one that thought it was funny. He really detested out-of-place books. And anyone who caused such disarray of his beloved books and bookshelves.

So the playfulness (on my part) got old and I quit teasing DH. But soon enough, the kiddos came along. Young DD learned very early on how quirky Daddy can be whenever his books were "disturbed." Years later, when DS was mobile and explored the bookshelves, DD would be quick to advise her baby brother not to touch the books. Of course, DS would always give a devilish look to his Daddy, push in a handful of books, and bust out a hearty belly laugh.

Even though he tortured his poor Daddy back then, look who's inherited the Orderly genes now.

It's also not a wonder why DS is our go-to person when we cannot find something in the house.

Over the years, I began to find things from which I craved order. Things that were lined up, symmetrical, or uniform appeared pleasing to my eyes and comforting to my mind. Straight edges and right angles gave me a sense of precision and security. Not that I didn't like creative and spontaneous brush strokes or freehand lines, but without the reference of a grid, I wouldn't be able to appreciate the genius of unstructured designs.

Which is why I utterly obsess over the art of knitting. The rows upon rows of perfect stitches is total joy for my eyes.

The process is methodical, yet can be creative based upon a set of basic stitches to make new designs. The final product is a piece of art, because each and every stitch is placed intentionally and perfectly to yield a pattern.

It is also probably why I love to to bake, as the precision in measurement is an integral part of the probability of a successful outcome. But with a basic recipe of stock ingredients, one can still exercise imagination and ingenuity by substituting or adding new ingredients. Again, chaos among order, creativity among structure.

Interestingly, DD has no signs of such compulsions whatsoever. She may have had some as a little girl, but all evidence points to the fact that she's outgrown it--she just does not need all her ducks lined up in a row. She is by no means very messy or totally disorganized, but she'd be the last person to find something in this house. In fact, she could be looking for something staring right at her and she'd declare--with absolute certainty--its non-existence. I'd say that she got more share of my genes in that department.


Just the other day, I watched a child walk by a wall-to-wall bookshelf and push in books by the handful WITH.EACH.STRIDE. Every length of hair on my body stood up, and I tried, achingly, to hide the horrified look on my face. No one else in the room even noticed or had one ounce of reaction.

This is a fine example of nature versus nurture.

I've inherited DH's compulsion via environmental institutionalization.

We are a hopeless bunch.

Except maybe for DD.

Run, Daughter, run!