Real and Snapshots

Last year at this time, we had half of our old house packed up—that type of packing where evidence that there was so much more left to do outweighed any of our frantic progress to get our house ready for the market. Kal was at the apex of a huge work project while I was at the top of my school blues and my anxiety at our next steps. But we had scheduled a trip to Seattle months before to visit one of my best friends and her family, so we swept up our little the tornado to Washington.


We were stressed out to the max despite the beauty around us. On the way to see a waterfall, for example, there was an odd tension between us, that type of marital tension you could slice open to see both our minds on other things, both our focus not matching up with the picture. I remember stress mixed with gratitude mixed with disappointment mixed with relief. It’s a strange combination that feels more and more normal as I hear and read stories of families around me. The snapshot of a moment is a gift since so much more of the hard stuff happens behind the scenes.

I choose not to focus on those parts when I explain the trip to myself or to the kids.  I am a better, more appreciative person because of them, but I’m old enough to know the hard is just as part of the good as the good is.

Those hard-life tensions were there, and they were real, but we ended in a better place. Within a few days, the warmth of our hosts, the chance to connect our families together, the ability to show our kids something different let us settle into our vacation despite the inopportune timing.

D’s family and mine spent Thanksgiving together that year. I helped prepare the food while D, whose child got sick that morning, tended to her baby girl. Since we’d been there for several days prior, I had already adjusted to her kitchen. I opened up drawers to get the kids plates and knew where she kept the pan to warm up the stuffing. There was a small beauty in feeling so familiar. That alone was almost as beautiful as watching our kids make Pike’s Market their little playground. Somehow and eventually, we rallied and sat down to eat. She had the weight of guests and a sick daughter on her back while I brought to the table my own baggage. But eat we did; pictures we took; and gosh darn’t we had our irreplaceable memories.

A year later now and we’re at 2016’s Thanksgiving. My grandparents and favorite aunt are visiting. They’ve paused their lives to connect with us. The grit behind their visit is the stress I put on myself to get things just perfect. You know, that way you have in your mind you want it all to be before guests arrive. Also, I have always been awful at self-scrutiny in the face of my relatives, no matter how much we love each other. I judge my steps with a heavy hand on the inside even I may appear blithe and confident. My mantra has been to experience them, not stress myself out. But, alas, I’d be lying if I said, it hasn’t been hard that my kids bicker in endless loops 75% of the time and that my introverted side has been running on empty. I’ve been trying to connect to so many things that I worry that I’m neither on point here nor on point there. That’s all the real stuff.

The truth is that I love a clean house. I feel like I should do more about mostly everything all the time. But I am super grateful for the snapshots.


The snapshots of this time together include my aunt and me buying lotto tickets and cigarettes at 11 pm and us running inside off the porch because we heard weird breathing coming at us. It includes long, enlightening conversations that happened in the dark. It includes me baking at 2 am and listening to Sean Hayes. It includes my grandparents, hunched over with mischief, sneaking off to see the well on our property. It includes my friend dropping off homemade pie and joy to the kids during the day, and the kids playing with their friends at night. It includes my son transcribing a letter from my grandpa, who wishes “for a good year” to Santa.


It includes my head on my grandmother’s shoulder when she answered my question, “What would you change about your life if you had the chance to go back in time?” She replied without hesitation, “I’d bring my boy back to life.”

The snapshots also include Layla playing violin in front of the fireplace. It includes my mom handling life while her husband is out of the country. It includes a tiny Asian grandmother straying into my parent’s kitchen while we were cooking. She talked to us in Chinese (true story, I swear) until we recognized she didn’t know where she was but also wasn’t worried about it. The best snapshot of that would be when Kal asked her if she’d like to hold his hand as he walked her down the road back to her grandchildren’s’ house.She did.

The house is quiet again. A candle crackles behind me, and the house smells like pumpkin and vanilla. My most special aunt has her feet up near me, and a show is on that we both like to watch. A throw drapes over her, and I’m warm in my oversized, knitted cardigan. My hands, however, smell of Vicks since Zade keeps coughing. Every few sentences, I hear him cough, and I go from calm to nervous, back to calm again.

In the moments, we have the moments.



Natural Links

nature-walk-2A tide of dried leaves on an expanse is similar to waves folding back and forth. My student observed the similarity between the sound of ocean waves and wind on leaves when we went on a nature walk during my literary magazine class. We started with a few minutes of stillness and meditation, and ventured into a free-walk where each person was encouraged to walk alone and observe. Students, now calmer, brought the same stillness back with them and wrote something new or wrote through something else that moved them. Nature walks aren’t new additions to pedagogy, and not everyone ventured openly into the woods, but the big picture worked well. For me it was refreshing and reminded me of how important it is to breathe fresh and be still.


I experienced frantic energy last week. The presidential election drama made it worse. In fact, it sent me straight to the polls to vote early on Thursday. After a day of work minutia, I met a 2.5 hour line straight to my civic duty. I lucked out though. My unexpected line mate was an older woman with a yoga t-shirt (we joked about how the leaf logo on it looked like marijuana). She is was a teacher of young kids and mother of a musician. It was a perfect fit. We talked freely and shared ponds of our life stories, even so far as sharing some challenges we’ve had lately. Then, we voted and said our good-byes–the way one does when you’ve met someone at the airport because your flight was delayed and wonder-hope if your paths will cross again. I finished a hairline away from missing a guest speaker I’d wanted to hear who was presenting at a private school nearby.

Dr. Madeline Levine who is known mostly for texts like the Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well engaged the audience in “An Evening with Madeline Levine.” I walked in and slid to the back of the room as the MC introduced her. Another boon came my way when I saw my friend and concert buddy sitting at the edge of a bench. She had her notepad out like many other parents and took notes diligently. The talk was fascinating—about emotional distress in young adults from relatively good homes, the constant pre-college push, the ways children can be categorized to help us understand them, etc.  I nodded a lot and made some mental notes. Two takeaways stood out mainly because they are very personal.

She states that often when we’re scolding our children, our reaction can be very personal. While the catalyst—an argument, a bad grade, a lapse in judgement—is valid, our reaction can be smeared with our own issues. She used an example of her reaction to one of her son’s grades dropping after taking a final exam. She went off on him and recognized 6 therapy sessions later that he was the same age she was when she recognized she had to fend for herself, family on welfare and future looking bleak. She needed him to thwart and appreciate. It made me think of the times I am short with my kids. It’s not that they aren’t doing something wrong, but if I analyze why I may snap, it’s because of things unrelated to them—work exhaustion, my concave fear of embarrassment, or my longing for some introverted quiet.

With other talk points, she offers that parents should sift through her message through their own moral codes. However, one message was perfect. Levine ended the night with a simple PowerPoint slide. Since people ask her what her definition of success is, she constructed this (squint a bit; the message is worth it):


I read it twice. It was a long day, so I was already positioned to be emotional. Before I could realize it, I felt tears in my eyes. Not for my own children, but for my parents. Not according to a salary scale, but in accordance with this definition, my parents raised me to do well in life. They never criticized me or made me feel that I should choose any career path that didn’t fulfill me. My father was the one who steered me off law and into teaching. My mother was the one who always said I was the best at literature. I think my parents believed so hard that I was special, that despite my squirming out from under it, maybe I started to believe it–at least through their eyes. Power of parents, seriously, since so much of it was out of love and not out of data. My mom never went to college, and my parents just did their best to survive in a new place and then to assimilate while protecting their kids. And in that process—without guide books or guest speakers—raised me to a place where I can say that I feel connected to Dr. Levine’s message.

I called my mom as soon as I got in the car and thanked her for shaping me so my soul could grow and my eyes could see. She cried and said it’s easy to take for granted the fruits of their labors but that she appreciated our childhood and did the best she could.


The kids waited up for me and fell asleep a few minutes after I came home. While they closed their eyes and slumped over on the couch, I relayed all this to Kal. I’m sure I had smeared eye makeup and my hair was probably wilted on the side after a long day, but he listened. We came to the resolution that there’s so much we can’t predict, but we’re trying our best and will try to remember the pressure we put on ourselves to be active, open parents even at this young stage.


Let our kids get messier than we did– we hope–and give us the wisdom to remember that mud is good.