Monthly Archives: July 2013

You Can Lead a Toddler to a Potty…

My three-year-old daughter has just started using the potty. We’ve been inviting her to try it for over a year-and-a-half, but she’s just starting to take to it. She was willing to sit, wipe, and flush, but wouldn’t release anything. She’d even started changing her own poopy diapers, including dumping the poop into the toilet, wiping herself (including her knees which often got dirty during the diaper removal), and attempting to put Desitin on herself. I’d go to try to help her, and she’d say, “I did it already!”
I’ve wondered over the past few years whether I was screwing up somehow waiting so long for her to potty train. There’s so much pressure sometimes to “do” parenting. If I’m not telling the kids what to do, actively teaching them something, or reading to them, I feel like I’m slacking off as a mom. I know that it’s good for them to play independently, and it’s good for them to have space and time to figure things out for themselves, but my anxiety always makes me uncomfortable sitting back, waiting, and letting things happen.My anxiety also makes me extremely ineffective at actually doing parenting when I try. I’ve tried in the past to encourage my daughter to use the potty before, letting her run around in underwear or naked, but then I kept getting stressed out that when she’d sit on the potty she wouldn’t release anything. I couldn’t just accept that this was part of the process, and it was okay for this part to take awhile.Knowing that I get stressed out when I try to get my kids to do something new makes me really unwilling sometimes to even try. My son is six years old, and is not reading or writing as well as some of his friends. I try to work more with him, but I’m afraid to do it more than a couple of times per week because if I try to do it more often than that, I start to get stressed out, he starts to get stressed out, and we’re both kind of a mess, which I figure is pretty unproductive.

I confess that I will go out of my way to try to prevent my kids from complaining. This seems like a really passive way of parenting, and maybe my kids will end up being somewhat spoiled for it, but I know that if I hear a lot of whining, especially if I’m already tired, I’m likely to overreact, yelling louder and longer than necessary, and possibly getting physically rough. I’m terrified of hurting my kids, even though I’ve never done anything that would probably be considered child abuse. I’m just afraid of the power I have being bigger than my kids, being the authority figure, and not being in control of my emotions every second of the day.

I guess that’s one of the many challenges we have as parents. How much do we lead our kids to new experiences, how much do we let them take their time, and how do we accept whatever the results are? There are so many stupid charts about children’s development and when they’re supposed to achieve milestones. I’m more afraid of damaging my kids’ feelings of self-worth than whether they read or write at grade level. Maybe that means my kids won’t go to Harvard (I hope not, that place is expensive), but hopefully my kids will feel empowered enough to figure out what they want to do, how to get what they want, and be confident that they’re wonderful people who matter.

How do you balance helping your kids learn with letting them figure things out for themselves?

Depression: A Secret No More

“…as soon as you have a secret, something about you that you are ashamed to have others find out, you have given other people the power to hurt you by exposing you.” – Ayelet Waldman

I used to have the secret that my father was running from the law. He got arrested for cheating at gambling when I was 14 years old, and then he fled the country when he was supposed to go on trial. He first got arrested shortly after I was born for embezzling money from a company he worked for. I think the only time in my life he was legally in the country was when he served time for assault with a deadly weapon when he shot a drug dealer who owed him money.

It was a lot of pressure for me to keep his presence here a secret. I remember once meeting him at a hotel and fearing I had the wrong one, I asked the person behind the desk whether my father was registered there. I asked for him by his real name, and the person said there was no guest by that name. I felt embarrassed and terrified about what to do next. I sat in the lobby, and when my father came to meet me, I told him what happened. He looked furious and glanced at the hotel employee but thankfully said nothing. I was scared for a long time that my father would get arrested because of my mistake. I was probably about 16 years old at the time.

Some secrets are kind of fun to keep, like when you’re pregnant but less than 12 weeks pregnant. It’s something special for you and your spouse to know that no one else knows. Of course, I totally couldn’t wait to tell people. I think I waited maybe 5 weeks to tell people during my first pregnancy, and maybe 7 weeks during my second pregnancy.

I tell my son that things you’re not telling right now but are planning to tell soon aren’t secrets, they’re surprises, like the presents we buy for his friends’ birthdays.

Real secrets are things that eat us up inside, that tell us that something is wrong with us. My worst secret was when I really deeply believed that my family would be better off without me. I started making a mental shopping list of what to buy before trying to commit suicide. I even chose a place. Luckily, I told my husband, and he and a psychiatrist I had recently started seeing got me admitted me to the psych ward at a local hospital.

I often read tweets about people who are struggling with their depression and sadly, many tweets about people’s relatives and neighbors who recently committed suicide.

I watched Kevin Breel’s Ted Talk “Confessions of a Depressed Comic,” and I agree wholeheartedly that we need to change our culture so that no one ever has feel that they need to keep their depression a secret.

I think The Bloggess has done a lot to de-stigmatize depression and anxiety. Wil Wheaton and Stephen Fry have also written about their own experiences with depression.

There’s a Twitter hashtag #depressionlies where people write about their fight against depression, and other people offer their support.

I’m going to keep writing and saying it openly, I suffer from depression.

What will you do to help yourself or other people know that they don’t need to keep their depression a secret?

Being a “Sunshine Mom”

When my son was 6 weeks old, I joined a mommy group that was organized based on geographical area and the calendar year of the births of our children. This was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Six years later, our group is still going strong.

During our kids’ first years we consulted each other on every topic of parenting: feeding, sleep training, developmental milestones, potty training, discipline, and more.

After a couple of years we debated which preschools to visit, and many of us decided to send our kids to the same preschool.

Then many of us started to get pregnant with our second kids. Our mommy group was part of a larger organization that had been established in the 1950s. One of the roles they designated for each playgroup was a Sunshine Mom Coordinator. Basically, whenever someone in the group had a new baby or needed a little extra help, the Sunshine Mom Coordinator would contact other members of the playgroup to see who could bring meals or provide babysitting or other help.

Sunshine Mom

I wrote in “My Miracle Child” about how my friends stepped forward to help when I got very depressed and suicidal while pregnant with my daughter. I updated my Facebook status about being treated in the ER, and the Sunshine Mom Coordinator took it upon herself to contact the group. For the next week meals were dropped off at my house every day so I could recover.

When I was hospitalized again later, friends bought us groceries, babysat my son so my husband could come visit me, and brought us more meals.

My mommy group has gone “alumni” now, meaning we don’t pay any membership fees, and thus have no fund to pay for parties or field trips, but many of us still get together for dinner or play dates. When one of us is sick, or stressed out about upcoming travel, we still offer to bring a meal or babysit.

Yesterday I found out that my neighbor’s teenager got arrested. She’s started drinking alcohol even though she’s still in high school. It sounds like she falls into the “mean drunk” category. Sober, she’s a lovely person, generous and quick to smile. I’ve seen her walking her dog or driving her grandfather to church.

I have never made chicken noodle soup without having to use a can opener, but suddenly, I decided to make it for our neighbor and her daughter. I used this recipe, and it was pretty easy and didn’t take long. I brought it to her door still steaming hot, and told her I didn’t mean to impose, which is of course what you say when you are about to, but I wanted to make a gesture to let her and her daughter know that my husband and I are thinking of them, and we genuinely care what happens to them. I especially want the teenage daughter to know that she matters.

I offered, if the daughter wants to, to have her spend time with my family, doing yard work, going hiking or on bike rides together. She’s dealing with a lot, physically and emotionally, and I hope that spending time with two other trusted adults and two adorable kids might give her a little perspective. For me, it’s not about charity, it’s about community.

In what ways do you support your friends or community when other people are in need? Can you think of anyone who could use a cup of coffee and a little conversation? A bag of groceries? A smile? A hug?

Am I still a Stay-at-home Mom if my Kids Aren’t Home Much?

My son is of school-age now, so starting in August, he will be out of the house from 8:30 am until 3:05 pm most weekdays. My daughter goes to preschool from 8 am until 5 pm three days per week, and I’m about to put her back in the neighborhood daycare she used to go to from 8 am until 5 pm an additional day per week.

So, should I still call myself a stay-at-home mom if my kids are barely home during the week? Forget “stay-at-home”, am I still a “mom” if other people take care of my kids more hours than I do?

I used to say I would never stick my kids in daycare or get a nanny because I didn’t want someone else “raising my kids”. I still feel that way, but only about fictional, idealized children. My real, flesh-and-blood, stinky, cranky kids, I will totally put in childcare.

I rationalize:

  • My daughter is happier when she can spend time with other kids her age
  • She eats more and more variety when I’m not around (I have no idea why)
  • It’s healthy for my kids to have relationships with other trusted adults
  • I’ll be much more pleasant when I do spend time with my kids in the morning, evening, and on weekends because I’ve had plenty of “me” time as well as done a bunch of chores

I wrote in “My Miracle Child” about how I first started learning that I don’t have to be everything for my kids. Perhaps I’m overcompensating now, paying handsomely for a small “village” of people to help me raise my kids.

Despite my facetious comment above, I feel extremely guilty about this. For one thing, we really are spending a lot of money on childcare, and it’s not like I’m bringing in any income to offset the cost. For another, I realize not everyone can afford to do this, so why should I be able to?  How selfish of me to pay for childcare to have more time for me, instead of volunteering at a homeless shelter, or tutoring inner-city kids.  (Crap, writing that makes me feel like I really ought to be doing those things.)

It is selfish to make more time for myself.  I intend to spend the time writing, and finding ways to get paid for my writing so that I will in fact be “working out of the home,” and hopefully making a little money, although realistically I think it will be a long time before it’s any sizable amount.  I also plan to start exercising again and to cook more at home.

The idea is that if I invest time in myself, I will be a better mother and a better person. In all likelihood, I may not totally be child-free since I have a habit of offering my child-free time to watching my friends’ kids (they’re so much nicer to people who aren’t their parents). And that way, they don’t have to spend the money for childcare, I can give it to them for free.

It occurred to me that I wouldn’t want to date a person who did everything for me, who gave up all of their hobbies and interests for me, who catered to my every whim, and I don’t want to parent that way either. Of course, my kids do need me for a lot of things, but being with them 40 hours during weekdays is not one of them.

Please share your thoughts on putting your child in care, whether you’re a working parent, a stay-at-home parent, or whether you don’t put your child in childcare at all.

Going Down Memory Lane (via Facebook)

I have baby books for my son and my daughter, but they’re mostly blank. Since my son was our first child, I made more of an effort to fill out items and print photos. I filled out a few things for my daughter’s book, but by then, I had been on Facebook for a few years, and it seemed silly to print out photos just to paste them in a book.

So, since March 2008, I have been copying my Facebook updates and photos into text files as a way to record funny things they’ve said and done.

Here are some of the anecdotes I’ve recorded over the years:

The first time my son peed while standing up, he yelled, “I’m man-peeing!”

I pointed out two dogs greeting each other at the park, wagging their tails. My son started wiggling back and forth. I asked him, “Are you wagging your tail?” and he said, “Wag penis”.

After his sister was born, my son said, “My choice is to not keep Kaylee. Keep her at somebody else’s house.”

I just watched Modern Family with my hubby, then started teasing and ribbing him, and he got so flustered he couldn’t figure out whether to say, “Thank you” or “I’m sorry.” Made me laugh so hard I cried. I may be the only person to appreciate how funny this was.

Since my son was a baby, I’d say (with an Italian accent), “I kiss-ah you because I love-ah you.” Now I ask, “Why are you throwing things/making a mess/disobeying?” and he replies, “Because I love you.”

Written at 8:20 am: Feeding the girl for the 3rd time this morning. Bathed her. Have not bathed or fed myself yet. Starting to hallucinate. Starting to daydream about bacon and Kaylee’s starting to look like a piglet.

It’s a wonder that 3.5 year-olds haven’t gone extinct.

My hubby was asking our son what he wanted to eat for dinner. First, he said he didn’t want to eat dinner. Then he said, “I only want to eat something we don’t have.”

I guess I should complain about the kids’ bad behavior on FB more often. This evening Zach kept hugging me, and at bedtime Kaylee gave me three kisses, on the last one lingering with her lips on mine just staring into each other’s eyes for a few seconds. In those moments I am so grateful to be their mom.

Whenever my son asks me, “Do you know what?” I find it a real challenge not to say, “Chicken butt.”

I realized today that part of the reason I act immature and bratty sometimes with my kids is because as a mom, I’m only 4.5 years old too. The decades before this didn’t really mature me enough to react with compassion and forgiveness to continuous whining, screeching cries, and the fact that I really still don’t have any idea what I’m doing.

I keep finding myself turning down the volume on the car radio and remembering again, “Oh, yeah, that doesn’t work on the kids.”

Kaylee is like a very old-fashioned husband. She sits at the dining table waiting for food to be brought to her, and by waiting I mean she screams her head off.

My son’s preschool was having a Hoedown. He said he “dominates” his partner. Took me awhile, then, “Oh, you promenade your partner!”

Zach: I think Kaylee’s old enough to be “selled”.
Me: Sold? That’s against the law.
Z: I think she’s old enough to be adopted. I want someone to adopt her.
Me: Why?
Z: Because she’s ruining my life.

Me: Can Daddy feed you milk? (before bedtime)
Kaylee: No. Daddy feed milk, Kaylee cry.
Me (smiling): I don’t hear any crying.
K: (fake, plaintive crying)

Zach: “Knock, knock.”
Me: “Who’s there?”
Z: “Momma.”
Me: “Momma who?”
Z: “Momma, I love you!”
Best knock knock joke ever.

What great things have your kids or your friends’ kids said?

My kids


Writing Myself into Being, One Draft at a Time

One of my favorite poems is “One from None” by Henry Rollins. I love the idea of letting go of what has previously defined me and creating a new self. When I first read it, I had felt so burdened and confined by what I thought other people thought of me. I was Asian, a child of a father who’d been in prison multiple times, and a girl (which I thought meant weaker and generally “less than”).

Here is Henry Rollins’ poem:

One from None

People get lost
The alarm clock goes off and someone loses his way
All of a sudden five years have passed
Same job
They look at themselves in the mirror
Can’t understand where it all went
A dirty underhanded trick
Someone gets lost and destroyed
People walking the streets like dumb animals
Smart enough to be cruel
Handcuffed to the television set
Another beer can opens
The sun goes down on another day
Self-destruction slow and complete
What nasty things we do to ourselves
It’s funny
These people try to bum me out
Calling me shit
They’re not telling me anything I don’t already know
When they talk shit
It’s lightweight compared to what I say to myself
They will never be as hard on me as I am on myself
So fuck them
Love me hate me, it’s all the same

I am weak
Looking to get stronger
When I open my eyes all the way
It’s all there is for me
Kindness is strength
It’s easier to close a door, than to keep it open
Hatred is easy
Frustration is life on pause
These are truths that are hard for me to deal with
I learned a lot this year
I think I am stronger than last year
Self-creation is painful
Trying to take my parent’s blood out of mine
Trying to stand on my own two feet
Without leaning on someone else
Looking to myself for total strength
To be

—Henry Rollins “One From None”

I wrote a self-creation poem that was mostly disconnected references to other writers’ work. Then I joined a writers’ group with a poet and a playwright. I’m kind of amazed I had the guts to share my writing with them because they are both really, really good writers. Thankfully, they were also very kind and generous. They gave me wonderful feedback, which I used to write the following poem.

Mother – Child, which comes first?
American Indians write about their mothers,
their grandmothers, Thought Woman, and Spider Woman.
They know they come from Woman and are proud.

I wear the mask of a woman, but my true self is
something else. I am an alien left behind from
some expedition, by accident, or maybe on purpose.

They say Men are from Mars, and Women from Venus.
Where am I from? How do I get back?
When will I ever feel like this is where I belong?

All these words floating in my head, declaring
how I’m different, lesser, just not good enough.
I can’t do things because, well, I’m a girl.

I listen to these voices, sometimes my own,
sometimes those of my parents, or my brother.
I buy into their beliefs, agree with my silence.

I let them design me, mold me in their image.
All of their fears, their regrets, their doubts.
I give up all responsibility, shoulder all blame.

Yet within me, there lives the seed of a child.
Am I not also a mother waiting to be born?
Can I not deliver from fear a child who is me?

I am my mother, in her likeness and her strength.
I am my own Mother, in the act of immaculate creation.


I spent 2.5 years doing Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), learning skills to help me manage my negative emotions, communicate more effectively, and cultivate courage by being vulnerable. I had to look honestly at who I am and who I want to be.


What am I doing?
Who the hell do I think I am?
What was I thinking?

I have nothing to say.
I have nothing to contribute.

I can’t do it.
I am not good enough.
I’ll never get it all done.
I screw everything up.

I’m broken.
I’m defective.
I’m unwanted.

I would scream but I’m not worth hearing.
I would fight but I’m not worth fighting for.
I’m suffocating but I don’t dare take a full breath.
I choke back my ideas so I risk nothing.

I press down my feelings because I’m afraid.
I don’t want to know who I really am.
If I’m really nothing, how can I accept that?
If I’m really powerful, how can I live up to that?

I can’t help feeling that deep down I really am alone.
Nothing anyone says, nothing I think can shake that feeling.

If I empty out my fear, my judging, my rage, what will be left of me?
I’m so scared there will be nothing left.
Or that what would be left would be nothing worthwhile.

What choice do I have then?
I’ve been pushing myself away, numbing myself, choking myself.
There’s something inside me that keeps crying out, “NO!!!”

Who the hell is that? Why won’t they shut the hell up already?
Can’t they feel how much it hurts for me to feel? How much it terrorizes me?
Why do they make me suffer? Why won’t they let me be?

I’m crying now. I’m doubled over now, weeping for the child I never got to be.
I’m wailing for the years I’ve wasted, hating myself and everyone else.
I’m tired, exhausted from fighting myself over every thought and deed.

When will I be done? When can I release myself for “time served”?
Is there really a well deep inside of me that knows only Love?
I can only keep digging to find out.


This blog is another draft of re-creating myself. I don’t see myself as an authority on anxiety or depression, but I’m decreeing and declaring myself enough of a writer to share my experience. I’m still Asian, but I’m also a child of a father who suffered alone with his anxiety and depression, a woman (which means I’m strong and compassionate), and every day finding more good in me and in the world, and more joy to experience and share.

How do you redefine and recreate yourself?

You Gotta Know When to Walk Away

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook about walking the fine line between “nurturing” her child’s sensitivity and teaching her child that she can make choices about which things upset her. I think this is a great example of showing emotional intelligence, which Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer define as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

Some people are really good at figuring out how other people are feeling and why it makes them act a certain way. I am not one of these people. I used to think that years of reading and empathizing with fictional characters made me more aware of what people might be feeling and thinking, but when it comes to the two people I am closest to, I can be painfully clueless.

My children are three and six years old, and much to my constant surprise, they act like it: throwing tantrums, using language incorrectly (screaming “toast!!!” when in fact they want bacon), refusing to cooperate, and draining every ounce of my attention, my energy, and my soul.

Perhaps from my description you can already tell that a big part of my problem is my attitude. I perceive them as doing things “to me” instead of just being who they are. This is something that is really important to me. I say that I want to teach them the value of being themselves no matter what anyone else says, but in reality, I just want them to do what I say, immediately after I say it, and without complaint.

I really forget what it’s like to be a kid. To not be able to communicate clearly, to feel frustrated about not getting what you want, and being oppressed by rules you didn’t agree to. (Never mind that some of these rules are based on physical laws, like two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time).

My kids are actually really quite well-behaved, which makes it worse when I lose my temper. I really feel like a bad mother getting angry at them when they’re just being normal children, but sometimes when they just keep complaining or keep doing something I’ve repeatedly told them not to do, I just lose it.

It’s scary when I lose my temper. I don’t beat my children or anything, but I do sometimes handle them more roughly than I should. I yell loudly and harshly. There’s a look in their eyes and a tone in their cries that expresses just how scared they are of me in that moment. It’s god-awful, and I hate myself every time.

I tell myself that I’m just tired, hungry, depressed, whatever, but I still want to find a way to “pause” between feeling frustrated and interacting with my kids. I’m trying to remember the video that’s been going around of Patrick Stewart talking about domestic violence. He said, “Violence is never, ever a choice that a man should make.” I change that to “Violence is never a choice a parent should make.” Like I write above, I’m not hitting my kids or throwing things at them, or anything like that, but I do sometimes grab one of their arms to get their attention. The other day I was changing my daughter’s clothes while she was resisting, and I pulled her shirt off kind of roughly.

I’m trying to work on just walking away when I’m angry. That’s what I did after apologizing to my daughter for being rough with her. After I calmed down, I talked to her in a calm voice and explained that I needed her to get dressed for school, and that I “needed her help,” and she cooperated after that.

Sometimes pretending to be someone you’re not is a bad thing, but my trying to be like my friend who understands, accepts, and appreciates her child’s sensitivity is something my children and I could really benefit from.

What do you find most challenging to handle when dealing with difficult people in your life (be they children, co-workers, etc.)? How do you handle it?