Monthly Archives: October 2013

Honoring My Dad A Year After His Suicide

A friend told me that when she was growing up her mother would dial her ex-husband’s number and as soon as she heard him pick up, she’d hold the phone out and tell her daughter, “Your dad’s on the phone.” Whatever hurt or anger she felt towards him, she still wanted her daughter to have a good relationship with him.

I wish I had thought to do something like that for my kids with my father. He knew about them because he’d found photos of them online. My aunt said he seemed so happy when he’d talk about them, but he’d never met them. We never exchanged letters or phone calls. I didn’t tell my kids anything about my dad until I found out he’d passed away.

I had my reasons, as people do. I was afraid of my father. He’d never threatened me, but I knew he was capable of violence. The last time I saw him, he was serving time in state prison for shooting a drug dealer who owed him money. Still, that shooting happened over 10 years ago. He did write some mean things about me and my mother, but now that I think about it, he probably couldn’t have hurt me or my kids after he got deported back to Hong Kong.

I can’t reach out to him anymore. He killed himself a year ago. He apparently left a note saying that he didn’t have anything to live for. In my head, I know it’s not really my fault. I didn’t make him swallow the pills, and I didn’t break off communication with him just to hurt his feelings. I genuinely felt scared that he would hurt me after he got out of prison.

Still, I regret that we weren’t even writing letters when he died. I wish I could go back and send him photos of my kids and stories about funny things they said or did. I like to think that my staying out of contact with my dad was to protect my kids, but I wonder a bit of that was just an excuse. He was hard to be around. He was demanding, verbally abusive, and usually running away from the law. But he was also suffering from undiagnosed depression and anxiety. Before I got into treatment, I was pretty hard to be around too.

I don’t know what would have happened if I had reached out to my father. Maybe things wouldn’t have worked out, just as I suspected. Maybe we could have found a way to put the past behind us and just enjoy Zach and Kaylee. I wish I could go back and find out.

I’d like to think that some essence of my father, untouched by his anxiety and depression, is still around. I’m not sure I believe in reincarnation, but as physicists say, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be changed from one form to another.” All the energy of my fear and hatred of him is gone. What’s left is a deep ache of sadness.

My family will be celebrating the Day of the Dead at a friend’s house and also at Zach’s school. Whatever differences my dad and I had, he still deserves to be acknowledged and honored.

A rare photo of my dad and me happy together

My dad and me when I was about 8 years old

Have you lost anyone that you had a difficult relationship with? How did you cope with your loss?

Embracing the “Bully”

Last year I volunteered in my son Zach’s kindergarten class. There was a boy Emmett who was bigger than most of the other kids, and he quickly got a reputation for being a bully. I noticed at recess though that the other kids would provoke Emmett. They’d annoy and pester him until he started pushing them back. I asked his mom whether he felt the kids were picking on him. She thanked me for noticing that and said he did feel like the kids were bothering him and trying to get him “worked up.” She said it was getting better though, and she was coaching him on how to respond without fighting back.

This year, another boy, let’s call him Puck, has had such serious problems with a few other kids that he’s been assigned to the library for all three recess periods, where he’s had supervised interactions with just a few other kids. Some of the parents of kids Puck has fought with have been angry enough to lobby for him to be suspended or even expelled.

I talked to the school principal and found out that the kids Puck has been having problems with have told Puck they don’t want to play with him anymore. The principal feels that excluding one kid from a group is a form of “bullying” too, and I agree with her. A lot of the kids at school were starting to talk about how “Puck” was mean, and no one wanted to play with him.

I decided to invite Puck to stay after school one day a week to play with Zach and some of the other kids we hang out with. Later I heard a couple of other families also reached out to Puck’s family and started inviting Puck over for play dates. I was really relieved and inspired by their kindness and compassion.

Two boys hugging

Sometimes kindness works magic

I’ve seen now that Puck can be rough at times and a little slow to respond when other kids tell him to stop being rough, but I’ve also seen him being just your average calm, silly kid. He seems to behave best when he’s playing with just one other kid and when they’re both focused on a task, like building something or baking cookies.

Last week I noticed that Zach and another boy were laughing and running off together, away from Puck, who kept following them, desperate for their attention. I worry that Zach is going to reject Puck just like other kids have. I’m going to bring a few organized games to the afterschool play date because the boys seem to get more rowdy when they’ve gotten bored. They all quickly resort to grabbing and kicking each other.

I’m going to keep scheduling one-on-one play dates for Puck and Zach. I truly don’t believe that Puck is a bully. But I worry that being rejected and isolated again and again will turn him into one.

Have you noticed kids being labeled a bully when they really weren’t? How do you help kids work things out when they can’t do it on their own?

You Don’t Have to Be Perfect, But You Can Be Good

Every few months I break down sobbing because I remember that deep down, I am fatally flawed. I am broken, defective, worthless. I am no good at anything. Everything that’s going wrong in life is my fault. I work incredibly hard at everything, and it’s still just not good enough.

For a while tonight while I was crying, I thought I should go away for a week so my husband and kids could see if they’d do better without me. If they could, then I’d just go live as a hermit somewhere. Of course, I realized that was stupid, my husband would go nuts without me driving the kids around, helping our son do his homework, buying groceries, doing laundry, etc.

I’m a Perfectionist. Not just by self-definition, I’ve actually been tested. My therapist did the Enneagram with me, and it was pretty clear that I’m a Perfectionist. No matter how well I’m doing, I should always be doing better.

This probably started early on for me. My father was running from the law for most of my childhood, and I think I believed that if I were perfect he would somehow stop being angry, would stop breaking the law, and would love me. Somehow my being perfect would protect him and me.

I totally understand that my thoughts are not rational, but I think that my feelings of worthlessness are hard-wired in my brain. It’s going to take a lot of re-training to make new connections in my brain that allow me to forgive and to accept myself.

I’ve come a long way already. Before when I would have friends over, I would sweep and mop the night before, no matter how tired I was. I used to be afraid to watch other people’s kids even for just an hour or two. I used to try to pretend I was perfect. This made me an extremely big pain in the ass. I’m lucky I’ve managed to keep some of my friends from over 10 years ago. I was such a jerk. People who’ve read my post about judging people who take public assistance would rightfully argue I can still be a jerk.

I told my son once, “You don’t have to be perfect, but you can be good.” Recently when I was getting really impatient and frustrated with my daughter, my son came to me and reminded me of this sentiment. I’m not sure why I worry so much about him. Sometimes he seems so much wiser than me.


I’ve gotten much better about admitting to other people that I’m not perfect. I’ve got to practice admitting to myself that it’s really okay for me not to be perfect. It’s not doing my kids any favors to set expectations that none of us can reach.

One of my biggest problems is taking on too many things. Trying to help out at church, at my son’s school, with my friends, trying to be a writer, trying to keep up with my book club, and on and on.

I’m going to take a step back and start over with my To Do List. If I pull the plants out of the garden, I don’t have to feel guilty that I’m not tending it. I can write blog posts when I feel I have something to share, not just because about a week has gone by.

I know that having compassion for myself makes me more able to have compassion for others, and God knows my kids need compassion. They have me for their mother. (That’s totally supposed to be a joke.)

What do you do to keep from making yourself crazy doing too much or working too hard?

Are School Standards Leaving Most Kids Behind?


The view I’m going to see of my kids for 12 years.

My kids are both a bit “behind” in school. That’s right, my three-year-old and my six-year-old are already “behind” in preschool and 1st grade.

My daughter’s teacher asked me to help my daughter with her colors because she confuses blue, yellow, and green. She also wants us to practice counting and visually recognizing numbers. That’s right, I need to start teaching her to read numbers. Zach didn’t have to do that until the end of kindergarten.

The teacher clarified she just wants to start “exposing” Kaylee now, maybe because my eyes were visibly welling up with tears from the shame and guilt that Kaylee’s already falling behind, only two months into the school year. The teacher has to assess Kaylee again in February, and she feels guilty if kids do poorly because they didn’t start practicing early enough. Technically, Kaylee needs to be able to read numbers 1-30 by next fall.

We were told at the end of kindergarten that Zach was reading below grade level. He’s in a program where he mostly learns in Spanish, so I figured this was kind of normal, but we still hired a tutor to work with him over the summer. Today, his teacher told us that he’s still reading three levels below what he’s supposed to be. She thinks it’s mainly because his vocabulary is very limited. We don’t speak Spanish at home, and this was not supposed to be necessary to be in this program, but I’m seriously feeling pressured to learn a whole bunch of vocabulary now.

I really want my kids to grow up bilingual, but this is harder than I expected. Part of Zach’s school day is Spanish Language Development, which I thought was teaching him Spanish vocabulary and grammar, but it seems it’s not enough.

My husband complains it feels like we’re partly homeschooling our son. We just expected Zach to get more out of what he was learning in the classroom. He has really good behavior, they never say he’s not paying attention. In some ways that’s worse. It’s like saying he’s just learning too slowly.

I worry that the standards are too high. The kids are going to be tested on solving mathematical equations and then explaining WHY that’s the answer. They have to explain things like why two plus two equals four. I can’t even answer that except to say, “It just does!”

Zach already has about 7 pages (double-sided) of homework every week, plus a book report (one page where he draws a picture and writes a few sentences). We try to do it mostly over the weekend plus one weeknight because he has a martial arts class two afternoons per week. I’m afraid that if his homework load keeps increasing, by 4th grade he’s not going to have time to eat or sleep. We do all homework, we read to him at least 20 minutes per day, and he’s still “behind.”

I’m going to tutor my kids, plus I’m going to hire a Spanish tutor for Zach for conversation and vocabulary practice once per week. Part of me wishes I could “push back,” and maybe I could, but life is competitive now, right? This is all so my kids can keep up, and with a lot of luck, maybe even get a tiny bit ahead of their peers for the few jobs that aren’t being shipped overseas or that only pay minimum wage.

Do you think schools are expecting too much of kids?
Are parents not expecting enough of them?
Do teachers have too many kids to teach all of them adequately?

Remembering Cory Monteith

Cory Monteith

Photo courtesy of Urban IslandZ

Tonight’s episode of “Glee” will be a tribute to Cory Monteith, who died of a drug overdose in July. There are promos available online, but I’m waiting to see the whole episode so I can feel the full impact of the cast and crew saying goodbye.

I was really sad to hear of Cory’s death in July. I’ve watched “Glee” for years now, and Finn Hudson, the character Cory portrayed, was my favorite. Being 6’ 3” tall, he could have come off as intimidating, but instead Finn was lovable, awkward, and very vulnerable. The show seemed to be setting things up so that Finn would return to McKinley High as a teacher. Instead, tonight they’ll be mourning Finn Hudson’s death.

There are so many things that are sad about Cory’s death. He seemed to have so much to live for. He was dating his co-star Lea Michele. He had a couple more seasons of Glee to shoot and a couple of movies coming out this year and next. He was inspiring to a lot of people. He managed to stay sober for over 10 years.

Addiction is a horrible, evil thief, stealing a person from their loved ones and from their own awareness of their worth and value. There are many kinds of addiction. lists resources that can help.

One thing I did to mourn him was to make a donation to Project Limelight, a charity he supported. He also supported Virgin Unite and Chrysalis.

I keep listening to songs from Glee, and I love to hear Cory’s voice. I’d like to think that some essence of his kindness, his goofy smile, and his passion are still with us somehow.

Fighting Apathy by Becoming a Helper

I feel so helpless against the many, many things that are going badly in this country and around the world. I get so depressed thinking about it, I end up shutting it all out, hence, my recent post “I Confess: I’m Prejudiced (and ashamed of it).”

A character in Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Flight Behavior” described what I was doing, which I call “willful ignorance”:

“I think people are scared to face up to a bad outcome. That’s just human. Like not going to the doctor when you’ve found a lump. If fight or flight is the choice, it’s way easier to fly.”

I’ve decided to stop taking the easy way out. Instead of feeling paralyzed about all the people I can’t help, I’m focusing on the few that I can.

I created a “Help Those in Need” page. I’ve personally donated to Feeding America, and I’ve been a lender on for a few years. I’d been lending primarily abroad, but I’ve started loaning domestically as well. I’ve signed up to prepare and serve a meal to homeless people in a few weeks. I intend to volunteer once every month (in addition to the volunteering I already do at church and at my son’s school). I’m considering doing a Spotlight post every month that highlights organizations that serve those in need.

What local, national, or international organizations do you support and recommend?