Thursday, March 29, 2018

Unmellow Yellow

My favorite color is not a concrete thing. In the last few years, it's hovered around gold, pink, and purple. But recently my eye is drawn to YELLOW. Not the mellow variety. It's bold, and I'm into that. 

I've noted that yellow items in my clothing shop(s) have been selling well. I think yellow is a loud announcement that winter is over, and we're all so ready for that! I even want to paint stuff yellow right now, but I do wonder whether it would just seem ludicrous in the winter months and winter light? 

Here are some images that have jumped out at me recently. 

Fashion by Emilio Pucci, 1960s 

From Martha Stewart Magazine, photographed by Johnny Miller

Charles Martin illustration for 1934 Harpers Bazaar

Delpozo Pre-Fall 2018 Fashion Show Collection

Book by Blair Imani

Guo Pei Spring 2016 Couture (same designer that made that 
hugeeee yellow cape for Rihanna at the Met Gala a few years ago)
WANT. Passionfruit drink. I really like the Chinese newspaper underneath. 

Vintage Pierre Cardin

Envelope decorated by Henri Matisse

Saturday, February 24, 2018

10 Years an American

Ten years ago, I moved to America.
I was born here, but not raised here. The most recent ten years of life here, plus the 3 first years of my life here now add up to half my lifetime. Very soon, the scale will tip and I will have spent more of my life in America than anywhere else. This makes me cry.

There are many things that I am grateful for in America and that I appreciate about being an American, but it is hard for me to find it in myself to say that I love America. Perhaps in the same way that I wrote about my struggle to feel emotional fondness for children at times, I do not have emotional fondness for America most of the time, though I love it in a sort of fierce, visceral way and because I can not escape it, even if I were to move away.

In many ways, I am an immigrant, having moved to America from somewhere else that was once home. I think I can say that I share the immigrant's experience of being grateful for the promises that America holds and that in many ways, life for me here is "better" than it could be elsewhere, but I also harbor the immigrant's wound of feeling that I don't fully belong and I see with immigrants eyes that much of what America promises is a half-truth at best.

I am resisting the urge to apologize for this cynicism, because while I recognize and appreciate the good things, I am ever more aware that my sometimes-perception of America being "the best place" isn't the America that most people live in. I suppose that if you get to know anywhere well enough, you'll discover that it's not quite the same as you expected.

When I didn't live in America, America was always the Shining Place, where everything was better than wherever else I was in the world. The water was clean enough to drink from the pipes, the streets were paved and without trash, there weren't amputee children lying in the middle of the sidewalks,
and everyone had money to spare. This is both true and untrue. It is true that in most regards America's norms are of a higher standard than in other places. It's good enough on the surface that we can claim that it's good enough. I experience a lot of "grey" America, where everything is middle-of-the-road enough that we can get by without ever doing good or doing evil. You can also get by here without resisting evil.

I haven't traveled very much within the United States, but the little bit that I have seen astonishes me with its variety. Some people here don't have clean water, or enough water at all. There are unpaved streets and plenty of trash. There are more and more people begging for a living, and for most people, the thought of "money to spare" makes them laugh and cry at once. It is true that if we compare to rural China, for example, most Americans don't have much to complain about.

But I don't live in rural China anymore, I live here. I'm not a woman in Saudi Arabia "where things are really bad for women", I live here, where things aren't good enough for women. I don't live in a country where I will very likely be killed for my faith or my politics, I live here now, in a country where religious freedom is confused about itself and the religious don't take their faith very seriously but it's also commonplace to act on the most heinous of beliefs. I don't live in Yemen, where children are literally dying of hunger, but I live here, where fresh food costs more than poison.

I said before how life in America feels like grey-area to me much of the time. I think that is often a result of the America that I can see, but the more I am curious and the more I peek around corners, the more I have a sense that for many people, life in America is actually dark. I read somewhere recently that, "the world isn't getting darker, we're just pulling back the veil."

I live in a country where at 26, and within the time that I've lived here, I have outlived at least seven of over 5400 people shot by police officers (as of May 1, 2013 when such a list was created. The list below is from I Am Not Your Negro).

Tamir Rice 2002-2014 (age 12)
Darius Simmons 1998-2012 (age 14)
Trayvon Martin 1995-12 (age 17)
Aiyana Stanley-Jones 2002-2010 (age 8)
Christopher McCray 1996-2014 (age 18)
Cameron Tillman 2000-2014 (age 14)
Amir Brooks 1997-2014 (age 17)

Not only have I outlived them, but I was born before all of them too. 
I don't bring this up to demonize the police. I understand that it is a difficult job, and sometimes officers shoot in self defense. I bring it up because it helps me to see that there is more than one America, and I'm trying to understand my place in all of them. 

I didn't expect it to be so hard to do good here. Sometimes it feels impossible to recruit people to see my America, and sometimes people are too busy to love or be loved.

In many ways, I believe that President Trump has cut me loose, as a white woman, from what I thought I knew or what felt familiar here in America, and forced me to forge new bonds and recognize old rifts. I'm extremely grateful to his presidency for that. It has made my heart feel raw and exposed to elements I did not know existed, but I am grateful.

Ten years in, I still don't feel a sense of "where I'm from", but I do have this sense that I have a unique opportunity to understand and define what it means to be an American. I get to choose my identity to a greater degree than someone who was born and raised here, and that does make me feel invested in what it means to be American. I am from here, so I must be a part of here, and learn how to manipulate the potential for good here. I think that coming from outside gives me both a fierce love for what is good, and a less calloused view of what is rotten. I know where my loyalties are not, when it comes to Americanism.

Being American encompasses a lot more than I'll ever know or see, and the more I understand that, the more I realize that as much as I get to define Americanism for myself, I can't do that for everyone in this country. There isn't one right answer to what it means to love this country or be a part of it, or even to dislike being a part of it. But I do get to offer a counter-narrative when America is held up as something that I revile, because I am also American which means my view of Americanism counts for something.

Lately, my struggle has been to separate my identity as an American from my experience as a white woman. As I keep saying, being American looks different depending on who and where you are in this country, but I'm beginning to see that for me, it isn't right to stay in my America when other versions of America suffer for it. What I mean by this is that by not breaking away from the narrative of America, land of the free and brave, where everything is cleaner and better than elsewhere, I am complicit in perpetuating the version of America that is oppressive and warped. The warped version, where racism, sexism, imperialism, and religious oppression are deeply rooted generally isn't my America, which means that I can pretty safely ignore it (consciously and unconsciously). But if someone else lives in that America and I deny the truth of that, am I not perpetuating it? And if I can not deny it, how can I rest without challenging it?

If you live in America and you don't often find yourself angry and heartbroken, I do not think you are paying attention. I'm not saying that as a political slogan. Honestly ask yourself, if you think that life in America is "pretty good", not only for yourself but for other Americans that you might never have met, then what have you removed or not let in to your circle of influence?  People are dying unnatural deaths here and suffering here, in America, and that shouldn't sit easily with any of us. Nor should we say we are upset by it, but then not change the very foundations of our lives and beliefs and understanding in order to prevent it from continuing.

I frequently become overwhelmed when I think of all the ways in which I am unsatisfied with America. But in the wise words of Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus, "if you have a problem that is too big to solve, solve a smaller problem first."

I have a fear that my life will be boring, lack meaning, or otherwise be average. I admit that sometimes I am motivated by my own search for glory, but I also think of who I admire in this world, and on a more relevant scale to this particular subject, which Americans do I admire?

I admire people who overcome great odds, I admire artists (who's job is often to unsettle the settled), and I admire the people who are willing to be called "crazy" or "fringe" and even not be taken seriously because they decided that being middle-of-the-road wasn't going to cut it. It's hard for me to rationalize "a quiet life" of domesticity (however necessary or worthy or even rightly enjoyable) and reading and vacationing as "good enough". For those of us that have the option of that life, we must recognize that leading that life requires ignorance of or disinterest in the fact that most people can't live that life. I don't mean that pursuing those things is wrong, I only mean that I think we're falling short of our potential as citizens if we stop there.

When I've challenged people who seem to have stopped short of realizing their social potential, sometimes I hear, "I care, I just don't talk about it". Please talk about it! Talking about it helps us to engage with what's going on around us and opens us up to being challenged either to tweak our behavior or to defend it. Talking about it lets those who are struggling know that we are not complacent about their suffering.

As I struggle with looking my America in the face and coming to terms with belonging here, for better or worse, I find that my passion for changing the things I can't live with here leading me to invest in the communities around me. That makes it feel like home. I belong here, and therefore I am allowed to be upset when it falls short. I don't believe it is wrong or should even be frowned upon to be unsatisfied or even angry with our surroundings, our government, and our nation sometimes. I makes me personally invested in seeing it get better.

In writing out these thoughts, I have been taken aback by the depth of sadness and darkness they conjure in me. To have come to America, imagining it to be the place where everything is made right (Heaven? Haha), and then find out that not only is everything not right, but we refuse to admit that it's
not right... well, it's disenchanting to say the least. It feels like betrayal, and it confuses the concept of home, if home is a place where you're supposed to feel safe and happy.

I am still recognizing and warming up to my right as an American to be unhappy with America and to challenge common narratives of the good we do, when it's not good for everyone at all. I have realized something terrifying and exhilarating at once: America is not the best country in the world.
There is no "best" country.
I am just from this country, and it's not "the best".
I believe that thinking of America as the best can actually keep us from even being "good". Logically, if one is from/in the "best" place, than everywhere is less-than-best. Even my children understand that there can only be ONE "best", despite my attempts to convince them of 1st winners and 2nd winners. Even though we rarely admit that we think America and Americans are not only "the best" but consequently "better than", that is the generally unspoken byproduct of believing and acting as if we're the best.

I don't have a super tidy way to wrap up these thoughts. This wasn't even really about the specific ways in which America is not what I thought her to be. I do, however, have a few small takeaways and hopes about what home means and what it means to be American, or even at home in America.

1. Naguib Mahfouz wrote, "Home is not where you are born, home is where all your attempts to escape cease." I've found that in a community - even a very imperfect one - if not a country. I am grateful for that sense of home and that it's somehow both bigger and smaller than the nation itself.

2. Home is where you are known, and that's worth holding on to. More and more, the space in which we are known can also be in a state of transience.

3. America is unique, to my knowledge, in that citizenship (or extended time spent) makes you American, not your ethnicity. Anyone can be American in time, whereas if I moved to Sweden or China, even if gained citizenship there, I would never be Swedish or Chinese. I cherish the fact that being American isn't based on ethnicity, and I will fight to make sure that that stays a defining characteristic of being American.

4. As ridiculous as this might sound, I've found solace and joy and in the cream cheese wonton. It's certainly not Chinese, but most people probably associate it with Chinese food if they don't give much thought to it (which they probably haven't). These hybrid bundles of delight have come to encompass my experience as an American-Chinese-American - maybe a bit confused about its identity, "but good. Yeah, still good."

Image credits:
1. Unknown, possibly an artist called Kim Kim
2. By Ron Wimberly
3. Match cover, found here

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Our Lady of Sorrows

I carry your sadness around with me, like a blister in my mouth.

An affliction that I want to release to all that will listen, but that I feel I must let fester for a time in some sort of solidarity. That to keep your pain closed inside the drawer of my friendship is an honor that I suffer with dignity (even if I wear it on my face so obviously), before unburdening it into every passing ear, turning it into tabloid and dinner talk so that I can spread my horror over a larger area, like a caustic jam.

I become trembling with art and metaphor as I try and siphon off this parcel of sickness, burning in my gut, my heart, my esophagus, the forefront of my mind. If I can just skip it on down the river on little rafts the size of leaves, I can alleviate the pressure slowly, gently, quietly, without dropping a casket of missiles on the group of my loved ones who are usually sacrificed in this way.

What is the proper amount of time that I should wrestle and wretch over a sister's pain before I allow myself to let it fly away, become the past, and never have to feel it in 3D again? I can find no median between that and descending into the underworld where I immerse myself in others' open wounds, step by step, stroke by stroke, strum by strum, sway by sway, a black lamb bound to the alter of my own empathy, blood bubbling in the holy moat there surrounded.

I am honored when a friend shares what is tragic, and I ingest the poison as a gift. But it boils in my belly and wants to come up again. I am afraid that if I open my mouth it will come out and float before me like a demon, and in being given new life by my tongue, it will have the power to turn and and consume me, ratcheting its jaws over my head, choking on me bit by bit until I am devoured.

Today I climbed to the top of a tower overlooking the city, and I could see the clasped hands of Our Lady of Sorrows reaching above the heads of homes and establishments, parting the sky with her fingertips. I thought about a church named Sorrow and of the Mother who bore those sorrows. Seven daggers in her heart. What a grand and melancholy name for a church. Majestic and solemn. What sorrows must those walls encompass, what tragedies there enshrined. What sorrows were caused because of that place, what sorrows released?

She is like a vessel for the heartbreaks of her people, but unlike me, her walls are thick and hold all that anguish within, dutifully, steadfastly, in confidence. And when the candles are lit, the smoke of those sorrow offerings rise up through her steeple, through her upstretched, intertwined arms and are released unto her God, who in his infinite is absorbs them, even as they break his heart.

Photographs by Dmitry Anisimov

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Our 2018 Wedding: Flora and Fauna

Tomorrow is my 6th wedding anniversary with Jonas, and 9 (!) years of us being a couple. If you're looking for sentimentality or advice, may I direct you to previous posts under the Holy Matrimony Batman tag (on the right side bar if you're viewing on a computer). This year, Jonas and I have been tag-teaming a variety of illnesses for the past 3+ weeks, our county endured the largest wildfire in California history, only to be covered in a catastrophic avalanche when it finally rained last week, and we recently discussed that we'll continue our practice of not giving each other gifts or going on getaways on occasions just because "that's what you do." (We both prefer spontaneous shopping and saving up for traveling abroad.)

Our anniversary is not feeling very romantic this year, but I still amuse myself by noticing just how much we've grown and changed since getting together as teenagers. And also how much we haven't changed. I've re-imagined what our wedding might have looked like had we gotten married recently, in light of my growing adoration of flowers and Jonas' growing collection of preserved wildlife.

The theme would be Flora and Fauna, which, in my mind, naturally bends toward the Victorian Macabre. It's a blend of the primitive and the ornate, the vibrancy of life in the clutches of death. A cabinet of curiosities. I envision iridescent beetles, crumbling scientific labels, strangling vines, and lush embroidered velvets. Charcuterie boards spilling over with bleeding pomegranates and dripping candle wax. The venue would be an abandoned Conservatory, guests are invited to be costumey, and the bride would wear a cape (obviously).

These images are from all over Pinterest. I don't mean to steal anyone's work, so I can track down a source if you really, really need it for some reason. 

Happy Anniversary to us. I'm delighted to have someone to grow weirder with with each passing year. Maybe in a few years we'll be celebrating in good health in some exotic vacation spot. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Style Icon: Amal Clooney

I didn't watch the Golden Globes and I don't know that much about Oprah, but whether it was a joke or for real that she is considering running for the presidency in 2020, it made me realize with sadness and faint horror that we will probably never have another president who isn't a celebrity in media or politics. Name recognition is everything, and while there are exceptions I'm sure, gaining name recognition often seems to go with losing some integrity.

That said, one of my dream presidential candidates is Amal Clooney (nee Alamuddin). I have given this enough serious thought that I looked up her political record (knowing she is a human rights lawyer), and realized she is not American, but British-Lebanese. In fact, she is Druze, a minority group within Islam that I did my undergrad thesis on. Under current US laws, Amal can never be the president, but one can dream! She's still an amazing woman that I admire. Among other high-profile cases and clients, one of her primary career objectives is to hold ISIS accountable for its actions (war crimes) in legal terms. Having a basset hound is a huge plus too. :D Not to mention 70s street-style vibes.

She is also a very stylish women, and mom of twins. She's not the most creative dresser, but I can get behind sleek and classic for sure. Her hair is flawless all the time, and I just think she's beautiful in general. I like it when celebrities (George Clooney) marry "real world" people, and human rights lawyers are my favorite kind of celebrities. In other exciting fashion/celebrity news, Amal will be co-chairing the 2018 Met Gala, which is themed "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination." It has the potential be truly weird and wonderful, which is just what the Met Gala should be! I can't wait to see the decor and how the guests, including Amal, interpret the theme. I'm envisioning lots of gilded looks inspired by iconography or the robes of officials in the church.

Here are some of my favorite looks of hers. I think the purple gown is lovely, and it illustrates how well she does old-school Hollywood, but it is on the safe side for sure. I wish her Halloween costume with the big hair was a look she wore at other times in the year too. The black overlay on that sequin gown is beautiful and edging into creative territory, but my favorite of these four looks is the retro silver two-piece with pink fur. It really suits her.

Here are some more of my favorite examples of how elegant and classic her style is, also both reminiscent of earlier eras.

I always approve of a good jumpsuit, I think the turban is SO chic (not crazy about the dress), and this last look is a perfectly updated nod to mod (even the earrings are on point). Which is your favorite of her looks?

Whose style have you been admiring lately, and which women would you vote for in 2020? 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2017 In Review & 2018 Goals

What a tumultuous time. I have a partially written post trying to dissect my thoughts on 10 years in the US that was marked in 2017, but suffice to say it's a bewildering era to call America home and I feel the general sense of national uncertainty bleeding into my personal life. It's not all negative, but it's definitely pushing me out of my comfort zone which can be lonely and scary, even as it's exciting and rewarding. It's a time of transition on many levels.

Before I get into my personal year, I realized that my peers now send out Christmas cards and newsletters and I'm falling down on the job here in terms of updates about family life. I'll give the people what they want! Jonas has now been working at DenMat in Lompoc (making artificial teeth) for a year. He enjoys the work and is heavily involved in trading Ramen packets between his Korean, Vietnamese and Filipino coworkers. The potluck ladies of South East Asia gave his fried rice the stern nod of approval, so he's working on making a new life goal. He continues to draw at home but is considering finishing his degree in something related to wildlife conservation. A highlight of this year for him was seeing the Black Angels play in San Diego, and he has been fostering a love for legos and transformers with our boys. Ishmael turned 5 in the fall and has been going to Transitional Kindergarten at Joe Nightingale. He loves school and eagerly practices letters and numbers. He can read simple words. He is especially good at puzzles and is learning to ride a bike! Ira turned 3 in the summer and will probably start preschool in the fall. He adores his brother and is all about copying him, but also has a distinctly funny and quirky personality. He loves to sing and dance and generally entertain everyone. Thanks in part to his brother, Ira is doing a great job counting.

(sorry the resolution isn't great, I screengrabbed off Instagram where I collected these photos under #we_bo2017 if you're THAT into my life, lolz) Highlights in pictures: Top row - floral projects (all foraged!), Ishmael's first time correctly spelling his name plus an adorable drawing of me pregnant with him; Middle row - various outfits for various occasions, an island in Thailand; Bottom row- jungle-y AirBnB we loved in Thailand, lunch with some interfaith ladies, beautiful green hills after a very wet spring of 2017. 

My biggest goal for 2017 was to finish college, and I did!!! Sort of...
I found out in August that I had two outstanding GE courses that weren't covered by transfer credits or major credits. I finished all my classes in November, but have two extra tests that I'm studying for in hopes of testing out of those missing courses. As relieved and excited as I am to have worked so hard to finish school, that little bump in the road of took the wind out of my sails in terms of finishing school this year and made it made my timeline such that there is no clear time at which to celebrate having finished. I am sad about that, but also proud of myself for doing my best and marking a huge personal achievement. The highlights of my schooling this year were an Arabic literature class (my favorite class of the past 4+ years), beginning to learn Arabic, and my research project on the intersection of the Druze sect and modern Islam.

I am scared and lost and confused about what comes now - I am considering grad school since we're still about 3 years out from having both sons in full-day school and all of the types of jobs I'm interested in require a masters or several years of experience. The prospect of job hunting in general is very overwhelming and I hope that in 2018 I can pursue some leads and develop a more concrete picture of what my options might be and how to work those into our life. Everyone asks me what job I want, and in a nutshell: I want to continue fostering interfaith community in our city, I want to continue writing and developing/honing skill and discipline in that area, I am interested in continuing language studies in Arabic and Farsi, and I would love to make short-term trips for work, so I am dreaming of teaching writing/art workshops abroad in a summer-school scenario so that I can combine travel/art/writing/language immersion.

Other notable things of 2017: Jonas and I traveled around Thailand in February which was our first trip abroad together! We were dazzled by the beautiful limestone islands in the Andaman Sea. // We had many wonderful dinners with various friends, for which my life is richer (special mention to our neighborhood friends the Jones' for hosting us 7 times!!!). I'm so thankful to have dinner parties be a regular part of our life and we look forward to continuing this trend... forever! Also, my dear friend Michelle had the most perfect twin boys and I never tire of holding them and being in awe. // I've made many new friends in our city-community this year as I pursue getting to know the local Muslim community and get involved in our inter-faith community group. This process has been much slower than I expected (and made me ask difficult questions about my motives and goals, which I don't have air-tight answers for), but I am learning a great deal about my own faith and am looking forward to facilitating more casual cooking lessons and food sharing among our community members. // In random fun stuff, I finally made it to the Rose Bowl flea market (which did not disappoint), and saw Regina Spektor and Elbow in concert (separately), as well as Hamilton! The hype is warranted, I actually choked up during a stage production.

Best media of 2017: I read so much, but almost exclusively for school. My favorite book from the Arabic Lit class was Seasons of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih. // The best movies I watched (few of which actually came out in 2017) were A Man Called Ove, Turbo Kid, The Best Offer, Whisky Tango Foxtrot, Silence (favorite movie in a long, long time), Ladybird (surprised it wasn't darker), and I Am Not Your Negro (not an exaggeration to say it has been contributing to changing my day-to-day life). // I was underwhelmed by new music in general, though I did enjoy the new Killers album (Wonderful Wonderful) and I was interested by Nitty Scott and Jhene Aiko.

Highlights in pictures: Top row - took the boys to the Monterrey Aquarium in December, Friendsgiving, meeting the Gee twins in October; Middle row -  Jonas and I participated in a chalk festival, Welch kids weekend in San Diego (missing Julia), one of my favorite foraged bouquets of the year; Bottom row - visiting with our friend Nabila, finally finished my painting!, visited Palm Springs and the Salton Sea with Annelise and Genna in the summer. 

We accomplished some momentous things this year, and part of me is struggling as I try to find new goals to replace the old ones. Finishing school has been a 10 year journey for me, so I'm definitely feeling a bit of a chasm that there's no easy way to fill in (with the absence of a perfect job landing in my lap). I don't want to avoid having goals at all just because I can't see their shape right now or I'm afraid of not meeting them, so here are my more concrete, if not super momentous, hopes and targets for 2018:

  • Read books. Looking forward to carving out consistent to time to become an avid reader again.
  • More communal cooking. I'm really pumped to get more informal cooking lessons from various people in our community, both in their homes and ours. I believe in this model for building relationships so much, and I've seen it start to work and it's incredibly rewarding and exciting and I can't wait to put more energy into this in 2018. 
  • Cook from cookbooks. I have so many beautiful cook books but usually reach for my phone or a magazine instead, so I want to start utilizing my books!
  • Dual Immersion. I'm hoping to get Ishmael into a Spanish-English school program for Kindergarten (and on through the rest of elementary) which is out of our district, but something that I think is really important for several reasons. I hope he'll be as into it as I am. I hope that he can thrive with the added challenge after the initial switch, which I'm anticipating could be difficult. 
  • See a chiropractor. Not glamorous, but I have some chronic neck and shoulder pain which I finally realized might be fixable. I'm putting this on the list because setting up appointments and handling insurance etc. etc. is a hurdle for me. 
  • Roller derby! I am considering joining a team partly because I love to roller skate, but also because it's the one form of exercise I might look forward to and I think it will help me be more involved in our city. And let's be honest, I need an outlet for my aggression (jkjkjk). 
  • Mexico City??? I don't know how practical it is, but I always want to be traveling more and whether or not this makes actual sense, Mexico seems like a good vacation in which to ease into traveling abroad with kids. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Unto Us A Revolutionary Savior is Born

At this time of year, maybe particularly this year, I get excited about Jesus’s birth and what it meant for the world then and now. There are so many passages in the Bible that burn in my heart, reminding me that the day is coming when all is made right.
Isaiah 9:7 KJV - Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

But I also remember the people who were waiting so long for a savior at the time of Jesus’ birth, and then were confused and disappointed that he was slow to anger, offering grace to their oppressors in equal measure to the grace he offered the Jews. He did not come to overthrow the government that was crushing them. At least not at that time, or this time.

This is the mystery of Christmas – that Jesus came to save the wicked as much as he came to save the those being beaten and downtrodden without a space to gasp between injustices. I sit in this remembrance, weighing my hunger to see his justice flow like a mighty river, washing away the oppressors. Then realizing that I would be swept away in that same flood if His justice was complete, because I have oppressed and harmed and sinned, myself.
Amos 5:18 Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light.
So we continue to wait and to pray for him to return quickly and heal this land, but also work to reach our oppressors with the message of grace and hope, while we also cry out for justice and work for justice and demand justice.
2 Thessilonians 2:8-10 NIV - And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  
Amos 5 - 7There are those who turn justice into bitterness    and cast righteousness to the ground...10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court    and detest the one who tells the truth...12-13 For I know how many are your offenses  and how great your sins.There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil. 
Daniel 2 - 44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.
With these promises tumbling around inside me, and my mind on this God who took on flesh as a baby to save us from all manner of sins and oppression,  I've been Googling phrase after phrase from the Bible, trying to have a better understanding of how Jesus' word and example fit in with my desire to see social change in my country, right now. 

Without a doubt, the hardships faced by the Jews under Herod, the King of Judea (supported by the Romans) during the time of Jesus were more terrible than nearly anything in modern memory. I can only imagine the blow it must have been to someone such as myself, had I been alive at the time, that Jesus was not coming to overthrow Herod or the Romans. But neither do I believe that Jesus thought political issues or issues of social justice unimportant. Mainly, he contextualizes the troubles of the Now in the broader light of the Eternal. In the sense of the Eternal, both the oppressed and the oppressors are in need of the grace of God. Jesus doesn't ignore the fact that people are suffering tremendously in the Now, but stresses that his work at this time (the time of his life on Earth and all time since) is the extension of grace, and that on some terrible day in the future, he will make sure that those who won't turn away from oppressing others will be dealt with.  

One thing that struck me as I read various bits and pieces about Jesus and his words about authority and governments is that if he had overthrown Rome as I would have liked, it would have been all over right then and there and his message of justice may not have had quite the staying power that it does otherwise. He would have been remembered like we remember MLK - incredible in his time, but gone now.

You've probably seen through my thinly veiled hints that I'm not cool with President T and his various oppressions. Like I said, I'm not trying to compare him to Herod-levels-of-badness (which is not fully detailed in the Bible) or even equate him with "the lawless one" of 2 Thessalonians. But I do think he is an unjust ruler who does not act in a way that warrants respect. I've been trying to reconcile that with these passages in the Bible about respecting authority. The oft-quoted one is in Romans 13, which pretty plainly says that those in a positions of authority have been placed there by God and that anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and will be punished. This is contextualized by the idea that authority is there to enforce that the people do what is right and punish what is wrong. "For authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you" (Romans 13:3 NLT; also touched on in 1 Peter 2:11). 

Bob Deffinbaugh writesIt should also be said that government’s God-given role also frees the Christian from returning “evil for evil” by retaliating against those who persecute or mistreat him (see Romans 12:14-21). God has not given us the task of administering justice or of paying men back for their wrong-doings. God has given this task to governmental authorities. When we “leave room for the wrath of God” (12:19), we leave room for government to deal with the evil deeds of men against us. Government “bears the sword”79 for such purposes. And if government should fail in this task, God will make things right in that day when He judges with perfect judgment.

But what are we to do today when the authorities assist the wicked and oppress the righteous? When the government does *not* honor us for doing what is right? I suspect that any thoughtful Christian holds his or her political beliefs in part as a byproduct of their faith, and I recognize that people can act on their beliefs and land in very different political stratospheres. There's not much I can say if you agree with Trump's policies, but I believe he cares for no one but himself, and is almost thoughtless in the things he says and does in relationship to others, which is appalling to me. Not only does he not seem to care who he tramples on, he consistently goes out of his way to attack people. I feel overwhelmed with the examples I could cite, but I won't get in to that because if you don't already agree with that, then I probably won't be the one to change your mind. Suffice to say that each new day makes me wish that God was a bit more speedy in wielding justice from on high. 
In the very next passage in Romans (following the bit on submission) Paul is talking about how different believers have different ideas on what to eat or not eat or which days are holy or whether all days are equal. His conclusion is that even though people come down on different sides of these issues, both "camps" are doing what they do to honor God. "You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable" (Romans 14:5). I am fully convinced that I should defend the vulnerable, and not be shy about telling our elected leaders where they're failing. (Mind blown: is democracy Biblical? Who is the authority in this case? Short of the sovereignty of God, God is not appointing leaders, we are. I might have just started a cult.) 

There are some examples in the Bible of people who directly defied a ruler or authority who demanded they go against a command of God. It's different than just *not liking* a ruler. In the old Testament (before Jesus and the inconvenient talk about respecting earthly authority), we have Shadrach, Mechach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel who refused the Babylonian king's order to bow down to an idol (Daniel 3). One might recall that they get fed into a furnace for their insubordination. Then in the New Testament there were Peter and John who respectfully disagree with the Sanhedrin who demand that Peter and John stop preaching and healing in the name of Jesus (Acts 4). I noticed that in this passage, the text says that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit as he defended his actions before the Sanhedrin. Surrounding both of these stories, those who watch the dissenters are in awe of God and believe. The work of resistors is a weighty one indeed, for the resistor makes a public spectacle of her beliefs. 

Dissent is not forbidden by any means, but the scriptures do seem to make clear that respect for authority means that by dissenting, we accept the consequences of the law. Even unjust laws have consequences. Again, resistance is not for the flippant. If that which we resist is truly against the tasks that Christ has given us, then our punishment for resisting the law becomes persecution. 
Matthew 5:9-12. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and celebrate, because great is your reward in heaven; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you.
Respect doesn't exclude strong language or political action as far as I can see, but it does clearly exclude revenge. Right before the bit in Romans 3 about submission to authority, there's a call to avoid seeking revenge (and I can't deny that it excites me that there's an accompanying promise that God WILL take revenge) and that by caring for your enemies, "you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads" (also one of my favorites - you get a sense of my personality by now). These assurances are directly proceeded, however, by the admonition to "Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone." 

I have both the authority and the obligation to oppose what is wrong as dictated by God - even/especially if those in authority are perpetuating it. But in doing this, I must respect every person, leader or not, because of their humanity and the fact that they are made in the image of God. I am at liberty to disobey authority at times, but there may be consequences from the law. I can be full of anger and sadness at injustice and the leaders who have twisted their power to oppress others, and I can keep my hope in God who can and will hold accountable those who I can not seek revenge on on my own. 
2 Philippians3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others...12-18 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Fellow agitators who sometimes wish Jesus was sending flaming arrows down RIGHT NOW: Jesus has not abandoned us or chosen not to care about the daily issues that plague us, including the political ones. His model of dissent preserves our credibility and reserves the ultimate triumph of full justice for the last, last, last possible moment. I can't help but think that I would indeed feel immediate horror and regret if I were to witness the true wrath of God inflicted on someone else right in front of my face. I would wish they had another chance. I would wish that I had another chance. And I will be thankful, in a small and begrudging way (and also in a desperately relieved way), that Jesus did not come as the Savior that I was expecting him to be.

(Artwork: unknown artists, except the last which is Hopi Madonna and Child by John Guiliani)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

How to Stuff a Stocking

I don't know how it is in your family, but stockings are often cited as the best part of gifting in our house (and my husband's, growing up!). It also seems to be something that everyone does a little differently - price wise, and content wise. Sometimes it's hard for me to find enough stuff to fill a stocking, or other times I have plenty of stuff but I blow my entire gift budget filling it. I don't have a "right" way that I'm pushing, but I still wanted to share some of my ideas and hopefully glean some good ones from you guys.

The Stocking Itself
First of all, I believe that the stocking itself should be a meaningful. There are seriously oodles of cool ones. Personally, I'm not too into the matching ones, the monogrammed ones, or teeny ones. But that excludes most people's stockings, so don't listen to me....

My family (except for me, incidentally) has hand-knit ones which aren't exactly stunningly beautiful, but they are personal and special. My mother in law made my boys' stockings that have Chinese silk on one side - Ishmael's even has dragons for his Chinese zodiac sign! My brother in law (sister's husband) has an enormous one that is twice the size of anyone else's in our family and we ridicule him mercilessly.

I think these kantha stockings from Little Moon Clothing are beautiful, available here. I like the earlier version (I'd saved an image from their Instagram last year, inset) even better! World Market also has some that I love this year, like this embroidered floral one, and this llama one (eeee!).

A fellow artist/seller on Instagram @OurTribeMarket posted this photo of her family's stockings and shared their tradition of adding a new piece of trim each year. Isn't that neat?! I love the way they look.

Traditional Stocking Stuffers
I didn't look up any historical stocking stuffers or anything, but I did want to mention some items that are on heavy rotation in our family. Part of the trick of stuffing a stocking well is to balance truly exciting things with some more affordable "space takers". One other thing I want to mention that I read somewhere is the "rule" of buying every-day-ish things that someone else can't really justify buying for themselves very often, like beef jerky! I'm never not excited to be given beef jerky.

Fruit and nuts - Growing up, we always got a larger piece of fruit and pistachios as filler in between small toys or other items. The fruit was often special, like a mango (especially if mangoes were hard to come by) or a pomegranate. We never had pistachios as a snack during the rest of the year, so that was a treat too, even though I would now put it into the "filler" category.

Unique collections - For a few years in a row, I got Jonas a netsuke (a small Japanese carving) and he got me music boxes, but we haven't stuck to that religiously. This year I bought all my boys an owl-related ornament because of the two owls that live in our yard, but annual ornaments from multiples factions of our family can become a little overwhelming so I probably won't do that every year.

*To the right, here, is a picture of what I put in my little boys' stockings last year. The Spiderman thing is one of those washclothes that expand in water. Once I've picked out some nicer things (action figure, stuffed toy, etc.) I usually go to the Dollar store and top it off with whatever little things I can find. The struggle for me is not buying junk just so I can fill a stocking, because you know I'm the one that is then driven crazy by the amount of useless little bobbles in our house.*

Self-care - My mom often put mascara or razors in our stockings. Even if we didn't need them right away, it was always nice not to have to buy those things for yourself. Those things were often somewhat of a luxury on their own during our years in China, too. Last year, she bought my little boys some soap in special shapes to make bath time even *more* exciting. If you have kids, I'm sure you know how much they love special band aids. And while it's not exactly self-care, last year I put a pack of batteries in each boy's stocking for their new and old toys that need them.

The fun stuff - Everything else requires some creativity. Some of my favorites are an issue of a niche magazine, rollerball perfumes from Sephora (though those will still set you back like $25), smaller-amount gift cards, pins and patches for denim jackets or bags, a handwritten letter or small drawing, a special pocket square or tie, "special things" for your spouse (interpret as you will), and specialty candies like my personal favorite, double salt black licorice. (Probably don't put that in most people's stockings though, they'll think you hate them, lol). Grocery Outlet has a good selection of Lindor chocolates, and sometimes fancy gummy bears and Haribo products too. For your healthy family members (blehhhh), Trader Joe's has the best and most affordable selection of dried fruit and nuts (I love the dried orange slices and chili lime cashews). Other specialty food items (like pomegranate molasses, for my Ottolenghi fans) would be exciting for the chefs in your life.

*Here's what I put in my husband Jonas' stocking last year. The rolled up cloth is a button-down shirt, the little brown bottles were supposed to be for his taxidermy collections, but I was having a really hard time finding the kind of thing I was envisioning. He's been using these little ones to hold tiny feathers he finds. The box that says "Andar" is a slim wallet that he really needed, and the thingy next to it is a carved gourd that I found at a thrift store. He really likes to drink yerba mate, which is an Argentinian tea-like drink usually drunk from a gourd. The jar is home-made passion fruit jam that my friend Coreen made, and that cheese has caramelized onions which is so good, but I don't usually buy it because the taste and smell stays with you for everrrr.*

This list has lots of ideas, my favorite probably being diaper genie refill bags. I never had a diaper genie, but I heard that the bags were a bit expensive and that's such a nice thing to not have to spend your own money on. One thing that I didn't see on there that I just remembered was a roll up measuring tape. I'm sure you could find a much cheaper not-vintage one than this, but it is super handy to have in your bag (at least for me). I also liked the idea of spices and flower seeds, among others. I also got a kick out of these "lumps of coal" although you could probably upgrade to pumice or some other fancy self-care version?!

Do you have fun stocking memories or traditions or ideas? Do tell!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

8 Things I've Learned about Hospitality

It feels so rare, and therefore special, to be invited to people's homes to eat, don't you think? I don't think it should be rare. The funny thing is is that when you start inviting people to eat with you, they'll begin to invite you over too, and before long, you'll find that you're eating with friends quite often, just as it should be, in my opinion. Hosting is an exercise in community building.

My mom has always been an incredible hostess. We have different hosting styles now (yeah, that's definitely a thing), but even as a kid, it was easy to see how grateful and warm everyone felt when they got to be in her home, eating her food, surrounded by the company she invited in. Once you experience that environment, you'll spend your life trying to recreate those evenings.

I've been cooking for a long time, but only recently began making an effort to host, or in situations in which we can't host, coordinate gatherings so that we get to see and eat with new and old friends regularly. Hosting used to feel very daunting to me, but it's become so enjoyable that I wanted to share some of the ways that I make sure that "communal dinners" (lols, how millennial Christian am I rn?!) are a regular part of my life.

(illustration by Donald Chaffin)

1. In the interest of regularity, I keep most gatherings small.  Sometimes I get carried away and want to invite all of my friends and loved ones and liked ones to the same gathering, especially when it's a celebration of some specific event. When I plan that kind of party though, I get very overwhelmed and decide not to do it. Instead of not having a get together at all, I am now trying to have more regular small gatherings and I also keep a list of people I'd like to invite over, and then if I know in advance that I'll have extra food or we don't have a crazy day planned, I'll just invite a person or a couple over to share the meal our family was going to eat any way. It's not always festive, but people will still feel special, and kinda like they're part of your family. If they ask and you agree to let them bring dessert or a bottle of wine, it gets a little like a party anyway!

2. A lot of hosting and organizing is about leadership and assertiveness - suggesting an idea and seeing it through. Being the one to coordinate others getting together and who can bring what, etc. This logistics part is what keeps a lot of people from throwing events, I think. This goes hand in hand with some of the other points, but sometimes just sending out a text saying, "hi friends, let's organize something!" is the difference between a gathering happening or not happening. I also then take the lead in suggesting a list of food or other duties that people can volunteer for (rather than assigning). So, the takeaways: 1) just ask!, and 2) follow up at various stages. Also, I've stopped waiting to "get to know people well enough" to invite them over. Sometimes the invitation is so that we can get to know them.

3. I've also learned that hosting doesn't need to be grand - literally no one else cares as much as I do whether the candles match the theme, or whether there's a theme at all. To be honest, even a dish or two that flops will be overlooked when there's good company. Perfectionism will also get in the way of you getting together with people, so just set it aside and know that you're your own worst critic.

4. Let other people help. I believe in this practice for many reasons. For one thing, help is awesome: I love to delegate items that other people can bring if they offer, like dessert or a drink or a salad. But perhaps even more importantly, I think that letting people help is inclusive. People like to feel useful and appreciated, so use them and appreciate them! And don't say "I've got it covered" if you're actually frantically trying to finish preparing a meal. Have people chop vegetables, wash pots, or set the table. They won't mind, and it gives people a way to express their gratitude for being your guest.

5. I also believe in the power of the phrase "teach me." There are many things I am intimidated by in the kitchen (red meat, fish, bread) and other things that I've never heard of or not easily learned from the internet. Similar to letting people help, I think that genuinely wanting to learn from others and making space for that learning to happen - especially surrounding food - is an experience that can't be bought. It's a good way to get to know your neighbors and other people in your community or spend time with family members that you might not otherwise have a lot in common with. I also believe in "teach me" when it comes to volunteer work (which often involves food, in my experience). Sometimes it can be really humbling to be at the mercy of other people's good will, so I think that believing and treating people as if they have something of value to offer me is a natural way to show dignity and learn a recipe you wouldn't have access to otherwise.

6. Prep ahead and don't experiment with new recipes. I used to cook elaborate meals that I'd never practiced before, and by the time guests arrived, all I wanted to do was crawl under the covers and be alone. Choose food that leaves you alive to enjoy time spent with people afterward. I break the "don't make new recipes to serve" rule frequently (and also, here's a shout out to my cousin Mark who is a fantastic host and was the one who gave me that advice), but for gatherings where I want to be as relaxed as possible (or other factors out of my control are making it stressful) I definitely go with tried and true recipes.

7. Provide atmosphere, but don't focus on it. I try not to obsess over the details, because then it becomes not-fun and I will easily talk myself out of a gathering in which I have to guess whether my guests are enjoying themselves. So without stressing over these things too much, I do think it's important/helpful to have appropriate music in the background (I tend to go with Motown if there isn't a specific theme or age to a group, because it's unlikely that anyone will hate it). I also serve alcohol when appropriate (which is all the time, unless your guests have religious or personal reasons for abstaining) because it always makes an otherwise regular meal feel like an occasion. Snacks or an pre-made appetizer before hand always make people happy, as does coffee with or after dessert. Finally, have some games in mind just in case conversation isn't flowing well or your guests don't know each other or there are kids! I do like having kid-free gatherings sometimes, but I also want to have a space where people feel like their whole family is welcome and they don't have to spend the evening babysitting their own kids. Some of our favorite games are Set, Spoons, Cards Against Humanity, or good old fashioned Duck Duck Goose with kids.

8. Clean up tomorrow. I know plenty of people are strongly in the "clean up right away" camp, but I like to relax after I've cooked a meal and have time to talk with my guests instead of cleaning. I try and clean as I go, but I don't worry about the dishes until the next day. Or often times, Jonas does clean up either to be helpful or because he needs a break from entertaining people. ;) Depending on the size of the gathering, sometimes people will insist on helping clean up, and then it can be fun if lots of people are cleaning and chatting, but generally we just skip that altogether. 

I used to think that hosting gatherings was going to be cost prohibitive. It doesn't have to be. I stick to recipes that I know I can do affordably (meat is usually not the main dish), I delegate alcohol, and I don't go crazy decorating (as much as I'd like to...). Hosting meals is almost always cheaper and more intimate (and even better tasting!) than eating out (goodbye, $15 cocktails...), and you'll probably get leftovers out of it.

Finally, I'll leave you with a few of my favorite recipes for gatherings:
1. This chicken with clementines and fennel never fails to impress.
2. A salad full of gross stuff like kale and brussel sprouts that is somehow amazing when all put together.
3. Deconstructed Thai-French food that is both fun and delicious.
4. A hearty (but not heavy) soup with great flavor that is perfect for winter.
5. Another bright flavored soup that is a fresh riff on a classic. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Fall Post 2017

Hello Fall, old frienemy.

I feel a special fondness for people who don't like fall, because sometimes I feel like I'm the only one. When I find out there are others, I feel like I'm in a secret club where we dare not speak of our shared beliefs, but bare our burden in silence, knowing we'd otherwise be martyred by popular opinion on Facebook.

I've thought of several new reasons that I don't like fall, but rather than the aesthetics of it, I've tried to really consider the genuine feeling of distaste that I have. Part of it is habit now. In fact, I've made such a big deal about how fall isn't my favorite that people reach out to be me at the beginning of the season to comment on my well-being, or check that I won't be outraged at a pumpkin patch outing. It's both funny and ridiculous. I hope that I am capable of behaving like an adult and not making other people miserable as a byproduct of my own non-preference for this season.

One very practical reason that I've discovered why I don't like fall is because pants. Yep, pants. I don't have very many pairs of pants because my legs are not of particularly standard proportions and I'm too cheap to buy special pants. The pants that I do have aren't very comfortable because they mostly predate the Exodus of Humans from my Hips. They're uncomfortable now. The result of this unfortunate blend of circumstances is that when the weather turns, I realize that I am going to be perpetually cold and/or resign myself to wearing layers of baggy or fuzzy clothing to prevent feeling cold. This takes the joy out of dressing up for me, and sometimes that's a big part of my mood.

(I haven't bought these things yet, but upon applying some thought, I'm considering: thigh high velvet socks, turtle necks under jumpsuits, and corduroy, palazzo, harem, and velvet pants as possible solutions to not turning into a giant blanket in cold weather.)

Fall also feels like an uncertain time to me. On the Central Coast, our fall weather is almost always hotter than our summer weather, though the mornings are chillier and hot weather is punctuated by wind and the occasional colder day. It's an oddly difficult transition to make in my head. Commercial marketing and the general population are talking about fall, settling into school, gearing up for the holidays, etc. After a few onery days or weeks, I usually manage to find a silver lining or two, ONLY TO BE CONFUSED as the weather becomes scorching hot and everyone wants to go to the beach. In the grand scheme of things, this is not the biggest issue in the world, but considering that it does require some mental effort for me to shift out of summer, I do not appreciate this process being interrupted and prolonged.

Adjusting to fall is always a process of re-framing for me: finding how to tweak things that I don't like into things that I dislike slightly less, or simply declaring that something that I do like works for fall too. It's about realizing that the chill in the air also means a cozier bed and deeper sleep. It involves realizing that in terms of colors and decorations and appreciation for nature, natural doesn't always mean neutral, and also that unnatural is totally fine too. It's about embracing the drama of the fall lighting without descending into darkness. To those of you who are also very visual, maybe you understand how something so small could have such an affect. If you're not, I don't know what to tell ya... I get that this issue of fall colors and mood shouldn't really be a big deal. Yet I come back to this topic year after year because it truly seems to affect my life and I'm bothered that I can't seem to avoid it.

Fall feels lonely to me sometimes, because most people seem to lean into life, and I struggle to stay engaged during this time of the year. We have about 2 weeks left of cultural-fall (up until Halloween) and then everyone goes straight to Christmas mode, so with the help of some new (or old) pants, I think I'm gonna be just fine.

(Not-ugly fall photos from: 1) Pinterest - no better source available, 2-4) from @cannellevanille Instagram!) 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Arrows in the Hand of a Warrior

One of the biggest struggles of raising children for me has been grappling with the "could haves", "would haves" and "should haves" of what I'd imagined life would be like without children. Efficiency is my drug of choice, and children are not particularly efficient creatures. When I am most frustrated as a parent or with my life in general, I find that frustration often crystallizing into anger that my role and responsibilities as a mother get in the way of everything else I had imagined myself doing in life. 

In a perfect world, the roles and responsibilities of parenting intertwine with everything else and enhance "what I'd imagine myself doing", rather than it being either/or, but I rarely see it that way.
I feel guilt, shame, and disgust that my habit is to begrudge my circumstances surrounding children. It makes me feel powerless that this enormous, unplanned section of my life is always overriding the planned sections of my life. Never the less, I try not to punish myself for valuing efficiency. As long as I don't place circumstances above people or my desires above the needs of my children, there are merits to productivity. [image]

I think it's acceptable that my wants come before their wants sometimes too. Most often, it ends up being a trade off - there's something I want or need to do and since they're along for the ride and neither they nor I can really change that, I try and make it worth it for all of us. I'll sift through piles of junk to my heart's content and they get to bring a small toy home or a quarter's worth of candy for baring with me. Bribery without the term "bribery" attached to it (and not so consistently such that it feels like a right) is an underappreciated tactic. In other words, many things become permissible in the interest of efficiency. I'm fairly honest with my children with what I want and what I need, just like they take every opportunity to tell me what they want and need too. 

Recently, I have begun to see that having children can be an enormous asset in reaching the goals that I've been so worried were out of my reach because of having children. I'm not advocating for using one's children as a means to an end so much as realizing that it seems like they are a blessing in spite of my tendency to view them as a distraction. 

I am not generally a shy person, but I do find myself frequently stuck in social situations that I'd rather not be in. Children are the best excuse for all sorts of things. I don't have to make as much eye contact because I have to keep an eye on my children. It's been nice talking with you, but I really have to leave now to get my kids down for their naps. I can't come to the party because one of my children has a cold. Etc. etc. Of course, most of those situations are not inconvenient at all if we're invited to something we want to attend, but it sure is handy to have legitimate excuses to get out of things. 

I don't feel guilty about using my family in this way. In fact, I find it endearing, like we have a pact amongst introverts to have each other's backs. My dad always let us use him as an excuse to avoid things ("I can't give you my phone number because my dad forbade me", or "I can't go any higher for this item I want because this is my dad's money", both of which he'd happily say to me in advance so that I could say those things honestly) and I will do the same for my sons if they want or need it. 

On the other hand, everyone's favorite thing about me is my children (Edit: I know this is not really true! I appreciate everyone who wrote to tell me so ;)). I might begrudge this, except it tends to work to my advantage too. Recently I've had several opportunities to meet and spend time with women who I've met under unusual circumstances. I am trying to learn Arabic and in general broaden my experience of life in America. The only way I know how to do this is to go directly to other people and ask in the most incredibly awkward way if they would teach me to cook. So far this has not failed to start friendships, but the lubricant is always my children. I set up time to meet with people and they never fail to add, "and bring those kids!" or "how are the boys?". 

As much as I've resisted and bemoaned my status as a stay-at-home-mom-by-necessity, I suddenly see my flexible schedule as a huge gift. The boys are old enough now that we can get in and out of the car without too much trouble and leave the house within 10 minutes of deciding to leave the house. For those of you with kids who aren't there yet, I see that tear of envy trickling down your cheek right now. This forced flexibility has afforded me the opportunity to forge relationships and spend time with people that I would not be available for if I had the jobs I have so intensely longed for and worked toward. 

As I begin to invest in these cross-cultural, sometimes cross-lingual relationships, there are frequently lulls in conversations. Luckily, watching my boys play while sitting silently with someone else is a fairly natural thing to do. There's even the option to talk to the kids when you can't figure out how to talk to adults. Adults are able to talk to children in a way that is also commenting on life or getting information across to adults within earshot. Children are a source of humor and they're also a glue. Children are bridges. 

I look at my sons in this new light and I feel admiration. I see this symbiotic relationship as the beginning of a partnership with them, where we're a team achieving goals with our interpersonal dynamic as a strategy to get there. I marvel at their sweetness and openness toward others and their willingness to trust me.  

I enjoy this feeling of mutual benefit from my relationship with my kids. I often don't feel the emotional tenderness that I suspect other mothers feel constantly, and I resent this, but also find it cloying in others (mostly because I find it very difficult to relate to). I struggle to muster tenderness or doting emotions, but I am beginning to feel the warmth of pride and teamwork. Parenthood is a transaction. Not really one that I can refuse to make, but not one that is of no value to me either. It's also not a transaction in that I don't stop giving, even if I'm not receiving. 

I'm worried that this will all unveil me as the self-preserving human that I am. I don't know how to mother, much of the time. I only seem to learn things and appreciate things in terms of how they affect me, rather than being selfless. I don't know if I'm doing this "right", but seeing the lifestyle of a suburban mother in America as having value beyond the sentimental (which I just don't feel) has been a brutal battle, and I feel that I'm finally wrapping my greedy little fists around its throat and getting things done. Less in spite of my children, and even perhaps because of them. [image]

I knew there was some verse about children and arrows, and thanks to Google, I am now reminded of the full verse, and it makes me feel like a BAMF. Psalm 127:4, "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one's youth." I've considered my glaring youth at the time my children were born to be more of an arrow in my neck, but as usual, I am wrong. Now, I can almost feel the gleam in my eye upon internalizing the words in Psalms. It's a rush of power, and a promise of worth in terms that I understand worth. I need not mourn my seeming inability to relish the mom-life part of motherhood, but instead my sons are coming with me and standing at my side as I prepare to fight. Praise be to God, from whom all weird, unknown, sometimes humanly untimely blessings flow. 
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