Monday, March 3, 2014

The Healthy Decision

This post was originally written yesterday, Sunday, March 2nd 2014.

Today was a fun day. My family and I slept till 8, and had a lazy brunch of bacon, eggs, and fried rice (because we're Asian). Then we all went to Coolidge Corner. I broke my resolution and got a haircut (post on that upcoming). We had Emma's bangs trimmed and took her to the bookstore where she was allowed to choose a book as a reward for being so good. Then we all went to the froyo place next door and had caramel pecan frozen yogurt with piroulines and gummy bears (because toddlers). We rounded it off with a trip to the toy store, where Meng and Emma played with magnets and I fed Elliot in a comfy chair in the baby department and had a huge revelation about my well being. This is what our good days look like. Specifically, this is what a good day that comes after a day like yesterday looks like.

Yesterday was not a fun day. Yesterday I woke up too early and didn't take a nap. The house was a mess and I spilled salt on the floor, which we all know is a pain to sweep up and a pain to walk in. I lost my temper and shoved the dog. I swore at the baby when I couldn't figure out why he was crying. And when my husband asked me what was wrong, I didn't have a good answer. Also yesterday I decided to go back on antidepressants.

The day after a bad day is always good because we want so badly to make up for the things that happened the day before. And when you have depression, a bad day is a very very bad day. It's funny how a disease can effect you like that. It can take inconvenient little speed bumps and turn them into mountains. Depression takes your anxiety and fear and applies it to everything that goes wrong. This is how yesterday happened:

Yesterday I did not want to get out of bed. I never want to get out of bed, but yesterday I woke up with a heaviness in my chest, as if my heart were trying to drag me back to my pillow. Everything that I tried to accomplish after I got up failed, and I was so distracted I couldn't make lunch. I had no patience with my children. I thought hurtful things at my husband. My throat tightened every time someone said, "Mommy, I'm hungry." I raged at my apartment that is too small and our belongings which are too many. I mentally punished myself for not being able to keep my weight under 160 and all my duties under control. And when my husband asked me what was wrong, I curled up into a ball on our bed and let it all spill out. I let the root of my anger and worry flow out of me at him, my certainty that I will only hold him back, that I am more trouble to him than I'm worth. When I'd finished I felt guilty, because he is the breadwinner and shouldn't have to deal with my depression.

He held me. He told me I'm not allowed to feel useless because he couldn't manage without me. He told me that he'd stand by my side with any other sickness and this was no different because (and he's a doctor, so he knows) depression is a disease, too. I didn't really believe him, but it was nice to know he could excuse my behavior.

This is how today happened:

Today I woke up with everyone else, and my heart felt lighter because it knew we had bacon, and my heart is planning an attack in 30 odd years. We all had breakfast together, and I drank coffee, because everyone needs a socially acceptable addiction. Then we all got haircuts, and I walked a bit taller, because my stylist told me my hair looks healthy. I read almost every book on the seasonal display at the bookstore and I gave up control at the froyo toppings bar, which is how we decided on the gummy bears. And while I was feeding Elliot in the toy store, I realized that if I go on antidepressants, I will only have a few more weeks to breastfeed.

That was a disappointing thought and the part of my heart that feels sorrow widened to let pain in. After so much work to achieve exclusive breastfeeding, I am giving it up. Then logic, which usually speaks with my mother's voice said, "Despite all the laud given breastmilk these days, there is nothing more important than a healthy mom." And that's when I realized that what I am right now truly is unhealthy, and I accepted that I have a disease.

So here's to tomorrow. Here's to wearing a pair of socks so you don't have to sweep the floor. Here's to more better days than worse ones, and mommies who don't need haircuts to walk tall. Here's to getting ice cream and reading books when you're already up instead of when you're down. Here's to little girls who love gummy bears and husbands who buy pecan froyo. And here's to the baby whose mother knows when to quit. Raise your glass (of water with a prozac) to them. Maybe someday I can go off medication again, but for know I must treat the symptoms of my disease.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

In Defense of Disney Princesses

This post is in response to a recent article published on Huffington Post, as well as other articles that have cast poor light on Disney princesses.

We all know the buzz of the blogosphere right now is the new Disney movie Frozen. While most applaud the new progressive messages ("You can't marry a man you just met," and that there is more than one kind of true love), some are hating on Queen Elsa, for her mid-music makeover. The transition in question is right in the middle of the Oscar-nominated song, "Let It Go." We all know the moment, I believe, when she throws away the crown, takes her hair down, and transforms her skin-hiding outfit into a shimmery, sheer-sleeved gown. Then she strides through the ice castle she created, singing, what I believe has become the iconic words, "Let it go. Let it go. That 'perfect' girl is gone."

To me the moment is powerful. After a lifetime of trying to subdue herself, she finally decides to test her own potential and be proud of who she is. But some people in the blogosphere don't like that moment. Why? Because her dress has a slit in it, and her braid is down over her shoulder. And it's sexy. 

I don't want to debate here whether or not Elsa is sexier after her makeover. I don't think there is anything to debate. The new look is definitely sexy. But I don't think that is a problem. 

When I look back on my own childhood, I think of the Disney princesses that inspired me the most: Ariel and Belle. People hate on the old Disney princesses because of the subliminal messages they have about men. "Ariel drastically changes her body so a man will love her." "Belle has Stockholm syndrome." (No, she doesn't. I'll talk about that another time.) "Cinderella only gets out of her abused lifestyle because she's pretty." I'll not list them all. You get the picture. Disney princesses, according to popular opinion, are a bad influence on our children. They will teach our daughters that their worth is dependent on appearance and how well they can please men. 

Mine is not the popular opinion, but I don't think Disney princesses are as bad as some think they are. As an adult who grew up with these messages, I feel pretty well-adjusted. Granted, I do rely on a man for income, and I'm not always happy with my post-baby body. But I don't know that Ariel and Belle are to blame. When I look back to the games I played, the songs I sang, and the stories that I wrote that were inspired by these princesses, the theme was independence and exploration, not romance or beauty. 

I think that children are better equipped to sort good and bad messages than we think they are. When I was little, my favorite song to sing was "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. For me the song inspired a curiosity of unknown things. Another favorite of mine was the opening song in Beauty and the Beast, "Belle," where Belle more than once pronounces, "I want much more than this provincial life." These are the messages that have stuck with me throughout my life, and inspired a desire to travel. I'd say it's thanks to Disney that I left my Eastern Kentucky home after high school to attend college in Chicago, where I knew no one. And when my boyfriend told me that I wasn't capable enough to live in a big city, that I'd never survive, I started questioning our relationship and eventually dumped him. The idea of launching myself into the unknown, in defiance of what others say, came directly from princess movies. 

My feelings about many other princess movies are similar. Snow White taught me to "whistle while you work," and to have compassion for others even when your own situation sucks. Jasmine actively fought social norms in Aladdin, first by refusing to get married, and then my falling in love with someone at the bottom of the class system. Cinderella sang about the importance of having dreams and could @#$% talk to mice! But in the end they all got married. So apparently those other elements don't matter. 

Mulan, too, gets shoved aside in popular opinion because of a man. Besides the fact that the movie is a gross misrepresentation of Chinese culture, the movie is amazing! It's all about a woman who takes matters into her own hands and ends up saving her country. The story really aught to carry more weight because of the romantic aspect. When Li Shang falls in love with Mulan, he accepts that she is an independent woman. How progressive is that?

(The only princess I can't say anything nice about is Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. Sorry, honey. Looks really are all you've got going for you.)

These are the things that I have taken from Disney princess movies from my childhood: That a woman can take control of her destiny. That a woman can be a pioneer. That a woman can be strong. And that's pretty far from the message people say these movies are sending. 

So back to Frozen. Let's be honest here. Frozen is the most empowering princess movie Disney has ever made. And if I, the little girl from no-where Eastern Kentucky, can glean messages of empowerment from it's lesser predecessors, just imagine what our little girls can do. One moment of sexiness could not possibly overthrow a full movie pulsing with messages of self acceptance and sisterly love. Our daughters are smarter than we give them credit for. Let Elsa be sexy. The girls can sort it out.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Local Mom "Does Not Negotiate With Toddlers"

January 4, 2014--Boston, Massachusetts.

Local wife and mother Samantha Liang stated at a press conference this evening that she does not negotiate with toddlers. This statement comes mere hours after dinner, during which Liang's 3 year old daughter, Emma, refused to eat her vegetables.

"I am the sole owner and distributor of desserts in this household," said Liang. "All I require is that the other members of my household eat two good bites of whatever vegetable is served. Failure to eat vegetables will result in the withholding of dessert."  When asked if her monopoly over desserts gave her an unfair advantage in negotiations, she replied, "It does give me an advantage, but not an unfair one. I do not negotiate with toddlers. To conciliate differences with a child without them eating their vegetables is sacrifice my position as a parent and reduce me to merely the tallest person in the house."

Most have taken these terms set in stride, eating "two good bites" or more of vegetables at every meal. Two good bites, our sources confirm, is approximately two tablespoons. In a protest demonstration this evening, however, one toddler chewed the same bite of kale for almost 6 minutes, trying at least once to spit it out and feed it to the dog. Eventually she caved into pressure from local authorities and swallowed the leafy green. She was then allowed to have applesauce, in accordance with Liang's terms of distribution.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Giving Up Clothes for the New Year

Don't be frightened. I'm not going nude. Well, not yet, anyway.

I haven't made a New Year resolution since Jimmy Buffet and Martina McBride recorded "Trip Around the Sun" in 2004. But this year I'm breaking my resolution "to never make another one," to give up buying myself clothes. I'm also giving up haircuts and new makeup.

I could tell you that I'm doing this because I want to learn to appreciate what I have. I could also say that I've spent the last year trying to "buy" self-confidence with the things I put on, that I want to teach my children to be comfortable in their own skin, and that I need to learn to love my body as it is. Those things are all true, but the real reason I'm doing it is because of money.

I haven't checked the numbers, (I don't really want to know) but I bet that if I were to add up all the money I spent on clothes, haircuts, and makeup this year, it would be well over $500. That's a lot of spending, and for what? So my 3 year old or infant can say, "Pardon me for saying so, Mommy, you look simply fantastic today! Is that a new top? Eyeshadow?"

I have a whole drawer of makeup, most of which I never use. My closet is packed with clothes, but I only wear the t-shirts. And my haircuts every other month cost upwards of $50. I have plenty of shoes to get me through the year, too. I'm going to spend the next 12 months cultivating independent (free) self-confidence, because the buzz I get from buying a new thing to make me look fabulous is wearing my wallet thin.

Tomorrow I am going to Target to buy some socks, underwear, and a new case of mineral powder, because I'm low on those and it's my birthday. But that's it for the year. If my new socks get holes, I'll borrow from my husband or wear sandels. If I run out of face powder, I'll just have to go natural. If I run out of underwear.... well then I'll have to break my resolution. (But I'm not anticipating another pregnancy so I shouldn't have any problems on that front.) No new dresses in the summer, no new jeans in the fall. The money I'm not spending can go toward student loans, buffering the grocery budget, and paying for all the clothes that Elliot will be wearing this year, because babies need a new wardrobe about every 3 months.

Here's to all the old and gently used things in the New Year. Once I get the hang of not buying, I'm sure it will be a happy one.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Wrong Paint Job

This is going to sound rude, but I am really tired of hanging out with my Asian girlfriends. Let me explain.

My husband and I, and our two children go out to dinner with my husband's cousin. We order our food. We sip our drinks. The waitress walks by and says to my husband and his cousin, "You two make such a cute couple."

See, I am white. So even though I'm the one sitting next to the Asian guy, I couldn't possibly be his wife. 

Let me explain some more.

I am getting a drink with an (Asian) girlfriend at a nice hotel bar. My husband joins us and we decide to go somewhere else for dinner. My friend picks up the tab. The bartender says, "Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Xu." <<< Our friend's last name. 

See, I am white. So even though my husband greeted the Asian girl with, "Long time, no see," he must be with her, because she is Asian.

Let's see another example, shall we?

I am 3 weeks postpartum, carrying a diaper bag and holding a toddler's hand. Next to me is my husband, lugging a carseat. Slightly behind us is another (Asian) friend, carrying a small, glittery purse. She is approached by a woman walking her dog. "Wow, you sure look great for just having had a baby!" 

See, I am white. So even though I am overweight, and my friend is skinny; even though I have spit-up stains on my shirt and she wears flawless black; even though I am the one answering incessant "Mommy, Mommy!" questions and double checking the carseat buckles, and asking if we packed any formula, and feeling too tired to even put on makeup to cover up the fact that I'm tired; even though the children look incredibly Caucasian, there is an Asian man carrying the carseat, so the Asian woman must be the mom.

"Actually, the baby is mine."
"Oh! Um, well, you look okay, too."
Thanks a lot, lady.

I could go on. You get the idea. I am tired of the message the world is sending me. Sing it with me:

"One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn't belong."

That's me, the one that doesn't belong. Because I'm white. 

And as a woman who gave up her career to raise children, as a woman whose only occupation is a wife and mother, this message is a slap in the face. Because when someone says, "They look so happy together," or "Their kids are so cute," or "His wife is beautiful," what it says to me is "You aren't pretty enough to be his wife." "You obviously aren't a mother." and "You and your husband don't look right together." 

As a dear college friend once quipped, I was born with the wrong paint job. There is nothing I can do to make the world see the rightness in an Asian man with a white woman, except go back out again and be seen, over and over until the world gets it. I guess someone has to. 

Has anyone else ever been snubbed like this? How did you deal with it? Leave your thoughts and handy comebacks in the comments below.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Open Letter to the Transgender Woman at my Gym

Dear Person,

I'm sorry I can't address you by name.

I first noticed you by your cool headband. I was walking across the lobby of our woman-only gym when the color caught my eye. I turned to look at it, then I did a double take.

I hope--pray even--that the startle didn't register on my face. Then there was the awkward. You looked at me. I looked away. No! I shouldn't look away! This is a person! Look her in the face like anyone else! But you had looked away again. You looked back, I looked away, you looked away, I looked back. It was just unfortunate timing. I saw you smile, though. It was a nice smile.

Panic had set in at that point. I so desperately wanted you to know that I hadn't been staring at you,--that I'd just been looking at your headband. I tried to be casual. Smile back. I wanted to pack as much good will and acceptance into that smile. Was I smiling too much? I probably looked like I was just trying to stare more. I gave up and scurried off to the nursery to get my kids.

I kicked myself as I picked up my kids, walked them to the car and buckled their seat belts. Then I slapped myself for a while on the drive home. What was wrong with me? I'm supposed to be open and accepting. I firmly believe that a transgender woman should have all the rights and respect any other woman has. Why couldn't I just meet your gaze and say, "Nice headband"?

I'll bet situations like this happen to you all the time. I'll bet it gets lonely. I hope I run into you again. Maybe we could have a conversation. Maybe we could be friends. I want a do-over.

I'd like to open these last few paragraphs to all transgender people. Because I am certain this is not the first time this has happened between two people, and it definitely won't be the last.

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry for all of us that stare without thinking. I'm sorry that some of us are struggling with change, even when we welcome it. I'm sorry that we have a hard time figuring out whether to call you "Sir" or "Mam." I'm sorry for all the stupid things I'm sure we say, some of us trying to prove how okay we are with you, others just being bad at making conversation. While I'm at it, I'm sorry we have anything to prove.

Please be patient with us when we fumble with our pronouns, titles, or other gendered vocabulary. Please don't be discouraged if one of us jumps when you say hello. Please keep smiling if we suddenly look panicked. And please, yes, please tell us if we make a mistake. Tell us if we say something rude or insensitive. Keep us accountable. It is going to take a long time for all of us to learn. Please forgive us when we are thick.

I hope this message is the extension of good will and acceptance I want it to be. I hope it is read by the people who need it most. But I hope, most of all, that it signals a small bit change.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Food and Sanity: Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate, Cookies!

Valentine's Day is over, and that means discounted chocolate! Seriously, there is nothing cuter than my husband on Friday, coming home with three bags of peanut butter cups. In addition to the chocolates I bought him the day before Valentine's Day, my parents sent us a care package full of heart shaped chocolates, heart shaped junior mints, and one moderate sized white chocolate bear. The message here is that we have a LOT of candy.

Now, if left to our own devices, we would eat all this candy entirely too quickly. To slow our impending diabetic comas, I have concocted a brilliant plan of pure genius. I call it the Candy Compost Bag!

To keep us happy and not completely deprived of chocolate, I took a small selection of nicer chocolates and put them aside for consumption over the next week. I then took all the rest, unwrapped them, chopped them into little bits and put them in a large ziplock bag in the freezer! Observe.

Here you see two coconut cream candies. Nobody wants to eat them. They are sad

Hiya! I chopped them up with ninja swiftness!
Here they are, combined with other chopped up candy. Now they have friends!
"But, Samantha," you say, "What good are these mangled little morsels of chocolate?" Well, I'll tell you. I now have a magical source of chips for cookies!!!

Use your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. I like to use the original Toll House Cookie recipe and add half a pack of instant vanilla pudding for an extra chewy result. Then just add chopped candies instead of chocolate chips!

I'm so jazzed to make cookies tonight! I plan on using half candy bits and half cranberries. They are going to turn out delicious.