10 June 2018

Make Someone's Day

One evening last week, as the whole family sat down for a night of playing "Golf," a favorite card game, my 11-year-old sister declared, joy clearly spilling out of every pore, "This is the best day of my life!!"

All of us stopped for a moment and looked at her in surprise. I stopped shuffling the deck of cards. This is a kid who has been to DisneyWorld and Paris and London and Angkor Wat...she's had lovingly-planned, elaborately-themed birthday parties...and here she is calling this day, as we're about to start our game, "the best of my life"??

She noticed our confusion and went on to clarify that this is the "best day of my life right now." But I know what caused her exuberant joy and dramatic declarations of best-ness over a seemingly simple family game night. This girl loves to play games. She loves to gather the family around the table for a board game or party game of any sort. She's not picky. She even occasionally plays Monopoly with her teddy bears as the other players when she can't convince anyone to play with her. Game nights with her family are her idea of the good life.

And yet...they're rare. Because Angel wants to go for an evening run, big sister is working on an art project, other big sister is playing with the baby, mom and dad have work or meetings...or we're all too tired and there's the draw of Youtube or an episode or two of a television show. And somehow in the midst of all these things, which are also fun and important in their own ways, the chances for "best days" are frittered away. Still, we all know how to turn a normal day into the "best day" for her, and maybe if we make an effort to keep that knowledge at the forefront of our minds, we'll do it a bit more often.

In fact, I'd guess that most of us know how to make our loved one's days...and most of the time, our excuses for choosing not to do the simple things that would make their day a "best day" a little more often are a little too flimsy. The easy ways to "make someone's day" vary greatly from person to person--for one person, it might be buying takeout so they don't have to cook, while for another, it might be cooking a favorite meal, doing a chore that they usually have to do themselves, or making time in the schedule for participating in their hobby of choice. Telling them you'll take care of the dishes and the laundry tonight and they can pull out their art supplies. Many times, it might be sending a postcard to someone you know loves happy mail, or typing out a quick text to tell someone that you noticed the effort they put into a project and that it was well done. Most importantly, KNOW the person when you're trying to turn their day into a "best" one. Bring me a cup of coffee while I'm working at my computer and I'll just be mystified...and I won't drink it, sorry. I can't get myself to drink the stuff, not even for social purposes. But bring one to my mom, a cup of coffee made in her favorite cup with the right amount of milk added, and her eyes will light up.

There will always be a reason to not put in the thought or time or effort to make someone's day...but in reality, most of the time, it's far easier than we expect it to be to put a big smile on someone's face. All we have to do is keep our eyes and ears open: notice the little favorites and wants and likes of those in our everyday lives, and then instead of zoning out in front of the TV at the end of a long work day...pull out a deck of cards. It's worth it.

What are some of the simple ways that you've found to turn everydays into "best days" for your friends and family?
05 June 2018

Loving a Baby after Loss

I wasn't able to write about it the entire time I was pregnant. That's how unsafe, how fragile, I felt. The normal me needs to write to process everything. I still don't fully feel able to write about the experience. But let me share glimpses of what pregnancy after miscarriage looked like for me.

30 weeks. 

- The positive pregnancy test was a very, very joyful day. And a terrifying one. Because now I knew, most vividly, that a test that reads "pregnant" doesn't necessarily mean you'll be allowed to have a baby. I calculated the due date right away, but I didn't know if it would be a "real" due date or not.

- I had scary symptoms throughout the first trimester--and thankfully a very proactive doctor and pills that helped. But I remember one night around seven weeks being very sure that this was the end, it was so much like last time, and falling into bed, exhausted, crying myself to sleep. I fought the fear as much as I could even in the face of symptoms that reminded me of last time. What I would say fiercely to myself is: "This isn't your story. Your story isn't that of losing two babies in a row. If that becomes your story, then you can feel that way. But right now your story is that of being pregnant again and you're going to choose joy as hard as you can. The only story you're allowed to tell yourself is the one that's actually true."

- We still shared our news early--with Angel's family on the same day we found out, with mine, a week later (because of distance/location issues). We announced to our friends on our birthdays a few weeks later, though still in the first trimester. What I learned from Baby Em is that I believe life deserves to be celebrated, and that sometimes you don't have as much time as you think you will to celebrate that life, so make the most of the time you have.

- I counted every day. Every single day. I had a routine. Every morning I'd wake up, and I'd color in one more box on the 40-week chart of boxes that I drew up on the very day I found out I was pregnant. I'd drawn up a 40-week chart last time, too. I didn't get to fill out very many weeks. But I didn't let that stop me from being brave enough to draw up a chart right away and fill out every new day. I also wrote down what number the day was--how many days I'd known about the baby, in my planner. I knew about Baby Em for 25 days. I waited on tenterhooks for the first 25 days this time. I at least wanted to get to be with this baby for longer than 25 days. At the very least. I wanted more time. I eagerly showed Angel my planner every time we reached a new milestone. I remember excitedly showing him the planner when it read 10 days--double digits. 50 days--a half century. 100 days--triple digits. Baby was born on Day 251 and I finally stopped counting days.

- I was so happy to have such noticeable morning sickness. It's harder to let your mind play games with you when you're throwing up most of what you eat, 2-3 times a day, for weeks at a time.

- I never felt like I was in any "safe zone," though I celebrated 24 weeks and 28 weeks and 33 weeks. Once the baby was big enough that Angel could hear his heartbeat, I had Angel listen for his heartbeat a couple times a day. I never felt super confident and ready to prepare for the baby. My baby shower was when I was 33 weeks along and I still felt nervous--what if it's too early? What if I don't get to bring my baby home? How will I give the gifts back? Preparing his nursery was a regular exercise in faith--faith that it was possible that I would get to bring my boy home. I prayed every day for his little body, at the same time accepting that sometimes babies don't get to live, though I prayed fiercely that this one would.

- I tried to be as 'safe' as I could the whole time. I didn't drink anything with the least bit of caffeine until well after the first trimester. I didn't color my hair or paint my nails during the first trimester. I didn't visit Subway or eat any deli meat for my entire pregnancy. I took my pills at the same time every day, never skipping one. I never missed a prenatal vitamin. And at the same time...I knew, most vividly, that in many situations it truly "doesn't matter" how 'safe' you are or how much you really really try to stay pregnant. Because I'm not in control of what happens to my baby or how they develop, and that's so very hard to accept. I did know it, and sort of accepted  it, but there's still that feeling of, "Well, at least I don't want to leave something undone that I could have done to help give this baby a good chance!"

- I documented more than I otherwise would have. I'm so not the "maternity photo" type. But I took belly photos every few weeks or every month because I knew I needed photos "with" my baby for as long as I could get them.

- I froze when people asked, "Is this your first pregnancy?" I must have seemed so weird. I know that lots of people can go through this experience with calmness and sensibleness and practicality but somehow that's not me.

- In the aftermath of well wishes and congratulations and everyone wanting to love on Cyrus and take care of him, I missed her even more.

- It was a 36-week journey of fighting to claim "He is able...but even if He does not" as Daniel's friends claimed in front of the fiery furnace. And the journey didn't end when I went into labor and they couldn't find his heartbeat for a while (even though I knew they were just looking in the wrong place and if they'd handed the monitoring thing to Angel he knew exactly where to find it), or when he was born and was purple and they took him away for a long time and didn't tell us why or even three months after we've brought him home, and it doesn't matter how much it makes sense because I'll wake up throughout the night to put my hand on his chest to check his breathing anyways.

For me, nothing before parenthood has caused C.S. Lewis's famous quote from The Four Loves to cut so deeply:

"There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. 

But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."
03 June 2018

Target Practice

This weekend, we attended a formal 8-course Chinese banquet dinner celebrating our church's 60th anniversary. We took the "formal" part of the invitation quite seriously, and enjoyed a chance to dress up. It's a rare occasion that can get Angel to bring out the vest and tie! I even got a brand-new dress for the occasion, and brought out my pearl necklace that Angel gave me for our 3rd anniversary and the nice pair of heels I haven't worn since before my pregnancy.

The heels are important to this story. We'll come back to them.

The dinner was such a fun occasion. It was great to see our friends dressed in their best, everyone was happy and celebrating, and our table rejoiced in the fact that we successfully ate every last bite of each of the 8 courses, which is no small feat.

But...don't we have a baby?

Yes, he was there. Impeccably handsome in his jeans and collared shirt...and bare feet. Shoes is next-level, we'll save that for a black tie event.

He even stole the hearts of a few of the caterer's staff people. And he was passed around our table as various people wanted to hold him. He spent some time visiting my parents' table (an 8-course dinner is a lengthy affair), and when I went over to visit him at their table, I took off my heels for a bit to give my feet a break while I stood there and chatting with my sister, who was holding Cyrus.

Remember that I said the heels were important?

During our conversation, Cyrus leaned out from my sister's arms, and neatly threw up...into my shoe. Not on the church's carpeted floor, or anywhere else, but my left shoe now contained a puddle of milk.

One has to admire his aim.

I may stubbornly refuse to succumb to the old-fashioned "motherhood" style which involves fewer dresses and less blue hair....

But even the most stubborn of us cannot always escape from a shoe-full of regurgitated milk, apparently.
31 May 2018

Marriage: Seven Years Something

You told me the other day, early one morning, as I was washing breakfast dishes and you were getting ready to leave for work: "I'm glad we make such a good team."

And the rest of the day I felt like I was dancing on air--because it's true, and I'm glad for the amazing team we've become over the years.

We're so different. You're strong where I'm not, and I remember everything you forget.

I find everything about you lovable--even your forgetfulness is reliable.

They say people change after marriage, and we definitely have. You've slowly become gentler as you've learned to understand the value of gentleness and the softer emotions. I've become braver, been able to do things that I never thought I'd be tough enough to do, simply because I know you'll be with me every step of the way, and help me when I can't go further.

Our vocabulary has changed because of each other. You taught me phrases that have become family slogans of sorts: "That's normal." or "It was easy."

I have never met anyone else like you, anyone else nearly so prone to making everything sound easy. The normal human is prone to making a day's worth of work sound hard. We want to be praised and admired for our accomplishments, so we maybe exaggerate just a little, stress how many emails we wrote or how many loads of laundry we did or how long it took us to make dinner or how often the baby woke up and needed to eat.

But you're different. For as long as I've known you, everything you've ever done has been "easy" or "normal." I knew you during senior year of nursing school. Every other nursing student I've ever known has talked about what a big deal it is to deal with clinicals and preceptors and exams and the NCLEX. I sat across you while you studied for the exams, and then you were done studying, and then you graduated and passed the NCLEX and started working and paid off your student loans and married me and never even made it seem like you had accomplished anything much.

I was always there when you came home at 8 a.m. after a 12 hour night shift at the hospital, and I'd greet you eagerly at the door and ask you how work was and you'd say "It was easy!" Now you're getting ready to start a new job and I love to see how diligently you're working to gain all the new skills you'll use in your new career.

Whatever job you've had in our marriage, it's been "easy" for you, and I expect that you'll take on your new role with the same grace. You've even offered your opinion that the addition of Cyrus to our family was an "easy" process...though I might be even more mystified than usual by your perception of the early months of this year.

We don't always experience the events of our lives the same way, but we experience them together, and that's what makes all the difference.
28 May 2018

How We're Raising a Bilingual Baby: The Early Months

Spoiler alert: The baby can't talk yet.

And he's not expected to be talking anytime soon.

However, being a multilingual family is important to us, and we know that laying a foundation for language skills begins long before a baby is actually able to talk, so since he was born, we've been incorporating routines into our daily life that will encourage Cyrus to embrace both of his families' languages.

English is more naturally occurring in Cyrus's life, because our community here is largely English-speaking, and Angel and I speak English to each other. For this reason, Spanish is the language that we spend more time intentionally including in his everyday life.

This is what we're doing at this point:

- We read him baby books in Spanish. I have never yet seen a Spanish kids' book available in stores here, but thankfully I have awesome family in the USA who have contributed a variety of bilingual and Spanish storybooks to his library. He's really begun liking books in the last month--sometimes I'll sit down and read him the same book seven or eight times in a row before he starts to get bored of it, haha! A few of the books in our stash will probably have to wait a couple more years, like El Leon, la Bruja, y el Ropero...

- Cyrus loves "dancing" to music with Angel, and most often, the music that Angel plays for him and sings for him are the old Spanish songs that Angel grew up listening to.

- Angel frequently calls his family back in the USA, and, usually, Cyrus is the face everyone wants to see on camera. Because their conversations are largely in Spanish, it's good that Cyrus gets to participate in the video calls in his own way, while listening in on conversations in his dad's family's language.

- Both of us chat with Cyrus in Spanish every day. Angel, more so than I do, but because I want both languages to be languages that our whole family can participate in, I also practice my Spanish on the baby. He is not at all critical of my errors in syntax, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing in language practice.

This is all we're doing for this stage of language development, as it's all that's really age-appropriate right now. I should probably update yearly with what practices get added and what progress is made. With a dad who's a Spanish teacher and a mom who's pretty much obsessed with the English know what Cyrus is in for. Sorry, kid. But not really sorry, because languages are the best.


P.S. Maybe, just maybe, this entire blog post was inspired by a desire to create an excuse to post that video, because I find it ridiculously cute. Especially Cyrus's probably-accidental-response to the question asking whether he wants to visit his tias.