Beach Day

Today, I had the best day with my kid.

We went to a beach I’d never visited before. When we arrived at 9:15 am, I was pleasantly surprised to find only two other parties as far as the eye could see. It felt as if we had the place to ourselves. It was sunny and hot. Supposedly the day’s high would go up to 97 degrees, but by the ocean, it felt perfectly comfortable.

As I placed our belongings on the sand and got my bearings, my kid ran to the shoreline. He lost his balance in the retreating tide and fell flat on his butt in his everyday clothes. It was a cute, comical sight.

I changed him into beach clothes, and then we dug into the sand with his little plastic shovels and made shapes with his molds. We walked up and down the shoreline and counted jellyfish. He chased seagulls and shouted, “Hey, come back!” when they flew away. We floated his toy boat into the sea and clapped as the tide pushed it back into his hands. He tried to sit in the water several times, but jumped to his feet and ran away as soon as the cold swept in. He found two flawless seashells with the same nonchalant luck behind a four-leaf clover a couple weeks ago. Every so often, he would grin or giggle at nothing but the wonder of being at the beach. My heart swelled with love for this sunny, inquisitive, sweet, adorable little toddler who was all mine. And like this, two hours flew by.

There was a small amusement park next to the beach. He’d noticed and marveled at the “big playground” during the drive, so he was excited when I suggested heading over there to take a look. He expressed interest in a ride that featured a dozen green and yellow cars going around in a circle. I paid a dollar and took hilarious photos and videos of him looking bored and disdainful on the ride. Next, he pointed at the purple “train tracks” of a roller coaster. We sat together; I whooped and laughed while he sat in bewildered silence. When it was over, he exclaimed, “Fun train tracks!” It was so cute that the park attendant chuckled, too.

We went home and ate lunch. After reading some books together, he played quietly with his miniature cars until he fell asleep right there in the living room.

Today, I had the day off from work. My original plan was to send my kid to daycare and have time to myself at home, maybe make up some work I’d meant to complete last week. Then I thought about how my husband and I had dragged him to hang out with our friends every day of the long weekend. We hadn’t had much time for just our family. We have plans the next few weekends, too. When would be the next time we could go to the beach? Wouldn’t it be crowded during the weekend, anyway? And he is growing up so quickly. How much older would he be “next time”?

I’m so happy I got to take the little guy out on an adventure. (Almost) two and a half years is such a fun age. I want to remember how today felt for the rest of my life. I hope he made some happy core memories today, too.

Questioning

At this point, I have to wonder if I am the problem.

That’s what they say, isn’t it? “If you’re having problems with everyone around you, then you are the problem.”

I’ve talked about having spent a non-trivial amount of time trying to hold constructive dialogue with people of various backgrounds and world views. It was depressingly, mind-numbingly futile. Most people were too cemented in their opinions and beliefs, even when presented with sound logical arguments and contradictory evidence. I have long prided myself on being an objective thinker, clear communicator, and open-minded person. It never got us anywhere.

This past Wednesday, the day rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, I had yet another bitterly disappointing exchange. But it wasn’t with an Internet stranger; it was with someone who was supposed to be a friend.

He stated that the people storming the U.S. Capitol shouldn’t be considered extremists—they were “everyday Americans.” His reasoning:

  1. Many more people would have participated if they had the means. Therefore, this should be considered an ordinary, “everyday” act.
  2. x% of Americans would break into the Capitol if they could. Asian-Americans also make up x% of the American population. Asian-Americans should be considered everyday Americans. Therefore, the people who would break into the Capitol should also be considered everyday Americans.

My counters:

  1. Thinking about or wanting to do something is irrelevant. The ordinariness of an act should instead be measured by the number of people who actually commit it.
    Regardless, extremism is not defined by whether an act is committed by few or many people. We should consider only the nature of the act itself.
  2. This is a false equivalence.

He terminated the conversation abruptly by calling it a “waste of time,” “pointless,” and “dumb AF” because “the other side isn’t even willing to listen.” Oh, and apparently, his core point all along was that President-Elect Biden wasn’t doing enough to address systemic issues.

For the next 24 hours, I was pretty damn angry. Where did this come from? Throughout the discussion, he never once said anything like “That’s not what I’m saying” or “You’re missing the point.” He didn’t counter any of my counters. Most frustrating of all, he moved the goalpost. You know from my linked post that I am all too aware of the systemic issues. But he never expressed that point until the very end.

That leads me to two possible conclusions:

  1. He is not a logical thinker or debater.
  2. I wasn’t as flawlessly clear and logical as I thought.

My gut reaction was to take door number one. I mean, even now, writing it out and rereading it, part of me still believes it. How does any of his reasoning make sense?

Yet by now, I can no longer deny the well established pattern. I always walk away feeling disgruntled that the other person didn’t do their part to meet me halfway in logical arguments and empathy. I’m always the one believing the other side to be dense and stubborn. Now I even have this sentiment toward someone I’ve known for a decade, who is well educated and has a successful career? Am I just the cleverest person in the world? No fucking way.

The anger is gone. Now I’m simply sad and confused.

I’m starting to realize that I might place too much importance on holding dialogues a specific way. One ought to clarify and solidify each point before moving on to the next. If there is any ambiguity or misinterpretation, it is essential to correct that straight away. If one agrees with some parts of an argument but disagrees with others, one ought to lay out both the agreements and the disagreements. I call out logical fallacies when I see them, because otherwise my brain gets stuck. Is that just how my mind works, or is that snobby intellectual gatekeeping? Do my unspoken “rules” facilitate clarity, or do they only make me seem as though I care more about being “right” than actually learning?

If this is just how my mind works, maybe it’s not well suited to discuss social or political ideas with others at all? That doesn’t make sense to me. In my opinion, everyone could benefit from trying to be as logical as possible. But maybe I am not logical enough to see my own lack of logic? Like Heller’s Appleby, I can’t see the flies in my eyes because of the flies in my eyes?

Either way—whichever conclusion is correct—it appears I lost a friend that day. As bewildered as I was by his fallacies, I was genuinely trying to understand his thought process. If he was over it, he could have at least been respectful enough to say, “That’s not it, but I don’t have time to get any deeper into this right now,” “We’ll just have to agree to disagree,” or even a succinct “Never mind.” Instead, he chose to be insulting, and he isn’t taking it back.

Is it telling that, once again, I’m fixating on communication style and verbiage? Or is he in fact a jerk, one I’m better off no longer keeping in my life?

I don’t know how to think anymore.

New Year

Well, here we are in 2021.

I know I’m not the only one to say that 2020 was soul-crushing. I also know I am extraordinarily privileged in some ways. Many, many people have had it far worse.

Nevertheless, it hasn’t been easy watching a toddler while working from home full-time. For most of the 4.5 months that we’ve had to keep him home from daycare, I have been working until midnight or later to make up the hours spent on childcare during the day. I was in a new, higher-visibility role at a new organization*, and my to-do list felt never-ending. When my kid takes a nap, my first impulse is (still, even during this long weekend) to head straight to my computer to do more work.

*I didn’t even get a quiet ramp period at a brand-new organization. My company was acquired, which meant we had to do our regular work plus figure out a bunch of changes. New business applications, integrations and migrations, where to look up details on our new paychecks and health plans, whom to contact with questions about expense reports, etc. etc. All while not being able to turn to a friendly office neighbor to ask a quick question face-to-face.

“I can’t wait until 2020 is over” is a sentiment I’ve heard echoed all around me. I get it—but in a literal, calendar-year sense, I really don’t want 2021 to begin. Not when the COVID cases are still rampant and we continue to feel our kid’s health could be at risk in daycare. The end of December meant a corporate slowdown when most people were out of office, almost no one was pinging me, and I was actually able to get larger chunks of thoughtful work done. The start of January means things will kick into high gear again, I’ll be back to working late nights, and I won’t be able to hang out with my husband… or anyone. At least, not much.

Here’s a fun game I’ll be playing by myself! Which will happen first: our state will go back to having fewer than 2,000 new cases of COVID per day, or I’ll collapse from stress and exhaustion?

It’s stupefying how the days blur together when all you do is entertain a toddler, work at a computer, and get six hours of sleep. I keep wanting to do some basic things every day, like eat multivitamins and do push-ups. Not being too hard on myself, right? Next thing I know, four days have gone by and I haven’t done any of it.

I missed my annual birthday/Thanksgiving tradition of sharing my reflections on the past year and hopes for the next. It makes me sad that I haven’t had time to write anything until now, more than a month later. My last post was over four months ago. Just as my body feels soft from infrequent exercise, the creative part of my brain feels soft from never writing anymore.

This might be crazy, but I think what I ultimately need to feel better about myself and this whole awful pandemic is more things on my to-do list. When Will Smith was preparing for his role in I Am Legend, he interviewed prisoners and learned that a fixed schedule was the key to surviving solitary confinement. I’m going to try sticking to specific times to take vitamins, do push-ups, and even try to write a little every single day. Maybe you’ll be hearing more from me here.

Here’s to the new year.

On the Edge of the Yawning Crevice

In 2016, the day after the U.S. presidential election, I wrote an essay criticizing social media echo chambers. I stated that anyone who was flabbergasted by Trump’s victory was part of the problem. I urged people to break out of their echo chambers, seek alternative perspectives, and hold constructive dialogues with their fellow community members. We’re all in this together, I thought. We can fix this.

Boy, was I naive.

To do my part, I joined a number of Facebook groups for area residents. I subscribed to new subreddits. After having a baby in 2019, I also joined a moms’ group on Facebook whose About page mentioned, “Various vaccine schedules [including no vax] will be popular here.” I tried really, really hard to talk to people. I mulled over their messages, asked honest questions, suppressed my natural sarcastic tendencies (at least until it became clear that nothing productive could come out of a conversation), and sought a modicum of mutual understanding. I worded every sentence carefully and made sure to include courteous, rapport-building phrases like, “Perhaps I am misreading, but…” and “I do agree with you that…”.

It was a waste of time and energy about 80% of the time. These people had made up their minds long before logging into Facebook, and no number of thoughtful questions or amount of personal sharing from an online stranger was going to change them. It made no difference that this online stranger was supposed to be a friendly neighbor, someone they might encounter at the local park or grocery store. Only a handful were civil. Most defaulted to calling me a “triggered snowflake,” even when I hadn’t stated any liberal points. Only a few were capable of logical reasoning—and not all of them overlapped with the civil ones. One or two must have been Russian trolls, with a handful of friends and an image of the American flag as their profile picture.

While I learned a lot about different people’s worldviews and motivations (which I am counting as 15% of the time not wasted), I doubt they absorbed much of mine. They simply did not care. They were only there to mouth off about their opinions and fears, not to learn anything that could risk changing them. The remaining 5%, I might have persuaded someone to acknowledge or reflect on a concept. Never got definitive proof, though. For all I know, they reverted straight to their old mindset as soon as I locked my phone and returned to the real world. I didn’t even make any new friends along the way, which might have been a decent consolation prize.

The crux of the issue is that we, as a society, no longer strive to establish common ground with each other. The COVID-19 quarantine may be partially responsible for aggravating our moral decay, as we have lost significant face-to-face contact and grown increasingly indifferent to words on screens. However, this was already a problem in 2016 when I wrote that essay. It was probably even happening years before that, as the advent of social media drew more people online. We are letting the media, mainstream or otherwise, manipulate us into senseless infighting and believing that the “other” is a crude, absurd caricature. We are too caught up in the fog of buzzwords and propaganda to see real people as they are. When we see a particular something in a profile picture or comment, we instantly throw that name into a bucket with some stereotypes and start going “lalala” with fingers in our ears.

This isn’t just about right-wingers. The left is guilty of this, too.

So many topics should not be political, yet people are determined to politicize them. We cannot even wear face masks without being associated with socialism and “men in women’s bathrooms.” Basic science and facts are no longer trusted. People formulate deep-seated opinions without any academic knowledge or extensive personal experience. They hate people for doing something or coming from somewhere, without reflecting on possible motivations or—I don’t know—asking them about it. Blatant hypocrisy and discrepancies in belief systems are ignored. Context, nuance, and empathy have all gone down the drain. Nobody can answer a basic fucking question anymore without “but what about…”s, straw man fallacies, beating around the bush, and name-calling befitting of an elementary schooler.

Take “Black lives matter,” for example. Do you agree that they do?

No, don’t start about the protests and the looting. I’m not talking about the movement, the organization, or whatever “independent news” article you read the other day. Don’t tell me about your family member who is an upstanding police officer or how much Black people attack their own. We can work our way to that, eventually. If you’re willing to keep hashing this out with me. First, let’s take about twenty steps back and just consider those three simple words.

Do you agree that Black people have worth?

Are they as equally entitled as white people to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?

Unless you are a sociopath or happily admit to being an asshole, it shouldn’t be that hard to say it out loud with me. Black lives matter.

That’s where we need to start, from square one. It seems so simple to me. Yet I haven’t been able to get any #MAGA2020 proponents in my various Facebook groups just to say those three words by themselves. At best, I have seen a few people insist, “Black and blue lives matter.” It is pathetic, worrying, frustrating, infuriating, and depressing. They claim to want this country to come together, but when I throw the ball in their court, they ignore it or toss it away. The same goes for just about everything else: the pandemic, reproductive rights, healthcare, LGBTQ rights, education, climate change, and so on. It should be easy to agree on some core tenet—but for some utterly baffling reason, we can’t. All these keyboard warriors lack logical reasoning, empathy, or both.

Last weekend, I was teased by a glimmer of hope when someone named Michael posted in our township’s group about the need for people to work together through disagreements. Someone else who gets it! I thought. Actually, his original post was a quote from an alleged military veteran threatening that if “you people” didn’t “work it out,” they would “make your lives hell because war is hell.” I asked for clarification on the purpose of posting such a quote. Michael politely claimed it was a rallying cry for compassion and solidarity. Hm? Not the most logical interpretation, but I wanted to support it—so I replied, “Got it, thanks and I agree.” He then responded with, “Talk about poor reading comprehension.” Are you serious? Why would you turn around and make a remark like that, when I had given you the benefit of the doubt and left your stupid trigger-happy quote alone? When I told him that was rude and unnecessary, he dug his heels in like a petulant child and called me a snowflake. Maybe Michael is just a cretin, but sadly enough, he is far from an anomaly. There are many like him, who love being illogical and crass. They even have allies who defend their assholery. And all of them will mock you for being a “snowflake” when you call them out.

One election cycle later, I believe the echo chambers have gotten worse, not better. Not only are people feeding into biased content with more voracity and determination than ever, but they also double down on it when anyone else dares to suggest something non-conforming. I saw a post just yesterday by someone who claimed, “Democrats want to abolish the local police.” Three people commented that they were Democrats who did not, in fact, want to abolish the local police. Two others commented later along the lines of, “Yes, it’s unbelievable. What is wrong with them?” I was dumbfounded. Here were three people speaking up to correct a misconception, yet their messages were displayed to blind eyes. Lord help us.

What was a hairline crack in the foundation of our society has become a yawning crevice.

If things continue like this, Trump will win again in 2020—though that is not even my biggest concern. If so many individuals truly feel Trump is their champion, and not enough others care enough to de-throne him, then I will accept that he is the president our nation deserves. Instead, I am worried about how American society will continue to devolve beyond the next presidential term. I am also worried about things like deepfakes. We are already rejecting science and facts with little to no justification. We are already falling for obvious and easily discredited propaganda, like the birther movement and the video about Planned Parenthood’s operations. How stable of a civilization can we expect to have when there is—perhaps very soon—substantial justification for rejecting all information?

I found out from my mother one day about anti-Black discourse taking place among a network of Chinese-American immigrants on WeChat. I told her this was wrong. I explained systemic oppression to her and why we, as fellow non-whites, need to care. Even though we don’t have the closest relationship and we never talk about this stuff, she was receptive. She told me later that she looked further into one of the media personalities discussed in the group and realized how foolish that person was. So I would be happy to keep having these conversations with people I know and respect. With all these other randoms, though, I am done. At last, I am accepting that this is something I cannot fix, that this is a heap of non-biodegradable garbage in which I cannot even hope to make an appreciable dent.

Our only hope is that people like Michael have family and friends who are more reasonable, with whom they will engage more respectfully. If you have zealously antagonistic relatives, you need to do your part in changing them. We all know at least one person who is in a group chat where problematic videos and memes circulate. There may be that one relative who is cooped up all alone in their house and falling into a rabbit hole of toxic YouTube videos for hours every day, the algorithm relentlessly digging them deeper and deeper. If you want to make a difference, you need to sort out your own racist grandparents, your misogynistic Uncle Mike, your crazy Aunt Karen, and that one weird kid from high school who never left your hometown. I can’t reach your people. I have tried so much that my head is weary and my heart is heavy. Those people won’t listen to an online stranger like me. Someone has to get through to them, though. Human beings need to build more empathy toward each other if we wish to survive in the long run. We are fast approaching a point of no return. When deepfakes and other conspiracies inevitably threaten to tear apart our communities and livelihoods, we will need to care enough about each other to investigate matters and determine the truth. Otherwise, we will be doomed to paranoia, chaos, and obsoletion.

Pandemic

I stepped outside two nights ago to take out the recycling. At forty-some degrees, it was still as brisk as many of the mild winter days we had back in February. It caused something in me to unravel, I think. Just a little.

It was the 23rd consecutive day that I had been staying home due to COVID-19. Today is the 25th, which feels paradoxically like both a long and short time. Since I don’t have plans to go to the office or visit friends any time soon, that number will hit 36 on Easter Sunday. Honestly, it hasn’t been too bad for me. I am fortunate and grateful to have a happy family, a comfortable home, and job security. I also have the latest Animal Crossing game! However, this is the first pandemic for many of us in this part of the globe. It is understandable that we would be uncertain and anxious.

The unknowns are awful in their breadth and depth. People have hypotheses and assumptions, but no one has any answers. Will my number of days at home reach 50? 75? 100? When will the spread of the coronavirus get under control? When will a safe and effective vaccine be available? When can we go back to work, send our kids back to school or daycare, and resume our regular lives? Can we can ever truly trust anyone’s handshake again?

But what aggravates all the uncertainty, at least for me, is this surreal sense of time being frozen. Being outdoors this week has felt the same as it did last week, and the week before. Sure, there were a couple warm, springy days here and there—but we had those last month, too. As far as my day-to-day life is concerned, any progress is indiscernible. News channels and social media discussions recycle the same material through variations in verbiage: people still not doing enough social distancing, stores still out of toilet paper, people arguing over whether the reports from other countries are hoaxes or whether the President is handling the situation appropriately, hospital staff and resources in alarmingly scarce supply, the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths climbing ever higher and closer to home.

At home: more constant cycles. I cook; we eat; we clean. The laundry basket fills up; we do the laundry; slowly, the dirty clothes pile up again. We try to work as much as we can while making sure our baby stays content and alive, and then we go to sleep so we can wake up and do it again. When I see it all written out, I realize life without a pandemic is pretty much the same. But without work and social lives to distract us, the cycles intensify. Add a pandemic to the mix, and now we find ourselves trying to keep our spirits up while fighting back insecurities about being unproductive and fears that we might be getting sick, too.

My only real indicator of time’s passage is the baby’s development. Our first week of sheltering in place, he figured out how to sit up. The second, he started army-crawling, scooting around on his belly. Now this week, he learned how to do a proper crawl. Everything else feels suspended, yet the progression of his gross motor skills feels bewilderingly fast. He even grew a ninth tooth. He is like the lone plant sprouting on the trashed and abandoned Earth in Wall-E.

It’s only been 25 days, after all.

Yesterday, I finished the novel Severance, by Ling Ma. It is about a young Chinese-American woman living in New York City when a deadly fungal infection emerges from China. There is no cure. In a matter of months, all of New York is empty and shuttered. The protagonist and eight other survivors are resigned to the likelihood that there is no one else out there in the rest of the United States, maybe even the world.

This book really spoke to me. Not only does it contain eerie echos of real-life current events, but it is also a story about being an immigrant, the bittersweet life of a millennial in New York, and losing familial bonds. A lot of it hit a little too close to home, such as the description of New York as:

… the city, New York fucking City, tedious and boring, its charms as illusory as its facade of authenticity. Its lines were too long. Everything was a status symbol and everything cost too much. There were so many on-trend consumers, standing in lines for blocks to experience a fad dessert, gimmicky art exhibits, a new retail concept store.

I just hope the quasi–zombie apocalypse stuff doesn’t manifest.

The protagonist’s most useful survival skill is the ability to draw strength from routine, even if she doesn’t particularly enjoy it. That is one lesson I am taking from the novel. We get up. We try to work. We handle issues as they arise. What else can we do? One by one, the days go by. I can’t let myself think too much about how much time has passed or has yet to pass. At least I am getting more time to spend with my child and watch him grow.

Career

This week, I transitioned to a new role at work. My title is now Partner Enablement Lead. I am in charge of designing and executing the workshops, slide decks, online tutorials, and overall training pathways for people aspiring to become my company’s qualified partners in sales and delivery services. I am entering a realm where many of our assets and processes are prosaic, paltry, or plain non-existent—and it is my job to figure out and dictate how it all should work.

With our recently closed acquisition by one of the most well known companies in the world, this is kind of a big deal. I don’t mean that as a sardonic understatement. It is big because we anticipate having to teach tons of our new colleagues, and those colleagues’ partners, all about our platform and how to implement it efficiently and strategically. At the same time, our parent entity is so enormous, with so many employees and product lines generating so much revenue, that our own partner network is a drop in the bucket. Thus, “kind of.”

Those who have been following my career—all two or three of you—may know that this is my first time changing jobs within the same organization. (I am still in the same department, so it doesn’t even feel like a real change.) This is my fourth company in the eight and a half years that I have been working full-time. The other moves I made were driven by disgruntlement, a desperate need to jump ship when something went awry with the management. So this is my first time taking a different position without bitterly hating my old one. In fact, I was quite content where I was, with both my manager and my responsibilities. My (now former) manager assured me that, if things didn’t work out with the new gig for whatever reason, I would always be welcome to return. I find this comforting. For someone used to burning bridges with no regrets, this is novel.

When I was discussing the move and its expectations with my manager-to-be, she mentioned two colleagues who were also passionate about this domain. Those two, whom I’ll call Bill and Ted, would be expected to dedicate a sizable fraction of their time to the tasks that I, as the lead, would delegate to them. I wavered when I heard this. First, Bill and Ted have both conducted partner workshops, while I haven’t (though I’ve done many customer ones, which are very similar). Both of them have lots of feedback and ideas for our partner enablement program. And Ted has been at the company longer than I. Surely they would be interested in this lead role. Maybe Ted would even be more qualified than I, given his longer tenure. What did I have to offer? I was in talks for the job only because I had reached out to the head of our department about some gaps that I had perceived in our current program and offered to help out. Help out, not lead.

But you know what? At the same time, I thought, I do deserve this lead position. I took the initiative to chat with our senior VP. I saw issues and spoke up about fixing them. That’s got to count for something. Plus, I have to stop being so self-deprecating. I bring plenty to the table. I have ideas, too. I have handled dozens of projects at my company and can confidently mentor others to be great consultants. Clients trust and respect me. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of resources, and I am persistent and shameless in getting answers I need. I have years of product management experience, which allowed me to develop transferable skills for building and realizing a vision for this program.

Initiative is so important for career development. If you spend your whole career sitting on your hands, waiting for someone to notice and reward you for your skills and work ethic, you aren’t going to get very far. If you want more or different responsibilities, you have to ask for them. I was initially inquiring to my department’s senior VP about a manager position, which even I admit was a little out of my league—but hey, it landed me this lead role. Express your ambitions, if anything to start a conversation and plant a seed in someone’s mind. I have never been shy about requesting a higher salary and asking what I need to learn or achieve to earn a promotion.

After accepting the position, I confided in another coworker that I had felt a bit uncomfortable about taking it over Ted. I said I felt awkward knowing Ted would have wanted it, if only he had known about the opportunity. His response? “That’s a weird way to think.” It hadn’t occurred to me there was anything weird about it, but I immediately saw his point. Why did I care about possibly abdicating something I wanted to a coworker who had never really gone out of his way for me? Even if he had, why would I contemplate such a sacrifice? I don’t know if I had those thoughts because I am female. Those people who research workplace and HR statistics would probably say yes. Though I don’t identify as a woman, there is no denying that I present as one, and our thoughts and actions are inexorably influenced by the way others perceive us. I want to say it’s simply because my default motivation is what’s best for an overall collective, not necessarily myself—but who’s to say that itself isn’t rooted in gender?

Regardless, it would have been folly to let that stop me. When I later spoke to Ted, he confirmed that he would have been interested in the role had he been aware of it. I couldn’t help being apologetic in response. That’s one thing I’ll have to work on for next time: I need to own it, not be sorry.

Gratitude

I consider myself a reasonably grateful person. When someone does something nice or helpful, I always want them to know how much I appreciate it, especially if they were at all inconvenienced. I don’t want them to feel disgruntled from wasting their time, or discouraged from being kind again in the future.

At the same time, I have always been one to hold a grudge forever. I say sorry when I wrong others, so I expect reciprocal treatment. When someone apologizes, I forgive pretty easily (though not necessarily forget). But when someone does not apologize, then I never forgive—even if I eventually do forget what happened. I figure, as long as you’re not repenting something bad you did, then you’re holding a grudge in a sense, too. Why should I forgive someone too stubborn to make amends?

Even today, I still think this is logical. When someone keeps silent despite knowing they’ve done something wrong, they are choosing to maintain the status quo: to continue bearing me ill will. And isn’t that what it means to hold a grudge? If you’re the one who messed up, the ball is in your court.

I am finally starting to see, however, that this mentality is not very gracious. Most of my life, I’ve been more preoccupied with being “right” than good. I have to remind myself that:

  1. Being right isn’t everything
  2. The vast majority of the time, people are oblivious, not malicious
  3. Others don’t think about you as much as you would imagine.

Yes, as hard as it may be to believe—because I always feel so self-conscious and paranoid—maybe some people genuinely do not remember being jerks. So when someone has slighted me and still not acknowledged it after a long time, I am slowly becoming more inclined to believe they may have simply forgotten.

I am also trying to stop being locked into modes of expression. Sometimes people don’t explicitly say, “I’m sorry,” but they do feel bad, and they extend an olive branch through a hug or meal. Historically, I have struggled to accept these “alternative” apologies. I would not consider them genuine enough, and I would still hold a little grudge. No matter how warm they were before or after committing an offense, part of me would still be cold until I heard a literal “sorry.” I believed it was pride holding them back from saying the word, and if they truly cared or were conscientious, they would swallow that pride.

But maybe some people simply don’t value verbal apologies, or realize how much others do. If we accept that individuals have different love languages, then it makes sense that we would have different ways of showing remorse, too. Waiting for everyone who has ever hurt you to state the word is as futile and disappointing as expecting all your romantic interests to use “words of affirmation.”

And I think this ties into gratitude, because if your forgiveness has conditions, then you’re not really grateful for others’ seeking grace or redemption. If apologies have to be on your terms, then you’re making the situation about you, whereas gratitude should be about others and appreciating their positive traits. It isn’t enough to be grateful only when people are being awesome; that’s easy and says little. You also have to be accepting and appreciative when they make mistakes but still do good things at other times. People are flawed and not always self-aware. That doesn’t make them horrible and undeserving of your kindness.

I often have negative thoughts about people that I know are petty and unwarranted. After upsetting me, they could buy me a bunch of shiny new gadgets and I would still carry this bitterness (could you guess that gifts are not my love language?) until I either told them off or managed to crush it myself. By the latter, I mean that sometimes I can’t get over a thought until I’ve sort of pressed it over and over in my mind, like a rolling pin flattening dough. I think I need to do this more, and get better at it. In many cases these thoughts are so trivial and vindictive that, if voiced, they would hurt more than heal. And I believe the more I can let these things go, the more I can legitimately call myself a grateful person.

Decade

Some scattered thoughts as we roll into 2020…

This year, I missed my annual tradition of reflecting on personal growth and goals around the week of my birthday and/or Thanksgiving. We were so preoccupied with the move, and our baby also contracted a viral infection that lasted over a week. Ordinarily, this sort of thing would bother me, but I didn’t even think about it until today. I am learning more and more to accept that things may not happen or get done when you want, and sometimes it’s not worth the effort to fight to make them happen.

My coworker reminded me that, this time twenty years ago, we were all anxious about our electronic devices failing and bringing on the apocalypse. Remember being instructed to shut them off before midnight? How laughable Y2K sounds now. We have made such incredible technological advances since. Yet we also have scarily growing populations rejecting reason and science—so progress is, as usual, some steps forward and some steps back.

Ten years ago, I was studying abroad in Europe. I don’t remember how I spent New Year’s Eve, but I know my winter break was in Italy. It feels like a separate life, someone else’s memories. I don’t have many photographs from that time. For years, I hated appearing in photos, especially with other people. I feared that they would look back on them and be annoyed at my presence, ruining the shot.

Each of my life stages feels like a different person’s life. The nerdy, lost, gloomy student. The awkward entry-level professional, still lost and trying too hard. The sloppy, alcoholic party animal. And then no longer caring or trying so hard, settling into my skin and onto a path, developing into what I finally feel comfortable calling my true self.

I can’t believe how much of my life was spent being fearful and self-deprecating. I can’t go back in time and tell my younger self to live free and bold (or my 25-year-old self to be a little less free and bold), but I can try to tell it to my kid as he grows up.

2019 was obviously a tremendous year for us with the arrival of our beautiful baby. There’s been so much learning: about raising a tiny human, lactating, resuming full-time work as a parent, and still making time for friends and each other among it all. Now that we have an eleven-month-old who loves to eat and laugh and roll everywhere, I can’t help but marvel at the veracity of the corny adage, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

Sometimes I wonder if it was right to bring a child into this world. I worry about climate change, running out of energy sources, a nuclear apocalypse, totalitarian regimes, and more. I imagine him having to fend for himself in the desolate ruins of a decimated society and feel guilty. But only sometimes.

I can’t wait to watch our baby continue to grow in the coming year. At work, we are expecting an acquisition to close, and then I’ll be employed by one of the most famous companies in the world. We are planning our first family vacation. What else might happen in our social circles, technology, literature, entertainment, politics, and the rest? I think we have a big year ahead. I’m also looking forward to the 2020s being bigger and better than the 2010s. There’s a lot one could worry about, but I am really excited, too. Happy New Year!

I’ll Miss You, Rahway

We have moved. Earlier today, we closed on a townhouse, and this is where we live now. The process kicked off months ago—and I began drafting this post weeks ago—but it felt like a distant hypothetical all the way until tonight. This is our first night here, and I’ll be trying to sleep on the highest of multiple floors composing our space, without the usual soundtrack of train horns and yelling passersby.

I purchased our old condo over six and a half years ago. I chose Rahway primarily for its reasonable commute time to Jersey City and New York, proximity to my hometown, and ease of getting to the casino outside Philadelphia where I used to play an Omaha/stud game. Yes, it was important to me at the time to be able to get on Route 1 quickly and gamble. I also liked that Rahway had affordable homes within walking distance of the train station, unlike other towns farther west on the Northeast Corridor.

Growing up in Edison, you might think of Rahway as a shady place. Other people say, “Isn’t that where the prison is?” But I didn’t care about that stuff. I learned from my realtor that the downtown area had an up-and-coming arts scene, which was good enough for me. I did look up crime statistics: robbery and vehicular theft were high, but assault and murder were low. So I thought, well, at least no one is going to hurt or kill me.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with Rahway. Shortly after moving in, I got a gym membership, my first ever, at the YMCA. The pool was mostly empty on evenings and weekends, allowing me to rediscover the joyful Zen of swimming. The weight room was well maintained. The staff was all so friendly. I felt accepted into the community right away.

The YMCA is located downtown, a five-minute walk from our apartment, sandwiched between a Mexican restaurant and a Peruvian one. Both have incredible food and super nice people. I discovered these early on, along with a dive-y rock-and-roll bar (that has since changed management and become classier and more expensive, but still holds a special place in my heart), a pizzeria right around the block (that takes online orders for pick-up, which was clutch during innumerable weekend hangovers), a cute Italian restaurant, and a fried-chicken place that also serves chicken and lamb rice platters and the best cheesesteaks.

I took up running while living in Rahway, and spent a year jogging all over the city. I found a mom-and-pop grocery store with great produce at low prices, where I shopped almost every week until having the baby earlier this year. I found parks: a really big, beautiful one with a lake and a community center, and lots of smaller ones tucked away in random neighborhoods. I found a large cemetery, which I later learned through a Halloween tour contains hundreds of soldiers from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. I found a surprising number of churches for such a small city, and even made an Instagram hashtag for them, #churchesofrahway. Whenever I travel, I like to dedicate at least one day just to walking around semi-aimlessly; it’s the best way to stumble upon cool things on your own and get a feel for the local vibe. All my jogs combined have given me that same feeling, magnified hundredfold.

When I started dating my now husband, he was wary of coming over to see me in Rahway. He soon learned to like it, too, and together we made new discoveries. Next to the grocery store, there is a better pizza shop, still one of my favorite slices to date, than the one I’d been picking up from before. We found another Mexican restaurant with greasier, slightly more flavorful tacos (though, after a phase of frequenting this one, we eventually reverted to my original spot). We had a few dinners at the underground pizza parlor I’d been wanting to try. So many new businesses came to town, too. We did trivia nights at a pub that specializes in meatballs. We took visitors to a trendy pizzeria (yes, another one). We tried both new cafes that opened on the same block. The brewery became one of our favorite haunts. And most weekends, we would get breakfast sandwiches and doughnuts from the shop down the street, the best we’ve ever had. The downtown area is up-and-coming, as my realtor had promised.

Then we got mugged at gunpoint.

I recovered, but my husband didn’t. And who could blame him? He hadn’t spent years here, hadn’t fallen in love with the city the way I had. I chose Rahway; my husband didn’t. He was only here for me. After having the baby, other issues started piling up. He would never feel safe letting our child play outside. His commute was too long and full of traffic. The condo was too small if we were to have another kid. The school district isn’t good enough. So here we are.

Our new town is supposed to have an excellent food scene, too. We live a few minutes’ walk from an enormous park, bigger than the one in Rahway with the lake. My husband’s commute is significantly shorter, which also means our baby spends less time confined to a car seat going to and from daycare. The school district is better. In almost every possible way, this is an amazing move for our family. Yet I can’t help feeling sad and heavy-hearted. There is so much I will miss about Rahway. No matter how many beautiful new memories we create here, Rahway will always be important to me as the first place I chose to live as a Real Grown-up, where I was living when I became a gym rat, partied the hell out of my mid-twenties, started working in the big city, met my husband, and took my baby home from the hospital. Rahway, I love you.

Routine

At our baby shower, my husband and I received over forty children’s books. To prepare for the baby’s arrival, I relegated my own volumes to the lower shelves of our cabinet, and carefully arranged his new ones alphabetically by author on the higher, more accessible shelves. This was my first act of putting the baby before myself. And I thought, This is the beginning.

As parents, we instinctively put our children’s needs before our own. We feed them before ourselves, unless we are about to faint. When they are upset, we cast aside any discomfort we may be feeling to focus on making them feel better. We keep them entertained during their awake windows and postpone all else—chores, hobbies, bonding time as a couple, our own rest—until they are asleep.

On weekdays, I leave the office at 5:00 pm, but don’t get to unwind until three to four hours later—after I’ve commuted home, whipped up and scarfed down dinner, played with the baby, fed him, bathed him, administered remedies for his eczema, read him a couple stories, bid him good night, turned off the light in his room, thrown in a load of laundry, eaten dinner, and washed the dishes. Generally in that order, although it isn’t uncommon for my dinner to wait until after lights-out. My calendar indicates I lose an hour a day to pumping, but let’s be realistic: it’s more than that. Minutes seep through the cracks of context switching, and pre- and post-meeting intervals when there isn’t enough time to dive into a more complex effort. I often wind up working one to three additional hours in the evenings to make up the time. It’s also because I don’t want anyone, least of all myself, thinking people become less dedicated to work once they become mothers.

That leaves me with maybe one hour, on average, to relax with my husband before we have to go to sleep and do it all again.

It helps to work from home twice a week. I save two hours from my commute and get some time alone. But it is still so damn hard. As much as I find everything about my baby the cutest and the best—as much as I love watching him eat, giggle at our interactions, splash in the bath, and discover the world around him—the weekdays really wear me down. I have to keep reminding myself that it is only temporary. Only five nights in a week, and then we get two whole days to go out and play. In a few more weeks, the baby will feed himself better (hopefully). In a few more months, I will stop pumping, and work will be easier (also hopefully). In a few years, the kid’s bedtime will be later, and we will be able to do more together in the evenings.

The last real fun I had was in mid-September, when I went on a work trip to California. I didn’t have part of my brain constantly counting the minutes I had to make it to the station for a train that would get me home by a certain time. Instead of hurrying home after work for the bedtime routine, I could socialize with fellow adults. Best of all, when I went to bed, I didn’t worry that the baby might wake up and cry in the middle of the night. The last night of the trip, we had dinner, S’mores, and an open bar out on the beach. The party then continued in the hotel hot tub and at the bar. It reminded me of earlier, carefree, spontaneous days. Maybe it’s sad that it happened on a work trip, but I felt warmer and fuzzier than I had in a long time. Without a baby to hold or watch, or a babysitter to relieve, I could almost fully enjoy myself.

I think it’s telling, though, that I haven’t for a moment regretted such a lifestyle upheaval. I do have periods of uncertainty, stress, and feeling overwhelmed. But other than that, I only find myself looking forward to when my baby will be just a little older, so he can enjoy things like S’mores on the beach with us. It is so rewarding to see how much he’s developed and learned in only nine months, and exciting to imagine all the years he has ahead.

These tough parts are only temporary.