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!

Hopes

Dear D,

As I watch you sleep, I wonder how you will grow and change in the years to come. I hope you turn out to be fun, outgoing, thoughtful, supportive, and analytical like your father. May you be creative, adventurous, organized, interested in cooking, and a bookworm like me.

Like any reasonable parent, I hope you do well in school and get a good job. Unlike the stereotypical Asian mom, though, I don’t care if you want to be a doctor, lawyer, tech bro, rapper, DMV clerk—as long as you can live happily by your own means. Oh, and as long as you don’t join a pyramid scheme, because then you would no longer be any child of mine.

More importantly, I hope you lead a life of fulfillment, be it from your job, relationships, hobbies, or something else. There should be something that makes you look forward to each new day. I hope you are proud and confident.

I know this means we have a lot of lines to tread carefully. As someone who grew up with a narcissistic parent, I occasionally find myself echoing certain harmful mindsets or behaviors on my own motherhood journey. I am still not done unpacking all the internalized toxicity, and I am trying to be cognizant of potentially passing it on.

So I hope I am always patient, kind, understanding, and generous with you. I hope I never make you feel bad for something outside your knowledge or control. I hope I show you the respect you deserve as your own unique person, even if you don’t turn out to be anything like us. Especially if you don’t. I hope to foster a bond with you that my parents never did with me.

I hope you perceive me as your cheerleader, not your ringleader. I hope you feel comfortable talking to us, your parents, about anything good or bad going on in your life. I hope you trust, respect, and value us. I hope you feel loved.

We have loved you so, so much since day one, and always will.

Pregnancy

I always thought I would really, really hate being pregnant. As a teenager, I was afflicted by wrenching menstrual cramps that knocked me out of commission at least one day per month and often made me vomit. Aleve offered only partial pain relief. Stewed dates—”ancient Chinese medicine,” I called it, imitating the uncle from the 2000s TV show Jackie Chan Adventures—helped more, but the taste made me feel sick in a different way. I had an ultrasound to look for signs of endometriosis or some other disorder; there were none. My female parts felt inexplicably, unsolvably broken.

My mother was unsympathetic, even impatient. “This is just what it means to be a woman,” she would say. “Pregnancy is much, much worse.”

Somehow, magically, it has not come close. The worst and weirdest aspect so far was pregnancy gingivitis, which caused a section of my gums to swell so much that I had to get it sliced off. In my first trimester, I had a few bouts of queasiness, fatigue, and mild aversion to certain foods. Now in my third trimester, I have a lot of aches and pains in my legs, and it is definitely wearisome to be so bulky. All this is tolerable, though. Overall, my pregnancy has been pretty smooth. No cramps, vomiting, heartburn, constipation, insomnia, varicose veins, high blood pressure, placenta previa, gestational diabetes, or injuries. Guess my anatomy isn’t so screwed-up, after all.

We have learned so much during this journey. My husband has accompanied me to every doctor’s appointment and prenatal class. Together, we researched baby supplies, diapering methods, labor stages, breastfeeding, and more. We watched our creation grow from a tiny avocado pit to a humanoid with wildly flailing limbs… to a body too big to fit on an ultrasound screen, with the most adorable face ever rendered by 3D imaging software.

I did not know fetuses moved so much in the womb, nor did I expect to find the movements so fascinating and endearing. I had previously only heard others talk about kicks. I have since learned firsthand that there are also wiggles, punches, stretches, and even hiccups. It is surreal to watch your belly shift and undulate on its own, and to feel a little fist here or leg there. My husband loves touching my belly, too. He swears he is able to play a call-and-response game with our new buddy. It is sweet to see how much he is embracing his upcoming role as a father.

As eager as we are to meet the baby, I know I’ll miss carrying him around in me and feeling these motions. I am keeping him completely warm and safe for now, but soon he will have to face coldness and hunger and a whirlwind of confusing stimuli in the real world. I know also that everything will be totally different for my husband and me going forward. We got pregnant so soon after getting married. It would have been nice to have more time together, just the two of us. But this is going to be fun, I think. Part of me is surprisingly a bit sad about this part of the journey coming to a close, but I am really, really excited for the next.

Year-end Reflections

Every year around my birthday and Thanksgiving, I like to write a piece reflecting on all that transpired that year, how I’ve grown, and what I’d like to accomplish the following year. I missed that window in 2018, so here I am trying to collect my thoughts on New Year’s Day.

Normally, I would be beating myself up over it. I tend to set certain standards of productivity and achievement for myself, and get bitterly upset when I fail to meet them. I am learning to lighten up, though. Nobody else cares if I share a summary of my year on December 31 or January 1. I used to be so inordinately preoccupied with making all these pieces and processes of my life—even mundane ones like cooking or laundry—come together in a prompt, seamless series. Well, I still love that feeling when things are timed well, but I am finally realizing the stress to make that happen isn’t always worth it.

I am also coming to accept that sometimes people suffer even when they have done everything possible or right. I think there’s this Asian, or at least Chinese, mentality that bad things only happen to those who don’t try hard enough. When you grow up with this constant messaging, you feel the need to be “on” all the time. You might be less empathetic toward others. Failure, accidents, and traumatic events feel so much more frightening and disorienting because they aren’t “supposed” to happen to you. In hindsight, sure, there is always something you could have done differently or better. However, often other people (or nature, or physics, or something else totally out of our control) are just shitty and there is nothing you can do about that. You could be walking down the street, minding your own business and not doing anything flashy, and get mugged. Or you could be posting your little essays on a personal blog, when a creepy fan comes along and compels you to give up the site you’ve had for years and move to a new one so he can’t follow your stuff anymore.

Not everything can be fair, even if you fight really hard to make it so. Sometimes the fight can make it worse.

But if getting mugged and having to get a new blog were the worst things to happen to me in 2018, I consider myself very fortunate. Overall, I had a lot of positive experiences. I have been flourishing at the job I started in December 2017, meeting great people and working on interesting, gratifying projects. I performed at Carnegie Hall and had a poem published in an independent magazine. I got married to someone who makes me happier than I would have ever imagined possible. We traveled to Iceland, Hawaii, Catalina Island, and Chicago. We celebrated friends’ weddings, birthdays, and successes. We tried our hand at playing the theremin, writing a short screenplay, blowing glass, and cooking many recipes. And now we are expecting a baby in just a few weeks.

Going forward, I’d like to pick up writing more frequently again. Everyone says I will have no time for anything except the baby, but who knows?—perhaps it will actually give me more inspiration. Part of me didn’t want to do it anymore because of the aforementioned creepy fan, but my soul starts to feel empty when I go too long without writing. I’d also like to be a better listener and friend, which is basically what I say every year but nonetheless always holds true. I don’t want to be one of those parents who only talk about parenting. I love hearing about what others are doing with their lives, and supporting however I can.

Hope everyone else had a great 2018 and has an even better 2019!