Sunday, January 8, 2012

Actually, I Don't Really Know What I'm Doing

My family and I are fresh off the boat from our post-Christmas, mid-New Year's trip to Taiwan with "Babu," their Chinese grandmother (and my Mom). It's nearing noon and the children are still passed out, slung out on couches and chairs in the living room, after several failed attempts to rouse them and get them right-side up (or upside down) with the time. Looks like we'll definitely miss the first day of post-vacation school. Oh well.

A wonderful, whirlwind trip--which I'll share more of in later posts--but a recent theme of mine, "I don't really know what I'm doing" was prevalent for me at key moments on the journey. And it's quite true, friends. Actually, I don't really know what I'm doing. I don't know what I'm doing as a wife, as a daughter, as a parent. As anything, really.

Which is not to say that I am not enjoying being a wife, mother, daughter. Not to say that it's not often terrific, lovely, completing, transcendent and fun. It's just that it's quite clear to me, at moments, that I am lost and it all feels particularly hard--if not impossible; it seems I'm making an unsolvable mess of everything, and worst of all, ruining my children somehow.

Take for example the first moments of walking into our fab suite at a terribly luxe hotel (we had saved money via staying at some grungy but quite passable one and two star spots early on) at Sun Moon Lake, somewhat akin to our Lake Tahoe here in California. My eldest daughter immediately became terribly excited, overwrought almost, and immediately began to claim territory, including the only private room in the suite (with a door that closed) and a private bathroom just for her and her sister.

Well, this would not work. We had my mother and husband to think about. So Ali and her little sis were relegated to the master suite (open to the central living area) with a king bed and glass sliding doors to a massive bath, views of the lake, a central, stand alone tub encased in granite, and a double concrete sink. But this was not enough. No suitcases, she declared, would go in her room and no one was to come in, nor use the gorgeous bath, which was, by all rights, hers and her sisters alone. We grownups had the other bathroom; so that should be fair.

"And finally, selfishly, honestly, I really wanted to take a bath in that wild tub."

I was having a hard time with all of this, as you might imagine. In her words and actions, I suddenly saw Ali as a tyrannical Diva in her mid-twenties, entitled, spoiled, alienating all her friends as she claimed all the choicest options in life for herself. She would end up alone! All alone! And finally, selfishly, honestly, I really wanted to take a bath in that wild tub. My husband, on the other hand, had his head on straight.

"She's just excited," he said. "Let her calm down and we'll work this all out."

Well that went in like a the faintest glance of dew on a Gortex jacket. I should have just plopped my bags on the highly polished wood floor and laid down for a few brief moments, or rather many, many more moments to enjoy the view and let Ali get used to these new digs and the reality of our situation. But in my worry and agitation, I wound up on Alia's bed trying to talk some sense into her, when she told me that no one was allowed in her room, including me.

"Listening, hearing, understanding were not in place for either of us at that moment."

"Alright then, I'm leaving," I fumed. And I abruptly stood up and retreated to my lesser room. I said this in a tone (hurt, vengeful) that should be reserved just for adults--who can usually handle such tones. Ali came tearfully, apologetic, after me (what child can bear to feel they've lost their mother's love, even if only for a second?) and I proceeded to explain to her that this hotel was quite expensive, that we can't always have everything we want, that there are others to consider, etc. etc. But listening, hearing, understanding were not in place for either of us in the moment, and my darling, beloved, over-excited little girl wound up sitting by herself on the exquisitely tiled shower stall floor with the frosted glass door shut, crying.

It was one of those overly psychological moments that you never imagine having with your seven-year-old.

It's even painful to recount this story, this embarrassing episode of poor motherhood. And worst of all is that after her father turned the television on for the two girls to watch in their bed, I caught Ali sucking her thumb, something she has not done since the age of three.


So, to summarize, Ali continued to be somewhat obnoxious and wary the next day and I ... the best I could do was to fling my mental, emotional and spiritual hands up in the air.

"My God," I wailed silently to the lake, the distant mountains--all as if out of a painting in a fantastical Asian story book--"I don't know what I'm doing!"

The best I could do for the next couple days was to try to enjoy this fancy resort (which I did!), to stay somewhat quiet and to try to remember what was pure and good about my child. It was a struggle. Sometimes, I have to pretend, as a mom. I remember a good friend of mine once saying to me, in an embarrassed, ashamed voice,

"Sometimes I just don't like my child."

I loved that he said it. So I said it too.

"I think sometimes we all don't like our children," I replied. And yet, we do love them, somehow. How freeing to admit this--the hopelessness, the helplessness--of parenthood, sometimes.

I spent a lot of time in the very impressive Lalu library and read books with Ali when she crawled in next to me on the divan, seeking acceptance and attention. I did not really want to. I was annoyed, frightened, feeling awkward as a mom, wanting to somehow escape the role entirely. But I did read with her. We went biking. That was fun. I hugged and kissed her, hoping not too much, actually.

Intention, prayer, giving up all ideas that one knows anything at all about how to love this child, how to raise this child, taking my focus off the problem, actually--this is all that has ever worked for me. Trusting, as I wrote in the dedication to The Spark Inside, that wisdom always finds a way.

On the last night of our trip, we traveled by cab to Longshan temple in bustling Taipai. The exterior waterfall was lovely and inside, hundreds of entities stood in somewhat dusty, encased silence to be worshipped and prayed to. Incense smoke threatened to choke us all, and platters of food and fruits weighed down offering tables. Central to all was the golden statue of Quan Yin, female incarnation of the Buddha for some, goddess of mercy and compassion. I am not one for idols, and many of the prayers and activities here are of a superstitious nature--throwing smooth wooden, banana-shaped sticks for decision making purposes, asking for "things" and circumstances people think they want, or need.

"I needed someone else to step in and be the parent, the constant giver, for a moment, for a day, or more."

Ali said an interesting thing, after she asked what everyone there was doing.

"They are praying to these different Gods," I said.

"Well that's weird, because we all are God!" she replied.

"Yes," I said laughing. But I had fallen into another mood--impatient, feeling the need for space, distance, alone-ness. I needed someone else to step in and be the parent, the constant giver, for a moment, for a day ... or more!

I told my husband, "I'm going off by myself for a minute," and I did. I went to the statue of Quan Yin. And although I did not prostrate myself, I set my palms together in prayer position, closed my eyes, and I prayed.

"I don't know what I'm doing," I said again. "Please help."

Later, Ali asked me what I had done.

"I was praying," I said.

"You were?"

"Yes," I said. "Since God is everywhere, is everything, sometimes it's nice to have a little focus, something to pray to, knowing actually you are praying to God, God inside you and God everywhere."

"What did you pray for?"

"I prayed for wisdom, a clear mind, a better way of seeing things," I said.

"Did God answer you?" she asked.

"No. God did not answer me right away. But I do always get an answer, sometimes later. I get an answer when my mind is quiet. Do you know what I mean?"

She did not answer, but I could tell she was contemplating it all.

By the next day, something had shifted. Nothing dramatic. More like the feeling of having a toasty quilt pulled over you when you don't realize just how cold you have become. My husband woke up with a terrible muscle spasm in his neck, and was in no shape for parenting or anything, really. It was almost too much for him to have to carry luggage.

In a space of renewed quietude, love for my children came flowing out of me like the natural Formosa warm springs we had been soaking in; and I was able to mother, nurture, and keep my daughters fed and entertained through a three-hour flight into Tokyo, and a four-hour layover that was painfully extended by a two-hour delay at the Narita airport. Somehow, we enjoyed the whole thing. Alia had completely stopped sucking on the sleeves of her jacket and strands of her hair (which is normal for her when she is anxious or bored). She played with her sister quietly, imaginatively, for hours.

She's a loving girl, a sensitive and highly emotional girl. She cares deeply about her family and is extremely loyal to all of us. She has loads of energy and excitement and terribly grand ideas. She is seven, after all.

Later on, I don't remember when, nor whether on this side or the other side of the Pacific, of today or yesterday, she said to me:

"You're the best Mom ever!"


And I replied:

"You know, I think that I am sometimes good, and sometimes not so good, but the important thing is that I love you very, very much."


This blog is for all you very real parents and caregivers out there. Human beings just like me.

With Love from your

Mystical (and human!) Mama


Antonio Luis Gómez Molero said...

Dear Ami,

What a relief to listen to your story. I´ve just had one of my worst days as a parent. Feeling judgmental, vengative and really not fit for the role.You remind me of how we lose ourselves in our little dramas, how we lose track of our own divinity and get lost in our made up separatedness. Thank you for sharing this.



Ami Chen Mills-Naim said...

Hello, Antonio!

Yes. Aren't we all not fit for the role at all, and yet also perfectly fit in the grand scheme of things?

Thank you for sharing, too.

Lots of Love!

Marilyn Wendler said...

What a beautiful story, Ami! It brought to my mind all those moments when I was raising my son, now in his 50s, and those when my mom and I were struggling with our imagined differences. An endless chain, and we are all links. Perfect in our imperfections.

Unknown said...

Such a beautifully rendered story, Ami. I found myself wanting to read more, getting lost in the world you were creating with your words, as I do when reading a very good novel.


Ami Chen Mills-Naim said...

"Perfect in our imperfections."

--I love that Marilyn. Thanks for your comment, and yours Maureen, whose opinion on literary matters I respect so very much. Write on!