Emotional anchors: Learning to grow up

I’m at the age now when many of my friends are having kids. I get to see babies grow and walk and talk, marveling at how quickly they change. My friends tell me that parenthood is hard, even painful, but also full of joy. I’m happy for my friends, and excited to see their kids grow up. My friends are also excited to see their kids get older, to see them go to school, make friends, and explore the world.

It’s exciting, but also bittersweet. Because as kids get older, parenting changes. When children are young, they rely on their parents as their primary emotional anchors. In fact, it’s natural for parents to serve as their babies’ primary emotional caretakers, just as they serve as their primary physical caretakers. Yet as children get older, their emotional needs become more complex. They enter into worlds that are completely foreign to their parents. They have experiences, emotions, and ideas that they can’t share with their parents, or at least not share fully. It’s not because children don’t love their parents; rather, as kids get older, having their parents involved sometimes makes things more complicated. For parents who are used to having their kids come to them for everything, that’s hard. For parents who taught their kids how to say “Momma, Dadda” to now hear their kids say, “Mom, Dad, I want to tell you what’s going on, but I can’t”…that must be hard.

What’s especially hard is when your kids are going through pain, but you can’t fix it. When your kids are young and they get a cut or feel sad or lonely, they come to you, and you help them feel better. But as they get older, they get cuts and wounds and pain that aren’t yours to heal. In fact, if you get involved, it would only make things harder. So you need to step back and let your kids’ friends and community and partners get involved. In that moment, you can’t help but remember when your kids were first born, when you held them close. Your friend said, “Can I hold them?”, but you hesitated, wondering if your friend will be careful. Now someone else is holding them and drying their tears, and it’s hard for you.

I’ve had to learn this for myself with my parents. I love my parents dearly. And it’s because I love them that I had to learn that they can’t be my sole emotional anchor anymore. I can’t rely on them to give me everything I need, just as I can’t rely on any one relationship to give me everything I need. I still go to my parents, but they are now part of a rich web of other relationships. If I still relied on my parents as my sole source of emotional fulfillment, then that would be a dysfunctional and disastrous relationship.

As kids get older, they need to grow up, but parents need to grow up too. Parents need to learn to let go of their kids. Because one day, sooner than you would like, you won’t be there for them anymore. There will come a day in which they will say, “Mom, Dad, I wish you were here”, and you won’t be able to hear them. You want to make sure that they are ready for that day, that they have friends and community and partners to help them. For one day, you won’t be there as their anchor anymore. On that day, you want them not to sink, but to sail on without you, carried by the love of others.

Ask Good Questions: Responding to exciting news that gets you feeling uneasy

Have you ever had an acquaintance come up to you with some big news, and you didn’t know how to respond? You could tell that they were excited, but you didn’t know what to say.

Like if your coworker, who constantly fights with her boyfriend, says that they are moving in together. She’s thrilled, but you don’t think it’s a good idea. Yet how can you tell her that?

Or a classmate with shaky finances says that he is going to Las Vegas for his birthday. He’s super pumped about the trip, and you don’t want to get him down by telling him not to go.

In these situations, you may not feel inclined to rejoice, but you don’t feel comfortable voicing your concerns. What do you say?

I find that when people share exciting news, they’re not looking for the other person to also get excited. They are looking for someone to validate their feelings. “Here’s what happened to me, and here’s how it is affecting my feelings.” Instead of faking excitement, you can say, “Wow! That sounds like big news. Tell me more.” You shift the conversation from shared emotion to interest in the other person.

This approach is especially useful for thorny situations in which folks hold deeply rooted beliefs (hoo boy). For example, if you believe that marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman, and your coworker says that she is marrying her partner, you may not feel ready to celebrate. But you can ask questions and express a genuine interest in your colleague. Or if you are an atheist and your classmate shares that he is baptizing his infant son, you may inwardly think that your classmate is telling lies to his kid, but you feel uncomfortable saying so. You can ask questions and engage.

Now, some may bristle at these examples. Some may say “You garbage person! You should feel happy for other people, regardless of what you believe!” But I maintain that you can’t tell people what to feel. Some people will respond to news with joy. Others will respond with sadness, or anger, or mixed emotion. Feelings are our knee jerk responses to events, based on our beliefs. Now, you can challenge the beliefs that undergird the feelings, but it doesn’t do much good to tell people what to feel. They’ll just get defensive about it.

Some may say, “I’m just going to speak my mind. If I think it’s wrong, then I’m going to tell them!” And if it’s your friend, maybe they’ll listen. But if you’re talking to acquaintances, how can you expect your words to change their minds? You don’t have that level of relationship yet. People will only open their hearts to you if they trust you. If you speak your mind without winning their hearts, you risk losing the relationship.

Some may say, “I don’t want to be friends with people who won’t be honest with me about how they really feel.” That’s fine, you can choose your friends. But that’s why in my examples, I referred to coworkers and classmates. You don’t need to be super buddies with everyone. But you need to get along with your team. After all, you’ll need everyone’s help to write that TPS report.

TL;DR – When coworkers, classmates, and casual acquaintances share news that excites them, but has you feeling uneasy, ask them to tell you more. You don’t need to fake excitement or walk away awkwardly. Engage, and show that you are interested in what they have to say. The goal isn’t for the other person to say “You were just as excited as I was about what happened.” The goal is to have them say “Thank you for listening.”

One Year Mark

Yesterday was graduation day for the University of Chicago Law School Class of 2017. That means it’s been a year since I’ve graduated. In this past year, I have:
 
– Moved from Chicago to LA to study for the bar exam.
– Took, and passed, the bar exam.
– Traveled to Philadelphia to help my brother start his pre-med post-bac program.
– Moved from LA to the San Francisco Bay Area.
– Started a new job in San Francisco, in which I directed a legal services program and worked to fight the criminalization of homelessness.
– Participated in a leadership training course with my church.
– Got a new job in Berkeley that I’m starting tomorrow.
 
I’ve also learned some major lessons:
 
– Self-care is important to avoid burnout.
– My attention to detail is a strength, but I need to focus on the big issues.
– If a client yells at me, it’s not just about me.
– Feedback can be painful, but is crucial to growth.
– Mistakes are a given, but learning from them is not.
– It’s OK to be a kid. I don’t always have to be super serious.
– God is good. Life is hard.

A day in downtown LA

Today, I got to explore downtown LA with my family. We live in a suburb, and don’t go downtown much, since driving is such a pain. So this time, we took the Metro.
 
We started with lunch at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse. My mom, dad, and brother had never had Brazilian food before, and they really liked it. We stuck to the buffet, since we didn’t want to shell out for the full “all-the-meat-you-can-eat” experience. I missed eating Brazilian rice, feijoada, and farofa, and found them delicious as always. My dad really liked the cheese bread (pão de queijo). When we told the waiter that we were celebrating my new job, he provided a complimentary dessert, papaya cream (papaya blended with vanilla ice cream). Smooth and not too sweet, it was the perfect way to finish a very hearty meal.
 
We set out for the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which my mom has never seen. On the way, we stopped by the Central Library. Inside, we checked out a Mexican art exhibit (it was actually for art used for Mexican textbook covers). I noticed that three men appeared again and again on the covers: Miguel Hidalgo, Benito Juarez, and Francisco Madero. I don’t know much about Mexican history, so I made a note to spend some time learning about these key figures.
 
We passed by the MOCA and the Broad (the museums will have to wait for another day) and arrived at the Concert Hall. We ascended the stairs and strolled through the public park. Even though the Concert Hall is right next to a busy street, the park is quiet.
 
After we rested for a bit, we ventured into Grand Park. We came across a large reflecting pool, shallow enough to walk on. I played in the pool with my dad and my brother, kicking around the water. The pool reminded me of the reflecting pool at my law school; sometimes, I would dance in that pool.
 
We left the park and entered the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, a beautiful building filled with light. My favorite part of the cathedral is the set of tapestries in the hall (the nave). The tapestries depict saints from throughout time and place, all gazing intently toward the altar. The tapestries remind me of the worldwide community that centers on Christ.
 
Our final stop was Grand Central Market. At this point, we weren’t hungry for dinner, and were ready to head home. My brother got a beer, and I got some ice cream from McConnell’s (black coffee chocolate chip and earl gray tea with shortbread). We finished our snacks, took the Metro back home, and went to get some Korean food at our local Korean supermarket.
 
All told, an excellent day!

This post is about blood

I have a briefcase that I take to work. I carry my documents, my lunch, and an assortment of various items. I have pens, hand sanitizer, a mirror, a cell phone battery charger. I always like to be prepared. I also have a tampon. Specifically, I have a Tampax tampon that I got in the bathroom of a Southwest Airlines plane. The bathroom also had boxes of pads, but those were too bulky for my briefcase.

When I tell people I have a tampon, the first question they always ask is “Why?!” But tampons are pretty useful to have around. They are highly absorbent and sterile, so they are useful for makeshift bandages. Plus, you never know when you’ll need a tampon. I don’t expect women to mention to me that they need feminine hygiene products, but if they do, I want to be ready to help.

The tampon in my bag is also a great way to start conversations. After all, menstruation is a tough topic. As a guy, I still feel a bit uncomfortable simply saying the word “menstruating”. People say that I’m weird for carrying around a tampon. But am I the one that’s weird, or is the way that we talk about menstruation weird?

After all, menstruation happens all the time. It’s a critical part of the female reproductive cycle. It’s not like it’s some rare condition that only happens to a few people. Chances are, someone reading this right now is on her period, and has blood coming out of her vagina. Now, I don’t make it my business to go around and try to guess who is on her cycle, because then I would get punched in the face (and rightly so). And it’s not my place to educate women about “how to menstruate” (and if I did, I would get punched in the face). But I would like to do what I can to help other guys feel less awkward about it. Hopefully, by talking about menstruation, I can help demystify it. I can encourage guys to support women on their cycles, to not feel embarrassed to buy pads at the store, and to quit making quips like, “Geez, you’re crabby. What, is it that time of the month?”

I don’t know…Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I shouldn’t carry this tampon around, and not talk about menstruation like it’s an ordinary thing that happens to so many people. Maybe I should go back to remaining ignorant about menstruation, and treat it with ickiness. Maybe I really am being weird. If there’s something I’m missing, please let me know! I’m always looking to learn.

For the time being, if you need a tissue, an ibuprofen, hand sanitizer, chopsticks, a pen, or a tampon, just ask! No need to feel embarrassed about it. I’m happy to help.

#nofilter

I have a magic button on my phone. This button has the special power to make me feel both happy and sad. Even though I hate it, I still keep on pushing that button.
 
That button, of course, is Facebook. While I’m waiting in line, or laying on my bed, or on the train, I pull out my phone. Without thinking, my finger gravitates to the Facebook app. Immediately, I am flooded with news from people around the world.
 
Some of that news brings me joy. Oh my gosh, they’re finally engaged! Yay, she’s having a baby! Woo-hoo, he graduated! When I read this news, I get to celebrate with another person’s joy.
 
Other news gets me down. Geez, she’s really having a hard time with school. Wow, I didn’t know his dad had cancer. Oh no, she lost her job. When I read this news, I get to share in another person’s tragedy.
 
But I notice something strange. Sometimes, I read someone’s news or see their pictures about some amazing experience they are having. “Look! I’m in Hawaii! Look! I’m at a party! Look! I have abs! Look!!!” And I feel worse about myself. I start to compare myself to those in my news feed. I’m not in Hawaii. I’m not at a party. I don’t have visible abs. The more I look at other people’s lives, the worse I feel about my own.
 
The truth is, I have a good life. I have a family that loves me. I have a new job. I have a great education that opens up a lot of doors. I mean, I even have my health, which I know isn’t true for everyone.
 
If I curated my life on Instagram, it would look pretty great. But of course, my life isn’t always great; there is no filter or hashtag to cover up the painful parts. There’s my body-image issues, and my struggles with my weight and acne. There’s the aimlessness I felt after college, as I tried to figure out my career. There’s my frustration of trying to find a job as a public interest attorney. #blessedbutlifeisstilltough
 
The best I can do is to stop obsessing over other people’s lives and focus on my own. I’m making steps to stop pushing that button on my phone. As a practical matter, I’ve installed Metal on my phone, which has a floating notification bar that lets me see Facebook notifications and messages, but doesn’t take me to the newsfeed. This way, I can check if anything needs my attention, without subjecting myself to a bombardment of unnecessary information. I also need to remember that for every picture, the person taking it curated that moment to show life in a particular light. There really is no #nofilter.
 
There’s plenty of life out there to live. I want to stop wasting time looking at someone else’s experience, and start living my own. Don’t worry, I will keep writing here and sharing about what I experience. Hopefully, my words encourage you to experience life for yourself, too!

Kids these days

A few of my friends have newborn babies. I got to see some of the babies yesterday. I try to avoid taking pictures with babies, though. Every time my parents see a picture of me holding a child, my dad asks, “Doesn’t that make you feel like you want one for yourself?” My reply is, “Well, maybe, but I don’t know if my friends are interested in making one just to give to me”.
 
That aside, kids are cute…but it’s a trap! Kids use their cuteness to trap parents and control them. Kids use their cuteness to get their parents to literally put up with their crap every day. And I guess it works!
 
I don’t have a burning desire to have kids. I know some folks who really do, who see parenthood as a core aspiration. That’s not the case for me. One draw about having kids is that the experience would help me understand the world and understand others better. Is that weird? It’s definitely not enough of an incentive to make me hurry up and have kids now.

Bikes!

Around 2009 or so, I bought my first adult bike, a Fuji Sagres. It was a great commuter bike, perfect for getting around Berkeley. I remember when I worked at Google, I would bike all the way down to the West Oakland shuttle stop, just so I could get some exercise before heading down to Mountain View.
 
When I was in Chicago, I got a Hercules cruiser bike. It wasn’t particularly fast, but it was pretty sturdy. The single speed was fine for the flat Chicago topography. I used it to get from my apartment to class. I learned that my lower temperature limit for biking was 10 degrees Fahrenheit. As long as it was above 10 degrees, I could bike to class and be fine. I would notice that at the beginning of the school year in the fall, the bike racks would be crowded with bikes, but by winter, there would be plenty of space.
 
Now that I will be starting a new job in Berkeley, I bought a new bike, a Dahon Mariner D7. I wanted a folding bike because my current apartment doesn’t have a safe place to park the bike. I also appreciated the flexibility that a folding bike would give me in multimodal transit. I can take it on the BART or put it in someone’s car.
 
What I appreciate about bikes is the sense of freedom that they convey. With my bike, I can go so much further than I can by public transit. Even with Uber and Lyft available, my bike is fun, free, and great exercise.
 
I also don’t take this freedom for granted. Some people can’t afford a bike. Some people aren’t physically able to ride a bike. And some people are deathly afraid of sharing the road with cars. I’m looking forward to a future in which there are more freedoms available for these folks too, whether it’s affordable bike shares or mobility adaptations or safer streets. Because transportation equity means that everyone is able to get to where they need to do the things they need in order to thrive.

Working Moms

One last thing regarding Mother’s Day.
 
On Sunday, I visited my brother’s church. During the sermon, the preacher referred to mothers who sacrifice for their families, for how they have “prayed and cooked and cleaned” for others.
 
To that list, I would add “how they have worked”. Not just worked in the home (which is definitely work), but also worked out in the world. My mom was a working mom. She worked as a pharmacist since I was 7 years old. Some of my friends had moms who stayed at home. I wonder if my mom ever questioned her choices and whether she was a good mom by choosing to work. But I gained a lot from her choice to work, and not just financially.
 
My parents had different attitudes to bringing up work at home. My dad almost never talked about his work as an actuary. His philosophy was to leave work at work, and not bring it home. I respect and honor him for his decision.
 
My mom did the opposite. She talked about work a lot at home. At the dinner table, she would talk about her patients, about how busy it was in the hospital, and so on. Through these conversations, I learned a lot about how to navigate difficult workplace conversations. I learned from her example about how to stand up for myself, to persevere, and to work well with others. She was my first model of the working parent, and I learned a lot from her experiences.
 
If I ever become a parent, I want to think about how my experience with work can inform my children’s experience. I want them to see that work isn’t easy, and can be really taxing, but can also be deeply rewarding.

Mother’s Day 2017

Today is Mother’s Day.
 
Mother’s Day is a good day for many people. Mother’s Day is an opportunity to express thanks for the mothers in our lives, for their strength, love, perseverance, and endurance. I made sure to call my mom today and wish her a happy Mother’s Day.
 
That said, I remember that Mother’s Day is also complicated. I sometimes fall into the trap of associating Mother’s Day with a saccharine, romantic view of motherhood, all soft linens and loving hugs and chocolate chip cookies. But motherhood is not a real-life commercial for Pampers or Tide detergent. Mother’s Day is complicated because motherhood is complicated.
 
For some, their biological mothers weren’t available, either by tragedy or by choice. For some children, they celebrate their adopted mothers or grandmothers or maternal figures, yet feel a longing for their biological mother.
 
For others, their mothers were complex or even painful people. For some children, their relationship with their mothers was toxic, or embittered, or codependent. Even as they celebrate the ideals of motherhood, they wrestle with the realities of their own mothers.
 
For some women, Mother’s Day reminds them of a relationship that they cannot have. Some women are unable to have children, because of biology or circumstance. When they see mothers around them receiving recognition, their applause is mixed with their own heartbreak. In fact, I’ve heard that for some, Mother’s Day is the most painful day of the year to go to church, and that some women avoid churches today altogether.
 
And for far too many women, their time of motherhood ended far too quickly. What do you say on Mother’s Day to a mother who has lost her child? What do you say when “Happy Mother’s Day” serves only to remind her of the one she has lost?
 
I know that on days of celebration like today, I feel tempted to avoid talking about these painful or difficult realities, to shut them out. Yet those who are living these realities don’t have that option. I want to celebrate in a way that honors everyone.
 
So I celebrate those mothers that stayed at home and raised their family. May your investment into your children’s lives produce rich rewards for yourself and your community.
 
And I celebrate those mothers that have worked hard, sometimes two or three jobs, to put food on the table. May your children and society honor you for your excellence and faithfulness.
 
And I celebrate those women who were not mothers to physical children, but mothered so many around them. May your heart be filled to overflowing with the love of generations.
 
And I celebrate those mothers whose hearts still break for the children that they have lost. May your souls be comforted, and though life cannot return to what it once was, may you find grace and hope, even in the sorrow.
 
And I celebrate with all those whose relationships with their mothers were rocky or nonexistent. May you have mothers this day to celebrate—if not the mothers that you were given, then mothers that you chose—and find your heart brimming with thankfulness.