perspective

the only time we have

Noah is in Colombia this week. I’ve been so excited for him ever since he was invited to go.

I consider myself a strong, powerful, capable woman. But I got married to spend the rest of my life with my husband, so when he’s gone, I feel like part of me is missing. When he’s away, I eat a lot of snacks and watch a lot of TV and have a lot of emotions. Before he left, I asked him to download several movies for me and I signed up for a free month of Hulu. But I’m not watching any movies and I canceled my subscription early.

I don’t want to waste my time.

I’m not a “busy mom.” Some people need to leave the house every day or they’ll go stir crazy, but I really like my home (and I really don’t like wearing pants, which are often necessary when going out in public). There have been times in the past when my days are over-scheduled and there will be times in the future when I’ll have more commitments. Right now, I don’t need to create more things to do.

When my days aren’t filled with plans, there is time and space to be in the moment.

Atlas and I are on a babymoon of sorts. Traditionally, a babymoon is a romantic vacation you take with your partner before you become parents. Atlas and I are on an intimate staycation before he becomes a big brother. We get dressed together, we eat together, we bathe together. We read more books (or the same book, many times), take longer walks, and play for hours just because we can.

This is the last time that it will be just us.

Atlas has my complete and undivided attention. No one else to care for, no one else to consider. We’re celebrating our last hurrah by doing special things we don’t normally do. Like going on dates. Wearing matching headbands. Swimming at the neighborhood pool. Visiting the botanical gardens. I also cut Atlas’ hair (and had no idea what I was doing, poor kid). But mostly I’m just savoring the one-on-one time with my little boy.

Parenting a toddler is tiring, especially being 8 months pregnant. If I let myself, I can easily get caught up with the weariness of daily mundane tasks. I can feel lonely without many friends and frustrated with my direct sales business. When I’m single parenting, I can feel withdrawn and overwhelmed. But I can also look at it another way.

This is the only time I have.

The only time I’m a graduate wife with a young family. The only summer Atlas is 1 year old. The only month left before Phoebe is born. Motherhood helps me stay present and appreciate the twinkling moments of time that promise to pass as quickly as the rest. Next month, Noah and I will celebrate our 5 year anniversary. I will turn 29. I will have a baby. And then there will be a new adjustment, a new rhythm, a new normal.

“The days are long, but the seasons are short.” Oh, but the days! These precious days are the only days we have, never to be seen again. And I treasure them.

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What is special about your current season? How can you savor the time you have?

 

the secret to happiness

My whole life I have tried to prove that I am not a victim, but I have ended up carrying more of a victim mentality than I ever knew. It is common for people to view themselves as victims of negative experiences, but I have more consistently been a victim of success. I guess I was something of a child piano prodigy, but only because I’m Asian. I was valedictorian, but only because my peers were not very smart. I went to one of the best colleges in the country, but only because it was the only school to which I was accepted. I received a Fulbright fellowship, but only because the country I applied to had favorable statistics.

I was convinced I had never done and could never do “hard things.” I used to travel a lot, but only because it was fun and flying was free (my father is a flight attendant), and it does not take much effort or courage to live in a different country. You aren’t achieving anything; you are just living. There is nothing impressive about taking advantage of free opportunities.

When I got married, my victim spirit rose to the surface. I was depressed for the first few months and hated my life, and blamed Noah for much of it. This past winter, I was quite sad. I struggled with thinking I didn’t have any dreams, any hobbies, any prospects in life. I didn’t think I had any skills, any talent, anything to offer. During spring break, without a car and not able to spend money, I felt especially stuck. I realized that since my childhood, I had developed a victim mindset that was intertwined with low self-esteem and a sense of hopelessness.

A week later, I started teaching. Though many factors were at play, a significant element in my newly acquired aversion to the classroom was that there were not enough hours in the day to do my job sufficiently. It was impossible for me to meet my own standard, and it was too hard to revise my philosophy on teaching in that environment without sacrificing my own ethics on education, so I concluded that I was not a good teacher, and I might as well just give up.

Then I read Brian Klemmer’s teaching* on responsibility, in which he introduces the idea that we are “at cause” for everything we experience, and it changed everything. Klemmer writes:

The victim and responsible viewpoints have nothing to do with the truth, but everything to do with what we experience. Hold yourself responsible for everything, not because it is true, but because of the exciting possibilities that the viewpoint creates. When looking at [something] from the responsible viewpoint, where you are ‘at cause’ for your experiences out of the choices you have made, solutions become possible. (64-66)

Being responsible does not mean I am at fault — it has nothing to do with it. Every time I want to put the blame on someone or something else, and claim to be the victim of my schedule, my job, the government, or any other circumstance, I end up feeling annoyed or sad. Every time I am tempted to say, “I have to,” I take away my options. When I say, “I choose to,” I gain power and freedom.

For example, this morning we were late for work. I blamed Noah for making us late because he decided to make coffee at 7:55 when we have a staff meeting at 8:00. When we finally left, I was obviously frustrated, which caused him to feel hurt and walk slower than usual. We did not have time to talk before class started, but after the students were dismissed at the end of the day, he apologized. I forgave him, but I did not see any reason to apologize for anything until long after Noah went to Friday night church service without me and I sat in my usual corner of my red sofa, pondering the events of the day.

I can easily remain a victim of Noah’s decisions to make coffee and walk slowly, or, with a little effort, I can see how I made choices that contributed to this situation:

  • I chose to value punctuality over loving my husband
  • I chose to walk to work with him, instead of walking on my own
  • I chose to be impatient, which created a stressful environment in our home and caused Noah to feel disrespected and dishonored
  • I chose to make Noah breakfast and make our lunches
  • I chose to not wake us up as early as I usually do
  • I chose to not go to bed earlier
  • I chose to go to work today
  • I chose to have a job
  • I chose to marry Noah, which was one of the best decisions in my life

Sometimes it takes a while. Today it took all day, but I am learning to be responsible. With each choice, I am less angry and more happy. Life is choosing to live.

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Note: This is not to ignore facts and deny that people are hurt and mistreated and made victims all the time. However, being victimized does not have to remain someone’s identity; there are still choices, e.g., forgive or hold onto bitterness and resentment. Although taking the responsible viewpoint is about perspective and not about finding truth, the purpose is to see solutions and find freedom from feeling trapped in a situation. For example, sometimes responsibility is choosing to be at cause in the healing process and not fearing the past.

*Brian Klemmer, If How-To’s Were Enough We Would All Be Skinny, Rich & Happy, Oklahoma: Insight Publishing Group, 2005.