Meaningful

This post is brought to you by my typical late night insomnia-driven breakdown.

What’s meaningful in your life? What makes you feel something? Do you talk about it? Do you let people know when they’re meaningful to you?

It’s easy for me to be critical, cynical, or cross. It comes perhaps a little too naturally to deride others and to forget – or ignore – that they’re regular people, just like me. (Some are taller, and therefore intimidating, but let’s call them regular people anyway.) I find it much more challenging to admit that I have real emotions and that I find joy in my life. Expressing pleasure or displeasure is one thing; for me, at least, expressing true joy is another – it requires a degree of vulnerability.

I wanted to take up my Habermas battle cry again and say that we ought to be more forthcoming about what we think and feel; here I’d like to address how we infrequently let others know how meaningful they are, or their experiences are, to us. Of course, there are plenty of indirect ways to communicate this to others, but over the past few weeks I’ve had two instances where I felt a direct statement would be most effective.

First, my neighbor’s sister went into labor halfway into her pregnancy. Her tiny baby boy lived less than 3 hours. It was heartbreaking to hear about; I despaired, thinking that nothing I could do would comfort or help their family in any meaningful way. After making a donation to their medical fund, what possible aid could I give? And yet surely saying nothing was worse than just expressing sorrow and sympathy. Several days ago I was playing outside with the kids when my neighbor’s sister came by. I told her how sorry I was, how much I wanted to help, how deeply I felt for her. I suppose it was just words; I didn’t do anything. But the words seemed to be meaningful to her – and I think it was because they were meaningful to me. I tried to truly convey my feelings, without shielding them in any way. I think we often downplay our tender emotions; they make us vulnerable. In this instance I was fairly unconcerned about my own vulnerability. I just wanted to let her know that I was beginning to understand the admonition to mourn with those who mourn.

Second, one of my closest friends had her first baby and we went to the hospital to visit them. I’d been thinking a lot about what motherhood means to me. It really is incomprehensible. There’s simply no way I could have understood this depth of feeling before having kids. And I hoped I could tell me friend how happy I was for her – and her husband – that they were having this experience. It sounds silly, but words escaped me. I ended up babbling something about “We’re really, really happy for you; being parents is so wonderful,” and I’m fairly certain I sounded ridiculous. I was near tears. I wanted to hug everyone in the room. I doubt that my point got across at all, because I felt so awkward saying it. It was almost easier to communicate sorrow than overwhelming joy.

Last week the Romgi and I spent a night away (and we’re very, very grateful to the family members who watched our kids!). The Romgi fell asleep quickly, as anyone who gets up at 6am is likely to do. I commenced one of my typical late night insomnia-driven breakdowns – I can’t remember the exact reasoning anymore – after which I had a series of epiphanies and began mentally composing this blog post. One of my epiphanies was that we become knit together as people by sharing meaningful experiences with each other, and by letting others know that they are meaningful in our lives.

I suspect that the following is a statement every parent dreams of hearing for years, and it only comes long after the dream has been given up: Mom and Dad, thank you for all you’ve done for me. As a child I was completely ignorant of the countless sacrifices you made in my behalf – the plans you put on hold, extra hours you worked, the tantrum-filled toddler years and sulky teenage years you endured, for the simple reason that I’m your daughter and you love me. After becoming a parent, I look back on my (short) life and find it filled with meaning because I begin to understand the great effort you’ve put into raising me. I don’t feel particularly comfortable saying such…emotional things, but they are sincere.

The Romgi, you are absolutely my favorite person. (I hope no one is offended by the fact that the rest of you are not my favorite. I do like you all. A lot.) I love that together we’ve created a world full of meaning. In the words of a Korean drama, the best house is the one you build in the heart of the one you love. Sappy enough? It’s true. I’m happy knowing that whatever our experiences in life, we’ll share them with each other. I have many other things to say. I’ll write you a whole blog post.

Everyone else: you’re all meaningful to me in some way, and I’d like to tell you that. If you leave a comment – just a simple “I’m here” – I’ll email you something wonderful. (Of course, that means you need to enter your email address. It won’t be shared with other readers.)

My final thought is that I want to embrace the joy in my life more, whether it’s the mundane (a Dunford donut) or the profound (a box of Dunford donuts). (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. And once the Romgi went out at 11pm to get me a donut, and it was an unbelievably perfect donut, and the whole thing really was meaningful. Haven’t you tried Dunfords yet?) I don’t want to ignore or suppress the deep emotions that make life worthwhile.

tl;dr – share your positive emotions more often.

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Convinced

After jr was born I felt really comfortable with just having two kids. Between the Bwun and jr, things seemed complete. Of course, everyone told me I would change my mind – though I still disagree that deciding to have a third child is somehow inescapable.

A few days ago one of my best friends had her first baby, and we got to go see them in the hospital.

Oh dear.

The real trouble is that recently I had a three-hour stretch of “I desperately want another baby (eventually)” hormone-fueled desire. It went away, aided by the fact that I already have a (relatively) wild toddler and a currently-clingy baby. But for those three hours, it was hard to argue with the feeling. It was intense. And then after I’d gotten over it, I held a newborn. A tiny five-pound newborn bundled up in a hospital blanket. The feeling definitely came back.

I was sort of counting on the Romgi to talk me out of it or remind me that I said “NO MORE KIDS” repeatedly (quite forcefully, I might add).

Instead he just said, in his mild way, that it would be fine after we graduate in April.

The stubborn part of me wants to change my mind back to “two kids is enough,” for no other reason than to prove everyone wrong. I don’t want to be convinced that I want another (eventually).

But…I am convinced. Sigh.

The Bwun

jr


Purple

I’m nothing if not a follower. I recently saw this amazing dip-dye look and had to do something similar.

Sorry, Mom, but I put purple in my hair.

(Well, more accurately, I paid someone competent to put purple in my hair. And I love it.)


Effective

Today I learned that children’s ibuprofen can be too effective.

The Bwun woke up feeling fine, but by early afternoon he was worn out and ready for a nap. When he woke up he was obviously miserable, and his fever was back. I gave him a chewable ibuprofen tablet while he wallowed on the couch.

Within an hour, he had returned to his normal self. In fact, he was desperate for attention. So was jr. And when I say “desperate” I mean that I considered sending him to his room for another nap because I couldn’t deal with his demands. I wanted to get some pictures of jr, so I had the camera out; the Bwun asked me to take pictures of him, too, but that quickly turned into him wanting to use the camera. He realized it was impossible for him to photograph himself, and gave the camera back to me. Then he wiggled and wiggled and wiggled.

Proof:

He also has not stopped asking for another chocolate-caramel-macadamia cluster (I made a Costco run by myself today. Bad idea). Each time, I tell him we aren’t having any right now; he responds with an unconvincing “Hm?” as if to suggest that he didn’t quite hear what I said. Nice try, bud.


Fever

The Bwun got a fever yesterday morning and looked like he felt pretty miserable, so we tried to make it an easy day. It involved The Blanket, juice, and My Neighbor Totoro 2 or 3 times. It did not involve a blog post. Some days are like that! Maybe I’ll give you two posts today to make up for it. Or maybe I’ll just watch Totoro with the Bwun again.


Unfit

Have you ever heard someone described as being “unfit to be a mother”? Usually it’s in reference to a woman who neglects her children, or murders them, or gives them tobacco instead of biter biscuits. (I don’t know about that last one; my list really needed three things on it.)

But I think it about myself a lot. Don’t get me wrong – in my opinion, I don’t neglect the Bwun and jr, and so far I’ve never given them tobacco, and I highly doubt I’ll ever murder them. My problem is that I got it in my head that a “good” mother is one who is endlessly patient, cheerful, energetic yet calming, and tidy. This is not true, right? I hope not. I’m not patient. I complain a lot. I bribed myself to get out of bed this morning (fresh donuts from the Creamery). And oh man, this house is not tidy. Not even close.

Most of all, I imagine that a “good” mother is inherently selfless and never tires of putting her own needs second.

Here is where I desperately hope I’m wrong. The other night jr woke up crying just as I was getting into bed and I’ll be honest, I really resented having to get up and feed her. I love jr dearly. She’s sweet and adorable and quirky. When I’m tired, she’s a little less sweet and a little more of  burden. But I almost feel like you can’t say that about your kids. They’re “angels from heaven,” right? The Romgi’s grandma swears that all five of her kids were perfect babies who never cried, and she can’t understand that anyone would dislike having young children. Maybe the march of years since she was a young mother has helped glaze over the frustration of late nights and messy diapers.

You know what? Sometimes I resent that I can’t just go out to the grocery store with the Romgi to get some Ben & Jerry’s. Sometimes I resent that I don’t have any personal space. Sometimes I resent that jr has a sense that tells her when I’m about to go to sleep, and compels her to wake up screaming in a manner that makes it clear Only Mom will do. Sometimes I resent changing diaper upon diaper and feeling like that’s the extent of my contribution to society that day, that all my hard work has literally gone into the garbage can. (I should give the kids credit, too. They worked hard for those messy diapers as well.)

For me, the ideal mother has no resentment. She loves every minute of motherhood. As I type this it does sound ridiculous. Please agree that it’s ridiculous?

I feel conflicted because I do have moments of resentment, but I also adore my kids. The way I love them is incomprehensible. And so when jr starts crying just as I go to bed, or the Bwun tells his first lie (while I’ve been writing this, no less), I’m frustrated and annoyed and exhausted but I know that these are two of my favorite people in the universe. So then of course I feel guilty for not loving every minute of motherhood.

This is the part where you tell me that such feelings are normal. I won’t go so far as to ask you to validate me for being a good mother, but maybe just hint that I’m not unfit to be a mother.

P.S. I know, you want more pictures of the kids. Right now our regular camera is a little bit broken and our awesome one is tricky for kid pictures – they just want to hold it, so I get a lot of blurry shots of little hands in front of the lens and not much else. Sigh.


Crime and Punishment

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I’ve always been an avid reader, but classics intimidate me. My high school English classes went through quite a few – although, that means I have only a tenth-grade understanding of books like Moby Dick (is it worth trying again?) and zero understanding of The Scarlet Letter (I confess, I barely skimmed the CliffsNotes) or Far From the Madding Crowd (I had a friend summarize it for me. Thanks, Alicia). I feel like, as an adult – an intelligent and literate adult, at that – I have a responsibility to read the classics. Surely they are justly deemed to be great works of literature, right? I think my hesitance comes from my underwhelmed reaction to many of the classics I read in high school.

I started reading Crime and Punishment before I had kids. It may have even been before I was married. I absolutely loved the first few chapters – and then, the book was suddenly overdue. I tend to check out a half dozen books at a time and rack up immense library fines. (Don’t worry; I’ve since banned myself from the library.) A year or so after I started Crime and Punishment, I checked it out again, but I couldn’t find my place, so I began reading from the beginning. I got to approximately the same spot and, once again, I got distracted by other books and ended up paying a fine for my late returns. Fortunately, last year for my birthday the Romgi bought me a Kindle, and I downloaded a free copy of Crime and Punishment – no fees, regardless of how long it took me to read.

Well, it was several months. I started from the beginning and was determined to get through it, partly because I made it a goal on my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days. And I still loved it. I’d gotten used to the feel of the first few chapters and I was surprised, pleasantly, when the tone shifted a little and the plot expanded. I had no idea there would be a large cast of characters (I really am ignorant, aren’t I?) or that the plot would involve more than just the eponymous crime. (Please tell me I’ve correctly used the word eponymous here. It might be the first time I’ve actually used it and I’d hate to ruin the experience.) Obviously, punishment is part of the story as well, but the book was much different from the vague idea I had in my head. (I have no idea where or how I formed my idea of the book.)

Are you still with me? You’re so great.

Crime and Punishment did not disappoint. It was wonderfully written – the storytelling and translation were both excellent. This definitely deserves its status as a classic. It shouldn’t intimidate you. I found that reading up on Dostoevsky after finishing the book, rather than before, made me appreciate the story much more. Do you like to learn some background information about the author before you read a book?

When I feel up to it, I want to re-read The Stranger and compare it to Crime and Punishment. I suppose it’s been done before. It seems like an obvious comparison – but quite fascinating. Have you read both? What’s your opinion?

Buy Crime and Punishment on Amazon