My family generally celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and less so on Christmas Day. It’s December 23rd, and I’d originally planned to visit my family tomorrow. With COVID back on the rise and the positivity rates shooting back up in Los Angeles, I may have to stay home for another Christmas. I’ll listen to the rainfall for now.
As I’ve gotten older and built my own life independent of my parents (by parents, I’m referring to my mom and stepdad—who, for all intents and purposes, is my dad), my relationship with them has changed. The way I see them has changed. And it keeps changing.
It’s funny how we often forget that our parents are whole people whose lives don’t completely revolve around us, their children, even though that’s often the case for a really long time. No matter the relationship we have with them, we’d often idolize them and see their word as infallible, them—indestructible. Over the years, we’ve all gotten older, wiser, gentler, but they have also become more frail, and the reality of their mortality suddenly feels daunting and sometimes, frightening. Sometimes, maddening.
I find myself having to develop a newfound patience for when my parents fall short of my expectations. Admittedly, I feel guilty about this. Just tonight, my parents failed to make it to a Jo Koy show my younger brothers and I had treated them to. They didn’t check their email to verify the address. They didn’t use Google Maps to see the time to leave. They didn’t understand that parking was a separate charge or that they would have to park far in case they arrived late. They didn’t understand that all bags must be left in the car.
Well, they arrived late. Sure enough, they’d have to park so far and were spooked by the large crowd, on top of having to pay for a locker to store my mom’s purse, that they decided to leave the arena altogether without ever stepping out of the car. “I’ll Venmo you for parking and the locker fees!” I insisted. But they were tired. They’d driven for over two hours in traffic. And most of all, my parents are older. I forget about this all the time. What do my parents know about Google Maps and checking the traffic ahead of time? My dad was just asking me about the Yellow Pages not too long ago. My mom has plantar fasciitis and cannot take prolonged walks.
I found my frustration easing. It is a strange feeling, eclipsing your parents. Thinking about it leaves me feeling uneasy and emotionally and mentally unprepared. There is still so much to say. So much to do. Things to repair.
“Are you driving home? Or will you find a hotel to stay at overnight? Did you eat? Can I order takeout for you?” I texted.
“No, it’s ok,” my mom replied. “We’ll have a good time. As long as we’re together. No worries. Sleep and rest. Ok, low batt.”
I came home to visit my family for the holiday weekend and attended my first indoor, extended family party in a long while. I saw family who I haven’t seen in a number of months, others two years, some in ten, and some in twenty. I’d held a newborn nephew who I hadn’t yet met. I cried with an older cousin whose husband just recently passed from COVID in August.
My younger cousin had digitized my aunt’s home videos and uploaded them to YouTube. They were playing in the background, and by the time I’d sat down to watch, they were on a recording from March 1991. You could hear my aunt asking what the red light meant. “It means you’re recording!” my uncle responded in Tagalog.
1991 was the year my grandma, mom, and I came to visit the US, which ended up being a permanent migration for my mom and myself. My mom was just a year younger than I am now when she made the choice to stay. I had just turned five. The home footage caught so many things I’d either forgotten or had no way to make sense of at the time—my grandma’s testing of the waters, my mom trying to put her best foot forward, and me—clueless and still unable to speak more English than what I could mimic from my mom’s Whitney Houston cassette (I was obsessed with “Greatest Love of All” and credit all of my early English learning, pre-migration, to the late and very great Whitney).
I didn’t know if my mom knew we would be staying here at the time of that home video. I suspect now that she did, or at least was considering it heavily. I wonder if I could’ve made such a brave decision at her age, essentially my age now—to leave behind my entire life and take my child to this foreign place and start brand new.
My relationship with my mom changed after we stayed. Once carefree, an emotion and lifestyle of privilege, my mom took on a different demeanor—one of struggle, disappointment, exhaustion. And I changed alongside her.
I think about this video and laugh. I’m wearing my Mickey Mouse cap for most of the video, speaking in Tagalog and playing some game that involved sweeping the back patio and tumbling like a roly-poly. However, my favorite parts are much more obscure. In the video taken at night of my now-aunts and uncles having conversation on the sofa, you could see my mom sitting on the floor, leaning against the sofa with me sitting on her lap. We’re playing some kind of game, and it doesn’t matter what, but it ends with me giggling with a huge smile on my face and wrapping my arms around her with the biggest hug I could give.
This post is dedicated to Ne, Romy, Dan, Ong, and Fely.
These days, I feel like I’m constantly talking or thinking about space. Holding space. Making space. Physical space. Figurative space. Mental space. Emotional space.
About four months ago, I hung one of my pothos plants on a ladder by the window:
Because I’m a klutz, I inevitably walked into it and knocked the whole thing down. I lost a precious vine in the process, some of which I plopped into a jar of water to propagate. After sweeping away the spills of my accident, I re-erected the ladder, secured the pothos onto the rung, tidied up the soil, and wiped down the leaves.
A couple months after hanging, I noticed that the soil was no longer holding onto water. The leaves continued to remain sad and wilty even after a hearty watering, and I suspected that the roots needed to be shaken loose and have more room to grow.
I finally repotted and re-hung Sylvia (that’s what we’ll call her now) last week. Here she is immediately after repotting, still getting used to her bigger pot:
I let her get used to her new space—let her stretch out and expand. Here she is today:
I’ve found gardening to be a haven for my thoughts and emotions, a reflection of ways in which I, myself, am trying to grow. It’s so easy to stick with the same because what’s familiar often feels comfortable. But is that familiarity constricting your roots? Do you need more room to grow? Do I?
I’m in the middle of transitioning to my new role at another agency. For the first time in over a year-and-a-half, I attended an in-person staff meeting.
I didn’t realize how emotional I would feel finally working in proximity to colleagues (people!) again. An introvert at heart, I found comfort in living in an unusually solo state. Additionally, living in a dedicated isolation allowed me to finally center much-needed self-care and work through past traumas that I’ve been wanting and needing to address. Not that any of this has been easy, and the “comfort” of isolation can be its own coping mechanism.
A curse or a blessing? It doesn’t matter. I’ll ride this wave and see where it takes me.
I’m at a major point of transition in my life. Just weeks ahead of me is a major shift in my career. I’ve caught up to some critical realizations about myself—from how I’ve handled previous traumas and heartbreak, to how I’ve held on to attachments to perfection, even when it came to healing.
It’s a wild understatement of sorts when I say that I am an over-thinker. Having lived in survival mode for much of my life, I grew up learning to expect the worst. After almost a decade of therapy, reorganizing the relationships in my life, reclaiming my sense of identity, reconfiguring my neurophysiological response to the triggers of my past traumas, letting go of the guilt that’s previously come with setting boundaries, acknowledging the flaws of my own humanity, and honoring the time to breathe, I’m glad that I’ve finally got some things figured out.
And while I’ve got a lot more growing to do and corners to visit, I’m grateful for the path I’ve left behind me, now paved and safer to revisit whenever the time comes.
I think about that younger version of me—scared, helpless, and alone. I visit her from time to time to let her know I’m doing well, and when I sense she feels a little scared, I reach back and give her a hug.
I’d like to think
if given the chance,
I’d do it again;
not having grazed
that impossible knowledge,
not having glimpsed
that immeasurable treasure
of fortitude once unfound;
to freely weep dry
those tears of toil and blood of salt,
and while I grimace
at the thought of reliving
my forbidden story,
I take pride in knowing
it is mine.