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When I'm not here, you may find me wandering the pages below. (If I'm a regular visitor to your site and I've left your link off or mislinked to you, please let me know! And likewise, if you've blogrolled me, please check that my link is updated: thisroamanticlife.blogspot.com. The extra (a) makes all the difference!)

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Body: in sickness and in health

I won't lie; this body and I have had our issues with each other for many years. Body image -- sure. Physical and mental overextension -- comes with being a Type A kind of girl. I still struggle with these things, so they show up from time to time in my writing.

More recently, illness, pure but not simple, has added itself to the mix in a multi-system sort of way. And the challenges in figuring out exactly what's gone wrong are many. As problems have revealed themselves in the last few years, beginning with reactive hypoglycemia in late 2008, I've documented them here, partly to gain a little clarity on managing complex conditions but mostly to give voice to vulnerabilities I feel but don't normally share with anyone face to face. Better out than in, they say, right? (Oh yes, humor is one way I deal.)

The links below cover the different angles I've examined (and from which I've been examined) within that experience.

Travel: neither here nor there

When the person you're married to lives two time zones away, you log a fair number of frequent flier miles. And if you blog about commuter relationships, you log quite a few posts en route too.

Since we're no longer in separate places, I blog less often from airports. But we do travel -- together now! -- which is much more fun to write about. So in addition to thoughts on our years of commuting, the links below cover the places we've been as a pair and, in some cases, the adventures that have happened on the way.

Writing: the long and short of it

Why do I do it? Good question. Maybe it's not so much that I like to write but that I have to write, even when the words refuse to stick to the page. Believe me, I've tried doing other things like majoring in biochemistry (freshman fall, many semesters ago). Within a year, I'd switched to English with a concentration in creative writing and wasn't looking back.

After graduating, I taught English for a few years and then worked as an editor, which I still do freelance. In 2007, I applied and got into an MFA program at a place I like to call Little U. on the Prairie. I finished my degree in 2011 and have been balancing tutoring and writing on my own ever since.

The following links cover the writing I've done about writing: process, content, obstacles, you name it. It's not always pretty. But some part of me loves it, even when it's hard. And this is the result.

Heart: family and friends

I'd have a hard time explaining who I am without being able to talk about the family I grew up in as well as the people I've met beyond its bounds. But even with such context, it's not easy! In the simplest terms, I'm a first-generation Asian-American who has spent most of this life caught between cultures. That, of course, doesn't even begin to describe what I mean to, but there's my first stab at the heart of it all.

That's what this group of posts is reserved for -- heart. The essential parts of my life whose influences I carry with me, for better or worse. The links below cover what I've written as I've learned how these forces work within me, for me, against me, in spite of me. They anchor me even as they change me, and they keep life interesting.

Recommended reading

What do I do when there's too much on my mind and my words won't stick to the page? I escape into someone else's thoughts. Below is a collection of books and articles that have been sources of information, inspiration, and occasional insight for my own work.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Homesick for the holidays

At the end of the first week of December, D. hauls in the boxes of Christmas decorations from the garage and sets them on the living room floor, amidst the toys O. has scattered in every direction. From upstairs, where I'm getting O. ready to nap, I hear the familiar jingle of a wreath of bells, the rustling of artificial greenery, the whisper of tissue coming off carefully wrapped baubles for the tree. O. doesn't know these sounds yet. He gazes at me, placid and sleep-ready, hardly registering the activity in his customary play area below.

In past years, our halls were, at best, hastily decked ahead of the twenty-fifth. Gift runs were last-minute, and plans for festive meals got pared down because it was just the two of us -- why roast a whole turkey, we said, when we're about to leave for a week-long family visit? We were still in some ways our parents' children, returning to their homes for the real observance of the holiday. 

But this will be our first Christmas as a family of three, a family of our own. And even though O. won't remember anything of the event at ten months, I sense D. and I both feel there's more at stake in feting it properly before we join the celebration at my parents' place.

For starters, we've bought a bigger tree, whose parts D. is inspecting when I join him after O. is settled in his crib. I can tell he's excited -- he's wanted to have something more generous than our skinny six-footer for ages, and this fluffy spruce promises to fit the bill. "Christmas-y enough?" I ask with amusement as he wrestles top and bottom together.

"Absolutely. But how about you?" he asks. "What would make the house feel Christmas-y for you?"

I consider the question as I tackle the garlands D.'s set aside for our banisters. We already have holiday songs playing softly, many from an album of favorites I'd found for us when we were married seven years ago. My mother used to play the same collection -- on vinyl, rather than digital file -- while my sisters and I helped her decorate. As I bend and wrap, bend and wrap, coaxing fat lengths of prickly fir around a stair railing, the memory of my mother doing the same in our old house rises with the strains of Bing Crosby.

To my surprise, I don't have a ready answer for D. There's something needling me, and it's not the fake bristles that have come off on my sweater sleeves. It's a sadness that shouldn't have a place in D.'s invitation to create seasonal joy. Or so I stubbornly tell myself. That is what our efforts are about, right? Joy -- ours to seize, ours to share, with the delights of a first child's first experience of it all to cherish too.

I wonder why, in spite of so much happy, our plans feel flat. What's missing? Should we make Christmas cookies, the tree-shaped ones I used to love pressing M&Ms into as a kid? Should we take some to the family next door? I start to suggest these options but stop myself mid-sentence. Somehow I know they won't change my mood, despite my fond memories of rolling buttery dough in my mother's kitchen.

My mother too, I imagine, is going about her own preparations now for our post-Christmas visit. I hear the brisk slap of her house slippers as she carries armloads of craft-store trappings from room to room. She's talking to herself, sighing over bows that need pressing, noting the dust on the fireplace mantel, remembering the extra powdered sugar she's forgotten to pick up from the supermarket. The closer the holiday comes, the more stressed she grows. "I hate going near the grocery store right now," she'll say when I check in with her on the phone. In spite of her complaints, though, I know she'll make the trip for whatever she thinks she needs because it's part of the traditions she's built single-handedly over three decades of motherhood. The music, the garlands, the goodies she reserves to make at this time of year for the neighbors -- all of these have come to embody what is Christmas-y for her and, by extension, for me.

To duplicate that without my mother's presence, I realize, is impossible.

Still, I add red and gold ribbon bows to the garlands, just as my mother does. Then I step back, debating their effect. They draw my mother near in memory, and yet they make me ever more aware of her physical absence. Of how I'm grasping for pieces of my mother's version of the holiday because it's what represents the comfort of the season for me. Of the contradiction in wanting to capture that comfort, which only grows more elusive the harder I try to make it mine. Traditions take time to build. In a few years, we'll have our own favorite rituals and activities, but until then, the realm of possibility stretches so vast. It's this emptiness, I imagine, that's weighing on me. And the impulse to fill it with what I know.

If D. senses I'm feeling lost, he doesn't say so. But he offers to help me tuck lights around my handiwork -- the final touch my mother usually adds. I let him take over.

Not long after he's finished, O. stirs. There's the sound of soft babble, followed by a series of thumps. I find O. sitting in his crib, pajama-clad feet sticking through the bars he's whacking with his little hands. He flashes an enormous grin as I come into view, and the sweetness of that recognition pushes aside any other thoughts. "Hi there, little man," I say. He reaches to be picked up.

"Come," I say, carrying him into the hall. He looks at me gamely though he doesn't understand. And then his gaze settles on the stairs, the tree, the lights below. Though I haven't yet traced his line of sight, I can see the glow of our work reflected in his eyes.

I watch O.'s expression, expecting a smile or at least some indicator of his usual happy curiosity. After all, this is what I've been hoping for, in spite of the homesickness the last hour has wrought in me. But he observes with uncertainty, lips pressed tight, brows furrowed with concentration -- something's different about that space, his space. It is, I've forgotten, a room he's also used to laying claim to. And now I've made it anything but familiar in my quest for comfort and joy.

O. looks to me as if to ask, is this okay?

I laugh and cuddle him close. "We'll figure it out together," I whisper, trying to reassure us both.

*

This post appears as part of a series on mother-daughter relationships on Daily Plate of Crazy. Click here to read more essays in the collection.

4 comments:

loveeachstep.com said...

I love this. It speaks directly to how I feel every year. I'm 35, I have three kids, I'm married, and yet, I still feel like a newbie 20 year old trying to cobble together a Christmas that doesn't feel haphazard. I look back at the Christmases of my youth and wonder how my parents and grandparents had it all together. Or maybe it just appeared that way to me back then? I wonder if my boys and daughter will look back when they are my age and wonder how I had it together. I don't know. I keep trying to find some sort of feeling of home in this season. And every year it seems to be more within reach.

C. Troubadour said...

I'm convinced, after hearing your perspective on the whole making-Christmas-happen thing, that it appeared that our parents had it together. That's the beauty of being a kid, I guess! I know we'll be focusing on O. this year -- just enjoying his reactions, whatever they turn out to be -- so that in itself will make Christmas feel more like a Christmas of our own.

Wishing you lots of homey-ness in your celebration too :)

Kristen @ Motherese said...

This is lovely, CT. Creating and carrying on traditions can feel like such heavy lifting - and is a topic about which I'm obsessed, especially in our interfaith marriage when it feels a lot of the time like we're starting from scratch. Initially I tried to imbue each holiday with as much meaning as possible, but so far for us it seems like the traditions that both stick and feel good are those that are pretty effortless, sometimes not even planned. I hope you and yours had a wonderful Christmas and a peaceful visit with your family afterward.

C. Troubadour said...

Kristen, this reply is much belated -- the heavy lifting has left me down for the count! I can imagine the challenges in creating an interfaith set of traditions. In a way, even though neither of us practices a religion, D. and I have very different family holiday histories to try to incorporate pieces of into our celebrations going forward. I think your observation is a good one -- the rituals that feel best are those that are effortless and somewhat spontaneous.

I hope your holiday was a pleasant one. Happy birthday too, by the way :)

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Homesick for the holidays

At the end of the first week of December, D. hauls in the boxes of Christmas decorations from the garage and sets them on the living room floor, amidst the toys O. has scattered in every direction. From upstairs, where I'm getting O. ready to nap, I hear the familiar jingle of a wreath of bells, the rustling of artificial greenery, the whisper of tissue coming off carefully wrapped baubles for the tree. O. doesn't know these sounds yet. He gazes at me, placid and sleep-ready, hardly registering the activity in his customary play area below.

In past years, our halls were, at best, hastily decked ahead of the twenty-fifth. Gift runs were last-minute, and plans for festive meals got pared down because it was just the two of us -- why roast a whole turkey, we said, when we're about to leave for a week-long family visit? We were still in some ways our parents' children, returning to their homes for the real observance of the holiday. 

But this will be our first Christmas as a family of three, a family of our own. And even though O. won't remember anything of the event at ten months, I sense D. and I both feel there's more at stake in feting it properly before we join the celebration at my parents' place.

For starters, we've bought a bigger tree, whose parts D. is inspecting when I join him after O. is settled in his crib. I can tell he's excited -- he's wanted to have something more generous than our skinny six-footer for ages, and this fluffy spruce promises to fit the bill. "Christmas-y enough?" I ask with amusement as he wrestles top and bottom together.

"Absolutely. But how about you?" he asks. "What would make the house feel Christmas-y for you?"

I consider the question as I tackle the garlands D.'s set aside for our banisters. We already have holiday songs playing softly, many from an album of favorites I'd found for us when we were married seven years ago. My mother used to play the same collection -- on vinyl, rather than digital file -- while my sisters and I helped her decorate. As I bend and wrap, bend and wrap, coaxing fat lengths of prickly fir around a stair railing, the memory of my mother doing the same in our old house rises with the strains of Bing Crosby.

To my surprise, I don't have a ready answer for D. There's something needling me, and it's not the fake bristles that have come off on my sweater sleeves. It's a sadness that shouldn't have a place in D.'s invitation to create seasonal joy. Or so I stubbornly tell myself. That is what our efforts are about, right? Joy -- ours to seize, ours to share, with the delights of a first child's first experience of it all to cherish too.

I wonder why, in spite of so much happy, our plans feel flat. What's missing? Should we make Christmas cookies, the tree-shaped ones I used to love pressing M&Ms into as a kid? Should we take some to the family next door? I start to suggest these options but stop myself mid-sentence. Somehow I know they won't change my mood, despite my fond memories of rolling buttery dough in my mother's kitchen.

My mother too, I imagine, is going about her own preparations now for our post-Christmas visit. I hear the brisk slap of her house slippers as she carries armloads of craft-store trappings from room to room. She's talking to herself, sighing over bows that need pressing, noting the dust on the fireplace mantel, remembering the extra powdered sugar she's forgotten to pick up from the supermarket. The closer the holiday comes, the more stressed she grows. "I hate going near the grocery store right now," she'll say when I check in with her on the phone. In spite of her complaints, though, I know she'll make the trip for whatever she thinks she needs because it's part of the traditions she's built single-handedly over three decades of motherhood. The music, the garlands, the goodies she reserves to make at this time of year for the neighbors -- all of these have come to embody what is Christmas-y for her and, by extension, for me.

To duplicate that without my mother's presence, I realize, is impossible.

Still, I add red and gold ribbon bows to the garlands, just as my mother does. Then I step back, debating their effect. They draw my mother near in memory, and yet they make me ever more aware of her physical absence. Of how I'm grasping for pieces of my mother's version of the holiday because it's what represents the comfort of the season for me. Of the contradiction in wanting to capture that comfort, which only grows more elusive the harder I try to make it mine. Traditions take time to build. In a few years, we'll have our own favorite rituals and activities, but until then, the realm of possibility stretches so vast. It's this emptiness, I imagine, that's weighing on me. And the impulse to fill it with what I know.

If D. senses I'm feeling lost, he doesn't say so. But he offers to help me tuck lights around my handiwork -- the final touch my mother usually adds. I let him take over.

Not long after he's finished, O. stirs. There's the sound of soft babble, followed by a series of thumps. I find O. sitting in his crib, pajama-clad feet sticking through the bars he's whacking with his little hands. He flashes an enormous grin as I come into view, and the sweetness of that recognition pushes aside any other thoughts. "Hi there, little man," I say. He reaches to be picked up.

"Come," I say, carrying him into the hall. He looks at me gamely though he doesn't understand. And then his gaze settles on the stairs, the tree, the lights below. Though I haven't yet traced his line of sight, I can see the glow of our work reflected in his eyes.

I watch O.'s expression, expecting a smile or at least some indicator of his usual happy curiosity. After all, this is what I've been hoping for, in spite of the homesickness the last hour has wrought in me. But he observes with uncertainty, lips pressed tight, brows furrowed with concentration -- something's different about that space, his space. It is, I've forgotten, a room he's also used to laying claim to. And now I've made it anything but familiar in my quest for comfort and joy.

O. looks to me as if to ask, is this okay?

I laugh and cuddle him close. "We'll figure it out together," I whisper, trying to reassure us both.

*

This post appears as part of a series on mother-daughter relationships on Daily Plate of Crazy. Click here to read more essays in the collection.

4 comments:

loveeachstep.com said...

I love this. It speaks directly to how I feel every year. I'm 35, I have three kids, I'm married, and yet, I still feel like a newbie 20 year old trying to cobble together a Christmas that doesn't feel haphazard. I look back at the Christmases of my youth and wonder how my parents and grandparents had it all together. Or maybe it just appeared that way to me back then? I wonder if my boys and daughter will look back when they are my age and wonder how I had it together. I don't know. I keep trying to find some sort of feeling of home in this season. And every year it seems to be more within reach.

C. Troubadour said...

I'm convinced, after hearing your perspective on the whole making-Christmas-happen thing, that it appeared that our parents had it together. That's the beauty of being a kid, I guess! I know we'll be focusing on O. this year -- just enjoying his reactions, whatever they turn out to be -- so that in itself will make Christmas feel more like a Christmas of our own.

Wishing you lots of homey-ness in your celebration too :)

Kristen @ Motherese said...

This is lovely, CT. Creating and carrying on traditions can feel like such heavy lifting - and is a topic about which I'm obsessed, especially in our interfaith marriage when it feels a lot of the time like we're starting from scratch. Initially I tried to imbue each holiday with as much meaning as possible, but so far for us it seems like the traditions that both stick and feel good are those that are pretty effortless, sometimes not even planned. I hope you and yours had a wonderful Christmas and a peaceful visit with your family afterward.

C. Troubadour said...

Kristen, this reply is much belated -- the heavy lifting has left me down for the count! I can imagine the challenges in creating an interfaith set of traditions. In a way, even though neither of us practices a religion, D. and I have very different family holiday histories to try to incorporate pieces of into our celebrations going forward. I think your observation is a good one -- the rituals that feel best are those that are effortless and somewhat spontaneous.

I hope your holiday was a pleasant one. Happy birthday too, by the way :)