STORYTELLING, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

I Hear You, Panic Attack, I’m Listening

Panic attacks.

I get them when I’m triggered.

I get them at 3 am in the morning.

I get them at 5 am in the morning.

I get them when I have to wake up to start my day.

I get them after reading an email.

They scare me and they demoralize me. They bring me to my knees.

My panic attacks can feel like a thousand chaotic voices.

This isn’t good.

That isn’t done.

You aren’t good enough.

What a failure.

When they start, I end up with waves of fear from my futile attempts to ward off the attacks.

I try silencing the voices.

I recoil in terror from all their accusations and predictions of doom and gloom.

My brain vibrates from the yelling and the shrinking, the pointing and the defending.

* * * * *

I’m learning to thank them, yes, appreciate their intention to protect me from — well — danger.

Danger from harm to the core of who I am.

Somehow, I ended up with a blinding fear of criticism about my judgment and decision-making abilities.

I have had to change my attitude of fear of criticism about my past unchangeable decisions.

* * * * *

Now I try to to tell myself:

  • I accept the past
  • I did the best that I could with what I had
  • There are consequences to all decisions
  • The only thing I can do is think about moving forward
  • My new decisions might still not be ideal
  • In the future I will be dealing with the consequences of my choices today
  • A knee-jerk reaction will be counterproductive
  • What’s the one baby step I can take right now that at least moves me in the right direction?

Okay panic attacks.

I’m ready for you.

I’m ready to listen to your warnings.

But I’m going to respond in a calm way to let you know that I can only do my best, that I did my best in the past, and that hounding me about what a terrible person I am is not going to make my life better. It’s making my present and future worse.

But I thank you for trying to protect me.

I thank you for trying to teach me.

So — now that I’ve heard you, I need you to be quiet so that I can figure out what next step to take.

LOVE FIRST, STORYTELLING

Do I WANT to Know?!

Musical Desks

It took us a while to figure this out at the beginning of the pandemic, because A2 was increasingly getting annoyed by A1’s loud (or as we call it, bullhorn) voice as their work desks were side by side in their bedroom. Simultaneously, I was constantly having to move my laptop on and off the breakfast/lunch/dinner table, sitting WAY TOO close to the refrigerator where leftover food often called out my name, and always dealing with the nearby doorbell. A1 was begging for us to extend the wired internet connection to their room upstairs, and I was desperate for a space to call my own.

After much contemplation on my part and consent from everyone else, I moved upstairs into the master bedroom and shifted A1 to a desk downstairs. A1 was extremely happy because it became WAY faster to play Rainbow Six Siege (not to mention he can eat at his desk, which is not allowed upstairs), A2 was relieved because he essentially became the master of their shared bedroom, I was ecstatic because I had my own permanent quiet space for a laptop and Zoom meetings, and my husband, who has his own office, was quite content that he didn’t have to play musical desks, at least this round.

Don’t Ask If You Don’t Want to Know

A1 built his own computer with his Dad’s help one summer and it runs a lot faster than the hand-me-down laptop I inherited. So when he’s not on his computer and I want to be downstairs to (hey, no, not to snack!) make myself a tea or something, I will sometimes use A1’s computer as a terminal.

The last time I asked if I could borrow it, this is how our conversation went:

Our game of Musical Desks has suddenly gotten a little more complicated than I was expecting! 

Would you want a more direct answer from your child to this question?

STORYTELLING

The Meaning of Life is…

I opened my eyes.

My long COVID hair was in my face entangled with my CPAP mask. My body started to shift out of the cozy spot under my warm comforter. My brain started putting together coherent words and I jumped out of bed. I scribbled words as they came together during those precious moments between sleep and consciousness. There was this incredible thought that was trying to push through my sleepy mind and onto paper. It was demanding to be shared. So I scribbled away. Relieved, I went back to doing my daily routines.

As I made the bed, the words started to form sentences.

While brushing my teeth, I excitedly anchored some of the thoughts and repeated them so I wouldn’t forget.

I went back to my paper, added some more words, and did some underlining to emphasize ideas I wanted to think about when I typed them out on my computer.

I changed out of PJs and into my COVID uniform of yoga pants with a plain T-shirt, then skipped downstairs to have breakfast.

At the dining table, I announced triumphantly to my husband: “I have something to share about the meaning of life. Do you want to hear it?”

He, of course, nodded.

With that, I leapt to my feet, ran up the stairs and brought down my paper with my handwriting all over it. I cleared my throat and read:

The answer to every question is… curiosity.

The answer to the meaning of life is curiosity (not assumption), wonder (not entrenchment), acceptance (not rejection), gratitude (not entitlement).

Curiosity leads to exploration, growth, learning, and discovery. Assumption leads to division, protection, aggression, and violence.

My husband nodded wisely and responded with: “You’ve just laid out the philosophy of Star Trek.”

When he saw my crestfallen face, he added “If you are thinking along the likes of the great Gene Roddenberry, you should be proud!”

PODCAST INTERVIEW, STORYTELLING

Parenting with Humour

Adrienne Hedger is the award-winning cartoonist behind the popular web comic “Hedger Humor.” Her work has been featured on BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Upworthy, Today.com, Yahoo!, Disney, Nickelodeon, and other popular media outlets. Several of Adrienne’s cartoons have become viral sensations, reaching tens of millions of people worldwide. She lives in California with her husband, two teenage daughters, and her dog.

When you are doing the work to understand your (often over-) reactions to your children, a lot of it can be quite challenging and emotionally heavy. Triggers take a lot of headspace to understand and process. Reframing our thoughts is difficult to do! So when I discover a source of humour that reflects parental challenges, I grab it and hold on as tightly as I can. That’s why I subscribe to Adrienne’s monthly emails: they make me laugh out loud.

It’s not that Adrienne’s cartoons are all mirth and jolliness, it’s that she gets it. Okay, yes, her cartoons can be silly and hilarious for sure, but she really, really knows the frustrations we parents feel and captures that perfectly. She then expertly takes challenging parental moments and helps us take a step back to see a bigger picture. She finds the funny in an emotionally charged moment,skillfully using storytelling to shift our perspective. Her message is: Parenting is HARD, but if we can laugh a bit during situations we can’t really control, maybe we can enjoy them a bit more.

We had the BEST conversation, in which she shared her story and parenting approach. We even had a cartoon moment of our own when she went into her closet to be near the Wi-Fi and have some quiet.

Podcast: Parenting and Cartooning with Hedger Humor

We talked about how:

  • Her life was lived in two very different worlds because her parents were divorced — her father was delighted by kids and laughed a lot, whereas her mother had to do the day-to-day parenting and so the threshold for silliness was at a more ‘normal’ level than Adrienne’s is now.
  • Her husband has a very different parenting style and she has had to share parenting duties full-time with another person, unlike her mother who had complete control. She cannot just run her own show! That took adjusting.
  • Her “unpredictable” parenting approach (to quote from her daughter) is actually consistent if we look at it from the perspective of stakes, like ‘harmless’ versus ‘safety’ issues. We concluded that the litmus test consists of asking: Is it ‘reversible’?
  • Sometimes people think that she lives in the ‘ha-ha’ happy world of cartoons. In actuality, she’s living in the same frustrating parenting world we all do.
  • The act of cartooning her life has changed her parenting. It’s kind of like being a reporter: she can step out of the drama and take a more meta view of the situation.
  • Parenting is so ridiculous. It is really, really hard. You love your kids so much. There is so much at stake. The best way to survive it is to turn to humour!

Her advice: Get yourself a notebook and put it somewhere very convenient, where you spend a lot of time in the house. Jot down funny ‘moments’ in your family life whenever they arise. Capture things that made your laugh or touched you. After a year of that, you will have gems to look at with warmth.

Read Adrienne’s hilarious and relatable cartoons at her Hedger Humor website, watch her videos on YouTube, like her Facebook page, and laugh along at Instagram.

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS, STORYTELLING

Irresponsible “Chi-Knees” Joke is Racist

This is not funny, nor should it have made it through the editors or producers of Monster Hunter. How disappointing that in this day and age a movie-maker would think it appropriate to release a movie that had a scene where a childhood racist taunt makes it to the big screen.

An article from The Guardian states: “The controversy highlighted the difficulties for entertainment companies in navigating sensitivities in the enormous Chinese market, while also navigating the country’s strict censorship laws.”

I’m sorry, but this is NOT about the country’s strict censorship laws. To mix the two issues is irresponsible and frankly quite insulting. Censorship is about a country controlling content that they deem inappropriate to their population. For some, it can be political, for others, it is about ethics and morals. Regardless, navigating a country’s censorship law is just par for the course in doing business, much like learning about their tariffs or trade regulations that protect their local businesses.

This is about the responsibility of story-tellers to keep up with reflecting the societal issues of our times, if not get ahead our times and challenge us to be better. I completely understand that no one can manage to know or understand the traumas of everyone else. However, this was a taunt that many young Chinese-Americans have had to live through and pretend didn’t bother us. Some of us learned to joke about it beforehand so that they couldn’t get to us, because we got to ourselves first. Many of us decided at a young age that we didn’t want to be Chinese and escaped from Chinese school or speaking Chinese with our parents.

When I was a kid in California, I was desperate to not look or sound Chinese. I had other kids tease me about my knees and ‘these”. It was a racist taunt and it was meant to hurt us.

Film-makers: Do better.

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS, STORYTELLING

Beliefs (Not Facts) Inform Behaviour

Take the Example of the Flu and COVID-19

We are so busy that it is impossible for us to deeply investigate each headline. These headlines, by the way, are designed to scream a soundbite at us to believe and then repeat. This morning on the news, we heard once again that the flu numbers were much lower than in previous years. But why? And how do we KNOW why that is? AND how does that impact our behaviour?

Everyone has their own theories depending on their set of beliefs. If you believe that COVID is a hoax, you insist that everything is being counted as a COVID death even when the death should be counted as something else. You may find Facebook postings or Tweets from nurses that confirm this. The lower number of flu deaths would support that belief, because a flu death being counted as a COVID death means that the flu numbers would of course be lower than before. 

If you feel that masks and social distancing prevent transmission of disease, you will attribute the lower flu numbers to our COVID prevention behaviours. You would point to articles from WHO or Public Health. Facts support our own beliefs. 

But how did we get to our beliefs?

We’d like to think that we are rational people who end up with beliefs based on fact.  A lot of our beliefs were taught to us and we believe them unconsciously. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Our experience and constructs interact and we end up with beliefs that are confirmed or challenged by new interactions. Many of us feel that science and research form the basis of our understanding of the world, while others point to conflicting studies, changing advice from healthcare providers, or pharmaceutical firms lobbying governments. In any case, we all prefer to be in our echo chambers seeking information that confirms our biases.

In the case of COVID and the flu, complicating all that is how facts are collected, recorded, analyzed, and reported. How are rules interpreted by the frontline? How consistent is the data being collected? What else is happening? Who is funding the newspaper reporting the news? What is their political stance? And more importantly — WHAT SHOULD WE BE DOING!? How do these facts inform our behaviour?

After reading all the different articles out there1, I reluctantly realized that the reality is that I firmly believe that the flu and COVID are transmitted in similar ways. Therefore, I believe that if we do things like wear masks, wash our hands, and socially distance, we can lower the risks of transmitting both the flu and COVID. I staunchly believe that masks and social distancing help us protect each other from our respective germs.

What does that have to do with parenting?

We often have a set of beliefs about our children. Their behaviour over time supports that belief or surprises us, which then may cause us to adjust our beliefs.  However, humans don’t really like to have our beliefs challenged. It causes cognitive dissonance (holding two opposing thoughts at the same time) that can be anxiety-inducing. So sometimes we get defensive (maybe even go on the offensive) to protect our ego and beliefs.

Let’s say we believe that our kids are lazy.

There is some truth to that anyways, as humans are designed to conserve energy.  But then we see everything they do (or don’t do) as a confirmation that they are lazy, which then adds layers and layers of stress, because how in the world are they going to become successful contributing members of society if they are lazy? We have to change them! They need to buck up and be less lazy! 

So then, what do we do? We tell them to stop being lazy. And what do they do? They get defensive about being labeled lazy because of such-and-such an excuse/reason. However, if they hear the word “lazy” enough, labeling them, they will embrace that, Oh, I must be lazy and in order not to be lazy, I have to work very hard, which I don’t want to do right this moment, so I’m not going to. Which triggers our fears again. And on it goes. They behave exactly the way we feared they would.

It is our responsibility to break that cycle. (If we don’t, we just pass it on and they will have to break the cycle when they become adults.) We need to always challenge our beliefs about our children. Be aware that our natural tendency is to take a behaviour and use it to justify our beliefs. Instead, we can wonder what else is going on. I’ve learned that a lot of times they have some barrier that I didn’t know or understand until we dug into a bit more. More of than not, their “excuse” was actually quite legitimate, and by listening carefully and working with them to remove those barriers (such as being tired or fearing the consequences), they have become a lot more willing to get done what I think is important to get done.

Let’s say that we believe our kids are addicted to playing video games.

If we believe that there is no educational benefit to video games and that it’s bad for their brains, we will become quite stressed out at their “addiction” to playing video games. We will worry that they are wasting their time and that they cannot control their urges to do what is fun as opposed to what they should do. So we nag, scold, limit, and tell them that they shouldn’t be addicted to video games.

It’s important to observe them carefully without bias whenever possible. I started noticing how much more interactive video games are nowadays and how complicated they are. It requires a great deal of problem solving, collaboration, and hand-eye coordination to play these games. They are learning leadership and followership skills that they might have gotten in the olden days when kids ran wild until sundown. COD, R6S, Among Us, Fall Guys, Animal Crossing, Roblox, and Minecraft are actually amazingly interactive games where the kids grow as people.  I’m really impressed with how much they learn and how excited they are explaining very complex things to me.

Let’s say we are worried they will fall behind everyone else. The Tiger Mom in me wants them to be really good at math, competent swimmers, perfectly tri-lingual, dedicated to a martial art, and talented at a musical instrument.  But why? Because I want them to be successful as adults. When they were little, I made them do math programs, weekend Chinese school, and take swimming, kung fu and piano lessons. I drove them around and yelled at them to practice everything. At one point in time, they would hear me coming and leave the room so that they didn’t have to hear me lecture them. We were stressed all the time.

I quickly realized that the stress I put on them was causing problems with our relationship and they were starting to hate the things I wanted them to be good at! They were internalizing the stress and what failures they were for not meeting my expectations. They feared me and flipped between trying to please me and trying to escape all that I wanted them to do. All the activities were not getting them to where I wanted them to be.

Rest and Restart

It was time for a reboot and a review of what my beliefs and ensuing behaviours were actually doing. I realized that I don’t need them to be excellent at things. I want them to learn how to learn, experience improvement, and to desire excellence. None of what/how I was doing was getting us there. So we started over and I took them out of their activities and let them pick what they were interested in exploring. Now we choose things together that we want to invest in and I don’t (consciously at least, ha ha) give them any pressure to have to be good at it. Ironically, that seems to free them up to want to be good at it.

So far my kids are: decent at math, competent swimmers, reluctant to learn languages, and lovers of pop music and computer games. They are very adept at PC software (one can even build a PC from scratch), are learning to code, like to host Discord parties, and will challenge my husband or me if they disagree with our opinions. They can hold their own when conversing with other kids or even adults. They have their own ideas and aren’t afraid to voice them. 

Do I think they will be successful adults? I believe they will know how to set their own goals, develop thoughtful plans, and work well with people to get where they want to go. I believe they will know how to be healthy and happy. I believe they will be fine.

That’s successful enough for me.

1Readings about this topic:

From WHO: “WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard From the Canadian Government, Public Health: “Overview of influenza monitoring in Canada From Texas’ KXXV: “Healthy habits urged during COVID-19 also help prevent spread of flu” by Halle Jones, November 16, 2020 From New York Post: “Drop in flu deaths may indicate that most at risk died from COVID-19” by Melanie Gray, October 24, 2020 From United Press International: “COVID-19 prevention may lead to record low flu rates, CDC says” by Dennis Thompson, September 18, 2020 From Yahoo!life: “Can the Flu Shot Help Protect Against COVID-19? The Answer May Surprise You” by Dominique Michelle Astorino, August 27, 2020 From AFP Fact Check: “CDC does not add flu and pneumonia deaths to COVID-19 toll” by Clare Savage, June 23, 2020 From Arkansas’ Baxter Bulletin: “Statistically speaking: COVID-19 vs. flu” by Dr. Steve Parsons and Dr. Susan Parson, April 1, 2020 From WHO: “WHO launches new global influenza strategy” March 11, 1919

STORYTELLING

The Power of Prayer

“So, if you don’t mind my asking, what religion do you practice?” she leaned in with curiosity. “Like, how comfortable would you be if I used phrases like a greater power?”

Religion and politics. Those are topics you are wise to stay away from if you want to maintain peace at gatherings of friends or family. But, let’s face it, religion and politics are the two main ways people come together, become one, support one another with passion, unite as US to fight THEM, and deeply feel love and hate.

The fighting is edges interacting. In religion and politics, those safely in the middle of the bubble feel stable and hopeful.

“My husband is an atheist and I’m agnostic.” I started habitually and continued explaining, “My family isn’t religious, but we lean Buddhist. I find it hard to believe with all my heart in anything. To be honest, I feel that there is something incredibly beautiful about all religions, until it is used to control people.”

She nodded.

I’ve always feared feeling too much. Love, hate, fear, anger, happiness, sadness… you name it, any feeling that can get extreme, I avoid. Religion brings out a lot of feelings. I tried one religion twice in junior high and at university. The group activities built a sense of community that I loved, feeling controlled made me recoil, believing that my loved ones were going to hell because they grew up in a different environment was frightening, the injustice of a baby born with original sin made me angry, singing with the choir gave me a high, and of course the cognitive dissonance of it all caused me existential depression. Fun times.

As is my way, I chose to escape it.

“As humans, I think we need to believe and have faith. But I dislike how the powerful manipulate that need, using it to gain money and control.”

She continued to give me a safe space to articulate my thoughts with a warm smile and encouraging nod.

When I was a child, we went to Buddhist temples. My Chinese birth-date falls on the day celebrated as the birthday of Guan Yin, or the Goddess of Mercy. So I was always told that I had yuan feng (rapport, destiny) with Guan Yin. The smoke of the thick sweet intense was not comforting to me, as I associated it with death. The chanting of the monks sounded more eerie rather than comforting. I just could not believe something that I didn’t understand.

The chanting and meditation were supposed to do good things, like help us pass exams or prevail over illnesses. In my youthful arrogance, these asks were just so… selfish and meaningless. Ling shi bao fo jiao was a phrase that often popped in my head: last-minute throwing oneself at the foot of Buddha, begging for help. It smacked of not doing your work and then asking to be taken care of. That was how I used to feel about prayer.

“The more I see, the more I realize that we need both faith and hope.”

She smiled and replied, “Yes, I agree completely.”

This conversation shed light on how much my ambivalence towards a greater power has robbed me of one of the most potent ways we get through difficult times. Knowing that we are never alone, that something or someone will ALWAYS be there to support you with love, that this something or someone has helped countless other people through dark times, that there is ALWAYS hope – – what a powerful feeling.

Faith is having trust in the existence of something without physical proof that it is there. Hope is having the trust that we will get there even though we aren’t there yet. Faith is saying it’s here. And hope is saying it’s there, and we may need to get through some tough times with hard work, but we will get there, together.

I once scoffed at faith, because it seemed so naïve. But now I realize that faith goes hand in hand with hope. While hope keeps us doing the hard work until we see results, faith keeps us going without the proof.

In this world of instant gratification, Google, and credit cards, many of us haven’t learned to excel in life by building all the small pieces that become the strong foundations of integrity, trust, compassion – in relation to ourselves or others. We no longer can hold that feeling of need or want without desiring it to be quenched and resolved right away. We are unable to stand that feeling of emptiness because it feels so hopeless. That is to say, the narrative in our heads is “here we go again” rather than “I know how I want to handle this one.”

Religion and politics give answers. Religion and politics give us rules, but also hope that other people are doing things to fix the bad stuff. The problem is that religion and politics are run by… human beings – and human beings… are not perfect. And therefore – while we will see wonderful things done by people in religion and politics, we will also see terrible things done by them.

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion. Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things.

 Steven Weinberg

Being the critical thinkers we were taught to be (or rebellious beings as so many of us are), we often believe that the terrible part completely taints the whole, and we throw out the baby with the bath water.

My question is: Is it possible to extract only the positives involved with religion and politics without the negatives?

For me, that ignited a newfound desire to try to do that with the Heart Mantra associated with Guan Yin. I’ve always struggled with a bad memory and a fear of showing the world my secret flaw that has made everything I do so hard. I cannot use memorization to get anything important done.

But faith and hope encourage us to do things that are good for us even when it’s difficult. Like dealing with stress. Like changing bad coping mechanisms. Like quitting the addictive allure of a soothing but unhealthy activity or substance.

I burst out, “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs. I eat. It’s my drug, it’s my coping mechanism to deal with stress. It’s my addiction.”

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to suggest to you to pray for self-discipline.” She suggested in response.

Prayer. That used to be a triggering word for me. I would flinch a tad because it seemed like such a futile activity. “Sending prayers and thoughts.” Or, You are imposing your beliefs on me by telling me that your God will answer your prayers to help me. But over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that we all have the right to label the power of intentional thoughts with whatever words work for us. I tried using “Sending you warm thoughts and healing hugs” which doesn’t quite comes across as well as prayers to a greater being, but it was what I was comfortable with.

But when she asked me to pray, I thought, Wait a minute, I have a prayer that is mine! It is my birth right. I just never wanted to memorize it because I couldn’t memorize a short mantra while kids from Taiwan used to memorize hundreds of history BOOKS. I felt shame and guilt about this. I tossed it aside because I didn’t believe in the power of the mantra, nor did I believe that I could do it. Which one was the real reason? No matter, they both contributed to my wanting to run away.

So, now, I am starting a new journey.

I have broken down the mantra into small pieces, four phrases a day (and if it takes me two days, I’ll be kind to myself and shift everything over by another day). I will memorize this mantra and use it as a prayer when I’m anxious. I will use it to pray for others. I will use it to pray for self-discipline when I want to overeat. I will use it to give me strength from a greater power. I will turn to my mantra to remember that I’m not alone and that I can do this.

Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, when deeply practicing prajna paramita, clearly saw that all five aggregates are empty and thus relieved all suffering.

Shariputra, form does not differ from emptinessemptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptinessemptiness itself form. Sensations, perceptions, formations, and consciousness are also like this.

Shariputra, all dharmas are marked by emptiness; they neither arise nor cease, are neither defiled nor pure, neither increase nor decrease.

Therefore, given emptiness, there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight … no realm of mind consciousness.

There is neither ignorance nor extinction of ignorance… neither old age and death, nor extinction of old age and death; no suffering, no cause, no cessation, no path; no knowledge and no attainment.

With nothing to attain, a bodhisattva relies on prajna paramita, and thus the mind is without hindrance. Without hindrance, there is no fear. Far beyond all inverted views, one realizes nirvana.

All buddhas of past, present, and future rely on prajna paramita and thereby attain unsurpassed, complete, perfect enlightenment.

Therefore, know the prajna paramita as the great miraculous mantra, the great bright mantra, the supreme mantra, the incomparable mantra, which removes all suffering and is true, not false.

Therefore we proclaim the prajna paramita mantra, the mantra that says: “Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha.

Sources: Translation by a team of translators who participated in the Soto Zen Translation Project, highlights and links from The Heart Sutra Part 1: Introduction to the Most Common Mahayana Text – The Zen Studies Podcast

What is your relationship with prayer?

STORYTELLING

Trading Chinese Pride for White Supremacy

“Are your boys proud to be mixed? Or they haven’t noticed any difference…”

The WhatsApp message flashed there on my screen and I stared it.

I read it again. I looked away.

I sighed and put my fingers on the QWERTY keyboard of the laptop as a thousand voices exploded in my head (voices representing shame, guilt, sadness, anger, and repression), but I managed to type out my answer to her within the acceptable real-time 10-second response time: “I think I’ve downplayed their Chineseness in my own eagerness to escape it. And I’ve unconsciously tried to be white.”

Per usual, this exchange triggered something pretty deep inside of me.

For most of my life, I’ve tried to be more white (American, really) in order to reduce friction and to survive in this world. I’ve had more than one colleague say “Oh, I totally forget that you’re Chinese.” It’s the way I talk, my accent, my body language, the pop culture I actively absorbed and regurgitated for small talk. It’s like I’m walking this tightrope and hedging my bets. Yes, I know I’m Chinese, but if I downplay that enough, maybe I’ll be accepted into the inner circle where I can compete with the others for coveted roles. I’m also just weird enough not to get caught up in political dramas, because I’m an outsider. My ‘keep your head down and just work harder’ and ‘don’t bring attention to yourself’ attitude was coming through. I’ve also dealt with a lot of fear and uncertainty of my own identity of being a “Chinese person” “from” “Taiwan”. So I chose to be Canadian. But I’m not really.

Like some Canadians, I thought that we lived in a classless, non-racist country. My naïve assumptions were wrong at so many levels. I got called out one day years ago by a friend in the US who scoffed at my post about how glad I was that Canada was not racist compared to our southern cousins. She DM’d me and proceeded to open my eyes to the race issues we faced in Canada, long before it became an open topic. It was a wow moment for sure. It was after that incident that I realized I had to actively learn more about this issue that I thought was not an issue.

Since they were born, I unconsciously taught my kids to be Canadian with a side of Taiwan Chineseness – the Tiger side. They know they are half Chinese with a mom from Taiwan and they are half Caucasian with a dad from small town Ontario. We didn’t raise them to be proud of their heritage or proud of their history. In my mind, I was escaping the Chinese side, which can actually be quite racist, sexist, ageist, etc.

And now, there’s a strong movement of Chinese-Americans who have been incredibly vocal about supporting Black Lives Matter. They aggressively encourage us to understand that our Black and Indigenous brothers and sisters have suffered generations of injustice that live on in their memories, genes, family history, and communities. They have put out their call to arms about how we need to right this. They remind us that while we fight for THEIR cause, it doesn’t take away from our cause. They amplify the message: It is not enough to not be racist, we have to be anti-racist. And we have to do this together.

The first time I read this, I felt uncomfortable. I wasn’t ready to voice my opinions or fight for injustice. But 2020 has been all about all of us challenging our beliefs and standing up for what is needed to build an equitable and safe world for the future.

Currently, I am in the process of learning what that means, what my voice is, how to teach my children, and what to do when having a discussion with someone who disagrees with me. I’m exploring my stance, voice, and ability to defend what I say… to myself, to my children, to anyone really.

Earlier this year, a colleague told my boss I was racist. Around the same time, I had colleagues who were being very racist towards Chinese wearing masks or asking to work from home at the beginning of COVID-19. One of my best friends, hearing me agonize over these issues responded “I thought you said you were a good manager?” And I realized that in order to be a good manager, a good mother, a good friend, I really needed to clarify and live my stance about racism. It was a defining moment that broke me a little, but we are just resetting a bone that wasn’t growing right. It will be straight and strong. In the meantime, it’s a journey.

How is your journey going? Has that impacted your relationships with friends? Is your child proud of their ethnic background?

STORYTELLING

Finding My Political Voice

Parenting is political.

Iris Chen

Noooooooooooooooo! Say it isn’t so, Iris! Please don’t tell me that I have to pick a side, have a voice, and be political!

One of my favourite voices is Iris Chen, founder of Untigering. I refer to her a lot and will continue to do so. She manages to write about topics that scare me. Topics where I haven’t quite formed my own opinion yet.

Well, no, let me hold myself accountable. I do have strong thoughts. I don’t know that I can back them up all the way, because I have worked so hard to ‘see things from another perspective’ and I often can ‘get it’ from the other side.

Again, let me stop myself. I do have thoughts, but the people-pleasing side of me doesn’t really want to get into arguments with people where one or both us will start thinking things like “Really?! You’ve got to be joking.” or “I thought you were educated; how could you POSSIBLY think this way?!” or “I think that is totally illogical and stupid.” I don’t want to say the other person is dumb and I’m not too keen to have someone think that way of me.

Politics, like religion, is super tricky. It’s about beliefs, values, and loyalty. Us vs Them. People are “brainwashed” by powers using the subtle but strong messages.

In any case, as I’ve seen more and more parenting sites get political or maybe just more vocal about their beliefs, I’m tentatively trying out my own political voice. It’s difficult, because so many topics are really complicated and very, very emotional. Vaccines. Masks. Trump. Black Lives Matter. Hong Kong Protests. Amazon. Terrorism. (I could go on.)

Is there really a right way to think?

Is progressive better than traditional or conservative?

Why do so many people support someone who only cares about his own vanity and wealth?

Why do people believe that poor people deserve their lot?

Why are there people who think that LGBTQ is a lifestyle?

Why do people think that scientists are always wrong?

How do I help my kids be critical thinkers and be the change they want to see? Ah ha. Parenting IS political!

Parenting is Political post on Untigering: “Election Day in the U.S. is almost here. “If you haven’t already, get out there and VOTE! This is my first time voting for a presidential election in decades.” [Keep Reading…]

PODCAST INTERVIEW, STORYTELLING

“Perfect Chinese Son” to “Backpacking Bum”

Watch Jonathan’s TEDx talk, enjoy the Su Family photo album. and listen to our interview below.

Annie and Jonathan Su of Su Family Adventures


The Su Family on their last day of quarantine in Hong Kong!

When you visit their robust website, you can tell that they are living their lives THEIR way, not necessarily the way they were brought up by their parents to. But they have been able to balance the best of the East and West to parent their three amazing children.

Authentic (and brutally honest), Jonathan and Annie share their experiences in our podcast, touching on numerous Sandwich Parenting Topics, such as:

  • Generational Difference: Their parents grew up during in World War II and lived with chaos, war and starvation. Their parenting mentality was all about how to survive, to be safe, and to provide for the family.  Jonathan and Annie had to move from survival mode to a focus on living with meaning.
  • Education: For Asians, education is important and its costs are usually all covered by parents.  The Sus did not want to have the kids graduate with debt, but also wanted them to develop a sense of responsibility. As they did not want their kids to feel like they were getting handouts, they developed a graduated educational cost covering system. This is such a good idea, I’m going to copy them! Listen to the interview to hear about this awesomely thoughtful system. Pro skills!
  • Cultural Differences: Annie was parented with a Confucian mindset, which includes a top-down approach where elders (even strangers) “feel entitled” to tell us what to do, what to think, and how to look.  Learning a Western approach to disagree was difficult for her.
  • Mental Health Issues: Annie had to go through counselling to learn how to push back and encourage elders to mind their own business.  Simultaneously, in a typical Sandwich Parenting situation, she recognizes that her former parenting style may have caused her kids problems, but now she’s able to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know better. Yes, my life choices or mistakes may have negatively impacted you, but what are we going to do now? Let’s figure it out.”
  • Meeting parental expectations: Jonathan did everything the Chinese immigrant parents want for their son. He had made his parents very happy with his model education, career, marriage, and even two kids (one boy, one girl)… Then, at age 30, “he became a bum picking up trash with the street children in Kunming” when he decided to pursue a more meaningful life for him and his family.

Their Key Message:

Don’t be confined by your culture or environment.  Be creative in finding and pursuing your passion and helping your kids find and pursue theirs.

Jonathan Su’s TEDx Talk at Yunnan University 2018.

Su Family Photo Gallery