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!”

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS, PODCAST INTERVIEW

Untigering Parent

Visit the Untigering website, preview a chapter of her new book, and listen to our interview below.

As a Chinese-American and daughter of a pastor, Iris Chen played by the rules and succeeded, but felt that those (impressive) achievements didn’t quite have meaning in her life. She is now on a journey of Untigering which she defines as Gentle Parenting and Unschooling. Always thoughtful and insightful, Iris has brought together a community of parents from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds to share with and learn from each other.

When I first realized that I was parenting my children in a way that *I* didn’t want to be parented, I went on a search at the University of Google. The concept of Untigering quickly jumped out at me and I immediately became a fan of Iris Chen’s and joined the community she was building on Facebook. What surprised me most was how many people related to what I was going through… and that they weren’t all Asian American! They came from all over. We really are more alike than different. While she writes and speaks from her own experience of being Asian American, there are common elements for all of us unlearning and unprogramming in order to build an approach that works for our own unique family. (You can access a preview of a chapter from her book: Redefining Success: An Untigering Parent’s Guide to Our Beliefs About Success, How We Came to Them, and How to Change Them.)

In our podcast, Iris touches on numerous topics:

  • Obedience: Coming from a cultural and religious background that meant strict rules and the expectation is that you’re do as your told, she knew that she was going to do things differently with her kids. It was difficult, because she defaulted to an authoritarian style of parenting and had a tendency to demand obedience.
  • Acknowledging Past Trauma: It is very important to explore our own wounds, our past trauma, not for blaming purposes, but to move forward. She could see that our personalities responded to our parenting and social conditioning and what she was doing was harmful to her children. She got back in touch and got to know herself. This is very hard! It is unnatural and there is a lot of work to be done.
  • Learning: The world is changing so rapidly. The content that kids learn in third grade become irrelevant. Instead of focusing on content, we should be giving them the skills for how to learn. She sees learning as a life process… learning in many different ways, not just in school. She points out: as adults, we are constantlyg learning new things in organic ways. We should allows kids to learn that way too.
  • Curating Own Lifestyle: Living in China for 16 years, they were able to curate their life and culture, not American, not Chinese, a Third Culture. They created the family and community culture they wanted. It gave her the freedom to say, this does not work for our family, can we create something new? It gave them the freedom not to fit in a box. We often don’t question things when we are in it, because ‘that’s just the way things are’.
  • Achievement and expectation: We shouldn’t focus on the outward markers of achievement to prove that we’ve made it. For her, those achievements didn’t end up meaning anything. When she no longer had anyone telling her what the standards and expectations were, she was at a loss… did not know how to manage time and what to do with life. As she got older, she had to get back in touch with what she loved to do.
  • Consent-based living: It’s not just about education. It’s about relationships and parenting. It’s about how to honour our children. Unschooling isn’t just about education. It’s consent-based. It’s not coercive, not about ‘sit down and pay attention to what I have to teach you’ says someone with authority and a lesson plan. It’s a way of living and relating with each other with respect and consent.

Her Key Message: Know and love yourself.  All the details will stem from that one place where we know who we are and can know and love and accept who we are.  Everything should come from a place of unconditional love.

DEVELOPING ROUTINES

Fail to Succeed

The voices in our heads can be horribly mean: “You are failing as a mother.  You not a good wife.  You are a lousy daughter.  You are a bad friend. You are a bad manager.  That was a dumb thing to do.  You sounded stupid in that last meeting.  You didn’t complete your work AND you’re going to be late to the parent-teacher meeting. You have bad judgment, you make bad decisions. Your house is a disaster. Your health sucks.  You are too fat. You don’t make enough money. Your kids are badly behaved and it’s all your fault. Your cardio needs improvement. You have no grit.  You can’t do anything well!  You are a complete disaster!”  The spiral can happen pretty quickly and it’s a brutal if the other side of our brains don’t step up quickly enough to combat those bullies.  Lack of sleep and high expectations are not a good combination (am I right, new moms?)…

On the other hand, the celebration of success is entrenched in everything that we do, every Olympics, every career promotion, every project, every election…  What we don’t see is how hard those winners worked, how often they failed and how difficult it was for them to motivate themselves beyond the last fall or broken bone.

So how do we adjust our thoughts when we are bullying ourselves just at a time when we need to be encouraging ourselves to keep going?  Apparently the secret is to accept that failure is an integral process of succeeding.  Let’s hear from a few famous people, you know… famous for their many successes:

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

“Failure provides the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

“I don’t believe I have special talents, I have persistence … After the first failure, second failure, third failure, I kept trying.” – Carol Rubbia

“There is something to be said for keeping at a thing, isn’t there?” – Frank Sinatra

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” –  Thomas A. Edison

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” –  Winston Churchill

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

Failure has to be BUILT in to the process!  It is actually a part of learning, improving, growing, developing… it is on the path to the success.  Success doesn’t happen without failure! If we stopped riding our bikes as soon as we fell off because we defined ourselves as a failure… then we fail to learn how to ride a bike.  If we define the falling off as a failure to get the balance right, then get back on, figure out how to adjust the balance… then we learn how to ride a bike. If we said “I’m not good at math” because we got some answers wrong, then we will be bad at math.  If we define getting the answer wrong as failure to get that answer right, but then asked about how to get it right and figured out where we went wrong… well, then we will learn how to get better at math!

So I hope you join me as we get back on the horse, get back on the bike and get up after each fall. Never say die.  Just do it. Try and try again.  I’ll be back!  We start where we start!

Like my pretzels… after a few tries, they are looking a LOT better than they did when I started out!

LOVE FIRST

Don’t Grow Up, My Little Tweens!

The parents of teenagers scare the bloody heck out of me with their stories of moody gangly monsters who no longer think their parents have any valuable advice to give, boys who outright ignore or rebel against their wishes, girls who break rules and drive cars without a license…! They share what their kids say, like “Mom, YOU want me to do well in school, so I’m not going to.” They tell me that their 17-year old is feeling depressed and has no motivation. They tell me that their son stopped hanging out with a group of friends who had a good influence over him and they don’t know why. I read about kids who do nothing but play video games and get slightly panicked because both my boys game, with their dad, their friends and sometimes by themselves.

Kids, no… people in general, the world over are suffering from anxiety, depression and overall malaise. It’s an epidemic and it hits teens especially hard.

Mine are still pre-tweens, somewhat naive, very excitable, super loving and under MY influence (aka bribable with chocolate ice cream or screen time). But for how long…?! They are starting to talk back, resist my decisions, disagree with my assessment (but Mommy, you just don’t understand!), and have their own crazy (sometimes super insightful) opinions. They recognize my limitations (Mommy, you don’t know the half of it, you aren’t always around). It’s at once super annoying and yet slightly exhilarating. It’s a milestone in their development into big people, as they figure out how to navigate the world on their own, as they learn that their parents are fallible and don’t know everything… as my husband and I get old, stubborn and crotchety!

They are learning how to get along after heated disagreements, how not to insult people when their opinions are crazy, how to hide what they don’t want me to know and get angry about, how to discern a good friend from a not so great one, how to suck it up when things aren’t going their way, when and how to stand up for themselves even if the person they need to stand up against is me…!

One of these days, what their friends think will trump what I think. May that day take its sweet time to get here. One of these days, they will grow up to be pretty cool members of society. Looking forward to engaging them in intellectually stimulating dialogue then as equals.