Relaxing on a holiday

During this trip, Chis mentioned that all of our trips are not genuine “holidays” in that we are never really sitting back, relaxing, and just letting time slip away. We’re always on the go, with a list of things we want to see, do, and accomplish by the time we leave our destination. The closest thing to a “holiday” in this sense for us is when we come back to Melbourne and are spending time with his family and friends… or at least, it’s relaxing for him. For me, it’s a lot of need to be “always on.” It is a bit more relaxing than hiking up mountains and trying to find the next restaurant in a language we can’t understand, but it’s still not complete “zone out” time for me.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy kicking back and relaxing. It’s more that I feel like time is limited. I won’t live forever, and even if I did, I would not have enough time to see every inch of the world that I want to see. So when I am not working and am away, I want to be able to explore more, to see and experience new things that I don’t always get to do.

It’s for this reason that whenever we take trips, we rarely spend any time just lying on a beach or back stroking through our hotel’s pool. In Rio, one of the beach capitals of the world, we were only on the beach twice and spent about five seconds in the water. But this trip, we decided to spend the second half of our first day in Cairns relaxing in the water at our resort pool, which was gorgeous and mimicked a real beach with its white sand “shore” and clear water setup. It was by far the nicest hotel pool I’d ever been at. It was a great feeling to not feel like we had anything we had to rush off to or be at afterwards. I felt calm and happy, swimming on my back and feeling the sun beam down on my face and body.

I still think I would get bored if that’s all we did for a week anywhere, though.

Nana

Whenever I see Chris’s grandmothers, I always feel a tinge of sadness knowing that my own paternal grandmother didn’t get to live to see me do things like graduate from high school or college, get engaged, or even just reach a double-digit age, as she passed away when I was just nine years old. We went to visit Nana at her house today, and she talked about the blessed life she’s had – the happy childhood, the loving marriage to Appa, and the constant help and love she receives now from everyone, from her family, friends, and even neighbors. Every time we see her, she always has us do a short group prayer, where she thanks the Lord for all the blessings of her and her family’s life. This time, she asked the Lord to bless our engagement and marriage, and I could feel my eyes starting to water when she asked this of Him.

I’m not used to people being so accepting of me, of asking to bless anything I do or wish me well from a higher power. I’m honestly not sure what I ever did to be accepted to the degree I have been, or to be loved by people I don’t spend much time with, but it’s a very surreal feeling.

 

Melbourne Star

This is my third trip to Australia and my third time spending Christmas in Melbourne. Despite the last two trips, I realized I’d never had good aerial view of the city. I got it twice today, once at Vue de Monde with Chris and his parents, and the second time on the Melbourne Star, Melbourne’s equivalent of the London Eye. It moved far slower than I thought it would, and we probably spent about thirty minutes on it. We saw a gorgeous sunrise and great colors reflected off of the skyscrapers of Melbourne.

Being up on the Melbourne Star, I realized how much my perspective on this city has evolved since the first time. The first time I came, I was a wide-eyed American, finally in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time and seeing this great Down Under country. The second time, I was a bit jaded. I thought, well, I’ve already been here before, and I was saddened at knowing that this was the first Christmas when my brother would not be alive. I felt bits of misery on and off throughout the whole trip. This time, it’s like I am seeing it with a new eye from literally a new perspective. I’m noticing more and more the beauty of Melbourne and how livable it can be (despite the subpar public transit system). It really is like another home for me.

Babies

Chris and I went to dinner with one of his best friends and her husband tonight, and she announced to us (by not drinking) that she is eight weeks pregnant. She said that ideally, once the baby comes, she would no longer work and would be a stay-at-home mother and wife. “I just think that it’s better to have one parent home to keep an eye on the kids to see what they are doing and thinking every day,” she said. She also said she had no attachment to her job and industry, anyway.

For the longest time, because I came from a family where both parents worked, and my mother has rammed into my head that no matter how much money my future husband makes and no matter how secure his job is that I absolutely need to work and not depend on him for money (in the event he either leaves me, or tries to “control” the money in the house), I was very resistant to the idea of women continuing to stay at home and be full-time mothers and wives. It wasn’t just about my own upbringing; it’s about how hard women before me have worked to gain gender equalities in today’s society – the fact that it still hasn’t been a century since women gained the right to vote in the United States (and similar timelines in other developed, westernized nations), the fact that women on average still earn only 75-80 cents for every dollar men earn in the same professions, the fact that after getting married, women for the most part are still expected to relinquish their family names in favor of their husband’s family names and become a “Mr.’s.”

There have been moments where I have been frustrated because of my gender, particularly at work, when I have been called “difficult” or “bossy” by both men and women, in situations where I know that if I were a man doing the exact same action or using a similar tone of voice that no one would ever pass the same judgment. In these moments, I’ve thought occasionally, it would be so much easier if I just “gave up” – left the industry to take on a more traditional gender role because in that realm, I wouldn’t have any glass ceiling to try to break.

But then I think of my mother and how hard she has worked despite her lack of education to make sure that our household income included money that she made. My mother never even had proper primary school education, yet I’ve completed tertiary education at arguably one of the best colleges in the world. Despite her lack of formal education, she still found a full-time white-collar job in San Francisco and stayed there for over 26 years, while others in similar situations went to work in sewing factories or doing minimum wage jobs. I think of the freedom I have in earning my own money and never having to ask or get advice from anyone on how to use it for the things I want. I also think of my future daughter and the message I’d be sending to her if I didn’t work. I’m not trying to do anything revolutionary by wanting to continue to work, but I want to have an identity that is outside of just the labels “mother” and “wife.” I want to be seen as an intelligent woman and human being outside of domesticated duties, and I want to make sure that my daughter sees that she has every opportunity in the world available to her through my own life examples.

Once I reached college, I did think more about how the “women’s revolution” was about having choices – the choice to work or not work, and I became more and more accepting of highly educated women deciding to leave the workforce to become full time stay-at-home mothers because I can see why women would want that. In this friend’s case, she has no attachment to her job. Parents may want one parent to be fully aware of what’s going on at every millisecond of their children’s lives. Not everyone can afford hired help or have the luxury of having healthy, physically capable grandparents nearby. But I have realized in myself that I don’t think I can ever shake the initial invisible “slap” I feel every time I hear someone around my age say that she wants to be a stay-at-home mother. As hard as I try, I’ll always have to force myself to bite my tongue to not question it or say anything remotely judgmental. Women will always judge other women and oftentimes be the reasons other women fail. But I guess this is how one feels when she has very strong opinions about certain issues when she knows that gender stereotypes regarding societal roles are nowhere near dying in this lifetime.. or even in the next four.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Third home

I’m at my home away from home away from home. There’s the home I have in New York City that Chris and I share, the one that I’ve spent the most time in during the last 2.5 years. Then, there’s the one I grew up in on a hill in foggy San Francisco, the one that has a mix of both bitter, angry, and sweet memories. It’s the one I go back to and always feel conflicted about because I’m convinced there is too much negative energy that persists there, an energy that almost prevents happiness from existing.

Then, there’s my third home in the opposite hemisphere, the one that I first came to about two years ago in 2012, where Chris’s parents live and where Chris and his brother lived for their late teen years onward. It’s the home that is always decorated full of Christmas ornaments and wreaths and trimmings each December, with a big, open kitchen and lush gardens. It’s a place that feels more and more like my home each time I come back to it. And this time, it felt the warmest.

Differences

Ever since getting to know Chris’s parents, it’s always been a conscious or subconscious thought in my head how differently they react to different situations than my own parents do. When we didn’t make it in time for our connecting flight to Melbourne and had to be re-routed through Sydney, Chris’s parents both messaged us, letting us know that it’s all right; we have increased segments and status credits to look forward to, and perhaps we could also enjoy the Sydney lounge! There’s nothing to worry about!

In the same situation with my parents, they would probably worry, complain about the missed connection and not think about anything that could remotely be good about the situation. It’s a constant contrast for me to see how positive his parents are versus how negative mine are. It’s comical when I see how positive Chris’s parents are because all I can do is literally laugh out loud and want to pinch myself to convince myself that this is all real, and these are real life reactions to real life situations.

24 Hours

We will have been traveling for 24 hours, including transit and layover time in JFK, LAX, and Sydney due to a delayed first flight from JFK. I slept for a good amount of time on the LAX to Sydney leg, and when I thought for a moment about foregoing my mouth guard during my sleep, I thought that would be a pretty terrible idea given that my mother has hung up on me twice and tried to blame me for all her suffering, and I’d probably end up with chipped or broken teeth by the time we arrived in Sydney if I didn’t wear it. At this point, I can’t really mentally afford any broken parts of my body.

For my conscious time during these flights to Melbourne, I wondered a lot about parent-child relationships — what makes them work, what makes them not, and the constant blame game that seems to happen in even the most functional parent-child relationships. I wondered about what led to my brother’s untimely death, and all that I wish he had from our parents that he was deprived of. It’s easy for me to blame them, but how can I really blame them when they had inadequate love from their parents, as well, which led to their ultimate inadequacies in raising us? All they are doing is continuing the cycle of dysfunction, criticism, and emotional abuse that they endured as children. They are only doing what they know. It’s sad, but it’s all they know.

Back at the hospital?

My dad’s appointment with his cardiologist today has resulted in the discovery that his left leg is inflamed from the graft taken, so they’re recommending that this be treated intravenously. This means he will need to stay at the hospital.

They’ve also found that he has too much excessive liquid in his left lung, so they want to drain it by inserting a small tube in there.

How did I find all this out? My mom calls after over a week of refusing to speak to me, and she says in an angry tone, “Your dad has to go back into the hospital. That’s all I am going to say. That is all.” Then, she hangs up before I can say anything.

My dad calls back later to let me know the details. As he is trying to talk to me, he has to stop every now and then to tell my mother to calm down and stop being so excitable. Finally, she grabs the phone from him and angrily tells me not to tell anyone because no one cares and everyone has only caused her to suffer, especially me. “You went ahead and told everyone Ed died. You made me suffer so much you wouldn’t even believe!” She tells me spitefully to enjoy my vacation, as she knows I’m leaving today. As I try to respond, she yells “Shut your mouth!” and hangs up. I wonder who was lucky enough to witness her yelling at me like this in the hospital.

It’s amazing that I still want to keep calling back. I guess that goes to show how much I love them despite how sick in the head they are.

Christmas once again

It’s Christmas time again, and the second Christmas when Ed won’t be around. Although Christmas is my favorite time of the year, it’s now always going to be one of those bittersweet times because he will never be here again. Even if I ever wanted to spend Christmas at home with him, the option is now gone. This season, it’s even more frustrating and conflicting for me given my dad’s recent heart surgery and his recovery, and my mother trying to make me feel guilty for not being home during this time and instead flying off to Australia. Ed’s void is even more painfully apparent to me.

For so many people everywhere, Christmas and this entire “holiday season” is such a source of stress because they have to “deal” with family that they don’t particularly get along with that well. It’s a time when all your frustrations start coming to the surface and you finally have to face them head on. It’s a really sad thing because in theory, these holidays are supposed to bring people together to be thankful and ultimately show their love for one another. Although I haven’t spent Christmas with blood relatives in now three years, I always am reminded at this time of year of all of our tensions, the things Ed and I expected our mother to explode at us for, the arguments she and my dad would pick at us for participating in meals with my cousins, some of which they said acted like “kings and queens” because they would never help with the clean-up or the dishes. None of those things are an issue anymore because those events no longer happen, but the ghost of those events still continue to haunt me.

When I look back, I wish I could have had just one really happy Christmas with my brother — just one. It would be one Christmas where no one yelled at us for anything nonsensical or overly sensitive, no one put him down and told him that “people look down on us because of you,” where people gave him gifts that they really thought he’d enjoy, not just gifts for the sake of giving that had no thought. It would be a Christmas where we actually had a real tree again, fully decorated with rainbow colored lights and all the gorgeous Christmas ornaments he so tastefully used to pick out for me.

Christmas is Ed’s favorite holiday. I feel him a lot around this time, and it hurts. It hurts that the world doesn’t stop to remember him.

Similarities

I sat at lunch today with a good friend of mine. We both come from dysfunctional families, yet the difference between us seems to be that he’s managed to disentangle himself from the feelings of guilt, and I have not. Maybe it’s because he’s older, or maybe it’s because he’s a man that he’s able to do this more easily than I am. He clearly loves his mother, but he has consciously made a promise to himself to not give into her emotional manipulation. Why is that so much easier said than done?

My uncle e-mailed me when I told him what was going on with my parents. He said to me, you just need to say, “yeah, yeah, yeah” to all that nonsense because you know her accusations aren’t true, and recognize that they cannot and will not change their criticizing ways. The only thing you can do is to control the way you respond to it all. It seems to be a common piece of advice from both friends and professional sources, but it will clearly be an ongoing challenge.