’tis the season…?

Xmas tree
My sister, Witty, and our “Christmas tree” circa sometime in the 1980s.

Thinking back on my childhood, I struggle to come up with something that I can consider a family tradition. Almost every Saturday night growing up, we went out to eat at our favorite restaurant in Alhambra – a steakhouse run by a Burmese man who knew all of our orders by heart, only faltering when it came down to what flavor ice cream my sister and I wanted at the end of the meal. I remember years where we spent our Christmas break taking long weekends in either Las Vegas or Big Bear – one year spent amongst the neon lights and boardwalk games, the next riding a plastic sled saucer down a mound of snow. We did Thanksgiving dinners, but only once my sister and I were old enough to insist on it and took on the work of cooking it for our family, inevitably serving our dry, overcooked turkey at 9p. For Christmas, we got real trees most years, until our mom insisted we get an artificial tree because the real ones were so messy and wasteful. My sister and I would decorate it with plain red and green ornaments, hanging strings of silver tinsel and candy canes from the branches. We even convinced our dad to put up Christmas lights on the house for a few years, and subsequently died of embarrassment when he failed to take them down before March.

But eventually, we grew up and got busy. The Christmas vacations fell off the calendar, and even the Saturday night dinners became less frequent. My sister left for college and went on to spend holidays with her husband’s family in Wisconsin. And eventually, I got bored of decorating the Christmas tree on my own, until finally, both the tree and the coils of green and red lights stayed in the garage gathering dust.

For pretty much all of my childhood my parents worked hard and had long, impossible hours – my father’s face lit by the glow of his computer screens well into the early mornings, week in and week out. Despite this, I know they did everything they could to make our childhood fun and memorable. Maybe we didn’t have a house decked out in Christmas tchotchkes and presents overflowing from under our tree, but we did have annual passes to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm and received red envelopes with cash for every birthday and Christmas.

Evita's first birthday cake
The beginning of my life-long relationship with cake.

So, where exactly does that leave me – a first time mom and second-generation Taiwanese-American, married to a second-generation Chinese-American, both raised by parents that didn’t pay all that much attention to the American holidays that are so emphasized by the culture we grew up in? How do I reconcile my practical, immigrant upbringing with my desire to create feeling and meaning around the holidays for Emmy?

Ugh, I have no idea. And honestly, like most parenting-related things, the plethora of options is overwhelming. There are personalized stockings I could hang and fill, Elves on Shelves, advent calendars, Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, deciding if we should pretend Santa is real, matching pajamas for Christmas Day…it goes on and on. So, instead of me obsessing as I usually do, we’ve decided to instead focus on a few basics this first year, and see where it takes us. After all, as I keep reminding myself, traditions take years and consistency to build – and at least in this instance, we have the luxury of time. There’s no rush for us to figure out exactly what we want to do every year for the rest of our lives, right this very minute (despite my innate desire to be “good” at Christmas NOW).

The year Alex and I got married, we hosted our annual Friendsmas at our apartment. We asked our friends to bring us ornaments for our Christmas tree since we had none that were meaningful. We have been married almost 5 years now, and it is still my greatest pleasure to hang them all, one by one, on our tree each Christmas. I had never understood how a simple ornament could be special until that year, and we hope to show Emmy how meaningful they can be too. This year, we will make an ornament from her hand print, and we hope that next year she will pick her own to place on the tree next to the tiny hand print she likely won’t register as her own until much later in life.

This year, I’ve also broken with my normal Christmas protocol with my parents and have requested an actual gift rather than the red envelope I would typically receive. I’ve asked for my own hot pot set. I don’t think we’ll ever be a spiral ham on Christmas kind of family, but I do think we could be the type of family that gathers around a communal hot pot, warmed by bubbling soup and each other’s company.

So, that’s where we’ll start. And I’m excited to watch Emmy experience the holidays as she grows, to see her look forward to the things we do as a family that will eventually shape her perspective of the holidays. Maybe someday she’ll even ask me for her own hot pot set – but, of course, that’s getting ahead of myself.

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It’s a Christmas miracle – we’re all looking in the same direction.
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is it too late to apologize?

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The me on the left (childless, circa 2010) says sorry to the me on the right and to all the other mamas out there for being judgy and not helpful.

Ah, perspective. Don’t you just love it when it comes around to bite you in the ass? When one of my closest friends had a baby the year before we did, I was genuinely confused by her new mom attitude. I, of course, understood that having a newborn was hard, but didn’t things level off after awhile? After several failed attempts to get her out to different social events, I remember how hurt I felt when she said something to me along the lines of, “You just won’t get it until you’ve had a baby yourself.” Well folks, I’m reporting to you now from the trenches of early motherhood – no, I would not have gotten it, even if she had spent hours (not that any mother has that much extra time) explaining to me what she was going through.

To all of my friends who became mothers before me – I’m sorry for the not helpful (but well-intentioned) things childless me said and did. This post is for you. Thank you for still being my friend.

I’m sorry I said you should disrupt your baby’s napping schedule and routine because coming to our house to see us and all of our friends is important

No. In no world is coming to a house party worth disrupting baby’s nap and daily routine just as you’re starting to get into the swing of things. Nap schedules, I’ve learned, are part wishful thinking, part superstitious voodoo magic, and essentially up to whatever the baby feels like doing that day. If yesterday baby had the perfect nap day, you can bet that I am going to do everything exactly the same today in an attempt to replicate that one perfect day. And you know what I didn’t do yesterday? Go to a house party.

And yes, friends will always be important, but if you’re looking for me to just come out and say it – my priorities have changed. I will always love my friends, I will always lean on them and count on them for their support, but my world, at least for now, revolves almost entirely around the tiny human that holds my heart in her hands.

I’m also sorry that when you attempted to explain some version of the above to me, my response was to tell you (magnanimously, may I add) that baby could sleep in our guest room.

Nope, the baby is not going to just nod off to sleep without her blackout curtains, 2 sound machines, sleep sack, crib, lovey, and just right ambient temperature. Nice try though.

I’m sorry for all the times I was annoyed you couldn’t hold a normal conversation with me.

This used to be one of my pet peeves: I’d be talking to a mom friend and as I chattered on about this or that, I’d see her eyes slide away from mine and to her child. “Uh huh,” she’d say in response to whatever I’d just said, as she checked for the millionth time in a 5 minute span that her kid was okay.

Now I know that if my child is in the room, you should expect at worst 30% of my attention, at best 90%, because there will always be a part of me that isn’t paying attention to you and is instead focused in on my kid, no matter how juicy the gossip you’re sharing is. Now one of my favorite pastimes is trying to have a conversation with an equally distracted mom, both of us attempting to juggle a conversation, a glass of wine, and our squirming children.

I’m sorry I didn’t acknowledge and celebrate what an absolute BEAST and sheer force of power and strength you are each and every time I saw you.

No matter how you did it – medicated, unmedicated, c-section, in a tub in your living room – labor and delivery is hard, scary, and unpredictable. And before that, you gestated that baby in your womb and experienced the bizarre feeling of your body becoming distinctly not your own and unrecognizable to you. Then, when that baby finally came into the world, you operated on less sleep than you probably ever had in your entire life – not to mention the crazy levels of hormones coursing through your veins – and then likely attempted to suction that child onto your breast to provide sustenance for her with just your body. All while still recovering from the physical trauma of this little person’s exit from said body.

Why this level of badassary doesn’t get daily recognition and praise from the masses I’ll never understand.

I am deeply sorry and regretful that I secretly judged you when you expressed your desire to be a stay at home mom.

This is definitely one that I could not wrap my mind around before having a baby. Why would any feminist woman, highly educated, working on her career for practically a decade or more EVER want to give up (or even pause for a year or more) all that she’s built to stay at home with her baby? I am actually very ashamed that this used to be my attitude, and that I so discounted the value of the work a mother puts in when she is with her child full-time. As I’ve shared in the past, I still struggle from time to time with the label of SAHM, and a lot of it stems from my own misconception that work that pays monetarily has more value.

I get to be the main influence and caretaker in Emmy’s life. I am present for her 100% during such an incredible and fleeting time of her early life. I am beyond lucky that we are able to provide this for her – and for me, this has been the most fulfilling period I’ve ever experienced in my life. Also – this work is hard. Harder than any job I’ve ever held, with so much more at stake than a company or manager could ever inspire me to care about in the corporate world. I am so very sorry for ever thinking that making the decision to stay at home is anything less than an amazing opportunity for any woman or man.

But, the thing I want to apologize most profusely for is this – it is absolutely none of my business, nor my place to have an opinion, about what works best for anyone’s family but my own.

For some women, working outside of the home makes them a better mother, or they wish they could stay home, but can’t. Some SAHMs knew since they were young that this is what they wanted to do, and some are like me, who hadn’t considered it before experiencing motherhood for themselves, but are so grateful to find themselves able to be with their kids full-time.

So, for all the badass mamas out there, you deserve daily hero worship for all that you’ve done and continue to do – whether you are juggling a desk job and your household, or spending your days running to doctor’s appointments and doing endless loads of laundry. The old, childless me sends a sincere apology for all of my past blunders and ignorance, of which there are many more instances than what I’ve written above. This work is hard, and it only gets harder when the people around us, intentionally or not, make us feel like less for doing what we know is best for our babies, or think, mistakenly, that they get to have an opinion about the decisions we’ve made for our families. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – we are exactly who and what our babies need. We just need to spend more time trusting and listening to the inner beast that birthed this baby into the world in the first place.