Why I Have a 19-Step Skincare Routine

My face a few days ago. Check out dat glow.

Since I got back from Paris a few weeks ago, I haven’t blogged, despite having a lot of thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I blog to figure things out for myself, and sometimes I wait until after the dust has settled to share things with the world. I guess this is one of those latter times. That’s the partial truth. The other reason is that I haven’t really wanted to think about Paris since I left Paris. Paris for me is an oasis, somewhere that feels so much like me and so much like home that I couldn’t possibly be unhappy there. It’s somewhere that lifts me out of my daily anxiety and depression and changes me into the person I would be if I didn’t have mental health struggles. I’m sure those of you with mental health issues can relate. I know that a lot of people with mental illnesses turn to drugs not to chase an ephemeral high, but to simply experience normalcy. Paris for me is that normalcy — an escape from the self-doubt and fatigue that plague me in my daily life. Unfortunately for me, drugs are much more accessible than Paris is. This was my first time back in five years, and I don’t know when the next time will be. There is always the possibility of moving there, but I honestly cannot imagine living in an apartment with Juno, and his happiness is my utmost priority. Anyway, it’s obviously a bit depressing thinking about how different I felt in Paris, trying my best to recreate that feeling here, and failing most of the time. So I haven’t wanted to think about that.

This was about a year before I started my routine. You can see how dehydrated my skin is in this picture. Even my lips are dry! And this was the middle of summer.

Instead of talking about Paris, then, I’m going to talk about something related to mental health: self-care. I’ve always been horrendous at self-care, and I still am for the most part. I hate going to the doctor, buying things for myself, taking a nap or a hot bath. This month, however, marks one year since I began engaging in a form of self-care that has become a part of who I am now — skincare.

This was maybe a month in. Moisturizer made a huge difference. Then things got worse before they got better again.

I absolutely love it because I can see the results of my hard work, it’s something that makes me feel a little better every night, the routine helps me stay centered, and it’s relatively inexpensive. Plus, it’s good for my health. Before I started all of this a year ago, I was the last person I expected to have a skin routine. I had been blessed with perfect skin all through my childhood and adolescent years. Seriously, I got one zit a year as a teen. I never used sunscreen or moisturizer (oh, the horror). After graduating from college, my skin became a problem for the first time in my life. It was frequently dry, parts of my face would peel, and I had intermittent acne. I started washing my face daily and using moisturizer, but I didn’t really care enough to seriously research skincare. For some reason, last summer, I decided enough was enough and committed to investing in my skin. After an entire year of trial and error, I have my routine 95% down. As I go through my products, I’ll try other things out. As my skin matures, I will look into more expensive options. For now, though, I’m extremely happy with my 19-step routine. Here’s what it looks like:

AM routine

  1. Garnier Micellar Water — This stuff is amazing for me in the morning. Since my skin is dry and sensitive, I only cleanse at night. In the AM, before I discovered micellar water, I used to just splash water on my face, but even that would dry my skin out. Micellar water not only cleans my skin better than regular water, it leaves it moister than it started out. Love it.
  2. OST Original Pure Vitamin C20 Serum — I’ve tried a handful of Vitamin C serums, and this one is definitely the best so far. I can’t say yet whether it fades sunspots or hyper-pigmentation, but it definitely leaves my skin soft and supple.
  3. Skin Food Peach Sake Toner — I don’t always use this in the morning, and it’s definitely not a necessity, but the more moisture the better. It helps my facial oil absorb better.
  4. Shea Terra Argan Oil — I recently discovered facial oils, like last week, and this has made the most difference in my routine out of anything I’ve tried. The idea of rubbing oil on your face seems crazy. And I disliked the idea of argan oil because I’d seen it in so many shampoos and lotions. I thought it was marketing gimmick, but I assure you the 100% pure kind is not. I’m not sure if argan oil is the best oil out there, because I haven’t tried any others yet, but this stuff is doing wonders for my skin. My skin has been moist and dewy without being oily 24/7 since I started using it. Seriously, my face is glowing because of this thing. Once I finish this bottle, I’m excited to try other oils, like rose hip and blended ones.
  5. Bioré UV Aqua Rich Watery Gel SPF 50+ — It blows my mind that I have worn sunscreen every single day for the past year, at least on my face. Sunscreen is so important, people! It is the #1 anti-aging key, besides genetics. This sunscreen has made it possible for me to actually wear SPF, because it has no smell, isn’t greasy, and is super cheap, considering that one bottle lasts me half a year. I’m still bad about wearing sunscreen on my body, though, because the only sunscreen I like for that is La Roche-Posay Anthelios, which is just too expensive to justify spreading all over my body. Instead, the Roche-Posay in our house goes on Dan’s sensitive, expensive face. The alcohol in the Bioré irritates his redness-prone skin.

PM routine

  1. DHC Deep Cleansing Oil — This is the only oil cleanser I’ve tried, and I like it a lot. I like it too much to try something else, for fear that it won’t be as good as this one, but I really should, especially because it’s a bit pricey. It cleanses extremely well without drying out my skin, and it comes right off with water.
  2. Biologique Recherche Lait U Cleanser — This is my holy grail cleanser. I went through A LOT of cleansers before I realized that I needed a milk cleanser, which was the only thing that didn’t dry out my skin. Before I discovered BR, I used Mario Badescu Cleansing Milk, which was pretty good for my skin, but contains a problematic ingredient, Methylparaben. Plus, I didn’t know what its pH was. Ideally, all products should be under a pH of 6, to preserve the natural acidity of the skin. Lait U has a pH of 5.0. BR is an upgrade over MB in every way, and that is enough for me to justify the fact that it’s the most expensive product in my routine at $32.
  3. Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant — It took my skin many, many months to accept AHA. At first, it would get very dry and irritated, so I would only use it once a week or less. Just when I was about to give up on it, I used it again on a whim and was amazed by how soft and moist my skin was after using it. Now, I can use it daily without any dryness or irritation. Besides my argan oil, I would say this is the #2 product in my routine in terms of making an immediate impact. It’s so fun seeing dead skin fall off my face.
  4. Stridex BHA Pads — This BHA is one of the cheapest and is known for being harsh, but for some reason my skin has always liked it. Sometimes I can go a little overboard, and then I take a break from it for a few days. I tried Paula’s Choice BHA before Stridex and found that Stridex worked better for me, but that was a long time ago, so I will probably try PC again sometime in the future.
  5. Leejiham LJH Tea Tree 90 Essence — I just started using this essence, so I can’t say that it’s life-changing yet, but it makes my skin feel calm, soft, and moist after I use it.
  6. Skin Food Peach Sake Toner — This toner does exactly what a toner should do: prepare your face like a canvas so that your following steps can absorb better. Kind of like a primer for moisturizer. I’ve tried acid toners before and found those to be too harsh, but I would like to try them again now that my skin isn’t as dry.
  7. Mizon Collagen Power Lifting Emulsion — I have no idea if the collagen in this does anything, but it’s a perfect follow-up to my toner. It has the perfect creamy texture and provides a good amount of moisture.
  8. Shea Terra Argan Oil — Yay more facial oil! My favorite step in my nighttime routine.
  9. Biologique Recherche Creme MSR-H — I really shouldn’t put this in my actual routine, lest I get any ideas about ever purchasing this cream for $325. I got it as a sample with my Lait U, and I have to say it feels like silk on my skin, but I will stick to the samples until I get super rich. Plus, I’m not quite convinced there isn’t something better out there for less money.
  10. Tony Moly Intense Care Dual Effect Sleeping Pack — This stuff is great. I love the smell, and it’s cheaper and works better (in my opinion) than Laneige Water Sleeping Mask. It’s richer than Laneige, but still feels gel-like, as a sleeping pack should. It absorbs completely by morning, no need to wash it off.
  11. Mizon Snail Recovery Gel Cream — This isn’t a cream, but a gel with a less viscous consistency than the Tony Moly sleeping pack. I felt like it made a huge difference when I first started using it, but now it’s hard to tell with so many moisturizing heavy-hitters!
  12. Cerave Healing Ointment — I got this as a sample too, but I’m planning to buy some when I run out. It is like vaseline without the gross greasy texture. Right now, I use it only when I have an especially dry spot or when I over-exfoliate. In the winter, though, I’ll probably put it all over my face.
  13. The Face Shop Character Mask — I only do these once a week because I’m not sure that their effects are truly lasting. But they do help my skin absorb the layers of moisture underneath, and I like the way they feel on my skin. These masks are the only ones I’ve tried that actually make my skin feel better the next day. I like using them at the end of my routine, though, because I would prefer that my skin soak in my other products first.
  14. Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10 — Last step!!! I use benzoyl peroxide as spot treatment on active breakouts. I find that acne goes away the fastest if you use BHA to kill the bacteria, benzoyl peroxide to dry it out, and then lots of oil/moisture to heal the skin.

This seems crazy to me now that I’ve listed everything. I’m sure it sounds crazy to anyone who hasn’t tried it. I think of it this way: your face is something that you have to look at every day, and everyone else looks at it too. In my opinion, good skin makes more a difference in someone’s appearance than any kind of makeup. I’ve never worn makeup, because I don’t enjoy wearing it, so it makes sense for me to invest in skincare. What’s more, applying my products at the end of a long day feels like taking a hot bath. You feel relaxed, ready for bed, and excited to wake up to better skin.

Of course, my skincare journey has just started, and my skin is nowhere near perfect. But it’s getting better every day, and I look forward to trying out new brands and products. For someone who can’t always find the motivation to get out of bed, I somehow always have the energy to do my 19-step skincare routine. That’s the beauty in it 🙂

Having a Stay-at-Home Wife is the Dream

When you’re a (temporary) stay-at-home wife, you get to do things like this: impromptu mid-afternoon photo shoot with the kids!

First off, a little disclaimer: no, this post is not about how I’m going to be a stay-at-home wife, though it has become a viable back-up plan. And no, I’m not implying that all men want a stay-at-home wife. But for certain couples in certain situations, I’m beginning to realize, it’s the dream.

Okay, with that out of the way, let me begin by saying how much of a shocker it is to me that I would ever associate being a stay-at-home anything with something positive. Sorry, all the stay-at-homes out there. It’s just that the way I grew up, and my former commitment issues, taught me that to be financially dependent on another person was the dumbest thing you could possibly do. And that your career mattered more than anything else. After all, anyone can get married and have kids, but can anyone become a lawyer? Make six figures? Actually, I never really cared about money back in my college days, as evidenced by my fairly useless double major in Romance Languages and International Studies. It was more important to me that my job mean everything to me. I wanted to change the world; I wanted a job that I would die for. I wanted everyone to look at me and respect me and think that I was changing the world. It was an incredibly young, naïve, and ultimately egotistical desire. What’s more, it came from a position of incredible privilege, where I didn’t have to worry about finances. Though I grew up poor, it had been a long time since I experienced that personally, and my mom shielded me from a lot of our financial struggles. I never appreciated how much money mattered and how much impact it had on a family’s wellbeing. All my life, I struggled to find emotional security in my relationships, without realizing that financial security was just as crucial.

Law school beat the naïveté out of me, brutally. It crushed my hopes and dreams and forced me to face the reality that the prestigious, high-power job I previously sought was merely a mirage. Even publication, which had been my dream since I was a kid, wasn’t the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow it once was. I realized that the books I was writing were good, good enough to be published, but probably weren’t going to make me a living, and would be forgotten in a year’s time. Was publication all that I wanted, or was it to publish a certain kind of book? I decided that publication for publication’s sake was stupid, and I would wait for the right book to come along, no matter how many years it took. Coming out of my second year of law school, I only knew a few things: 1) the cost of living in Norwalk is insane, and I refuse to live here on less than $200k family annual income 2) given that we are above $200k, in order for working to be worth the toll on my mental and physical health, I must make at least $60k and work no more than 40 hours a week. If you just threw up a little bit at my financial privilege, I reassure you that I 100% acknowledge how lucky I am, and that if we had less, I would have no problem moving out to Podunk, Iowa and becoming a sustainable farmer. If you just scoffed at my job requirements, I reassure you that I am well aware how few jobs like this exist in law, which brings me to my following conclusions.

My plan is to start my own solo practice out of law school. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t work, I will look into other fields perhaps. If all else fails, or if my health worsens, I have a fantastic back-up plan — stay-at-home wife! Unless you’ve had to take care of a house and family before, you probably don’t understand why this is such a great idea. Certainly, I had no idea what I was getting into when we got a house, a teenager, and a dog. Suddenly, it was like I had a million things to do all the time, and everyone always needed something from me. I sacrificed a lot of time at school to be there for my family, and somehow got the best grades thus far in law school fall semester, but I think it definitely came at the cost of my health. When we went on vacation a few weeks ago, it became clear how much work I was putting in at home every day. Our dog-sitter was over 6-7 hours a day taking care of the house and of Juno. Typically, I’d be running errands, driving Billy Bob around, and cooking dinner too, which adds up to a very full day. If you factor in things like being at home when the piano tuner comes, taking kids to the doctor and pets to the vet, and more, I start to wonder how any family gets by without a stay-at-home. I suppose you’d have to pay someone else to do all those things. Or, I guess, you just have to do all of it at night and on days off.

The absolute greatest part of having one spouse stay at home is the time you create. The older I get, the more I realize that money adds nothing to your life, as long as you have enough to live comfortably. But time? Time is everything. When I’m at home taking care of chores and cooking dinner and keeping Juno well-exercised, the moment Dan walks in the front door, we get to relax. We get to spend our weekends hiking and taking road trips. I get the satisfaction that our wooden floors are always spotless, despite Juno’s best attempts at shedding — I am extremely OCD about floors. We take away the stress of paying someone else to do the work that I could do faster and better. Most importantly, I get the joy of being the one to train Juno and spending quality time with my sister that I would never have otherwise. I’m not saying that staying at home is necessarily better than working, which certainly has its advantages. But it is actually pretty damn awesome, and I get why people do it now. And if I were to stay at home, I wouldn’t feel like a failure or like any less of a feminist and equal partner.

25

Me at 18, looking at snapshots of my future. Can’t believe this was more than six years ago.

Today, I turn a quarter of a century old. It’s reasonable to think that I’ve only lived a quarter of my life. When you put it that way, I feel incredibly young. To think that I might have to live my life three times over makes me feel like that’s too long! I’ve had so many experiences in my short life — sometimes I feel that if my life were suddenly taken away from me, I would be okay with that. Life has been plentiful and beautiful and exhausting. Looking back, I don’t have any regrets, and I feel like I’ve seen most of what life has to offer. I always say that the one hallmark of the human experience I haven’t known personally is profound grief, but perhaps I’ve felt that in my own way. Death isn’t the only way you lose somebody. Of course, I still have a lot to learn, and there is plenty that I don’t know, but I don’t feel the way I used to when I was younger, when I was so afraid of missing out on some unique, once-in-a-lifetime feeling. I used to picture scenes of my future life, where I would make hot chocolate and look out the balcony of my New York City apartment on Christmas Eve. Where I would travel across the world and meet a stranger and exchange our life stories. Where I would show up to my very important job in a suit and converse with colleagues in foreign languages. Gradually, each of those scenes unfolded in real life. It always surprised me how much they were exactly as I had envisioned, and then, how little I needed to have them again.

Maybe I’m jaded, or maybe I’ve just grown up. Sometimes, I wish that I could have grown up in this way later, but perhaps it’s for the best. I don’t want to end up having a mid-life crisis later and realize that everything in my life was meaningless. The truth is that I still have dreams, and my life has so much meaning. My dreams are simply different, and the things I find meaningful now are also different. I just think 99% of what society says is important is bullshit. People might think I’m crazy, and I certainly doubt my sanity at times, but I can’t change how I feel. This past semester, after taking a puppy maternity leave, I realized that staying home with my puppy and protecting him from the dangers of this world and being there for every new sight and sound trumped any law school lecture. I love my dog more than I ever thought I would, and his wellbeing is paramount to me. Besides my fur baby, my human child AKA Billy Bob also means everything to me. This time in her life is so important, and it’s an incredible privilege and responsibility to be in a position to change her life for better or for worse. Every day, I think about how I can better prepare her to live a happy and fulfilling life once she no longer has us. That’s your job as a parent, isn’t it?

Instead of continuing to wax poetic about an arbitrary birthday, I’ll leave you with some things I’ve learned in my 25 years:

  1. You don’t have to be a Good Person™. I feel like there’s so much judgment in academic and liberal circles (cough, Yale) about what you choose to do with your career and whether you’re helping to change the world. Let’s be real — not a lot of jobs actually better the world. Some just appear to change the world more so than others. A lot of jobs that aren’t saving lives or protecting human rights can have an enormous impact on others. More importantly, your job doesn’t have to be the primary way in which you help other people. Personally, I believe that the people who always treat others with empathy, compassion, and kindness are the truly rare good people in life. I have one Facebook friend who takes an interest in others’ lives without expecting anything in return, just leaving positivity wherever she goes, and I aspire to be more like her. In contrast, another Facebook friend has a PhD and is always traveling to Africa for some humanitarian reason but ignores my attempts to connect with her.
  2. Money matters. Again, I feel like there is too much judgment about people who value money. Money freaking matters! Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy freedom. Freedom is one of the most valuable things in our short lives where we are often stuck in an office 40+ hours a week. Money means you don’t have to work more than 40 hours a week. Money means when you leave the office, you don’t have to think about work anymore. Money means you can invest in hobbies and self-care and the things that truly matter in life. Money means you don’t have to choose between healthcare and putting food on the table.
  3. Relationships matter. Even more than money, relationships matter. I mean family, friends, and romantic partners. Not everyone needs or wants to be married, but I think the vast majority of people benefit from a stable, long-term romantic relationship. That kind of relationship, a good one, is so much harder to find and maintain than anyone ever lets on. Contrary to popular advice these days, which is worry about your career first and then your dating life, I would tell my kids that they have their entire lives to figure out their careers, but they only have a decade or two to figure out the most important decision of their lives — who to marry. Assuming that they want marriage and kids, of course. I would tell my kids to take dating as seriously as their calculus homework.
  4. Enjoy pre-adult life. You will never, ever, ever have this much time ever, ever again! Also, you’re not an adult until you’re living on your own and financially independent. I think you’re not really an adult either until someone else is dependent on you.
  5. People suck. I used to think that adults had their shit together and people were generally nice. Nope. People are selfish and vain and irresponsible. This has become abundantly clear to me since getting a dog. You would think that dog people would be better than the general population, but I’ve had dogs attack Juno while their owners were nowhere to be found. I’ve had owners bring their aggressive dogs to dog parks. I’ve had to catch runaway dogs and bring them back to their owners because their owners let them off-leash. They’re the same people who don’t train their dogs and then yell at them for being poorly behaved. Ugh, don’t even get me started on backyard breeding and the people who dump their dogs on the street. Now, I’m sure that there are good dog people and good people in general, because I’ve seen them on the internet (I love, absolutely love, the reddit community). But seriously, I never meet them in real life. I really hope that people are nicer to their kids than their dogs.

    A page out of a book called Adulting that gave me a good laugh. I know a lot of people who should read this book. 😉

  6. People won’t understand. Along the same vein, people are judgmental and mean and critical. They don’t understand mental illness, chronic but invisible illnesses, the effects of sexism/racism, etc. People will always judge you, so stop caring what they think. Treat others the way you would want to be treated, and then simply walk away.
  7. Just be happy. This one is the #1 piece of wisdom I hope to pass on to my kids. Nothing, absolutely nothing, matters if you’re not happy. I don’t care if you’re smart or dumb, pretty or ugly, successful or not, single or married, rich or poor. The most challenging and the most important task of your life is to find your happiness. I’ve seen so many smart, attractive, successful, married, and rich people make horrible life decisions that lead them to depression, addiction, and worse. I’ve watched someone who was all of those things die a little inside until he wasn’t even the same person anymore. Nothing matters if you’re not happy.

Why I’m Not Ready for Kids

Putting together Juno's play pen felt a lot like preparing a nursery.

Putting together Juno’s play pen felt a lot like preparing a nursery.

Some of our friends wondered aloud if we were having a shotgun wedding. I laughed and told them no, absolutely not. I was not at all offended, because if I were them, I’d probably wonder the same thing. After all, getting married at that time was super out of character for me. As some of you might know, commitment has been a longstanding obstacle in my life. Looking back, I’m still a little mystified as to why I chose to do it. But I am very, very certain that pregnancy — past, present, or future — had nothing to do with it! Before we got married, though, we did start to discuss when we’d like to have kids. On days when life was overwhelming, we’d discuss whether we wanted to have kids. I think we’re at the place now where we’re fairly confident we will want kids in 3-5 years, but we’re open to life taking us down another road as well. I certainly don’t think we would be devastated if we never had biological kids. We joke about continuing our trend of adopting 14-year-olds. You know how some people love the newborn stage and others love the little kid stage? We are teenager people. There’s something so amazing about your baby sister or your kid becoming your very best friend.

Before Juno joined our family, we were leaning towards having kids in three years. After we brought him home, we’ve been thinking more like five…or ten…or never. He has taught us so much about the sheer weight of having another living being depend on you. How paranoid you become of losing them, how you fear that death is around every corner, how you can’t sleep without re-calculating the nutritional values of his meals. He also made us face the fact that I have a sleeping disease. It’s not a real thing, but that’s what we call it. I absolutely need 9-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, or else I get really sick. I was on night duty for one night and I died the next day, passing out for 16 hours and developing bronchitis that lasted two weeks. After witnessing that, Dan never asked me to stay up again. Thankfully, Juno started sleeping through the night after a week. I’ve heard that babies don’t do that. There is absolutely no way we can have kids unless we can afford a nighttime nanny or Dan takes several months off from work. That might be financially feasible in a couple of years, but even then, I’m not sure I could handle it emotionally.

Taking care of Juno has been the most difficult task of my entire life. Most days, I don’t get a single break. I don’t have time to shower, eat, or talk to other humans. Every second that I’m home, I’m either potty-training, crate-training, walking Juno, cleaning, or reading everything I can about huskies, training, and raw feeding. Yesterday, I spent a few hours on Craigslist’s Farm & Garden looking at ads for Boer goats, black Angus cows, and roosters to take to slaughter. Ideally, we’d keep one mama goat for raw milk (goat’s milk is the closest thing to dog’s milk and helps put on weight), raise one buckling for meat, raise one doeling to replace mama and to breed, buy a bigger freezer, get a quarter of a cow, maintain a chicken coop for eggs and meat, and be set for the next year! The only problem is that we don’t have acres of land. Bummer. Anyway, that’s just one example of how crazy I get when I’m determined on finding the best things for Juno. I’ve never been so exhausted in my life, but thankfully every day it gets a little easier. I can’t wait for him to grow up so that I can sit back and relax, knowing that I’ve done my job. That takes anywhere from 1-3 years, I’ve been told. Kids (not the goat kind), on the other hand, take 18 or more. Jesus.

How adorable is our kid? First day as a volunteer.

How adorable is our kid? First day as a volunteer.

Even if I could handle having kids financially and emotionally, I don’t think I’m mature enough yet. I’m not strong enough or good enough or selfless enough. Since I was a kid, I had a vision of how I wanted to be as a parent. I wanted to volunteer at least monthly at the Red Cross or a home for the elderly or Habitat for Humanity. I wanted to donate 10% of my income to charity. I wanted to cook dinner most nights and pack yummy lunches with smiley faces and cute notes. I wanted to host exchange students from all over the world. I wanted to bake all sorts of goodies. Needless to say, none of that is happening right now. The idea of cooking for another potentially picky mouth is about as appealing as a root canal.

The best I can do now for Billy Bob is go with her to volunteer orientation at a nursing home, chat with her golf coach once in a while, and make sure we spend quality time watching Bachelorette reruns at night. Though I know she is happy, I want to be able to do more for my kids. Certainly, they will need more from me while they are young. What? You can’t just tell 5-year-olds to Uber home? 

I don’t want to have kids until I’m ready to be the best parent that I can be. I don’t know when that will be, but not anytime soon. To all of you twenty-somethings out there, I highly suggest puppies to train you for parenthood. They also serve a secondary function as birth control.

My Fairytale Story

First photo together. We both look like babies.

First photo together. We both look like babies.

There are eight days left until I’m no longer single, unattached, free to roam the world. Eight days until I will never be alone again, except by choice, until I get to tell everyone I know that I’m sure this is what I want. Short of either of us developing a brain tumor that changes our personalities dramatically, I’m not getting divorced. People may think that I’m naïve or delusional, but I’ve spent my entire life studying other people and trying to understand them. That comes with being a writer. I follow all kinds of blogs and all kinds of wives, from the former teen mom who got married to her childhood sweetheart after dating for 18 days to the young Mormon student who got married and had two kids before graduating college. I believe that, as long as you have a good understanding of who you are and who your spouse is, you can predict the success of your marriage. With a certain degree of compatibility, you can make a marriage work with anyone. Staying married becomes a choice. It’s been a while since I had real doubts about my relationship, which is an actual miracle, if you know me at all. Once I’m married, though, I won’t allow myself to even consider the alternative. This is what I’ve chosen.

Though I’ve struggled with commitment issues all my life, I hope I can still say that I take commitment extremely seriously. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always taken commitment so seriously that it scared me. I want to be able to live up to my word; I hate letting people down. In fact, I was so adamant that things wouldn’t work out between Dan and me before we started dating that I kept telling him not to date me. Well, it was a bit more subtle than that, but I’d had four out of five relationships end because I couldn’t love my ex back the way he loved me. When I first heard this song on the radio, I laughed so hard — it was the soundtrack to my life. The one ex that escaped the unfortunate fate of my other exes, I couldn’t get over because I was so afraid that I’d never be able to love anyone else the way I’d loved him. He was the only living proof that I could fall in love. So yes, I warned Dan that I was 99% sure I’d break up with him and I’d ruin him for other girls because I was that perfect combination of emotional and crazy that guys often mistook for true love.

A happier moment in Chongqing.

A happier moment in Chongqing.

Not only was I sure I’d break his heart, I was sure that he couldn’t handle being with me. I tried to warn him what loving me would entail. I told him that I could say I loved him, cook him dinner every night, knit fuzzy socks for his newborn nephew, and then wake up one day six months later and realize that I’d never been in love with him. I told him that any day, I could wake up and want to leave. I told him that, if I wasn’t actively deluded by my desire to be in love, I might never be able to articulate what he meant to me. That I might never be able to admit, even to myself, that I cared about him. I told him that when things got overwhelming for me, I would run. That he might have to go searching for me in the middle of the woods. I told him that loving me would require giving me every ounce of love, patience, and life he had, leaving him nothing for himself, and the rest of his life would gradually burn out. I really knew how to sell myself, huh? A lot of my prophesies came true. There was the time I asked him why he couldn’t be more like my ex. There was the time we flew across the world and were eating ramen noodles in a mall in Chongqing and I told him I didn’t know if I loved him enough to do the rest of the trip with him. There was the time I told him that I would rather die than continue long distance with him.

But a lot of my prophesies didn’t come true. I only came close to breaking up with him once, and I took it back after five minutes. I’ve run away from him, but never to somewhere he couldn’t find me. Though it’s still hard for me to tell him what he means to me, in the first few months of our relationship, I wrote him poetry, something I’ve never done for anyone else. The poems spoke of the way he made me feel, the way he opened me up and brought out the child inside me and touched me and erased all of the pain. They painted a future that I envisioned for us, one with creaky floors and a drippy sink and a dog running in the front door. The poems told him more about how I felt than I ever could. I’m sure that, all the times I looked him in the eye and told him I didn’t love him enough, those poems were what he held on to. There was a lot more, too, that I hadn’t imagined were possible before we started dating. A month into long distance, I asked him to move across the country to be with me. A few months after that, I invited him into my childhood home for our first Christmas together. Then, I drove out to Norwalk by myself one weekend and found a house for us.

Our one-year anniversary.

Our one-year anniversary.

Our story didn’t end there. We said goodbye to long distance after a grueling year. Not wanting to give ourselves a breather, we decided to get married and adopted a 14-year-old. We even have a puppy on the way. Tonight, we are going to our kid’s choir concert. I plan to take many photos and videos and embarrass her for the rest of her life. That’s good parenting, right? The biggest problems in our lives these days are making sure Billy Bob grows up a happy, healthy individual and feeding my stupid stomach, which has decided it no longer tolerates wheat or soy. This isn’t exactly the creaky house I imagined; it’s even better, and soon we’ll have our puppy to complete the picture.

In eight days, I will get up in front of my family and friends and tell them that I’ve found what I was looking for. In eight days, I will show them my home in the hope that they recognize how much I’ve changed in the past two years. In eight days, I will share my life with them in the hope that they can be proud of me, knowing how hard I’ve worked for this. This may not be everyone’s fairytale, but it is mine.

I’m a Sister

My siblings are my world. When I first found out my stepmother at the time was pregnant, I was filled with a flurry of emotions. Having been my father’s only child for nine years, I didn’t know what a sibling would be like for our relationship. They told me that I would have to get rid of the family cat, since she might hurt the baby. I remember feeling sad and anxious. From the moment my brother was born, though, it was easy to love him. I adored him, I marveled at everything he did, he couldn’t possibly disappoint me. One of the proudest moments of my life is when he learned how to say jie jie, sister in Mandarin. When my sister followed a year later, I was apprehensive again. I was the only girl in the family…how would her birth change that? Things actually didn’t change much once she was born. While my brother was a goofy, outgoing toddler, she was just a blob. She was always crying, and she didn’t seem to like anyone very much. It took me much longer to bond with her than with my brother. Even as she grew older, she wasn’t fun the way my brother was. While my brother and I threw coconuts at the house, trying to dislodge the boomerang that was stuck 20 feet high, my sister was crying a dozen times a day. I didn’t really know my sister until we both grew up a bit.

Back when we all looked like dorks.

Back when we all looked like dorks. We’re 14, 4, and 5.

Let’s call my sister Billy Bob. That’s my nickname for her. She calls me Bear. Billy Bob is my best friend, and she has been for years, even though she’s only 14. We understand each other in a way that I’ve yet to find in anyone else. Somehow, despite growing up in completely different families, we have the same morals, values, likes and dislikes. We both enjoy painting, knitting, and mocking hipster trends despite secretly liking them. She is a lot like me when I was 14 — she has her own ideas about how she wants to live her life, and she doesn’t listen to anybody. In other ways, she is different. She is more stubborn than me, which I didn’t think was possible. She is so stubborn that peer pressure doesn’t seem to have any effect on her, which I find admirable. Billy Bob wears what she wants, eats what she wants, listens to what she wants. The only way to get her to do anything at all is to convince her that it’s what she wants for herself. I love that about her, her independence.

She is also different in that she’s a child. When I was 14, I had retired from a competitive individual skating career only to get into a competitive synchronized skating career. I had helped raise my siblings and served as my father’s therapist. What I wanted most was to grow up, so that nobody could tell me what to do ever again. Billy Bob, on the other hand, wants to be a kid for as long as society will let her. Just a few years ago, she was still crawling into my lap. She’s had a tough transition into puberty. She doesn’t know what to make of this world that places so much emphasis on a girl’s looks. Why do I have to cover up my shoulders in school? she says to me. There is nothing sexual about my shoulders. She is naïvely and genuinely unaware that she could become someone else’s sex object. At 14, I wanted to become someone else’s sex object. I wanted to be wanted, and I didn’t care who it was that did the wanting. It’s a miracle that I came out of my teenage years and early 20s relatively unscathed.

Happy about her Christmas present.

Happy about her Christmas present.

Since Billy Bob became a teenager, I’ve seen changes in her. Some of them have scared me. I’ve seen that innocence fall away from her, and I’ve seen anger replace some of her naïveté. I’ve seen her struggle with society’s expectations, and I want nothing more than to be a role model for her. To show her that you can be a woman who likes to be sexy for herself, and nobody else. Being a role model for my siblings is something that I’ve always taken very seriously. Until recently, though, there was only so much I could do. I flew down to Florida every Christmas, and I tried to bring Christmas with me. I flew to China every summer, and I tried to entertain my siblings while my dad was at work. As their parents went through a messy divorce, I tried to explain to them what was going on and to shield them from it. Through the years, though, I often questioned my role in their lives and whether I was making a difference. I loved that every time I asked my brother about his favorite memories, he always picked a time when I was there. I know that he did it unknowingly, because that boy is dead honest.

Last month, I had the chance to make more of a difference than I ever have before. And I took it. I fought for it with everything that I had. I’ve never wanted anything so badly. Next week, I have a court date. It’s just a formality, since both parents have already signed the consent forms. As of next Friday, I will be my sister’s legal guardian. As of today, I’m already a full-time mom to a teenager. In the past week, I’ve taken my “daughter” to the dentist, cooked a dozen pescatarian dinners, helped her with her math homework. I’m doing her summer reading for Honors English with her, so we can discuss the novels together. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Last night, Billy Bob already had to remind me: “I’m not going to be here forever, you know?” I know. But four years is enough memories to last a lifetime.

Girls just want to have fun.

Girls just want to have fun.

Why I’m Not Having a Wedding

My dream wedding venue, despite that it has no trees and is only accessible by helicopter...

My dream wedding venue, despite that it has no trees and is only accessible by helicopter…

This isn’t about how I have something against weddings, or the institution of marriage. In fact, I very much plan on getting married. Recently, a close friend and her boyfriend have been at a crossroads — she wants to get married and he doesn’t. While giving them advice about their relationship, I’ve found myself really thinking about marriage and what it means. In the past, when I was young and idealistic and enjoyed writing essays on Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, I liked to tell people that marriage was meaningless. It was a piece of paper, and it represented nothing. Instead, it was the bond between two people, choosing to be together, but not forced to be, that was truly beautiful. Over time, my view on marriage changed. As a law clerk at an immigration legal aid center, I saw how much marriage meant to the government. Just to apply for naturalization, we had to list all of the applicant’s prior spouses, including their birthdays and dates of marriage and immigration statuses. My clients would never remember, obviously. They would have to call up their ex that they hadn’t spoken to in years before they could apply. Not to mention, if you were married, your spouse could be automatically attached to every kind of application for immigration status. Often, our Latin American clients liked to refer to their long-time boyfriends as “mi esposo” or “mi marido”, and we would have to ask them to clarify: ¿están casados o no? Are you married? Though clearly not to them, to the government, there was a huge difference.

So I told my friend that marriage means something. Whether it is antiquated or not, it means something to the government and it means something to our society. The LGBTQ community didn’t fight so hard for marriage just for a piece of paper. The legal benefits of marriage are many, though almost all of them you can achieve through roundabout ways. Personally, I believe that the most important benefit of marriage is societal respect. The words boyfriend, fiancé, and husband have very different connotations. You can move across the country for your fiancée or your wife, but girlfriend? That sounds ill-fated. You can take time off work to care for your fiancé or husband, but your boyfriend? He should be able to take care of himself. Marriage legitimizes your union to the public; it’s something that almost everyone can respect.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a long tangent. Back to weddings. Yes, when I was a kid, I always thought I would have a big, beautiful wedding. When I started dating my first boyfriend in high school, I fantasized about that wedding. I wanted a big tree, with lights strung up, and I was going to walk down the aisle to Book of Love by the Magnetic Fields. My first dance was going to be Leanne Rimes’ Unchained Melody. And then, because I have a morbid sense of humor, I wanted Creep by Radiohead. And You Know I’m No Good by Amy Winehouse. I’ve always found the saddest songs the most romantic. More recently, I’ve added details to my dream wedding, like riding down the aisle on horseback, against the backdrop of the Canada’s Torngat Mountains, while the first snow fell.

And now? I’ve realized that I don’t want any of it. What happened, you might ask? Moving in to my first house happened. Well, technically I haven’t moved in to it yet, but I’ve been virtually moving in from 1,000 miles away, which is infinitely more stressful. I want my first house to be perfect in every way; I want every corner to give me a little joy when I pass by. For the past few weeks, I’ve been stalking Amazon, Zulily, Craigslist, and estate auctions for the best deals for everything ranging from custom-made club chairs to steam mops. I learned what valances are and how many panels of curtains you need for different sized windows. I bought diffusers and essential oils and two bird feeders for Blueberry. Most of these things I bought were 30-50% off. The few pieces of furniture we picked up from the auction are more than 80% off their original retail prices. Dan is obsessed with his Italian leather recliner. I’ve told him that it’s gonna have to go in the basement, but for now he’s put it in the living room and has been enjoying it in all its glory. The fabric on our club chairs is softer than a baby’s bum. We have crepe makers and Korean stone bowls and a fire pit. How could I be anything but insanely happy?

The beginnings of our library/piano room. Don't worry -- those valances are coming off.

The beginnings of our library/piano room. Don’t worry — those valances are coming off.

Let me tell you why — I can’t get over the one thing I lost. I had my eye on a stunning distressed white solid wood table at the auction. Full retail price would be in the thousands. The final bid was $225. And I lost that motherfucker because I entered my credit card information wrong! Since then, I’ve been devastated. I really needed that table to come home with us, not only because it was the best deal we could have gotten, and I can’t find any table that I like better than that, but because holy crap I need this process to be over. That would have been by far the heaviest piece of furniture in our place, and it would have gone a long way towards making me feel like we’re almost done. Instead, there’s still an empty space in the dining room where that table should be. The only other tables I like as much as that one are custom-made and cost around $1000. Dan says we should just get one, but I don’t know if I can spend that kind of money. That’s what all of this comes down to, money. Well, not really money, but feeling like I don’t deserve to spend money on myself. I never let myself buy anything at close to full retail price, even when I could easily afford it. When I get something more than 50% off, I feel better, because technically I saved more than I spent, which means that I almost didn’t buy anything for myself.

In her book on anorexia, Peggy Claude-Pierre wrote about her own daughter’s experience with the disease. One of the most painful scenes to read was the one where she drove her daughter for hours and to a dozen grocery stores in search of the “perfect” banana. To her daughter, the perfect banana was the one that was bruised, black, nearly rotten. To her daughter, that was the only banana she was good enough to eat. This anecdote resonated with me. Though I’ve never withheld food from myself, I’ve withheld almost any kind of guilty pleasure. My version of that disgusting banana is 80% off furniture. Buying all of these things that I love hurts me, because ultimately it’s an act of love towards myself. I’m creating the home that I’ve always wanted and never had, full of everything that will make me happy. And I still don’t believe that I deserve it. I still don’t believe that I deserve to love myself in that way. So I’m coping by holding myself to the highest standard — buying the “perfect” things at the “perfect” price. When I fall short of that standard, I torture myself.

I don’t know if there’s anything more self-loving than throwing yourself a wedding. As far as I know, there are no 80% off wedding invitations, photographers, florists, venues. If I had to have a wedding, I would probably buy someone else’s wedding from them for a discount and give up my big tree, my Torngat Mountains, my snow. I would stress over every expense the way I am now for our house. I would blame myself for not being “perfect”. And then, what would be the point? I’d much rather take a helicopter to the Torngat Mountains with Dan, 420 miles away from the nearest road, and see if our love can survive a complete lack of civilization.

I Love My Cat

Blueberry ModelingMy cat is my best friend. Until I ran into Blueberry at the Huron Valley Humane Society, I’d never really had a pet before. When I was a little kid, I distinctly remember my mother promising that I could get a pet once I was older and could take care of it. When I was a big kid, I asked her again about the offer and she claimed to have forgotten saying such a thing. She did say that she wasn’t going to go back on her word, but she added a condition: every single day for a year I had to clean for 30 minutes, and I had to pass my level 9 piano test at the end of the year. I kept up the cleaning for six months and our basement had never looked so clean, but soon it became apparent that I wasn’t going to pass the level 9 test. I’m not sure exactly why — I think maybe I had taken the level 7 the year before, so I was skipping 8. I ended up taking the level 8. As I stumbled through the sight-reading and music theory portions of the test, my dreams of getting a silver, amber-eyed Husky dissipated.

I sort of had a cat via my father and my stepmother. On a whim, my stepmother decided that she was going to get a purebred persian kitten. When it came home and she realized that it wasn’t just going to sit at her throne and purr all day, she disowned it and left my dad to take care of it. When I visited, I would rescue the cat from the walls of the sun room after she’d chased some lizard. I would carry her in my arms outside to breathe some fresh air. Once, I got too close to the pool, and she flipped out and scratched me. She was a smart cat. She learned to recognize my stepmother by the sound of her slippers — they would slap methodically across the tile floors and echo through the vacant halls. On the rare occasion that she allowed my stepmother to approach her, she would soon regret it. My stepmother enjoyed stomping on her tail with those slippers and laughing maniacally at her pain. One day, in a fit of anger, I stole one of my stepmother’s slippers and threw it down the vase next to the master bedroom that was as tall as I was. I’m pretty sure she never found it.

The summer I decided I was old enough to get my own pet, I was living alone for the first time. I had just flown across the country to see an ex that I still loved with all my heart. Leaving him, all the while knowing that it wouldn’t work out between us, left a gaping hole in my chest. I didn’t know who I was without him. The first week back, I felt as if the loneliness would drown me. I sought out a friend with benefits, even though I really only wanted the friendship and he only really wanted the benefits. And then I scrolled through the adoptable cats at the Humane Society, and one of them caught my eye. She was the prettiest cat I’d ever seen — it was love at first sight. I got in my car, drove to the Humane Society, and looked through every cage for a calico kitty named Blueberry. When I didn’t find her, I almost settled for another cat, but I mustered the courage to ask someone for her. The girl directed me to an individual room, and there she was, perched on a tree. I walked over. She let me pet her a few times before she batted my hand away. Inside, my heart was purring. The worker at the front desk let me know that Blueberry had petting-induced aggression and asked if I could handle that. Chuckling to myself, I wondered, Isn’t that every cat? Yes, I said.

Doggy BlueberryFrom that day on, Blueberry has been my greatest joy. She has never left my side, never let me down. I never fail to smile when I watch her do ridiculous things. She has a habit of laying like a dog, sitting like a fat old man, sleeping like a drunken frat boy. When I call her, she comes. When she relocates in the apartment, she likes to squeak to announce her movements. When I was in my old place, I had to walk Rebecca & Blueberrydown stairs to get to the apartment. Every time I came home, she would be waiting at the bottom of the staircase. She loves being close to me. As much as she hates the idea of water, when I shower, she’ll come and sit on the floor. When I cook in the kitchen, she’ll come and rub against my legs, at least until I turn on the fan. She is the biggest fattie ever. If I let her eat freely, she’d be obese. She’s been on a diet off and on ever since I got her, but she’s never once complained.

In return for her companionship, I exclusively feed her high-protein, grain-free wet food. When she’s a really good girl, I give her eggs, milk, or chicken breast. I buy her more toys than I buy myself. I make most of my life decisions in order to make her happy. If she’s not happy, I can’t be happy. Dan knows that he comes second to Blueberry. She’s my baby, and I love her so much.

The Girl I Used to Be

This is the house I will call home in a few short months.

This is the house I will call home in a few short months.

WTF is adulthood? This question has been on my mind probably since I graduated college, but lately it’s become more and more apparent that I’m losing the struggle against adulthood. That sets off all kinds of alarms in my head. The reality is that, for most of my life, 22 years precisely, I was not an adult. The life skills that people tend to correlate with adulthood — paying bills on time, texting back your friends, washing your sheets, paying for parking — I lacked miserably as a teenager and college student. For years, I avoided getting a credit card for the sole reason that it made me nervous. Thanks to my hesitance, Dan now has a better credit score than me. That and he had 7 more years to accumulate good credit, so I’m pretty sure I win in the end. I’m still bad at texting back my friends. Washing sheets was not something my family did regularly growing up, and I still don’t know how often an “adult” is supposed to do that. Now, I draw the line when the sheets have been exposed to someone’s — human or cat — bodily fluids. In high school, I liked to arrive at school two minutes before class started, so I would park in the visitor’s lot and dash to the auditorium. Every once in a while, I would get ticketed, but it was worth the ten more minutes of sleep to me. Even now, I never pay meter parking on the street where my therapist’s office is because 1) I never have coins and 2) I’ve never gotten ticketed.

I guess what I’m really saying is that I’m irresponsible. But it’s more than irresponsibility. It’s hard for me to keep enough tissue, toilet paper, lotion, etc. around the apartment. This whole year, I’m proud to say that yesterday was the first time I completely ran out of tissue. This morning, I had to use a tampon as a cotton ball, which is what I typically use tissue for because purchasing cotton balls is way above my skill level. This year is also the first time I’ve started getting good about taking out the trash. Even then, it takes me several days to take out the trash. First, I have to notice that it’s getting full. Second, in a peak of mental strength, I gather up the drawstrings and set the bag outside my door. Third, on a day when I’m not rushing to class, I’ll take the trash down to the dumpster on my way out the apartment.

It might surprise you that my apartment is always clean. I can’t stand having tissue paper or dirty plates lying around. When the floors start getting dirty and I can feel lint sticking to my bare feet, I have to sweep it. I don’t mind having books, notebooks, shoes scattered around, but I contain them to various corners. The litter box gets cleaned every day because Blueberry deserves to poo in peace. This cleaning habit is also a recent development, though. The first time I even owned a mop was when I moved in to my own apartment after graduating. You don’t want to know how disgusting our apartment was my junior year when we didn’t clean the floors at all for a whole year. I’ll give you a hint: four girls, hair.

I dressed up as an adult so that the realtor would believe that I'm the kind of person who leases a house.

I dressed up as an adult so that the realtor would believe that I’m the kind of person who leases a house.

Given my history, other things might surprise you. The past few weeks, I’ve gotten myself a job, found an apartment in Omaha, applied for rental furniture, drove out to Norwalk to sign a lease on a house for next year, set up my own health insurance for the first time, found out what my credit score was, bought Blueberry an airline-approved carrier, figured out how to certify her as an emotional support animal, and hand-washed all my bras. These things are all good, things that I want, but I can’t help but feel that they’re not me. I can’t help but feel that I’m falling down a slippery slope of adulthood, and the next thing I know I’ll have a mortgage and a husband and commingled finances. You might ask what’s wrong with those things. There’s nothing wrong with them — they are what I want for myself, eventually. But I can’t help but feel that by getting everything I’ve ever wanted, I’m betraying the girl I was for 22 years. It’s hard to move on, because the truth is that I feel so sorry for her.

She was irresponsible because she’d never been taught differently, because she was experiencing the onset of mental illness, because she was in so much pain. Let me say something to you that I’ve never been able to say before: I love her. I love her because she never gave up, she never stopped trying, she made it possible for her to finally cease being. But my heart breaks for her, that she will never be able to experience the happiness that I will have. I almost don’t want to be happy, because I feel so guilty. It’s not fair that she had to suffer so much. I hate that I have to leave her behind now, to move onto what she wanted so badly for me. I’m afraid that she will be forgotten. I want her to know that I haven’t forgotten her, and I will never forget her. Now, as I walk slowly down the path of adulthood, I’m stopping to cry, to grieve her. Maybe when I get up again, then I will get around to being happy.

Goodbye, 18-year-old me.

Goodbye, 18-year-old me.