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.

Why I’m Now Having A Wedding

Inviting people into your home can be scary.

Inviting people into your home can be scary.

About half a year ago, I wrote about not wanting to have a wedding. And now, I’m sitting in my living room, texting friends about wedding after-party plans and trying to stop procrastinating on painting our wedding favors because my wedding is 21 days away. How did that happen? Well, besides the fact that I have a very special curse where the opposite of everything I say comes true, it’s a pretty long story. When I wrote that post, I didn’t mean that I didn’t want a wedding of any kind. It was more that I didn’t want the traditional, large, going all-out type of wedding I’d envisioned for myself as a little girl. I was more than okay with a courthouse elopement or backyard shindig. In fact, our wedding was going to be an elopement at first, with just Dan, me, and our photographer. The photographer was the only guest I knew I wanted to have for sure. But then, Dan and I started to think it would be nice to have a few close friends there. And then, we had to decide whether to invite family as well. Throughout this entire process, I’ve learned a lot about what weddings mean to other people. To me, a wedding is a private, intimate experience meant for the two people getting married and their future children. To a lot of other people, however, it is a chance to witness the event and prepare themselves to recognize the couple as a family unit.

Before this whole wedding process, I didn’t understand exactly why families wanted to be invited to weddings. Wouldn’t it be enough to invite them to a party later on? If what they really wanted was to witness our relationship and give us their blessing, it could happen anytime. If they wouldn’t believe we were married unless they saw it for themselves, we could send them photos. Videos, even. The wedding ceremony itself, whether it happened at a courthouse or in a stranger’s home, I wanted to keep for myself. I just didn’t know how I would feel to have family there on a day where I really just wanted to be happy. I didn’t know how to tell my father that I didn’t want him to walk me down the aisle. Even if my parents were perfectly supportive on that day, seeing and feeling their support would be more likely to break me down in tears than to add to my happiness. Especially with my dad, our relationship is fraught with so many years of missed life events, broken promises, and resentments that displays of affection from him make me want to cry and puke at the same time. I have always felt that the father I knew as a child died, and having him at my wedding would be like seeing a ghost. Not the greatest feeling to have on your wedding day.

Even with my siblings, I didn’t know if I wanted them there. I love them dearly, but they’re so used to being the center of attention. On my wedding day, I didn’t want to have to fight with them about what to wear, listen to them ask from the backseat “are we there yet?”, and worry about them eating enough at dinner. So that’s where I was a few months ago. The problem was that not inviting family didn’t seem to be a good option, either. We’d have our wedding day exactly as we wanted, it would be safe and worry-free, and the risk of my having a BPD attack would be decreased significantly. Both Dan and I knew what a BPD attack meant — that I wouldn’t like my own husband on our wedding day. But then what? Our family members would resent us, they wouldn’t feel included in our lives, and the family-only reception probably wouldn’t fix that. That option didn’t seem like a good idea unless we were planning to go low-contact with family in the future.

Giving kids jobs so they get out of your hair!

Giving kids jobs so they get out of your hair!

In life, there is always the safe choice. And then there is the risky option. But, like much else in life, greater risk makes for greater reward. Over the past few months, I’ve come to realize that this applies to my wedding. Maybe seeing his eldest daughter get married will touch the empty heart of my father and ignite in him the once-childlike spirit inside. Maybe the gravity of the event will hit my siblings on the day, and they will appreciate that it’s not about them. Maybe allowing my future in-laws to see me at my most vulnerable would invite them, in turn, to be more vulnerable in front of me. That is why I’m having a wedding. I’m having a wedding because I want to be hopeful and not risk-averse. I’m having a wedding because I want to have better relationships with my family and in-laws in the future. I even found a way to not have to tell my dad I don’t want him to walk me down the aisle. Now, I’m walking with both my parents. And I decided that if I have to walk, so does Dan. I’m making my siblings hold my bouquet and present our rings, so they feel just as awkward as I do. Also, I got a kick-ass Polish photographer who totally gets me and is, by far, the most important guest.

December 27th, here I come.

I’m Getting Married Guys

Engagement on a BoatSo, I’m getting married. Like soon, 71 days soon. No, I didn’t get engaged recently…I’ve been engaged for a while and just haven’t wanted to tell everyone yet. Why, you ask? To answer that question, I’d have to answer a different question that someone asked me recently: why is a self-proclaimed commitment-phobe like you getting married? Huh. Good question.

To all my exes and acquaintances whose jaws just collectively dropped — trust me, I’m just as surprised. If you had told me a year ago that I’d be engaged now, I would’ve laughed in your face. My commitment issues have a long-seated history. When I was a teenager, I read a story about a woman who panicked before walking down the aisle. Her husband-to-be had to come talk to her. The only way he could get her to marry him was to ask her to commit to him for that day only. And then, the following day, she could commit to him for another 24 hours again. One day at a time. I thought to myself that if I ever got married, it would be something like that. For much of my early 20s, the thought of getting engaged, wearing a diamond ring, planning a wedding…was revolting. And here I am, 24 and getting hitched in two months. What happened? I’m neither religious (already living in sin, yo!) nor pregnant, so the answer must lie elsewhere.

My answer is the same one that people give when they break up with you, telling you that they just can’t commit, and then marry the next person they date: I met the right person. Dan and I were friends for a while before I realized I wanted to date him. Before I realized I wanted to date him, there was a moment when I realized he was different from any other guy I’d been with. I knew then that he liked me, but I was determined to nip that in the bud because I was sure our relationship would go down in flames. So I told him all about this other guy I liked, expecting that to hurt him and turn him off from pursuing me. It didn’t work — he had no visible reaction. I was intrigued. Because the one trait I’d always sought out in men was emotional sensitivity, the guys I dated were also bad at managing their emotions. Add to that mix my own emotional volatility, and you had relationships full of both fireworks and destruction that I’ve never experienced elsewhere. Dan wasn’t necessarily different because he was good at processing his emotions; he was different because I could throw whatever I felt at him, and he’d casually put it out like a fire.

Unflappable. That’s the word I used to describe him. In the early stages of our relationship, his unflappability drove me goddamned crazy. Do you even have emotions? I’d ask him. Do you not hurt when I hurt? Can’t you flap once in a while just to humor me? Alsdfkjldaksjf. Though his steadfastness exasperated me, it was good for our relationship, and it was good for me. Every time I burst into flames and taunted him to pour some gasoline on it, just a little bit, he wouldn’t. The result was that I, the Crazy Girl in previous relationships, became the Less Crazy Girl. And somewhere inside of me, I knew that he felt the same things that I did, perhaps not with the same intensity but with the same depth. Slowly, gradually, my wounds healed. Slowly, gradually, I began to trust him. And lastly, finally, I began to trust myself.

That was the last piece of the puzzle, trusting myself. I’ve never trusted myself in a relationship — I was always worried I’d cheat, or change my mind, or simply fall out of love. Doubts would plague me until I was physically ill. When I first started dating Dan, I was 99% sure it wouldn’t work out, and it’d be my fault. Over time, that percentage dropped, but in all honesty it was pretty high even a year ago. Things were going really well about six months in, but long distance did a number on us. Every other day, I was sure that I couldn’t do it. I thought it would kill me. Somehow, we made it out alive. And then, the weeks went by, and the doubts fell away. At some point, I just knew with 100% clarity that I would never break up with Dan. Concepts like the One, being together forever, true love, etc. are too nebulous for my mind to comprehend. But I know that Dan and I work now, I know that we will work in the future, I know that I can build the kind of life I want with him. I know that I want to create a family with him, full of kitties and horses and laughter. We have made our own family here in Connecticut. On Fridays, we load up the SUV and take our 14-year-old golfing. On Saturdays, we hop the train to New York or head upstate for hiking. On Sundays, we clean and grocery shop and run errands. Since we’re already a family, why not make it official on paper? December 27th, here we come.

There is one thing that makes all of this bittersweet. To my ex Phineas, I want you to know that I’ve been thinking about you a lot. I haven’t forgotten about you — moving on like this means that I carry so much survivor’s guilt. In my dreams, I’m asking for your blessing. It kills me that you might think all of this cheapens anything that happened between us. You changed my life forever, and I owe every happiness that I have now to you. It kills me to think that you might not be happy like I am now, and you won’t be for a long time. I wish there was some way I could share my happiness with you. You deserve it. I loved you as much as I’m capable of loving anyone, and I still have so much love for you. You will always be like family to me. Someday, I hope you will let me know how you’re doing. If I had more than one life to live, I would have spent one of them waiting for you.

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.

To My Former Friend

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One of the great life lessons you taught me.

I have a favorite café in New Haven. Maison Mathis serves consistently good coffee and food, and it’s conveniently on the path to law school. I didn’t want to like it at first, because it’s too perfect, and I like things to be a little rough around the edges. You would roll your eyes if you saw me there, and say, “Of course.” I’m also not a fan of places that brand themselves as European so they can throw around words like “patisserie” and “du jour”. I guess Maison Mathis isn’t a terrible offender on that front — at least its owners are actual Belgians. You never see the owners, though, so maybe that’s all a marketing scheme too. The cashiers and baristas who work at Maison certainly aren’t Belgians. Besides the food and location, Maison leaves a lot to be desired. Its workers always seem to be having terrible days. You know I’m not usually one to complain about customer service, but the Maison cashiers just look so miserable that they make me feel bad too. I wonder if they’re being overworked, or if their manager is an asshole.

The other day, there was a new cashier who actually smiled at me and said, “Have a nice day.” As I took my receipt from him in shock, I noticed that the other workers were also smiling. They were even talking to each other. The new guy reminded me of you. I could picture you there, knowing everyone’s names from day one, handing out high-fives, getting people to come out of their shells. You’re someone who lights up those around you. You so easily bring joy to other people’s lives; it’s just a shame you could never see that. It’s a shame you could never do that for yourself. Nobody would ever know that, though. From the outside, you’re always unabashedly yourself, always in pursuit of the many small things in life that make you happy, always focused on what really matters.

It was so good for me to be friends with you. I wish we were still friends now. You wouldn’t understand Yale Law School, or anything that its students find so important. It would be so refreshing to see your confusion, to realize that this isn’t the real world. Though we fought constantly about our differences, I loved that we were polar opposites. Every day that we were friends, you made me a better person. When everyone else saw me as this intimidating, successful person, you saw that I was lost and poor. I always had more money than you, but I had little else. I was terrified of people, I had no idea how to interact with them, I often felt like an alien among humans.

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That time I went to buy beef jerky and thought the cashier said $2.99/lb when it was $29.99 and was too embarrassed to say “no thanks”, so I walked out with $59.98 worth of jerky. You laughed so hard, and so did I.

You saw all of my flaws, and you accepted me despite them, and you loved me because of them. I can sometimes hear your voice in my head, teasing me about my failures as a human. I’m bad at walking, folding laundry, opening packages. Basically any life skill that didn’t involve sitting in classroom and answering questions, you could do better than me.

It’s too bad that our society doesn’t value those things. It doesn’t care that you have amazing people skills, that you are a leader, that you would be successful at many things if someone gave you the chance. Society only cares that you don’t have your college diploma, that your GPA is conspicuously absent from your resume. You don’t even know how to write your own resume, because you are too honest and too humble. It doesn’t come naturally to you to talk about yourself, to recognize your own accomplishments, to sell yourself to others. Why would I do that? you think. If I’m a good, honest worker, then my work will speak for itself. Maybe a hundred years ago, you would’ve been right. Unfortunately, our world is full of people who over-embellish and lie on their resumes. Unfortunately, people like you fall through the cracks today.

I want you to know that you’re one of the people I respect most in life. When we were friends, I learned to ask myself, “What would you do?” whenever I was lost. When we stopped being friends, I asked that question even more, because I was terrified that I’d lose the influence you had on me. I was scared I would regress to the person I used to be before I met you. Lately, I ask that question less, because all those things you taught me have become a natural part of my every day. I want you to know that annoying you was one of my greatest pleasures in life, and being annoyed by you was one of my greatest privileges.

I wish nothing but happiness for you. I wait for the day when we might be friends again. In the meantime, I’ll make fun of myself on your behalf. Of course, I understand why we’re not friends right now. Because you’re not just a former friend — you’re an ex.

Homesick

IMG_3392I really apologize for not blogging with more frequency, but it’s been hard to write to all of you. It’s been hard to write when all I want to say is how much everything sucks. The 1L summer job search sucks. Long-distance relationships suck. And after giving New Haven many chances, I can honestly say that it (mostly) sucks. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gotten harassed on my walk to and from the law school. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing; it doesn’t matter if it’s day or night. They generally start off by saying hello, and I always say hello back, because I don’t want to anger them. And there’s still a part of me that doesn’t want to be presumptuous. But then they want to know my name, and they’re walking towards me. So I smile and walk to my apartment building as fast as I can, breathing hard and wondering what will happen if I can’t find my keys in time. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. Back home in Ann Arbor, this only happened once in a blue moon, usually west of 4th Ave. Here, I’m walking through the busiest street in New Haven, and a middle-aged woman will yell at me, “Damn, nice legs.”

The street harassment is just one of many things that remind me daily that I’m not home. Other things are the sad absence of Korean food, Jimmy John’s, and Potbelly’s.

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Comfort food.

Despite my best efforts to avoid it, I’m homesick. It’s not an all-consuming heartache that I feel constantly. Contrary to what this post suggests, I don’t complain often about New Haven. I don’t reminisce often about Ann Arbor, either. Some days, I don’t even remember what home was like. Every once in a while, though, I just feel like something is missing. It feels like a part of me is missing. Since I left, I’ve realized that Ann Arbor is this magical place where every part of me is reflected in the environment around me. It’s beautiful and green, and there are people everywhere. In the summer, if you wander through the Diag, you’ll find people sunbathing, throwing frisbees, slacklining. In the winter, you’ll have the help of your whole neighborhood if you ever get your car stuck in snow. All year round, you’ll run into the harmonica-playing professor, the Violin Monster, the pink bra man.

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I took this photo while biking from my mom’s house to Barnes and Noble on the bridge overlooking Gallop Park.

Ann Arbor is an incredibly diverse place. It’s more of a mosaic than a melting pot, but I don’t mind that so much. When I feel like entertaining my baguette-and-salami Parisian ways, I head to Babo. (PSA: they also have the best grapes ever.) I always feel slightly guilty when I’m there, though, because it’s undeniable that Babo attracts a juice-cleansing, pretentious crowd. I like going straight from that to the Chinese grocery store I’ve frequented since I was three. The food is cheap, they carry everything from ear picks to vases, and everyone there is happy to experience a home away from home. In addition to Babo and the Chinese grocery store, there’s the Kroger in my hood, Sparrow Market down the street, Trader Joe’s for the lazy days, Whole Foods for the best coconut water, Lucky’s for Dreaming Cow yogurt (until they stopped stocking it…), Korean grocery store #1, Korean grocery store #2. And CVS! Some of the best times in my life were hiking to CVS at 9 pm for Funyuns and Gatorade.

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I promise, Mom, my groceries don’t usually look like this.

I guess what I really care about in life is people and food.

Books Have I Loved

My Narnia.

My Narnia.

As I’m preparing to edit and query my manuscript, I’ve been thinking about all the books that have influenced me over the years. I read voraciously as a kid. When I didn’t like what I saw when I looked around me, I buried myself in printed pages, and the hours would go by. Books were my drug. In elementary school, every report card I took home said that I had “poor time management skills”. I still laugh when I think about my teachers who wrote that. Of all the things I’m bad at, I don’t think poor time management is one of them. If anything, I had excellent time management skills. It was a choice between finishing a captivating novel and reviewing the multiplication table that my tiger mother had already drilled into me. I think I made the right call. It wasn’t until junior year of high school that I developed the willpower to put a book down and pay attention in class. When I think back to that moment, I feel somewhat sad. After that, responsibilities and fear of failure took over, and I never read the same way again.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen may have spawned my fantasy of winter survival. In elementary school, my best friend and I created a hideout beyond the fence we were forbidden to traverse. On a tree branch, I hung a plastic bag that I’d filled with a clock, a few books, and other “survival tools”. Continuing the winter survival theme, I devoured the Julie of the Wolves series. I wanted to get wolfdog until I realized that you practically need a zoo to house them. Then Jean Craighead George did it again with My Side of the Mountain. I didn’t know if everything she wrote was realistic, but I wanted desperately to believe it. Like everyone else in my fifth grade reading class, I got my heart broken by Where the Red Fern Grows. Everything about that book has stayed with me — the Ozarks setting, the random facts about raccoon hunting, the bond between a boy and his dogs. A few weeks ago, when I was driving up to a ski resort in Vermont, the woodland landscape and log cabins reminded me of the book. Jacob Have I Loved

The Giver by Lois Lowry, Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson, and Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand were three books that blew my mind the first time I read them. It wasn’t until I reread them a year or two later that I felt like I understood them. The last scene of The Giver was both disturbing and comforting. As a kid who didn’t enjoy a lot of my childhood, I wanted there to be something else out there for me, some parallel universe I could escape to. I remember feeling guilty while reading Jacob Have I Loved. Though I didn’t understand why, there was something stirring about the erotic imagery describing the young protagonist falling in love with an old man. I was nine when I read Seabiscuit for the first time, and I’m curious now what I actually understood. There’s a scene in which a prostitute in a Tijuana brothel smokes a cigarette out of a “creative place”.

I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was somewhat older, in high school probably. Though C.S. Lewis’ writing style often bothered me, like his frequent use of the second person, I loved Narnia. I knew it was supposed to be an evil world, but the idea of permanent winter didn’t seem all that bad to me. To this day, my favorite part of skiing is when you’re high enough on the mountain that you can’t see the base, and you’re surrounded by trees weighed down by heavy clumps of snow. Narnia, I think to myself.

When I was 12, I got baptized, and my mom was supposed to get me a Christian book as a present. Of course, I then went and picked out the most scandalous book in the store, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. The cashier gave my mom a look and asked if she was sure. It was probably the first adult fiction book I read. I got a pretty quick education in prostitution. From there, I continued the theme of twisted love affairs with The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans and The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. In eighth grade, I discovered Jodi Picoult, and I read everything she’d written and would write for several years. That year, I also read The Da Vinci Code, which was so riveting I couldn’t put it down through my entire piano recital, only stopping briefly to play a Bach fugue. In high school, there was also the requisite Nicholas Sparks and John Grisham and James Patterson, but I can hardly recall a single detail from any of their books.

Looking back at the most memorable books of my childhood, I’ve noticed that they aren’t spectacular literary works. I recoiled at my first taste of Shakespeare, and I have yet to acquire a liking for it. Out of the classics we were assigned to read in school, the only one I truly read was East of Eden. Even then, I skimmed all the boring parts. How to Kill A Mockingbird just didn’t do it for me. Neither did Huckleberry Finn or Catcher in the Rye or The Great Gatsby. My favorite books were the ones that told a great story and didn’t allow their writing to get in the way of that story. Keeping that in mind, I’m trying to take some of the pressure off as I edit. I’m not trying to write the book that English teachers assign in a century. I’m trying to write the book that people will remember in 20 years, the one that people will want to read with their friends and family. What excites me most about parenthood is the opportunity to share my favorite books with my kids. I guess, when the time comes, that might include my own books.

What were some of your favorite books?