Thursday, August 14, 2014

Juggling and Struggling to Make It Through

Interesting article today in the NY Times entitled "Working Anything but 9 to 5" about a struggling single mother who works as a Starbucks barista. The story focused on how difficult it was for her because her work schedule was so sporadic. It bled into so many other areas of her life.

Starbucks single mother barista
The part of her story that talked about juggling to find someone to watch her small son resonated with me. Many times, you have to rely on the kindness of others in order to make it through.

When I moved to NYC with 2-year-old A to go to grad school, I did not have a concrete plan on who was going to watch her during my evening classes. I had arranged for her to go to a nearby preschool, but  my classes started just when the preschool ended. Luckily for me, on the first day of her school, A befriended another little girl right way. As we were witnessing the moment when our daughters became friends, this girl's father offered to pick up A for me two nights a week. That way, I could walk 2 blocks to their apartment once my classes ended at 7pm.

Another chance coincidence that first week of school was running into someone from my freshman dorm as we were walking down my street.The story goes that he was walking south to the metro stop, but felt lazy, so he turned around to walk north to catch the bus TO the metro stop. When he turned around, he noticed a cute kid before he looked up and realized he actually knew the mother! If he had not turned around, we would have not run into each other… and a whole year could have gone by without us realizing we were at the same grad school. Again, luckily for me, he generously offered to pick her up one night a week, which let me attend my third evening class.

These regular weekly pickups helped me in so many ways. It solved a big logistic problem that allowed me to finish school. It made me feel less alone.

I am forever grateful to those who helped me through the journey of being a single mother.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Unspoken Question on Everyone's Mind...

The unspoken question on everyone's mind is… what happened to A's dad?

When I told him I was pregnant, he told me that it was my choice, but he wouldn't be around. And, he kept his promise!

He first saw her when she was two months old. He then saw her a few more times, but the last time he saw her was when she was two. People sometimes ask me if I'm mad at him. "Mad" really isn't the right word. It's more like bewilderment. How can he let ten years go by and not want to see her? How can he go about his daily life without knowing how she is doing?

When she was two, I filed for child support enforcement from the state of CA. Child support enforcement is separate from visitation rights, so paying child support doesn't guarantee visitation rights. When I opened the case, I had to submit monthly budget information with the court documents. A judge ruled that he owed me a certain amount of money (several hundred dollars per month). All this was done out of court, so I never had to go in. Even though he didn't pay, the amount continued to accrue over several years.  I continued to go on my merry way, trying to make ends meet.

Finally, two years later in Dec 2004, I received a small check in the mail from the child support enforcement office. I could hardly believe my eyes holding this check I never thought would materialize. Apparently, he had found a job that garnished his wages because of the child support enforcement case. He even called saying he was thinking about visiting and asked me to send him some pictures of A. Well, his good intentions didn't last long and neither did the checks. I think I got a total of three. Still, they were three little slips of hope.

Even though I only managed to get a few hundred dollars from him, I have to say – the Department of Child Support Enforcement must be doing something right because eventually,

1.   He was unable to renew his passport.
2.   He lost his driver’s license when he got pulled over for a traffic violation.
3.   And he got his car impounded. [I’m sure he felt pretty stupid then!]

Kudos to the Dept. of CSE for communicating with the other government agencies.

My case was eventually closed because they couldn’t track him down. I still have his phone number, but we rarely communicate. At the most, I talk to him once every other year.

However, the total amount of child support he still owes me is over $40,000. I am sitting on a cash cow that I will never see. If he does ever come through, it will be nice to use that money towards A’s college tuition. But I knew from the beginning, that I’d be doing this on my own, so I know that – in the end – I can only count on myself.

With this blog, I am hoping my story helps other women out there who find themselves unexpectedly expecting. When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to hear other single mom’s stories and especially one from an Asian perspective. Because I couldn’t find one in 2000, I created this one. There is no easy choice and every story is different. But take heart!

“It’ll be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.”

Monday, July 1, 2013

"Saying I Do After Being a Single Mom"

After grad school in NY in 2005,  I packed up my things and headed back to the west coast. Knowing that I didn't want to move around when A started kindergarten, I decided to settle down in Berkeley and then start looking for jobs nearby.

I stumbled upon a support group for single parents at Bananas, Inc., a local parenting resource center. It was there that I met Rachel Sarah, a fellow single mom. Her daughter was one year older than mine, and they had lived in NY too. Moreover, Rachel was a writer -- a real writer! -- and she had just finished publishing her book, Single Mom Seeking

My stint in Berkeley only lasted six months, since the job I found was in SF and there was no way I was going to cross the Bay Bridge every day on my commute. However, my friendship with Rachel has lasted way beyond the six months.

I was so honored to have her attend my wedding last fall. Here is the lovely write-up she posted on her blog about my special day!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Watching History Being Made

The other day, I heard a song on the radio that made me want to pull over so I could really hear what he was saying.

SAME LOVE by Macklemore

When I was in the 3rd grade I thought that I was gay 'cause I could draw, My uncle was and I kept my room straight I told my mom, tears rushing down my face, she's like, "Ben you've loved girls since before pre-K" Trippin', yeah, I guess she had a point, didn't she? A bunch of stereotypes all in my head I remember doing the math like "Yeah, I'm good a little league" A pre-conceived idea of what it all meant For those who like the same sex had the characteristics The right-wing conservatives think its a decision And you can be cured with some treatment and religion Man-made, rewiring of a pre-disposition. Playing God Ahh nah, here we go America the brave Still fears what we don't know And God loves all his children it's somehow forgotten But we paraphrase a book written 3,500 hundred years ago I don't know And I can't change Even if I tried Even if I wanted to And I can't change Even if I tried Even if I wanted to My love, my love, my love She keeps me warm She keeps me warm She keeps me warm She keeps me warm If I was gay I would think hip-hop hates me Have you read the Youtube comments lately "Man that's gay" Gets dropped on the daily We've become so numb to what we're sayin' Our culture founded from oppression Yeah, we don't have acceptance for 'em Call each other faggots behind the keys of a message board A word routed in hate, yet our genre still ignores it Gay is synonymous with the lesser It's the same hate that's caused wars from religion Gender to skin color the complexion of your pigment The same fight that lead people to walk-outs and sit-ins, It's human rights for everybody There is no difference Live on! And be yourself! When I was in church, they taught me something else If you preach hate at the service Those words aren't anointed And that Holy Water, that you soak in is then poisoned When everyone else Is more comfortable remaining voiceless Rather than fighting for humans, that have had their rights stolen I might not be the same But that's not important No freedom 'til we're equal Damn right I support it I don't know And I can't change Even if I tried Even if I wanted to My love, my love, my love She keeps me warm She keeps me warm She keeps me warm She keeps me warm We press play Don't press pause Progress, march on! With a veil over our eyes We turn our back on the cause 'Till the day That my uncles can be united by law Their kids are walkin' around the hallway Plagued by pain in their heart A world so hateful, some would rather die than be who they are And a certificate on paper Isn't gonna solve it all, but it's a damn good place to start No law's gonna change us We have to change us. Whatever God you believe in We come from the same one Strip away the fear Underneath it's all the same love About time that we raised up And I can't change Even if I tried Even if I wanted to And I can't change Even if I tried Even if I wanted to My love, my love, my love She keeps me warm She keeps me warm She keeps me warm She keeps me warm Love is patient, love is kind Love is patient Love is kind (Not crying on Sundays) Love is patient,(Not crying on Sundays) love is kind (I'm not crying on Sundays) Love is patient,(Not crying on Sundays) love is kind(I'm not crying on Sundays) Love is patient,(Not crying on Sundays) love is kind(I'm not crying on Sundays) Love is patient, love is kind

Macklemore really struck a nerve. Growing up in church, I remember listening to sermons on why being gay is wrong. My church started a petition against Disney because they granted insurance benefits to same-sex partners. I even felt a little guilty watching "The Lion King" movie.

But as I grew older, I had a hard time reconciling my faith and the idea that gay people were "wrong." And as I made gay friends in college and work, their struggle for acceptance became more real to me.

I still don't understand why the gay issue is such a sore spot with the Christian church. If the church were to rank sins, being gay is pretty high up there. Even I, as a single mom, was somehow not as "bad" as being gay -- according to the church. Christians are willing to look past lying, gambling, cheating, & drunkenness (which are all mentioned in the Bible too). It's the one sin Christians are unwilling to forgive. Which is ironic -- given that it's not up to us to judge other people.

Today, on Facebook, my gay and lesbian friends (and their allies) are celebrating the defeat of DOMA and Prop 8 by the Supreme Court. My Christian friends are noticeably quiet.

We are watching history being made, and in another generation, they will wonder why the right to marry (regardless of race, gender, etc) wasn't available to everyone.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Going to Movies Alone

Tonight I went to a late night screening of Before Midnight. I never went to movies alone -- until I had A.

When she was younger, she went to lots of birthday parties. And when she got to the age where I could just drop her off at the parties (instead of staying with her), I found that I had some free time. The main thing I would do is watch movies that I couldn't normally watch with her.

From the parent perspective, movies usually fall into three categories.

1. Movies that are too violent, too sexy, or too disturbing to bring kids to
2. Movies geared towards kids with talking animals or animated people
3. Movies that are ok to bring kids to, but they would be bored out of their minds. The poor kid has been dragged along to movies that no kid should be dragged to (A-hem: Young at Heart when she was six).

 Before Midnight falls into category 1, with its frank talk about sex and a certain topless scene. So I took advantage of having had a summer afternoon nap and the willingness of W to stay home with A to run out to my late-night movie.

 In my early 20s, I would never have gone to a movie alone. I would never have eaten out at a restaurant alone. I would have been too self-conscious about people perceiving me as lonely to do anything by myself.

 But tonight, I found it liberating to NOT have to worry if someone else was enjoying the movie as much as I was. I didn't have to share an armrest with anyone. And I finally got to try the powdered popcorn flavoring that A never lets me put on the popcorn we share. [Word to the wise: Don't put too much powder on. Otherwise, you end up inhaling it with every bite. I think I have Nacho Cheese and White Cheddar coating the insides of my lungs now.]

 When you become a parent, especially a single parent, time alone is precious. There is too little time to waste worrying about what others think. Claim that time for yourself instead.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I Was Raised by a Tiger Mom -- Confessions of a Former Whiz Kid

With all the publicity surrounding Amy Chua's book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom" last year, it got me reflecting about my own up-bringing. I, too, was raised by a "tiger mom." I was pushed to perform in academics and piano. I was taught that only A's are acceptable. I could be anything I wanted to be -- as long as it was a doctor, lawyer, or engineer.

Unlike Tiger Mom, my mother lavished more praise on us. In fact, we were always THE BEST at everything. We were THE SMARTEST, MOST TALENTED, GIFTED kids on the block. We were all whiz kids. She even wrote a book "Raising Whiz Kids," so of course, it must be true.

Our living room wall was covered ceiling to floor in framed photos, newspaper clippings, and award certificates. Our piano could not contain all the trophies we kids had accumulated in science competitions, piano recitals, and essay contests.

Implicit in all this was the message was the idea that our self-worth was based on these extrinsic accomplishments. We were "good" children because we had accomplished so much. She loved to show us off. She loved to brag to anyone who would listen. She was that mom in "Joy Luck Club" who walked down the street holding up the newspaper article about her award-winning chess-playing daughter. The a-ha moment for me was when the little 8-year-old girl looks up at her mom and demands, "Why do you have to use me to show off? If you want to show off, then why don't you learn to play chess?"

It didn't go so well for the kid in the movie. It didn't go over so well for me either when we raised the same issue. She stormed off into the crowds of the Tucson mall, leaving us "ungrateful" kids behind in the food court.

Where is the line between being proud of your kids and using your kids to define your self-worth? What message do we send to our kids when we only expect perfection and excellence? Do we need to push our kids that hard in order for them to be SUCCESSFUL later in life?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

10 years later...

Today, I went with A's girl scout troop to visit a house for expectant moms. This place, Maggie's Place, provides women with housing while they are pregnant until their baby is 6 months old. It's run by a Catholic agency.

I have to hand it to the Catholics -- they really meet the physical needs of women who unexpectedly are expecting. It's one thing to say, "Don't get an abortion." It's another thing to help the pregnant woman with housing, medical care, and support, so she doesn't have to get an abortion.

I could have easily benefitted from a place like this when I found out I was pregnant. I'm glad there are places like these for pregnant women.