Today is a special day because my daughter, Venise, turns ten years old, which means today is also my tenth anniversary of being a parent. Shall we throw confetti? ;) The past ten years had been difficult. Not difficult in terms of raising my child, but difficult in terms of figuring myself out which directly links to what kind of mom I am. And that required many many twisting, turning and reshaping...
I grew up with a mom who is very dedicated. She worked a fulltime job, came home and she'd be busy making dinner, by the evening it was all about homework. She worked hard and gave out a lot to the family, always making sure to provide my siblings and I with the best things - it's with the best, most loving intention and a traditional Asian culture thinking of motherhood that "you must sacrifice, you must suffer, your kids get the best things and you can no longer think about your own well being." And I grew up with that, so naturally I became that "sacrifice it all" type of mom too. It's not anything good or bad, it's just I quickly became unhappy and realized it wasn't something suitable to me.
When Venise was born, I told my ex-husband, "I am going to be a stay-at-home mom. If I am having a child, I'm going to dedicate my all. Otherwise, why have a kid?" For the first year, I was out of touch with the outside world. My main and only focus was my daughter and all I knew was Barney, Dora The Explorer, kids songs, baby talk... Slowly, I'd look forward to weekends, which is when my ex-husband could take us out and maybe explore the world. Unfortunately, I'm the type that loves to go out to see the world while my he is the type that likes to stay home and do house chores. After many weekends of disappointments (sounds silly, but when you built an excitement for over five days and suddenly all plans were dropped by sixth day, doing that on a weekly basis, the disappointments were more than just "aw, we're not going out?"), I slowly gave up the idea that the person I married to would be someone that will go explore and see the world with me. During that time, I tried to have a small online business and also developed a hobby - photography. It was my way of "getting out" of the daily mom duties for brief moments. Eventually, my brother said to me, "You should get on Flickr." I didn't know what it was, but I joined anyway. I started posting photos of Venise, things that happened at home, the sky, the lawn... and I got to "meet" many people from around the world. One person that I slowly became friends with said to me one day, "I grew up with a mom that was so unhappy and I was never happy. She wasn't happy in her marriage, but she stayed because she thought that's the right thing to do. I would much rather she chose happiness because at least I might grow up with a happy mom." What she said helped so much during those tough times toward the end of my marriage. I was not happy, I became unfriendly, I was always upset about something and that's when I realized - if I wasn't happy, then I couldn't provide happiness for my child.
Divorce. What I didn't anticipate was how lonely the road toward that decision could be. My family and my closest friends were all against the idea. What they saw was that I married to a nice guy, I had a nice little family, "Oh, you have to stay married for Venise!" I was beyond disappointed that no one was on my side and some friends even stopped talking to me. How crazy, huh? It's crazy that people want you to live according to their ideal life. Everyone was against me, but my little girl was my big supporter. She knew nothing about what's going on, she was only one, but she would give me big hugs when tears were falling from my eyes.
After the divorce, there was about a year of getting used to share custody, went back to the real world and got a 9 to 5 job, started dating again... Shortly after that, my ex-husband said to me one day when I was picking Venise up from his place, "I don't think I can see her anymore." I was puzzled, "Wait, what do you mean?" He responded, "I just can't. It's hard for me to see her." I was in shocked that I didn't know what to say, "Well..., what about.... once a year?" "No, I don't think that's a good idea." he said. While we discussed that, Venise was in the car with the door wide opened and probably heard what we said (bad part of me for not thinking straight and close the door!). When the discussion was over, I got into the car and Venise, in the back seat munching her tiny bag of french fries, said to me, "Let's go, Mommy." Little did I know, our little adventure had begun.
For a year or so, I was working fulltime at a corporate company and trying to build a photography portfolio. At that time, my only thought on photography was a possible way to bring in extra income and didn't think much of it. Venise was happy at her preschool. Things were going well. However, this is the age when other parents start to "attack" you the most, with all of their how you should do things, what you should do and "why are you doing that?!" I'm probably the type of mom that most people wouldn't approve of. Oh, potty training? I'll just let her take her time. Pacifier? She'll eventually stop using it. Don't use bottle? She'll discover cups one day and she'll lose interest of the bottle. To me, a lot of things we use which we MUST learn are all just inventions by humans. I didn't want to push my little girl to HAVE to learn what we created. Since Venise was little, I respect her with her pace. When she's ready, she'll be ready. I want her to learn to build trust and confident on her own and not by pressure. This kind of respect has helped me so much with parenting. It is never about me, but about guiding her from what I learned and let her decide her own path. Back to those "attackers", I had to remove myself from them. How good of a friend could they be when they didn't allow me the freedom to be the mom I wanted to be?
While things were going great, my relationship with a long term boyfriend was not. Five years ago, I felt comfortable enough to pursuit photography fulltime. I became real busy, juggling with work and taking care of Venise. However, there wasn't room to keep up with the relationship. On top of being busy, maintaining a romantic relationship with someone who wasn't quite ready to have Venise in his life had became impossible to keep up. As difficult as it was, I had made the decision to end a 4-year relationship. Oh gosh, I was so sad and depressed. It took a long time to get over. I would hide and cry, and Venise would be by my side. I said to her sadly, "Oh Venise, I miss him a lot." She said to me, she was five at the time, "It's ok to miss him, Mommy. You just need to get a life." How profound! At the same time I couldn't stop laughing because she was so right. She continued, "Someday, when he is happy with himself, we will open the door for him again." That statement of hers, I believe came from her experience with her dad because during that time my ex-husband had returned to reunite with Venise. Now looking back, I finally understand it was necessary for him to be away from Venise's life for few years. It was good for him to have alone time and to return as a better dad. And Venise saw that - "Someday, when he is happy with himself, we will open the door for him again." And this was a huge life lesson for me that everything happens for a reason.
For the past four years, I began to work on myself - how to love myself, how to have compassion, learn to have patient. At the same time, I also started meeting many women business owners whom are so inspiring at what they do - a mom, a wife, a friend and running a business. Through those friendships, I've learned a lot and slowly started to try finding the mom I am suppose to be. Clean the house every night? Nah... not me at all. Baking upside down pineapple cake while making dinner? Um... I don't cook. Let's do craft! My fingers don't listen to me and I can't sit still. I tried many many things, I shape-shifted many many times, but by doing that I figured out myself more and more. It's only a year or so ago that I finally came to term that - I'll never be a tidy mom, I'll never be the one that stand by the stove all day, I'll never have enough patience to sit still for an art project and that's ok because I'm the mom that loves to travel, to see the world, try new things and meet new friends.
Today, celebrating my tenth anniversary with my best friend, Venise, I'm more sure of who I am, I'm a happier person (not to say I don't have emotional times) and I'm thankful.
*Much love and thanks to the family and friends whom have been there for this constant soul-searching mom and her little wise daughter. I couldn't do it without anyone who has/had been in our lives, even for just a short time.