‘It is not what I do; it is who I am.’
Some self-motivational chap somewhere on the Internet whose quote – despite my skeptical dispositions – I cannot seem to shake off.
As most of you know, I have changed careers more than Kanye West said he loved himself. I think I can claim that I was always good enough at what I was doing and probably nobody would disagree with it. But I never felt I was at my best. As the founder of Another Garde and mom to 3 kids, I try every day to be that best of me. And boy, it’s a bitch.
I have said it time and time again – without becoming a mom I would have never been strong, centered and humble enough to hustle it out every day to sell a bag or a ring, let alone get out there to build the exposure I need for my business.
But I figured that once you’ve had 3 babies pulled out of your limbs in a bloodbath (thank you, emergency C-sections 1 and 2) and once you have spent years on your knees patting your kids’ bums half naked until the wee hours of the morning, well, you are probably ready for anything and surely ready to do anything.
So yeah, pride and fear have long gone since my stitched up tummy days. I have learnt patience and I am now learning – with a lot of difficulty – to appreciate little victories like having finally my three kids out of diapers or having my first client in Denmark.
However I got annoyed enough this week to ‘take the pen’ again. Not so long ago, I got frustrated by how I had been socially JEDI tricked into thinking that I would be able to walk smiling and having my shit together, 2 months post baby delivery while the reality was that I was suffocating inside spiritually and physically . That sense of betrayal created Redlipstickmama – that infuriating moment when I felt like a hot mess while I was supposed to only feel bliss.
Since then, I am more at peace with myself. But today, I felt the urge again to open my big mouth for another massive rant – just in time for Mother’s Day. Lucky DH.
It is a lame rant because ‘Duh, it is obvious girl…’ but I’ll say it anyway. The other day, I felt sickened by magazine spreads of (fashion) mom entrepreneurs living in oversized downtown apartments harboring Irving Penn’s prints on the walls, wearing designer frocks and looking with adoration at their long wavy haired only child sketching in corduroy covered notebooks (Note: details are totally BS but you get the idea).
I know that perfection is always staged because no one can have such a life or else KILL me now. But it still annoyed the hell out of me. What bothered me the most is that this type of shit used to inspire me, make me dream, live a fantasy for a few minutes but right now I just feel fucking pissed off and feel stolen of my hardship. Things are made so easy that you actually feel shit struggling. It is the post-C section ‘I am so happy’ pictures all over again. I wish there were reports of struggle and not just some ludicrous fantasy advertising ‘Get your ticket, you can be next.’ I wish there were pictures of red faced women trying to breathe in and out the stress of running a company while emptying the dishwasher.
I am very tortured about what I am writing now because I am the founder of a boutique selling quality and elegant design to inspire so shouldn’t I look and sound the part? But what is ‘that part’? Really.
Well, my truth is this one: mom entrepreneurship is ugly. For example:
– My kids wake me up because once they go to bed, I continue to work late and thus oversleep. I look like a rag and my daughter pushes me: ‘Mom, C’mon. I really don’t want to be late for school. Again. And how can you sleep with a W-E-D-G-I-E? Don’t you find it very uncomfortable?’
– I am refraining from going to Starbucks because 2 double tall skimmed cappuccinos can pay for an hour of my assistant’s time.
– My kids have started to talk to strangers on the subway – on their own initiative – to promote my company. They tell everyone their mom is ‘BOSS’. I thought of stopping them out of embarrassment but let them do it thinking ‘you never know, they may find me new clients’. Shameless.
– I don’t get free clothes. Ever. I pay for them. I only have endless temptations. Like a recovering alcoholic in Pegu bar. Meanwhile, the kids wear polo shirts with way too short sleeves because I lack the time and money for shopping.
– I have so many IOUs with my friends and family that I hope I am a true Buddhist who will go through various reincarnations to pay up my dues.
Finally and most importantly I wonder every day if my husband will end up divorcing me. Contrary to the popular belief, asking my husband to fully support my folly is not getting him to take nice shots of me wearing skinny leather pants for my Instagram feed (you should check out this video of Instagram husbands, hysterical). And it is more than being the sole income earner. The man behind the mom entrepreneur is a guy who believes so much in her that he is probably now the gayest straight man at work talking about fashion designers crafting beautiful prototypes on their kitchen tables with his female colleagues instead of commenting on the latest Yankees game. It is a guy who is accepting a tougher life to pay for the childcare and cleaning help she needs to be a full-time entrepreneur. A guy who puts his own dreams aside for hers, leaves work earlier to mind for their sick kids or has to take days off to help her set up pop ups in swanky hotels – taping japanese screens and putting IKEA furniture together when he barely knows how to use a screw driver.
It is a guy who does not think he is making her favors but rather knows that she HAS to do this.
And indeed, I have to do this now.
My ticket number to be the next best thing may never be called up. I am not going to lie about it. Who knows?
But what I know is this. With Mother’s day coming up, I do encourage everyone to celebrate their moms because they have shit days – sometimes very often. But this one mama does not need anything from her family. She has been short-changing them for a while now and is just grateful that they accept the Mom and Wife she can be and allow her to be the Woman she wants to be.
Below my journey as an entrepreneur in selfies but with clothes 🙂
Or the day when redlipstickmama became Soumountha
When I started this blog, I can say this now: I was not well. I was a little lonely not because I had no friends but it was a weird loneliness. I was lonely because I was freaking lost. Too many thoughts, very few outlets, no clairvoyance. The blog started like an extended Facebook like rant, turned into a full self-administered therapy and somewhat transformed into the release of something strange and beautiful: the courage to explore things I had no idea were buried deep inside of me.
Things like writing because I just have to do it, entrepreneurial cravings, the boldness to say things the way I just want to say them and the hope that I can somehow touch other women out there.
This would have not been possible without being inspired, supported and sometimes challenged (I dare you to do it) by some amazing women I met through blogging. It was just easier to come out with strangers first like it was always easier for me to be naked in front of strangers than my own sisters – note:I still don’t really do it very often #anotherreasonIDONOTgotothegym
Anyway, more than two years later, these women are still galvanizing me. I am beyond flattered to be interviewed by uber stylish and atta mom-creative-blogger Kate from Maison Bentley about the launch of Another Garde. Her questions were so insightful that it actually made me think hard about what I do and why I do it. You can read the full interview Another Garde by Maison Bentley. I also for the first time say it here: my name is Soumountha 🙂
I hope you will like it and do check out Kate’s blog on a regular basis. She has an amazing eye for elegant and relatable and yet ‘you have never seen it quite like this before’ pieces.
Love you Kate xoxo
#feelinghumbledthismorning #love #determination #womenbehindwomen
Photography by Kate Bentley
I write a blog so I don’t forget things; like how much I hurt, how much I worked, how much I laughed, how much I loved…Bla Bla Bla
Today, I do not want to ever forget some precious moments with my daughter. A day will probably come when her smart ass attitude will frustrate me to no end, when I will ‘expect’ her comments and when I will no longer stop in my tracks because the words coming out of her mouth just silence me and blow my mind. Sorry if this sounds pretentious but I am too proud of her not to share. OK, I will now pass over the vomit bucket 🙂
Anyway, here are some keepsakes from P, age 4.
‘Mom, we are all getting old and we are all going to die, right?’
‘Yes…’ I replied, choking lightly and thinking ‘Shit I AM going to DIE!!!!’
“Eh…to make place for you and your family. If we all stay and hang out, there will be too many of us and you won’t have space to grow and do stuff’.
‘I don’t like that you have to die’.
‘It’s OK; I will always be somewhere watching you.’
‘Do promise you will watch me, OK? Because if you stop watching (as in looking at me), I will be lost.’
My heart really tightened at that moment because it was so innocent, simple, and genuine. Of course, children grow up obsessed with parental approval. So, what do I need to do not to screw it up? Me and so many of my friends grew up always feeling that we were not and will never be enough. Adult happiness becomes so evasive. Of course we cannot put all the blame on our old folks but I wonder when parents stop watching and start judging. When do parents turn from being ‘compasses’ into unsatisfied coaches ?
On her favorite books
I always thought that kids had this one book they cherished for ever and would carry everywhere; books about pigs, princesses, dogs and so on. A kind of literary comforter.
P changes ‘I cannot live without them’ books every 2 months. Among her recent obsessions: the illustrated Bible, the French – Lao pocket dictionary and the signed memoir by Condoleezza Rice ‘No Higher Honor’…Difficult to imagine these books as comforters.
She turns pages after pages, ‘reads’ intensely, nods, closes the books, re-opens the books and nods again. This stuff has officially freaked me out. That and when yesterday she told me ‘Mom when you decide to learn the guitar, I will tune it for you. I know how to do it, I saw Dad do it, it has to make a special sound when you pull the string.’ She has to be the world’s biggest bullshit express or what???
On being nice
‘I don’t understand why you ask me to be nice. It is not easy; it is very difficult to be nice all the time! How can you do this? What you ask is not fair.’
I am still pondering what to respond to this.
G & P’s new passive aggressive jousting is calling each other ‘Poop’. It absolutely drives them nuts and really upsets them. I mean it. They kick each other’s heads and they’ll be fine. They strangle each other and they’ll be fine. They steal each other’s food and they’ll be fine. But if the word ‘poop’ comes out, all hell breaks loose. Yesterday morning, P was bawling her eyes out: ‘G told me that I was poop’.
Me:’Well, he is your TWIN brother so if you are poop, he is poop too.’
DH was assuredly playing along: ‘Yes it is true. If you are poop, you get it from us so Mama is poop and I am poop and thus HE is poop too’.
We were feeling very smug about our stellar common sense but P started crying even louder. I tried her to calm her repeating: ‘Stop crying and just tell him he is poop too like everyone else.’
To which she screamed: ‘But stop it!!! I don’t want to be part of a family of poop!!!!’
DH and I turned crimson from embarrassment. She did make an awfully good point. As for the two us, a bunch of idiots…really hahahaha.
We live in a culturally very diverse neighborhood and from time to time some racial tensions just ignite on the bus or the subway. This morning an African American woman called some hispanic folks ‘cockroaches’ and ‘immigrants’ preaching a revisionist take on American History in which Africans were the indigenous population of America. Profanities ensued. L was confused like hell and I was just relieved that it was not older P or G who was riding the bus with me. So yeah, I wonder every day about what is my kids’ understanding of cultural and ethnic differences. I tried to start a conversation by asking P:
‘Do you think Mama looks more like your friend I’s mom (who is Asian Korean) or your friend K’s mom (who is French Caucasian)?’
She paused, smiled and said: ‘Mom, you are beautiful. That’s it’. DH looked at me beaming and we both concluded that she just understood it all. She has just cracked international conflicts and world peace.
Just like that.
Picture below by Helene McGuire
I have dropped some breadcrumbs, post after post, about how crazy my extended family is and how their madness may very likely be connected to the fact that they are Lao. I am aware that it is a racist statement but still…I let you be the judge after you finish reading this post. Also everything written here is actually 100% true and if people do recognize themselves, well it is exactly how you sound. I still love you. Most times 🙂
On the topic of your physical appearance
‘Her husband is so handsome; you should see him grand ma. She is meh but he is GORGEOUS.’ Because it is deemed important to assess whom outta of a couple got the better end of the bargain when it comes to the beauty department. And by the way, you are not supposed to get offended because it is the TRUTH.
So yeah, they tell it like it is. The other day, my dad was staring at a friend of mine who very likely leans towards the democratic vote ( he is Canadian after all). After some intense staring, he had an epiphany and proudly stated: ‘Ha!!! I know who you look like! George W Bush!!!’
Fits of embarrassing laughter ensued; and my friend’s wife tried to save the day: ‘maybe a mix of Bush and Clinton ?’ to no avail… My dad cooly replied serious like a stone: ‘No, just Bush. In fact, he looks like Bush father and son, both of them.’
Most embarrassing/WTF moment since my dad did the duck dance with my mother in law at my wedding.
But all this is nothing compared to Lao women’s obsession with other women’s weight. Typically, things start like below.
‘Wow. You have gained so much weight I did not recognize you.’
The conversation usually then unfolds in 2 possible ways:
Option 1: you are trying to explain.
– ‘I did have 3 kids’.
– ‘So did I but look at me, still the same face and body. ‘
To which your evil bitchy self is dying to reply: ‘Yes you are lucky. Getting knocked up at 18 by the local suburbian boy does indeed make wonder in terms of getting your pre pregnancy weight back. When you are in your late 30s (like me), have travelled and tasted amazing world cuisine…well yeah pounds are a bitch to drop. It’s true but who can resist a NY steak right?’
But in reality you are shamefully replying: ‘Yes, you are SO lucky. Hmm, where’s the bar?’ And are thinking: ‘See you in 20 years. Bitch.’
Option 2: you stand on your ground.
‘No, I actually lost 4 pounds.’
To which they stop talking and start pinching and pulling (key word here) your double chin while grinning up to their ears.
You can NEVER win. Seriously.
On the topic of sibling rivalry
‘Ha, I see…that’s the ugly one. Where is the pretty one?’. Always indeed useful to quickly identify who is whom in a pack of mutts.
‘She is a good student but you should check out her sister’s test scores. Much better.’ Just in case your sister did not already hate your guts.
‘He is the grand father’s favorite grand child; he does not like the others much. I, for myself, struggle with my son’s temperament; my younger daughter is the one I prefer’.
All these being part of a fairly typical casual chat with friends as THE kids themselves are trying to eat (and fail to digest) their Pho Bo.
It is so bad that when a few months ago I read in the New York Times and Le Monde different articles addressing the modern times taboo of the ‘favorite’ child I was at loss. What taboo?
On the topic of gender equality and general marital advice
‘Of course she was going to leave him. It’s because she has a higher degree; that’s not how it works. To make it work, men must have higher education than their wives.’ No.It is not taken from a Mad Men script. I swear.
Another time, my grand ma told me over the phone that she had been hearing rumors about my temper and that I was being too tough on my husband (???) and that I should really be more lenient and understanding (god knows about what). I wondered if my brother gets the same type of call. Hmmm. Very unlikely if I believe the wedding good wishes DH and I got at our very own Soukhouane ceremony. The soukhouane is a ceremony that calls upon your spirits/energy so that they are tied back to you and you can be in your prime in different key moments of your life (birth, move, accidents, marriage, death etc.). It is beautiful and emotional. The ceremony is then followed by your family and friends wishing you well tying threads of cotton around your wrists. As grannies (‘meh tao’) ,wished me good health and financial prosperity they wished/implored DH to be faithful to me and never take a ‘second wife’ also more commonly called in western cultures ‘mistress’ or ‘lover’. The poor guy had no benefit of the doubt.
It gets worse.
My very own first cousin whom I was meeting for the first time asked : ‘Are you saying that of his own free will your husband will not come with me and check out escort girls?
‘What about you ask him?’
Cousin actually asked DH using me as the translator. Not awkward at all. DH at that point was scared of saying anything really and wondered what kind of sick games we were playing and what kind of weapons I was hiding in my purse.
Cousin concluded:‘yeah, it is not possible. It’s because you are standing here.’ What???
On the topic of the LGBT community
To start with, I shall say that my family is relatively very open minded about gays and lesbians (and I love them for that!) but they also have the weirdest way to express their support and acceptance. They have come a long way though.
First step was denial.
My first gay centric conversation with my folks went like this.
‘Mom, where is your cousin staying?’
‘At a friend’s.’
‘You mean at his boyfriend’s
‘No, how dare you? It’s his friend’.
‘He’s gay, mom.’
‘Who said this?’
‘He did. And you saw his gay porn collection all over his bedroom’.
‘Hmmmm (frozen face, red face )…i don’t think I did (and Asian stoic face). ‘
I was probably as confused as my gay childhood friend who came out to his parents in his early 20s…
‘Your friend is nice.’
‘He is my boyfriend.’
‘It will be lovely when I meet your girlfriend.’
‘Mom, he is my BOYfriend.’
‘I hope you decide to have children and…’
Intervention by the father: ‘Mama your son is trying to tell you that he likes boys’.
The mom: ‘Your kids will look pretty’.
Second step was curiosity.
‘So, ok I understand that they are in love and live together so now can you tell me who is the wife and who is the husband?’
‘Pop, that is not how it works!’
‘What do you mean? What’s the point if there is no wife and no husband?’
I still haven’t gathered the courage to ask further what my dad meant by that; scared shitless that he was being ‘graphic’ about it…oh dear…
Third step was full on support and approval 🙂
Three years ago, I overheard my mom tell her friends:
‘My daughter only has gay friends. She has been like this since she was a child. Gays tend to come to her. It makes sense though: they are gorgeous, very cultured, very funny, have good manners. Do you remember Archibald from her wedding? Yes he is one of ‘them’. I am telling you; they have it all. Her friends look like men too, you know. You would not have guessed. Yes, hell I do want them as friends too. I have to admit it; I do have gay friends too..’
There are so many wrong things in that last paragraph that I cannot even start breaking it down. But it does not change the fact that at the core of it is tolerance and love… or least a damn good attempt at it. And on days when news around the world about hatred and fear of each other just depress me, I do take some comfort in thinking that my folks are trying. Their own way. With some kind of twisted love. It can make you and break you. But they do try.
Lao readers, what is your most ‘what the fuck?’ moment triggered by a fellow Lao? Non Lao readers, what is your most ‘what the fuck’ moment triggered by a countryman/woman?
I hate bad customer service. It is one of those things that really bug me. Living in New York does not help; I get even more demanding now. However, something very out of character happened to me: two weeks ago, I almost tipped someone so that they stopped doing their job so well. It was a very kind beauty therapist…
Disclaimer: this post is kind of graphic and could cause discomfort. Read at your own risk. In my defense, I am muy loca these days.
With all the stress leading to our summer road trip down South and DH’s work news, I decided to finally claim my Mother’s Day present: a long overdue Mani Pedi and a massage. But since I, more than ever, needed to think ‘practical’, I opted out from the massage and asked for bikini waxing. It was a no brainer: I was going to the beach in South Carolina, it was going to be hot and whether I liked it of not I had to help DH supervise the kiddos in the sea. So yeah I had to do IT.
It was high time that I finally overcame my fear. I avoided any ‘maintenance’ job down there since L was born 2 years ago because I have this (irrational) belief that a tiny tiny strip of wax was going to rip open wide my C-section scar. Hey, people tend to sweep under the rug the excruciating pain of C-section recovery: ‘it is standard procedure, don’t sweat it, you’ll be fine…You will be like C- what again?‘ Bullshit !!! I am still traumatized about it and every time L is pinching my scar (and all the fat around it)-for fun- I swear I cry. Note: this boy is obsessed with fat so either he becomes a cosmetic surgeon, a personal trainer or a soap maker. Bets are on.
Anyway, I was feeling strong and did not flinch when I confidently replied ‘Brazilian’ after the beautician asked whether I wanted a a Brazilian or a basic bikini. But then, she started to voice her concern when she saw me naked:
‘Wow, it’s a lot…Are you sure? Have you done it before?
‘Yes, I did it once when I was in Sao Paulo years ago. It was way before I had kids…I know it is all a mess down here these days but see, I had 3 kids [as if…] and I had this C-section so been scared to do it again bla bla…’
The more I talked, the more confused she looked but she proceeded anyway…That’s when I started to get confused.
She told to lift this, and lift that, and turn this and turn that. WTF???!!!! I was so shocked that I could not utter a word and just obediently followed the instructions. Thousand thoughts and screams were bursting inside my head with the loudest one being this one:
‘Obviously now I know for sure. I never had a fucking Brazilian ever before!!!!! Because if I had, I would definitely know!’
I swear it felt like a thorough OBGYN checkup combined with an hemorrhoids consult. Every time I thought she was done, she was going back to it again…and AGAIN. Even mental teleportation to my calm and safe haven where I ‘go’ to when the kids piss me off (FYI recently that place has been the Catskills Mountains in the Fall season) failed to calm my nerves.
She finally paused:
‘You have very, very sensitive skin…
Me thinking: No I don’t it. Perhaps I am bleeding because this part is supposed to have hair to protect it?
‘Yes you are very sensitive, so I am going to ask you one last time. Are you sure you want me to take it all off?
At this point, it is not confusion anymore but sheer disarray:
‘What do you mean? Surely, there is nothing left to take off… I said partly smiling partly wimping partly melting with sweat. Let’s just pause now to imagine a selfie of that expression…hahaha.
Realizing that I would never understand what she meant even if she was to speak very slowly and articulate every single sound, she just silently pointed her finger at my ‘sacred line’. My eyes rolled out of my head and I finally screamed: ‘Please stop now, please’.
‘Sure. Let me ‘clean’ the rest some details.’ She said getting her tweezer out to finish me off.
When I left the treatment room, I noticed that:
– I have been in there for almost an hour
– I could barely walk
– I should have thought better than wear tight jeans
And most importantly, as I was slowly moving toward the seat where my pedi would take place, I saw that all the customers were staring at me big time as if wondering whether or not I had my whole body waxed…Once home and after all the redness disappeared, I started to laugh. In the last few years, I have been telling people how the whole IVF process, multiple vaginal exams during my two pregnancies, my two deliveries by C-section destroyed all my sense of privacy and intimacy and claiming proudly that now old prudish me could face anything bla bla bla. As if no other woman on Earth could understand a word of what I freaking went through.
Turns out any woman who had a $50 full brazilian wax (or any gay man period) probably totally gets it!
I had a working session today with a Fashion entrepreneur/Fashion designer. I love meeting with creative people because they are often extremely good looking and being near them is like eating La Duree macarons while listening to Bach. They have an air about them, an halo: is it the fitted cashmere coat, the biweekly facials or the lighting of the places where we meet? Who knows but I often find myself longing after their freshly pressed silk blouses (90% of what I own has never been ironed) or the neat stitching of their cuffs: all evidence of wealth, savvy shopping or at the very least general good taste.
I am enchanted and inspired; their glow touches my face. When I get home, I want to eat Quinoa, I promise I shall remove my make up every day before going to bed to have better skin, and I am adamant about tidying up the book case in my living room which generally looks like trash compactor units piled on top of each other. I am so random, I know. But after 1 hour, I realize that I am truly starving because I had only a faro soup (which really was a broth with some spinach leaves and few faro grains) in a 5 hours meeting when really I wanted to order the burger. I thus end up sandwiching some cheese in between 2 home made cookies baked by Thor…That’s when I know the spell has been broken. Oh well.
Anyway, when I meet with fashion people I tend to be overly self-conscious about what I wear because I know that their professional eye and brain will notice and know everything about my outfit: how many times they saw me with the same pair of boots, what fabric my jacket is made of, which brand it is, etc. It gets worse when these people are women because I am a woman who loves to dress to impress women rather than men. I get stage fright. I thus decided today to play the ‘comfort’ card. If you cannot look nice, look like you are comfortable. People will always envy that 🙂
In the end the whole outfit was kind of meh: partly comfortable, kind of ‘unfinished’, a tad too safe..So bland that even an attempt of a Bowie inspired hair do failed to spice it up. I guess you can’t always get it right.
Cardigan from Joie, Gap body black dress, golden brooch found in a crazy Antiques barn in Barryville (I pinned it on simple canvas tote bag), a golden belt, a faux fur russian hat which ended up not working out (either the hat got smaller -unlikely – or my head got bigger -worrisome) and Celine boots.
‘Girls can wear jeans
And cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots
‘Cause it’s OK to be a boy
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading
But secretly you’d love to know what it’s like
What it feels like for a girl’
Since I started redlipstickmama, there is something I managed to do rather well: not censuring myself. And this for many reasons:
– freedom of thought helps my writing. I spent the last 10 years of my career getting my words edited with a red pencil, or with CAPS or worst with shrewd cutting out of entire paragraphs. And although it was very often deserved (tendency to ramble is second nature to me), it always crippled me a little.
– commitment to authenticity is key to my own sanity and to the enjoyment (I hope) of my 300 or so readers (note: I look like I am bragging but considering 2/3 are friends and family…)
Anyway, there is one subject that I have started to write about and kept deleting over and over again: my own daughter. It all started innocently enough. I was looking at my Facebook page insights and noticed how my blog posts about my boy G. are usually quite popular. I then realized with sheer horror that I to date have written at least 2 blog posts about him and 0 about my daughter, P.
DH and I are obsessed about fairness when it comes to raising our kids. DH, because it is one of the things his folks did very well -always giving equivalent time, money, gifts etc. to him and his sisters – and Me, because it is one of the things my folks fucked up big time. It is popular knowledge in my family that one out of us 5 got more financial support, or more praise, or more demands, more criticisms from my mom and my dad. Thank god, it was not always the same kid who got it all. It’s a miracle the 5 of us actually love each other 🙂
Indeed, when I started my blog, one of my goals was to document our family life. I hoped that my kids one day will read all my entries when the time for them comes to forgive me for the obnoxious way I proclaim that ‘I know them better than they know themselves’ or when they start criticizing my style and maybe understand that back then I had no time nor the inclination to comb my hair or wear anything but sweat pants. And we all know that old habits die hard, right? I especially hope that they will read the blog when it is time to decide which retirement home they will put us in when we loose our brain and can no longer make any decisions and read this: RESORT, GOLF, DANCE CLUB, FLO-RI-DA.
I felt horribly bad about not having written about P so I was adamant to amend this immediately. But then, I started to do the unthinkable: censoring myself. I kept deleting words wondering: ‘what is she going to feel when she reads this? Will she think I prefer her brothers?’
The truth is that I have very complex emotions when it comes to P. It started way before she was even born. It started way before I was told I was pregnant with twin boy and girl. As far as I can remember I have always been nervous about raising a daughter perhaps because:
- I have my own up and down and ‘come to a full circle’ relationship with my mom.
- I often had intense passive aggressive friendships with girls; so much that for a very long time half my family thought I had lesbian affairs
- I was raised to be competitive with my almost twin sister. I mean, our very own grandparents used to bet on whom would win a Mano a Mano wrestling fight. I was 4. Who does this? I swear Lao people are mental.
- I felt I already had a daughter in the shape of my 14 year younger sister to whom I already taught what I think every girl should know: not to cry over boys, love other girls, how to pluck their eyebrows and how one should always avoid, unless your name is Rihanna, combining micro skirts and high heels.
Thus since P was born, I cannot for the life of myself understand why I am tougher on her than on her brothers. I cringe when she flirts her way through things, when she bawls her eyes out when G & L barely push her, when she is obsessing about lip balms or constantly demands to wear dresses. She is so precocious that she thinks my girlfriends are her girlfriends. She protests about anything and everything. Maybe I cannot handle how ‘girly’ she is. Or maybe I cannot handle how she basically trashed a whole life conviction that gender neutral upbringing would help girls not to fall into the ‘traps’ societies build for them such as the expectations to be cute, sweet and pretty or to love nursing their baby doll. But here I am with my twin boy and girl doing exactly the same thing to no avail; she is all about sparkles and making adults fall in love with her.
I grew up thinking that I had to be one of the boys to make it. And for now, she makes it clear that the last thing she wants to do is ‘act like a boy’. The world she is growing into is different, I guess, and hopefully offers more narratives about what a strong woman truly is. I don’t know. While Beyoncé sings ‘girls rule the world’ and Sheryl Sandberg has been officially decreed a billionaire, institutional, social and political deficiencies continue to stymie the potential of girls and women. I am talking about glass ceiling, oversexualization of girls and women bodies, governments’ inability to articulate the value of childcare into sound long-term economic policies, reproductive rights that continuously need to be defended (Spain, I am talking to you and Shame on you!), or how parental leave actually still means ‘maternal leave’.
So yeah, maybe I am tougher because I worry more (that, plus the fact that she will eventually steal all my designer shoes collection). But does me being harder on her is actually telling her that I expect her to fail by being herself? Am I tough because I am sometimes disappointed by the woman I am? It is not fair and P, I make you this promise: I will try harder to be the woman I wish you would grow into. Also you are already very awesome because you just cracked me up two days ago when you strutted towards me in my UGG boots applying some balm on your lips and firmly demanded: ‘Mom, I want a wrench and a fast car. Can you buy me that?’
You made me remember this kick ass quote from Sarah Silverman: ‘Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it’s a mistake. Not because they can’t, but because it would never have occurred to them that they couldn’t.’
There are a couple of things I learnt in the last two weeks:
– the meaning of ‘polar vortex’, a persistent, large-scale cyclone located near one or both of a planet’s geographical poles. Basically, an almost apocalyptic end of the world during which your brain seems to be freezing while walking and during which opening your mouth on the street could probably kill you if the cold air was getting into your lungs. New York is the worst place for that type of polar cyclone because you can no longer curse bad drivers and have to instead resort to roll your eyes from behind your winter burka.
– my immune system is actually stronger than I thought. How else can I explain surviving through nursing 3 sick children and serving as a human facial tissue for their mucus? I am IMMORTAL. Yeah!!!
This week marks a return to sufferable temperatures so silly me decided to flaunt season appropriate clothing such as…my Calvin Klein black shorties and a vintage light teal blouse hum 🙂 Of course, I ended up adding layers, here a Hydraulic faux-fur vest, a Pea in a Pod grey coat and a black knit beanie, to actually be able to go out. Got slightly over zealous. I also stopped combing my short hair. Jury’s still out on this one.
Note for the future: always check the state of your feet nails when wearing tights in case a sharp nail cuts into the nearby toe, which is atrociously painful. It is especially important if you are wearing a super super super tight body shaper, super super tight tights, super tight leggings, tight shorties…and a belt. That would save you a lot of time and lots of sweating!!!
I finally made the big leap and by that, I don’t mean:
– kicking out L back to his room when he crawls into our bed in the middle of the night and pull and pinch my breast as if it was a a ‘doudou’ (French for anything that calms the baby: teddy bear, security blanket, muslin, padded book etc. In the case of L, it is the breast of any female between 18 and 45 year old)
– submitting my resume to a local restaurant to apply for a waitress job because our debts are piling up
– begging my mom to come and live with us to help with the kids
I chopped my hair. I was tempted by the whole Britney Spears infamous head shaving but did not go through it because a- winter is too friggin’ cold in New York and b-I have a super flat back of the head, as in flat ironed; another thing I used to blame my mom for. She probably let me sleep flat on my back ALL the time. She did have a 1 one year old (my big sis) to mind at the same time so I guess I now understand her and can no longer really hold this against her…It still sucks though.
Anyway, I did not shave entirely but went back to my post wedding and pre children hair style: short and short. People who met me in New York were stunned (most of them positively rather than ghastly stunned) and asked: ‘it must feel…strange?’. It actually did not feel strange at all. It feels more like peeling away all the worry and layers built up after 4 strenuous years of fertility treatment, pregnancies, breast feeding etc. It feels more like getting ready for 2014 aka ‘get a job, whatever it is’ year with the kick ass energy of an old friend: the (hair) Bob.
Many people were also freaked out by how much I now look like my daughter, P. Me is thinking (slightly annoyed): ‘Cannot believe that my trademark hair style got appropriated by my 2 year old…Damn it!!!’ Oh well, I guess it is just the beginning…
Today, to accentuate the new bob, I went for: BCBG Max Azria stripes dress, Roberto Cavalli belt, French blue beret, Natasha’s old vintage rabbit fur vest (worn with the skin out), and new Blowfish ankle boots.
P.S: P saw the beret and wants it…
‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’
Martin Luther King Jr.
Something that has been happening with G in the last few weeks got me thinking about self-identification and got me to revisit my own past struggle with my diverse identities. Basically (not) G thinks he is a black boy. And not in the cheesy Vanilla ice ice baby but as a boy with ebony skin and curly hair…My Manga faced boy sees himself as the 6th member of the Jacksons Five. Indeed, in all the books, IPad games, etc. if there is an illustration of a black boy, G points at the little boy and assertively claims: ‘it’s me, it’s G!!!‘ Every single time!
My initial reaction was: ‘Oh fuck, he is really really color blind’ (Note: he is struggling to identify primary colors). But as I started to study his big smile while proclaiming his ‘blackness’, I realized that his odd thinking was more complex and actually more beautiful than simple color blindness. The kid may flunk his public school ‘Gifted and Talented’ program entry test but he made me proud – a lot – in the last few weeks.
He reminded me that for a long time, I could never identify myself as Asian because I grew in a predominantly white neighborhood and thought I was just the same as my then fair skinned best friend Mariel. I remember studying for hours my face in the mirror of my parents’ old wardrobe and would not ‘see’ that my eyes were slanted, my hair was blacker and thicker than anyone else in my class (bar my sister), that I did not have any nose bridge (despite pulling my nose for an hour every night in bed and if you want details: yes it hurt and yes I felt stupid doing it…crazy girl) and that there were many reasons why my name could not be Stephanie or Adele. I would not ‘see’ but I knew I was different.
He reminded me that it took me almost 2 decades to reconcile my various cultural and ethnic identities and a lot of resilience to overcome the abuse from French kids calling me ‘Chinetoque’ (French racist slur for Chinese people) and from the Lao people calling me out for being a ‘banana‘ (no comment).
Because of all this, I wanted my kids to grow up in a place like Harlem so they can see and understand things such as:
– people of different colors besides your parents can fall in love and have kids together
– or white women are not necessarily the adoptive mothers of dark skinned children but can be the nannies paid by dark skinned parents
It became a kind of obsession to promote diversity in our family life; obsession obviously rooted in my own childhood insecurities.
But my kids seem to have taken their very own journey about their understanding and experience of race and class. G showed me something really new to me. He showed me that a boy with a caucasian dad and an Asian mom sees himself as a proud and happy black boy. And I will blast anyone who try to correct him and force him into boxes. I will blast them – Manga style.
What do you see when you look yourself in the mirror?
PS: meanwhile my daughter P is adamant she lives in the ‘Park’, I am at loss about what she means by this…I shall investigate and report to you soon 🙂