Tuesday, December 8, 2015


I think maybe something's wrong with me...I think I should see a shrink or something.

I was half joking, but my best friend, the only person whose genius I find intimidating, was serious in her response. That's what I've been telling you for years.

And because we are so much older now and so much more mature, I retorted, You need to see someone too. You're just as crazy.


I wrote the above 5 lines in June 2015.  I had started this excerpt, got distracted, and forgot it all together.  And here I am, 6 months later, seeing a therapist...through series of events that had nothing, yet everything, to do with me.  Maybe I'll blog about that someday.

But I started the above entry after seeing a dental hygienist who said, "Do you grind your teeth?" And I said, no.  Then, she said, "Do you clench your teeth sometimes, maybe when you're tense?" And then I realized, yes, I do.  Although not sometimes. Not often.  But ALWAYS. Whenever my mouth is closed, even with a smile on my face, unknowingly, my teeth immediately clench.  I now have to be very aware whenever my mouth is closed to unclench my teeth and loosen my jaws.  And then I tell myself, For heaven's sake, Chic, relax!

And so here I am, prodded by colleagues in the mental health field to go "see someone."  That mental health check ups are really...healthy.  And I hear their prodding as: Hey, you're a nut case. Go get fixed.

And I immediately want to yell, Have you driven through the Staten Island Expressway?? Try crossing that highway, then the Verrazano, then the BQE, and then come back for another 26 hours of traffic for YEARS and you tell me if YOU wouldn't turn into a nut case yourself!!

Anyway...my first session took place 2 weeks ago.  It wasn't my appointment, but I decided to take the spot and show up for myself.  Maybe because deep down I realize that I have been trying to figure myself out.  I mean, this 4 year blog is made up of me comically expressing myself to my readers while trying to discover the truths about who I really am.  And frankly, I am tired of having to consciously unclench my teeth.

It was dark when I went and the office was in a basement and the dark, tired look of the place gave me the creeps.  Once I got comfortable, I told the therapist, "Your office is creepy."

He looked up, clearly surprised by this.  "Really? You think so?"

"It's so dark," I said, pulling my jacket close.  "Your patients are probably developing phobias so they keep coming back to be fixed."

He laughed and I thought, this kid looks like a good Mormon.  Buttoned down shirt, khakis, dirty blonde hair parted on the side...is he from the Midwest?

We started by talking about family and I talked, nonstop, for a full hour.  I don't think I took a breath. And he seemed overwhelmed and then said, "Wow, you're telling me a lot...it's good, it's good...Usually people don't open up right away."

"Yup," I said. "Getting my money's worth."

Another laughter. Not sure if it was nervous laughter from my newfound therapist.

When we finished, I said, "It's so dark outside, I'm afraid I'll get nabbed then murdered."

"Would you like me to walk you to your car?"

"No, I'll just run. And then once I'm in my car, I can die from the anxiety."

The curious thing about therapy is realizing that this Mormon will not fix me. My second session, which was last week, comprised of me asking questions that I answered myself.  And whatever questions the therapist asked, I answered with further questions which I eventually also answered.

"Hey, I'm doing all the therapy here," I quipped. "I'm going to pay myself today."

I told my husband that I should just sit in front of a mirror and ask myself a bunch of questions.  That way, I don't have to wait week to week for therapy or run across a dark street hoping a serial killer won't discover me.

"I always tell my patients that it's like being in Nascar. You're the driver, but I'm on the passenger seat.  Every time there's a sharp turn, you seem to crash straight into the wall. Well, I tell you that the next time you come to that turn, you should move your head away from the wall and into the road. But when we get there, you keep looking at the wall so...I gently move your head towards the road.  And guess what you'll do?  You'll move the steering wheel away from the wall and onto the road, and this time, you won't crash. Your body will follow the movement of your head. Because the mind is an amazing thing."

A--ha.  Okayyy.

That was my honest reaction when the Nascar analogy was explained.

But 3 weeks later I am watching the intensity of my responses, clenching my teeth less, and have committed to taking one day off a week, no matter how tempted I am to go into work.  Okay, today is that day off and although I am home writing up this blog, I have responded to emails and at-least 45 text messages from employees---I am a work in progress and the wall is bigger than I realize. Clearly, I will have questions for myself in this week's therapy.

I'll have to get in that race car and listen to the "Passenger."  And so far, the ride has been this:

Why do I work so much? 

The passenger: "Do you really have to work seven days a week when you own the place?"

Why won't I relax?

The passenger: "You have to loosen up, you really do."

Why am I such a control freak? Wait, I'm such a control freak!

The passenger, laughing, "There you go!"

Why won't I turn the wheel?

To think that I told a close colleague, I'm going to flip this therapy session. First, I made the therapist reflect on the creepiness of his office (he bought extra lamps the following week), then I'll tell him he reminds me of a Mormon, and then I'll ask if he's heterosexual.


The past 4 years have really come down to this.  This was supposed to be the pursuit of the Virtuous Woman.  Really, I've been in pursuit of myself.  I think I overwork because I'm running away from me. And so, here I am. On this car ride, racing through these laps and confronting several walls.

One. Crash. At. A. Time.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


I took a day off today. A real day off. No work. And I stayed inside, perfectly secluded in my bedroom.  I didn't vegetate, of course not. That's just not my personality.  I cleaned like a madwoman, taking advantage of finally being home. After throwing my back from vacuuming and cleaning up the bedrooms, I sat up in my bed and thought, "I can do this for the next 100 years."

Stay inside.  Minimal human interaction. A good book. A foreign film on Netflix.

Those who know me well, which is less than 5 people, know that I'm an undercover hermit.  I dread social events, idle chatter, and perfunctory greetings. My husband knows where to find me during a party in my house after 3 hours. In my bedroom, in front of my laptop or an open book. His reproach is always the same:

Babe, these are your family downstairs and you're here hiding!

And, eventually, my sister-in-law will find me and chuckle.  Here you are. Getting to be too much, huh?

What's funny is her daughter, Amber, is always compared to me. She's exactly you. She looks like you. She talks like you. She acts like you. Except Amber thrives in the spotlight and attention is key to her energy.

I am the complete opposite.

It is true.  I can easily be the loudest in a group and I will not shut-up.  And I have one of those laughs---HA HA HA---over simple and mundane comments that are merely amusing and far from hysterical. But the laughter comes out and I laugh easily. It's an inherited thing. It's also cultural. Filipinos love to laugh.  And growing up a pastor's kid, I talked to everyone, I greeted everyone, and I joked around all the time.  And laughed at my own jokes. HA HA HA!

But I could never wait to stop talking, to stop being amusing, to stop laughing and get to my bed and hide. Enough with the chatter, enough with the noise, enough with the charm.

"Do you think I'm a snob?" I asked my husband yesterday.

"No," he said, thinking. "But you're only comfortable around very few people. People you're familiar with."

And when interactions with those familiar people stop, they fall under the category of people who now make me uncomfortable.

I'm 41 now so I've taken ample personality tests that revealed what hardly anyone who was around me in my 20's would believe: I am an introvert.

I sang solo in college, I preached in the pulpit from the time I was 17, and I had the reputation of being a dynamic youth pastor.

I found out later in life that "introvert" is not synonymous to "shy."

I did not play with children when I was a kid. Actually, I just did not play. I had, at most, 2 friends. And I never let anyone know, ever, how I was truly feeling inside. Strangely, what I do for a living is create treatment plans for some children who have those same social deficits.  My Aspie clients remind me of myself. They're perfectly content in their own universe and need no other peer to interact with to stay perfectly content.  And sometimes, while developing their treatment, I think, But why should he have to engage in social interaction!  Of course I know the answer to this:

It is socially valid. This is a social universe. We have to interact.

But...I want my bed. I want my book. I want my laptop. In the privacy of my own bedroom.

And I look at those Aspie kids and think, I know. I understand. But we gotta do this. Now go say hello to the other kids and look at their eyes when you do it.

If we don't interact, if we don't socialize, it is rudeness. People think you're a snob, or that you don't like them, or that you're mad. And there are always those who think, What is your problem?

I can't keep up with the amount of people who, I later on found out, thought I did not like them, or that I was mad at them, or, in the case of one, I genuinely hated them. Sadly, I did not even know the person's name, nor how he looked, or what he was like.  I just never looked up whenever he was around.

Oddly, at 41, I can only come up with one person I genuinely did not like.  Recently, another person joined that small group but overall, I genuinely like people.

It's not a matter of liking for introverts, I don't think.  It's a comfort level. I don't mean surface, social interaction. I'm actually a pro in that. I can engage and interact and be charming like a true PK (Pastor's Kid) and enjoy the experience.  But a level of plutonic intimacy requires a much deeper level of comfort and safety. I think most introverts have to feel safe enough to peek outside their very private shell and let a person in.

Once in, an outsider will find that inside my shell reside…absolutely nothing. No secrets. No hidden personality. No rare treasure. No psychedelic lights with sparkling stimuli. Nothing inside but a workaholic who enjoys watching documentaries and foreign films on Netflix.

And it's exactly how I like it. No clutter. No noise. Quiet and private.

Friday, March 20, 2015

On Relaxation...

After years of workaholism and emotional stoicism, the verdict came in:

"Degenerative Disc Disease," my doctor said, looking over the recent result of my cervical and lumbar spine x-rays.  I would google it later on and find that it sounds far more alarming than it really is.

He read some medical words and said,  "Your cervical spine is completely inverted. A perfect C."

Then, he proceeded to draw a picture. He seemed amused. He's had me as a patient for a couple of years now and although he is my doctor, we had developed a rapport like two colleagues. I jumped from where I was laying.

"Let me see that," I said, standing next to the doctor and reading right along with him. "All from stress? This is all from stress?"

The lower back pains, the unbearable migraines...

"Well, stress can definitely be a factor."

I kept reading, as though I understood the terminologies. "But what does this mean? What does it mean?"

"It means," my doctor said, "that you're a mess."

I rolled my eyes. He had told me to de-stress. He had told me to exercise. He had told me to cut work. And in each visit, he had told me to learn to relax. I even got a history lesson on how he went from running his own practice and covering hospital rounds to working a few hours just 4 days a week. "I'd rather enjoy life and live like a person, not a machine."

He even wrote me a medical note for work to let my boss know that stressful situations weaken my already compromised immune system.

"What are you so tense about? You gotta just relax!"

And then the chuckle. A chuckle from a successful professional who has learned the art of not falling into the trap of the work wheel. The chuckle made me anxious.  Professional medical advice ensued, followed by a prescription for muscle tension and extension of physical therapy. I was going to be just fine, my doctor assured in a serious tone. Really, I was going to be ok. I needed regular exercise, continuation of physical therapy, and relaxation techniques.

So today, Friday, was my day off. A day of nothing. An empty day. A day dedicated to relaxation.

By 12 noon my lower spine started to throb. I had been returning emails, developing treatment plans, answering phone calls, and the stress of the morning finally found itself in my lumbar region.

What's wrong with me? Why don't I know how to relax?

And so on impulse, I called a spa and made an appointment for a 45 minute deep tissue massage. It wasn't going to be one of those feel good ones but I could feel the tension knots everywhere and I needed a good work up. And then, something on the website caught my eye. A relaxation bath. Scented oils. Soothing. Healing. Etcetera, etcetera.

It was just what the doctor ordered. And so at 2:30, I set off for my very first relaxation, scented bath.

"This is your locker," the woman at the spa said. "Just remove all your clothes and put this robe and these slippers and we'll get your bath ready."

I smiled awkwardly then locked the door behind me. I removed my clothes quickly and locked them in the locker. Then, I realized that bare necessities could not follow me in the bath. Neither could my cozy socks. So off everything went and I was suddenly filled with awkward dread and anxiety.  I would be much more relaxed in front of my lap top.

Once done, I went outside, wrapped in an oversized pink, fluffy robe that dragged by my feet. I could see a woman working by a buzzing tub and I could see some bubbles forming. She called me in the room. The bubbles had risen above the tub.

Was the temperature ok for me?

It was scalding hot but she assured me that was ok. A hundred and ten degrees was the norm and she only had it for a hundred degrees, but I suddenly saw myself standing outside in the middle of Summer under a scorching sun in a hundred degree weather and somehow I wasn't convinced.

The bubbles continued to rise. You don't think the bubbles will spill when I get in?

No, it was ok, the woman said nervously. Really, it was ok. But the bubbles continued to rise and the woman from the front, the woman in charge, joined us.  She told the bath lady to turn off the water and she left the room. But the bubbles continued to rise and I don't know what happened but the woman walked out for some reason and I somehow found myself alone in the room with this volcanic bubble bath and it began to spill on the floor.

"The bubbles are spilling!" I yelled.

The women ran in and I walked out. I could hear them talking. Turn it off.  But it won't turn off! Shut the water. The water won't shut!

I peeked in and saw that the bubbles had risen close to their height and its excess was seeping at the sides of the beautiful, white, clawfoot tub. The two dark haired women were frantically working on the knob and then finally, silence.

"We are going to drain the tub and do it again. It will just be a minute."

I waved my hand, no problem. It wasn't an issue. I was used to walking around wrapped in an oversized bathrobe with a sheepish grin on my face in a place with complete strangers.

Finally, the wait was over.

I looked at my buzzing bath that now had categorically minimal bubbles and low water.  I reflected for a few seconds. My bath lady was too afraid to put the scented bubbles in and had shut off the water before armageddon happened again.

My relaxation bubble bath, my soothing, healing, scented water, had anxiety written all over it.

I looked around the room and saw a mountain of bubbles on the sink, covering the mirror. They had gathered the excess bubbles from the disaster and placed them neatly on the sink.  The bubbles were thick and hard and sat like a tall, white, sculptured art piece on the sink.

My bath lady walked out and I attempted to get in. After a few ow, ow, ow! from the scalding heat, unable to sit, much less lay back, I adjusted the tub with blasting cold water and then settled in.  The force from the jacuzzi was too strong for my small frame and it shook me around side to side. I laid down thinking of what the experience felt like, the buzzing, the jerking, the convulsive flow of the water. My relaxing, healing, soothing bath felt...epileptic.

"How was your bath?"

"Uhmm...I could've gone without it. I...I...don't think it's for me."



"I'm sorry to hear that. We'll give you a 10% discount."

I beamed. Thank you, that's so nice and considerate.

I was relieved that she did not ask for an explanation. That I did not have to recount the fact that I had tipped the temperature off balance and eventually shivered in the tub, watching my pruned fingers tremble. And how I had buried my face in my hands in exasperation, only to find my finger tips stained in black, quickly realizing that I had just smeared my mascara all over my face.

It was indeed an experience, but not a relaxing one.

And so I left wondering if perhaps, just perhaps, I really am just not meant to relax. Ever. And if I try, I will pay the price. Even if it is at a discounted rate.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Don't mind the Nails

I took a test recently--one of those mindless, facebook quizzes that rate a little about yourself and if you're half gullible you would believe that your aura is golden, you were a cat in your past life, and your real profession should be in the medical field, specifically,  that of a surgeon.  I take these quizzes because I'm addicted to them. Yes, dumb, superficial and mundane. But I take them. And then, as always, I say, what idiots. I'm not 21, I was never married to a musician, and I do NOT have 3 kids.

Going back to this recent test.  I took a girly test that gave me a score of 25% and I was dubbed a tomboy.  True, I hate pink. True, I can't relate to my oldest sister's obsession with Hello Kitty, and I don't know what to do with an eye liner but I'm no tomboy. I can't climb trees, I won't know what to do with a flat tire, and I'm petrified of snakes. But girly things? It's been my lifelong obsession to be a girly girl. And so, it's also been my lifelong failure.

About 6 weeks ago, the Board of Education showed up at a UPK I run in Brooklyn. It was an insane day, the first day of school.  The very first day we opened our doors to 4 year olds from the board of ed. Just the night before, there were no tiles in the second classroom and I threw construction papers on random tables hoping it would distract the inspectors and they would think the classes were fully supported with materials. Maybe they won't notice that only 5 blocks were in the block center and that the paint area only had brushes and that the science table only had one piece of paper that read, "Science Center." The paint, the books, the blocks, the toys, the manipulatives...they were all still in Amazon, waiting to be ordered.

I sat in front of 2 women. One seemed very eclectic, the other...polished.  My posture was erect and when I'm under tremendous pressure I tend to be a bit more articulate, punctual with my responses, and competent in my tone. I was hard at work not to reveal that I did not know what I was doing. That although I ran a successful and difficult program for children with autism, Universal Pre-K, Common Core, and all the rules and guidelines of the typical early childhood world eluded me.  I didn't find the task intellectually challenging, but there were a lot of bullets on my paper and they were too much too soon for an unprepared educational director and the idea of merging the world of autism with universal pre-k was daunting.

They asked questions, I answered. They made suggestions, I wrote furiously.  They offered advice, I took them. But one of them, the polished one, did not say much. She seemed a bit preoccupied. She was kind and understanding and helpful, but she was preoccupied. And then I realized why. She kept glancing at my nails. They were chipped, dirty, with old nail polish that should have been removed or re-done 6 weeks before.  I curled my fingers into a ball to hide them and then eventually, I placed them under the table, where they would neither distract nor appall anyone. I wondered what she was thinking. If she can't take care of those nails, how is she going to run a school? I wanted to say that I was good at what I did because I was psychotically dedicated. I neglected the woman side of me because I poured everything into my work. But who was I kidding? What excuse did I have for overgrown, chipped nails? I wondered if she noticed my unwashed hair, pulled carelessly into a messy bun? I started biting at my cracked lips and wondered if she thought my glasses were too big. After all, one of the students had asked me if they were goggles.

And then, ever so discreetly, I looked at her. Not a hair out of place. Make-up flawless. Lips intact. She looked like she smelled good. Some women know how to be professional and pretty at the same time.

I'm just not one of them.

And so, the UV gel nail era began for me. I ran home and found a nail salon down the block. Two weeks later, I got them done again. And then before another three weeks were gone, the nails had been redone--this time blue, with a hint of sparkle.  I couldn't commit to make-up and hair, but the nails, the one hour I gave myself every 2 weeks, felt good. They felt right. I was finally doing something for myself that I deserved. Something nice and pretty. Something girly.

"I guess you didn't watch that segment on Dr. Oz about gel nails?"

It was my best friend on the phone. The only woman I know busier than me. The brilliant World Health Organization doctor.

"What did he say?" I panicked, looking at my flawless nails.

"Don't worry about it. They can cause skin cancer but don't worry about it. Just cut down on red meat."

"I don't eat red meat!"

"Oh," she chuckled. "Well, then, maybe exercise. That may eliminate the dangers of you getting your nails done."

Laughter from my friend. Silence from me.

"How can you say that? You know I'm the most paranoid person! How can you say that? Just when I finally turned into a girl, you'd say that!"

"Well, maybe you can get manicures instead?"

"They take forever! I have to sit under that blowing thing forever and it makes me crazy. I can't go get a manicure done every 3 days! They chip after I wash dishes and then I have to sit under that thing forever for them to dry!"

And so, I am sitting here today, my last set of UV gel nails slowly but surely fading. I am wondering and calculating and deciding whether or not to go to the nail salon. Of course I will never get gel nails. That's out of the question. But do I really want to get a manicure? A manicure that will chip and fade within days only for me to keep going back religiously to get them done?

I can see that Board of Ed woman in my mind. I can see her glancing, distracted, preoccupied by my lack of girly-ness.  I know what will happen the next time she comes. I will curl my fingers, turn my hand into balls, and hide them under the table. At-least I'll know, deep down, that I tried to be better. I tried to be more girly. Three weeks. For those that know me well know that that's a very long time.

I think that should count for something.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Scars

"Easy," my new doctor, the rheumatologist said, placing the stethoscope again on my chest, "your heart is racing. Take it easy!"

That was right before he told me I had lupus. And that for 20 years the disease had spared my organs, although there was extensive scarring around my heart and my lungs. Twenty years. Untreated. My blood vessels feeding the major organs of my body had been flaring up for years, and I was still alive. The prognosis was good.

"Low level lupus." That was what the doctor called it.  I googled it later on and couldn't find it anywhere. There's mild, there's severe. Low level...low level that has me gasping for air sometimes and wincing in pain as I rub my chest. Low level that scarred the engine and transmission of my body. Low level that has had me in constant pain for years. Imagine high level.

It would be a week tomorrow since I was in that office, where my heart raised wildly and I clenched my fists and I took deep breaths so I would not burst into tears. Crying is something I don't do. But I did take the next day off. I needed some time to process this new diagnosis in my life.

Just a week before, while sitting in heavy traffic, I found myself frustrated at how tired I was.  I was angry at myself for feeling drained and exhausted, especially since I had to go to my second and third jobs and wouldn't be home until much later that evening.  It was always this way since college and every doctor ignored me. Waves of sudden exhaustion, my body trembling in fatigue. My hair would fall. The soles of my feet would be filled with red, painful bumps. And then I would feel like I'm tingling, like I'm buzzing.

I laid in bed that night and said, "Buzz...buzz...there goes my body buzz-zing all overrrr!"

My husband shook his head. There was not much he could do married to a living cartoon. "You want me to get you something?"

And then, of course, I find out through discussions and forums that this buzzing was one of the signs of a flare up. Lupus. The very word is foreign. How can something that's been my companion for the past 20 years be so unfamiliar?

Serositis.  It's the specific kind that goes after your heart and lungs.

And so, I took advantage of this all week at work. Whenever I forgot something, or made a mistake, I sighed dramatically, "What do you people expect? I have scars on my heart and lungs!" And I don't think my staff knew what to do except chuckle, then shake their heads.  Early this year, all they've heard me say was, "What do you people expect? I'm forty!" And now it's been replaced by something much more sinister, but exclaimed in the same ridiculous manner.  I made sure during First Aid training, that all the teachers in my room knew how to administer CPR. And I raised an eyebrow, "Anyone who doesn't pay attention will get fired. You people need to keep me alive." More chuckles across the room and declarations of, "Miss Anna Marie, you're not going to die! Such a drama queen!"

Only once, only once this past week have I broken down and cried. And only for a minute.  I told my husband, "All this time I've taken pride in never being sick and something so much more sinister was happening inside me." And then, just like that, the tears fell.

I think I cried really because I've been told that I now have to listen to my body. I cannot drive it to the ground. I have to rest when it's tired. I no longer can skip lunch and dinner. I had to let go of my afternoon jobs...and then, the hardest of all: I must try not to be stressed.  The very idea of not being stressed stresses me out.

I thought immediately of the traffic, the slow cashier, the teenager in a Mustang changing lanes without signal, the hairdresser speaking about me in Chinese...the everyday stuff that stresses the (bleep) out of me. I'm never, ever going to be able to do it!

But really, I am grateful and I have nothing to complain about. I think, 20 years...imagine what they could have discovered by now? What my body has been through...God has surely spared me. If scars around my important organs are the only things to show for after 2 decades, then I have much to be thankful for. And then I think of my son, my Aaron who has lived with diabetes before he was even 2 years old. The most calm, well adjusted child battling the meanest autoimmune disease.

I cannot complain.

But I can ask for prayer. Prayer from you, my blog friends, to ask the good Lord to keep me healthy. Prayer that I learn how to read the signs and symptoms...how to listen to my body.  And to do the miraculous: stay stress free while living and breathing in this great demanding city.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A month's worth of pride at 40

I wanted to reflect on every week of my first month being forty:

First Week:  It involved running everywhere to prepare for Wlad and I's 40th birthday bash.  I pride myself in being thrifty and wise with money but a dollar here and a dollar there heaped up to more than a couple thousand and I was upset at myself for spending so much for a birthday party.  Jennifer Covelli, who was my assistant teacher for a while, was the brains behind the event (Roaring 20's theme) and she had to keep reminding me that I was only going to be 40 once; that everyone will remember this day, and that yes, Wlad and I were well worth it...It turned out to be a party worth every penny and more. A night Wlad and I would never forget.

Second Week: Baby Paris, my cousin's daughter, who was 2 1/2 years old,  died two days after that birthday bash.  I learned that I was not as strong as I thought. I pride myself in being able to muster cerebral strength no matter the situation and I could focus on anything, especially when it involved work, no matter what was happening at home. The day after Paris died I wrote my boss and told her I could not come to work that week.  I could not sleep. I could not eat. I cried everyday.  For me, it wasn't about losing Paris, although that in itself brought its unbearable weight of sorrow.  I could not function because I had witnessed my cousin, Nightingale, and her husband, Chris, wrestle with their sanity in the process of losing their first born.  I watched them in that hospital room, overcome with anguish and pain...their sorrow was maddening.  I had never felt so helpless, so useless in my life. I walked out of the ICU room at one point, found a corner in the hallway, and sobbed. I wasn't weeping at that moment for Paris. I was in agony for my cousins...

Third Week: The day after we buried Paris, Alanna got sick. The next day she tested positive for Influenza A, the same flu that eventually put her on life support four years before. I pride myself in staying calm and cool in front of others, nomatter the situation. But by Tuesday, when we had to take Nana to Columbia Presbyterian, I bursted into tears at work. I never burst into tears. I do not cry in front of others over my pain. I cry for other people's pain but I do not cry over my own, especially not in public. We had just buried Paris. And now we were back in the hospital with my daughter.  I was physically, mentally, and emotionally spent...but I knew, deep down, that Nana would be ok. And she was...I learned that it was ok to break down and cry. Earthquakes do not follow as a consequence. The world does not fall apart. Sometimes it is quite ok to burst into tears.

Fourth Week: The last week of March was my busiest at work. I had 5 tours and I was finishing a course online. Toward the end of the week, I had an interview with a clearly well educated and wealthy parent. I had prided myself in not accepting a child impulsively in our program--but that day, I went against my own protocol.  I did not complete the interview the way I normally do. I did not consult with the teachers in the room who were assessing the child. I accepted the child impulsively. And by the time that interview was done, every fiber of my being knew I had made an absolute wrong decision. I went home angry. Before the night was over, I knew I was angry only at myself. I have learned from the past that impulsive acceptance always had a consequence, and I had made a vow to follow protocol. But because I set the rules, I freely broke them. I learned, once again, that even if you're the one calling the shots, you have to abide by the regulations set in place. Rules are there for our own protection.

What a roller coaster it was for my first month being forty; I realized that even at this age, the things I think I can pride myself over are dependent on the situations going on in my life. I have entered 40 so full of confidence at knowing who I am. In one month's time, I've discovered I am still in the process of getting to know me.  It was a rough month and I am so thankful for God being there, and I am relieved it's over.

And now, April has begun...

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Baby Paris

(I was asked to speak at my 2 ½ year old niece’s Wake. This was what I read for Baby Paris that night.)

I did not plan to stand before you tonight to speak…I know my cousins did not plan to ask me or anyone who spoke to stand tonight before you to speak. But God, in His sovereign wisdom knew that this day, at this moment, we would gather here together to send Paris home.  I want to be transparent with you…I don’t want to stand before you today.  I stand as a broken family member, a confused mother, full of questions, and filled with agony. 

What can I say about Paris?  I can’t reach into my treasure box of memories without chuckling a little.  She was so feisty. She had more spunk, more energy, more life than what was supposed to be humanly possible in that little body.  I don’t think that it was because she wasn’t aware that she was supposed to be frail, supposed to be too sick to be happy---I think Paris just did not care that she was supposed to be too frail or too sick to be happy. She just was.

I remember just a few weeks back visiting the family in the hospital.  We were at the Ronald McDonald home and Night and Chris gave me and Wlad the update.  I was filled with dread. She was in the ICU, so obviously, she was very sick.  I pictured her laying there, fatigued, eyes closed and I dreaded to open her door.  But when we went into that half lit room, she was sitting up, her famous pig tails bouncing around, and she had a bed pan in her hand and she was banging on it like a drum.  She looked up and laughed at us.  I’m sure she was thinking, “What strange, worried faces! Do you guys need this bedpan?”

To Paris, that hospital room was her playpen and she was going to have a good time.

I had many encounters with Paris; I wish I had known to treasure every second of it…My encounters were mostly when she was in the boxing ring of life, swinging her arms at challenges and winning small and big feats.  But my favorite was when Night and the family came over at our house and Night tried to take a picture of me and Paris. I was holding her, of course, and Night would count 1…2…3…cheese! Paris would smile real big at the camera during 1…2…but when it got to 3, she would quickly turn to look at me to see if I were smiling. She did that a couple of times. 1…2…3, are you smiling??  We finally had to click at number 2 because she was just too busy making sure I was doing what I was supposed to do.

I think, for sure, Paris learned to laugh and smile at adversities through her grandmother, her Lola.  One of my earliest memories of her was in the hospital room in Long Island and Auntie Estella was there and I had tried and tried to make her acknowledge me but she wouldn’t. But whenever her Lola picked her up and said, “Hi, Paris,” she would squeal and laugh…and I don’t think she did anything but smile through every difficulty and every hurdle after that.  I think, Auntie, you taught Paris to smile through it all.

And then Paris taught me and tried to teach all of us, to smile through it all.

To fight adversities like a trained boxer,
To face fears without flinching,
To be feisty and look at pain in the eye, turn an object like a bedpan into an instrument, and laugh.

It’s partly genetics, really. Last night, I watched my cousin Nightingale comfort many who wept in her arms. I watched Chris walk with people up to Paris and be their support and strength. And amidst the muffled cries, I heard the sound of laughter from my cousin, Night, and I thought, there it is. There is Paris. That baffling laughter amidst all the pain. She will always be with us.

I say the strength in Paris was partly genetics, but all God.

After the Lord came into that hospital room to call Paris home, to end her fight, to give her rest—after what felt like forever of brutal agony, my cousin Nightingale managed to pull herself together, step out of that room for a moment to call everyone to let them know that Paris was no longer with us.

I was in that hallway with her and I had been given strict instructions by a hospital staff to be strong for the mom. So, I put on a strong front. But deep down, I kept asking God,  “Where are you? Where are you?”

And Nightingale, trembling in agony and anger, overcome with sorrow, her face drenched in tears, looked at me and  said, “I have peace.”

And I knew, I knew then where God was. He was right there in our midst.

Chris and Night, I can’t pretend to know the measure of your pain but in your pain, in your sorrow, Jesus is there.

And in those moments, because those moments are going to be many, when you feel that excruciating pain of loss,  know that the Prince of Peace is with you and remember Paris and her smile...and if you can, find a bedpan,  bang on it and keep on marching.

That’s what Paris would do.