Parenting Overseas (for two weeks)

My youngest daughter and my grandparents

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, At times I’ve felt a bit ambivalent at times about the whole concept of parenting. Sure there are good moments, but those tend to be quickly forgotten when the hassles and stresses of parenting come roaring back. I’ve felt somewhat redundant as a parent at home, perhaps this leads to my ambivalence? In my more gloomy moments I feel my sole contribution is bringing home money(grant is running out, so for how much longer?). The kids go to their mom by default since she does such a good job with them, and I often feel useless and ignored. However, for two weeks this past December, I had the amazing opportunity of being the sole parent to my kids while on vacation in Chile. That experience changed my idea of my abilities and enjoyment of being (at least under ideal conditions) a parent.

The reasons I went without my wife are several and complicated, but a major factor was the desire to be the sole parent to my kids. I thought it would be an opportunity for me to bond with them. My family (mom, dad and sister) were coming along, so I felt that this was the rare chance to not only give the kids the chance to learn more about their family origins, but to do so with support. I had considered doing a trip just with my wife and kids, but I felt a bit nervous about getting around Chile on our own. Despite the fact that my parents are separating and knowing that other than Christmas and our last weekend my parents were not with us at the same time on this trip, the thought of having at least one of my parents and my sister around was reassuring; I could focus strictly on the parenting and not on the “survival” aspect of the trip. Not that Chile is hard to get around, in fact it’s quite the opposite, but it made me feel more comfortable.

The trip itself was wonderful. We arrived in Santiago and stayed at my aunt’s for two nights. We saw some of my dad’s cousins and his sole remaining aunt. Then with my dad, aunt and sister we drove south to the Lakes Region in the south of Chile and stayed at amazingly kid friendly accomodations in Lican Ray. The kids got to see a volcano up close, go swimming, and of course play at the playground(they LOVED that playground). From there we drove back up north to meet my mom and spent Christmas with my grandparents (my mom’s parents). From there we drove to the beach town Algarrobo, home of the largest pool in the world (although we didn’t get to see it because it’s a private resort) and stayed at my mom’s cousin’s beach condo for about 4 nights before coming home.

For me there were several aspects of the trip that made it truly wonderful. First was seeing how resilient and adaptable the kids were. Before going on this trip, the idea of longish car rides with the kids had been pretty scary. We’ve done long trips a couple of times, but tend to avoid them. Here, at home, my oldest daughter is prone to start whining and complaining after 15 minutes in the car. My wife actually thought I was being irresponsible for planning the trip with long car rides. During the trip to the south, we were driving about 4 hours each day. There was some whining, but I found that it wasn’t too hard to distract the girls by playing a game or putting on a movie on the portable DVD player. They even were fine when our rental car broke down on the side of the road and we spent several hours waiting for a tow truck and cab. We ended up turning it into an adventure, playing near the railroad tracks, watching movies. Even trying to squat while peeing was an adventure for them! Importantly, throughout the trip they were fine. They weren’t traumatized by the time in the car and once we reached our destinations were full of energy and ready to go.

Interestingly, spending all that time with the kids made me appreciate them more. Before this trip, the thought of spending 24 hours a day for 2 weeks straight with the girls would have probably been overwhelming. However, I found I really enjoyed it. Granted, we were on vacation and we avoided any major illnesses, but I still had to manage minor flare-ups and and bouts of tiredness. I found that I really enjoyed being able to soothe them, and being the person they went to when they needed something. I also feel that I gained a better sense of their individual personalities. My younger daughter was so outgoing and chatty and friendly to everyone she met. My older daughter’s resilience surprised me as did her sharing and observational skills. I also loved how good they were to each other, taking turns, sharing toys and objects, playing together; it was just a joy to watch. They also have such a great sense of humor. My dad is still in awe of how well the girls did on the trip.

I also got to be the person standing up for the kids. There weren’t that many chances that I felt I had to step in and make changes to plans because of the kids, but on the few minor occasions that It was required I was able to, and I felt fine doing it. I also think I was able to accurately judge how much the kids could handle (the car break down being a case in point). I’ll even go as far as to say that I think I did a really good job as a parent (I almost never say I’m good at anything). It was empowering to feel good at something for once, and to get such positive feedback from the other adults around me.

I’ve also gained much more appreciation towards my family, which makes my parents’ separation harder. Everyone was present and helpful, but my dad and sister really did an amazing job. My dad was fantastic at getting us around and making the necessary arrangements, and was also available to help with the kids. My mom was creative in finding ways to entertain the kids, especially over Christmas at my grandparents house. My sister was the best aunt a kid could ever hope for and the best sister I could ever wish for. She was such a huge help with the kids. She was always there for me, and could take care of one of the girls if I had to attend to the other one. She helped me entertain them during the car trips, and was just a soothing presence all around.

Spending time with my grandparents was also very special. My grandmother has been in love with my girls since they were born. She got to see them nearly four years ago, but my youngest was only a few months old at the time. On this trip, we were at the house for almost 3 days and they are old enough to interact with her. The kids spent a lot of time running around the house exploring the rooms, but they also spent a lot of time with hanging out with grandparents (my youngest particularly). My grandmother got to practice her English with them, watch TV, just spend time together. My mom later told me that my grandmother was ecstatic after their stay and even weeks later can’t stop talking about them or showing pictures to her friends.

For me spending time with my grandparents feels like coming full circle in some way. They have lived in the same house my entire life and it has always been kind of a base of sorts during my trips to Chile, the sole exception being our trip right after the 2010 earthquake because it was being repaired. My grandparents are both in their nineties and are beginning to show their age, as is the house. During my last trip, I was convinced that I would not get to see them again. The chance to share my grandparents and the house itself with my kids was important. It was a joining of two very important parts of my life, my kids and the family in Chile. I don’t know if I’ll get to see them or the house again, but I take comfort in knowing that I got to spend one last Christmas with them and the kids and that my grandmother got to enjoy her great-grandchildren.

Coming back has been a bit harder. Almost immediately the girls have gone straight back to wanting “mommy” for everything, even to the point of telling me to go away since they don’t want me. I don’t take it personally, but it’s still hard at times. They’ve also reverted back to the usual whining. My wife and I had some issues to sort through, I think stemming back to me asking to take the kids without her. I’ve also noticed that my patience and engagement is not what it was on vacation. Obviously it’s more stressful at home with school and cold season, but beyond that there is something different. Thinking about it some more, I wonder if the reason I enjoyed “parenting” so much was that it was my sole focus during the trip. At home there are usually a million competing things I want to do or feel I have to take care of and I’m often tired and feeling rundown. It’s harder to be patient or fully pay attention if I feel something pulling me away. During this trip, other than having arranged the main destinations I didn’t have an agenda. I brought along my wetsuit in case I got to so surfing, but I didn’t make it a priority and was not upset that I didn’t get to use it. At least for those two weeks, focusing on the kids, and mostly putting my wants aside was somewhat liberating. Being so attentive to them I guess I couldn’t help but get to know them better and gain a better understanding of who they are.

In the end, I hope the girls look back on this trip fondly and that they learned a bit more about the Chilean part of their heritage. Now that I’ve had the practice, I’d be happy to do it with my girls and my wife. They asked several times during the trip if we could come back with mommy so I know the enjoyed it at least. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been back, but I hope the memories and the discoveries about myself and my girls will stay with me for a lifetime. At least for now, even though I get stressed out a lot at home, I don’t feel so ambivalent about being a dad anymore.

Surfing, again

This blog post has gone through several iterations. Basically, it has alternated back and forth between being about me questioning whether becoming a parent was a good idea, to “I really love being a dad”. I think it’s ended up being a bit of both, but much more on the positive side.

I had been in a “not so sure becoming a dad was an unqualified positive decision” a few weeks ago and we met up some friends who are about to start on their second kid. I think they were a little worried about how much harder it would be with two kids and asked me about my coming into fatherhood and if having kids had been a positive or negative experience for me. I was pretty blunt and said that on average I thought it came out JUST slightly positive, they were a bit taken aback; the husband actually said(kindly) “No, you don’t mean that!”. My main reasoning was that giving up so many things I loved and that made me feel good hadn’t necessarily been the right choice. I think the expectation is for parents to wholeheartedly believe that raising children is a difficult but nonetheless an overwhelmingly positive experience or decision. I understand the motivation behind that expectation, but I don’t always feel it. I love my kids and at this stage can’t imagine life without them anymore, but it’s been a hard journey with no signs of letting up. I felt bad in retrospect and was wondering what was wrong with me. I knew that I had good moments from time to time with the kids, but it just seemed like too much stress.

I then noticed an interesting trend with my kids. Basically, I would have an experience of feeling really good about being a dad, I mean a “YES! I can be a good dad and having kids is great!” experience and then almost always the next day one or both of the kids would act in some way as to stress me out and make me question what the hell I was thinking.

This has happened several times, but as an example, last week I ran across some old pictures on the computer from when my eldest was about a year old. I was moved by how little she looked in those pictures and how much she has grown up since those pictures were taken. I started thinking about all of her wonderful qualities and how she was growing up. I came home and was enjoying her and the rest of the family. Then at bedtime she went into a total meltdown/tantrum with screaming, kicking, some vomiting, hitting, etc.

Was something in the universe picking up on the fact that I was feeling open and loving and then deciding to knock that feeling out of my head, or test me in some way? Or perhaps, it was a message that the rest of my life was out of balance?

Last Friday , I had a really good morning with the kids and was feeling appreciative. We had a smooth morning and got out of the house with time to spare. The morning drop off at school for my older daughter was leisurely. What impacted me was being reminded of what a kind heart she has. She had made “Halloween Cards” for a friend and her teacher, just because she felt like it. She gave them to the recipients before school, and it was touching to see how much they appreciated it and how good she got to feel. Afterwards I was able to walk with my younger daughter to her preschool holding her hand. As I walked back home to get my car, I was struck by the warm air and smell in the air and on a hunch I took my surfboard with me for a post-work surf session. It turned out to be one of those classic fall days we get up in Northern California with warm temperatures and an offshore breeze. It was absolute heaven. I was so happy to be in the water and even got some decent waves. The photo up top is from that surf session. I came home and was in a good mood and enjoying the family. On cue, that evening my daughter started freaking out when bedtime rolled around. This time however even though it went much longer than usual, it wasn’t so overwhelming. I was able to have some empathy for her, and just let it roll off my back. I even was able to laugh (on the inside mind you) observing her theatrics. It was a totally different experience from the previous tantrum.

I always seem to forget this, but it is so much easier to take the hits in life when I am taking care of myself in other areas, and surfing really does seem to give my soul, or whatever you want to call it, nourishment. Surfing for me usually contains brief moments of intense focus and effort; when I’m actually going for a wave. Then during the longer periods when I’m waiting for another wave, I get to reflect on that last period of intensity but also on life in general. The ongoing struggle for me is figuring out a way to get the self nourishment I need on a frequent enough basis. The struggle seems worth it though, if it helps me enjoy my role as a father more.

Being out in the ocean seems to put things in some sort of perspective that I can’t quite articulate, but it makes my life seem pretty good, even if I do get knocked around by waves from time to time.

Out in the open

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So last week I finally announced the blog someplace. No, I’m not talking about the NSA knowing my blog exists! In this case it was a stereo/audio forum I frequent (Hello to any AK’ers!). I wasn’t really thinking about what kind of response I would get, I just wanted to do the terrifying act of announcing the blog. I got some compliments and constructive criticism which was great. The criticism that made me think the most was the observation that I spend too much time thinking about how I feel. I wasn’t initially sure what to do with that observation. Was it a criticism of my approach to the blog or more about how I deal with my depression/melancholy? For a bit I was afraid I’d be too self conscious to write any more posts.

I thought about this for a few days and realized that the authors of the blogs dealing with personal development that I follow ( Penelope Trunk and James Altucher ) seem to have a lot of advice to share. I don’t always agree with their conclusions but still appreciate where their experiences(and ability to learn from them) had led them to. I on the other hand am still going through some sort of process (what that is exactly, I’m not sure), and don’t feel qualified to recommend anything. All I feel comfortable doing is sharing my process. As my wife would be the first to say, unfortunately most of the process takes place in my head. I tend to ruminate or worry or just free associate without really getting anywhere with my thoughts. I find that the act of writing down what I am feeling helps me somewhat in sorting through all those thoughts and emotions and gives me a hint of what triggered what. With the idea that this blog could help someone in a similar position as me, I can only hope that someone seeing my thoughts and process could gain some insight into their own situation.

Given all that, I still think I need to get more of the original idea for the blog back into action. Before announcing the blog I went back and re-read it from the beginning. In the very first post, I stated that I wanted to keep track of the positive things in my life and to see if that would help with my depression. So I think going forward I will put more emphasis on the positive events, but still allow myself to explore any feelings, positive or negative, that come up. Luckily for me, I had a great father’s day weekend, so I do have some positive events to focus on.

On Saturday, I attended an informal upholstery class that I am taking and was able to finish fixing up a foam cushion. My wife inherited some mid-century daybeds, along with some other fantastic furniture, from her grandparents. The daybeds used old-school latex foam for the seat cushions which sadly were beginning to get crusty and brittle near the edges. At the class, the teacher walked me through the process of trimming off the bad edges, sacrificing the smaller cushion to get the big one back up to size via gluing. It doesn’t sound like much, but I enjoyed learning something new and having something to show at the end of the morning. Since you can’t get latex foam easily I’ll have to use the modern stuff to replace the small cushion, but I’m not too worried. The eventual goal is to make new covers to replace the cracking vinyl ones but we have not been able to agree on a material with my wife. I’m looking forward to learning how to sew the covers once we get that settled.

That evening my mom watched the kids and my wife and I got to go out for dinner. I’ve probably mentioned it before, but when we get time alone it’s a reminder of how well we generally are together. The kids take so much energy and patience that at the end of the day it feels like we have little left to give each other. Despite the fact that we had some mostly disappointing Spanish food, we still had a good time and were able to appreciate each other and feel connected again.

Father’s day itself started with a morning surf session for my mom and me. Despite being in her early 60s she loves to go boogie boarding. When we go surfing together she usually stays close to shore for the smaller waves and white water and I paddle further out on a surfboard to the normal break. The conditions were a bit junky but we both managed to have a great time. Even though we were not in the same area of the beach, it still felt good to be doing one of my favorite activities with someone important to me and to share my joy of surfing. Later that day my dad and sister joined us for a BBQ at our place. Being with my parents and sister feels very comforting to me since I know I can be myself and I get a chance to relax and feel taken care of a bit. My wife and kids made me very sweet cards, and my wife even got me a vintage leather bag( a “manbag”) in celebration of my blog and the work she sees me doing on myself.

So despite my anxiety and disappointment in regards to the ever NSA revelations that had been with me all week(hence the picture up top), I was able to feel connected and positive because I was able to do some outdoor activities, learn something new and complete a project as well as getting to spend time with people I love and feel extremely comfortable with. The positivity carried over into the week and I even got some more work done on the stereo. I may finish her yet!

Rowing and Reality

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This week has been interesting. Despite some downtime at work which has led to the yucky “I-have-nothing-to-do-or-contribute” feeling, overall it’s been pretty good. Similarly to the last post, I’m going to focus on the events that perhaps helped me.

First, I had an amazing time with the kids and some friends over the weekend. My wife’s friend organized a picnic with her family and us at a large urban park in the area. My wife also invited a friend who came with his son. The idea was to picnic outdoors. I was a bit suspect about how that would end up given the weather we traditionally have around here. Sure enough, it was a bit cold and it looked like it would rain. We all met up and ended up eating in a pagoda since it started drizzling and there was thunder. It never rained hard, but it was still exciting for the kids(and me). We ate and talked, the kids run were running around doing their own thing. With the girls and our friend’s son we did a mini-hike which led to some great views.

The organizing family left and the rest of us crammed into a rented row boat and went out on the lake. The kids wanted paddle boats, but being that they must be the most inefficient method of transportation, and since we all couldn’t fit in one, we overruled them. The kids all took turns rowing, requiring a few interventions on my part to keep us from crashing into other boats or the underside of bridges. I was surprised to see how much my daughters really wanted to keep at it. It was much more fun that I would have suspected. I guess what I found so special about the day was the fact that we were all doing something enjoyable as a group, and that it was outdoors. Normally I tend to do things by myself, surfing, reading, whatever. I play with the kids at home and take them to parks, but I still often find myself distracted. But there was something different about a group of us being outside where the kids could play, and then doing a specific group activity(in this case rowing a boat). Thank goodness my wife is so much better at getting invited to or coming up with these events.

The other interesting event was a conversation I had with my wife. The past week I had been feeling down. The previous weekend my wife and I had the night off and went out to eat. Among the topics of conversation was my last blog post. We had a good time at dinner and then went to a small house party at one of her co-workers. As an aside, I was surprised to see that they had the second Neurosis album on vinyl! Anyhow, we had fun, met some new people and just enjoyed doing activities that we used to do before kids.

A few days later my main memory of that night was the conversation regarding the blog. What I was focusing on was a comment from by my wife suggesting that I find additional activities to help me feel the way surfing does since I can’t get to the beach very often. Looking back I took it as a reminder that I was off in the clouds and my daydreams were exactly that. Since I tend to catrastrophize everything(ha! yet another example), it ended up meaning I should probably give up surfing, since I will never be close enough to the ocean. I felt a bit crushed, not by my wife, but by reality. I guess deep down I believed that there was some way to get more surfing in, find a job that feels really fulfilling( or least that I feel competent and useful at), and still be close to friends and family. This was a slap of reality.

After the fun day out with the kids I spoke to my wife and said that I had been kind of down that week(her response was essentially “duh!”). I told her how much fun I’d had in the park that day, and went on to share my belief that the conversation about the blog had been the trigger. She asked for clarification and then was surprised by how I remembered it, and then proceeded to fill me in on the rest of the conversation that I had somehow forgotten. To simplify the story, after expressing my desires for more surf, fulfilling work and still being close to family she repeated the long standing offer of either moving by her parents or moving closer to the beach somehow. I shot down those suggestions one way or another(jobs, lifestyle, rent, etc). From there she had suggested I find additional activities to help me feel better, since it seemed like I couldn’t get enough surfing in if we stay where we are.

The rest of the conversation came back to me, and I was really shocked about how much I had forgotten. I still harbor some of the thoughts that my dreams of beach, work and family are just that, dreams. However, it was illuminating to see how I managed to change up the story in my head so that external forces are what keep me from making those dreams happen, rather than my own fears. It’s something to think about going forward.

I think sharing my feelings with my wife, and getting some important feedback helped. I felt connected to her, and I was reminded about what a huge support and how amazing she is with me. I still don’t know what I’m doing in life, but it helps to know that I don’t have to figure out completely on my own. Similarly, feeling connected to my kids and other friends at the park was comforting. Now if I could just get the family to take up surfing I would be set!

Take three and call me in the morning

pinwheel

It’s been a good week. I’m sleeping a bit better and feeling more content with myself despite not getting much done at work. My wife and I even had sex twice in the past week! As an aside, it’s kind of sad that we have sex so infrequently. For the first few years we were dating we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. The illnesses earlier this year didn’t help, but still. Anyhow, back to my mood, I can’t pinpoint what the cause is but I have a hunch it is related to supplements, learning a new manual skill and surfing.

First, I started back up on my 5-HTP. I have been taking it for awhile, after reading The Mood Cure last year. I don’t wholly agree with everything going on in there, but I tried taking some supplements and some diet changes. I started with the 5-htp and L-tyrosine. Eventually I ended up only taking a single 5-htp tablet in the evening. I’ve been on it consistently but I ran out and hadn’t taken it for over a week or so. I figured I would see if it was doing anything for me. After not taking it for a few days I started having problems with insomnia and a more general depression set it, I finally got off my ass and ordered some more and have been taking it since last week again. My sleep improved pretty quickly as has my mood(although that might be related to the stuff below as well).

Last Saturday I had my first experience doing upholstery. We have some antique furniture we inherited from my wife’s grandparents. Two pieces, a chair and a bench, developed problems with the springs supporting the cushions, some were poking out the bottom. I had looked around into getting them fixed but realized it was going to be really really expensive to do so. A friend who is doing some occasional upholstery work offered to take a look at them, but she started a new job and never got around to coming over, also she wanted to replace the hand-tied springs with foam while I kind of wanted to keep the original setup with the hand-tied springs. I started looking into upholstery classes and quickly realized that, at least where I live, they are hard to find. One community college offered a class via their continuing education but it was filled by the time I found it. On a whim I googled “upholstery” in my direct area(vs the major metropolitan area) and found a listing for upholstery classes(by the hour) at a woman’s shop not far from where I live and it was much cheaper than the community college course! I called the number a few days later and it rang without ever going to an answering machine. I tried off and on for a week with no success. I had kind of given up but then late last week I tried again and finally got through. Anyhow I went last Saturday morning and really enjoyed myself. I had stripped the cushion piece the night before(wow, that took much much longer than I had guessed), but during the class I attached new webbing, and hand-tied the springs. I have a lot left to do(going again this Saturday), but the act of learning something new and actually making something with my hands makes me feel so good.

The last piece of my mood change this week has been surfing. My advisor and most of the research group are out of town at a big conference this week. I took my surfboard to work and managed to get out on Monday and Tuesday during my “lunch break”. The conditions were okay, but I just felt great being in the water, and getting some short rides in. Today the wind was howling by the time I got into work and it’ll probably continue through the rest of the week so I probably won’t get anymore surfing in, but those two days were great! I realized once again how out of shape I am, but I was okay with that. Rather than beating myself up for getting so out of shape, I was able to register it as something that I need to be aware and perhaps figure out ways to get in shape even if I’m not able to surf very often. I also realized that I should take advantage of my work’s proximity to the beach while I still can, I live too far away from the beach to go during the week otherwise.

So here I am, wondering what to do with this information. I still don’t see a lot of options for me work-wise at the moment, but it’s not really getting me down too much right now. If I let myself daydream I envision a scenario where I live near the beach and go surfing in the mornings before work. I wish I could figure out how to get closer to the beach. I think I’ve mentioned before that wanting to be near family and friends, which is very important to us, pulls us away from the beach. We could move closer to my in-laws but other than them and the beach I don’t like that area so much. As for my daydream work, it would consist of lot’s of learning, and I would get to do things with my hands. I like technology and that’s a real possibility but there was something so grounding and satisfying in my brief exposure to upholstery that draws me to the the idea of having trade or skill that I could do. The pay sucks, but this is a daydream right?

Spring Break!

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Our vacation is coming to a close. We’ve been at my in-laws for over a week now. We officially came down for Spring Break and for the annual family Passover celebration, but of course it is a lot more than that. For me, besides getting to see the family and relax with the kids, the trips down here are a chance for me to surf.

I’ve surfed most mornings, the exceptions being one day where my wife was at a conference, and some others where the waves were too small and my wife was a bit tired. We figured out last year that getting that morning surf makes it so it doesn’t matter so much what I do for the rest of the day. In the past, I would often feel frustrated that I hadn’t done anything during the day, or I would feel restless and stuck at the house and often feel a bit depressed. With surfing I feel that I accomplished something important and everything else is icing on the cake. I can enjoy playing with the kids and just lounging around the house. In addition to having “accomplished” something, I also enjoy the time to sit and just be. I tend to appreciate my kids a lot more. I reflect on my concerns and often find myself more open to different possibilities and ideas.

On my first day out during this trip conditions were a bit too big for me and I wasn’t able to catch a single wave and was initially a bit frustrated. But then I reminded myself that I hadn’t surfed for about 2 months. I ended up being okay with the fact that I made it out past the waves despite the hard paddle. Since then the conditions have been much more in line with my abilities and I’ve had a lot more fun.

The surfing highlight of the week was perhaps my second morning when the dolphins were in a particularly playful mood. One of the many great aspects of surfing here is that that dolphins are almost always present, and they come in close to shore. On that day, there was a pod of dolphins doing acrobatics, chasing fish, catching waves(It’s well documented) and just being a joy to watch. I find the animals so amazing, and I have the definite sense that they are very aware of the surfers out there, and while the don’t play with you, the seem to acknowledge you somehow. Especially when they surf waves, it seems to me a playful jab at humans for being so ungraceful in the water. I’m sure I’m personifying the dolphins, but they truly are a wonder to observe playing so close by.

Other than surfing. We had several family dinners, the kids got to spend time with their grandparents and cousins. I got to see come colleagues from grad school and got my fix of fish tacos (you can’t get decent ones where I live). I also watched a couple of movies that I’ve been meaning to catch up on, played with the kids in the hot tub, and I even had a meeting with a prospective employer! I don’t think it is something that I want to pursue, but I was practicing being open to opportunities and connections. I also sent in a cover letter and resume to a company near my home that is doing some rapid-prototyping and design work. Haven’t heard anything back, but I’m proud of following through a chance encounter(in this case with a job listing).

The one downside of going surfing early in the morning is that I tend to be a bit tired in the afternoons. However, the peace, clarity and joy I get from surfing (and the dolphins) more than make up for it. I just need to figure out how I could get more surfing in at home. So thanks to my in-laws for opening their home to use and giving us all such a wonderful week and me the chance to surf!

Inspired by St. Valentine

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So I think due to all of the stress going on at home since I started this blog I have somewhat drifted away from the original intent of paying more attention to the positive things in my life. I mean, I could launch into yet another illness related post here: my wife was sick over the weekend and I now have a persistent cough and sore throat. However, rather than do that and in honor of Valentine’s Day last week, I hope you will indulge me while I write about the best thing in my life, my wife. More specifically the story of how we met.

So as I mentioned in the About section here on the blog, we’ve been together for about 15 years now. We actually met for the first time a week from today 15 years ago. The encounter itself was an odd string of coincidences and decisions that used to keep me up at night with panic realizing that I almost didn’t meet her.

It was my senior year at college. A few weeks prior to our meeting I had run into an old friend from the dorms at a local coffee shop. He told me that his band was going to be playing at a party at a bar the next week, and that I should check it out. I was planning on going out that night anyhow since it coincided with my birthday. I made plans to meet up with some friends and go hear the band. I took the metro to the city where the party was to be held. I had planned to call my friends from the payphone at the metro station when I arrived so they could come pick me up. However, when I tried to call, I kept getting a recording saying that the line was not available. Since I had nothing else to do that evening I sat at the underground station for about 2 hours trying to call every 15 minutes or so. I was tempted to call it a night and head home a few times, but I stuck with it and eventually I got through. It turned out that the phones were off on my friend’s block due to construction. It’s funny to think that for people just a few years younger than me that whole scenario is totally foreign. First of all, I don’t think you could find a payphone in a metro stop anymore because almost everybody has a cellphone. It seems that fewer and fewer people have a landline anymore! I’m a bit old fashioned and still have and actually prefer using a landline, but I digress.

My friends picked me up and we drove to the site of the party. We got to the club/bar and there were two girls smoking out front. I mentioned my friend and his band and was it alright if we went in? It turned out that party was the birthday celebration for one of those girls. We wished each other happy birthday and I went downstairs into a huge space. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but it turned out to be totally and completely…. dead. There were some bored bartenders waiting around and a group of maybe 5 people sitting on some couches near the bottom of the stairs. I didn’t see anyone I recognized. Suddenly this beautiful girl came up to us to say hi and find out who we were and what we were doing there. I remember her huge smile and her clothes and shoes which implied she might have been a raver. My friends and I being the types to save money when we could (and not having a lot of money anyhow) had brought beer from the local liquor store hidden in our coats, so we went to sit down at a table to chat and drink. She came over a little bit later and after talking to all of us she started talking primarily to me. I also remember the way she stared so intently into my eyes when we talked. As the night progressed we would talk for awhile, then she would go off to see friends(it started filling up later) and I would talk with my friends, then we would talk some more.

It was an amazing night, we had all kinds of interests and experiences in common and it was so easy to talk. We had both lived abroad, we both spoke Spanish (her via living abroad). There were many people we knew in common, even though we had never met. Anyhow at some point it was time for my friends and I to go. I have always been extremely insecure about expressing interest in girls and of getting rejected, so I wasn’t harboring any plans of trying to see her again and said something to the effect of “it was really nice meeting you and I hopefully I’ll see you on campus” and left. At the top of the stairs my friend said “Dude, are you going to get her number? She was totally into you!” I was a bit surprised, but after some forceful prodding I went back down to ask if I could call her sometime. She said she would “really like that” and wrote her number down on a metro ticket(which I still have). So my friend from the dorms and his band never showed up, but it was a worthwhile night.

Swingers(the movie) had been out for about a year, so the “wait 3 days” mantra was firmly in my head. On the fourth day I called her number but she wasn’t in and I left a message. I called once a week for the next 3 weeks since she was either of town, or I got the answering machine. I felt dumb but really wanted to reconnect. On the final call, I said that just in case she had missed the previous calls I was leaving my last and final message. Didn’t hear a word. I was bummed, but chalked it up to my usual bad luck with women. I’d actually been in a similar situation a few months before where I was getting signals of interest but no returned phone calls. What killed me the most was how sincere the “I would really like that” has seemed. This rejection served as confirmation that I was better off not making the effort to start a relationship since I was just going to get rejected anyhow. I shouldn’t have gone back and asked for her number, it would have been safer to just leave with the memory of having a really nice night talking with her and my friends. Oh well. I resigned myself to not meeting anyone, and it didn’t seem to matter since I would be graduating in a few months.

Those months passed. As part of graduating we had to attend “Loan Exit Interviews”. It was an informational session about loan repayments and deferments options. I chose a date at random, and got there early. About 10 minutes in the girl I had met at the party walked in. I was trying to convince myself that I didn’t find her attractive anymore but it didn’t work. I then decided that I was not going to go up to her(why get rejected twice?) and wait for her to leave before I did. That didn’t work either. She stood at the foot of the seats while everyone was leaving and seemed to be jotting down information. She stopped me and flashed a smile and said my name as if questioning her memory. I hadn’t forgotten hers, but I played dumb. We talked and talked all the way back to campus. In the interim since our first meeting we had both independently decided to move to the same city(far from where we currently were). She remembers me using a golf umbrella as a cane, and I remember her eyes and mouth (and this overwhelming desire to kiss her). We came to a junction on campus where we split ways, and this time I gave her my number(I wasn’t about to get rejected twice!). I wasn’t sure what to expect but she called a few days later and we talked a lot during the next couple of weeks before we went on our first date, the rest is history.

Recalling this story is interesting. I don’t go into the cold sweats I used to reliving all the events that led to us meeting; the encounter with my friend at the coffee shop, waiting at the metro stop, the chance encounter at the loan exit interview. I used to wonder, what if I had given up on reaching my friends via the payphone? I didn’t sit in the metro station for as long as I did because I felt that there was a larger purpose or something important was going to happen. Rather, I didn’t have anything better to do, and I was feeling a bit stubborn and sorry for myself. What if she hadn’t gotten up earlier than usual to go that specific exit interview? From the beginning of our dating it felt so right and meant to be. Despite the distance from the cold sweats, so many things aligned perfectly for us to meet that it still seems scary. Our relationship was the first time that the idea of fate or synchronicity seemed remotely possible.

I am also reminded that taking risks and being disappointed is often necessary to achieve greater things. If I hadn’t sat at the metro station for as long as I did or if I hadn’t asked for her number I might have avoided the disappointment of not having her call me back. However, I wouldn’t have met what I truly consider the closest possible thing to a “soul mate”. I think I need to keep that in mind in regards to other aspects of my life. I tend to minimize my exposure to risk or failure and I think that gives me a sense of safety but it’s very shortsighted. What other great things in my life am I missing out on because it’s too scary to fail?

What I also feel in recounting this story is the joy and lightness and warmth that we had when we first met. It’s like a getting a whiff of a perfume and instantly being transported to a different time or place or really having a vivid memory of someone. For me our story is a whiff of the excitement and discovery that we had getting to know each other and also a reminder that my wife is such amazing and stunning person. Going back to when we first met helps distance me from the stress of our lives now and reminds me that she is her own person with her own dreams and longings. Remembering she is separate from me makes her more real and precious and makes me desire her even more. It reminds me how much I love and appreciate her and how I cannot imagine my life without her. It makes me want to treat her as I did when we first met, and be more happy to do things for her rather than bitch and moan when she asks me to get something or I have to interrupt whatever I am doing(especially when I am tired).

So to my wife, I love you so much more than I can ever tell or show you and despite all the stress and craziness I love my life with you. And to all the players involved in us meeting, I’m eternally grateful.

The sun set on this latest round of happiness.

sunset-1

Last week went really well. I went to see Jaimal Yogis give a reading from his new book The Fear Project .  I discovered him by accident while looking for books about surfing and spirituality(Kook by Peter Heller, Saltwater Buddha by Yogis, and West of Jesus by Steven Kotler where the three I read).  His book Saltwater Buddha detailing his practicing of Zen Buddhism and surfing totally blew me away. I have a feeling that parts of that book will be the basis for many of my blog entries.  I admire his pursuit of leading a life that would let him be near the ocean and surf every day.  I particularly liked the way he used surfing as an analogy for some of the teachings of Buddhism.  It was weird; it was the first time I’ve read a book and really felt like the author could help me figure out what to do with my life. I felt like I had a million questions for him.  I didn’t dare ask anything during the question and answer session, but asked him a question about surfing a local beach break while getting the new book signed with my favorite quote from Saltwater Buddha “Samsara is Nirvana”. Specifically I was looking for tips on getting past the fear of dropping in on head high waves(small for proficient surfers, but it’s my current ceiling) I felt dumb afterwards since it seemed like a dumb question and he was rushed, but at least I stepped out of my comfort zone.

Later in the week, I was talking with a colleague while running an experiment and he said he had suggested me as a possible person for a new research institute his friend is starting up in a warmer coastal city. Normally, before even finding out more about the job I would have come up with reasons why I would be no good for the position(issues about moving, my deep seated conviction that I am not good at anything and thus couldn’t do the job, etc). However, this time I was able to just say “yes” to whether I was interested and just go with the flow. It felt good to think that this colleague had thought of me as a good person for this institute and I was able to put aside all the usual doubts and just let it be what it was. The next day another old friend called and filled me on the latest developments on his goal of setting up a math and science after-school academy for latino students. We have worked together in the past in similar projects, so he asked if I was still interested. Who knows if either goes anywhere, but two potential career options in two days!

Then Sunday, despite it being really really cold out, me being tired, and my neighbor deciding it didn’t look worth the drive, I went out for an early morning surf. I didn’t have high expectations, but I had a surprisingly good time. The waves were fun about “chin high” as a local website described it after the fact, and at least initially it wasn’t the usual crowded zoo. I caught 3 really fun waves in the time I was out. At this beach, the waves tend to close out(that is come down all at once, rather than peel off), but I was amazed to find longer rides and for once I was able to plan my attack down the wave. I could see where the wave was going to break and steer around it. I was even able to see bowls forming and use them to bank off of. Usually I just make the drop and then hope for the best. Towards the end it got too crowded and then I got caught in the inside with another guy and we kept getting tossed around by the waves and getting in the way of people actually riding waves so I decided to quit while I was ahead. I froze changing out of the wetsuit, and I found a ding on the board that I’ll have to fix before going out in the water with it again but it was so worth it!

I noticed however that as the rest of Sunday went on, the glow of the previous week started to fade.  My youngest daughter seems to have gotten a cold, and was up a lot on Sunday night. At some point I went in to try and comfort her, but she just kept crying and asking for mommy. Now, a day past the weekend, I’m back in the usual slump. My other daughter was driving me crazy by ignoring me and beginning to yell and scream when I asked her to change into her pajamas so I could read to her. I feel totally useless with both of them when they are upset. My younger daughter just keeps crying and calling for mom, and my older one just tends to escalate when I try to interact with her in those states. Then my wife has to take over and she seems annoyed with me the rest of the evening. The potential jobs now seem impossible, despite not having discussed either any more with my colleagues. On top of that I feel that my writing is crap, and I can’t believe I’m posting this for anyone to read.

(Deep breath) Since the purpose of this post is to try and focus on the happiness, I will give myself credit keeping the happiness stoked for as long as I did.

Okay, that was weird. I just went back through what I wrote a couple of minutes after initially writing it (despite the rambling I do make some effort at editing here). Reliving the experiences (especially the surfing) has made me feel noticeably better.  The kids don’t seem so overwhelming. No, wait, as I’m writing this the younger one just now yelled for mommy and started coughing her croupy cough and I can tell it’s going to be a long night, so maybe they are still a bit overwhelming.  At least I can entertain thoughts about the job opportunities again.