Day 3

Fridays.

End of the work week, bevvies, date nights, house parties, Netflix and chill, me time.

Every other Friday is also the day I go with my partner to pick Little up as she will be staying the week with us. This has been relatively new. It has been three months, give or take, so far. Maybe one day I will have the guts (and clarity) to write about how this all came to be, but today is not one of those days. I have always loved picking her up. We built a ritual where I would hide her snacks in my pockets so that she can look for them. She would run over, pat me down and do a whole thing about how she wanted this snack or that. On our way home she would tell me about her day while doing a sort of kiddie parkour and I would rush her home because I would need to get dinner on the table for the family. It was new every single time. It was fun. It was great.

Since the separation a few months ago, however, we have been having some difficulty setting a rhythm for pick-up because of the summer holidays and so forth. But every time we go now, there is an immediate sense of anxiety and panic even before reaching the school or the meeting place. How is she going to be this time? Will she scream and cry for her mother? How long will it take before she calms down?

I have been close with Little since the first day I met her, when she was still in her nappies. The memory I have of her from that day is when she began to grimace at me while holding the edge of the coffee table. I was so confused and worried until I realise that she was looking at me while doing a poo. Standing up. In the living room. I remember playing horsey with her so much that she started calling me Horsey, instead of my name. I remember when she started developing the habit of asking me really deep questions about life and love at really weird moments (like when we were taking a shower). I remember when she started using drawings to describe how she felt when she would throw a fit. Our relationship is special in the sense that she is not my biological daughter, but we have a bond that goes beyond traditional understandings of family ties.

I love her more than life itself and seeing her in pain– knowing that she is suffering– rips my heart out. I know that when she cries when she sees me now is not personal, that when she screams for her mom now it’s not because of me. I know that, but that understanding has not made its way to my body yet.

The panic was well on its way of rushing through my body several hours before pick-up time, despite my telling myself the things that I know (that she loves me, that I love her, that she has fun with us, that we nurture her and that we just need time). I felt myself getting squirrelly walking with the traffic rushing past me and with people coming up behind me. I tried to steady my breath, but all I can think about is her little face and how she howled the last time I picked her up to start the weekend. I tried to counterbalance this with memories of last week, when she first started school and when she spent the week with us. How she asked me to draw something for her to leave in her backpack so that when she’s nervous, she could look at it. How she asked me to “forget” to put her afternoon snacks in her bag so that she could possibly see me when I drop them off at the gate during lunchtime. But to no avail. By the time we reached the gate, Little was nowhere to be seen. We asked after her and told her teacher that she is meant to go home with us at this time. Waiting for what seemed like hours with her tiny scooter in hand, with parents and kids crowding around us, I finally saw her and the look she had on her face.

Framed by a mess of sweaty hair was the look of pure disappointment.

At that moment I felt myself melting into the ground, leaving only my head sticking out of the ground, screaming but with no voice and to no one in particular.

I never ever, ever want her, or Big, to have the burden of managing my feelings, but this is the pain that I am feeling every other Friday and the only sane way of managing it is by letting myself feel it and ride through it.

The only way out is through.

Day 2

After writing yesterday, I felt my brain going almost manic. For the rest of the day, it fired a hundred ideas a minute for the next post: life as a stepmom, lists of books, life after trauma, life after academia, living in Paris as an ethnic Chinese who speaks French, English and Chinese, the intersectionality of racism and sexism here and elsewhere, pen recommendations, recipes and the list could go on for quite awhile, but I chose to stop listening.

Choosing was easy, but actually stopping was incredibly hard.

Instead, I made a promise to myself to write and to post just once a day. For a fixed period of time, I will sit down and write everything down for one post. I can go back to it, edit it, or change it up completely. But when the time is up, I will stop and call it a day.

The thing is that I am no stranger to this feeling of manic writing frenzy. I remember when I used to embrace the sudden burst of creativity and would let myself sit down and write paragraphs that turned into chapters overnight. I loved, and welcomed, these moments which (to nobody’s surprise) usually came in the beginning of a project. What would inevitably happen is that the “burst” would inevitably live up to its definition and fizzle. The outpouring of ideas that I had in the beginning would slowly taper off and I would feel incredibly guilty for no longer churning out several chapters a day and that would lead to a cycle of guilt, pressure and shame that would then transform into the infamous writer’s block.

This was more than five years ago.

I have come to realise that the best way to make this a steady and long-lasting habit, or ritual, even, is to go slow. Write a post a day, and then close it. Do not give in to write down all the ideas that tickle my brain just yet. Believe that if an idea is important enough, it will stay with me until the morning. Believe in the limitless possibilities that this writing medium offers.

As I got to thinking about nurturing habits, ny thoughts went to my teenaged stepdaughter, whom I love and of whom I am so immensely proud. She radiates light when I look at her. Whenever she talks to us about something that she is passionate, I see roads opening in front of her and I swear I would chop off an arm if it means she could get a chance to walk them. She is also brilliant at testing my patience and sanity. The prevailing issue with us concerns rules, how to set them, and how to enforce them.

She and I share the same size for most clothes. I enjoyed this from the start and loved loaning her pieces from my closet when she went out. It began to grow into a habit that I called her out on. The next time that she took clothes without permission, she also went into our bathroom and used my perfume and makeup without asking. I spoke to her again, writing her a very long letter explaining that I love sharing things with her but that asking me before using them is a bare minimum. It does not matter that each time I say “yes” to her. She cannot take that “yes” for granted and just assume that she can go ahead and do whatever she wants. Now that half a year has passed, she is doing it again. As they say, old habits die hard.

Included in these old habits of hers are the following:

  • Constantly asking for new clothes when she clearly has enough. I am aware that they are not the latest style, but that is not what she is saying as she obviously knows that if that is the reason she brings up, we would shoot it down right away.
  • Not taking care of her belongings and when called out either says that she needs to be taught it (instead of just going ahead and doing it) or that she does takes care of her things, just the things that she happens to care about.
  • Complaining that she looks to her parents for discipline. Problem being that firstly, I do not discipline teens, nor does my partner, and she knows that. There are rules that are understood in our household and they are to be followed. Secondly, the brand of discipline that she is looking for is that of her mother’s. I have no problem with that, it’s just that they are not mine nor do I share her values and therefore not mine to set. Thirdly, is the way she feels entitled to set the rules for us by passively aggressively letting things slide, ignoring rules that have been set and feigning ignorance when called out.

I am tired of going over the ground rules again and again with my kid, only to have them ignored all over again. I am exhausted to have to explain to her how her actions violate my privacy and trust, or to have to explain to her why her intentions do not matter when her actions indicate something grossly different. I am pained each time I do the mental dance of asking myself is she or is she not being manipulative. How do you deal with a person who maliciously ignores your requests, such as please return my belongings immediately after using them? At some point it is not about the person not knowing better and it becomes clearer that the person is blatantly ignoring what you have asked them. What to do then?

How can I teach my teen to be considerate? How do I nurture respect and selflessness in her? What does the world “belief” mean to someone of that age?

Checklist of the day, AKA my brain is registering all the sounds and nothing else:

  • My typing, or I am smashing ants on my keyboard
  • The dog barking next door
  • The light coming through the living room and kissing my basil
  • The low hum of the refrigerator
  • My kid’s half-eaten sandwich and thermos of coffee sitting on the kitchen counter (for which I woke up at 6 to prepare)
  • The bunny pushing around its dish