The Reason I Write

I love to write, just like my mother. It allows me to express the emotions that would otherwise be buried within me, layer after layer.

But why create a blog?

Sometimes I think I am certifiably insane for sharing the embarrassing, self-deprecating, and vulnerable thoughts and experiences that I do on this platform. I might as well publish my 4th grade diary at this rate. I surprise myself — post after post — about how much I am willing to share. Because if you truly know me, you know that I am not share-er. That old lass Rose Dawson was right when she said a woman’s heart is an ocean of secrets. 9-year-old me took that shit pretty seriously! 💁🏽‍♀️

But all that has changed — I have a son now.

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On Being an Only Child

I am an only child. My father is also an only child and my mother was raised as an only child — which also made me an only grandchild. Not only that, but I am an only child raised by divorced parents. Parents who separated when I was not even a year old. This has shaped, influenced, and decorated my personality, my relationships and overall — my entire life.

There was a brief time during early childhood that I wanted a sibling. Okay…but you would have to share all your toys and attention, my mom had explained to me when I asked her to give me a brother or sister. Apparently, I never brought it up again. This story makes me laugh for two reasons: one, because my mother is and has always been incredibly clever and two, because it is clear what my priorities were at a young age.

Growing up, it was difficult for me to relate to my peers. I had no siblings to play with and annoy, no cousins at Thanksgiving, and my parents’ friends were in their early 20’s and nowhere near having children of their own. Children were as abstract to me as Mandarin Chinese — I did not know what to say to them nor did I understand a word they said. Neighborhood kids would come to my front door asking me to “play outside” which at the time, might as well have been a death sentence. Typical of an only child, I had spent most of my time around adults having adult conversations. You would think this would have accelerated me developmentally but it actually slowed me down.

Every human being needs peers, if not friends, that are their own age. Because I had such a challenging experience in making friends, it would be years before I developed the tools to create trusting and enjoyable friendships. It is not a coincidence that even today, my friends are on average 4-6 years older than me. Sure, being an only child allowed me to easily communicate with teachers, strangers, authority figures, and later on — potential employers. But it prevented me from “fitting in” when I was little and I personally believe that that was what I needed most.

Throughout adolescence when I was surrounded by a solid circle of friends, I hardly noticed my being an only child. Relatives and family friends no longer expressed their pity towards me or proclaimed me as putting the “only” in “lonely”. I no longer ached for that empty role in my life. Especially when all I saw at my friends’ houses were sibling screaming marathons at worst and complete avoidance at best. I was even perhaps — grateful — to go home to my own room and not fight over the remote or my clothes with anyone.

The reality of being an only child hit hardest in my late teens and early 20’s. Grandparents started aging and becoming ill. Family relationships became estranged. Babies were born. I became a mother. My friendships were no longer as close-knit as they were before due to the natural process of growing up and apart. It was around this time that I noticed that a lot of my friends were strengthening their bonds with their siblings. Without the interruption of teenage hormones and Barbie real estate wars, they were now able to see each other as friends and pillars of support. Age gaps became negligible. Their differences became endearing rather than isolating. When a parent became ill or they got their heart broken or their apartment became mold infested– they called each other first. They slept on each other’s couches. They became each others “person”. That empty space in my life was never more noticeable.

I have no aunts or uncles to give to my son. No cousins. I have no sister to make my maid of honor. No brother to tease. No siblings to seek solace in when one of my parents or grandparents inevitably passes away. No one to share stories of childhood with. There is nothing that I can do about this nor will there ever be. I am now able to accept this because although these realities are tough pills to swallow — being an only child gave me many gifts. The gift of bonding with my parents in a way I never would have had I been forced to share them. Of cherishing one-on-one relationships. Of embracing alone time happily. And most importantly — the gift of owning my entire generation… it is completely up to me how my family’s legacy continues (which is both empowering and terrifying).

Before I chose to start a family, I promised myself that I would do everything in my power to make sure my child would never put the “only in lonely”. I would give them a brother to wrestle with or a sister to giggle with late into the night. These are absolute dreams of mine. Yes, I understand that not all siblings like each other. That not all siblings get along, or even stay in touch. That some brothers are assholes and some sisters are a shame to the term “sisterhood”. Although this makes me sad at a lost opportunity for a once in a lifetime bond, it inspires me to teach my children the importance of holding onto each other in life. Because, at least from an outside perspective, there is truly no better friend than the one you have had from the start.

What My Grandma’s Dementia Has Taught Me

She looks at me but she doesn’t see me. I can sense the wheels turning in her head. Her hippocampus scans itself for any type of clue — nothing. The cortex fails her as well. She doesn’t know me but she knows she is supposed to. I smile at her, with both sympathy and disappointment, and reassure her that it is okay. Not for a second longer can I bear witness to her frustration of trying to put together who I am. I turn my face away and pour her a glass of water in an attempt to conceal the frown deeply etched into my face. Who is this woman and what has she done with my grams?

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If I Died Tomorrow: A Message to My People

I’ve always known that life was fragile.

When I was seven-years-old, I attempted to draft my first will. “My beanie babies went to my mom. My hot wheel collection went to my grandpa. Oh and please play the Pocahontas song at my funeral — you know, the obvious requests.”

I wasn’t sad about it. I just knew that death was a part of life. It scared me, yes, but I knew there was no escaping it. As I got older, I noticed that no one liked to discuss, let alone acknowledge, this inevitable end. In our American culture, we are obsessed with avoiding old age and death. We nip and tuck every wrinkle. We drain life savings on months of life support for those who’d rather be on the other side already. We shun our elderly and deem them useless. We’ve had it all wrong.

I want to acknowledge, out loud, that today could be my last day on Earth. I’d be lucky to someday have smile wrinkles and a sagging bosom. I’d be blessed to have achy joints and sun spots. Those are the evidence of having made it. Of having lived. Not everyone lives long enough to see a wrinkly face smiling back at them in the mirror.

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Why I Don’t Post Content of My Baby on Social Media

I am the last generation whose baby pictures exist in an old dusty photo album sitting on a bookshelf. Every blue moon, my mom whips out the album so she and my other relatives or friends can coo (or point and laugh) at a much smaller and shyer version of myself. I like it like this. Although embarrassing, it’s intimate and perhaps even — special.

25 years later, children are plastered all over social media. Monthly updates, baby’s “firsts”, and even delivery room pictures are shared instantly. Babies I don’t personally know fill my feed as mini IG models in “sponsored posts” for clothes, diapers, and carriers. Mothers today can build social media empires off of family-centric posts and heartfelt instagram captions. Admittedly, my favorite YouTube channel is about a vegan mom living in Maui with her three beautiful babies. I wouldn’t be the mother I am today without the inspiration of these mothers. However, I can’t help but feel like I am intruding on their personal lives. Why should I, stranger from the internet, know their child’s full name or what their first words were?

When my son was born, I started thinking deeply about privacy. It was no longer my life, but ours. Would he want to have his childhood on public display? Would he want my random old classmate from high school to know what his first words were? When he took his first steps? Or even, his name? Maybe the answer will be yes. But he isn’t even aware that he’s a human being yet, let alone what social media is. He can’t give me consent. He can’t give his say.

Knowing that what goes on the internet stays on the internet, I can’t justify sharing his baby pictures with the world. If my son someday chooses online anonymity, I want to grant him that. No amount of “likes”, comments, or convenience could allow me to take that option away from him. His identity on the internet is his to foster, not mine.

As the online world becomes ever increasingly its own social behemoth, I practice caution with what I divulge. I know can’t protect my son from everything. Chances are he won’t care that I did or didn’t post about him. Maybe he will even be disappointed that there’s not an archive to look back on later in his life. I simply hope that he will understand that I wanted him to choose. That this is my personal choice as the person who speaks on his behalf. A choice that’s understandably not for everyone. A choice that’s met with the occasional eye roll or “ok Jamakea, you’ve gone off the deep end” look. But that’s okay. Part of being a mom is accepting that you’ll look crazy sometimes. That what you think is best will be met with speculation and eye rolls. It’s part of the package.

I already have thousands of pictures of my son. Our camera rolls are bursting at the seams. I message a photo of him to someone at least daily. I mail prints to faraway aunties and grandparents. Our walls are covered with his happy little face. 25 years from now, he may not have a Facebook album to look back on but at least I will be able to embarrass him by whipping out that old dusty photo album.

Dementia: Losing Someone While They Are Still Living

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My grandma’s favorite quote was, “life is what happens while you’re planning it.” She’d say it casually while peeling mangoes or teaching me how to wrap Christmas presents. An amused smile always rested on her face while she said it– as if she was bewildered by the trajectory of her life.

My grandparents took my father and I in when I was not even a year old. My mother had unexpectedly asked for a separation leaving my father heartbroken and faced with his new reality as a single parent. I slept in my grandma’s giant walk-in closet in a humble little house in the desert canyons of Southern California. She took care of me as if I were her own baby. I woke up in her home on Christmas mornings. She hid my Easter Eggs. She played ABBA and Smokey Robinson and danced with her two index fingers wagging in the air. I loved her.

My grandparents retired when I was 12. They were in their mid 50’s. My pop had saved, scrounged, and invested every penny they made to make this happen. His master plan included traveling across the U.S. in a modest RV with sporadic international trips. To make this financially possible, they were to retire to a town in Arizona notorious for its spring break culture and retirement community. This town was six hours away from my father and I. For my grandma, it might as well have been on the other side of the world.

Our family unanimously blames that move for being the catalyst of my grandma’s downfall. My grandma had little living family left, most of whom were estranged. My father and I were her everything. She wore us around her neck in a gold locket that she would subconsciously touch throughout the day. As if some small part of us lived within that locket. Being moved to Arizona made her feel robbed of her happiness — her greatest treasures, stolen. What was weekly dinners turned into (some) holidays and birthdays. The first Christmas I woke up without the aroma of my grandma’s orange rolls baking in the air was, and remains to be, one of the saddest days of my life.

Like so many who find themselves depressed, my grandma turned to the bottle. My grandparents had always been social drinkers so her indulgence went unnoticed for quite some time. Her drunken bouts were her just being “my crazy grandma”. Until, the phone calls started that is. Grandma’s fingers always seemed to find her cell phone and dial my father and I during her binges. She’d be drinking at home alone on a Tuesday. For hours, she would rant on how much she despised living in Arizona. How much she resented my pop. How much she hated life. Seeing her name pop up on my phone cued an eye roll and eventually inspired anxiety. I was just barely a teenager. My father eventually told me to stop answering her midnight calls. What I would do today for her to call me just one more time.

Our family was terrified when my grandma got a DUI. When she got her second, we were in disbelief. My tiny little grandma? My sweet and gentle grandma who couldn’t help herself from feeding baby quail and stray cats? My grandma was now going to be facing a jail sentence and time in a half-way house? She’d call me to tell me about her fellow inmates. We’d laugh at the absurdity of her predicament. Somehow my grandma and I could always found a way to laugh.

She would never drive again. In an instant, she had robbed herself of her a whole lot of independence and even more of her pride. Although the binges ended, the drinking didn’t. Having a couple of cold ones was the theme of my grandparent’s story. Of their identity. For them, sobriety was not the answer.

The first time we noticed something was off, we passed it off as being the effect of too much drinking. She’d mistake us for other family members. She’d forget long gone family pets. She’d tell the same story over and over again and lose every cell phone my pop bought bought her. Yet when the drinking binges ended, her confusion didn’t. The phone calls ceased. The birthday cards stopped arriving.

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