It’s 3AM and the puppy and I are up. I simply had a cup of coffee at 6pm, and it was too late and now my sleep cycle is off. In general, my sleep is much better. This is in general a rare occassion. The puppy got up as well, and I let her out for a bit. Of course she barked into the empty night, and I opened the fridge and with the light of the fridge which she can see from the backyard – she comes running in. I give her a treat. She’s now comfortably asleep with the safest and most gentle person in the house, our teen son. She loves to curl in bed with him, right behind his knees. I saw my old mentor Dr. Ash yesterday and he always told me it was important for children to grow up with a dog. I sometimes would bristle at the lessons he tried to pass onto me, but in this as in many things he tried to impart – he was right.
Yesterday was one of those days. I doubted myself. But what I realized is that if you reach out, friends and mentors make it better. It’s good to get different opinions and then you kind of take and discard, and reformulate one’s own truth. That’s what I did yesterday. Those conversations are still in my mind, comments and impressions sorting themselves out. Life will all work out. Career will all work out. And what would have been an evening that could have ended up with a headache, ended up being one of those perfect evenings. Work stresses could have stolen yesterday’s prefect moments. But I have learned through my senses to center myself and what I remember from last evening was not the stresses, and spinning worries and thoughts that can destroy one’s true presence in the now – but I remember the moments.
It’s been a world-wind two years, especially the last year. While everyone was holed up and quarantining at home, our department went to the office every single day. We worked the entire time. With more time at home though because the kids were home and the rest of the world shut down, I further dived into climate advocacy work. I am proud of that work. Wrote a paper, spoke at what seemed like a gazillion virtual conferences, picked up almost 500 bags of trash, and kept up the blogging and climate advocacy recruiting, But the world is opening up and I’m resting right now. I still have projects coming up. Next weekend we have a PHAC dinner and need to socialize with the beautiful people in the slide. I’m actually looking forward to it. Going to make Mr. Plastic Picker come as well. It will be good for him. Our fearless leader Dr. Bruce Bekkar gave us a big shout out at the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health Conference, which I attended virtually with an HMO colleage. One of the UCSD medical students and the the two pharmacy student leaders from VCU Sustainable Pharmacay Project also attended. I didn’t check up on the three students, but I did nudge UCSD to pay for one’s registration and the other two students I paid for them to register. Technically we still have a day of meetings tonight. But I’ve lobbied already and there are enough people. At some point, you need to know as a climate advocate when you’ve done enough and let others help. Another pediatrician and the other premed student are going to help, as they’ve essentially planned and done everthing for the journal club on Clean Air that is upcoming. The social media ad that our premed intern made is really beautiful. I’m excited about that. Then there is the Eco-America training early June.
The birds’ collective singing this morning is particularly trilling and lilting and beautiful. Its 547AM and I haven’t been able to truly be here on the blog to write in a few days. I posted things related to my climate work, but I haven’t been able to process and reflect. The writing has become much needed as I try to figure out this wonderful thing called life.
I went to bed crying last night. I was cleaning up my photos and I delete all the litter-picking photos and nature scenes, because I’ve taken then and chosen which ones to post and use on the blog versus Instagram versus facebook. It takes some sort of carbon to keep them, and those images I let go. But I must have accidently pressed a screen function that I didn’t know exist, because suddenly a lifetime of selfies on my daughter and myself popped up. I scrolled through those photo of a younger me and my little girl , and I did what any mother would do. I looked at her face, the tilt of her head and the roundness of her cheeks and the gap-tooth smiles – and I cried. A decade of regrets came pouring down my face. Where had the years gone? Where had I been? Where had that little chubby cheeked grade-schooler gone to?
It’s someone’s birthday this week. Mr. Plastic Picker and I have two teenagers now in the house. One about to drive and another living in a world of dreaming about volleyball spikes and playing varsity. They both have such conventional lives with conventional concerns. For someone who grew up in a refugee household, I realize how unusual that is. Mr. Plastic Picker and I are who we are because of the way we were raised, within loving households that faced more struggles but anchored in a country that had opportunities for us. We are not trying to recreate ourselves in our children or recreate the circumstances that molded us. We are happy that the children have volleyball, and some of the biggest concerns is who is going to be taller than whom. Which SAT prep course to take? Summer house vacation with friend or go with your parents camping? I concentrate on them and also concentrate on the society surrounding them.
Did you hear about Bill and Melinda Gates divorce? Do you think money had anything to do with it? No money in the world is worth the dissolution of a marriage. I remember when Al and Tipper Gore annoucned their divorce. Because I had rewatched the Inconvenient Truth so many times, I was shocked. My own parents are still married. Mr. Plastic Picker’s parents are still married. And indeed when I was a young doctor mulling over the divorce of Al and Tipper Gore, a Dr. KJ who was older worked beside me and she came out and said “I’m still married.” That reminded me not to borrow the concerns of others.
Bill and Melinda Gates mentioned in their press release about their three children, and successfully raising them. Mr. Plastic Picker and I are in the midst of raising our two tweens. For me, our marriage and the family we’ve created which is an extension of our two families merged into these two teens – is the most important thing in my life. Maybe this is something a liberal feminist would disagree, but its more important than my career and more important than money. I don’t talk about my marriage and my family as much about plastic, but I wonder if my friends truly understand.
But that’s the wonderful thing about the new world. I can do it all. I can be married, have two teens, and be Assistant Boss and be an Eco-Avatar Dr. Plastic Picker. I can do it all and also be head of vaccine quality measures. It’s funny one truly understands who is supportive of your career, or those who gently push you along and help you along the way. Beware of those who subtly leave professional land-mines. Dr. Plastic Picker is all my years of being a mentor and Assistant Boss, I never told anyone to quit. I never told anyone that you could not do anything. I hope that I encouraged people along their career path and their family. There is no race. You can have children, a successful marriage, and be in leadership. I’ll clear the professional land-mines for you. Other people don’t see them, but as a litter-picker now I notice them all.
I am proud of our teen son this morning. I’m up later than usual at 6am. I was watching “The Crown” last night, and it’s okay. I don’t consume much media or popular entertainment these days, because I think the life in the real world and trying to save the earth is more interesting. But I did watch a few episodes, and was up just a bit later than usual. In about an hour, I’ll plog to the rec center. Surfrider is cleaning PB this morning, so with all those people there – I’ll go where it is more neglected and applaud them on Instagram.
These are my two kids. They could be any two asian-american children. I used one of those portrait apps to make the picture cool. It was taken during our trip about a month ago to Boca Chica Ecological Preserve in Orange County. We are on vacation again, and about the same distance as Orange County – just about an hour from home across the county line to Riverside. We are going to explore the wine country here and go on a few hikes, and stayed at a very nice Residence Inn, Marriot. I am hoping to go on a social media detox. It’s good to disconnect for a while. But blogging has always been for me a creative outlet, and a source of renewal.
Other than really really needing a cup of coffee right now, and I’m not sure where to get a cup of coffee at 447AM at the Marriot – I’m otherwise very happy and reflective this morning. During the National AAP Legislative Advocacy Conference, the plenary session by Stacey Abrams is still resonating with me. She was simply inspirational. She said in one part about her journey to a public life, that education was transformative for her family. Her parents were methodist ministers and raised them to know fundamentally the value of service. Service to others was never about giving back, service to children especailly is about survival. Never use the excuse that you have nothing to do nothing. So many phrases that resonate. I had never listened to her speak before and now I am inspired.
Another line she said that is resonating is that education was transformative for her family. This is giving me so much creative space to think about life and environmentalism, and even with my children. Mr. Plastic Picker speaks about his schooling the same way. That his education at the Pingry School was transformative. He grew leaps and bounds as a scholar and as a person during his high school years. I felt the same during my high school years. That metaphorphisis I felt again during the first few years of pediatric training. And then life became dull and lifeless. Petty almost. But we were worried about the mechanics of life. Job, housing, kids. That transformative time I’m feeling again these last two years after embracing climate activism.
And I think that is what we all want for our children. Transformative education happens everywhere. We are getting closer to the time that our children will be applying to colleges, and honestly I don’t think about it so much anymore. I used to worry so much about whether they would be able to get in to Crimson University. But deep in my heart now, I know that worrying about the tomorrows and the what ifs really does take away from the today and the right now. They are on their path and each day and each challenge at school, is an opportunity to learn and to grow.
The medal our tween daughter earned. It is special because I know how much work she put into it. For her that project was transformative. She submitted her film documentary to the State competition and we are waiting to hear back about Nationals. I’m looking most forward to watching it with our extended family, whenever we know when this project will reach it’s natural resting place whether it be state or nationals.
Yesterday we were together for much of the day. I mixed up the time of your volleyball practice, and we showed up at the park without any practice. You were already dressed in your volleyball clothes, the shorts and the jacket that are your favorite. You looked like an anime volleyball character, and I know that is part of the reason why you love volleyball. I love that you love volleyball, because it is important to move your body and realize our bodies are special places that our spirit lives and to care for that place. We had a wonderful day instead wandering around the old park that I grew up. You climbed the big hill and wandered around the woods there. This community is safe. This is where I grew up. I didn’t worry about you, and the others around the park because I knew they were there with their families doing much of the same thing. Spending time together in a place that they know belongs to them. Indeed this earth belongs to all of us creatures, and that is why I was picking up trash yesterday. Wasn’t that such a big bag of trash we gathered? Thank you for showing me all the pieces of plastic littering the earth.
Yesterday we talked several times and I told you stories. I told you the story of how really sick you were when you were a baby. And the three distinct times when the doctors asked me, do you want to continue? And each time, I put my hand over you through the skin overlying my womb, or through the isolette and said – yes, please continue. I’m the only mommy she has, if I don’t fight for her life alongside her – who will? You are older now and the stories I told you yesterday were brief and matter of fact. Those times were hard for me, but I was already a woman physician grown and graduated. You were small and fighting for each breathe, each moment and each day. I promised you while you were in the neonatal intensive care unit a full and loving life. And that is the life you have. It’s what you call the “bubble” mommy and daddy created for you. And like the isolette that they put you in as a premature baby, that is the “bubble” of community, family and love that we surround and protect you.
But I forgot to tell you something yesterday, and I am typing it here before I forget. I may read it to you later, or maybe you will wander onto the blog to read it later. I know sometimes you come to check to see what your mother the silly Dr. Plastic Picker writes about sometimes. This I won’t tell you for a little bit because I don’t want to be too melodramatic. Sometimes these stories we tell, need to be given in small bits and pieces as even wonderful stories can be overwhelming.
When we were over at your grandmother’s house, my mother’s house, for the first time in over a year – we walked by the ancestral alter at the house. We were more focused on you giving your grandfather the first hug that he has received from you in over a year. But I forgot to point out the ancestral alter and the picture of my grandmother, your maternal great grandmother. It’s one of the few pictures my mother has of her mother. Our family lights incense there and leaves symbolic gifts of rice and food to her spirit. She lives there, in the spiritual and literal sense with us still.
You have to remember our stories, even if you do not choose to continue formally what our family has done for generations which is to honor our ancestors. You have to remember and to keep in your heart that the woman in the picture, your maternal great grandmother, loved your grandmother unconditionally. Your grandmother, my mother, loved me unconditionally. And I love you, unconditionally. Each of us as women have had traumas and challenges, and life has not been easy especially for your great grandmother as a rural woman in South Vietnam with six children and a husband long dead after the colonial war with the French. But somehow, loving our daughters has made them stronger and allowed each generation of women in our family to gain strength.
Our culture was originally a matriarchal culture before we were colonized by the Chinese who brought the idea that boys were better than girls. I think we still are a matriarchal culture, because what is culture but the traditions of a people? This is why what you do at school and who you are, is celebrated by your grandmother so much. Next time we go over to your grandmother’s house, I will show you the picture of your maternal great grandmother and tell you what each object on the alter means. And did you know that the name you carry, which is Thao actually means together with Hieu – Hieu Thao means filial piety, faith in your family. I forgot to tell you that. But in our family it is not the children who honor the elders, it is the mothers who honor their daughters.
We were at Casa Romantica as the last stop on our brief but much appreciated and much needed OC vacation. We were mostly there to look at the Native Pollinator Gardens, the Monarch Way Station and the views, but the kids surprisingly wanted to wander into some of the historic rooms. And when we did, we saw this beautiful art installation by artist Christine Nguyen. https://www.christinenguyen.art/public-art
The piece is indeed beautiful and I will enjoy getting to know her art more, now that I’ve found her webpage. But I was intrigued by her last name which is as Vietnamese as they come and prominently displayed against the very white walls of a very established cultural institution in Southern California.
What does this have to do with #STOPASIANHATE which is now trending on social media? I haven’t commented on this at all on my personal nor eco-avatar social media sites. I was trying to figure out why I didn’t have a visceral reaction to the hashtag or needed to adopt it. Neither did Mr. Plastic Picker who is actually Korean, and indeed was a Korean citizen until medical school right before our marriage. I was born an American citizen, my mother having popped me out on American soil after having been pregannt in refugee camp. So I can become President of the United States of America if I wanted. Not Mr. Plastic Picker. And I did mention to him years ago that he should become a citizen before we got married, so that I would know he was not marrying me for my citizenship.
I took this picture yesterday. It was a sand drawing my daughter did. We had both been home virtually working, she at school and me with work (work work and climate work). We had both had been sitting at our computers from morning until about 3pm. I was also working on our refinance paperwork, which is time-consuming (I find fun) but very detail oriented to get all the right paperwork to the lender. Our tween was finishing up her last day of school and giddy about approaching spring break and having an entire week off. Eventhough we were both home and I had made kinda vegan muffins with dried plums and an overripe mango (which was surprisingly good!) for breakfast, by 3pm we were both irritated. A just menarchal and almost menopausal (just kidding, I have a few more years) daughter and mother pair that are irritable is not a good combination. Our tween daughter had the previous night learned that her National History Day entry into the Individual Documentary Category had won at the Middle School Grade 6-8 category at the San Diego County Level and she is moving onto State. She was excited and proud, but toward the end of the day she realized that she would have to spend some of her school break editing her documentary on Mahatma Ghandi. This is the burden of trying to to do more. There is always more to do.