• Lijing Cobb


Just because I recognize the truth, doesn’t mean that I follow it every time. Just because I said it in my blog, doesn’t mean that I’m able to listen to my own advice all the time. Being truthful and good is HARD.

When our body learns to do something for the very first time, it’s usually very awkward. Sometimes we can’t conceive how it could be that in order to do something well, we have to hold and use our body in a certain way in order to succeed. If we learn to do something in a way that will not get us far, but we are used to and comfortable with it, chances of us choosing to change our ways to make ourselves better at something are really minimal. Look, I got it. This is the way I do it. I do ok, so leave me alone.

Sound familiar?

Yesterday we went to visit my in-laws. I brought food to be heated up for dinner, and the plan was to eat and play cards afterwards. When we got there grandma and grandpa were both still working, so I took the opportunity to get a nap in. An hour and half later, my husband woke me up. Time for dinner. I was groggy as could be.

Zombie-like I sit down at the table at my designated spot. My mother-in-law is particular about how things must work at her house. I used to wonder why someone must be seated at a certain spot and not the spot right next to it, but have since given up such a useless exercise. She is excellent at taking care of everyone’s needs, so leave it to her for everything. It doesn’t matter that she is already in her 80’s.

And taking care of everyone she does. When everyone gets called to the table, we all have a placemat, napkins, utensils, a drink cup with our requested beverage, hot plate mats in the middle. She brings in the food I had brought, warmed up to the perfect temperature, with serving utensils. We eat. She checks to see if anyone needs anything from time to time. We finish, and she disappears into the kitchen to put away leftovers and do the dishes. We remain seated at the table waiting for dessert. Desserts show up, and since my son is on his sugar-restricted diet, I stand up with him to go to another room to play 20 questions while the others enjoy their sugar-filled sweets. When we rejoin the others, the table has been wiped clean, everything put away, we are ready to enjoy the card game.

I used to wonder why my husband never volunteers to do anything in the kitchen at our house. I used to take it personally that he doesn’t consider my needs of wanting a break from time to time. But why would he? He works at the family business on the same property as his parents’ house. Till this day his mom brings him breakfast and lunch, and all he needs to do is take the time to eat it. When someone takes care of you like that, you just get used to it.

I’m a mother of 3 young children and 1 adult child when I’m at home, but at my in-law’s I’m a spoiled brat. Something’s not right.

My daughters had a ninja competition yesterday. We arrived at the gym at 11:45, and didn’t leave until 2:55. My 7yo competed with her group first, and as they were called to learn the course, from where I was sitting I could see that the parents of these little ninjas were gathered close by the coach to learn the course with their children. Should I go over there too? I was loathe to leave my book, an enthralling biography on Mao Zedong. So I continued reading until my daughter’s name was called for her run, and walked over to film her run. It was her first try at such a competition, and as she went through each obstacle, the parents who were stationed there to watch the entire competition cheered for her, just like they cheered for everyone else. Most of them seem to know who each kid was, and their cheer sounded sincere. When her run was over and she complained about hunger, I led her back to our spot, gave her some food, and went back to my book.

An hour and half later, my 10yo’s group was called. She was the 6th to run. This time, to assuage my unease as an oddball parent, I sat down with my daughter to watch the kids before her turn at the grueling course. For about 5 minutes they were tested nonstop for agility, balance, grip strength, speed, and endurance. Aside from 1 kid who has already been on the junior version of American Ninja Warrior and traversed all obstacles as if he was just playing with his lego pieces in his toy bin, all the other kids at one point or five met their limit and perhaps thought about quitting. But through the cheers of parents and coaches all the kids persisted and pushed through. Minutes after my daughter finished her run, she was shaking visibly as adrenaline still coursed through her body. At 2:55, her cohorts were still going, but we wrapped up to leave. The hardcore parents stayed.

We had ripe avocados that needed to be used, so my 10yo made guacamole in the morning. I was too full from breakfast to eat it before we left for the girls’ competition, so I left it at the counter. While we were only supposed to be at the gym from 11:45-1:15, the estimate I was given was way off so that we didn't get back home until 3:15. For those two hours my stomach had yearned for that guacamole that sat on my table, while all I could have was some dry crackers. By the time I sat down in front of the guacamole I knew I was in for it, but that knowledge did not stop me from having too much of it. After all, it was freshly made from scratch by my 10yo, who doesn’t eat it herself. And, you know, you can't really keep guacamole for too long…

When we got to my in-law’s, I was already stuffed. My activity there consisted of 1&1/2 hours of horizontal stillness, and 2&1/2 hours of vertical stillness. Although I had brought sumptuous Italian food, I had a tiny portion of it and tried to eat as much of the caesar salad, dry without dressing, as possible. Still, I felt the crackers, guacamole and chips sitting in my stomach, my legs, and my fingers. My watch tells me that I had an abysmal 5500 steps for the entire day, most of which I had competed before 10:30 by vacuuming and mopping the floor.

So yes, just because I know what’s good for me, doesn’t mean that I get to follow that advice all the time. I would have liked to help my mother-in-law to get dinner ready and clean the kitchen afterwards. No matter how stringent she is about the way things must be done at her house, I’m sure she would still appreciate my effort of helping her where I could. I would have liked to cheer for my daughters and all the other kids just like all the other parents who went there without a book and talked to each other throughout their stay. Somehow I feel that my kids’ success are commensurable with the effort I put in to make sure that they know I am there with them, not with a book. I would have liked to eat my guacamole instead of the dry crackers, and I could have if I had planned for contingencies. I would have liked to cover more earth than the measly 5500 steps. But I didn’t get to do any of that despite all that good knowledge.

Day after day, it’s so easy to just blame circumstances. And day after day, it is also possible to accumulate a lot of guilt and self-hatred for failing to follow my own truths. What’s stopping you? I ask myself maliciously. Nothing. I answer myself vindictively. You can do better but you choose not to, so there, that’s your truth.

One thing I know I need to learn and practice continuously is to forgive myself often. Really forgive myself, and mean it when I say, it’s ok. It’s ok that I did all those things yesterday and none of them were perfect. I’m not winning medals here but that’s what life is, a big game with no medals for things that really matter. My son, whose valiant effort at sticking with his diet is seeing great result, 3 lbs of belly fat lost. While everyone else had their cookies last night and he didn’t, he looked up at me and asked if he could be given a reward for every day he sticks to his diet. Isn’t the reward of losing weight and feeling better enough? I asked him. Isn’t this something you are doing for yourself because you know it is good for you? He agreed.

It’s ironic that we constantly look for recognition for our efforts at life, and if we fall short of our own expectations, we don’t hesitate to call ourselves failures. Perhaps it is this perennial urge to compete against perfection that ruins it for us. I try, but it’s never good enough. I try again, but better be more prepared next time.

It’s ok, all these “failures”. I think it is more important for me to rid myself of the delusion that I could be all and do it all. That grandeur of the perfect, ideal person, wife, mother, daughter-in-law, sister, friend, coach, what have you. I think that if I can truly forgive myself on a daily basis, I would then also be able to forgive everyone else for their shortcomings, and life would be so much more enjoyable.


My 10yo makes guacamole for me even though she doesn't particularly like it. She puts an apron on to protect her clothing, and shuts her eyes and turns her face away to cut the onion, which makes her cry. But she does it. In no way is the making of guacamole an ideal scenario for her where she gets to express herself perfectly (she'd much rather be making cookies or cake), but she wins a medal in my heart for her selflessness. She's perfect in my eyes.

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