Life with Two: The Beauty of Stress and the Search for Perfection

As the year hits December and starts to comes to a close, I often find myself reflecting back and trying to summarize what kind of year it has been in my mind. Truthfully, every single memory and flashback that hits me is of the kids – not of me purchasing the Type R, not about work, not about my favourite movie that I’ve watched this year – a really big change of mindset for me because 3 years ago, those would’ve been the things I thought about.

This has been another really big year for us with the addition of Rin to the family and having an infant and a toddler can really put you through your paces. Although the amount of time in a day remains the same, it feels as though it’s been cut in half because the things you used to be able to do, you’re now struggling to even remember and the things you didn’t ever think about takes more time than you would have ever imagined. Each day really feels like you’re in a controlled whirlwind – everything is moving and it feels hectic but you’re able to see it all in slow motion except you have to choose which battle you’re going to fight today because you just don’t have enough hands or energy to do it all, and you’ll just fight those other battles tomorrow.

This last year has really been a discovery year for Diana and I, and although we’re far from learning what it’s like to have two pre-teen/teenage/adult girls, they still teach us how to be better people everyday. This discovery year has been discovering the beauty of stress while searching for perfection. Every single waking minute, we aim to be perfect parents even though we know damn well it’s not possible – there’s too much room for error, too much spontaneity in two girls that don’t even know or understand what life really is yet, and too much emotional investment to be perfect – it just won’t happen. The point of it all is to try to be the best parents we can be and sometimes striving for the impossible – with the right mindset – can help motivate you do that.

The stress part – Oh… the stress part… That has been a journey all on its own. We’ve learned over the last few years that stress isn’t always the enemy – it is more of a double-edged sword and for the longest time, we thought it was something that burdened us by weighing us down but I think now that it is not a weight on our shoulders but in fact something that we wield improperly and we feel that it is the bad guy when really, we are just bad at handling it. The last 7 months have really helped us understand this with Rin in our lives – stress in our home is never really high anymore because if the two of us are handling this double-edged sword together, there’s less of a chance that we’re going to be hitting ourselves with it – feel me? In other words, it’s really just being able to tell when the other is starting to hit their limit and you just swoop in, grab the handle and continue lifting the sword… Things get better quickly as long as the both of us don’t let that sword drag on the ground because as soon as it does, disaster often follows.

Metaphorically, the sword (the stress) changes often – its size, its weight – but the one thing always remains the same – it is always double-edged. Sometimes one of us can carry it for days, sometimes we can only carry it for a few minutes or hours, but the other is always on the sidelines waiting to come help – you just don’t let it fall down.

Aria and Rin are two completely different people despite what we thought about having two girls and despite what people told us. Aria is dramatic, attention-loving, quirky and very particular while Rin is extremely relaxed, content and easy-going – complete polar opposites of each other and it makes for an interesting dynamic at home. Diana and I often have to switch between the two of them because one will tire us out and the other lets us regain our energy.

We often find ourselves talking about how we did at the end of the day so that we know how to tackle the next day and we find that it helps reset our mindset so that we don’t continue doing something that we think is wrong. Some days, it ends up being “I feel bad for saying this to Aria today” or “I think we need to try this tomorrow” and while most of the time, it’s very small things – It helps us to really think about those small things because kids don’t always care about the big things since they happen so often – they pay attention to the details. Have you ever said something once and a week later, they repeat it and you gasp at where they learned it? Their little minds are always absorbing and sometimes it’s hard to remember to watch your words – every parent is guilty, I’m sure. 🙂

At the end of the day, it’s another year in the books and another year of learning. You’d think that after 32 ignorant years on earth, we’ve done all the learning we need to do but we’re far from it. We move into 2020 continuing to learn how to handle the unruly stress sword while trudging along the never-ending and impossible path to perfection. Although the new year is often seen as a time to forget about all the bad things that have happened in the previous year, it’s important to know that the next year will only be better by remembering the bad things to avoid repeating the same mistakes again. It’s by acknowledging the bad that you can start to see the good – life, like stress is a double-edged sword – it doesn’t sit on your shoulders, you just get better at wielding it.

The Day Two Worlds Were Created: Rin Hoang

There is something to be said about a second child that maybe no one really talks about… Or maybe they do, and I just never bothered paying any attention. When we had Aria – she was our life, our world, and everything else in-between. There was very little, if anything, that we could imagine being better than having her. Time goes on and before you know it, the decision to have another rascal running around comes up. It’s just something that we knew we wanted – so that Aria could have a sibling to play with, so she would have a friend growing up, to have a bigger and happier family – you know, the things you always read and hear about. It’s true though – it’s everything you read and hear about and more – don’t get me wrong.

When Diana was pregnant, it never really sinks in that you’re going to have another kid and maybe that’s because you’ve been through the motions already. You know what it’s like to be pregnant (or to have a pregnant wife), you know what to generally expect and you know each and every appointment you have to go to and what you’re going to be told. All you want is the kid to come out so that you can be a happy family of 4. The one thing you will never be able to imagine is: how could you love another baby more than you love your first? How do you go from having one world to two? What will it be like? And how do you share all of that love you’ve been showering one with, with another? That’s the question Diana and I asked ourselves plenty of times throughout her pregnancy and it was exciting, and we were nervous and anxious because you really don’t know how much more love you can give when you’ve been giving it 110% this whole time.

I’ll tell you.

The day Rin was born was another addition to one of the best days of my life (you can have more than one). You replay the feeling all over again because after 9 long months, you really are ready to just meet her. You want to hold her and protect her and give her everything that she needs to grow up and have all the things your strength can give her. That’s what that moment is like. You’re tired, but you don’t feel it anymore. You need sleep, but watching her sleep is rejuvenating. To relive that moment is something I would give anything for anytime.

That night, after Diana and Rin were settled – Aria came to the hospital – and we were nervous about how she would react. She knew there was a baby in Mom’s belly this whole time, and she knew she was going to be a big sister… But did she “know” this was a lifelong commitment? I don’t think so. See, the thing about deciding to have another kid is your decision as parents, but very rarely do the “existing” kids have any input. You’re thrusting them into a role they didn’t ask for or know they wanted… And that’s OK. It’s OK because while we’ve spent the last 30 years of our lives learning what love is and what it means – we still don’t always understand it fully no matter how  much we think we do. While Aria and Rin – a two-and-a-half year old and a one-day old – can’t even begin to fathom what it means; but now they’re going to be able to show each other and over time, you hope that as parents, you’re able to help foster and nurture the love, the sadness, the anger, the late nights, the fighting, the jealousy, and everything in-between into one big ball of co-existence between them. This is our job now and it’s something you learn to embrace very quickly. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

You know those questions Diana and I asked ourselves before Rin arrived? The ones we were so nervous and anxious about? The whole time, we were expecting to be able to split our love somehow or to imagine the light of our world being split into two and that is the wrong way to think about it, in retrospect. What we had currently didn’t need to be divided because when Rin arrived, what we had doubled – and this is the best way to describe it. Two worlds is not impossible because we’re living in them now. You don’t think that you can give more than 110% because it feels like you’re in overdrive already, but you can. It feels like Diana and I have been operating at 300% lately and there have been times where it feels like things are overheating and something is about to break but kids are like your cool-down button as much as they are your “push your buttons” button. They are your reason – not for anything in particular – but for everything.

Aria is our first and she will always have a special place in our hearts as our baby, no matter how big she is. Those times when it was just the three of us were special and we’ve cherished them as much as we possibly could. Rin has opened up another chapter in our lives and it’s just as special because we can’t imagine a life without her anymore. She’s one month old now and while they’re both still learning to love and live with each other between the jealousy and the crying, I don’ think we’d have it any other way (even though maybe they would).

Happy 2nd Birthday, Aria! An Entry That’s Not About Aria.

… OK, maybe it’s a little bit about Aria but I’m going to take a different approach this year and instead of writing a letter to her, I’m going to write a letter about me. I figured that by the time Aria gets to the age that she’ll be able to read and understand what I’ve written, this blog will be long gone and forgotten. Don’t get me wrong, Aria’s birthday is everything to me but it’s also a good time to look back and reflect on the last 2 years. I think that’s what parents do on their kids birthdays – they celebrate them and then think about the year that just flew by. I just didn’t want to write the same type of blog every other parent blogger does because it’ll be the same “you’re so sassy like me” or “you’re so smart for your age” entry. Not this year, folks.

Over the last 2 years, the question of “what’s it like to be a Dad, now?” has come up a lot and I only ever say “it’s good!” but it’s so much more than that. It’s literally the best thing that has ever happened to me and there are days that I think to myself “why didn’t we have Aria in our lives sooner?” because I can’t imagine a life now without her in it. They say having a child is the best way to test how strong of a person you can become and it’s true. It changes every single molecule in your being and it forces you to look at the world in a whole new light. You become more aware of someone other than yourself and selfishness starts to turn into selflessness quicker than you think. The days of “me, me, me” are long gone and you begin to prioritize something greater than yourself. It’s fulfilling in a way you wouldn’t know until you truly want to give every piece of your heart and energy to a little kid you’ve helped create.

From the second she was born, I’ve been proud to be her Dad and for every second thereafter, I have never fallen in love with such a small person over and over again as many times as I have. I find myself having conversations with a 2 year old randomly most days and more often than not, it’s about absolutely nothing but it means absolutely everything to me. There are car rides where we will spend half an hour talking about the clouds and what size they are or which of her fingers is which and I wish we could stop time for a moment so I could just cherish it a bit. Days go by so fast and I remember wishing we could talk with each other sooner, and now I’m wishing things would slow down because I’m afraid I can’t remember everything.

Being a parent splits you into two things: your former self and your new self. My former self slept late and woke up whenever he wanted. He spent all his money on materialistic things and on fads that would mean nothing in a year. He cared only about himself, and his way, and his things. His heart was caged and selfish. The new self – the Dad self – he has bags under his eyes, he’s tired and exhausted most days. He’s scared and anxious to make sure he’s raising his little girl perfectly. His time is more precious now.. But his heart – his heart is full and overflowing. He’s now fueled by love and not greed. The former self – I don’t miss him all that much, nor do I think about him anymore. He’s in the past and I think he belongs there because no matter how uncertain the new self’s future is, I think he’s a better version of me.

For the last 2 years, every day has been a learning experience and every time that I’ve made a mistake, I’ve learned from them quicker than I ever have before because I don’t want to fail her again. There are days where you’ll just want to quit – you’ll want to stay home from work, and not move from bed, and not pick up any toys, and not change any diapers, and not argue about eating food – nothing. But all I have to hear is “Daddy!” and I realize again what my motivation is and that I can’t quit, because quitting now means giving up on her. At the end of the day, when we put her down to sleep and we go back and let our weight fall into the bed with another day in the bag, I can’t help but wish she was still up so we could play some more. In an ironic and funny way, Aria has taught me a lot more about success than I’ve taught her, and even though we think it’s one-way – it’s very much both ways. Kids teach us so much more than our ignorant parent minds think they do – you just have to listen.

Aria is 2 today. She knows Daddy’s real name is Jason and Mommy’s real name is Diana. She knows yoga and that she has to say Namaste when she’s done. She knows when to stop and go at a traffic light. She knows how to manipulate people for more candy. She loves telling people the story about how she hit her head and had to put a bandaid on. She hates sand, but loves water. She decides which shoes to put on depending on where we’re going. She loves bubble tea and chicken nuggets. She’s terrible. She’s two. And I don’t think the “terrible *insert age here*” will ever go away from here on out, but that’s OK because we love her. Happy birthday, buttmunch!

To Have an Imagination Again…

Now that Aria is big enough to just do things on her own, I’m having a little more fun with being able to take pictures of her while she plays. I’m beginning to like taking pictures of people more than cars LOL.

One of the things that I’ve been wanting to do is just get some candid shots of Aria playing – not in a creepy way – but just to be able to illustrate how strong a child’s imagination is in a photo. With a little patience and some good timing, you can get some images that evoke a little imagination in yourself that you might have just overlooked if you were just watching. My goal yesterday was to do just that – I wanted to capture Aria in her own world and wonder. I essentially wanted to create the same fairy tale surrounding that children find themselves in – free of worry and the hustle and bustle of the things that burden adults. I think I was able to do a little bit of it, and I wanted to share it with everyone here. Lately, there’s been a little more than cars here at lifewithjson – I think everyone deserves to be a kid once in a while and what better way to do it than to watch and learn…

“Are you hiding something from me, Bun Bun?” Aria’s facial expressions can switch from sweet to menacing real quick. Here she questions Bun Bun on some mischief he might have gotten into”.

“I’m your captain now” as she commands the fighter jet.

It doesn’t matter how many times she reads this book, it’s like she’s seeing it for the first time, every time.

“Do you like the book, Bun Bun?” Aria often checks on her stuffed toys to make sure they’re OK and doing what she asks.

And occasionally, she’ll give them hugs for being there for her.

If they’re lucky, they’ll get french kisses too.

And sometimes she just likes to relax and rest in between all the running and jumping around.

They were having a conversation of some sort – not in any language that I knew, but they all understood each other well. Must be talking about what to play with tomorrow.

And one last photo with a slightly different edit to it. I typically like the cooler tones in pictures, but the setting in these photos called for a warmer, vintage look. The sun coming through at sunset was perfect and the blinds helped create a nice effect on her and everything around her.

There’s something about these photos that invokes a sense of calm in me and I’m not sure if that’s because it’s Aria or because it really does capture some sort of peace that I’ve been missing lately. Either way – pretty happy with how the photos turned out – what do you guys think?

We’ll be installing JC’s new coilovers on Sunday and I’ll likely have some pics from that but then I’ll be in Chicago all of next week, so probably no content after that until I get back!