“Dear Past Jas” is a blog series of short reads with life lessons that I wish I knew growing up and that may resonate with you or inspire you.
As a child and teen, there was a constant pressure to be liked and accepted by others. Growing up in the mid-90’s, social media started becoming an avenue where you compared your amount of friends and even the rank of your friends. The more “friends” you had, the better.
When you get older, you gain a clearer perspective of the real and loose connections you have. Who truly cares about you and your life? Who checks up on you to hear about your thoughts and well-being? Who will really be there for you through all the good and bad times?
People change and grow, with or without you, so the true test of a friendship is that mutual effort. I have stopped trying to reach out and fix friendships where the other person doesn't seem as invested as I am. If they sincerely care about you, they will make space for you and let you into their schedules and lives. When you have a job and other responsibilities, you now have to consider who is better worth your time and energy. ♡
As the oldest child of immigrants, there comes a great deal of responsibility. When I was a kid, I was pretty oblivious to the realities of my life.
Thinking back, I remembered church missionaries would visit us in our small apartment. I didn’t know who these strangers were, but they were incredibly kind and giving and would gift me and my baby sister, Jessica, secondhand clothing. I remembered living off of food stamps. My parents, maternal grandma, uncles and aunts would always make sure there was food on the table. They were very resourceful at finding ways to survive. I remembered walking to and from the store carrying heavy groceries with my mom, because we didn’t have a car. As a family, we would always eat dinner together on the ground, on top of a traditional Cambodian bamboo mat called a "Ka-dehl". My grandma raised me and Jessica while my parents worked hard, often taking on multiple jobs to support our family. Now that I’m an adult, one thing I miss most was living so close together that we could always see each other within walking distance or in only a short 10-min drive away. All of the struggles and hardships we persevered have only made us more appreciative of the lives we live now. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My family and I lived differently. And, it wasn’t something I was aware of until I was exposed to how other people lived their lives through making friends with others outside of my neighborhood. At one point, we were homeless and temporarily moved in with family friends. When my parents were able to purchase their first home, Jasmine came into this beautiful world, and I happily accepted more responsibilities as her older sister and felt like I took on a new role as a 2nd mom. I would often encourage her to play advanced Jumpstart educational computer games. At only 5 years old, she was excelling at a 5th grade level. I was so proud to be her sister, and I wanted her to grow up to be smart and successful.
Fast forward to my adult years, I have continued to stay committed to advancing in my career and education. Purchasing my first home at 26 years old has been one of my biggest life accomplishments. My motivator has always been my family. I wanted to make sure I could take care of my parents, two younger sisters, and any other relatives who needed me. I often feel this heavy burden to take care of others before taking care of myself. Family is an important and significant part of the Asian culture. And, being the eldest, I often feel the pressures to succeed.
Last month, my youngest sister, Jasmine, moved out on her own after living with me, my partner and dog for 3 years. The middle sister moved out a few years ago. This is the first time I have felt a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders knowing that my two younger sisters are now in stable relationships and a good place in their lives. I feel like I can finally breathe.
When Jasmine first moved in, it was rocky for us. She was completing her competitive master’s program and learning the new world of education having freshly left her corporate job. At the same time, I was in my master’s program and worked 40-60 hours per week at my corporate job. Life was extremely stressful for both of us having to juggle multiple demanding priorities, but we had each other to lean on to get through these difficult times.
What I appreciated the most were being able to vent to each other and doing things together whenever we wanted to like shopping, gardening, and cooking. We didn’t start becoming close until I started obsessing over BTS. Jasmine has always been a BTS Army. So, we started sharing this common interest together whenever BTS would come out with a new music video, concert, movie, or YouTube video. There was endless amount of content which meant we always had excuses to hang out and share these moments together.
During the first half of this year, COVID happened so we had the wonderful opportunity of working from home and spending more time together. I was excited about that. We would grab lunch together, catch up on our days on the living room couch or get some fresh air by walking around the neighborhood with my dog. After realizing the extra time we had on our hands, we decided to start this passion project to give back to our Khmer & BiPoC community. Things were off to a great start, and we were absolutely thrilled with the direction of where it was heading. A few weeks later, she shared the news with me that she and her partner would be apartment hunting but wouldn't be moving until end of 2020. I felt relieved knowing that we still had some time to hang out. But, of course, she and her partner found the perfect place within weeks, and I learned that she would be moving out very soon. It all happened so fast that we didn't really have much time to think about it. I remembered feeling a moment of sadness but also being extremely happy for her. We both knew that this project would continue to connect us both regardless of our living situation.
A month into this newfound freedom, I still miss having Jasmine around from time to time. We still talk to each other every day through this passion project. I will always cherish the quality moments we had together. Over the past few years, our sister bond has greatly deepened, and we have become so much closer as a result. She is my go to person, someone who I know I can depend on, my forever best friend. That is what I value the most. Although it still feels bittersweet, it was necessary for her to move on and live her life. It was also necessary for me to let go and finally live my life for the first time.
What a strange feeling to not have to think about anyone else but myself. This is something I'll need to get used to over time and learn to finally focus on my own life and happiness.
What’s next for me? We shall see. :)
As the youngest child, I strove to be as independent as I could and to not cause any trouble, especially considering how often my parents argued about finances and how much they overworked themselves on a daily basis.
I got hand-me-downs and wore my shoes and jackets until they ripped. I avoided asking for things as much as possible. When I did get something that I wanted, you bet that I cherished those moments and gifts - I even felt guilty for receiving them!
At every stage in my life, I was spoiled in the fact that I could rely on the support of my family through anything and everything.
Mellissa and I were not that close growing up because of our seven year gap. I saw her as my oldest sister who treated me out whenever she had time in her busy schedule. I knew that she was always there for me if I needed something or someone to talk to. As adults, we started living together again in Summer of 2017 when I wanted to take that first step to leave the comfort of Ma's place and to pursue my graduate program in teaching - my dream career! Of course, as my sis, she was all for it.
We have grown so much closer over the past three years of living altogether - me, Mellissa, Eric, and Mumu. I am thankful that Mellissa and I have become stronger sisters and friends because we are now at similar stages in our lives, have common interests and ambitions, and even created this passion project that will keep us together. I am also thankful for everything that Eric and Mumu has done to look out for me!
This past month has been pretty bittersweet. Sooner than expected, I am now living with my boyfriend of seven years! Change is hard because I have been waiting for this opportunity but I have also enjoyed my time being with my sister. In a way, though, this marks me finally growing up and "leaving the nest." It is funny because Mellissa was more sad than my mom was about me taking this leap! Mellissa has been like my sister, friend, and my second mom all at the same time.
The benefit of living apart is that we will be more purposeful with the time that we have together now. I look forward to our new memories and to see where life takes all of us! Some moments that I will miss and remember at Mellissa's are...
- Being able to start and end our days altogether. I could feel tired and unmotivated to get up for work but I knew that we were all in it together.
- Random daily moments, like all of us working on the backyard, Eric playing DDR in the garage, Mumu's personality showing through his actions, and Mellissa and I's weird dancing whenever we felt excited about something.
- Getting through tough times together, such as finishing our graduate programs, the Snowpocalypse, and the start of the pandemic. It was nice to be there for each other to talk about our worries and stresses at any time.
- The freedom to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted! We could plan and do things at the last moment - watching BTS live on TV, playing tennis, working out, dancing, shopping, eating out, and so on.
- Mumu (of course). He's my bud who was always there to cheer me up. I loved cuddling with him in the mornings, holding him on my breaks between remote teaching, taking him on walks every day, and just laughing about how adorable he is.
Whenever Mellissa left for trips or even just to take a shower, he would come straight to me and lay on my bed. I really believe that he thinks that I am his second mom when Mellissa isn't around! He has gained confidence and learned how to love over the years - I am happy that I have been able to watch him grow and take care of him.
Thank you for everything,
Mellissa, Eric, and Mumu!
This past spring brought immense challenges for everyone. We quickly needed to adapt to teaching and learning remotely. Children were not allowed to go to school, the park, or the playground to socialize with other kids. Families were expected to take on the role of teachers overnight to help their children focus on their online class meetings, assignments, and sanity. Educators were feeling a constant dread of whether they were doing too much or not doing enough. Why put a heavy focus on academics when everyone's safety and basic needs were not met?
There were also beautiful things that happened amongst all of this. As soon as school was announced to be closed for two weeks (and later changed to the rest of the school year), our PTA, staff, and community members joined forces to put together food drives to ensure our students and families had access to groceries and lunch while the district was setting up their food delivery system. We did two drive-around parades to safely celebrate and see our school community. I got to know my students and families even better - being able to see their homes through our video calls to being a source of support and positivity during these difficult times. As we embark on a new school year, I want to write special messages to my fellow students, families, and educators.
Dear My Students,
I am so proud of you and the growth that you made this past year. Every day, you taught me how to be a better teacher for YOU and for our class. You each believe in yourself as a student and as a person. I feel incredibly disappointed that we did not get the opportunity to finish the kindergarten year and celebrate your accomplishments, but we made the most of our situation and that goes to show how strong and flexible you all are.
I hope that you will always remember the good memories. When you look back on your time in kindergarten, I hope that you remember how much Ms. Nguon loved and cared about you, and pushed you to be better and do better. Ms. Nguon tried her best to connect with you when school closed, from seeing you in our class meetings & video calls every week to checking in with your families to make sure everything was okay. You hold a special place in my heart and I have no doubt that you will each continue to spread your positive attitudes, do amazing things, and change the world.
Dear My Families,
Thank you. I am grateful for your patience, understanding, and communication. You found ways to make sure that you and your child connected with me every week. You needed to take care of many things but always made sure to keep me updated on how things were going for you and your family. I truly felt that our relationships became stronger because we needed to depend on each other to support your child. I appreciate each and every one of you. Please don't hesitate to contact me - I would love to stay connected in your lives.
Do what you can. At the end of the day, your child's happiness and basic needs are the most important. It was exciting for me to see all of the learning happening at home - from having your child learn how to bake to having your child work on your garden. In this next school year, lean on your child's next teacher and let them know of any questions or concerns that you have, big and small. We want to help you as much as we can.
Dear My Colleagues,
Relationships with our students and families are most important. While all else may be a headache, we should always center ourselves on building our relationship with every student and family. For my class, we needed to take a week to re-learn Black Lives Matter and make sure that everyone had space to speak and share their feelings about the news. We needed to have moments when I just sang to my students and talked about other parts of our lives - non-academic topics and issues. When or if we go back to the classroom, we want to make sure that strong foundation is there.
Teaching, especially at the elementary level, is not meant to be virtual. We should focus on what we can control. We will get frustrated and extend ourselves to others but we need to take care of ourselves, too. Stick to a schedule and make sure to add in your self-care times and activities. Seek support from your grade level team and other staff members. We can't do it all and we can't fix all of the inequities in our education system, but we can do the best that we can while also attending to ourselves and our needs.
So... here we go. I hope that our routines and lives can go back to how they were as soon as possible. Until then, let's stay as safe and healthy as we can, and look after each other.
Today, as of 5:27am, I am officially 25! Is it my quarter life crisis?! Just kidding. I feel like I'm in a good place in terms of my relationships, career, hobbies, identities, and self-confidence.
In my family, we sometimes joke around that I was an "accident" because my birth was not planned. Jokes aside, I am grateful to have made my family proud, especially my parents, of who I have become and what I will accomplish next in life.
Mellissa and I will be releasing this 2 Khmerican Sisters website tomorrow. I thought it would be fitting for my first Lifestyle blog post to be about my reflections as I am now 25.
If you know me, you know that I LOVE helping people and sharing what I know in order to prevent them from making the same mistakes. I want to share 4 life lessons I have realized over the years. I hope these will resonate with you, no matter how old or young you are.
1. There must be two sides to any relationship.
This can apply to personal and professional relationships.
Personal. Friends come and go but the friendships that last are the ones where both people are making the effort to stay connected. Even if you get busy and don't contact each other every day, you know in your heart that you will connect and make time for each other as soon as you can. I always work around my schedule for people who I really care about and who also really cares about me.
Professional. I learned the importance of giving and taking through my work as an educator with my colleagues, students, and families. In order to work together, we must develop that mutual trust, communication, and understanding.
2. No family is perfect but love can be shown in different ways.
Growing up, I was jealous of my friends whose parents had enough time to do things with their children. Whose parents directly expressed their love and affection by hugging, kissing, and saying "I love you."
When I was in second grade, my dad was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Depression. I did not feel like I had a strong relationship with him when I was a child because he was dealing with his own battles. But he showed love in his own ways, like wiping my tears whenever I cried and working to provide for our family even though he despised being in a warehouse.
My parents both worked manual labor jobs with irregular, long hours. Many summers, I would spend over at my Yey (grandma)'s house which I loved but I also felt that my parents missed out on parts of my childhood. During school, I would only spend time with my parents on the weekends if they had enough energy to plan and do something with us.
As an adult, I can reflect and see the sacrifices that my parents made in order to keep a roof over our heads and support us through our schooling and other endeavors. I understand better that they were figuring things out along the way, especially with starting a family as teens, and that they have always showed their love through their actions. Actions speak louder than words, right? Thank you Ma and Ba for everything.
3. Be proud of your strengths and all of what makes you, YOU.
I had extremely low confidence growing up. I remember a time as a teen when I mentally broke down in the bathroom just because my sisters wanted me to go to the mall with them but I hated the way I looked and the worn-out clothes I had.
I can't count how many times that I have found myself as a wallflower in a conversation with a group of people because they perceive me as quiet when they didn't take the time to ask for my thoughts or find ways to include me.
Confidence has been a journey for me. Once I became a teacher, I noticed that my insecurities are actually my STRENGTHS. My calm personality, my ability to actively listen to others and ask questions, my experiences that help me understand the challenges of my shy students... All of these qualities make it easier for me to connect and reach every one of my students. I never thought I had what it took to be a teacher. This profession has certainly helped me grow as a person to be more assertive and strong so that I can better lead my class.
If you spend your time trying to be someone you're not, and feeling defeated about it, what's the point? YOU bring something unique to this world. Take pride in that and as BTS says, love yourself.
4. Find balance in your life.
Life is too short. Isn't it interesting that our life could end at any moment? Death is never expected. What impact do we want to make in our families, communities, and the world before our time is up?
While teaching is my life, I quickly learned the consequences of bringing negative energy from work at home and having it manifest in my physical and mental health. I have been doing a better job with making more time with my family, maintaining a weekly workout schedule (Thanks to my long-term boyfriend, Joseph), cooking, and dancing. Teaching is my main passion but it shouldn't take up my whole life. Self-care allows me to take a break from the never-ending work of education and refuels me to be a happy, healthier me.
I hope that these four life lessons can help someone out there. If you have a problem and need someone to talk to, you are welcome to comment below and we can build a safe space to be there for each other. Mental health is so important and everyone needs to have at least one person in their life that they can trust to make them feel heard and appreciated.
Thank you for reading. Take care. - Jas