I’ll Be Seeing You

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”
— Marcus Tullius Cicero

My maternal grandmother passed away on April 1, 2015. She was 75 years old.

When I received my aunt’s phone call that morning at work, I thought, “This must be a joke. It’s not funny.” When I called and texted my family, they all thought the same. Well, my sassy grandmother did have a sense of humor; she passed away on April Fool’s.

As I sat there looking at her lifeless body, I kept thinking that she was just going to wake up and greet me as she usually does, “Mev Npauv  (Her nickname for me—a play on the English pronunciation of my name), koj tuaj los (A general Hmong phrase to welcome someone into your home)?

I knew she wasn’t going to wake up, but a part of me was in denial. She was going to greet me and then scold and nag at me for whatever reason, like usual. My dear grandmother couldn’t have possibly left. I still needed more time with her.

Grams knew she didn’t have a lot of time left. I always took her to withdraw her monthly SSI check. And each month, because she knew I would refuse the money she tried to give me, she would hand me a $20 bill and tell me to split it for my two children. However, in March, she handed me two $20’s and said, “Muab ib daim rau koj muab faib rau koj ob tug me nyuam. Daim no kuv muab rau koj saib ua dab muag cia (Split this one for your two children. Please keep this one as a memento of me).” Maybe I knew she was going to leave too, because I accepted it without resistance.


For as long as I can remember, Grams has always been a second mother to me. When my father left when I was 12, she helped my mother nurture and take care of me and my 6 siblings. She was the voice of reason when my mother was being unreasonable. She loved to sew and passed that love down to my mother and then to me. My grams was also a woman of tremendous knowledge, despite being illiterate. She had a profound knowledge of Eastern medicine and grew many medicinal herbs in her backyard. She was a mother and played her role with great wisdom and a big heart.

Grams suffered greatly the last couple years of her life. Her heart was broken when someone very close to her betrayed her trust. She was struggling with mending the relationship, her resentment, and broken heart when, a year later, she was diagnosed with cancer. She told me that although she didn’t want to die, she just didn’t have the energy to hold onto life anymore. Thus, we watched helplessly as she withered away.

I’m glad I got to spend as much time as I did with her the last 2 years. I got to know my grams on much deeper level than I could possibly have. I got to know Sao Vang, the Hmong woman who never wanted to marry but was bride-napped; the Hmong woman who lost a husband and braved the Vietcongs and Pathet Lao and brought her family to Thailand; the Hmong woman who suffered from the injustices of the Hmong patriarchal system.

It has been almost 4 months since her passing. Struggling with the loss of a loved one is hard. There are moments when I miss her terribly, and today is one of those days. But I do find solace believing that she is in a better place, watching over us.

Niam Tais, peb nco nco koj heev. And as Frank Sinatra sings, “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places…

Children and Children

Rainbow Dash Mini Mermaid told me the other day that she wants to get married in the future but does not want to have any children. This isn’t the first time she has informed me of her choice to be child-free. She is going to marry at age 29 to the person she loves and likes. She doesn’t want any children because she doesn’t want to take care of them. “I don’t want to feed it, wash poop, and wake up at night time,” she said. This child will be 6 in a couple of months.

Besides marriage, she wants to be a rock star with a cool electric guitar like Rainbow Dash, a firefighter, and a police officer. Her favorite superhero is Superman and favorite Disney princess is Queen Elsa.

What does a parent do when she hears that her child doesn’t want any children? You accept it and let it be. As she grows, she may change her mind or she may not. Regardless, it is her life and her decision and in no way should I do anything else besides support that choice.

It is hard for me to be silent when Mini Mermaid tells other people this and they don’t agree, but I do just let her talk. She can stand her ground when talking to adults about this topic. Why she has to defend herself on this topic, I wonder. I mean, she’s just a child. Her worries should be kindergarten, playtime, and friends. It makes no sense for me when an adult tells a child they must have children when they grow up and they need to want it now.

My family gives me a lot of pressure to have more children.

“You have to have more!”

“You must have at least a son.”

“You can’t stop at two.”

“What does your husband think?”

My family wants me to have at least two more sons. Again, the issue of sons. Sometimes, these conversations make me feel as if it is my sole duty as a woman to only bare sons. I pick and choose my battles on this topic. If I have the energy, I tell them no way; I will not have any more children and argue my point. And other times, I nod and say, “Okay, we’ll try to see if we have any more children,” just to appease them for the moment.

When my daughters were babies, I used to wonder if they will get the same pressure to have children, to have sons. After seeing that people are already telling the one who doesn’t want any children that she must have children, I no longer wonder. Even my older child who says she wants to have only one child will probably get pressured to have more children. It just doesn’t stop.

Online Social Networks

I have a Facebook page for A Hmong Woman. Not only do I update there when I post something here, but I also share articles, links, thoughts, etc. If you’re on Facebook, like my page.

I am also on Instagram (@yangmb). I have been getting questions about my personal life; who I am, where I live, what my interests are, etc. I am really not that interesting, but if you want, you can catch a glimpse into my personal life on IG.

I started a new project. It’s a blog called “Ordinary MB Adventures.” I started this blog to document my excursions. You can check it out if you like.

And lastly, I am also on Twitter.

And that is it! Connect with me.

(Updated on 11/22/2015)

Thirty Life Lessons

Happy BirthdayI turned 30.

When I was younger, I used to think that 30 was old. Being a teenager or fresh out of high school, I could not fathom being 30. Thirty is old! So old! I’m so old! My life has ended…. (<—sarcasm).

I am no sage, but I have learned many things while trekking through life. Many of them I learned from my own experience and others I learned from watching people live their lives. Some of them are very cliche (yeah, I know; life is a bunch of cliches). I’ll share 30 of them with you today.

  1. Not everyone will like you.
    Don’t expect people to like you. Stop going out of your way to please those who only look at you with disdain. Put that energy in fostering relationships with those who care for your time and love.
  2. Give freely without expectation of reciprocation.
    There’s the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This makes us believe that if we do good for someone, that person owes us or that person should exhibit a similar behavior towards us. We cannot predict another person’s actions, and we cannot hold another person accountable for something we did for them (unless, of course, we had an ulterior motive). My golden rule: Give freely without any expectation of reciprocation. You will end up being much happier and less full of resentment.
  3. Focus on the things that you can control.
    There are many things in this world that we cannot control. The weather, our work environment, certain situations, and other people—just to name a few. Instead of putting our energy on things that we cannot change (as we tend to do), try focusing on the things that we can change. It leaves room for less stress.
  4. Create healthy boundaries.
    Recognize that we have a right to our personal boundaries. We get to say no.  It’s about us making sure we are allowing ourselves to have relationships with others, while at the same time, making sure others are not crossing the line.
  5. Forgive.
    Forgiveness is as much for oneself as it is for the other person. Forgiveness is not forgetting what happened to you, but letting go of the resentment that came along with the experience.
  6. Do self-care.
    If you don’t take care and love yourself, no one else will. Take time outs from your hectic schedule and have some “me” time. Read a book, paint, get a massage, spend time with family/friends, make your annual doctor appointments. Self-care also means setting healthy boundaries (Number 4).
  7. Stop comparing.
    There are two types of self-comparing-talk. One is “She is such a successful person; I want to be just like that!” The other is “She is such a successful person; why can’t I be like that” or “I will never be like that.” The latter prevents us from growing to our greatest potential. We are our own individuals. There is no point in comparing ourselves to others if we are going to bring us down.
  8. Communicate.
    No one is a mind-reader. If you want something, speak up or you will never get it.
  9. Stop waiting on good things to happen to you.
    It bothers me when I hear people say, “I’ve done enough good for the world. It’s now my time to sit and wait for the good to befall me.” The good—whatever that is to you—will come to you if you work for it. Good things don’t come to people who do nothing. Good things come to those who are always striving for good (Refer back to number 2).
  10. Acknowledge your mistakes.
    Let go of your ego or your pride. Acknowledge your mistakes, apologize, and learn from them..
  11. Don’t hold grudges.
    When I was younger, I used to think that the longer I hold a grudge, the more it’s going to hurt the other individual. I was wrong. The only person I hurt was  me. I was filled with such resentment that I became toxic to myself and the people around me. This goes along with number 5.
  12. Be alone.
    Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely.
    This video does a great job articulating what it means to be alone:

  13. Family doesn’t necessarily mean blood.
    I am blessed to have many people come into my life who I’m proud to call family. They may not be from the same mother and father, but they’ve been with me through so much that we’re practically family.
  14. Everyone has a story.
    Before being quick to judge someone, whether it is from their appearance or from gossip, remember that that person may have a story that you do not know about.
  15. Be flexible.
    As the famous Confucius stated, “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.” Give up control when time doesn’t call for it.
  16. Don’t assume things.
    Don’t assume or read between the lines. Your assumption could lead to misunderstanding.
  17. Gratitude.
    Be thankful. Don’t take things for granted.
  18. “Stop and smell the roses.”
    Sometimes we get so caught up in life that we are always going and going and going. Time passes quickly. Be mindful and stay present because we can never get that time back.
  19. Spend quality time with family.
    This ties in the the previous one. It’s safe to say that the reason why many of us work, why we strive to better ourselves is for family. Sometimes we get so caught up with these things that we forget the main purpose of why we work so hard. Quality time does not mean being in the same room doing separate things. Give your undivided time and attention to those you love.
  20. Lose the toxic people in your lives.
    It doesn’t matter if you’ve been friends for 10 years or if they’re family. Toxic people will bring you down, hurt you, lie to you, and more. It is especially hard to deal with these people when they are unaware that they’re polluting the people around them. Sometimes, we just have to put up very strict boundaries with toxic people—one of them being writing them out of your life.
  21. Celebrate.
    Celebrate life, love, anniversaries, birthdays. Celebrate anything you feel happy about. Just celebrate.
  22. Laugh.
    Laugh a lot. It can cure many things.
  23. Cry. A lot.
    There is no shame in having emotions, even negative ones. Embrace it. Feel it. What really matters is how you deal with the negativity in your life.
  24. Create a strong support system.
    You’re more likely to overcome hard times when you have a strong support system, people who can go to when you’re down. They are those who will tell you like it is, but not judge you or make you feel this little.
  25. Simplicity.
    Adults make life too complicated then complain about life being so. Declutter. Get rid of things that are taking up space. This applies to all aspects of our lives: physical space, emotional space, and material possessions. Create more free time and let go of busy-ness.
  26. Be a kid.
    Learn from kids. They have life down well. They make it so simple. Sleep when you’re tired. Eat when you’re hungry. Play when you’re bored. Express yourself without holding back. Make up when you’re over it. Give hugs and kisses freely. Love unconditionally.
  27. Breathe.
    Don’t forget to breathe. Sometimes, just taking some deep breaths will be the medicine you need to de-stress.
  28. Give Respect.
    Everyone deserves respect. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the person, if you admire the person, if the person is a family member or a stranger. However, don’t expect others to respect you just because you respect them. There will be people who do not respect you and that should not matter (refer to 1, 2,  3, 21 and more).
  29. It’s okay to be perceived as a bitch.
    When you’re assertive and people don’t like it, you’re a bitch. When you know what you want and work for it, you’re a bitch. When you’re opinionated, you’re a bitch. When you set boundaries and people don’t like hearing no, you’re a bitch. When you stand up for yourself, you’re a bitch. Yes, there are circumstances where it’s okay for people to think you’re a bitch.
  30. Take ownership of your life.
    This is the most important. All of the above relate to this one one way or another. Reiterate: MOST IMPORTANT (Yes, I’m yelling because it’s important!).Your parents may think they know what’s best for you. Your friends may believe they know you. But only you can be the captain of your life. You get to make decisions for yourself. No one else knows you as much as you know yourself. Sometimes the process of getting to know yourself takes a long time, but essentially, you get to decide what you need and want.Taking ownership of your life also comes with taking ownership of your issues and mistakes. Because when you do, you can finally do something about them instead of constantly blaming others for your misfortune.

What’s in a Name?

MBMy name is MaiBao. The Hmong RPA spelling of MaiBao is Maiv Npauj. Maiv means “girl,” “miss,” or “little girl.” (Maiv can be used by itself to call someone significantly younger than you. For example, an elderly woman can call a young Hmong woman, “Maiv” without having to use her name). Npauj means “moth.” MaiBao or Maiv Npauj is pronounced phonetically as My Bow or My Bough (both rhyme with “cow”). The phonetic pronunciation has slight tonal variations from how one would pronounce my name in Hmong.

Throughout my life, I have had countless people mispronounce my name. People have called me MayBoo, MayBow, MayBo, even Maribelle. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. However, I have gotten so used to it that it doesn’t come as a surprise when people say my name incorrectly.

A few weeks ago, I heard my 5-year-old correct her teacher’s pronunciation of my name as I sat in the back of the class, putting together the students’ caterpillar package.

“My mommy’s name is Maiv Npauj (she used the correct Hmong pronunciation).”

“MaiBao, that’s what I said,” the teacher said.

“No. It’s not MaiBao. It’s Maiv Npauj.”

“I know. That’s what I said. MaiBao.”

“No, Npauj. Npauj.”

Mrs. P. turned to me and asked, “How do you pronounce your name?”

Maiv Npauj,” I replied.

“MaiBao. Bao. Booooowwww,” she dragged out the second syllable.

Mrs. P. turned to Mini Mermaid, “See, your mom said her name is MaiBao.”

“No. She said her name is Maiv Npauj.”

Overhearing that conversation sparked some thoughts. How would things be like if we live in an alternate world where Hmong is the mainstream? Hmong pronunciation of English names and words would be commonplace. Michael would be Maiv Kaum (my-gao). Laura would be Lauv Lam (Lao-lah). Even simple names like Ben would instead be Npees (Bang). Would English-speaking individuals get annoyed that their names are always “mispronounced.”

But, wait. There are nations where English isn’t the main language, where English names and words do get a twist in pronunciation. For example, Michael in Japanese is Maikeru; it is Maikeul in Korean. Laura is Rora in Japanese and Lola in Korean.

For a long time, my children couldn’t pronounce one of their friends’ name. Instead of saying, “Sidney,” they called her “Cindy.” English is not their first language, so they sometimes have a hard time pronouncing certain English words. Sidney insisted that it should be pronounced, “Sidney.”

There is a teenage Armenian boy in our neighborhood whose name is Shaunt, but English-speakers call him “Shawn.” He has corrected them many times, telling them that it’s just like Shawn but with a T, but they still call him Shawn.

There is a little girl in one of my children’s class who is always correcting the everyone’s pronunciation of her name, Angelita, “It’s An-Gal-EET-a, not An-Jah-LEEt-a.”

I didn’t care about my name for a long time. I was so used to people butchering my name that it became normal for me to have people say my name wrong. I didn’t want to correct them because I didn’t know how nor did I want to sound petty. I understand that not everyone speak Hmong, so they won’t be able to pronounce it correctly. They probably can’t even hear the slight change in tonal sounds.

Even some Hmong people mispronounce my name. Instead of saying Maiv Npauj, they would say Maiv Npaub. Why make such a fuss about a slight change in tones? Npauj and Npaub mean the same thing! Well, it’s like calling Ana (On-ah) Anna (An-ah) or saying “An-Jah-LEEt-a” instead of “An-Gal-EET-a.” There is a difference!

Even Hmong people mispronounce my name. Instead of saying Maiv Npauj, they would say Maiv Npaub.

Someone once told me that a person’s name is their brand. It should be the most important word in a person’s personal vocabulary. It should be carried with pride and be corrected if mispronounced by others. That person was my Intro to Speech professor in college. On the first day of class, she asked me how I say my name in Hmong. “I know that people who have foreign names are accommodating. They tend to change how they pronounce their names so English-speakers could say it. I don’t wan’t to know how I would say it; I want to know how you say it.” It wasn’t until years later when I stumbled upon a video recording of my informative speech that I was reminded of the importance of my name.

I find myself using Maiv Npauj more and more these days. Sometimes I feel self-conscious using the correct pronunciation, even to Hmong individuals! I feel as if I’m saying it incorrectly when it is the right way to say it. Or I feel as if I’m, all of a sudden, changing my name on people (Your name isn’t Maiv Npauj; it’s MaiBao, I hear myself say every time I use the Hmong pronunciation). I guess it’s going to take some time getting used to my name when I have told people, “It’s no big deal,” or “It’s okay,” for so many years when they mispronounce my name.