Times are changing at Wat Opot. Some of the little girls I met when I arrived are now in high school. The girls dorm is different too. With the majority of girls having been with me for 5 years, there is a change. I feel more like a mom instead of just someone who is there to keep them in line. Their English has vastly improved (and my Khmer is coming along, albeit slowly) so we can express thoughts and issues much better. There’s not so much attitude when I have to reprimand someone. These are wonderful changes, but at the same time, my existence has had to deal with feelings and emotions I have not felt before.
I would like to openly apologize to my mom for my teen years. I’m sure most of the time I was a model young woman, but who am I kidding, I know there were times I made her cry. I know, I have now experienced the other side of the coin. It’s different to reprimand a teen for me. The little ones bounce back and also the issues surrounding their behavior are not really life changing; teens require a more delicate balance.
Many years ago, I remember asking my sister why she doesn’t do this or that, in regards to discipline. I was a nanny at the time and my charges were very well behaved when they were with me. The kids and I had an understanding, Melinda allows certain things and the things I don’t allow, can be done after I go home for the day. My sister’s words didn’t really sink in until now. She said “When you discipline the kids in your care, it isn’t the same; it doesn’t hurt your heart.” I get it now. My heart hurts now. I cry, but then my heart overflows when the wrong doing is acknowledged. Luckily it’s not often, but now and again rules are broken.
There are more comments now about their deceased parents. As any child who is not raised by their biological parent, there are questions, especially when their stand-in parents are not the same race and come from a different culture. There are the easy questions to answer; such as why I’m not scared of ghosts (as most Khmer are) and I can answer “because MY mom wasn’t scared” and why I like my hair short “because in my country, it’s fine to have short hair and many women do”. Then there are the tougher questions to explain, like why I never married and never had kids come out of my body. But those questions are hard for many to understand regardless of their origin.
Sharing thoughts on death helps open up conversations that would not have surfaced in my country. The openness of their past and their bluntness of death and the deaths they have experienced has helped me see death in a different way. Death is painful for those left behind, there’s no question about that, but the way I handle it has changed. I grieve, but not in a regretful way. Death is physically permanent in that it takes the body away from us, but the spirit and memories go on and on.
Life and death will continue on. Continue to bring joy and pain to anyone who opens up themselves up to experience it. Death, many times cannot be explained; the why it happened when it did, the reasons, the unanswered questions which will forever remain unanswered. All a person can do is be at peace with who they are at this moment in time. To not regret, to not dwell on the ‘ifs’, the ‘should/could/would haves’. My favorite quote for many years now has been and will continue to be:
Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is; the future has not yet come.
Love today. Live today. You may not have control over your tomorrows.