#15

Fifteen years ago today, my eyes popped open at 6:30 in the morning of their own accord.  Rather than rolling over to grab a few extra minutes of Saturday shut eye, I hopped out of bed and, with a spring in my step, got in my car to hightail it to the nearest Chick-fil-A drive-thru for a celebratory breakfast of chicken biscuits (yes, plural), hash browns, and a large diet Dr. Pepper.  The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and all was right with the world.  What momentous occasion was this, you ask?  My wedding day!  Those of you who know me also know that I’ll use any excuse to go to a drive-thru, but this really was a legitimate excuse to celebrate with fried chicken in the morning!

Now, I think I am the least romantic person on the face of this earth.  Flowers? They die.  Presents?  I’ll just buy them myself, thank you.  It’s more efficient.  Chocolates?  I hate sweets. I know- I’m weird.  Jewelry?  Just more stuff for me to organize.  You get the picture.  But I have to say, fifteen years? That’s a pretty big deal.  So hang on to your hats, folks, this is about as lovey-dovey as I get.  

Chris and I have weathered the early years of marriage when we were trying to figure out how to live side by side.  He wanted the bed to be made every day, I was more of the “why bother” camp.  He wanted me to pick up my clothes, I was more the “I’ll do it on laundry day” camp.  I wanted him to go to Target with me, he was more of the “when hell freezes over” camp.  I thought he was anal-retentive; he thought I was a slob.  Clashes were inevitable.  

Looking back though, I can’t believe we even argued about that kind of stuff- talk about amateur hour.  Who should take out the trash?  Who should mow the grass?  Who should go to the grocery store?  Who should cook the meals?  (Him, Him, Me, Me)  But no, many of these “discussions” were full-blown arguments that devolved into something along the lines of he’s sexist and I’m…well, still a slob.  As an aside- let it be noted that when he and I fight, we are like North and South Korea.  No resolution, no apologies, no admittance of wrong-doing from either party.  I can count on one hand the amount of times we have uttered the words, “I’m sorry,” to each other.  I know- again, I’m weird but so is he.  That’s why we are so perfect for each other (awww).

I certainly don’t miss those days of trial and error…except that he used to do his own laundry.  I really, really miss that.  We’ve also survived the early childhood years when we, again, had to figure out our rhythm with young children.  Who should take the girls to the doctor?  Who should wake up in the middle of the night? Who should cook the meals?  Who should clean up the vomit? (Me, Me, Still Me, and thankfully, Him)  I’m especially appreciative of him taking throw-up duty because Sarah was a puker.  Thank you, honey. 

And now, fifteen years in, where are we?  The bed is made every day.  I’m still cooking the meals.  We still aren’t apologizing to each other.  I’m still eating at Chick-fil-A.  And, we are still perfect for each other.  We’ve mellowed in some ways: “Pick your battles” is about as invaluable of advice for marriage as I can give to anyone starting out. We try not to sweat the small stuff but still spar about weighty topics (politics, education, whether we should buy the girls a trampoline).  We won’t always agree and we won’t always like what the other person thinks but it’s our differences that keep our marriage interesting.  Once in a great while, he changes my mind or I change his.  It’s a small victory for us both.  We are still a work in progress as a couple and we won’t ever stop evolving with each other or loving each other.  Fifteen years in, I can’t imagine a better partner to change and grow with. I love you, honey!  I can’t wait to see what the next years bring for us and our family.  

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Winter Is Coming

2017 marks a milestone of sorts for me.  Twenty years ago this August, under the blaze of the hot Texas sun, I packed up my little Dodge Neon and along with my brother, drove 987 miles north on I-35 for my two-year stint to what might as well have been the hinterlands: Minnesota.  Like a modern-day Laura Ingalls Wilder (except in a car…and Asian), Victor and I trudged our way north armed with a Rand McNally Atlas and enough Dr Pepper and beef jerky to get us through a zombie apocalypse.  Know what we didn’t have?  Technology.  No iPhone! No Google Maps! No TripAdvisor!  No OpenTable!  And did I mention my Neon was a stick shift?  Seriously, Stone Age.

Well, my Neon, Victor, and I navigated our multi-state journey with just a few blunders and somehow found the apartment I had rented, sight unseen, near the University of Minnesota campus.  It’s remembering times like these that reinforces just how integral the internet has become to us today.  Yes, I had use of the internet back then but only after a slow and laborious dial-up process which featured, ironically, an animated  man running on my screen.  He really should have been crawling…towards a glacier…while being outpaced by a three-legged turtle.  Anyhoo, I rented the apartment based on some grainy photos I saw on an online newspaper with no reviews or recommendations.  And rookie mistake: no shots of the interior itself.  If there had been such things as reviews back then, I would have at least been forewarned that the halls of my apartment building smelled like kung pao chicken and that this is where shag carpeting went to die.

But I digress.  Despite the dire state of my apartment and the fact that I was about to start two years of coursework towards my Master’s in an unfamiliar city among people I didn’t know, the most daunting aspect of this detour to the Northland was what everyone thinks of when they hear “Minnesota.”  That’s right: our godforsaken winters.

It’s hard for me to adequately describe how cold it can get here without using a lot of “very’s,” multiple curse words, tears, and some well-placed emojis.  That very first winter, as I was crossing the Mississippi River on the pedestrian bridge to get to class wearing my super cute ivory coat with fur trim hood insulated with whatever type of cotton they use for q-tips, I noticed the hair in my nose freezing whenever I breathed in.   Then, I noticed my eyelashes freezing together from the moisture of watering eyes.  And then(!), I noticed my coat might as well have been a string bikini for all the warmth it provided.  By the end of my twenty-minute walk to class, I had pitch black mascara running down the side of my face, a pint of mucous pouring out of my nose, and I’m fairly certain, although never medically diagnosed, a mild case of frostbite.  Of the many lessons learned that day: always use waterproof mascara, invest every penny I have in North Face, and get the hell out of Minnesota the minute my Master’s program was over.

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Smiling despite the 10(!) degree temp…this is not normal

Well, nineteen winters later, here I still am.  Not only am I still here, I am raising two mini-Minnesotans who embrace our 6 months of winter with love and passion.  The first snowfall, to them, is magical.  For me, it’s a harbinger of the misery to come: wishing I had a team of sled dogs to pull my grocery laden Target cart across the frozen expanse of the parking lot, bundling up as if embarking on an arctic expedition just to check the mail, and waking up morning after morning to pitch black, only to face a day with a measly 8 hours of sunlight.  The girls see none of this.  Instead, they beg to go sledding, ice skating, skiing, tubing, and all manner of activities that require head to toe insulation.  And although I indulge them once in a while, sometimes, you simply must stay inside.  And believe me, Minnesotans have this inside business down to an art.  We have a whole amusement park crammed into the middle of the mother of all malls.  We have miles of skyways linking downtown buildings so that no human has to come in contact with the outdoors during our arctic blasts.  And finally, we have indoor water parks-  an anathema to this Texan.  Water slides? Indoors?  What kind of Twilight Zone am I living in?

And just when you start fantasizing about pitching all of your snow shovels into a massive kerosene-fueled bonfire and wondering how many pesos it would take to start a taco truck in Playa, the world thaws.  We reach that critcal 32-degree mark and trade in our layers of polar fleece for flip-flops and shorts.  We start to actually see the faces of people around us, rather than watery sad eyes peeking out of a tightly wrapped woolen scarf.  Tiny fissures on the surface of our 10,000 Lakes crack wide open, revealing the crystal clear water underneath.  Small, colorful buds courageously poke out of the ground and while the first snow of the season might be magical to my kids, the first crocus blooms carry that same magic for me.  For not only has this Texan survived another winter, I’ve lived to see another spring.  The earth is re-born and not unlike childbirth, I forget the pain of the previous winter and revel in the joy to come.  Yes, Winter #20 looms before me, but not before a fantastic Summer #19.  Happy Spring everyone!

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A unicorn of a picture- all four of us, decently coordinated, hair fixed, eyes open <fist pump!>

 

 

Saying Goodbye

My mom went in for a bone marrow biopsy on January 14th. She passed away at 1:05AM on April 15th at 59 years old. During those three short months, she stayed so strong even though I know how hard it was on her to fight her lymphoma. My dad, my brother, Chris, me, countless family and friends and even strangers offered up prayers hoping that she would be spared. We sought the best medical help she could get, the best drugs, the best clinical trials. In the end though, the cancer was just too strong and too quick. We could never get ahead of it.

During those three months, a lot of things in my life have been neglected, including this blog. Although it was difficult to go down to Dallas to help my mom, dad, and brother, I also feel like it was such a blessing to get those dedicated days with my mom, where without any distractions of my day-to-day life, I could just focus on her. Those days, although unbearably painful at times, will remain precious to me. During my absences, we’ve had an army of friends and family help at every turn. I will never forget all the friends who offered up an ear to listen, shoulders to cry on, carpools, child care, meals, simple notes of encouragement, and prayers.

It’s only been a week since she passed but it feels like a million years. Her funeral was last Friday and I had the honor of giving her eulogy. This is what I wrote:

My mom started golfing about 12 years ago. She would go out by herself to a little 9 hole course and without lessons, just figure it out by herself and play. Out in nature, she not only found a new hobby but a new love that she cultivated for the rest of her life. Sometimes she’d play with my dad but more often then not, she’d join into a group of strangers and play along. She didn’t need a fancy course, just somewhere pretty and comfortable. Eventually, she joined a golf group with her friends and I knew I couldn’t call her on her Tuesday golf days lest I catch her mid-swing. As her skill increased, friends and strangers alike were amazed that this little Korean lady could hit the ball, not far, but straight and true. While others watched their shots shoot this way and that and get lost in the rough, my mom would patiently, calmly, and methodically make it onto the green and with precision, sink the ball with her putting.

When I was thinking about what to say about my mom today, it occurred to me that her golf game was almost a metaphor for her life. She was born in a small town in Korea on a farm, the oldest daughter of 7 children. At heart, she was a country girl and took joy in the simple things in life whether it was drinking a beer with my dad while watching the sun set or seeing the flowers bloom in her garden. Even her last text to me was a picture of some camellias in our yard she had been waiting to open. She didn’t need fancy things- just whatever was simple and comfortable.

She was patient and calm as mother. Now that I have kids of my own, I can fully appreciate how extraordinary she was. She never yelled at us- a gift I have NOT inherited to the dismay of my children. Instead, she always had a gentle smile and easy going way with us.

As a wife, she and my dad shared so many common interests beyond golf. Not only a love of nature which translated into many camping trips and cross country road trips to national parks, but an adventurous spirit. The same spirit that led her to hit the links by herself to try something new led her here to build a life in America with my dad. She was always up for new experiences and trips, eager to add to her memories.

As a grandmother, she had such a fun loving spirit with her two granddaughters, Sarah and Katie, and was up for anything they were – be it swinging at the park, playing play-doh for hours on end, or jumping into the pool on a hot summers day. She was so devoted to them- even coming to visit us in Minnesota in the dead of winter- truly a sign of love. They adored her in return and as they said of her- we love Halmoni because she never says no.

The only thing that rivaled her skills on the golf course were her skills in the kitchen. She was such a good cook- making everything from scratch and from memory. I think my dad, brother and I will spend the rest of our lives trying to replicate her kimchi.

Like her shots that were straight and true, so was she. She knew what her priorities were and didn’t get distracted by life’s dramas. Even when things in her life got rough, she kept her head down and worked hard and steadily to get to where she wanted to be. She focused on being a good person, a good mother, a good grandmother, and a good wife. Nothing was more important than her family and she showed that everyday through her actions and words. I will miss her so much. She was not only my mother but my role model and friend. Her life was too short but straight and true till the very end.

I don’t know when my life will return to “normal,” but when it does, I will continue to write. I will write because it brings me joy, and if we need anything else in this world, it is joy. God bless…

 

Happy Birthday to Servant Mommy

1st-Birthday-Cake2Well, believe it or not, a full YEAR has passed since my first blog entry.  I just wanted to say a quick “thank you” to everyone who’s been reading.  I’ve enjoyed writing enormously and much of it is due to the fact that I get to connect with so many of you regarding your own experiences as a parent.  So thank you.

As much as I’d love to sit here and bask in the wonder of actually doing something for an entire year (because for an Asian, my work ethic is crap),  I actually have THREE real birthdays to plan for this month: Katie’s on the 12th, Chris’s on the 14th, and Sarah’s on the 21st.  Better get on it before I lose my job…I’m still gunning for a pay raise this year!

Becoming Normal

When we first had Sarah almost 7 years ago, I remember thinking that I’d never be a “normal” person again.  In that winter of 2006, “normal” to me meant a person who didn’t have a leech-like being attached to their breast 24 hours a day.  It meant that I wouldn’t need a 3-page flow chart of procedures and decision trees if I wanted to schedule a dentist appointment or a haircut.  It meant that I wouldn’t have to plan my day in 2.5 hour increments based on the napping and feeding habits of my young one.  Deep in the trenches of new mommy-hood, I couldn’t see beyond what I was experiencing in those first few weeks.  I imagined myself toothless, with gray wiry hair down to my ankles, hobbling along with an 18-year old Sarah suckling my desiccated bosom.

Fortunately, these fears did not come to pass.  Sarah did eventually detach herself from my mammary glands and I found that with time, I only need a 1/2 page flowchart to schedule my routine maintenance appointments.  I never became the completely “normal” person that I had been prior to Sarah’s birth though.  How could I be?  I had acquired an almost Rain Man-like knowledge of all public restrooms within a 200 foot radius of whatever my location.  I ravenously devoured the discarded scraps from Sarah’s meals for my own lunch like a homeless person rummaging through a dumpster of unwanted food.  By the time Sarah was 3, I experienced glimmers of normalcy: driving in the car by myself, enjoying a multi-course meal with her in a public setting, not automatically developing an exit strategy everywhere we went.  Then I got pregnant and we had Katie.  Katie was born shortly before Sarah turned 4 and I started all over again with the constant feedings, the barrage of diapers, the torture of sleep training.  Normalcy eluded my grasp once again.

Katie is now almost 3.  And readers, last week, something EPIC happened.  I flew home to Texas with the girls by myself the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  Chris planned to join us later in the week and then, all four of us would fly home together after the holiday.  The last time I flew with the girls by myself,  Sarah was 5 and Katie was 14 months old.  That disaster of a flight ended with passengers around me talking in not-so-hushed tones about what a train wreck the three of us were.  I swore never to fly with them by myself again but Thanksgiving 2012 found me once again, strapped in at 36,000 feet with my girls and no viable exits in sight.

I was prepared to go to any lengths to keep my children from being THOSE kids…you know, the ones everyone wishes they could shoot with a tranquilizer gun.  I would have performed a one woman rendition of Riverdance on the seat tray if that’s what it took.  My tote bag was full of snacks, treats, books, electronics, paper, pens, crayons, and wipes.  With adrenaline coursing through my veins, my whole body was rigid with anticipation.  I was on DEFCON 1 alert, ready to spring into action should my children let out the slightest whimper of hunger, thirst, frustration, or boredom.

And do you know what happened? Absolutely nothing.  Katie did not freak out when all electronic devices had to be stowed away until we reached a minimum altitude of 10,000 feet.  No one spilled their drinks.  No one raised their voices.  No one pooped in their pants.  No one regurgitated their snacks.  No one used the seat in front of them as a proxy for a soccer ball.  Instead, they both tuned me out, plugged into their various “i” devices and there I was, with only a SkyMall catalog to entertain me.  Because even though I had prepared for all eventualities involving my children, I had not prepared for this: me with nothing to do.  In fact, I found myself…dare I even say it, bored.  And about an hour into the flight, it happened.  I fell asleep.  That’s right.  ASLEEP! In mid air! With children! By myself!  LIKE A NORMAL PERSON!!!  I know I just used a lot of exclamation points but really, I think this occasion is multiple exclamation points worthy.(!!!)

My brief nap lasted all of 10 minutes but what a significant 10 minutes they were.  We landed in Dallas on time, without incident, and I was a different woman than the one who had boarded the plane in Minneapolis.  I was 10 minutes closer to arriving at the Land of Normal.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with the ones you love most!

Free at Last

I found a quote online that seems especially appropriate for today:  Labor Day is a glorious holiday because your child will be going back to school the next day.  It would have been called Independence Day, but that name was already taken.  ~Bill Dodds

Happy 4th everyone!  Let freedom ring!

Hard to tell who’s more excited…me or Sarah?

Go for the Gold

From the minute our darling Sarah was born, Chris and I “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” over her like the treasure she is.  We cheered her on as she rolled over for the first time and applauded her first teeny tiny wobbly steps.  As she grew older, we continued to bathe her with lavish praise for her every accomplishment, no matter how big or small.  Like a hothouse flower, Sarah bloomed in an environment where she has been unquestionably “the best” at everything she has done.

Of course, it’s easy to be the “best,” when you live in a world where they don’t even keep track of goals during a soccer game.  Every game this season ended in a “tie” despite some rather lopsided performances.  Sarah seemed a little suspicious, but also didn’t question the system too much.  After all, medals were rewarded to everyone at the end of the season so why rock the boat?

This kind of Non-Competitive /“Everyone’s a Winner”/Let’s All Hold Hands and Sing Kumabya/Utopian Fantasy Land can’t last forever.  Our young ones will learn soon enough that it’s a rat race out there and that they will one day become young rodent competitors themselves.  For Sarah, that day of reckoning came on June 20, 2012 at her first swim meet.

Sarah at age 3

Let me explain.  Sarah is a great swimmer.  She started diving off the diving board at age 3 and progressed to doing 25 meter laps (freestyle, backstroke, and breast stroke) at age 5.  And with justified parental pride, we cheered her on.  We praised her until her chest puffed up with confidence.  Until she was convinced that she was absolutely the best swimmer in the whole world.  Until she thought of herself as the Michael Phelps of the six and under set.  Well, you can guess where this is going.

This summer, rather than taking swim lessons, we signed her up for a swim team.  Practices were four times a week with meets once a week for roughly two months.  For the first three weeks of June, the kids practiced with their team, perfecting their strokes.  The coaches were fantastic, especially with the younger kids and balanced fun with learning.  They also gently reminded the kids that at their meets, they may get disqualified but what matters most is that they try their best.  I am fairly certain that this last piece of wisdom flew over the heads of most of the children and especially Sarah.  Disqualified?  What does that even mean? We’re all winners, right?

For the first meet, Sarah signed up to swim the breast stroke and freestyle.  In her first race, the breast stroke, she competed against roughly 30-something other 5 and 6 year old girls and in her heat, she came in second speed-wise.  So I am sure in her little heart, she believed she would walk away with one of the ribbons awarded to the top 6 finishers overall.  As the results were posted, I took a quick look and was crushed for Sarah when she had a little “DQ” by her name.  In fact, of the 30-something girls who had raced, only THREE had not been disqualified.  Ouch.  Hello, Real World.  Part of me understood the judge’s reasoning for this: if the kids want to compete, they need to do it right.  But another part of me wanted to wail, “They’re only SIX YEARS OLD!  Have you no hearts?!  You are crushing their spirit!!”  They all deserve a ribbon!  And a trophy! And a puppy!

In the showers, Sarah chattered on and on about her hopes for a ribbon.  I couldn’t let her go on a minute longer.  I told her as gently and as lovingly as I could that she would not be getting a ribbon because she had been disqualified.  Her eyes welled with tears and she began to sob, “WHY? WHY? WHAT DID I DO WRONG?” and then, with a betrayed look in her eyes, uttered words that were like a knife to my heart, “You told me I was THE BEST!”  I had to stand there and tell my six year old that while she is an excellent swimmer and that I was so proud of her no matter what, that she did not do the stroke correctly and that the judges could have disqualified her for a variety of reasons: false start, incorrect stroke technique, illegal finish.  I then tried to soften the blow by telling her that breast stroke was one of the hardest ones to do right and that only three girls out of all the ones swimming in the 6 and under race had done it correctly.  So really, everyone did pretty badly.

Unfortunately, this did not have the comforting effect I had been hoping for. In fact, Sarah wailed even louder and declared that she didn’t ever want to do swim team again.  All night, she told Chris and me that her fledgling swim career was over.  And while I wanted to cave to her (she was so heartbroken), Chris remained strong and insisted that she go to practice the next morning.  And lo and behold, in her box were two “Personal Best” ribbons!  Sarah’s love for the sport returned in a flood of glee over the two rainbow colored ribbons which she pronounced to be even prettier than the solid color ribbons for the top finishers.

Sarah with the first of her Personal Best ribbons

The second meet went pretty much the same way.  Disqualified for breast stroke and not quite fast enough for free style.  And she only earned one “Personal Best” ribbon this time because she did not better her time for breast stroke.  It began to dawn on Sarah at this point that these ribbons were really just consolation prizes and not the real deal.  She tossed them into the swim bag without a second glance, all the while coveting the solid colored ribbons of the 1st through 6th place winners.

All summer we toiled under the hot sun with no satisfactory results.  One time her kick wasn’t in sequence.  Another time, her hands came too close to her stomach.  In one heartbreaker, she did the entire stroke correctly but finished with one hand on the wall, not two.  DQ, DQ, DQ.  Tears, tears, and more tears.

Swim season concluded with Championships during the last week of July.  There were the Jr. Championships, in which almost all swimmers could compete.  And then there were the Championships, in which swimmers were selected by the coaches to compete against swimmers from all five other teams in our league.  Sarah’s coach felt that with one solid week of work and focus, she could be legal in the breast stroke and compete in Championships.  But she also told Sarah if she wanted, she could do Jr. Champs and would definitely get ribbons in as many events as she wanted since they don’t DQ anyone.  Sarah thought about it and with determination, announced she wanted to go to Championships.

All week she worked with her coaches to perfect her breast stroke.  The day of Champs, I was a nervous wreck.  There would be 18 girls competing in breast stroke and the top 12 finishers would advance to the next day.  I prayed and prayed that Sarah would not get disqualified.  If she did, what lesson would she learn?  That hard work doesn’t pay off?  That sometimes, no matter how much you want it and work for it, it just doesn’t go your way?  Yes, these are in fact some tough life lessons but I wasn’t prepared for Sarah to learn them quite yet at the tender age of six.

Well, this is one story that does have a happy ending.  Sarah swam legally(!) and finished 8th over all the first day.  She advanced to finals and placed 10th, securing a long-wished for ribbon.  And not just any ribbon- a state fair quality ribbon.  She was so happy with herself and I am sure even Missy Franklin’s parents couldn’t have been prouder than we were of Sarah that day.  Because even though she didn’t win first, she worked so hard to get it right.  She set a goal for herself, worked for it, achieved it, and she ended the season with a legal breast stroke and a ribbon to show for it.  A ribbon she earned through true effort, not just for showing up.  Here she is in all her aquatic glory in lane 1…mute it if you want to spare your eardrums from my high-pitched screaming.  Olympics 2024, here we come!

Sarah radiant after her first LEGAL breast stroke!

Finally, a RIBBON!