Can’t Go Home Again

My mama recently came to NYC for her annual visit. The last time she was here, the timing was serendipitous as Ellis waited for her to arrive to take care of not-so-big (22 month-old) Big Bro before emerging from his mama’s womb.

Some parts of the visit made my heart swell with joy. Watching her finally be able to squeeze and hold her precious grandbabies instead of only peeking at them via harried and choppy Skype session. Watching her fall in love all over again, this time with her newer grandson as he has developed into a real person from the newbie he was the last time she saw him back home in LA. Watching her watch Micah with fascination (and sometimes with intimidation), her first grandchild now a young boy, complete with a new, strong will, dance moves with gangsta face and fist pumps, his own sense of humor, and tantrums.

But some parts of the visit made me crazy. I’m sure that her being clear ‘cross the country adds to her not being able to accept and conform to our routines as easily as a local grandma would but it was still exhausting to receive push-back on how we do things. When you are an adult child who has lived away from your parents from the age of 18, being under the same roof for an extended period of time, with child-rearing up in the already cramped mix, can really press some hot buttons.

In some ways, I felt like we were experiencing role reversal, like when I had to lecture her on how handwashing is a MUST after changing E’s diaper:

Ma: But my hands didn’t touch anything! This is excessive! My hands are peeling.

Me: No, Umma, I can’t believe *I* have to tell you this as the daughter! You MUST wash your hands when you change any diaper – pee or poo. You can’t see or feel germs, but they get on our hands. YOU HAVE TO DISINFECT to prevent the spread of germs.

Ma: But my hands stay clean! And if you are so obsessed with germs, why don’t you care more about the dust around the house? And your fridge is a mess. I cleaned it out.

Me: Poo germs are more urgent. Just don’t fight me on everything. Please don’t make me repeat myself. WASH YOUR HANDS EACH TIME. WITH SOAP!

Ma: You are so picky.

Me: And you just won’t listen.

Same convo about 17 times.

It was constant:

“Why do the kids have to sleep at regular bedtimes each night? They are humans, not robots. Like we sleep at different times each night depending on how tired we are.”

“YES, but they are not adults. They thrive on structure. Please don’t mention this each night. HAVING TO FIGHT YOU at the end of the day drains me even more. I don’t have any reserves left to do this.”

Oh, the intricacies in the relationship between Mother/Grandma with an adult daughter-with-her-own-kids in a small space.

And I shouldn’t have been surprised that we had the same issues we had on previous visits, both in LA and NYC. Time doesn’t heal when we both behave the same as we did before. Generational, cultural and personality conflicts. Language as a barrier (which I didn’t notice as much growing up but now that I’m trying to talk woman-to-woman, mom-to-mom, the stuff of epiphanies and deep talks, my Korean words won’t come as fast as my thoughts).

Sometimes, because I didn’t know how to communicate without it leading to another fight, we would only talk about the safe topics, like something cute the boys did or if they’re wearing enough sunscreen or…about food. Talking about food in and of itself is not bad, but I wanted to really connect. It was all too loaded and unsafe, so we would sit at our meal in Punta Cana, talking about the manchego cheese and razor clams instead. I felt so frustrated and resigned. So much love but so hard to really hear each other.

Essentially, I had been hoping that when she made this annual visit, I’d be able to exhale. I’ve become so irritable lately that I actually started hating on well-rested status updates on my Facebook. “Leisure-time-having mofo…” I would unfairly hiss.

So many factors that added to my inability to relax this year: My hormones have registered as off the charts low since I’ve been nursing Ellis, we’ve definitely outgrown our space so there is nowhere to retreat, Ellis sleeps in his crib in our room since he has nowhere else to go…until he creeps into our bed in the middle of the night, Micah has been going through a bad nap/sleep phase since August, plus his recent cough/asthma(?) attacks. AND HAVING TO REPEAT MYSELF all day. These are roughly just a few reasons why I, with the supersonic hearing and nervous personality, haven’t been able to “Poook Shee-Uh” (FULLY FULLY REST) like my body and mind has been desperately craving.

Thankfully, my kids are both healthy and these are just day-to-day stressors but they have still done a number on me.

So when my mama arrived and we ended up WATCHING THE KIDS TOGETHER, I kept thinking, “What a damn waste. Why do we end up watching the kids together!? Her visits are the only real time I can leave the kids for an extended mental health break but here we are, BOTH feeding them, BOTH making sure Ellis don’t climb over the baby gates. A waste of manpower.” I expressed this to my mama but she said that because she hasn’t taken care of them BOTH at their current ages, she doesn’t feel confident, especially with Micah being more strong-willed and vocal now.

When their naps overlapped after much cajoling with Micah who is now nap-resistant (and we have to go through a whole THING before he succumbs), I told my mama I will just go across the street with my laptop. She seemed to be okay with that since they were both napping (and I was all hurt that she wasn’t all, “Go for it!” She seemed more like, “What if the big one goes hysterical for you?”).

Soon after I scoped out my leather loveseat at Starbucks, ordered myself a warm fatty beverage, and opened up the laptop, my mama called me with a hysterical Micah who had woken up from his nap looking for me.

I felt like he was cranking up the drama because my mama was so reactive.

I told her to calm him and that I’d be right there.

But it ain’t 2011 no more and he ain’t a newborn so I surprised myself: my ass was not rushing home. I was DRAINED in every way. I took my sweet time closing up my laptop and willing my feet to start moving from this refuge.

I know mamas always say their disclaimers about HOW MUCH WE LOVE OUR KIDS before we complain about anything. And I do. They own my heart forever. But so much has accumulated upon this mama this year, that tired piled atop more tired atop “Can I FREAKING Sleep or Be Able to Have a Cough Attack in Peace in My Own Bedroom Without Waking Up my Baby Beluga?” makes for a different kind of mama. I dunno how I used to have boundless energy when it was just Micah and me, running off to the playground or playdate sometimes twice a day, strolling a mile each way.

When I finally started walking down our courtyard, my mama called me again saying that Micah wants to come look for me. Before I could say anything, sho’ nuff, my mama was already in plain view, with Ellis tied to her back with a huge piece of fabric like she used to do in Seoul circa 1976 thru 1980, and Micah scanning the premises for me like Carrie Mathison on Homeland. When Micah gets hysterical, so does Grandma Lee. This has been a recurring challenge for us – how she gets hysterical with them instead of being the calming influence, even when we tried to go to Ellis’ newborn doc visit. She had even left our apartment door slightly ajar because she rushed to get the kids to me.

We love you Halmoni.  Thanks for feeding us better than our mama can.

We love you Halmoni. Thanks for feeding us better than our mama can.

I’ve had to remind her that while it is hard to bear, Micah crying doesn’t mean he’s dying. But she believes that it will have an effect on him long-term so she gets frenzied.

Now that she’s back in LA, I realize that while we have legitimate conflicts and communication barriers, some of it is the stage I’m going through. The notion of not being able to ever take a break from being a Mommy, as blessed as I am. Of course I knew that you can’t ever really be On Break from being someone’s Mommy but to actually live it is different from just knowing it as a notion.

I remember coming home from undergrad finals or law school finals for winter break and I would spent lots of that time just refueling by eating my mama’s homemade stews and boocheengehs, sleeping like a bear on my parent’s electric mat, and repeat. I needed that time to POOK SHEE UH before facing a new semester and its stressors.

I can’t “go home” again in that way again. (And I’m guessing most of y’all reading this can’t either with your grown a$$es).

No one can ever step in for me and be my kids’ mama. I mean, on the one hand, thank God, but on the other, man, it’s been overwhelming. The 24-7 needs of little humans.

One of my working mama friends called me as she was stuck in rush hour traffic and she casually remarked, “But you BEEN home since Micah was born. Why is it any different from before?” It’s just the accumulation of drained upon drained in ways I am too drained to even type out, now with two toddlers in my care, one of them fearlessly climbing everything and another thinking it’s so funny to say “no” to every directive.

Basically, my chapter as Eager Beaver Disney character newbie mama has come to an end. This new chapter is still adorable with the first son talking up a storm and even cracking jokes, and the second son booty-shaking to any beat, but I definitely notice some wear and tear. I do have to think about ways to improve the next visit with my beloved mama, not letting the wear and tear get the best of me.

3 thoughts on “Can’t Go Home Again

  1. lol. i love the shot of your mom carrying your son with the blanket around her waist. ol’ skool. it works for her. i see immigrant moms around my city, doin’ the same thing. (it looks dangerous, but) they make do with what they have and know.

    i don’t have kids yet but when i read this, i could totally relate to how you and your mom are. my mom and i are the same. i too wonder, ‘oh when can we talk about REAL stuff, that is not centered around food/travel/what we did today.’ i yearn to go deeper, but all the other stuff.. the cultural and generational gap (and for me, the war/survivor vs. spoiled american gap), the communication barriers, the fragility of our tempers, the lack of patience.. aghh.. it’s so sad that all that gets in the way.

    i emailed your post to one of my girlfriends because your story totally echoes hers.

    may God grant you peace and refuge amidst everything…

  2. aww, thanks for not only reading but taking the time to comment like this. how did you stumble upon my little ol’ blog? nice to connect with you. must check out your blog now. so heartwarming to see a nurse care so much for those she serves!

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