My First Chuseok Birthday

Thankfully, birthdays are just once a year.  Makes it all the more special.

Any more frequent and I wouldn’t be able to recognize myself, oozing entitlement and extra fat:

“If I want left over chow fun for my first meal, the last of the chow fun I was saving for my ‘fat noodoo’-loving second son, I shall eat that chow fun.  It can’t always be about the kids.

And if that handful of beef chow fun doesn’t look like it’s going to fill me up, I shall help myself to some leftover pizza as well.

Oh, and I don’t want to take care of x, y, and z today.  SO I WON’T.  It’s my birfday!  I see Kevin over there, tryna regulate the boys but I will just sit here.  It’s my birfday and only a few hours left.”

This birthday was a breath of fresh air as I didn’t have to hustle for my worth all day.  I seem to give myself permission to not hustle when I am sick or on special occasions like my birthday.  This year, I was sick on my birthday.

I woke up feeling moved to tears, grateful to be alive, for the breath in my lungs, for the beaming baby in the bassinet she has outgrown, and for the family members climbing in to our King to wish me a happy birthday.

The world is grieving after major hurricanes hit Texas, Florida and most recently, the entire island of Puerto Rico.  People are suffering and our President does not know how to show compassion and respect as he throws paper towels at the people of Puerto Rico, like a big buffoon mistaking the gathering to be a sports event.

A few nights ago, as we tucked in our newly minted five year old on his birthday, an American terrorist killed at least 59 people at a concert in Vegas, in what has been reported as “the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.”  Thankful for small graces as we were spared news of this horror until the next morning, when it was no longer E’s birthday.

For the first time that I can recall or maybe the first time ever, my birthday landed on the same day as Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving.  It also landed on the same day or around the same time as friend’s losses.  I honored life, in all of its beauty, its fragility, its robustness and its unpredictability.  As cheesy as it is, I was so grateful to be alive.

I am jotting this down so that I can look back and recall that on this birthday, I was blessed with:

-a friend’s visit, her arms full of a ridiculous amount of hand-me-downs for Olive, along with a cupcake for Mama and a welcome gift for Olive,

-my kids’ cards and the accompanying innocence and confidence that those sheets of markered up paper would more than suffice (and they did),

-hearing from friends throughout the entire day,

-my mom singing me “Happy Birthday” on FaceTime and then getting embarrassed when I said oh, a friend is over right now,

-Kevin’s gifts and insistence on getting my own cake even though I texted him “No need for cake.  We have Ellis’ leftovers.  Don’t want to start forest (hills) fire.”  He didn’t get my reference to my mature age and forest fire due to number of candles and texted back, “Fire in FH?”

-Kevin’s surprise of surf and turf at home.  Surf – he picked up my faves, fried softshell crab and oysters.  Turf – he made us all galbi-jjim (braised short rib).

-I got to say a birthday prayer as I blew out my candles with my family surrounding me, including the new kid I am cross-eyed in love with.  Then she went to bed easily in her too-small bassinet so that Daddy and I can watch some TV.

It was a simple and gorgeous birthday I hope to always remember.  Gorgeous in its simplicity.  My heart is still bursting with gratitude.

Happy Chuseok!

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I love hand-me-downs!

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I love softshell crab and oysters.  I would stick candles into seafood if I could.

 

 

 

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Behold: New Things Have Sprung Forth

I know the timing of this post sucks. Hurricane Harvey hit Houston about a week ago and now Floridians are bracing themselves for Hurricane Irma.

So I feel sheepish and rude to share that while catastrophes swirl about on our green globe, in my personal life, I am happy. Quite possibly the happiest I have ever been.

I recently realized that I respond to “How are you?” by sharing laments or struggles because that seems to be the easier way to connect to others. I know I can’t connect to someone if they only share green pastures, Happy Happy Joy Joy, perhaps because there is no risk involved in sharing only the shiny moments.

But because I am the opposite and lead with difficulties first, I want to work on sharing praises more, without worrying that others might be like, “Well, congrats to you, bitch. Can’t relate.”

I’m repeating myself but having a baby at 40 was an answer to a couple years’ worth of prayers, asking, “Please remove this impractical desire for a third baby OR somehow work it out for our family as I am consumed by this desire.” I shared before that Kevin had a vision from God and it was realized when I conceived at the age of 39.

Sure, we are tired because we have a wide-eyed baby with no official bedtime yet, in addition to two growing, active boys who need our attention, in some ways more than when they were babies. But even in that sharp tiredness, we sing and laugh each night, as our cheeky girl shimmies to our pitchy serenades.

We shake our greying heads in amazement that she has joined us when for years, she was a fantasy I tried to excise, only joking about it, wiggling my eyebrows and quipping at Costco, “I’mma just buy some prenatal vitamins, eh? My obsession won’t go away,” and Kevin saying, “Not funny.”

Also, after many of our weekends were devoted to house-searching, our prayers for a house were answered in the form of, “Nope, NOT YET!” Surprisingly, staying in our imperfect town has added to my happiness. I appreciate living closer to couple close friends, our non-family village.

Just a few weeks ago, we moved to a slightly more spacious apartment in the very town we wanted to graduate from, and we love our new amenities.

We sit on our tiny terrace to have family dinner together while the weather is still gorgeous. Kevin and I people-watch. We saw a dad screaming at his kid because the kid didn’t listen, causing some groceries to spill out. Now that we are parents, we completely judged the kid and commentated, “He should have listened. How many times the poor dad gotta repeat himself!?”

Biggest quality of life update: We have a second bathroom. Glory be! Even with such upgrades, by the grace of God alone, I remain down-to-earth puahahaha.

Because we live a quick jog away from our old co-op, we were able to drop by twice before we gave it up completely. Though we outgrew that space almost as soon as we moved in in the fall of 2010, all the memories came rushing back as we looked around the vacant space:

My parents, fresh from the airport, walking in to see their first grandchild, just days old, six pounds of fragile newborn, laying in his bassinet.

Another son joining his more laid-back parents two years later.

Hoisting my pregnant self off our high bed once again in 2017 and my water breaking for the first time, to meet our first daughter.

Just as Micah and I became teary-eyed about the memories housed in those 900+ square feet, Olive let out a rare yelp, as if to say, “Enough. Let’s roll out. I only had a couple months of memories here and I’m ready to make more with you guys.”

19″Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert.”

Isaiah 43:19

Thank You, Lord, for letting us say goodbye in installments, to our old home. And thank You also for new things springing forth. I am so happy and learning to enjoy green pastures. Every good and perfect gift comes from You.

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If These Walls Could Talk

In less than a week, we will be waking up in our new home, our unexpected new home for just one year, while we soul search about where to lay down roots.

I might have to force the family to do vision boards.

Goodbye to our first home as parents.

Seven years, three babies, 900 square feet.

Thank You, Lord, for watching over us, through the laughter and awe, through the screaming and tears.  ALL OF IT.  Only You knew the answers to all of our questions.

I waddled in here on September 28, 2010, with baby Micah in my womb.

Now we walk out as a family of five.  Grateful beyond belief.

What words

have smashed against
these walls,
crashed up and down these
halls,
lain mute and then drained
their meanings out and into
these floors?

What feelings, long since
dead,
streamed vague yearnings
below this ceiling
light?
In some dimension,
which I cannot know,
the shadows of
another still exist. I bring my
memories, held too long in check,
to let them here shoulder
space and place to be.

And when I leave to
find another house,
I wonder what among
these shades will be
left of me.

“The New House” by Maya Angelou

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6.24.17 (photo credit:  Keri Tan Photography)

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This is Us (A Christmas Post)

Today, Christmas Eve Eve, was the kids’ last day of school before six days off for their winter break.  It was also Kevin’s first day of vacation from work.  I will also be home the whole time.  We’ll all be taking next week off together to do or not do whatever we want.

I attended Micah’s class party in the morning.  Kevin and I then had about three hours together without the kids.  I hadn’t heard of any movies that I was dying to watch but I saw that a “Manchester By the Sea” was getting rave reviews.  Kevin warned me that he had heard that it was overly depressing but when I looked up the synopsis, I said, “Excuse me?  Do you not know me?  This movie is my soulmate.  It has everything I’m drawn to.”

No spoilers.  It was a story about a family.  And that’s my jam.  I love getting a glimpse of family dynamics beneath the surface.  Speaking of beneath the surface, I’ve been able to bask in the holidays this year.  When the boys were younger, I would feel such holiday angst and an overload of emotions I didn’t know how to channel:  Memories of how my parents had to work so much they could not prioritize celebration and how I wanted to rewrite that story but not feeling equipped to do so.

I don’t know exactly how but this year, I am able to fully embrace this Christmas season and it feels downright magical, with gratitude oozing out of my 40 year-old pores.  Nothing feels like pressure.  Everything feels like a privilege.  Unlike my immigrant parents whose peak season as storeowners was the holidays, we are blessed with more than a week of luxuriating in free time together, neither of us having to run ragged at any store, with our only “job” being relaxing and enjoying (and maybe some cleaning).

Halleluyer for this breakthrough.  Thank you, God, for new traditions and just plain enjoyment.

And…while not the only reason for my holiday inner makeover, I would like to take a moment to share our Christmas joy.

Early morning of my 40th birthday, while the rest of my family slept, I walked over to the CVS across the street, calmly made a single purchase, took that purchase to my gym bathroom, ironically, for some privacy.  I was there to confirm what I knew in my gut.

Pregnant for the third time after about two years of Should We or Shouldn’t We Go For It (Of COURSE We Cannot, It Would Be Crazy, Right?).  Actually, we are the biggest fans of NBC’s “This Is Us” and I just wanted our children to be able to do the Big Three chant.

While it was a completely natural conception, the story of this baby’s creation is supernatural.  I hope to share more in 2017.  And I don’t believe in TMI.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.  Wishing you the best for 2017.  (And if the holidays are tough for you to navigate, you are not alone.  You are loved.)

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We’ve celebrated the conception of each child at the same restaurant.  We didn’t realize until after we had ordered but our entrees were perfect for the occasion:  a trio of pasta for our trio of children.

 

 

 

 

Storm Queen aka This is 40

I used to get embarrassed for folks who were all, “It’s my birfday!  We gotta go out for my birfday!”  I was like, “You turning 38, don’t act thirsty for a bouncy house or a tiara.  Have several seats and act grown!”

Living in the age of social media, I see more stories of lives taken too soon and those asking for prayer for health problems.  So, as I get older, fully FEELING how everyday is a gift, I want to celebrate everything. (And I repent my previous years of judging the birthday-thirsty).

Though I didn’t get a chance to reflect some more about my big 4-0 (beyond the previous blog post written when I was a tender 39) or set any goals for the new decade, I wanted to share a couple favorite moments.

My 10/4 (4×10) birthday landed on Rosh Hashanah, on day two of two consecutive school holidays after the weekend celebration of Ellis’ 4th birthday. His casual school party, World’s Maker Faire, Ellis’ Bowlmageddon Party, then two days dedicated to me.

Kevin took two days off and drove us to one of my fave spots on the eve of my birthday.  Storm King:  one of the world’s leading sculpture parks in the lower Hudson Valley, about an hour north of NYC.  (We also stopped by the tiny Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens on my actual birthday the next day, but that was a drive-by half-hour visit, after dropping by the gorgeous waterfront Costco in LIC next door, before escaping the city again).

Being outdoors in nature is one of the most life-giving gifts for this California gal.  I would love to hike and swim all year long, nekked if I could.  The boys took me to Storm King so that I can trade in all that car-honking in Queens for some geese-honking.  (Actually, even the geese of Storm King were very quiet.)

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We took a 40-minute shuttle ride around the grounds.  While it was lovely, it was not restful or peaceful because I sat next to Ellis the Clown who would exclaim after placing various objects on my body, “Mommy, guess wha-a-at?  You have a rock on your shoulder!  Why don’t you pretend to throw it?  ahahahahahah you still have a rock on your shoulder!  Mommy, do you think I’m going to throw this bottle out or do you think I’m going to just pretend?  Litterbug or just pretend?”

So I had to monitor this charming but handful of a dude.  Later, Kevin wanted to gift me with a solitary ride in the same shuttle.  “Hey, you loved riding alone last time.  You have to do it again.  If you run, you can catch the last one and I’ll take these fools around to wrestle on the grass.”

I was torn for a second because I wanted to spend every moment with my morsels on my last day of being 39 (yes, I am SUPER sentimental).  But I caught a front row seat on the shuttle, all by myself.

As the shuttle took off, I heard, “MOMMY MOMMY!” coming from a tower.  I looked up and saw my three boys, Small, Medium and Large, sending me off on my 40 minutes of solo time.  They were beaming and waving at me from behind the trees, like I was going off to Seoul to teach English for a year rather than just 40 minutes away.

Naturally, I waved back like a maniac and teared up, thinking about how close we are as a family, perhaps due to the very thing that grieves me, the lack of an extended family village.  Also, memories came gushing forth, memories of when I was a 100% stay-at-home mom for a full 4.5 years, those years of being each others’ planets.

And now look at them, my emoji comedian who can moonlight as a food inspector as he WILL find even the smallest hair in any takeout order or couch cushion, my observant and profound MLK, who says things that make my mouth drop to the floor (“I still dream of Nepal, Mommy.  What’s going on over there now?”) and my husband, my biggest supporter and encourager, who also says things that make me go WHAT!?…(“Hey, so I’m not gonna wear shorts any more because I saw Pitbull.  THAT dude looks SO cool in his suits, like he would never ever be caught dead wearing shorts.  It’s just beneath him.”)

During my 37-minute shuttle ride, I relished in the quiet, thanked God over and over again for my gifts, and lifted up a few prayers for my new decade.  As we drove past the last few sculptures, I saw some masterpieces GALLOP past me!

It was my family, about to climb one of the viewing towers as we shuttlers watched.  The boys shyly waved at me.

It was a perfect moment I hope to replay over and over again.  This shuttle taking me around to each giant monument on the 500 acres was perfect for my 40th as I remembered the monuments in my own life, and admired the three greatest ones, now literally on display for me to gaze at.

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Micah sitting on nickels

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10.4.16 Socrates Sculpture Park

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Socrates

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Socrates

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Christopher Walken heads at Socrates

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Socrates

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Baby, I’m (Still) Amazed by You

The most joyous,

dream-like,

wonderful, literally wonder-FILLED,

time of my life thus far was when I was pregnant with my first.  I don’t even need to say “thus far” as nothing will surpass its top billing as the most wondrous time of my life.

All cliches made sense.  Growing a tiny human (and penis) in my womb was truly miraculous.  Just thinking about it made me want to lift my hands in worship even on the crowded R train during the morning rush (but I couldn’t only because I had to hold onto the pole).

In fact, it was so full of wonder and awe that towards the end of the pregnancy, I worried that when the baby arrived, that Lion King moment would turn out to be almost anti-climactic after 38.5 weeks of the most built-up anticipation.

Yes, a luxurious worry to have during a healthy and smooth pregnancy.

Needless to say, that “worry” was beyond silly as I couldn’t take my eyes off him that first night in the hospital.  Just staring and studying him. Falling in love so fast and furious that we were in our own world.  Hardly noticed when Kevin said he was leaving for the night (I had insisted – no place to sleep and no point in not investing in rest).

Similar to that silly initial “worry,” I also started wondering more recently, if being a mom to an older child would be less of a heartwarming experience since I can’t stare into his eyes while nursing or while nibbling on him any chance I get.

I even asked mom friends who have kids in their teens, “Is it gross?  Your boy’s little girl voice all deepening and them becoming straight up men?  Can you even recall them in their morsel-y baby form?  What’s it like when they are no longer cuddly and innocent?”

One friend said, “But he’s still him.”

Then I got reminded of just how silly this worry is when my firstborn says the darndest things.  He may not be my “baby” baby, but I’m still filled with wonder as I witness him emerging into a Big Boy at 4 1/2 years old, with a new, pointy (single) chin and strong feelings about who should win American Idol.

This list is mostly for me, so I won’t forget these fleeting sound bites.

On current events:  “If Optimus Prime was in Nepal, he could have held up the sky with his arms and kept the ground from breaking with his legs and all those people would not be killed in the earthquake.”

On Mommy announcing that she is going to eat a lollipop with a grasshopper lodged in the middle:  “Mommy, you are being so silly.  Look, I care about you so I don’t want you to eat that stuff, okay?”

On his friend’s dietary habits:  “I want you to drink more milk okay so you can be healthy. You can’t just drink water.”

On Gramma telling him to choose one toy at Wal-Mart:  “One, huh?  This is like American Idol.  There can only be one winner.  One can go home with me but one has to stay.”

On transportation:  “There goes another white bus but that one’s not for the people in jail.  Anyone can ride it.”

On theology:  “So when Jesus died for people’s sins, who are these people?  Do we know their names?  Do we know who they are?”

On Mommy and Daddy’s HUGE age difference:  “Mommy, you said the younger people should walk in front and the older people should walk in the back so that we don’t wander or get taken or walk into the street.  So that means Daddy should walk ahead of you since you’re older, right?  When you were five, Daddy wasn’t five!  He was only 4 1/2, right?  Do you get more tired than Daddy because you’re older?”

On private parts:  “Ellis, stop hitting Mommy in her Giovanna.”  (He knows the word “vagina” since babyhood, but after a slip-up, now prefers to call it by the more beautiful girl name.)

"Ellis, you're growing up fast but this weed is still taller than you."

“Ellis, you’re growing up fast but this weed is still taller than you.”

Happy Two…while it drizzled at the zoo

Dearest Ellis,
Today, our little Kung Fu Panda Mong Sheel-Ee dared to turn TWO on us! The baby of the family thinks he’s allowed to grow up like this!?

Of course I reminisced about your birth. How your dad and I were watching the season premiere of “Homeland” (Season Two) when I went to the bathroom and saw a little blood on my underwear. Your brother had arrived within 24 hours after the bloody show so we knew that most likely, you were on your way, ten days before your due date, JUST LIKE YOUR MICAH HYUNG!

You were gracious enough to let me (mostly) sleep through the night though some painful contractions did wake me up and I decided to jot down a quick letter to Belly Baby Gender Unknown.

The morning of October 1st. Your Lee Halmoni/my mama was scheduled to touch down at JFK but because my contractions were coming regularly, we sent her a Korean cab instead of picking her up ourselves. We were getting ready to go to the hospital when the contractions slowed down.

I told your dad to go to work to save his days off.

You so kindly allowed Halmoni to arrive and learn the ropes of how to take care of your big bro before you called Game Time on us. I was able to school her all day on all things Micah before your dad finally came home from the office. He came armed with a Buffalo Chicken Panini for me to take me to the hospital that evening. I am always fearful of getting hungry so I even ate through tearful contractions because a girl dunno when the next meal comin’ through with all that laborin’ in between.

It was still gorgeous and sunny that early evening. As we drove over the RFK/Triboro Bridge to get to our hospital, we realized this was it. We had to finalize your name. We joked that it had to be RFK.

We were already set on the first name. We had chosen “Ellis” a few weeks after finding out we were expecting, whether you were a boy or a girl, though now I see that I strongly prefer “Ellis” for a boy. We wanted everyone in our family to have five-letter names but broke the rule for your middle name as we thought the “Z” initial was too cool to pass up. Your dad wouldn’t let me go through with “Zion” and we both really felt peace about the “Zachary” you ended up with. “Zachary” means “remembered by God” in Hebrew.

Within a few hours of checking in at the hospital, you arrived. Those few hours were beyond painful but I can hardly recall the pain now because I only see YOU. It only took about 15 minutes of pushing and the doctor yelling, “STOP” instead of “PUSH!” for the final push because you were shooting out so fast.

Sorry, this letter hardly sounds like me. I’m rushing to write it because Mama is so wiped from this week of nervous weather-stalking for your (early) birthday celebration yesterday. I ended up postponing it at the last minute due to the threat of rain after a whole day of showers yesterday for the outdoor gathering. Not too Accu, Accu-Weather! Was praying for a flood of Noah’s Ark proportions after I ended up canceling but of course, not a drop.

So today, on your actual birthday, I wanted to hook you up with SOME kind of outing to commemorate your special day. But it turned out to be the same deal as yesterday, only worse. Rained all morning AND threat of continued rain in the afternoon. Even darker skies.

Mama said, “Not again, Accu-Weather. You don’t fool me! Mama taking her birthday boy to the ZOO!”

So naturally, I got lost driving to the zoo we go to only every week! The GPS led me to some shady road behind Citifield, the U.S. Open Tennis Courts, and some United Nations Drive. It went from, “You are three minutes away” to “You are 26 minutes away.”

I still don’t know what happened.

When we finally arrived at the zoo, your bro had fallen asleep. I took you guys out and placed you in the Strollerus Prime.

We were the only ones there. It was drizz…it was raining.

But I will always remember how happy you were to look at your bears and feed your goats with Mama on your one and only second birthday. With your brother sleeping the whole time and waking up only as we pulled out of the zoo parking lot, thinking he must have dreamt that he had been asleep near a sheep’s face.

Thank you for joining our little family two years ago today.

You too EZ to love!

Your biggest fan and paparazzo,
Mama

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