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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See? See?!

My guilty pleasure, “Bachelor in Paradise,” came to an end last week. One moment that stayed with me was when Claire poured her heart out to the camera about wanting to finally find a man who would just SEE her for who she is and say, “Hey, I want you.  You are it.  I’m signing up for all of it.”

Last week was my firstborn’s first week of full-day school. Pre-kindergarden.

It surprised me by turning out to be a bigger week than I had imagined. After all, he had already been attending nursery school in the mornings so this was just an extension of that, right?  Not quite.

And it wasn’t just about getting the logistics down, driving to and from another neighborhood everyday, timing Ellis’ and my morning activities, lunch, and nap so that they would all be completed in time to walk to our parking space three blocks away (though I’ve still had to wake up Ellis from his warm, toasty nap each day).   Then, we finally get to go pick up Big Bro just in time for us to be waiting eagerly on the sidewalk by his school door, like paparazzi.  I even snap a pic of him on my iPhone just to record how happy he looks after enjoying school all day, and also about reuniting with his family.

That is our favorite time of day, to catch a glimpse of our very own Micah, strutting down his school stairs with a radiant Denzel smile and a backpack bigger than his torso, exclaiming, “Mom! I only cried so little today!”  We are his own little entourage of two.  Ellis has even cheered loudly as Brother walks down to us.

Back to Claire from the Bachelor. She just wanted a dude to see her for her and say, “Yup, I see you, even your weaknesses, and I still want to be with you.”  Somehow this reminded me of my boy starting school.

I have been at home with him since weeks before his birth. I see him. All of him. I know everything about him, from bowel movements to quirks to weaknesses to stremfs. I know his body better than I know mine. I know what sets him off, what makes him happy, what makes him sad. This is such a precious time because it won’t always be this way.

I see him for him and because all of his traits are a part of him, and I am the one who birthed him, he is the one for me. Now that he will be spending his days with his two teachers and 17 classmates, I wondered, “Will they be able to SEE him? Beyond him winning the #1 Crier award at dropoff the first few days, will they be able to SEE my Micah as I see him?” I hoped so.

Of course it takes time but slowly, I wanted them to be able to see the boy that I see. I’m sure all parents want the same for their precious little ones.  And big ones.

Before his first week, I observed him at Orientation. He and his new classmate were playing house when she said, “You spit when you talk.” I gave them their space and just observed. He asked her, “Me? I DO? Me?” while rivulets of drool rolled down his chin.

So this is what it was going to be like to let him do his own thang for a full day. I wasn’t going to be there to run interference when classmates said things, or pushed him. He tends to freeze when attacked and I wasn’t going to be there to remind him to use his words.

And I know he ain’t perfect either. If he don’t act right, I wasn’t going to be there to tell him to come correct right quick.

Definitely some growing pains for Mommy. To send him off to grow and learn on his own.

I also didn’t think about the effect this going away to school business would have on Little Bro. I had heard on Facebook that many little siblings were having a hard time. Though my dude does ask about Micah hyung wherever we went, especially when we saw things that reminded us of him, which was pretty much everything since we three were rollin’ deep, homies 24-7 over the summer, my little guy also relished that Mommy was able to SEE him, just him. In fact, he loves to say, “See? See!?” after pointing at anything these days. “See? Supe-man!? See? Bah-Man!? See see? Mommy, see?  Animals, see!?  Squirrel, squirrel ova they-ah!?  See?”

Yes, I see you and everything that you’re pointing to.  What a treat it is to see you without having to split my attention. I get to see you with laser-sharp focus, with new eyes now that brother is off to school for the day, and I am honored. I am excited to see you grow up this upcoming year.

I love this concept of truly being able to see someone.

When you make friends in your 30s, you want them to be able to see you beyond your current struggle with your job or your spouse, or even your life stage, that you aren’t JUST the circumstances you met them during, but a whole person.

The question always seems to be, “Who do you even WANT to see you? More of you?” As I get older, the answer is, “Not as many as befo’!”

Therein lies the beauty of childhood friends, your people you can use shorthand with to say, “This is me. You’ve seen me, warts and all. And you’re still around!”

When you start dating someone, you want them to be able to see your quirks and weaknesses and not just put up with them but welcome them as they are a part of you.

And even as I write this very typical Mommy post, I hope that folks can see that while I sound like Just Another Mommy, waxing poetic about her kids, this is just a part of me. Just as I am, though I fear eyerolls and being insufferable as I am fully aware that anecdotes about your kids are usually only interesting to you or their relatives.

Speaking of “see”? I’ll SEE y’all later. It’s almost our fave time of day!

YOU the Mom, SuperDad!

Kevin was doubled over in the corner near the sanctuary at church yesterday.

On September 7th, the boys will be moving up in rank in their respective Sunday School classes. Since he will be turning two in October, Ellis will be officially stepping up from Nursery to the Giraffe Room and Micah, as a preschooler, from the Giraffe Room to the Elephant Room.

I had told Kevin that we should just drop off Littlest Kim in his future classroom so that he can get adjusted and have a Sunday or two where he can attend WITH hyung (Big Bro).

Kevin mumbled something about, “Well, he could poo so maybe I should stay,” and some other excuse like, “But will he be able to follow direction?” Kevin has been gifting me with time to go to service when one or both of the boys needed a parent during service time. (Though he is an altruistic and selfless dude and always has been, this act ain’t completely saintly, since I am much kinder after I’m fed a good sermon.)

Kevin was hesitant about sending off our baby to an actual Sunday School class instead of the baby nursery he’s been hanging out in during his entire church attendance. But Daddy had no choice because in one split second, Micah grabbed Ellis’ hand and they both walked into the Giraffe Room, without looking back even once.

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We kept peeking in to see if one or both may need Daddy to hang around.

Nope. They sat with their backs to the door and started coloring like it’s their job.

Just as I was thinking, “Wow, DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS!?…that we have time to run out before service and grab me a Chicken Mushroom bun,” I looked over at Kevin who had literally doubled over in the corner like his appendix had burst, while carrying the diaper bag I had told him we didn’t need to bring in.

When he finally straightened himself out, I noticed that his eyes were red and he was breathing hard, with his hand over his heart. He was sheepish and laughing at himself but he managed to spit out, “But that’s my baby! He can’t be sitting in a classroom like that!? NO! I’m not ready.” He even confessed that the excuses he had made earlier about why Ellis should still stay in the nursery were bogus reasons.

As I processed this, I judged myself. Here I am, the mama, and I don’t even bat an eye when her baby marches right into the Bigger Kids’ room for the very first time without a parent. What’s wrong with me?

And then I realized it’s because of who he is. Sure, he’s the baby but he is pretty much P.I.M.P.: laughing after diving head FIRST off a steep slide, toddling up to all of our co-op staff to give multiple high-fives and daps, grabbing museum employees’ hands to carry him up so he can see an exhibit better when Mommy and Daddy were otherwise occupied, and singing along in the car.

Big Bro, on the other hand, was still wearing a drenched bib at age two, and would let other kids hit him as he stared wide-eyed, ever cautious and observing, always standing back and observing. I was emotional when HE, my only child at the time, was ready for Sunday School.

In other ways, though, Ellis seems like more of a baby than his big bro was at this age. After all, Micah had already become a big bro at 22 months old. But because of Ellis’ outgoing personality, he didn’t seem like he should be “confined” in the baby nursery any longer.

But Daddy had been the one who stayed with him in the church nursery on many a Sunday, when there weren’t enough volunteers to leave him with. Daddy was the one to witness Ellis still playing with the other babies and playing peek-a-boo from the communal pack n play.

This was the first Sunday in MONTHS where we were able to sit together to worship. I kept looking over at him and each time, Kevin was about to lose it. Tearing up, laughing at himself, taking deep breaths, then tearing up again, shaking his head.

You the Mom, SuperDad. When people told us that this ALL goes by so fast, I didn’t realize the specifics. FAST as in YOU ONLY HAVE THE FIRST THREE YEARS to attend Mommy-and-Me type activities together. TWO YEARS in the church nursery, apparently. After that, it’s school for a big chunk of the day and soon, birthday parties and baths on their own. NO WONDER parents are always chanting, “ENJOY EVERY MOMENT!”

I’m so glad that Kevin, our rock, was the one who was overcome with emotion this time.

A real man won’t be ashamed to get verklempt over his boy growing up.

A real man won’t be ashamed to weep and convulse when emotions hit deep.

A real man won’t be mad at his babies’ mama when she publishes this while he at the office.

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Pick Me Up

When I was a little girl, I used to do this weird thing when my little brother and I would get into a particularly bad fight. He would start bawling so I would feel bad and want to rewind the clock to a more peaceful time. So, I would leave the scene abruptly, walk back into the room with a new, kind face and say, “OhmyGod! Why are you crying, Sang!? WHO…WHO DID THIS TO YOU!?” Sang would be bewildered because the answer was, “YOU did this to me! I’m crying because of you!” (Sorry, bro. Your Nunah has always been a tad crazy).

I was reminded of this as I realized this week that My Most Effective Comforters on my hard parenting days are the very ones who got me in a tizzy in the first place. When Ellis Mr. Still Chubby Cheeked Circle Eyes pats me softly and says, “Mama!? MAMA!? Soh-wee!” and when Micah the Earnest says, “Mommy, you smoove like baby – I want to squeeze you! You look like a baby when Daddy hugs you,” I feel like I was completely crazy for ever getting exasperated with them.

The precious moments carry you through the tough moments. I read somewhere that it is Mother Nature’s design for babies to be so damn cute to fuel parents to want to take care of them. Or something like that.

A couple weeks ago, we were at a park when some older boys, ranging from five years old to ten years old, made a beeline for our picnic blanket and asked Micah and his homey, E, if they’d like to join in on their pick-up soccer game. Our boys looked at each other, sheepish, surprised, and excited. E first declined their invite immediately and Micah agreed.

Just as immediately, they changed their minds and got up for their first pick-up game.

I looked over at my friend and said, “Well, this is just gonna be too cute!” as I felt some Feelings again about how my firstborn is growing up so fast.

The Captain, the ten year old, started reciting the rules in rapid succession. Going over fouls and goals and other jargon that Mama’s mind shuts out automatically, just like when Daddy tries to tutor her on football. Micah and E also had similar quizzical expressions on their faces like, “Whaddid we just get ourselves into?”

“You, you’re on my team. You, you’re on his team.” Being the youngest, our boys were assigned to opposing teams.

As a few of the boys began constructing the goals with rocks, Micah and E ran around hugging each other. Being on opposing teams wasn’t sinking in, apparently.

When they were told, “Alright, let’s start the game!” E quickly responded, looking worried, “I don’t want to play any more!” Micah chimed in, “Yeah!”

This mental picture is one of the gazillions I need to recall when Micah just won’t listen and I forget that he is still only three.

I will remember just how innocent and little they looked among the bigger boys, not understanding or caring about the rules, instead just wanting to hug their friend all over the field on that beautiful summer day.

Thanks for comforting me in those hard moments by just being yourselves, my sons.

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7.11 MLK, LeBron, LeJeremy, LeKeith

Oh, Life. You can be devastating but also bewilderingly beautiful. Sometimes I wanna hold a grudge but you have that way of charming me back.

Last night, when Kevin walked in the door, I started blubbering. I haven’t cried in a good long while but oooof! From 9 am to 6:30 pm, I…I have no words. To give you a brief glimpse into the very long and agonizing, heart palpitatious day, lemme leave you with just one of my screaming thought balloons from The Day That Wouldn’t End:

Can Mommy just insert her tampon in a public bathroom without you two MacGyvering out of the stall onto the street!?

With Mommy running seconds behind you, growing two years older in two seconds, heart beating frantically, eyes darting everywhere?

Wondering if God forbid you guys had wandered into the *^&%ing street without me!?

Only to find you in the closest spot outside by the bathroom door, nowhere near the street but sprawled out on the branches of your favorite low hanging NYC sidewalk tree?

As if this tree weren’t a sapling next to a NYC sidewalk but a magical banyan tree in Hawai’i?

As if you two aren’t 3.5 and 21 months old but Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, chewing on a blade of grass, beaming about the getaway you just pulled off.

hanging out at their favorite tree last month

hanging out at their favorite tree last month

Then 11 other things followed.

Though I’m happy that you two are fast becoming best friends, just like we prayed for, I hope you realize that how fast your mama is aging is directly proportionate to you two egging each other on.

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homies

homies

I took a breather last night. Literally concentrating on taking some deep breaths as I hid out in our bedroom, shaking my head, wondering if I had a Korean drama white washcloth to tie around my head.

Then, this morning, we woke up to a brand new day. Birds chirping, the scent of summer. Blank canvas.

Micah and I took an early morning walk to the mailbox across the street to mail a birthday card. He blew it a kiss as he slipped it into the metal flap. I like to squeeze in a bit of special time with him after our gnarly days. Just to check in with my guy.

On the way back:

“Mommy, when I grow up, my kids will hold my hand like this, right?”

My heart melts into a puddle onto our courtyard. With his perfect little hand in mine, any residue from the previous day is washed away.

“Oh, Micah, yes, you will hold your child’s hand just like this and give it a squeeze just like this!”

“And I will be the Daddy, right?”

“Yes, and I will be the Halmoni and I will hug him and kiss him allllll over, just like this! How many little kiddies do you think you want to have?”

Serious. Thoughtful.

“31.”

Today also turned out to be a memorable 7.11 Friday in the world of sports. Basketball news strangely reminded me of how my toddler’s (mis)adventures can be forgiven easily by their adorable shenanigans the next moment.

LeBron will be returning home to Cleveland four years after “The Decision,” after literally being burned in effigy and having an open hate letter addressed to him by the Cavs’ owner. My guy friends could not stop spewing venom at LeBron for the last four years.

I didn’t understand all the hatred. Why couldn’t it be all business? I’m not knowledgeable about sports but I do enjoy me a good feature story and today, the sports world delivered a doozy. LeBron’s unexpected return showed me that it ain’t all business, even in this billion dollar industry. He going back home! All is forgiven. No such thing as pride.

And Linsane LeJeremy will be in my hometown of Los Angeles! While he was not reviled like LeBron, he was buried in Houston’s rotation and not given a chance to run his style of offense. (Special thanks to Kevin for supplying that way technical sports sentence above for what I wanted to convey about redemption.)

We were saddened to see him leave NYC for the Houston Rockets but now, he will be in LA where the Asian-Americans will go buck wild. It will feel like World Cup 2002 when we Koreans of Los Angeles were jumping out of our Japanese cars to give each other tearful hugs, from youth to halmonis and halabujees. (I am fully aware that Jeremy ain’t Korean-American but c’mon, throw me a bone, I’ve had a tough week.)

In a totally unrelated baseball event, we also made a quick stop to our neighborhood Citibank thanks to a heads up by Uncle Anthony that Kevin’s beloved Keith Hernandez would be signing autographs. Micah spouted off with, “I don’t like him!” when he saw the macrocephalic, dopey Mr. Met coming our way for photo opps, so we became nervous that upon meeting one of Daddy’s idols, Micah would lash out with, “I don’t like you, Mr. Keith Hernandez,” which would have made it Daddy’s turn to blubber.

When I think of 7.11 next year, I hope to remember my early morning walk with Micah, LeBron, LeJeremy, LeKeith: all the kooky ingredients for a magical, redemptive summer day in NYC.

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Flight of the Butterflies

My Beloved Boys,
I’m writing this while my head is still a-buzz as a non-coffee drinker drinking iced coffee for the second time this year, so please excuse the clumsiness.

Also, I slept like a ninja with one eye open, after fetching Ellis when he cried in his crib in the middle of the night. I had to be ready to pounce if he ever got too close to the edge, which he loves to do. Your daddy had already been summoned to fetch Micah Hyung, whose initial cry got you going. They ended up entwined on the couch, Hyung cutting off Daddy’s circulation.

Mama feelin’ some feelin’s again this month but what’s new? My heart lights up when I see plush new babies hanging out in our beautiful courtyard or on my Facebook, with their parents looking exactly like how your daddy and I looked when studying every millimeter of your brand new face(s), feet and hands.

Fascinated. Captivated. In awe of the miracle of having created a delectable little human.

When I see these new kids on the block, then look over at you big boys scootering and running about, they look like fetuses. You’ve become rough and tumble BOYS right before my very eyes, though at the same time, it’s snuck up on me.

Last week, Micah, your class released butterflies after weeks of watching them transform from caterpillars. You told me that each one was named after you and your classmates as you recited all 13 names of your classmates/butterflies.

The symbolism was not lost on me. As we approach nursery school graduation, your teachers were freeing you guys to flutter about in the world, or at least out into preschool. How precious to name each one after you and your adorable classmates!

On your first day of school, the sparrows did me in, and now, the dang butterflies got me verklempt.

You told me, “Micah the Butterfly flew out first, Mommy!” You quietly sang me the song you learned, with bright eyes and accompanying hand motions:

“I’m a little caterpillar, cute and green.
Hiding in my chrysalis, can’t be seen.
Wait a little while and you’ll see why.
Pop! Now I’m a butterfly!”

Oh, my ex-caterpillar son, Mama hears you, Mama sees you! You’ve grown so much, about to graduate as a butterfly!

This week, I brought it up to your teachers because I just couldn’t get over the cuteness and wanted to hear more about it. “That was so precious that y’all named each caterpillar after the students so that when they were released, it was symbolic of next week’s graduation! That really touched me, Ms. B.”

Ms. B and Ms. C looked downright confused. I repeated myself and added, “Oh, and how did you keep track of which caterpillar was which since they all look the same?”

Ms. B explained, “Oh! Um, that’s a really cute idea but we didn’t name them after the students. Seems like maybe Micah imagined that or named them with his classmates.”

Of course, that touched me even more that it was your idea, or something you and your buddies had conjured up together. Mama loves a good story.

When I strolled you to school on the first day, you still looked babyish, a few months shy of three. You were frozen as you settled into your new surroundings, sitting back-to-back with a fellow frozen classmate. Now, all of you are so playful with one another, like a little family. Actually, you now look a bit silly sitting in a stroller, with your feet dangling and your head protruding above the canopied tops.

Next week is game time, son. I promise not to do the ugly cry at graduation. Well, I promise to try my best. I am so proud of you, my White Tiger, ex-caterpillar, butterfly firstborn.

I love you to the moon and back,
Your Mommy/Mama/Ummah

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The Dark (K)night

Micah is so obsessed with this cool Batman character that when we finally introduced “Frozen” to him, he kept singing what I thought was, “Let It Back, Let it Back!” instead of “Let It Go, Let it Go!” I thought, “Man, this son of mine done flipped the script and remixed the song about shame by saying Let the Shame Git Back On You. Should I be concerned?” Then I found out, he was singing, “Let it BAT, Let it BAT…” as in “Batman,” even rebelliously pointing at Elsa and Anna, scolding them, “No, you Batman and Batman!”

He even told me somberly with his signature earnest expression, slight drool pooling on his tulip bud mouth, on his smoove-skinned three-and-a-half year old face, “When I am Micah, people say to me sometimes, ‘you cute, oh you nice’ but when I am Batman, people say, ‘Who is that!? Cool! I feel safe, wow!'”

This struck me as profound.

I feel lost these days, even with the anchor of husband and two sons I get to hug and kiss in buffet portions.

I’d take “cute” or “nice” any day, but I am amazed by this little human’s assurance in his Batman identity that he can assume simply by donning his worn out, cheap Batman costume. His whole posture and countenance is different when he comes home from school and puts on his Batman garb, complete with sunglasses he added under the mask and Little Bro tagging along as a superfly Superman.

I wonder what my Batman costume looks like. I don’t feel like I’m enough these days, pouring myself out for my kids. I feel like there’s so much potential in this 37 year old brain and body that I’m not able to tap into. And it’s not as simple as “Well, why don’t you go work outside of the home then?”

In some ways, being an at-home mama is truly my calling. Not in the domestic duties as I get overwhelmed easily with all things housework but in the engaging my kids and gobbling them up and showing them affection and telling them stories for days. Plus, now that I’m a mom, I have to be more selective than ever regarding what type of paid job is worth being away from my kids. Can’t be whitefisting through some meaningless job just for that paycheck. Anyways, I don’t want to digress too much as this is a loaded topic, something I’m not ready to blog about.

Micah has also expressed sadness about the upcoming end of his school year. We’ve been blessed with a good first school experience. He said he wants to take his teacher with him and that if he gets new teachers at a new school, he will be very mean to them. It touched me as I recalled how quiet and serious he was on his first day of school.

It also made me think about how different toddlers are from us grown folks. Change scares him. He loves his current everything. His routine, his classmates, the objects around his small classroom, his teachers.

On the other hand, Mommy feels beyond ready for change. Almost idolizing it. As blessed as we are with our lives, we’ve outgrown our current life in so many ways. Many families in our ‘hood are making the grand exodus away to the ‘burbs for their next chapter. Makes me wonder what’s next for us, how we can clearly identify our individual and family goals, and how we can achieve those goals to break out of our status quo.

So, to combat worry, I am practicing mindfulness. It is hard! I wake up, pray for strength for the day with the kids, and purposefully pause to listen to the birds chirping outside the window. I look into my kids’ eyes as they talk or try to communicate with me throughout the day. I enjoy the warmer weather and our enchanting courtyard.

I even try to play mind games with myself, to trick myself into fully embracing and even enjoying the annoyances of life which persistently chap my hide. I try to change my perspective by reminding myself that I am blessed enough to have a parking space albeit three blocks away, and a laundry room we have to visit in the basement of our building. They will someday be part of the Kim family narrative, “Remember when Micah and Ellis were three and one, we’d have to go visit our car blocks away and make a little fieldtrip to the laundry room?” And it will make me appreciate what we’ve (hopefully) moved onto.

Sidenote: I have noticed that when trying to Change Perspective, the “At Least…” method does not work for me. “At least you don’t have bigger problems than this, you should be lucky that you only get annoyed by these mundane factors…” It makes me feel needlessly guilty and pissy.

What is next for our little family. I’m nervous. What if we don’t figure it out? Sooner than later please? What if I’m a loser? What if I never realize my potential? What if my husband doesn’t feel the same urgency I do?

Please Lord help me to be still and stop striving. To know that I am enough because You made me and therefore, I don’t have to grasp and claw for my worth. To know that You are Lord and take comfort in that. That even though it may not be evident that You are on the throne, You are. Please gift me with patience, the very thing I try to teach my own kids, while we wait on You for direction. Thank You for Your Word:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Lonestar, Lone Yellow Face, Getting Schooled

Every little thing that you do
I’m so in love with you
It just keeps getting better
I wanna spend the rest of my life
With you by my side
Forever and ever
Every little thing that you do
Oh, every little thing that you do
Baby I’m amazed by you

How was this cheesy old song by Lonestar making me catch feelings?

It came on as Ellis and I drove out to another potential preschool for his big bro, while Big Bro was busy at his current school ’til we swooped him up before noon. Maybe I was just relieved and happy that I knew some song lyrics for once or maybe the

“Every little thing that you do
Oh, every little thing that you do
Baby I’m amazed by you”

took a hold of me as I kept looking back at my cutie, tickled by his constant companionship in his ubiquitous polar bear hat and puffy navy jacket on this “warmer” day of the week (high of 30). Growing up so fast. Would definitely be needing a new carseat next month. Mo’ money, mo’ money.

I had just left the open house of the prior school, stuffing the application packet in its nice maroon embossed folder into the back of Ellis’ stroller. Our car, streaked with winter wear, was parked on the street that still showed vestiges of the most recent snowstorm. This song from 1999 came on while my second son cooed and babbled at his mama stealing glances at him from her rearview as we drove away.

All of that coupled with my realization, AGAIN, that my boy was going to start PRESCHOOL this fall. NOT pre-preschool or nursery but PRESCHOOL where, depending on the school, he would be grown enough to wear a UNIFORM to school, like a bonafide little scholar.

I’d been learning about this whole NYC preschool selection process and at first, it was too daunting. Too many choices for preschool and too many factors to consider. I know it’s “only preschool” but that doesn’t mean I can skip the due diligence required to ensure that my son attends a safe, stimulating, fun, nurturing school.

As I drove, I started wondering if my parents could have afforded to take time off from running their store to go on preschool tours for me. Then I realized, WE WEREN’T EVEN IN AMERICA when I was Micah’s age. This blew my mind for some reason as that Lonestar chorus continued to replay in my head: “Baby I’m amazed by you-u-u…”

I attended a couple months of preschool in Seoul before we immigrated to Los Angeles. I vaguely recall standing around in a big circle with a bunch of other kids. I also remember my mama telling me that I wasn’t quite feeling it one day so I walked home during the school day, telling her an elaborate story about how Soojin (imaginary friend) and I were not enjoying school so we decided to come back home.

My East Coast boys were already growing up so differently from their mama. I was born WAY east…Seoul east. They have professional, English speaking parents who take preschool TOURS, not hesitant to ask any questions due to their limited English. Being the most vocal parent during the tour, asking about the school’s general philosophy, daily schedules, and whether our new mayor’s push for more universal pre-kindergarden could affect the upcoming academic year, and teacher-student ratios. Stark contrast from my own parents gathered in a huddle with other Korean immigrant parents after our kindergarden class let out, to group-translate the memos pinned to the back of their children’s shirts.

The second school Ellis and I checked out was comprised of 100% African-American students, from age two through third grade. One wide-eyed little girl said to her classmate, “It’s a Chinese baby!” as she gazed at my boy.

When I saw the classrooms filled with all Black students, I time-traveled back to my childhood, where my brother and I were the only non-Black kids in the neighborhood my parents ran a Chinese take-out store.

I was already a bit emotional after the unexpected Lonestar infection (“Every little thing that you doo-oo-oo…”) but it got cranked up a notch, maybe to Snow Patrol proportions (“If I lay here, if I just lay here…”). I am the first to admit that these songs are clearly the wrong soundtracks for this school tour day but I had no control over the DJ in my head.

The time travel was fast and furious. It had to be since I was a grown woman now, a mama, checking out a school for her firstborn. SWOOSH. Back to the present now.

I took it all in: the blue mesh cots stacked on top of each other for the kids’ naptimes after lunch. Different patterned blankets that each student had brought from home. It was clear how much they loved this place, even gathering around the staff member who was showing me around, repeatedly saying, “Hi, Mr. ______.” A teacher was giving a two year-old little boy some water to drink, the boy draped on her, looking so comfy.

I asked the staff how they thought my son would feel as the only non-Black face among his classmates. They explained that it was a very personal decision for our family but that they welcomed everyone.

The two school visits made me think about how much power we have in impacting our kids’ lives. By submitting a few sheets of paper, we could have him enrolled in school with all Black classmates, mostly Jewish classmates, or about 50% Japanese classmates (what his current class demographics ended up being, though still diverse). That would definitely shape his worldview, just like it did mine.

Ultimately, Kevin and I decided that the schools Ellis and I visited today were not for us. The first school simply did not fit our schedule and we would definitely mind that Micah would be the only non-Black child in the second school. Likewise, we would not want to send him to a school where the student body was 100% or nearly 100% of any race, be it White or Black or Asian.

Looking back, I loved having always attended such diverse schools though I did feel inferior when some of my classmates in the gifted magnet school I was bussed to from fourth to sixth grade were well off, with parents who were so involved in school activities.

I was in shock when I attended Kevin’s high school reunion where we were the only people of color. Well, us, and one Japanese-American dude that Kevin’s classmate had married, and of course, one other classmate actually went up to the dude and yelled, “Kevin!” while draping his arm around him, having to apologize to both repeatedly through the night. Kevin tried to show that he was just as down as me by peppering conversations with “all you white kids….” when a drunk classmate complimented him with what she probably deemed as the ultimate compliment: “Oh come on, KK, you’re as white as the rest of us.” Coming from schools where people of color outnumbered the White folk, it just felt gross. I wanted to open up my tattered copy of Malcolm X and read it near the bar.

And as much as we can help it, we do not want our sons to be the lone Asian-American representative at any school.

Aside from the racial composition of his school, we could end up choosing a school that he just did not like, or a school he absolutely loved. A school with loving staff, or a school with bad seeds. Or a school that just didn’t care enough. Or just a bad fit for whatever reason. Then we would just have to go back to the drawing board.

Education is such a personal choice for families. I just didn’t think too much about it since I didn’t have to when my kiddos were younger.

Of course, education is highly valued in most cultures, including mine, but I’m talking about the different paths parents choose for their kids. Homeschooling, charter schools, private schools, even UNschooling, just for starters. One common point of discussion while shopping for preschools is whether it’s “academic” enough and whether that’s even what you’re looking for. Some folks are certain that there is no place for “academic” among four year-olds, since they will be SCHOOLED for many years. No rush to pressure them into formal instruction. Preschool time should be child-led, letting the child choose areas of interest.

On an instinctual level, that sits well with me. Our dude will only be turning FOUR come November, no need for worksheets or memorizing anything…until I talk to some other mama while double-parked next to each other during pick-up time at Micah’s school, talking about how one school is “only nurturing, not actually teaching enough” or when a parent who moved away from our area tells me that her child is learning SO much more at her new school. Then the hibernating Tiger Mama in me wants to jump out my chest like in “Aliens” and start preparing Micah for his SATs.

“Micah, finish your cereal. You have to feed yourself! Stop dropping your sippy cup! And tell me again, what does ‘tergiversation’ mean? Use it in a sentence before I take you to the potty.”

Or when I’m good about our decision to send Micah to only a few hours of preschool since kindergarden and beyond will be full-time unlike the limited quality time to spend with Mama and Brother…until I hear a preschool director tell me that kids really need to prepare for kindergarden by getting used to the hours in preschool, and acquire “more skills.”

I am not cut from the same cloth as parents who’ve already formed their firm convictions about how to do thangs. I always enjoy chatting it up with others to see if I have a blind spot or if I should reconsider. Even with our choice for me to stay-at-home with them indefinitely, there are many days I waver in the conviction or confidence behind that choice. On the one hand, I’m glad I’m open-minded enough to talk to others and sift through different opinions, taking most with a grain of salt.

I also know that I need to remember WHO I’m talking to, as all opinions do not hold equal weight. Are they the type of parents or educators or people I respect and wish to emulate?

But on the other hand, I’m reminded of what Keith Urban said on American Idol this past week. He said that sometimes, listening to everyone’s critiques and ideas about what kind of singer you should be, can actually drown out your own natural voice/style and make you sing without heart.

I’m sure I have a lot of learnin’ to do as I mature in my parenting over my kids’ lifetimes, but what I do know is that I’m all heart. And when I do get nervous about choosing wrong for them, I’ll have to keep in mind that their mama couldn’t even speak English when she started kindergarden but still rocked the SATs, got herself jobs with zero connections, passed the NY Bar Exam on her first try, and started a blog with a readership of tens of tens.

But I do want them to surpass me in every way. Have more joy and confidence and peace. THRIVE.

I want to do right by them…

Cause “Baby I’m amazed by you-u-u…”

"Mama, you up there by the window again?  Choose a great school for me, aight?  Good lookin' out!"

“Mama, you up there by the window again? Choose a great school for me, aight? Good lookin’ out!”

Christmas Spectacular Superfan

“Listen to your gut!” was warring against “Don’t overthink it. Just live a little!”

I was on a Facecbook thread with a group of local mamas who were going to take Micah’s little buddies to NYC’s iconic Radio City Music Hall show, “Christmas Spectacular.” I hadn’t even thought about it since Micah wasn’t turning three until the end of November.

Gut feeling: He still too young. There will be many more opportunities for him to attend shows when he’s a bit older. Also, not exactly holding weight in the decision-making process but I can’t stomach musicals. They make me wanna yell, “Oh, UH-UH! C’mon now! Singing dialogue?! Just no!”

Live a little: I could arrange to take him alone so that I can have rare one-on-one time with him while Daddy and Ellis bond at home. A special date. It would be one special memory. He would love a musical. The theater would be so cool. And going on the subway is always a big treat for him. And you never know…maybe we won’t even be here next year so we should go while we can.

After going back and forth, I purchased the tickets. None of us mamas could work out our schedules to go together so we were each going separately on one-on-one dates with our firstborns.

I told Micah about it the week prior to attending to get the anticipation going. After all, sometimes anticipation is more exciting than the real thing.

Our day arrived.

“Mommy, we going to Christmas Show on train NOW!?”

“No, not yet. When I pick you up from school today! Mommy will park the car and then Micah and Mommy go on train to see the sho-o-o-w!”

“Oh, THAT’s riggghhhht!” (One of his current favorite sayings)

After collecting him from school, I wonder if I should take the stroller into Manhattan. Hmmm…great for emergencies like if he insists I carry him but such a pain. Direct ride into Rockefeller Center, minimal walking.

Will take a risk and leave the stroller in the car. What could go wrong? (mmhmm…famous last words)

Big Boy Micah and I walk to the subway in the howling wind. While waiting on the platform, Micah and I sing and dance until I say, “Wait, Micah, let’s not get too wild. We have to stand in the middle, far away from the train tracks, OK? Let’s not dance while waiting for the train. I don’t want you to get too excited and go near those yellow lines.”

But then I would forget and we would sing and dance again (in the middle of the platform) until he said, “Mommy, ‘member? Stop singing. No dancing. We waiting for train. No yellow lines. Mommyyyyy – you forgot?”

As always, he enjoyed the ride so much. Pointing out people’s shoes, “I like that one Mommy! We have that one at ho-ome!” Looking all around and telling stories. Hugging me, strumming my side fatty fats with his little hands, and laughing with his hand over his mouth like a cartoon critter.

Once we got off?

He enjoyed himself TOO much at the underground concourse level of Rock Center. He would not hold my hand as he ran around among the bustling lunch crowd. Oh, Lord, help me. He was so small in the crowd but he did not have a care in the world while I feared losing him.

“MICAH! You HAVE to hold my hand!” I was carrying a mess of bags as usual, all our winter gear, sippy cup, and snacks.

He would smirk and leap forward and run away while I chased him down. “MICAH! You have to listen to Mommy!”

He slowed down when he looked like he had seen the pearly gates of heaven. It was a store called GameStop. He pressed his face and hands against the store window, completely mesmerized, “Mommy, I want to go in there. I want to play that one,” about the huge video game display.

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“Micah, we have to go to show now, remember? That’s why we took the train? To come see the show. Maybe after the show, I can bring you here?”

We get through a very short line. We look around the gorgeous lobby. He refuses to go near Santa who is awaiting little boys and girls on the floor below. He would like to visit the candy bins instead.

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I wasn’t planning to buy him any overpriced candy but hey, it’s a special occasion and he looks really excited so I let him scoop out some gummy candies and end up paying $10.98 for a handful in a cellophane bag. $10.98.

IMG_3460

We squeeze ourselves onto an elevator to get to our seats. One lady in the back yells, “Hey, you, the person who just got on. Get off!” I want to shout back at her some choice expletives, including a lecture on entitlement but then I remember I am on a date with my boy, so I play the part of a mature adult and declare, “Sorry, I am with my toddler and we need a few minutes to settle in before the show so we needed to squeeze in.” It wasn’t even as crowded as some NYC elevators get. I think I was too nice (why did I apologize?) to that spoiled lady but I digress.

We get seated. I’m relieved that I can still see everything clearly from my seats even with my eye issues which made me have to wear glasses all month. I look over at his little face sitting in the theater. This was really special to be on a real date with my firstborn. Look at that little face, entranced by this beautiful theater. What a memory.

In fact, hmm…his face looks downright frozen with anticipation.

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Theater turns pitch black.

Show starts. Booming intro music. Aww yeah, great acoustics.

Sound of a baby wailing hysterically. Not a baby but maybe a toddler.

MY toddler!

I turn to see Micah horrified and bawling uncontrollably.

“waaahhhhhhhh! MOMMYYYYYY! I want to go home. I want to go home now!”

I scoop him up and run out the theater. I sit down on the floor right outside the theater, rocking him back and forth.

“Micah! I’m so sorry! I didn’t know you were scared! You’ve been to the circus before and planetarium too with your friend A! Was it too dark? Was it too loud?”

“Mommmyyyyyyy! Too dark! Too loud. I want to go on train and go to my home!” He is still bawling.

Some tourists are getting escorted to their seats and look over at me consoling Micah.

“Micah, it will not be so dark if we stay in there a bit longer! Remember how much you loved the circus with Daddy, Mommy and Ellis? It was dark there too but it was so fun! We came on train to watch this show. Mommy bought candy to eat during the show. Your candy is still in the theater!”

“Daddy? I want Dadddyyyyy!”

One of the ushers is trying to help us out.

“Excuse me, where can I go to get my refund? There is no way he will sit through this. It is too much for him. He was NOT having it as soon as the show started. Too loud, too dark.”

“Oh, there are usually no refunds. Who did you purchase through?”

“Ticketmaster.”

“We wouldn’t even be able to issue you a refund then. You would have to work it out with them.”

NO REFUNDS? Micah, sorry bro, we staying.

“Micah, do you want to try sitting in the way back where there are some lights in the theater? And special chairs? Let’s try that. If you don’t like it, we can run back out again, ok?”

The usher takes us into the nosebleediest corner back seats of the entire theater with some dim lights on the ceiling. “Micah, how’s this? See there are some lights up here?” Few seconds pause.

Booming sounds. Theater gets darker again.

“Mommmyyyyy! I want to go home! Let’s go home. Daddyyyyyy!”

We rush back out of the theater. Micah is still crying. I’m thinking about joining him.

“Micah, Mommy can’t go home right now because when Micah was crying, Mommy left all our stuff on our seats so I have to grab them first, OK?”

Another usher tries to help. “Hey Michael. You wanna stay with me so your Mommy can get her stuff?”

He starts crying more. “Mommyyyy!”

“Micah, if you stay here with Mr. _____, I will go grab our coats and bags, okay?”

The usher held him in his arms like a long lost son while I went back in to retrieve our things.

Micah was starting to calm down. We sat on the floor outside the theater and made a call to Daddy. “Daddy?! I was crying so much!”

Another usher came and explained that the other parts of the show won’t be as dark. “Mommy, I have to pee pee.”

We go into the restroom and Micah is back to himself. “Mommy, here is not loud and dark.” I mutter under my breath, “I’m not about to pay good money to stay in the women’s lounge, boy.”

“Yes, Micah, if we stay in the theater without leaving so much, it won’t be as dark in there, too.”

“Mommy!? Remember when I was crying so much?” Is this guy for real? Yes, I remember! BECAUSE IT HAPPENED 0.8 minutes ago, son!

We make another attempt to go back into the theater with the usher’s guidance. We see multiple Santas dancing (creepy, I have to admit) in the pitch black theater with small spotlights on them and Micah starts crying again so I immediately run out, carrying him, perhaps for the fifth time.

I feel like crying too. From weariness. From beating myself up for not listening to my gut. My glasses fog up. It was such a cold day and he was already a handful to chase even before the show had started. I had NO IDEA he would get scared at the theater since he’s been to puppet shows and other shows in dark theaters!

“Micah, please try to be brave. I know you’re scared. But Mommy is with you, holding you tight. GOD is with you always, too. You don’t have to be scared. It’s all for fun. Remember we wanted to watch the Christmas show together. You don’t have to stay if you are really scared but we can at least try to watch some parts of the show. Mommy’s stuff is in there again so we can’t go home.”

“Mommy, you need to get our stuff? I weel stay with that ahjushee who carried me befo’!”

It went on like that for a few more segments. In and out, in and out. A nice young usher helped us out a lot by telling us which segments may be less scary. He even gave Micah a “Superfan” pin to pin on his sweater. Ohhhh, the irony. Superfan!? I thanked him profusely and took a picture of him and Micah after the show since we were practically family after that ordeal.

Micah the "Superfan" and Mr. Jeremy, our kind usher

Micah the “Superfan” and Mr. Jeremy, our kind usher

Micah was able to enjoy the nativity scene. “Mommy, camel!” and some of the fake snow.

When we were leaving, Micah was back to himself, even stopping to dance and ham it up. I was taking deep breaths but relieved that we caught more than 60% of the show, and that Micah was able to be persuaded to give scary things a chance.

I had forgotten how small and young he still is. Because he’s become so Little Man-like with the things he says these days, I was treating him like I was at a movie with a peer, practically asking him how he’s liking the latest developments on “Scandal.” Just when I treat him like he’s grown, he reminds me again that he is still a young tender who needs his Mommy.

On our elevator ride down, a tour guide asks me how he’s doing. She is guiding a group of tourists and explains to them, “Yes, remember we saw this little guy having a hard time before?” and something about, “All kids are different. Some little ones can handle it.”

Apparently, we had become one of the attractions on the behind-the-scenes Radio City Music Hall tours.

Of course, I feel all defensive and want to explain, “He’s been to the circus and planetarium before and he was fine, I swear. It was a total surprise he got so scared,” but I have some sense.

I’m sure the senior citizens from Nebraska weren’t interested in hearing about his developmental phases.

Before we got on the subway, Micah pauses and says, “Mommy! You said you gon’ take me to video store to play game after the show!”

I lie and say, “Yes, Micah. I tried to but the store was closed. We try again next time, maybe with Daddy?”

On the subway, Micah says, “Mommy, the game store? Sometimes, it’s open, Mommy. I know.”

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P.S. The hardest (and coldest) part of that day hadn’t happened yet. Remember how I left that stroller in the car? I hope to continue in another post but it may have surpassed my public urination day in suckiness, though I suppose it could be a toss up.

Christmas Spectacular. Special memories, indeedy.