Searching for our Next Home on MLK Jr. Day 2017

“Hey, Micah, tomorrow is your special day!” Ellis and I joked as MLK Jr. Monday approached.  Micah sheepishly answered, “No, Mommy, I’m only named after him.  So it’s not really MY day.”

MLK Jr. Day is a special day for our family.  We named our firstborn “MLK” as we couldn’t think of anyone else we both wanted to pay homage to.  (No, Kevin, we will NOT be naming any of our kids after your William Martin Joel.)

Though Ellis was actually named after Ellis Island, after Kevin had stumbled upon the cool-named baseball player “Ellis Valentine” while catching up on his Sports Illustrated, our Ellis was conceived on MLK Jr. Day 2012.

This year, on MLK Jr. Monday, we spent the afternoon starting the search for our next home, exploring houses in a local suburb after a couple friends bought homes in the area.  We are not sure about Musts v. Wants,  other than urgently needing more space, commutes under an hour, affordable pricing, and good (not best) schools.

We rolled into town and some of the neighbors glanced over at us, just to see who was driving down their block.  My immediate response was, “Yo, I can’t do this.  Was our radio on too loud?  I feel like I need to bump some Tupac or Guantanamera.  Where my do-rag at?”  Kevin reminded me, “You’re not REALLY Black.”

I knew that these neighborly glances from their garage or while walking their dogs were most likely innocuous but this is the part of the home-search that I am not yet at peace with:  Can I do without people of color?  Is lack of diversity a deal-breaker?  If so, our options are even more limited for our budget.  I also still yearn for that California vibe where folks would just say “hello” to strangers but I’ve accepted that that’s just asking for too much.

Say that we find a home that meets most of our criteria BUT it’s located in a town that is 95% white.  Okay, now my heart is beating more rapidly as I type.  I don’t want my kids to be THE Asians in their class or school.  I don’t want to hear compliments about the Kim boys who are “just lovely, such good boys.”  I don’t want to become Borat while hanging out with White moms, explaining, “In my count-trrrryy, we have postpartum ritual we like to call…”

I don’t want to feel as Other as MLK Jr. and Coretta, fighting the good fight, while raising up our family in a homogeneous community, whether it be all White or all Chinese.  (And I know that with our Model Minority Mugs, we are hardly fighting the same prejudices as MLK Jr. and Coretta with the Good Name).  Friends have brought up good points:  that we can start the trend, and more Asians and other people of color will migrate soon enough, especially if there are good schools around.  “If you build it, they will come.”

I’ve had the good fortune of attending only diverse schools, from the moment we immigrated to Los Angeles when I was couple months shy of turning five.  I started kindergarden and stayed silent for a year because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself, sputtering out pitiful, laughable Ingrish.  It was the first time I had seen people with light hair and blue eyes and it was a lot to process.  My first teacher was an older woman whose light hair was turning blue so there were so many new colors I needed to digest, after only seeing Black hair and nearly Black eyes back in Seoul.

Even during my silent year, I did speak to Korean classmates, working out a system where I’d do their math and they’d help me out with Ingrish.  I even developed my first crush on a Filippino boy named Carlos without really speaking to him directly.  (And Kevin IS sporting Bruno Mars’ hair lately).

Later, when my little brother and I were bussed from Koreatown to the boojie Laurel Canyon area to attend a gifted magnet school,  I did develop an inferiority complex as so many of our classmates were wealthy.  Even then, we still had so many classmates who were also children of immigrants, also getting bussed in.  This continued through college and graduate schools:  so much color all around.

Now, Kevin, on the other hand, totally had a different experience.  He was THE people of color in his graduating high school class.  When I attended his high school reunion in CT as his then-girlfriend or then-fiancé, I started twitching as we were THE people of color (plus one classmate’s husband who was also Asian and mistaken for Kevin).  While the classmates were getting they drinks on, one girl “complimented” Kevin:  “Don’t you worry, KK, you were as White as the rest of us.”

I don’t know where we will end up yet but I don’t know how to reconcile my urge to start rioting when I visit an all White community, even for a single afternoon visit to a children’s museum in CT or at a Billy Joel concert.  And now we in a Trump era…

 

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Please lead us to a nice next home, Lord!

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.

 

 

 

 

You Loved Me

As part of what has become somewhat of a Sunday tradition, Kevin made us breakfast on that late October morning.

It was the boys’ first taste of canned corned beef hash.  So bad for you but just once a year, it sho’ does hit the spot.  I even sniffed around for Dinty Moore Beef Stew at our Key Food but (thankfully) they didn’t have it.

As Kevin cooked behind the closed door with the stove fan whirring, I asked the boys if they could recall their dreams from the night before.  I recall every vivid detail each night, while Kevin cannot recall a thing so I wondered who they would take after.  The boys told me some of what they could remember.  I told them that I dreamt of when I was in my 20s, laughing with my girlfriends.

Micah commented, “But we weren’t around then.  Did you miss us in your dream?”  Ellis chimed in, “Yeah!”

[Feeling tears form] “It was long before we ever knew there would be a precious Micah and a precious Ellis.  That young Jihee didn’t know what she was missing!” [Kissing their faces after wiping corned beef hash grease offa my lips].

I had to head out to Manhattan while the boys went to church.  I had (finally) signed up for a photography class through Groupon so that I could learn the basics of my DSLR.  I hate to miss church on any given Sunday but this was the only time slot that would fit my schedule before the colder weather set in.

I packed everything into a huge, 90’s-esque, pink backpack I had found in our closet and made sure I took my red thermos.  It was going to be cold and some of the class was going to be held outside.

Early as usual but once the big class got underway, I took a still-hot sip from the red thermos.  That was the moment I teared up with gratitude.  I felt it warm my body from head to toe, and it wasn’t just the warm liquid in my bones.

I had been fed a savory hot meal by my husband, flanked by two sons who could not fathom a 20-something Mommy before they were glimmers in her eye, and now I was privileged enough to be in a class I had been wanting to take for years, sipping hot barley tea from this red thermos.

Everyday, I know I am loved.  But in that moment, I felt all of it.  I FELT so loved that my eyes leaked.

I don’t even own my own thermos because I didn’t think I’d use one.  This red thermos I keep talking about was passed off to me the night before at our dear friends’ house.  These are friends who have made me challenge the belief of my parents that “only blood will truly be there for you.”  These are friends who make folks feel so at home in their home.

Other folks may have bigger, fancier homes but can also make me feel like I got to walk on eggshells.  I would make sure I am not a burden in any way and when my kids were babies and toddlers, I would make sure I didn’t leave a trace of them anywhere.  The gift of hosting truly is a gift.

As we left that night, my friend knew I was headed to my little photography class and insisted I borrow her thermos.  I kept refusing because I didn’t want to take her stuff.  She wouldn’t take no for an answer as she packed us up some homemade pumpkin pie that her baker sister had baked while we were together.

I had already felt so loved and cared for when she practically made me take her thermos.  I think I love to be bossed around sometimes by loved ones.  I am not the mom or the big sister in those moments.  It makes me feel cared for.

When I started drinking from my friend’s thermos among this motley crew of strangers wanting to learn how to use their cameras, I felt an urge to testify:  I AM SO VERY LOVED.

I can’t include all the other moments from this year alone where I *FELT* so loved because this post is already too long.  But man, those moments are such gifts that I can’t help but raise my hands to the heavens and say, “Thank you!”  Just one example:  When Micah was hospitalized for 2.5 days in May for a severe asthma attack, one of my O.G. friends from Cali reached out to me:  “Of course, we are praying for you but I need to do something more.  Can I please send you a meal?”

Because of our close friendship and the way she didn’t say, “If there’s anything I can do, name it…” (which is also kind but hard for me to ever respond to), I was able to say “yes” without feeling like I was putting her out.  As soon as we were sprung from the hospital, with another good friend driving us home, some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had was brought to us without us ever having to make a single decision about our next meal.

As we approach Thanksgiving this week, I thank God for these You Loved Me moments that make me a rich woman.  Please share your You Loved Me moments!

*And please know that though you may not FEEL it every moment of every day, YOU are so loved.*

You are God’s precious child, a parent’s unique gift (there is no one else like you), a friend’s comfort and delight (quality, not quantity), and a part of this universe’s miraculous story.

Wishing you a Red Thermos Thanksgiving 2016.  You are beloved.

Holidays and Emotional Fireworks

When I struggle emotionally, I’m prone to feel like a freak, utterly unrelatable, like no one else suffers from my particular malady, be it anger explosions or self-loathing or battling envy.

And man, what is up with the holidays and emotion overload?  I swear I start off excited to enjoy a special holiday with my family but many times, I sabotage my own happiness.

On Friday night before Fourth of July Monday, we set off for K’s mom’s house in CT.  During the tornado watch.  But we didn’t just set off as easily as that prior sentence sounds.  I only worked on Monday so that I can be with the kids the rest of the week after M’s school let out Tuesday at noon .  We kept active and social with playground runs, a trip to MoMA, and playdates, but by Friday, I was feeling agitated.  Spent.

When K got home that night, I was already in a mood.  I was taking the boys’ not listening too personally.  Also, unbeknownst to me, I was nervous about our CT weekend, an emotional minefield.  We hadn’t seen his brother’s family in too long so I became nervous and also subconsciously flashbacked to how unsafe I had felt with these in-laws in the past (though we are now pleasant with each other the few times we meet up, thank you Lawd).

During a jog around the neighborhood after K got home to relieve me, the damn sabotage cycle commenced.

My thought balloon formed as I jogged: “Why can’t I just stay home?  That way, I don’t have to feel nervous and not be all self-conscious about how to do my face while on this other planet called Greenwich.  It doesn’t have to be terrible like when K and I had a huge fight on a previous holiday and they actually left without me.  Why can’t I calmly just state that I am sorry to cancel but I will be taking three days for myself, without it turning into drama?”

But I knew I was wrong.  I had agreed to this CT weekend weeks ago and part of our recurring fight cycle is that for holidays, emotions overwhelm me and I want to bone out, when most of the time, word is bond for me and I do NOT flake.

I have open wounds about living across the country from my own family and friends for almost every holiday, previous holiday sabotaging and fight cycles, childhood wounds and all sorts of lovely shit.

Only in hindsight, as in NOW, as I write this four days later, I realize that I wanted K to connect and engage me after my tough day with the kids.  Instead, because he does not get as emotionally overwhelmed when taking care of them (he advises that I learn to tune them out sometimes), he does not fully know how to connect with me when I am pissy about a bad afternoon with them.  Pissy because I feel like I failed, pissy because I feel like I’m not the more patient version of myself from just a few years ago.

And he also wants to give me space to breathe.  I want that too but I also want him to come alongside me and help me untangle my feelings.

So when I said I may stay back, I think I wanted him to affirm me.  I wanted him to say, “You can gift yourself with some Me Time next week, I assure you, but this holiday weekend, I beg of you, to please join us because *we are not the same without you.*  We need you.  You bring a fun spirit to our family and make everything more magical.  I know you are feeling nervous about CT and I understand, but I will not abandon you or leave you to otherwise fend for yourself if you feelin’ unsafe…”  (BECAUSE YES, DON’T ALL MEN SPEAK JUST LIKE OPRAH?)

To K’s credit, he did try to cobble together a version of this statement but he also got frustrated when we started squabbling and said what I could not take at the time:  “Don’t worry, we will be JUST FINE without you.  No problem.  You will just regret not coming because you love to be out in nature and you will miss out on your kids.”

I was hurt so I lashed out, “FINE?!  NO PROB?!  MISS OUT ON NATURE?!  Oh, don’t worry about me!  I can get with some nature all by my damn self while you guys are just fine without me in CT!  AND I AM SO FUN.  I BRING THE FUN TO THIS FAMILY.”  (See?  When I don’t get affirmed, I start affirming myself but also insulting K, who is pretty damn fun.)

So many times, my emotional response is to skip Sadness and land on Anger.  Sadness feels like it could crack me wide open.  Sadness feels like I have no power.  Anger deceives me into thinking I have power in the explosive fireworks I unleash.

After much delay, we got on the road late at night.  Not all was well but at least I was able to get in the car this time.   I felt like a failure for keeping the boys waiting as we fought, and now that M is bigger, he even started imploring me to join them on the CT trip and laying out reasons why I should go.  It hurt my heart to hear him try to persuade me.

Going forward, I need to be able to VULNERABLY take a risk and say, “K, I am feeling all kinds of things re CT especially after a tough afternoon with the boys.  Can you please remind me of why I should go and also why I am needed in this family, though you seem to be able to handle it all without me?”

But OMG, who can speak like that?!  I think I am a very raw and vulnerable person but to ask exactly for what you need emotionally!?  It feels like I am giving him ALL THE ANSWERS on the Scantron test so all the correct “answers” are cheating.

To be continued…I hope?  Maybe.  (Because I gotta write about Saturday, too).

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bonding with Daddy’s friend’s family

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I’m so glad I went.

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Look what washed up in Madison, CT!

P.S.  In this age of social media, I need to remind those who are struggling during the holidays to know that the perfect red-white-and-blue photos are only part of the story.  Beautiful memories WERE created but there are demons to slay to get to the Kodak moments.  At least with me and my family.

 

 

One. Five. One Five.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

That is my favorite greeting of the year. I like to belt it out through the entire month of January though I wouldn’t mind saying it through the first couple weeks of February. Of course I love Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I can say “Happy Thanksgiving” only for the few days leading up to it because Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) take over and “Merry Christmas” is something I can only say once I know the greetee also celebrates, lest I offend anyone.

During this holiday break, Kevin used his vacation days to spend quality time with us. I ended up hanging out with my family for 14 consecutive, activity-filled days with only about 1.5 days of down time, let alone Me Time. So by the time 1.4.15 arrived, I was actually itching to go to the gym, to hear myself think. I made it out despite the rain and Ellis holding my sneakers for hostage.

There were three TVs side-by-side-by-side before me.

First TV: NY1 coverage of Officer Liu’s funeral in Brooklyn, NY.

Second TV: CNN coverage of more bodies found in the wreckage of AirAsia.

Third TV: ESPN tribute to their very own Stuart Scott who passed today at age 49.

Life seems predictable at times in this here First World – you’re born, you’re a cute morsel, you grow up, get some education, get a job, pay them bills. But these news stories reminded me that life is only predictable if you are fortunate enough.

A newly wed 32 year-old cop eating lunch in his patrol car is shot dead, execution style. 162 people board a plane that crashes into the Java Sea. Beloved pioneer sports anchor dies of stomach cancer at the age of 49.

Even with our stressors, triggers, entanglements, failures, insecurities, repeat failures, addictions, and pain, waking up to a new day is a GIFT.

New mercies every morning.

I went to a luncheon at church today to hear more about our friends’ short term mission trip to the Philippines. I heard about how the long term missionaries in Cebu, Philippines, Rick and Jiji Harner, tutor 200+ kids four nights a week, every week, while homeschooling 15 children during the week, including their own two children. Jiji just gave birth to her third baby girl on 1.2.15 and at the time of her birth, was getting ready to host a team of 12 American volunteers(!).

I was touched and inspired by how they just poured out and gave of themselves to their community, standing in as loving, dependable parental figures to some of these children. As a reflex, I was tempted to compare myself to them and how much they do in one day, but I had to catch myself.

We are all given different gifts and strengths. And limitations.

The Harners’ dynamic and countercultural way of life, as well as the stories of the people taken too soon inspired me.

In 2015, Year One-Five, I want to Thrive because I am Alive. To wake up to another day is a big fat gift that I want to gulp down.

Here’s to the New Year!

(And here’s to writing more).

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. ” – T.S. Eliot

“It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop.” ― Vita Sackville-West

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Merry Sparrow

As the kids get older, we want to teach them that Christmas is a time to celebrate and a time to be extra grateful to have more than enough.

A cozy home, running water, meals and snacks EVERYDAY, a family that is crazy about each other, and our different communities.

BUT…

One can’t be completely immune to commercialism this holiday season.

Our family visited LIC Flea & Food this past weekend to check out the Christmas scene. We hoped to score some good eats for lunch before heading to a White Elephant party in the evening.

I told Kevin that I wanted to pick up a li’l sump sump for myself. Without feeling guilty about spending money on something I don’t NEED.  A special little something for me, not for sharing with the kids or the family.

The only rule I set was that it had to be inexpensive and MEANINGFUL.

Kevin wrangled the kids in the small, cold warehouse while I went on my focused search. I was given 20 minutes as we had our eventful Saturday (and kids’ car naps) all mapped out per usual weekend adventure scheduling.

It was freezing so he couldn’t let them burn energy outside.  Daddy was sweating bullets just trying to keep the quick-handed Ellis from snatching the holiday cookies on sale on vendors’ tables.  He even bribed them with vintage Batman and Spiderman magnets he hadn’t planned on purchasing.

Mommy was released to do what she loves.

HUNT.

I love the hunt at flea markets. I usually just “know” when I’ve landed on the right table or vendor.

This time was no exception.

I chitchatted with the vendor for a while. She was from Spain but has been living in NYC for more than two decades, raising her two grown children here.

She tried to guide me along to the right piece of jewelry even though I had told her that I would just KNOW when I found it.

“How about jade?” I don’t like jade in any form – not yellow or green.

“Cats?” Never.

“Swans?” Beautiful but no meaning for me.

“Gnomes?” Gno!

“Butterflies?” Again, beautiful but no meaning for me. And I feel like Mariah Carey claimed them years ago.

“Mother and child?” Maybe – but they are white so no connection for me. And I think the child is a blonde. Blonde girl.

“How about this lady? You liked her before.” Yes, I liked that there was Asian representation among the jewelry but not enough to take her home. Still no meaning.

“How about this bird? You told me you liked birds?” Yes, but those weren’t it.

“Some birds,” I murmured, preoccupied, eyes darting while scanning her table, wondering if I would be able to find something special after all within my allotted timeframe.

And then I saw it.

Two birds – possibly SPARROWS.  For my Micah.  For my Ellis.  For my Micah and Ellis. And for my mama who always told me that the sparrows were chirping just for me when she walked me to kindergarden.

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Merry Christmas! May you find meaning in big and small ways as you create your holiday memories this year.

True (S)tori

I’m not going to make fun of Tori Spelling any more. At least I’m going to try my darndest.

When I talk about folks from my real life, I (usually) feel bad for gossiping / talking trash. But I seem to give myself license to make fun of celebs because they are public figures and many are so ridiculously privileged that it boggles my mind. I especially talk bitterly about those who have benefited from nepotism like Miss Tori Spelling of Aaron Spelling legacy fame, though my real beef with her was how she and her now-husband cheated on their ex-spouses to get with each other.

Both my boys were home with me today fighting a powerful cough once again. Micah is particularly susceptible to such cough attacks around this time of the year, but little E has also been suffering the past couple days. At one point, it would’ve been comical had it not been so pitiful – both of them performing a cough duet, fighting to be the one who gets to sit on my lap, not able to use their words because they were coughing so much. Just droppin’ ‘bows on each other and crying, grabbing at me.

While it was a tough day, I felt flattered by how much they just wanted their Mama. They won’t always want me and they are growing up so fast.

Kevin came home to relieve me after a trying day, gifting me with some halal cart food he had picked up to make dinner easier on me. The boys could hardly even drink their beef broth through their coughing so we didn’t force it. After tending to many cough episodes, Kevin declared that he, too, wasn’t feeling well and fell asleep with Micah in the boys’ room, both of them on the floor.

E is right next to me in our big bed as I type this.

Back to Tori Spelling. Because all the boys were down for the night by 9 pm, a rarity, I decided not to read my book and instead tuned into Truly Terrible Television.

“True Tori.”

Sure we’re both from Los Angeles, but our upbringings could not be more different. I could not relate to any of the issues this girl has.

Until tonight.

She was crying at her therapist’s office, talking about how she gives her daughters extra hugs throughout the day because they remind her of when she was a little girl and how she just yearned to be loved. How she felt starved for her mother’s love.

That touched me.

Don’t get it twisted – I felt loved by my parents even though they expressed it by working long hours at whichever small business they owned at the time in order to provide for us. They didn’t have to say “I love you” or always affirm me to make me feel loved. But as a sensitive and inquisitive kid, it would have been nice to have gotten more time with them, to just talk to them freely about my many emotions and thoughts, have them truly see and hear me more than their store hours would allow.

But, like Tori, I catch myself doing things as a mama to my beloved boys because I know I would have wanted those things when I was growing up. Affirming them, cupping their precious faces in my hands to tell them how much I love them and how they are the only Them in the whole wide world. And always apologizing when I mess up.

Also, take the holidays, for example. Why was I scrambling to order an Advent Calendar for Kids today in the midst of reading them library book after library book so that they wouldn’t think Sick Day meant TV Overdose Day? We even sat in our tiny bathroom with the hot water running to create a steam room, with piles of library books which I could hardly read through my fogged up glasses.

Because my parents had to work EXTRA long hours at their store during the holidays, it was understood that they wouldn’t be around much. I didn’t realize the deep melancholy that triggered in me until decades later when I became a parent. I suspected it earlier when I would feel funky as the holidays approached but after I became a mama, I would find myself in fetal position sometimes during this Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

While I understood that the holidays meant longer work hours for my parents, I never grieved the sadness and envy I felt during the season.

The holidays meant loneliness. Feeling left out from general merriment that the entire damn world seemed to be partaking in without us. Joining our second cousins for their tight-knit family festivities but feeling like outsiders as we weren’t truly a part of their crew. Watching my well-meaning relative slip some money into an envelope to gift it to me and my brother whispering to another that they hadn’t accounted for our attendance during the gift exchange.

Inevitably, we all fail in some ways as parents. Kevin’s mom once commented, “You’re so picky about how much juice or sugar the kids are allowed to have yet you and Kevin fight in front of them. That’s much more harmful than them having candy.” That stung because it was true.

We do what we do NOT want to do. And sometimes it just kills me that I can’t provide them with the most loving home environment due to our failings.

But that doesn’t stop me from trying again the next day.

This month, trying comes in the form of making their holidays magical. I want our family to spend extra time together this month, counting down the days before Christmas on their Advent calendar that should be arriving in a few days. I know I have to exorcise more holiday demons but I’m hoping that with lots of prayer and equipping myself with the Word, I will be able to gift my kids with magical holiday memories.

We are all broken. Whether you a skinny blonde daughter of a Hollywood mogul or a Korean-American daughter of immigrants, we have deep wounds.  Thanks to my children, I’m able to wrestle with them and move forward.

My dudes taking a hug break in between coughs.  Please Lord help me to do right by them.

My dudes taking a hug break in between coughs. Please Lord help me to do right by them.

Happy Birthday Umma!

Umma,

Today is your birthday. Happy birthday!

I miss you so much even though I get so irked when you overreact on Skype while getting a peek at your only grandchildren. I can’t change your alarmist ways.

“Jihee-yah! Don’t leave the room, not even for a second. In that split second, they can get a serious brain injury if they wrestle down low like that. JIHEE-YAH! Look, look, ummunah! The little one is climbing something. The image is fuzzy. They are grabbing each other now – quick! AHHHHHH!”

“Umma please! Stop. They wrestle like this all day long. I know when to peel them off each other.”

I remember how I was waiting to exhale, imagining that once you arrived in NYC for a visit when Micah was still very little, I’d be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

I went to take a long, leisurely (celebratory) trip to the bathroom when you arrived. The baby started crying and I thought, “Girl, you good. Halmoni here.”

Next thing I know, you sprint into the bathroom with the baby in your arms and place him in my arms WHILE I AM STILL SEATED ON MY THRONE.

“A baby needs his mama. He was crying for YOU.” Thus began a series of squabbles and your usual vow to never return.

But Umma, I know it is all out of love. I am sorry for my harsh words over the years. You and Kevin see me at my worst because y’alls’ love is the love I am most secure in.

Today, on your birthday, I think of you mothering us, first in Korea until I was nearly five years old, and then in a foreign land where you couldn’t communicate all that you were going through.

And unlike Kevin, Daddy didn’t help out much at all so it was all on you.  It was a different era.

Throw in the language barrier and idiots screaming loud English at you, thinking that if they screamed it, suddenly you’d become fluent. I remember fighting for you guys even back then. “She is not hard of hearing so stop screaming!” How many maniacs hurling, “Go back to your country!” at the end of an argument at the store when THEY were the ones caught shoplifting.

I guess it is no surprise then that one of our kids is named Ellis. (Ellis Island – much love to all immigrants).

Oh, the shock of this latchkey culture you had no choice but to throw us into as you and Daddy ran various small businesses throughout our childhood. You told me how you never got used to it, this country where young kids had to separate from their mamas in order for the parents to make a living.

I don’t remember if I consciously thought this when I was a kid, but it would have been nice to see you more. I was a sensitive and inquisitive child and would have loved to talk things out with you. My sea of emotions and thoughts – to bounce it off someone safe and loving.

Once I saw your car in our apartment parking space and I couldn’t believe it. YOU WERE HOME FROM WORK! BEFORE DARK! I ran home the rest of the block, excited beyond belief.

My MOMMY WAS HOME!

Then I quickly realized that something was very very wrong. You were lying on the couch, eyes glazed over in shock. You were only home because you had been held at knifepoint at the store that day.  Daddy sitting by on the other couch, making compassionate sounds, looking downright dejected.

Perhaps this is why I chose to stay home despite so many doubts on the hard, crazy days. I wanted time with my kids, above all else. I wanted to raise my own little morsels these early years, despite the high highs and low lows of motherhood.

Umma, this is getting too long. And I’m scared the boys will wake up. I love and celebrate you today.

History is repeating itself with me immigrating from California to New York, doing this motherhood thing without an extended family, but you actually left your home COUNTRY to immigrate to this wacky land where kids talk back to their parents and are given timeouts or “consequences.”  Unlike you, at least I can communicate and be heard.  And unlike you, I didn’t lose my mama while still in high school.

Today, on your birthday, I am taking this lunch hour to appreciate what you went through.

I wish I could travel back in time to tell you you were doing a damn good job.

Hope to celebrate your next birthday in person.

Love,

Your One and Only Daughter,

Jihee

photo (9)

Watch the Road, Warren G(hee)!: Combating Envy and Its Cousins

I didn’t think I was going to sweat a year-end post because I just don’t have the time or mental capacity to do it in the next few days. Reflect? What’s that? I used to do a lot of that but reflecting and processing seem like a real luxury these days.

I don’t know how I ended up posting a few casual pics of my family on Facebook for Christmas. They weren’t LIES per se as those were moments from my family’s holidays, but emotionally speaking, uh, yeah, they were lies.

I wanted to be part of Social Media’s Christmas, y’all. Even as a believer who believes that Jesus is truly the Reason for the Season, I wanted to throw up a few cute pics and be part of that other merriment that YOU PEOPLE seem to be partaking in. Sure, we also partook but oh, there was some pain, some deep, eviscerating pain.

I didn’t want to write about the pain because I’m still in the thick of it, and maybe I’ve been in the thick of it most of 2013.

So after throwing up some pics and scrolling through my Newsfeed instead of processing what is going on inside me these days, I saw an irate status update from a new acquaintance, someone I would like to go sit down for tea with. It caught my eye in the midst of many junk posts (mostly dominated by Huffington Post articles). It was one of the rarer raw updates I’ve seen, especially during this season of Merry-Merry-Happy-Happy-Shiny-Ornaments-Look-at-My-Family.

She was venting about her relative who was comparing her to her cousins and using each relative as a standard for who she should become.

What a way to build up someone at a Christmas gathering.

And boom, after I wrote to her, I had to grab my laptop and start writing this.

Why do folks feel free to size up someone so easily based on all the drivel on paper? To compare someone to someone else who is making a fat salary or has a spouse and a few kids? So what? You don’t know the full arc of someone’s life. How dare you make someone feel Less Than? Have you ever truly wanted to become someone’s friend based on things On Paper?

If I’m trying to reach anyone in that paragraph, I’m actually yelling at myself. I had to face a lot of demons in 2013. Still trying to exorcise them.

In many ways, it was a disgusting year for me. I dunno how to describe it because I’m still going through it but here’s an attempt: I think my soul became septic from comparing, or envy or something akin to it. I’ve been hard on myself ever since I was a little girl, maybe even a toddler, but it got worse this year.

First, I noticed I started to rebel against gratitude here and there. It was too in my face. Too preachy. So trendy. Too easy. Too Live Your Best Life.

“Count your blessings!” Yeah, I already do, thank you, but May I Please Just Feel? Something other than constant, unwavering gratitude?

Of course I can be grateful…until I couldn’t. And when I took pause on practicing gratitude actively and regularly, I began to choke.

When I was stressing about my Ellis’ Doljanchi (Korean First Birthday Feast), one of my most supportive friends tried to get me to see the big picture as I worried about details that only a mama can tend to. She said something about how I shouldn’t forget that my birthday boy is so healthy and blessed, not sick like so many other kids, and I have this privilege of planning his first birthday, not some somber event. Trying to get me to see the forest, not the trees and leaves that needed raking.

Of course I knew in my head that this was just some minor event planning for such a celebratory occasion but I tend to get overwhelmed because I can’t slow down my mind and I snowball with a dozen other lists I have to check off while wrangling the kids.

I confessed, I was Warren Motherf*cking G(hee) in that moment because I seen plenty of peers just as blessed as me with their own healthy kids…plus amenities…LOTS of amenities.

I want it all; money, healthy kee-ids
Diamond rings, big houses and parking spaces
Shit, every damn thing
I want it all; houses, expenses
My own cleaning lady, a sitter, hmm, and a couple o’ Benz’s
I want it all; brand new socks and drawls
And I’m ballin everytime I stop and talk to y’all
I want it all, all, all, all
I want it all, all, all, all, all

So this year was ugly for me. This whole comparing business – something I’ve always struggled with, but 2013 brought on a bad flare-up. Whether it was in real life or on my Facebook Newsfeed, I started feeling sorry for myself and becoming really bitter that I didn’t have what others took for granted. Not just material things but yes, some material things, too. Major house envy. Major date night envy. Craving beauty and luxury. Wanting a long break from the day-to-day drudgery of raising young ‘uns.

And envy makes you downright ugly. Ain’t no one lookin’ beautiful when eyerolling. A lotta, “I bet she wouldn’t even know what to do if she had to watch her kids on her own all the time,” or, “MUST BE NICE! Free date night every freaking week! Y’all must have a way better marriage than us sad sacks.” Isolating myself because I was judging like a fiend and didn’t feel safe sharing my thoughts even with my closest friends. Only allowing those who have more to deal with than me to speak on being tired or overwhelmed. No one wants to be known as a Debbie Downer.

And I keep feeling like I have to couch everything with, “I KNOW I AM BLESSED with my little family of four, aight!?” I want permission to feel. Without explaining myself.

Back to my acquaintance on Facebook. What is up with this tendency to compare? It was so hurtful to me when my parents did it but I’m already doing it to my kids. “Why don’t you eat well like your brother? You want people to think Ellis is the big brother because he eats so well and will grow so big?” “You don’t see the other kids in the shopping cart trying to jump around!?”

I have someone in my life, by way of marriage, who is especially hurtful to me. She likes to tell me innocent stories of women who get paid, women who are not stay-at-home moms and burdens to their husbands, of relatives who get paid, of relatives who share what they get paid with her. She judges people according to zip codes and salaries and I am always feeling Less Than for my choices.

And it makes me livid.

Like Teresa Giudice Livid where I have to take deep, cleansing breaths.

When my Micah started scootin’ around on his little scooter, he would always look back at me, to see if I’m watching. I would shout, “Watch the road, Micah! Watch the road or else you will fall!”

I have to watch the road in 2014.

Easier said than done. But I have to watch MY road and not look at others’ seemingly better paved roads. And I’m not going to pressure myself to not notice others’ lives at all because I am part of society and I live amongst y’all but I don’t want to allow something evil to take root while I’m gazing at others’ roads.

Kevin also challenged me with a nugget. When this relative struck recently over the holidays and I was reeling from anger, he asked me what I was feeling. He wants me to practice Naming My Feelings. I found out recently that for such a self-aware and emotional person, I don’t know how I actually FEEL beyond the surface emotion of Anger.

I kept saying that I was so hurt and so angry. But why? How does someone else have such influence over my feelings of worth? Hmmm….

So as we start off anew in 2014, I would like to Watch The Road more and better Name That Feeling. And read some more Bible and meaty, smart books about my worth not being dictated by others.

And lay off that Facebook Newsfeed. (But ummmm, feel free to hollaaa if you gots comments on this post, ‘nah mean?)

Christmas Culture Shock: Learning How to Be Merry

It’s not like I set out to feel sorry for myself during the holidays.

It actually didn’t make sense to me, my holiday blues, especially considering that I now have my own little family. Clean slate. Opportunities to create our own traditions.

Perhaps it’s the extra festive holiday decorations here in NYC and the cold winter air as I embark upon my fourth Christmas with a family of my very own that triggers some childhood longings.

Growing up in Los Angeles, the holidays didn’t feel as dramatic. Maybe because we didn’t have a winter and because my parents had to work extra long hours at the store on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

I never doubted their love for me just because they had to work hard and couldn’t be an afterschool TV special. Showering you with “I love you’s” isn’t the only way to express love for your child.

One of the stores they owned while I was a little girl was a Chinese takeout joint called Chop Suey House near Compton, CA (though we 100% Korean). My mom cooked her fried rice and egg foo young on a huge black wok, in a bare bones kitchen with no air conditioning. It was truly hell, that oppressive heat she had to endure for up to 12 hours a day. She sweat so much that she wasted away to 90-something pounds. She interacted with her customers through a small cut-out window big enough to pass cash and food through.

My dad worked the store with her, too, but the most prominent memory is of my mom wearing a red bandana over her hairnet, to soak up her sweat, donning her ubiquitous, grease-stained apron. Some of our customers called my dad “Bruce Lee.” There was a funeral parlor across the street and customers would come order Combination #2 after burying their loved ones, all too often victims of shootings, sometimes young children.

“I’m not doing too good, Bruce Lee, man. I just had to bury my baby.”

This was our reality.

Other than for our presence in the neighborhood, it was 100% Black or it sure was in my memories. My brother and I killed red ants with the neighborhood kids and they taught us about Frito Lays with chili and cheese. Many of their loved ones were killed or incarcerated. We, ironically, were like a TV family to them because we got to spend so much time with our mom and dad after school.

The holidays were a time when we were supposed to be extra merry but for me, it just felt like a time where we didn’t measure up especially when I started to get bussed into a gifted magnet school where many of my classmates were well off, maybe even affluent, with parents working in Hollywood or they themselves taking a stab at becoming child actors.

‘Twas the season to make my parents feel bad. They had to work longer hours around the holidays, whether it was Chop Suey House or the small gift shops they later owned in predominantly Latino spots around Los Angeles.

I remember my mom looking at me apologetically and saying, “Jihee-yah. I’m sorry we didn’t get to give you real presents this year.”

And I didn’t like my mama having to feel sorry. I knew she loved me. Punk ass holidays makin’ my parents feel bad when they had no choice but to work like dogs during this season.

They still managed to put up our small fake tree and tried to make it somewhat merry.

The holidays made me feel so alien. Were other families really gathering around such beautiful scenes I saw only on TV? Did other families not have relatives and friends to gather with, other than their little nuclear family? (We did have second cousins but we were the Other Family among a tight knit bunch).

Big dinner parties, cousins running around, shopping for presents, going to pick out a Christmas tree. Apple cider, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, eggnog? Almost each family scene on the hit series “Parenthood” (don’t get me started on their huge wreath I had to hit “pause” on my DVR for). Really? I wished I could be a fly on the wall in other families’ living rooms to see what went down. Or maybe what I saw would make me feel even worse.

We would try our best to have a Thanksgiving meal together or make Christmas special in our own way, but we seemed to be missing the true spirit of merriment and joy. Different dynamics at play within our family, namely my dad’s own disappointments with his immigrant life and related frustrations. We were winging it, wishing my dad could be happier, and most holiday traditions, like the turkey and the presents, felt like they were something we “should” do because Americans / happy families did it, not necessarily something we truly looked forward to.

I almost felt relief when we turned the page on our calendars that the Korean bank or market handed out each year, and it would be an ordinary day in January, not a holiday where you SHOULD be extra merry.

(I am grateful for the traditions we did keep up, like going to a movie the weekend after Thanksgiving or attending New Year’s Eve candlelight services at church).

So it’s not surprising that the last couple Christmases, I have had to fight a melancholy that washes over me, trying not to succumb to the dark beckoning to go into fetal position in the bedroom I share with my second son. Wanting my family to be truly joyful. To feel the spirit of the season.

That same sense of not knowing how to celebrate and Be Merry. Feeling lonely again. Feeling like an outsider peering into the windows of others’ living rooms when I hear about friends whose parents went crazy for the holidays, even having Christmas trees in every room. Or hearing about decorating the house as soon as the Thanksgiving meal was devoured.

Fancy tablecloths, centerpieces, table runners, holiday cookies, trading wish lists with relatives, and tree skirts.

We are now trying the best that we can. Telling the kids about the birth of Jesus. About Hope. And gratitude. About how much we love them and feel honored to spend the holidays with them.

Customized stockings for each member of our family. A live Christmas tree (turns out I really like the Frasier fir variety we picked up this year). Going to meet Santa. Letting the kids pick out one ornament each year. Driving out to neighborhoods that go all out. Maybe starting a new tradition like new pajamas gifted on Christmas Eve.

My parents did what they can and when in survival mode, celebrating doesn’t quite make it on the priority list.

As for me and my new family, I want celebrating and merriment to be at the TOP on our priority list. It doesn’t come naturally to me because I missed it growing up, but I realize now that I yearned for it SO much as a very emotional little girl and even now as an emotional and wistful adult.

“My mom made the holidays magical for us.” I want that to be part of my legacy for our family.

P.S. Something as simple as the smell of this Frasier fir and someone who covers me with a blanket of love like my babies’ daddy has already healed some of my holiday wounds.

Christmas Eve 2012, Macy's, NYC

Christmas Eve 2012, Macy’s, NYC

Christmas 2012 - I advocate for the installment of Christmas shellfish as a new tradition.

Christmas 2012 – I advocate for the installment of Christmas shellfish as a new tradition.

December 2012 - EZ just over 2 months old in his Christmas pj's handed down from his not-so-big Big Bro

December 2012 – EZ just over 2 months old in his Christmas pj’s handed down from his not-so-big Big Bro

Our Christmas card in 2012.  A tradition I will allow us to take pause in here and there, if it becomes just one more thing we SHOULD do.

Our Christmas card in 2012. A tradition I will allow us to take pause in here and there, if it becomes just one more thing we SHOULD do.