Recipient of Goodness – Thanksgiving 2017

My favorite Sunday of the year is Testimony Sunday, the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

This past Sunday was that Sunday.  After three New Lifers shared their very different stories of gratitude and hope, Pastor Rich told us that being grateful, simply saying “thanks,” is different from living a life marked by gratitude.

He shared this definition of gratitude:  *Gratitude is a knowing awareness that we are the recipients of goodness.*

As Thanksgiving and my firstborn’s birthday is upon us, I wanted to shout out Olive, who is a living, cooing reminder that we have received a tangible outpouring of goodness Memorial Sunday 2017:

Dear Olive Hope Kim,

Thank you for being Thanksgiving personified for our family this year.

During tough times, choosing to be grateful all the dang time was a challenge, a challenge I wanted to rebel against.  Other times, it is too easy.

This year, you make it too easy.  When I think of you, see you, smell you, hear you, let you sleep in my armpit when you creep over from your crib, you mark me with gratitude. Even now, you are perched on your tummy on your playmat next to me as I type and when we meet eyes, you beam at me.

I just saw a picture on Facebook from a few years ago, a picture of our family of four, when you were just a fantasy I thought I needed to put to bed because…c’mon now!

Thank you for joining us.  Thank you for allowing us to experience baby joy all over again.  Thank you for filling our cluttered household with awe, even with the overstuffed diaper bag that your dad went from saying, “Never again.  It is finished,” to “Do we have enough diapers in there?”

When I see your brothers surround you, joke with you, hold you, my hands raise to the heavens as a reflex.  Thank You, thank You, thank You, Lord.

Thank you for making it seem like there was never a time before you.  Thank you for reminding us that there is still good and blessing in this world as I watch terrible current events unfold.  While I was watching news about the Vegas shooting on 10/2, the morning after your Ellis brother’s 5th birthday, you rolled over for the first time.  What a contrast:  the evil that lurks everywhere and a still-pure you, rolling over in the safety of our cozy apartment.

Watching you grow into a real human will be one of the top five periods of my life I will reminisce about in my old age.  Sure, I’m tired and now that it’s cold, I’m carrying All the Jackets and I can’t get past the tables at the library or in the aisles of T.J. Maxx.

Some days, especially from school pick-up through bedtime, I want to yell or actually yell at your excitable brothers who seem to have hearing problems when I speak.  Then I’ll catch a glimpse of you lying around in some corner of our living room, beaming like we are celebrities, or searching the room with your bright eyes, moaning for somebody to come poke you in the belly or just pay you some mind, and then I’ll be back at Thank You, thank You, thank You, Lord.

Right now, there is no separate Olive and Mommy.  You are an extension of me wherever I go.  Even at church, when Daddy asks to hold you, I miss you and I want to feel your warm body back in my arms, gazing at me and punching my chest as you nurse.

Your precious infanthood is already almost halfway done and it isn’t hard for me to cherish every moment, as the cliche goes, because I now know all too well how fast it goes before I’m chasing you at the playground and trying not to say something I’ll regret.

Under a Friendsgiving tarp this past Sunday, with the rain beating down, your dad decided to dance with you while he was holding you.  He told me that he got teary-eyed as he imagined dancing with you decades down the line, Lord willing, perhaps under a tarp with loved ones, and you still beaming at him.

I’m done typing now so I can hold you, our Thanksgiving star.  Publishing now before our laptop crashes again.

Love,

Mommy

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This is Us, Season 2, Episode 5 “Brothers”

I have to write about “This is Us.”

I tried not to because so many recaps and fan comments are already out there, and I get impatient when I have to recap something but during a recent episode, two episodes ago, the one that aired on Halloween (?),  I had to pause the recorded episode more than usual, to let some feelings sink in.

***SPOILER ALERT***

We see a flashback to Young Boy Jack waiting in the passenger seat of his dad’s car, while the dad is getting drunk at a bar in broad daylight, where his boy can see him.  Jack looks sad and disappointed, but also like he’s had to endure this sh*t before.  Suddenly, a younger boy pops up from the backseat, adjusting his glasses after waking up from a deep car nap.  Jack has a little brother.

I wish we hadn’t deleted this episode from our DVR because I want to know exactly what Jack said that got me intensely feeling some feelings and screaming, “Pause it right there, ermagawd, pause.  I can’t take it.”  He tries to comfort his little brother about how even though the dad isn’t there, he (big bro) is there so little brother need not be afraid.

Now, this is why this show will drag me back to therapy or serve as some bootleg therapy or both.

That moment that may not have done anything for other viewers touched me.

It took me back to my own childhood when my parents were not yet home past the usual time they were supposed to be home.  We were latchkey kids because my parents had to work long hours at whatever small business they owned at the time.  My parents mourned this often, the fact that their choice to immigrate to this country resulted in a latchkey life for their two young kids, after my dad’s employer in Korea went belly up.

When they were late getting home at an already late hour, my brother would start to get scared, whimpering, “Nunah, what if something happened to them?  What if they got into a car accident?  Why aren’t they home?  What if they never come home?”  I would try to calm him down by trying to distract him or divert his attention (good training for motherhood) but ultimately, my brother would start crying.

I would even try to coax him to fall asleep so that when he woke up, he would wake up to my parents being there.

I wanted to cry, too, and not have to front.  I wanted to slap some bravery into my brother as I was secretly a-quiver with fear and his free falling tears were too much for me.  I wanted someone to comfort me but I had to be Small Mommy, my nickname.

Jack’s moment of comforting his little brother struck a chord deep within my 41 year-old heart because it took me back to remembering that feeling, how my body felt heavy and unmoored, feeling just as scared as my little brother, but having to fake the funk in order to comfort him.

I didn’t want my brother to know that I was also just a kid who was wondering if something had happened to my parents, the parents I wished I could talk to about my day at school, share my constant stream of thoughts and observations with, and all the tender emotions I carried with me.

When Adult Jack woke up in the middle of the night to dig up an old photo of him in the military, surprising us viewers by showing us his grown up little brother in the same photo, still wearing those heavy-framed glasses, looking very much like the sibling who needed protection from the world, I was undone.  “Pause it again, Kevin.  Pause!”

Siblings share the same family experiences, joys and burdens alike, so I used to say, “Shouldn’t we turn out the same?”  I learned that though we are part of the same family unit, we still are different individuals with different defining moments and constitutions, with different relationships within the same family.

So we all get to write different endings.  I’m just glad that my brother and I still get to be in the middle, not the end, and just like the White Saviour Judge said on last night’s episode:

“Can you find me a different ending to your story?”

We don’t have to be stuck in the same family roles or repeat the same dysfunctions that our well-meaning parents passed down to us.

I love that every day is a chance at a new beginning, middle and end.  The beauty of this show is that it takes me back to my own childhood, tiny yet grand moments I would not have revisited or processed because everyday is a flurry of raising our own Big Three.

Every Tuesday night, after our blessings go to bed, I don’t have to be The Mom.  I get to visit my inner child and see how she’s doing.

I love you, NBC’s This is Us.  Thank you.

 

 

The Power of “Me, Too”

Two weekends ago, I had to call my girlfriend from Six Flags to pray for and with me.  Because we’ve had our own disjointed, shorthand, can-talk-over-each-other language since seventh grade, she is the only friend I can still call without feeling like I am disrupting someone’s busy weekend, even though I *was* disrupting her as she set up for her daughter’s birthday party.

As soon as I heard her voice, I started crying, still holding Olive, first trying to find half a bench to sit on, then pacing so that I can have some privacy away from the benched Funnel Cakers.  I was holding her awkwardly, trying to keep her out of the sun while the sun kept following us.

After wasting our time yelling at each other and NOT hearing each other, Kevin had taken the boys to a different section of the park.  I felt abandoned but looking back, it allowed me to catch my breath and stop raging in front of the kids.

I was grateful that Olive was too young to later say, “Remember that time Mommy was crying at Six Flags?”

I continued to my friend:

“…on top of all that, I am now spiraling, feeling like WTF is wrong with me, looking around this dang park with today’s perfect SoCal-like weather and everyone taking selfies, Funnel Caking and heeheehee, able to enjoy themselves.

I feel like a f*cking failure ‘cuz I couldn’t put our fight on pause like a mature ass adult and parent but girl, I just felt so unheard and still do.  No matter how many times I tried, I could NOT just ‘snap out it,’ take a deep breath and re-emerge as Mom who is able to Funnel Cake and Batman ride right now!”

My friend and I talked over each other, which is what we do.  I told her that rehashing it won’t get us anywhere so let’s just pray.  But before she prayed, she shared with me, “STOP!  Stop it.  LOOK, I been there!  And it is OK that you couldn’t collect yourself to take your kids to the rides as a family.  It’s not fair to put such a time pressure on yourself for being OK.  It’s OK to show your kids that Mommy had to go collect herself and yes, even at Six Flags.  And if you think you the only one melting down, trust me.  Some of these families you comparing yourself to?  They already had their meltdowns on the way in or will have them later as they leave.”

She also shared just how “been there” she been, which helped spare me from beating myself up even more.  All while speed-talking before her girl’s birthday party.

Of course, as a friend, she couldn’t just co-sign on all my bad habits.  She did acknowledge that I can work on some thangs, but she let me know that I was not the only mom who had failed.  In this age where phone calls are obsolete, I’m so glad I was able to reach her.

Also, this past week, I’ve been chatting online with some dear mom friends and the power and beauty of that chat was all in the “Me, too.”

Sometimes, a “Me, too” is more life-giving than any, “I’ll pray for you” or “Have you ever considered…?” or “At least you…”  (Actually, no one enjoys an “At least you…” ever).

And I don’t know why my self-talk can be so damn mean.  “Snap out of it” is the worst message, something I would never tell anyone else after being told that when I suffered from clinical depression decades ago.

I don’t know about others but I am my own harshest critic and I would like to work on that.  If I don’t check myself and remind myself aloud, like Stuart Smalley on SNL, my negative self-talk can be downright fatal.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“How come other moms don’t experience such a range of emotions?  Why are you so extra?!”

“How come I’m not more like Kevin?  He can handle so much more.”

“How is that other mom so damn calm?  Does she ever yell?!”

And in the darkest moments, “What if my kids are better off without me?”

I’ve constantly asked myself, even on this blog, why I am prone to confessions while some are never prone to any self-deprecation.

I think I’ve always been drawn to the power of “Me, too,” to help others (and myself) know that we are ALL broken.

Sometimes, I hear church folk talkin’ about how we are all broken but for the life of me, I can’t imagine this person in front of me ever breaking down.  So when someone shares their weakness, it is downright life-giving.

This is why I can relate to addicts and recovery programs, though I have not been an addict myself – the opportunity and ability to share low moments with each other, to remind each other regularly that we all struggle.

And to be clear, “Me, too” is not to be mistaken for having a pity party where we bring each other down and stay there, or excuse bad habits together but to remind each other that we can be imperfect, that there is always more grace.

We can fail in big and small ways, but as long as breathe air in and out of our different-shaped nose holes, we can seek redemption for moments and narratives we want to shed.  And one thing is for sure:  we will mess up again, and His mercies abound.

Lamentations 3:21-23 “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

 

If These Walls Could Talk

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

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

Goodbye to our first home as parents.

Seven years, three babies, 900 square feet.

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

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

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

What words

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

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

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

“The New House” by Maya Angelou

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6.24.17 (photo credit:  Keri Tan Photography)

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Musings in the March Snow

While we were in Orlando, my 96 year-old down-the-hall neighbor, Charlie, passed away.  We missed the funeral because we didn’t see the memo until we belatedly checked our tiny mailbox.

Charlie was the neighbor who came up to me a few years ago while I was running out to take out the trash.  His wife had just passed away and his grief was raw.  He hadn’t planned to come up to this Mama down the hall but the grief was so overwhelming that he shared with someone he had never spoken to before – “I just lost my wife.  We were married for ____ years.  I don’t know what to do.”

I dropped my trash and gave him a huge hug as tears escaped from both our eyes.  I told him later that sometimes I take my baby to Forest Hills Park and that he can walk with us but he was too frail.  I kept seeing him around with his full-time caregiver and dutiful son.

I ran into his son on Queens Blvd. while walking to the boys’ school this week and I grabbed his forearm to tell him how sorry we were for his loss.  His 60 something(?) year-old son had shared with me once, “I don’t know how family live so far away from each other.  I am so close to both my parents and always lived a building away from them.”

He told me that he was present at both his parents’ deaths and that they parted while holding his hand.

Growing up, I knew that my dad equated success with being a world traveler and adventurer.  He immigrated to the U.S. after falling in love with it on a business trip.  He always said that children should go far away for college instead of being sheltered and fearful, only confident at home.

He was disappointed when I didn’t get into Harvard.  I applied, for his sake, Early Admissions and got Early Rejected.  He never hid the fact that he thought my going away “just” to UC Berkeley, a one hour flight away from home / six hour drive, was not grand enough.

And because I always chase (chased?) after my dad’s approval, I believed the same.

But when I spent a few minutes talking to my recently deceased neighbor’s son on the street this week, I realized that my beliefs have changed.

After the boys go to sleep and Kevin and I get to unwind, one of us can’t resist going back into their tiny room to gaze at or squeeze them, especially after an episode of “This is Us.”  It’s like having a cartoon rotisserie chicken asleep on the bottom bunk, and a scrumptious pork belly slider tucked in in the top bunk.  Irresistible.

I no longer define success as globe-trotting  and being as far away from family though I drool at my globe-trotting friends’ adventures in lands I have to Google.  I would love for my rotisserie chicken and crispy pork children to traipse the entire globe…then return to home base to share as much of their lives with me as they will allow.

I will be waiting.

RIP neighbor Charlie.  I am so glad that Art had the privilege of holding your hand as he ushered you into eternity.

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Like Sands Through the Hourglass…

FullSizeRender (5)FullSizeRender (6)FullSizeRender (7)FullSizeRender (8)IMG_2438FullSizeRender (9)FullSizeRender (10)FullSizeRender (11)When deliberating where to go for our last hurrah vacation as a family of four, we were able to narrow it down to L.A. vs. Orlando.  Thankfully, we didn’t have too many options to cull through as our passports have not been renewed and other Florida spots were known for Zika outbreaks.  As much as we would have loved to go back to my hometown, we opted for Orlando as Escaping the Cold and Relaxation were our #1 priorities.

You know how we all say, “Where has the time gone!?”?  I can recall a few moments from this delightful break where I actually could pinpoint my kids growing up before my very eyes.

As much as our Wild Florida Airboat ride, Gator and Wildlife Park, Legoland, Crayola Experience, and other excursions made the trip fun and memorable, I replayed the precious growth moments over and over in my head during our week together.  They may sound mundane but I still recall them vividly:

When we arrived at Crayola Experience on the one rainy day of the week, I immediately looked for a bench to hobble towards as I had been having acute back pain.  It was so bad that we looked into renting an Electric Convenience Vehicle at Legoland.  Anyways, the boys were dancing in front of some moving crayon images while I watched.  Suddenly, a massive group of students on fieldtrip entered the space between the boys and me, while Kevin was in the admissions line.  I still had my eye on them but they could not see me.  I craned my neck to keep my eye on them and watched as Micah’s face morphed from slight panic to great resolve.

“Ellis, come!” Micah looked ever firstborn in that split second as he grabbed his compliant little bro’s hand and starting walking away from the crowd.

“Micah!  Mommy still sees you!  Where you going?  I never lost sight of you.”

Micah, looking relieved: “I was taking us to the workers to report that we had lost our mom.”  (Of course I thought about the movie, “Lion,” all over again.  Gulp.)

For some reason, this moment has left a mark on my heart.  My boy is growing up.  I don’t see the drooly toddler who soaked through 15 bibs a day, no exaggerating, as we watched the big kindergardeners go off to school.  This is a bonafide big brother who snatched his cheeky little brother when he thought that this was finally the moment his mom had warned him about, “If you ever get lost, go up to someone who works there OR go up to another mom!”

He is ready to become Big Bro of two.

Second moment:  When we hit the pool, Ellis usually asks one of us to hold him as he gets adjusted to the water.  I didn’t realize how much I savored that babyish habit until this time, in our Orlando pool, he said, “I don’t need you any more, Mom-oo!”

I paused to take the moment in.  “My Pillow Cheeks has grown up so much.  You don’t even need Mommy any more!”  I sheepishly swam away backwards while facing him to watch him grow before my very eyes.  He must have felt this moment too as he added, “I don’t need you.  But I still want you.”

And the final moment was at the airport.  We were strapped for time as I had kept us another 15 minutes at Disney Springs.  Instead of trying to manage with my jacked back, one sleeping Ellis, and too many bags for Kevin and Micah to carry on their own, we flagged down a porter.  When I told the porter our flight time, he said, “We have to hurry.”

But I could not hurry.  I could hardly walk as I felt stabbing pain on my lower back, even with a belly / back brace on.  The rest of my family ran with the porter.  I tried my best but I could only walk.  My eyes started watering from the pain and I looked up to see my Micah’s concerned face.  “My mom…she can’t run.  She’s coming.  Mommy, you can do it, you can do it!”

Now, my eyes were watering from the love my growing boy had for me as I hobbled to keep up.  I always imagine him from a few years back, where I did everything for him.  I guess it didn’t dawn on me that as he grows up, he will be the one cheering ME on.  I had underestimated the six year old boy before me.

His stricken look didn’t go away until I was able to join them in the elevator to make our flight.  I realized that our family being together was just as important to the kids as it was to us.

Thank you, Orlando, the host of our precious moments!  Happy 40th Birthday to Kevin, who took care of all of us on the trip!

 

 

That Raccoon Life

A few of my years attending UC Berkeley for undergrad was spent in a house on Dwight Way.  I remember my roommates and I talking about the new nuisance on the block:  Raccoons!  While adorable in children’s storybooks, far from adorable when stumbling upon them in real life.

One of my housemates came home reporting another raccoon sighting:  “Eww, the guys across the street at Americana said that at night, they caught a FAMILY of raccoons going for a night swim!  Can you imagine?  So gross!”

As I tried to fall asleep that night, visions of the raccoon family took hold of me.  As much as I was anti-raccoon, the vivid image of the family going for a swim captured my heart.  Not gross at all.

Were the raccoon parents immigrants?  What was their story?  When did the parents get together?  The dad must have told his buddies, proudly, that he can’t go foraging with them that night because he was going to take his family swimming.  The kids were probably excited all day for their moonlit swim.

I pictured the dad looking at a map for the best swim holes Berkeley had to offer, researching how to get there and weighing the pros and cons between Clark Kerr pool and the more humble pool at Americana apartments.

I imagined the mom making some kimbahb and packing some trash for their midnight excursion.  The kids were not helpful but their excitement was contagious.  When the coast was clear and the loud humans were off to bed, the dad must have let out a high pitched whistle with his black lips and leathery black fingers,  waving one bandit hand, “It’s time.  Dive on in, guys!”

For some reason, this raccoon family I had not even encountered for myself during my college days, left an imprint in my brain.  I especially pictured the leader of the pack, the family-oriented Dad, creating some merriment for his brood.

Yesterday, despite the cold, hail, rain, and slushy Slurpee streets of NYC, Kevin and I were determined to go for a swim together.  His gym was offering two hours of Family Fun time where we could all go swimming as part of his membership.  This would entail some planning in order to make it in time.

Pack our swim stuff the night before, to take on the E train into Midtown.

Attend church.  Leave stuff in car for easier transport to subway.

Buy empanadas for speedy lunch on the run.

Drop off car in our lot.  Confirm with gym that their pool is open.  Take swim stuff and position onto Ellis’ stroller and have him sit in stroller so our massive belongings don’t tip over.

Walk to subway stop without slipping.  Especially Mommy and her Belly.

Wait for Sunday E train and remind boys to stay in the middle of the platform.

Hop on train.  Grab seats as they become available.  Kevin scarf down a few empanadas he could not eat while driving us home.

Pop out of train and maneuver umbrellas.  Walk to gym as more freezing rain pours down.

Laugh at how we really must like adventures and wonder if others would even bother to do this for a free family swim or just say, “Haiiiill nah!”

Sign waivers, change into swimsuits and meet at the pool.

Kevin told me to get my lap swim on while he frolicked with the kids in the loafer lane.  The kids were beaming.  Their wet seal heads bobbed up and down.  Daddy took them on rides on his back.

As I swam towards them, my eyes teared up behind my goggles.  They looked…not unlike…the raccoon family of my college imaginings.  I hadn’t thought about that raccoon family in years but there they were, every bit as tight as I had imagined.  Turns out that the dad had a gym membership!

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post swim foraging

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post swim ride home – feeling relaxed and happy and hungry