The Middle

I’ve swallowed up whole blog posts in my mind.

I have stories after stories churning in my head yet I tell myself that they should only be emailed to myself to share with my grown kids in the future or jotted down in a journal I only use twice a month at my writers’ group.

But what’s the fun in that?  So I decided to post a couple here, even though I always have this fear of being insufferable, too in love with my kids.  But hey, that is a part of who I am these days, as much as I find some aspects of motherhood beyond difficult (that’s ANOTHER post in the mental pipeline).

So, just a heads up that this post is for family and the few friends who have any interest in our kids:

My middle.  My E.Z. aka Emoji, Expressive Ellis, Ellis the Entertainer.  I once remarked to Kevin, “I can’t ever call him Mahng-Neh (“Last baby” in Korean) because I just don’t FEEL that he is.  And if anything, he would be perfectly suited to take on the difficult middle child role because he could never be a neglected wallflower, with those eyes and that personality.  Yeah, yeah, all this crazy talk about fantasy third kid, I know.”

Fast forward few years later and daggone, words have power.  He ended up becoming the middle child.  My impossible to ignore Middle.

Last month, we were in the elevator with an older woman.  Our new building is much friendlier.  This woman studied baby Olive and commented, “This one.  She is very smart.”  Then she looked up at the two boys who were shyly watching her watching their sister.  “These.  Look at their eyes.  All very smart.”

I responded, “Great to hear compliments about my kids but I have to ask.  How can you tell?”

She answered, “Believe me.  I am a retired pediatrician.  I know these things.  Enjoy your evening.”

After she left and the elevator door closed, Ellis immediately blurted out, “I’m retired.  Mostly tired.”

My body froze for a moment.  This humor!  I gotta book his comedy tour now.  I might have a fledgling comedian in my care.

When I made a big deal about his little joke, Micah explained that it was a direct quote from the Angry Birds movie.  So it wasn’t original material but this dude has a way of inserting a quote at the exact right time to yield maximum laughter.

He is loyal and vocal.  During a classroom visit, he ran up to a Class Mom to ask for a straw for the jack-o-lantern craft.  I told him that he already had a straw to cut up.  He explained that his friend at the next table didn’t.

And boy, I can relate to how he gets fixated on something.  Right now, he has an acute fear of college, this place that kids grow up to attend,  to LIVE APART from their families.  He said, “Even though I try not to, I keep thinking about it and I can’t just think about something else, like you told me to.  Even during school, I think about college and I get scared.”  As he plays Legos with his brother, I can overhear him include this in the plotline, “Son, you going to college!”

One weekend, I was taking him to an activity when he said, “I want to be a doctor.”

I told him, “Well, that’s pretty cool.  But you can always change your mind because you’re still young and other things may interest you.  Also, to become a doctor, you have to go to lots of school and study lots of science.”

“Yeah, and I know I can’t spend enough time with my wife so maybe not.”

“Excuse me?  Where did you hear this?  Did you have a doctor guest speaker tell you that?”

“No!  I just know these things!”

“Oh, and what made you want to become a doctor?  I’m so curious because Mommy and Daddy never wanted to become a doctor.”

“Well, I want to help people.  When I got a flu shot and I did uh, ya know, controlllll and holding it in, to not cry even though I was scared, that doctor was helping me not to get the flu.”

I come undone daily because of this spunky yet sensitive guy.  Sometimes, he does feel sad because he said it is obvious that Mommy loves baby the most because she needs me the most, and that he wishes he could be born again as a baby so I can hold him lots.

I have to set aside some one-on-one time for him, and reassure him that he is my babyest boy forever.





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.


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.



Guest Post: An Almost-Reflection on Election Day 2016

It’s been more than five years since Kevin’s last guest post.  In 2012, he wrote about Linsanity.  As Election Day is upon us again, here’s Kevin reflecting on last year’s Presidential Election, the patriarchy, and the “Me, Too” movement:

Last November, on the eve of the Presidential Election, I had thought all along that Trump would win, but finally, on the day of the election,  I trusted the projections and like most of the country, thought that I was about to witness the election of our first female President.

I was writing a piece about how the election of our first female President would fool us into thinking we had now successfully risen above the patriarchy and sexism.

The result of the election made the piece irrelevant so I never published it, but the sentiment behind it is not.

As a society we desperately cling to flash points to make us feel like we have made progress and conquered another one of our societal demons.  For example, there were many who tried to make the election of Barack Obama THE turning point of racial relations in this country.  And yes, while we have made progress in race relations since the Civil Rights Era, the senseless and heartbreaking deaths of Eric Garner and too many other Black males at the hands of police tore open hidden fissures in our society and exposed gaping wounds.

The same thing is going on with our attitudes towards women.   While Hillary Clinton’s loss took away a flash point to make society pat ourselves on the back with our advancement in the field of gender equality, we have desperately looked for others.

We celebrate female athletes (UConn Basketball, Serena Williams), the staggering attendance at the Women’s March on Washington, or the rise of powerful female celebrities (Beyonce, Oprah, Amy Schumer) in order for us to say that we as a society are going in the right direction.  It is a powerful narrative and important because we have improved as a society and the way forward can be seen.  But to do so blindly, we miss the areas in which we lack.

The recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly and Billy Cosby reveal an area in which we have racial harmony and bipartisanship.  Regardless of your skin color or political party, men have a problem with women.  Namely, men like to have sex with women and will use force to get what they want.  And while these famous examples are rich and powerful, men of all ages and salary ranges violate women.

Hopefully, this will lead to a flash point to show us not how far we’ve come, but rather how much further we have to go.  The “Me Too” movement is a powerful one and hopefully will make an impact on men as the number of women who have been harassed or assaulted is staggering.  And while trite, this statement is still true: all men came from a woman.  Most women have experienced sexual harassment and/or assault.  If society wants this to stop, the responsibility of it wholly falls on us men.

It might seem impossible, but it isn’t.  When I was in high school, it was okay to hate gay people.  It was okay to call them by whatever slur you wanted to try out, and it was even excusable to threaten to beat up an openly gay person.  And those things remained somewhat okay to say during my freshman year at NYU, one of the most gay friendly campuses in the country.  But by my junior year, I would NEVER say those things nor did I believe them.

Though it took a combination of personal growth and a gradual societal awakening, it almost seemed like it was decided overnight that we must not say these things.  Why can’t this happen for women?

If  society, and by society, I mean MEN, could accept that women are people who have the ability to accept or decline sexual advances no matter who they are from,  and that calling them sexist, demeaning names is unacceptable, it would go a long ways towards changing things.

And for Olive’s sake I hope we can get there.





Family Fun at the Farm (after attitude adjustments)

This weekend was perfect.

Not because we spontaneously skipped the boys’ Saturday activities to catch the last weekend of our favorite pumpkin patch, or because of Sunday’s storm accompanied by Kevin’s homemade pho, or the video game-like World Series Game 5 between the Dodgers and the Astros providing much excitement and bonding for everyone across the country late Sunday night.

The forecast showed that Saturday would be in the 60s before Sunday’s storm and though I craved rest, AND I didn’t want the boys to miss their Saturday sports, I couldn’t pass up this last chance to take Olive to our favorite pumpkin patch for her first visit.  We hadn’t missed a year yet for maybe the past four years?

But this would require effort.  Effort beyond scrounging up something to wear these days for my still postpartum body.

Grabbing all the costumes, refilling the diaper bag, packing extra blankets for Olive, charging the camera, finding and charging the selfie stick (which we never used once we got there), and other mundane but necessary To Do’s.  I even insisted on M and E getting haircuts before we headed out because I can’t stand looking at shaggy hair in my holiday photos.

Kevin took them to the car first because I can’t hear myself think when we’re trying to head out.  I packed a final tote bag of more stuff, to add to the corned beef and PB&J samiches I had packed during their haircuts and Olive’s morning nap.

I was already sweating from getting ready and I had grown irritated that getting out the apartment was harder in part because we had to repeat ourselves.  The boys were hurting my supersonic ears and Kevin reported back that the boys had fought the entire way down and had gotten in his way AGAIN at the garage steps, where he has to hoist the Snap n Go to level ground.

By the time I got into the passenger seat, I warned them that I was NOT having it:

“It’s already hard for our bigger family to get out the door but when you guys don’t listen, and get in our way, it makes it harder and it is NOT okay.  You guys know better and can do better.  You have to choose the right thing.  Mommy doesn’t even feel like going any more when you fight and make it harder to leave.  When it’s already hard, you should say, ‘How can we help?’ rather than make it harder.  And if you can’t help, at least don’t make it worse.

Now, I won’t force it but can someone other than Mommy or Daddy pray for me and for the rest of the day?  If we want to go, we can’t go like this.”

I was sure that they would sulk so I was surprised when M volunteered.  “Please Lord, help us to listen better and to break the cycle.  Thank You for letting us go together and please keep us safe.”

I am all too familiar with going to fun destinations and having a horrible time because we weren’t able to break the cycle of conflict and emotional turmoil before or during a special event so *THIS* was the highlight of my weekend, as awesome as the rest of it was.

This gift of UNDERSTANDING at a young age that just because you messed up, it doesn’t mean you have to stay in it and sabotage the rest of the day in order to subconsciously or consciously match it up to the initial jacked up-ness.  The kids are grasping this idea that at any moment of any given day, THEY have to power to redirect themselves.  There is always more grace and His mercies are not just new every morning but every moment.

I didn’t live this out myself until recently, after about five years of struggling in our marriage and now that I’m doing much better, this day at the pumpkin patch started off on the right vibe and the picture perfect moments were truly that.  Also, as third-time parents, knowing how crazy I get about preserving ALL the moments, we intentionally practiced the art of taking a deep breath and saying, “That’s enough picture-taking.  Let’s just take stop and enjoy.”

So, Olive turned five months old at the pumpkin patch and as the third child, she is inheriting an emotionally healthier family.

Here are some photos:





“Are you…the Mom?”


Moments after “Are you…the Mom?”  I look like I could have offspring in middle school and high school while my Olive looks like Governor Christie once again.  We embrace all of it but I just had to share these stories.

Many of our friends in our NYC neighborhood have mixed families.  The mama friends I made when MLK was about four months old have been mistaken for The Nanny because their child doesn’t look the same race as them.  This made for fun play dates as my friends shared story after story, about a doctor, teacher, or stranger in the elevator, assuming that they were not the mom.

Since our family is of Korean descent, this has not happened to me.  Boring!

Well, once, when M got hurt at the playground and was bleeding, I ran over to take care of the cut and another caretaker (mom, aunt, sitter?), in her shock at the sight of blood asked me, “Where is the MOM?  Oh my God!?  WHERE IS THE MOM!?”  I answered that I was The Mom and that I needed her to scootch on over so I can reach the bathroom sink.

I was actually tickled because I wanted to tell my mixed family friends that hey, I, too, got asked if I were the Mom!

This past summer, while I had to explain to a cute little toddler girl that it was the boys’ Gramma Lee’s birthday and that is why I wanted them to get on the phone with me, she asked me, “Are YOU a Gramma?”

I worked through the bitterness in my heart and have since forgiven that juicy cherub.

Last week, on the way to pick up my boys from school, I found myself walking side-by-side with another stroller.  The baby appeared to be a newer model than my nearly five month old Rolly Olive Royl.  I asked, “Aww, how old is he?”

The mom answered, “Two months.”

“Awww, enjoy!  Congrats!  Is he your first?”

(No answer.  Just a smile and hesitation.)

“Oh, I was just curious.  This one is my third but my first girl.  You?”

“I have a few.”

“Oh, okay.  You don’t want to say?  Big families are beautiful.”

“I have a few.”  And we both walked off to our destinations.

I wanted to sprint after her shouting, “Five?  Six?  Nine?  12?  HOLLA AT ME!  I MUST KNOW NOW!” but I played the role of a mature adult and picked up my kids.

While I was still wondering what type of comments and with what regularity drove that mom to now answer, “…just a few,” I put Olive in the swing for the first time ever.

As I was swinging her, another Asian caretaker was next to me, swinging her toddler and noticing us.  I didn’t pay her any mind as I was so excited for Olive’s first swing ride.

The Asian lady proceeded to stare and stare at me as many first generation Asian ladies are prone to do.  She asked, “Are you…The Mom?  I’m this one’s gramma.”  She looked proud as if she enjoyed folks telling her, “WOW, you are the gramma!?  You look young!”

When I happily and proudly answered, “Yes, I’m her mom!” she stared longer, studying my hair and face.  “She…your second?”

“No, my third.”

Since I have no hesitation talking to strangers, I wanted to ask, “Oh my Gawd.  D-d-d-did you think I was…her Gramma?!”  But I knew better than to go searching for an answer I might not be able to handle.

This was comical to me.  And I knew it would give Kevin a good laugh later as our favorite pastime is to laugh at my expense.

When we found out on my 40th birthday that we were expecting, we started calling each other “Andrew” and “Laurel,” our church friends’ parents who had a third, beloved child much later in life.

We joked about how we’d be mistaken for Baby’s grandparents down the road but yo, I meant DOWN DOWN the long and windy road like maybe when she was in middle school.  And perhaps I didn’t really mean it because Asians preserve well, like our pickled banchan!

Throughout this last pregnancy, I got all sorts of fun comments.  They didn’t bother me; it made for a more colorful experience, anecdotes galore.  Most of the comments were along the lines of, “What you got at home?  Boys?  Oh Thank GOD, there’s a girl in there.”  (Once screamed across the street from a stranger, pointing at my belly).

One time, as I walked to the subway from my o.b. appointment, the crossing guard started chuckling at/with me when I smiled and waved hello.  We had never met but she started teasing me, “Again!?  Again!?  hahahahah C’mon now!  How many at home?”  For some reason, I started laughing right along with her, and I answered, “This is my third.”

Asian Gramma exchange reminded me to care about my appearance a bit more as I navigate my 40s.  For Olive’s sake!

I dyed my shocking white roots the next day.


She-Hulk Makes Tater Tots

This always happens.

When the boys are climbing where they shouldn’t or being too loud, I quickly go to “Calgon, Take Me Away” daydreams but when they are at school, I miss them.

I’m now laughing on the inside thinking about yesterday.

Yesterday was MY witching hour around 5 pm when I was making dinner and shuffling Baby O somewhere she can be part of our family scene but also out of brothers’ way.

I heard myself repeatedly bellowing, “Get out your homeworks NEE-OW! If Mommy has to ask again, you will regret it!”  In my frustration, I had forgotten the boys’ request to never pronounce “NOW” as “NEE-OW!!”  So you know Mama wasn’t having it.

Then I started judging myself because I knew I was becoming cranky when they were just being kids.

The boys had walked with me and Olive in her Snap n Go, from school to doctor to playground in yesterday’s weirdly-windy-but-not-yet-cold weather.

Everything took longer than I had imagined.  The doctor’s office staff seemed like they just did not want to deal with people, period.

And this is the easy phase as Olive has never had a diaper blowout or even needed me to change her during afterschool play.  All she does is coo and beam at us, our family mascot.

But the boys never just “walk” with me.  They gallop, run, pick berries and rocks, trailing far behind me even after I say, “If you behind me, someone can take you and I won’t even know!  A dark van can roll up looking for two Asian boys to snatch and I won’t even know if you don’t walk ahead of me!”

I knew I was getting cranky when I had to repeat myself, “Don’t run on the grass. People leave dog poop there!” By the time I had to repeat myself for the third time, sarcasm had kicked in, “Please continue on the grass!  Don’t even think about walking on the sidewalk.  Enjoy the fresh poop you will step in.” (I did manage to laugh when Micah pointed out, “But Mommy, that one poop is shaped EXACTLY like a duck!”  It was.)

By the time dinner and homework had to be done, I just wanted to sit down and do nothing.  Crack my toe knuckles and be done.  But we had the busiest hours coming up – dinner, homework, baths, clean up, prepare for the next day.

Every request was annoying me.

“Mommy, can we have some tater tots with the galbi?”

Sigh.  I could have said no but their galbi dinner could have used some potato.

“Sure, let me turn the oven on. And lemme warn you that Mommy is cranky because I’m just really tired. Can you pray for me so that I don’t She-Hulk?”

“Dear God, please help our mom not become She-Hulk.  Thank You.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Thank you, my beauties.”

Boys are whispering to each other, cupping ears. They both come up to me, beaming. Ellis is the appointed spokesperson for this exchange:

“Mommy, WE APPWEECIATE YOU!…Can we have some tater tots?”

“Thank you so much for telling me you appreciate me especially when Mommy is cranky.  That means so much to me.

Now, I said I have to first warm up the oven so yes to the tater tots but NO to asking me again. For some reason, Mommy gets annoyed when I am already making the food and you guys ask about it, aight?  Please be patient.”

16 minutes later:

“Mommy, I’m not asking about the tater tots, right?”

Epilogue: I took a 30 minute nap at 7 pm and emerged only with a growling belly and no trace of She-Hulk.


At doc office:  “Come, let’s take a picture of you three.  I haven’t taken a Big Three picture in a while.”


Dramatically awaiting M’s flu shot

Declaration During Insomnia

My family is asleep.  Even as I tried to slow down my mind with silent prayer, curled up from my side of the bed, I still could not join them in dreamland.

I got up quietly so as not to wake my sleeping baby in her crib next to me.  She sleeps through fire engine wails and the loudest of incessant NYC ambulance sirens but Mommy’s isolated burp, fart, or cracking of knuckle can scare her.

I came out to the living room to pump my engorged left breast so that maybe then, I can succumb to sleep.

This late hour in this quiet apartment, save for NYC street noises, with my loved ones warm in their crib, twin, and King, feels downright sacred.

Today I shared with the women of my writers’ group that for as long as I can remember, I’ve been told:

“You are SO honest.” – everyone

“Thank you for your transparency.” – church folk

“You are so weird.  You crazy.” – some, including haters

“You’re out there.” – my dentist

“I’d love to have coffee with you.  I just can’t believe how funny you are.  I love you, bunny.” – my obstetrician

Sure, I am not defined by others’ perception of me but daggone it, if the single most “thing” I’ve been called most of my life is HONEST, and I have a deep yearning to connect with people through my writing, AND I lack fear of sharing my struggles and weaknesses, then I’m going to write MORE instead of less, even though my family life is the most demanding it’s ever been.

If you could see our Saturdays alone, where Kevin and I have to text non-stop to coordinate the shuffling of one, two, or three offspring to various scenarios, passing the Lead Parent baton back and forth, TAG, you’re it for now, you might wonder why I’d bother to even waste my time and energy on writing on this little blog.

And that’s just it.  Some yearnings may not be paycheck producing or otherwise “practical” yet the embers remain.  In fact, I really wanted to name our baby girl “Ember” as she, too, was a glowy ember that remained, a yearning I could not stomp out.  And thank the Lord Almighty I never could stomp out that impractical yearning.

So, you’ll be hearing more from me, whether anyone reads this or not.  I think I can go to sleep now.  Thank you, insomnia.