Slayed by a Lion While Ringing in Year of the Rooster

Even with ten minutes left before showtime, by the time Kevin was able to join me after finding parking blocks away, the theater was packed with senior citizens on this Saturday night.  They seemed to have come together on a fieldtrip.  It was quite adorable but we had to grab whatever seats were left.

Kevin whispered to me, “Guh sahram dul ‘Four Seasons’ gahteh.”

“Hey, why don’t you just say it all in English as you clearly say the operative words in English?”  (He was comparing the seniors to the younger seniors in a movie called “Four Seasons” with Alan Alda, about folks vacationing together regularly in their twilight years).

We were out for a rare date night.  We had rushed to pick our movie.  Process of elimination:  NOT “La La Land” because 70 percent chance that I would walk out (I can’t do musicals as I start picking at my nails as they break out into song after song.  Plus, I heard this musical was set in my hometown of LA, minus people of color.)

NOT “Rogue One” because Kevin had already watched it by himself during the holidays after he hit up Toys R Us one late night.  Plus I don’t watch sci-fi.

We considered “Patriots Day” (I will watch almost any Mark Wahlberg flick), “Split,” and “Lion.”  “Split” looked too scary and Koreans warn against watching anything scary while pregnant so like a good Korean, I chose to abstain.  I skimmed what “Lion” was about and knew this was It.  An Indian boy adopted by Australian parents who goes searching for his biological family.  Probably about issues of identity as hyphenated citizen and adoptee.

As soon as the movie started, I knew I was in trouble.  The full Korean warning also tells us pregnants to avoid attending funerals or other lugubrious affairs as the baby will absorb all your sadness and mourning.

Plot unfolds in small town of India, far from Calcutta.  A ten year old and his little brother, around age five, steal coal from atop trains in order to buy milk for their impoverished family.  They do this cheerily because they have each other.  I love them so much.

Oh, and the mom has three children.  GULP.

The brotherly dynamics and the little brother’s eyes and mannerisms already defy the Korean advisory.  I squeeze Kevin’s arm and whisper, “Yo, I can’t do this.”  He is already wiping away his own tears about ten minutes in.

Heartbreaking scene after scene with little brother completely lost with no way to find home or the big brother he idolizes.

I take deep breaths.  I recall the two other instances I was too affected from watching something:

  1.  “Ga eul dong hwa,” a Korean mini series from year 2000.  I wasn’t well for approximately ten days after finishing the series.
  2. “Philomena” – Completely wrecked after viewing this film in Sherman Oaks, CA, year 2013.

“Pssst…Where Dev Patel at?  I thought this was going to be grown-ass Dev Patel searching for his roots while growing up in Australia thinking he just as White as his parents.  Kevin, I need this to hurry up and jump to Australia already.  I can’t take this.”

I go from fanning myself to hiding under my coat-blanket.  I’m grateful when my bladder asks me to take it for a walk.  In the restroom, I consider staying there to protect myself from getting more gutted in the theater.  I walk back slowly, tempted to say to the employees behind the popcorn stand, “Please help me.  I’m from Lion, in Theatre 2.  I can’t stomach the sadness.  The boy looks like my second son but less plush.”

I’m hoping I missed more scenes and that the boy has grown up into Grown Dev Patel of Australia but damn it, the gorgeous little boy has yet to meet his adoptive parents.  I pray for protection of my heart.

I am a crier in real life but for movies, I do this weird thing where I am too macho to release any tears.  I don’t think I cried during “Manchester by the Sea” but I had also braced myself for that one.  This one, I hadn’t braced myself and had no idea what level of wrenching my heart was going to endure.

I couldn’t put up my walls and I had tears streaming down my face as I used my cowl neck to wipe my face.  I had tears running down my neck and collarbone.  Kevin and the senior citizens were weeping, a symphony of sniffles.


We leave the theater for a quick bite to eat before sitter curfew.  We look like we were coming from a funeral.  Kevin laughs at me – “Whoa, you really cried this time!”

“Don’t.  Just don’t.”

“No, you look pretty!  But your face looks all gaunt hahahhaa.  You look older, Jihee-yah.”

We come home and I immediately curl into Ellis’ bed where I find a castaway (Micah from the top bunk).  Ellis is moving so much in his sleep that he looks like he is going to fall off, so I hoist him into my arms and into our bed.

Kevin returns from taking our sitter home and asks, “What the?” when he finds E snoozing away in our bed.

“Please.  You know you want it, too,” as we caress his cheeks and think about Little Dev Patel.

The next morning, I tell Micah a bit about the movie as I beg him for extra hugs.  He looks at me and advises, “Just forget about the movie, ok?  Think about something else.”

As if.

I don’t know how our children were born into a comfy American life where we forget to eat what’s in our fridges and sleep in warm beds while other children aren’t afforded the same luxuries.  I will never just care about our own.

I just hope they add conspicuous Emotional Advisories on movie synopses because getting skurred during “Split” would have been nothing compared to this.  I wonder if there is a viewer support group that the senior citizens host.img_2054





I’ve always been drawn to unexpected things. And moments.

Unexpected things like miniature or giant versions of common, everyday items, still perfectly proportioned in their exaggerated sizes.

My sterling silver miniature abacus charm with moving parts, as big as my thumbnail. The gigantic bright green deck chair at a garden in New Jersey that can easily fit a family of six in one seat, making us mini ourselves.

Unexpected moments like when I walked in on a mother and daughter bickering at the acupuncturist’s waiting area about two decades ago. What’s so unexpected about that?

The mom was well into her 80s and the daughter in her 60s. Unexpected because I often think that certain moments are reserved for certain life stages and ages. Aren’t you then forced to graduate and evolve, having to behave the way grown or elderly folks OUGHT to behave?

I was fascinated.  So much so that I can still conjure up a cloudy visual of the daughter getting visibly upset at her octagenarian mama. It also taught me that people are people, no matter what the age. You don’t stop fighting with your parents just because you became a grandmother yourself.

Recently, at my friends’ gorgeous doljanchi (Korean first birthday bash) for their one year-old daughter, I collected another such moment. Even more than the decadent pink and gold decorations, including a candy bar holding perfectly pink rock candy and gold chocolate coins in exquisite apothecary jars, this moment replayed on my mental movie reel.


My friend was holding his beautiful one-year old daughter, the star of the show. He was catching up with a few friends he hadn’t seen in a while, after moving to another state. While he was holding baby girl and chatting, laughing, his eldest brother suddenly swooped down on him with a bright smile and eyes so lively.

He fired off, “Hey, you’ve GOT to try this!” as he deposited a piece of gold-dusted peanut butter and jelly macaron into his “baby” brother’s mouth. Baby brother is now a 30-somethang doctor. Eldest brother, a pharmacist and dad to three. Baby bro opened his mouth wide, completely trusting his Hyung.

Our family drove home in the hail. In just one Saturday afternoon, NYC had provided snow, rain and hail as dramatic backdrop for the party.

As my firstborn played quietly by my feet and the other two boys napped in each others’ arms in our King bed, I kept replaying the brotherly moment in my head, smiling as if I held a juicy secret.

Why was I still savoring this seemingly ordinary moment?

When Eldest Bro swooped down eagerly to feed Baby Bro that delicious morsel, he was no longer this grown man with a receding hairline and fatherly responsibilities. And Baby Bro was no longer this physician, husband, father.

In that moment, they transported me to when my Micah was nearly three and Ellis nearly one. Ellis had just discovered Goldfish and Cheerios and other crunchy REAL snacks and Big Bro was more than delighted and eager to feed his baby bro. It was a whole new world as Baby had never been able to eat those foods before.

I would catch Baby sitting around in his turquoise Bumbo seat, mouth wide open, gurgling, accepting anything his big bro threw into his mouth. Brother could have thrown Legos into his mouth and he would have gladly accepted.

Upon further savoring of my friend’s brotherly exchange, I recalled another moment between my own brother and me when we were in the second and fifth grades. Our school bus transporting us to our gifted magnet school in an affluent area away from our home in Koreatown, Los Angeles was more than two hours late!

We didn’t know what to do. The adults at the bus stop were conferring. My brother was confused and scared. And hungry. I told him to go ahead and eat his packed lunch. He was still hungry.

So I fed him my own lunch. I watched him eat it while my stomach growled. But I felt so fulfilled as if I were eating the sandwich, too. I thought to myself, “This must be what it feels like to be a Mommy.”

I love these seemingly ordinary but magical moments that transport me back in time. So rich and unexpected.

Definitely experienced another Whoosh!

still feeding baby bird, er, bro at ages four and two

still feeding baby bird, er, bro at ages four and two