Monday, April 19, 2010

Taking a Pass

I don't usually spend too much time reading other blogs. Not because I'm a snob. And not because I'm too dim to appreciate that blogging is to some degree about building a community of reciprocal readers. I used to cruise other blogs more frequently, often in search of inspiration. Inevitably, reading one post would lead to another, and I would eventually run into posts like this one on MetroDad or this one on Geisha School Dropout. Before I knew it, I would be scouring their archives and laughing out loud by myself, forgetting that the whole point was to sponge off of their ideas.

At times like this, it is only when I loop back to my own site that disappointment sets in. When I start reading what I wrote in the past few weeks, it becomes apparent that I really have no business blogging. My writing style is completely wrong for this type of format. Blogging, by its nature, seems to require a certain amount of levity -- and entertainment value. Instead, my posts are weighted down with a lifetime's worth of angst, befitting the likes of Holden Caulfield and three of his clones.

I'm not sure if it is because I'm trying to live up to the reputation of Koreans as the Irish of the East, but I'm often drawn to sad stories. Not only in my own writing, but in those of others as well. I went through a stretch where all I read were true accounts of tragedies, whether it is about someone who escapes from a labor camp in Siberia and treks across the continent to return home (As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me) or a mountain climber who is left for dead after breaking his leg near the summit and finds his way back to base camp on his own (Touching the Void) or a family suffering under the madness of Pol Pot (First They Killed My Father). (All excellent reads, by the way.) Name a memoir or biography about someone suffering horribly, and chances are, I have it on my bookshelf. Let's not even get into fiction. My movie selections run along the same vein. Jeff doesn't like to let me pick out films on Netflix.

Once I ordered a bunch of documentaries about Korean/Korean-American history, something I was acutely interested in learning more about. They included one on comfort women, the LA riots, Koreans left behind in Sakhalin after World War II, and Korean adoptees. After watching them with great interest, I took them with me when I visited my parents. I imagined us watching them together as a family. When I told my mom about them, she refused to let me pop them into their VCR player.

"Why do I want to watch movies about other people suffering?" she said. "Life is hard enough as it is. I want to watch only happy movies!"

Now that I have little T, I am starting to understand that sentiment. These days, I don't want to be bogged down by unhappy thoughts. Sure, there are some unhappy things going on in my life, some of which are too personal to write about here, but I feel like I really can't afford to wallow in a sad space, especially when I lack the power to resolve the problem. I spend the whole day hanging out with little T, who watches my reactions constantly. He's such a happy kid, and I don't want to do anything to detract from his happiness. I want to create a happy environment, not one mired in tragedies and grievances, and protect it for his sake.

This is not to say that I won't keep writing about some of the stuff I've been writing about. This blog has been so useful in helping me to process some of the things that happened to my family as we were growing up. But I have to learn to stop seeing my family's history as a tragedy that is still being played out. I'm not sure what that means exactly, but for the time being, I intend to give myself the latitude to take a pass on unhappy events that threaten to draw me in like quicksand. Sometimes, stepping away is the right thing to do.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Progress Report

What a difference a few months makes. Our little guy is growing so fast that it's hard to believe that he was born just a little over six months ago. During the last couple of weeks, he hit several milestones, including having two of his little teeth appear, learning to sit (albeit temporarily), and rolling from his belly to his back. He also started not exactly crawling, but scooching backwards.

One of the most exciting developments has been starting him on solid food last week. We started with rice cereal, then moved to oatmeal and barley. His favorite so far seems to be oatmeal, and he doesn't seem too enchanted of rice, which alarms me since I am after all from the land of rice lovers. I also tried giving him a little avocado this morning, but he made the funniest faces with each bite he took. But overall, he is a very good eater -- and relatively neat too, which amazes me. It's all in the timing. He opens his little mouth, waits for me to pop the spoon in there, and he closes it right on cue. There are occasions, of course, when little bits of cereal dribble onto his bib, and he finds it convenient to rub his face with the bib and smear the globs of oatmeal onto his nose, hair, and ear. Overall, though, he is a little superstar. I am amazed by the level of satisfaction I get from watching him eat. When he closes his mouth on the spoon, I feel like nothing in the world really matters except for that glob of cereal going down his little throat.

Now that he's a little older, I signed him up for a couple of classes. A few weeks ago, we started going to a baby swim class at La Petite Baleen on Wednesdays, and this past week, we just started a playgroup to learn baby sign language. These classes have been fabulous. I love seeing other moms with their babies, and I love watching our little T interact with them. He loves people and always greets others with a big smile. The classes have also given me a little more of the structure I need to my week as well as the much craved social interaction with other moms in the area.

In the swim class, we gather in the pool with other moms and babies to sing and teach the babies to be comfortable in the water. We form circles and sing "Kids in the pool go splash, splash, splash...," pass the babies under a foam tunnel as we sing "London Bridge Is Falling Down," submerge the babies (yes, head and all!) as we pass them from parent to teacher, teach them to sit on the edge of the pool and jump in, and rest them on their backs as we support them with our shoulders and arms. The 30 minutes pass quickly, and it's always a relief when little T does not poop in the pool.

As for the sign language class, I organized it and brought in an instructor to teach me and about 7 other moms/babies who signed up to join me. We sit around in my living room and the teacher throws a bunch of signs at us to practice during the week. It is amazing how quickly you can pick up the signs when someone shows you. I am so excited about the thought of communicating with T and understanding his wishes. So far, all we can do is read his body language and try to make sure we're responding appropriately, but once he starts to sign, he will be able to tell us what he wants and what a relief that will be! He already has so much to say, and I would love to be able to understand all of his adorable babbling.

These past few weeks have been really wonderful, and I just love our little guy more and more. He's such a little charmer, and I keep imagining him as the person he will be in different phases of his life as he grows. Jeff and I feel so lucky to have our beautiful family, and we savor our time together. We spend a lot of our time these days just rolling on the floor with the little guy and making googly faces at each other.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Giving in to Hope

Having a family of my own makes me think about the one I had growing up. My parents, my brother, my sister. The way we related to each other, or didn't. The way we treated each other. Some of the things that went right, but mostly, what didn't.

I think about my parents when they first started out. Younger than Jeff and I currently are by almost two decades. No one starts out intending to have a fractured family, and I'm sure they didn't. I imagine them as a newly married couple as they appear in the wedding photos we have at home -- with years to look forward to, with plans and hopes, and with the same kinds of excitement and anticipation Jeff and I have about raising our own children. Now their oldest child is in his 40s, and the other two, in their late 30s. Do they look back and wonder if things could have turned out differently?

There are cracks in my family. I don't know any family without them. If I were to draw a line from each member of my family to the others to represent the relationships, there would be more broken lines than connections. Most of the connections lead to my mother, with her in the middle and the rest of us circling her as if maypole dancing.

We don't discuss these cracks, but they are the most truthful things about us. They are what I think about when I think about my family. They reveal the missteps, the unmet needs, the disconnects that beg to be addressed. And they hold the clues to our deepest failures -- our failure to forge the relationships that could have -- should have -- been forged, to understand and listen to each other, to treat each other with tenderness, to accept each other's shortcomings, to learn to forgive.

We've lived with these cracks for so long that we don't know how to talk about them. The way no one talks about the broken chip on the coffee mug. When it first breaks, it merits a mention. But not months or years after. We learn to avoid the sharp edges until it becomes a habit. Under this silence, raw emotions simmer on the verge of erupting.

At times, I've tried to bring attention to some of these cracks. To me, they are painful reminders of what we don't have as a family. And I easily -- or perhaps foolishly -- give into the possibility of hope, a new start, the ability to make amends. But I lack the tact and the composure to address them skillfully -- as well as the detachment to be purely helpful. And when the emotions are as raw as they are, any touch, however delicate, stings. In the end, there are always hurt feelings, aspersions, regrets, efforts to soothe, and perhaps more resulting cracks, the way probing with a needle to remove the splinter enlarges the wound. My efforts then become recast as the meddling of a control freak, and I too withdraw into my corner.

I think about the failed relationships in my family and feel heavy with sadness. I wonder what we could have done differently. Are they the by-product of the stresses we encountered or would we have turned out the same regardless? Why do we have so many unmet needs? Will we ever emerge from our past and meet each other somewhere in the middle, healed and free of the need to blame? Will we ever release each other from our past mistakes and allow the other to be the better person she/he is trying to be?

Now that I have my own family, I feel the need to think about these cracks, analyze them, and study them from different angles so that I avoid the same mistakes. I'm struggling to make sense of our lives -- the difficulties we faced, how we met or failed to meet them, what we could have done differently. And I'm trying to understand each of us with some detachment, apart from the roles we play when we come together, but as the persons we are when understood in our own right. But it is not easy to untangle yourself from the history and see your family members with fresh eyes.

Last night, after a long day, I held my baby in my arms. He had just finished his last meal and was ready for the night's sleep. I kissed his forehead and his cheek. We breathed together, our lungs moving up and down, up and down, until he fell asleep with his head resting on my chest, something he hasn't done in months. As I held this little precious person in my arms, I thought about the relationship I want to have with him. It then dawned on me what a privilege it is to have this chance to have this new relationship, completely free of any baggage apart from the ones I choose to bring into it. What a godsend to be given this chance, to be at my best, and not to be spurned for any past mistakes.

I think about the potential for happiness in his life. How it is my job to safeguard it. And how I would hate myself if I were to detract from his happiness or cause him any pain. It seems a responsibility greater than myself.

I'm sure I'll never get it right -- not completely. And I imagine we'll encounter new situations that we never anticipated, the same way my parents could not have foreseen the cultural differences that seeped into our family and upstaged the values they held so dear. The way we are separated by two languages. The way we fail to read each other's signals, despite our efforts, because we do not understand. The way their children rejected the ways of their world in order to find a way to live in this one.

But I find myself starting a list of all things I want to do right -- and differently. I tell myself that if we instill the importance of treating each other with understanding and forgiveness, then maybe, just maybe, we'll emerge intact. And I find myself giving in to hope once again.