Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Little Plug

I recently took a writing class with Josh Mohr at the Writing Salon. I had taken a class with him before on flash fiction and liked it so much that I signed up for another with him. This class was focused mostly on dialogue, and each week, we wrote short pieces to read out loud and receive feedback. Josh is obviously a very sensitive listener/reader, and I was impressed by how he was able to pick up all the subtleties in our writing from hearing us read it out loud once. Anyway, during one of our classes, he mentioned that his second book was coming out and that it was being reviewed in the New York Times. I looked up his review yesterday, and the review was so favorable that I promptly ordered a copy of his book. It's so exciting to see a writer make it. I hope this book launches him into literary stardom.

Here's the link to his book Termite Parade. Order a copy, and let me know what you think! (Or check out his first book Some Things That Meant the World to Me.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A House Big Enough

For the past two years, I've been harping about needing more space. We live in a two bedroom, one bath house generously estimated to be 1300 square feet by a tape ruler happy appraiser. It may not be tiny by San Francisco standards where people share stories about receding into the bathroom for quiet time, and it didn't feel that way when I bought it as a single woman in 2005. It has a decent sized living room/dining room/kitchen area, and I used to love cramming my friends around the kitchen island to ooh and aah over whatever concoctions I had prepared for them. In the winters, I dragged in boxes of firelog from Safeway and lit up my fireplace, the way any reasonable person would in 40 degree weather. (California has made me soft, if not environmentally conscientious.) When Jeff moved in with some of his stuff and Sherlock in late 2006, it felt manageable still. He just had to pack away most of his tools and furniture in the storage unit in the South Bay and make himself comfortable on my chaise lounge. And for the past couple of years, it seemed there was enough room for my orchids, Sherlock's Kirkland pads, and Jeff's over-sized speakers, even if we had to shut the door to the clutter-filled second bedroom when our friends came to visit.

It was only when we started planning to have a baby that I became obsessed with the idea of a larger house. Suddenly, the place started feeling claustrophobic. There was no room for everything. Everything meaning the baby's crib, changing pad, play area, the baby's clothes and toys, my clothes, my books, my plants, Jeff's gadgets, Jeff's bikes, and Sherlock. And then when I started preparing for my parents who were planning to stay with us after the baby's birth, I became adamant that we had to move. Immediately.

My urge to move verged on hysteria. My constant refrain became, "We have to move. No, really, we have to move." It drove me to tears at times, this sense of desperation. I wanted a proper nursery for our soon arriving baby, with stickers of jungle animals on the walls, his mini trousers and sweaters hanging on mini hangers, his cardboard books arranged alphabetically on a decorative bookshelf, and his toys in color coordinated bins. But in addition to what I wanted for the little guy, I wanted the rest of my house in order with my furniture arranged just so and my clothes and books placed according to their categories. I wanted a picture perfect house, perfect enough for the perfect baby we were going to be welcoming. And I envisioned us in it, all of us, me, Jeff, our baby, Sherlock, and my parents, sitting around comfortably around plates of symmetrically cut fruit, not crowding each other out, getting along perfectly.

Throughout my pregnancies, including those two that ended in miscarriages and the latest, we spent much of our downtime looking for a new house. We went out every weekend to look at open houses, driving up and down the hills of San Francisco, popping out of the car and into the houses, and popping back into the car with glossy fliers in hand. During the weekdays, we were constantly surfing redfin and other real estate sites, lusting after photos of houses that seemed palatial compared to ours. The housing market was on the decline, we constantly heard, and we waited eagerly to see listing prices drop.

And a few did, but not enough. We couldn't justify paying $900 a square foot, no matter how beautiful, how expansive the view, especially when we kept anticipating the prices to drop. We may be many things, but we're not suckers, we told ourselves. We made a couple of low ball offers but they didn't stick. So we kept looking and looking as I got bigger and bigger. And then the baby popped out.

My parents were scheduled to arrive the day before I was to be induced. Jeff dragged up his old futon from the storage unit and set it up in the second bedroom. We put the baby's crib in our bedroom and made plans to move it after my parents went back to New York. We asked a friend to help us move the wardrobe into the garage. I removed most of my clothes from the second closet to make room for the baby's things and folded them into plastic bins. I boxed away most of my books, read or unread.

When my parents arrived, they kept banging their legs against the futon frame in the small bedroom. When we re-arranged the room to minimize the bruises, my dad had to get in bed before my mom did and could not get out without consulting her. When we sat in the living room, we sometimes had to pull one of the dining chairs over to the couch so that we could all have a place to sit. Sometimes, my dad just sat at the dining room table while Jeff, my mom, and I fussed over the baby. We all bumped into Sherlock when he was scavenging in the kitchen. When my parents announced that they would return to New York earlier than they had planned, I cried. I thought they were uncomfortable in our little house.

Almost two years after we started looking, we are still looking for a new house. And during these past two years, we've been living in a state of impending relocation. It took more than a month for me to decide to put the stickers of the jungle animals on the walls of T's room because I wanted to save them for the new house. Then there is the garden that's been overtaken by weeds that we plan to clean up right before we move. And the list of things to repair around the house. Just easier to address them at once after we move out, right? The last straw was the painting dangling less than three feet off the floor that Jeff hung on a pre-existing nail. Just needed to put it somewhere for now, he said. I'm sure Sherlock appreciates the view.

The other day, I realized that our search for a new house has become a metaphor for my life. Me, looking for a space to fit everything in, a house large enough for all of us: me, Jeff, our baby, and my parents. Me trying to find a space where I can be a wife, mother, and daughter at once and a Korean and an American simultaneously. Trying to find a place where I can feel settled, with all my things in their place.

For me, becoming a mother has been a process of unsettling. Starting with the upheaval of the mundane: clearing out the closets, packing up my books, re-arranging the furniture, undoing life as we were living it to make room for the little guy. Then there is the re-structuring of our time -- compressing all of the daily tasks that used to occupy our days into a two-hour window while he naps and devoting the rest of our time to tend to his needs. More importantly, though, becoming a mother has forced me to identify and re-examine the values and priorities that I thought I had in place. It makes me see everything in a new light: families, relationships, frailty. All of life's sediments kicked up into the air.

Maybe I just need more space to re-group myself.

I don't know what it is about becoming a mother that makes your home singularly important. I am that bird fluttering about, looking for perfectly sized twigs for the perfectly sized nest.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Respect for Fear

There was an article in the newspaper the other day about 31 year old Stanford graduate student who fell 300 feet to her death while descending a peak in Yosemite without ropes. For some reason, that story has been on my mind. Maybe because the student was an Asian girl. Maybe because Jeff used to rock climb. Or maybe because I spend so much of my day these days ensuring that our little guy does not fall.

When he's not strapped in a high chair or a stroller, T spends most of his day pulling himself up. On whatever is nearby. The couch, the Learn & Groove Music Table, the laundry basket. He's on a campaign to explore the world, and I religiously follow him around, my arms extended in a wide circle around his torso, my flabby thighs poised to pad his fall. Sometimes, after I feed him on the couch, he slides off of my lap, scampers across the couch, and flops himself on the arm rest. He pulls himself up by his little arms, reaches across the precipice between the couch and the adjacent arm chair, and tries to hoist himself across. In those moments, the gap between the sofa and the arm chair appear as vast and deep as the Niagara, and I swoop in to gather him in my arms and land him safely on his play mat.

This routine continues throughout the day. Each time I put him on the changing table, he reaches above to feel the crib slats. He soon rolls over and attempts to stand as he wavers on the giving foam. In the evenings, after I bathe him, I lay him on his back on the futon to re-read Sesame Beginnings or Sandra Boynton's Going to Bed for the fiftieth time. Impatiently, he rolls over onto his belly and scurries across the mattress. He quickly reaches the edge and looks over the cliff of the wooden frame. He bends over just slightly before my hands shift his balance back to the safety of the bed.

I think of the mother of that young woman who must have spent her days over 30 years ago as I do now. Bracing for her every fall. Guarding her against possible bruises and scrapes to be had. Landing her on the safety of solid ground. And how she had succeeded each time. And how that matters so little now.

Becoming a parent has been an introduction to a new level of fear. At least once a day, I have images of catastrophe flash before me, him falling over, head first, onto the hard wooden floor, injury to his delicate little neck. I want to hold him all day long so that he cannot fall and bang that precious little head.

The article included a quote from a friend who hoped that this young woman would inspire others to live to their fullest. As a mother, I don't see any of that. Instead, I see a life cut short, an ending that didn't need to be. A life that could have continued to be lived - in whichever form.

I think about the dare devils among us, and I wonder if their urge to scale the highest peak stems from something in their childhoods. The urge to feel the freedom they had as children to roam to their heart's content, to revel in the comfort of knowing that there is always someone near to save us. If only we could live like that.

I want to instill a healthy respect for fear in our little T. Not a life lived in fear, but a reminder that we never free ourselves from the laws of nature. That fear sometimes serves a purpose. I don't know how you teach that, and I don't know if I will succeed. But I hope a speck of this fear I now have goes with him when I am no longer shadowing him.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Small Thanks

To all of you who migrated with me, a small thank you.

I've been blogging for a couple of years now, and as strange as it may sound, I haven't spent too much time thinking about those of you reading my posts. I generally wrote whatever I felt like writing, whenever I felt like writing. Of course, I've received personal emails from some of you and read each of your comments with great interest, and on all of those occasions, I have been deeply warmed that you took the time to reach out. But apart from that, I never really imagined the faces of those of you visiting my site. Google analytics kept telling me that I have hundreds of visitors every day, but I don't think I really believed it. During the last two days, though, when I started receiving emails from those of you requesting the new link, it dawned on me that you are real people reading my posts! And that you've been there on those days I was too lazy, too busy, or too blase to post.

I know some of you preferred to stay anonymous, so thank you for stepping out of the closet to request the new link. Feel free to recede into that closet, and I'll make myself comfortable in my own. I can already start to feel the freedom of anonymity, and have plans for several posts I want to write that I felt I couldn't before. I think I'm going to enjoy writing here.

As always, thank so much for reading. Going forward, I'll do my best to make your visit worthwhile!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Baby Veins

This past Friday morning, we had T's 9 months check-up. Much to my relief, he had only one shot during the examination. During either the 3 or 6 months check-up, I think they stabbed him with four shots, and seeing the nurses grip the needles with enclosed fists as if they were knifes and plunge them into his chubby little thighs made me want to cry out with him. This time, T cried for just about 5 seconds after the shot, and we were about to go merrily on our way when the nurse handed us a sheet and reminded us that we needed to go to the lab to get his blood drawn for lead testing. Lead testing -- that sounds pretty important, right? Of course I wanted our little baby tested for lead. It didn't even occur to me to think about what that might entail.

We promptly headed downstairs, with little T ensconced in my ergo, and I dutifully handed over the lab sheet to the lab administrator. We waited for a short while as T tried to climb over me, onto the table, and onto all the chairs around us until his eyes caught the TV screen in the far right corner and he suddenly seemed to forget he had limbs. When they called his name, I was happy to drag him away from the oblivion of the bright blue screen.

The lab technician and his assistant introduced themselves and we followed them into a private room. There, they had me sit on the chair with the arm rest as I propped T on my lap. They briefly checked the veins in both of his arms, wrapping the blue elastic around each and tapping quickly. They settled on the right arm, pinning it down, while I wedged T's legs between my thighs and wrapped my arm around his free left arm. T was already screaming and trying to fight us off. For a little guy who weighs just over 20 pounds, he can throw his weight around like a gorilla.

I was so focused on keeping his legs and left arm pinned down that I didn't look at what the technician was doing. In a desperate effort to comfort him, I had my face pressed against little T's as tears streamed down his face and he drooled out of his nose and mouth. His contorted face was pleading with me to make it stop, and I focused all my energy on communicating to him in whatever means he could understand that it would be over quickly. His sobs and screams, with intermittent screeches, were unlike any I had heard before, and he was at times almost dry heaving because he was so exhausted from crying.

After a while, I wondered what the hell was taking so long. I looked up toward the right arm and saw that the technician still hadn't attached the vials to the needle. Despite my aversion to needles, I looked over directly at the needle and saw that the technician had the needle stabbed in little T's arm with his one hand and was rolling the skin on T's arm toward the needle to try to get the needle to meet the vein. With nausea, I watched him do this three or four more times as I silently muttered to myself, "He's the professional. I'm sure baby veins are really hard to find. I'm sure he's trying the best he can. He must know what he's doing." I was on the verge of turning into a hysterical protective mother when I finally blurted out with as much restraint as I could muster, "I don't think this is working."

As soon as I said it, the technician pulled out the needle as T kept bawling and screaming. He put a wad of cotton over T's arm and told me to put an ice pack on it when I got home. He then practically ran out of the room as he muttered, "Let me get some help." He returned with another technician, and she briskly took over. Little T had been screaming and crying non-stop since this all began, and he tried with all his little might to fight her off as he tried to climb higher up my chest. She pried his arm down and began the process all over again of tying the blue elastic around the other arm, tapping it, and rubbing it with alcohol. She couldn't seem to find a suitable vein, so she pressed something like an ice pack on it and then tapped it some more. As little T kept crying hysterically, I suggested that we return on another day. The technician seemed relieved and said, "Yes, what a good idea."

Little T cried all the way to the car, and finally settled down when he was strapped in and surrounded by all of his colorful furry toys. He seemed to forget all about the trauma he had endured during the rest of the day. When I later removed the cotton wad from his arm, though, I saw the damage they had done. T had more than seven holes in what had been a perfect little arm. I am sure it will heal, but the thought of him being stabbed so many times makes my blood boil.

I am dreading having to go back in again. We plan to call ahead to find out who is the most experienced with little baby arms. The next time we go in, I will have to make a point to keep my eyes on the needle from the beginning to make sure the technician doesn't treat his arm like a dart board. And I won't be so eager to pull the little guy away from the television in the waiting room.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Reason for Change

On Friday night, my mom called because she learned about my blog and was upset that I wrote so publicly about some matters.

Initially, I reacted with anger at her negative reaction to my blog. I had written about her with such tenderness and affection, and yet, she seemed to have missed all of that. She also seemed to have skipped over most of my longings about our family and my sadness about our misunderstandings and miscommunications. Instead, she focused on a couple of posts about my sister and sister-in-law and was embarrassed that our family's discord would be so exposed.

I thought I had been relatively cautious about what I wrote and tried very hard to be fair to those I portrayed. I had hoped to avoid indicting those in my life through my writing, and trying for some new level of understanding instead. But I can see how she could feel that I violated our family's sense of privacy. Given the difference in our notions of privacy, perhaps I should have checked with her before writing about her in the first place, but given the wide gap in our cultural norms, I don't think I would have been allowed much leeway.

I have been feeling pained about this conflict. I wavered between deleting the blog altogether or just continuing to post. This morning, I decided to remove my name from my blog as she requested. Perhaps writing "anonymously" will give me more latitude, even though many of you already know who I am. It would be somewhat less stressful not to have my name pop up on google searches. Anyway, I would appreciate it if you refrain from using my name on comments going forward.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Usually, I write on our dining table, but tonight I had to make my escape to the bedroom. This morning, because we were low on dog food, Jeff fed Sherlock a handful of leftover crumbs of the dry dog food, one raw whole egg (with the shell and all), and egg whites from EIGHT eggs left over from the key lime pies I made for a BBQ yesterday. I knew Sherlock loved eggs, but I've never seen him eat so many in one day. Then in the evening, because Sherlock was so good about letting Little T crawl all over him, Jeff rewarded him one more egg. This is the last time I let Jeff be so generous with our eggs because the whole evening, Sherlock has been farting like crazy, and our tiny house is infused with the smell of his fart. Dog farts can be more lethal than human farts, and this time is no exception. It may even be worse than usual because eggs are involved. We all know what rotten eggs smell like. And what happens to eggs when they've been sitting in a dog's digestive system for 12 hours? We are suffocating in its stink in our tiny house. Right now, Sherlock is reclining on his dog pad by the dining table, the way Cesar must have after a big meal, letting all the goodness settle inside (or spread outside, depending on how you view it). We're going to have to barricade ourselves in the bedroom and force Sherlock to sleep in the living room tonight instead of at the foot of our bed as he usually does.