Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy holidays

It has been a relief to be caught up with holiday planning for the past week or so. To have a list of things to accomplish, to focus on what to give to others, to think about all the people to remember. And I always love planning for get togethers and pouring over cookbooks. We had Jeff's family over today, and we made a bunch of new dishes that I'm adding to my keeper list - along with some all time favorites, like hot crab dip. My favorite new recipe was a potato and swiss chard gratin from the NYTimes. We also made a chocolate pecan pie, which turned out absolutely yummy. Our main course turned out so-so (black cod with oyster mushroom ragout), but we had enough other tasty dishes that it hardly mattered.

Our little T received so many incredible presents from his relatives. It is heart-warming to see how he is doted on -- and how he's getting indulged as much as any child could. He is one lucky child, and I hope he grows up appreciating all the sweet love flowing in his direction.

I hope all of you out there had a wonderful day with your loved ones. Happy holidays.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Big Shoes to Fill

Of course we hope our little T won't be burdened with having to fill the shoes of all of our hopes/expectations if he turns out to be an only child, but we think he can rise to the occasion. Not to say we won't be trying again sometime soon...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

This time

I had a feeling about it. I told Jeff a couple of nights ago. I don't think it's good.

He told me not to worry, we've had these little scares before. Don't you remember when we saw Dr. Moon? That turned out to be nothing. Maybe it's nothing again.

Maybe, I said.

But I sensed it, in the way my body felt less weighted and more alert, as if I had taken claritin for head to toe.

In the morning, I called the doctor's office. They asked if I could come in that morning, but having a brief to finish, I made the first available appointment for the morning after.

Then I went about the day as any other. I bounced along to circus music with little T as he played and replayed the ball popper we had recently purchased for him. I clapped along with him each time he applauded after feeding himself a spoonful of apple sauce. And cautioned him with my no, no, no's after he tried to mount Sherlock reclining in the sun.

When little T went down for his nap, I scrambled to finish my brief and prepare it for filing. In 45 minutes, I was done, just as little T screamed awake from his bedroom. It is always the days when I need him to nap when he naps the least.

After, we trudged over to the post office and stood in a line that stretched out the door to mail my brief to the Court and the service copy to opposing counsel. In that time, I chatted with a lady who was expecting her four grandchildren for Christmas as little T prattled away to a girl waiting in line behind us with her mother.

From there, we headed to Pho Time, where I ordered a seafood pho and little T waved at all customers who walked past our table. While I sat, I felt the little rumblings in my belly -- a slight tightness with a sense of bloating. And I wondered, but tried not to. I told myself it was only because I was focused on it so much that it felt different.

When we returned home, I wondered why my belly felt flatter than it had a few days ago. Maybe just my imagination. Maybe.

When I went to bed, I hoped that I wouldn't start cramping. I fell asleep in fetal position, cradling my belly, protecting it from some unknown force.

In the morning, Jeff asked me, how are you feeling?

No cramps, so maybe it's ok?

But when I went to pee, I knew. It was not ok. And after I showered and put on my make-up, I went back to bed and let Jeff hold me.

So we went through the routine again. Going to the doctor's office to be told what we already knew. I told the ultrasound technician -- apologetically as if I were wasting her time.

Well, let's see how it looks in there, she responded.

And the few seconds of searching, searching for that faint bleep on the gray screen -- the faint bleep we had seen just ten days earlier. As she moved the device over my belly, the image of the baby appeared -- the fuzzy head, the glob of torso and limbs. Still in there, in tact. As if it were still alive.

Seeing the little body made me break down, even though I had not planned to. I had planned to be ok this time.

And I was ok -- more ok than I had been before. Because this time, we came home to little T, who now waddles all over our house, opening this door and that. Who makes baby signs of the elephant, crocodile, and monkey. And asks for all sorts of food with grunts and little fingers. And plants big open mouth kisses on our cheeks, our foreheads, our noses, wherever his mouth happens to land.

For the past couple of days, I've had fleeting moments of resentment. Why can't I have it easy for a change? Why does it have to be some god damn trial each time? Why do some women just breeze though, but I have to have the worst always befall us?

But then I caught myself. It hasn't always been the worst. We have little T, and that wasn't the worst. By any measure. And seeing him waddle around makes me realize how much of a miracle he is. Me, with my decrepit eggs, being lucky enough to have landed at least one good one, one good enough to produce a perfect little being like him.

Jeff and I talked about how we would be ok without another. With just little T. How he fills us each day with so much pride, wonder, love, and a bunch of other feelings that have no name but cram our chests up to our necks.

As Jeff trailed behind little T as he picked up this and that in our walk-in closet, Jeff said, "Oh, little T, do you know how happy you make mommy and daddy? Do you know how much we love you?" And I thought about all the people who grow up in this world questioning the extent of their parents' love, and I wondered how that is possible. How is it possible to be a parent and not express the love you have for your child on a daily basis? Do people stop expressing their love for their children when they turn surly twelve? Do parents run out of time to hug their children and cover them with kisses when they have more than one child? What happens out there that so many children grow up yearning for their parents' love?

My D&C is scheduled for tomorrow morning. We plan to wake up at 5:15 to leave the house by 5:45 to get to the hospital by 6:30 for the 8:30 procedure. What a pain in the ass. If someone can come up with a procedure to sort out the bad eggs from the good, I'm sure he'll have investors lined up out the door. I guess at some point, I'll be too old to even worry about whether I have any good eggs left. And then I'll have to reserve all my smothering kisses for little T, who I'm sure will be perfectly grossed out by my behavior when he enters his teens. But there are worse things in life, right?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Changing Directions

I'm thinking of changing careers. Well, I have been thinking about it. For the past ten years, in fact.

I've always wanted to write, so about a year ago, I dabbled in some magazine writing for a few months. It was a decent experience. I got to meet and talk to a bunch of notable people and see my name in print. It was hard to justify the time I put into it, though, for the pay I received. ($200 for an article I spent 2 weeks interviewing, organizing, and writing.) And writing about other people didn't feel as satisfying as writing about my own life. Not that I'm so self-absorbed, but I think writing is a very personal process for me. It helps me to sort out my thoughts, see aspects of my life in a different light, find the words and definition for some of my experiences. Magazine writing just didn't do those things for me -- and why should it? I'm starting to think that I don't need to write professionally -- not full time anyway -- at least not right now. I'm very content with the writing I do on this blog (when I do write, that is). And even though I sometimes feel the angst to do something bigger with it, I'm not quite sure what that is yet. So with my writing, I think I may just keep it at this level for now -- without the pressure to make it into something bigger than it needs to be.

I've considered the idea of doing litigation part time -- which is more or less what I've been doing for the past two years. It's not a bad career. The pay can be quite generous and I can work somewhat flexible hours. I also work from home without a secretary or a paralegal, and have found it to be much more manageable than I had expected. The problem, I'm finding, is that it really cuts into the state of mind I want to have to be a mom. Because it's so adversarial, I sometimes get nasty emails or letters in the middle of my day when I'm playing with little T. It casts a dark shadow over me -- even if it's for thirty minutes -- and I resent the emotional intrusion into my time with my little guy. I never minded before I became a mom, but now I feel the need to protect my state of mind so that I can be the kind of mom I want to be.

Lately -- maybe because I had such a great experience with my therapist -- I've been thinking about going to get a masters in psychology and doing some kind of counseling. I understand that it's a two year program, and I may have to spend an extra year doing some type of internship. In part, I'm drawn to the idea because I think it would help me personally to study some of those subjects and to understand it -- and myself -- better. I think it would also help me to be a better mom and wife. But I also like the idea of talking to people in a very meaningful way and helping them see themselves or their lives from a different -- and more constructive -- angle. I'm not sure if I'm equipped to do something like that. My therapist was just so amazing at keeping track of all the details that I just spewed out to her -- and so generous in speaking to me from a position of warmth. With my background in litigation, I'm more equipped to be confrontational and rule-driven, rather than supportive and warm.

Of course, I am also concerned about starting a new career when I am almost 40. It will take me a few months to prepare for the GREs and apply to schools. Once I apply, I think I have to wait until the following fall to start. So I will most likely start my program when I am almost 42. That seems quite old -- but then I think of people who were in law school with me -- people who had full careers before. Walter Pincus - the journalist for the Washington Post - was in the evening program at Georgetown when I was there, and I believe he was in his 60s at the time. And then I also think about continuing with law simply because I started in it, and it seems like a horrible waste of time. I tend to think of my last 12 years practicing law as a waste of time. I've justified it to myself, and it hasn't all been negative -- but on the whole, I feel that I have very little to show for my time being a lawyer.

I think it would be horrible to have lived my whole life being just a lawyer. I don't want that to be my obituary. Somewhere inside, there is a part of me that is very ambitious. To do something meaningful with my life. Not to discount being a mother or a wife, but to do something in a larger sense. Sometimes when I read other people's wikipedia entries, I think, I could have done that. And then I tell myself that I still can.

In my case, I think being a mom and now being pregnant with no. 2 heightens my sense of urgency in figuring out my career. I don't want to fall into the trap of being so bogged down with child care -- and prioritizing my children's needs ahead of all else -- that I forget to think about this before it feels too late.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that I would like to accomplish in my life. A part of it is driven by a fear of living meaninglessly -- something I thought my parents did when they worked day in and day out in a dry cleaners, without any humor or acceptance -- simply for the sake of making a living. And it is hard to pinpoint exactly how one goes about finding meaning in one's work. Maybe it's about finding something that aligns with one's values.

I've decided to take Jeff's suggestion, though, and talk to any many people as I can who are therapists -- and see whether they enjoy their work, and what they like about it. If anyone out there is a therapist, I would love to pick your brain!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Crossing My Fingers

Strangest turn of events. I am pregnant again. This time, after hardly trying. We had talked about trying for no. 2 -- and after much deliberation, mapped out the best time to start trying. When the little guy is 8 months old? No, that's too soon. How about at 10 months. Maybe that's better. You think that's good? Don't you? You don't think that may be a little too late? I'll be almost 40 by then. Maybe 8 months is better. Yeah, maybe that's better.

Little T's eighth month came and went. And we weren't really doing much about it. Work was busy, and I wasn't looking forward to being bogged down with pregnancy slumber. Three months later, we still weren't trying. Which seemed to matter little at the time. Except that I missed the pounds that came off from breast feeding.

Now, a month after T turned one, I find myself pregnant. I hardly even kept track of my periods -- and the other day, I suddenly realized that I hadn't had my period the whole time we've been in San Diego. And we've been in San Diego for exactly one month.

So I rushed out and bought some pregnancy test sticks. And tested myself -- and was amazed to find myself pregnant. Not that I had such difficulty getting pregnant the first time around. I had more difficulty staying pregnant. But here I am -- pregnant once again.

The first thought that ran through my mind was how horribly I've been eating for the past months. Hot dogs. Daily cups of coffee. Occasional glasses of wine. Hardly any vegetables -- except bits of olives, mushrooms, and onions on my pizza. And not a single vitamin. For some reason, my diet had been worse than usual. I'll blame it on the move and my hectic schedule.

I remember reading about how spina bifida is determined during the first few weeks of gestation. And how I am low on my folic acid.

I started popping my vitamins again like an addict. I made a big vat of creamed broccoli soup -- for me, little T, and No. 2 -- which I downed along with celery sticks and carrots. I stopped the coffee cold turkey, and caught myself as I started shoving soft cheese and crackers down my throat. And warned Jeff that I would no longer be picking up bottles of pinot noir on my trips to Whole Foods.

It's time to get back on the regimen -- whatever it takes to ensure the well being of this little person growing inside of me. And cross my fingers that this one is a keeper.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Heading South

A month ago, we celebrated our little guy's one year birthday. We rented a hall along the Bay, invited our friends, decorated the place with paper lanterns and custom made posters of the little guy's past 12 months, and laid out enough food and cake to feed all the smiling faces. We put the little guy in a hanbok and made him pick from an assortment of objects - following in a Korean tradition that I know little about -- more for kicks than anything else. When he picked the piggy bank, symbolizing a life of wealth, and the crowd broke out in laughter, we knew we have an entertainer on our hands.

The day after, we loaded our station wagon with our luggage, bottles of water and leftover cake, an umbrella stroller, and enough toys to last the upcoming drive. I packed our little guy in his car seat, and my parents piled in. We left Jeff behind to deal with the moving company - and all the leftovers in the fridge until he was ready to follow suit a couple of days later.

Around 11am, we started driving. Away from the home I had known for the past six years, away from the city I had loved for the past eleven. We drove straight down 280 and then to 101, past Daly City where I had regularly stopped for Hawaiian plate lunches, past the airport I had often hovered over before landing, past all the exits that led to houses of our friends and acquaintances. We stopped in Paso Robles for lunch and proceeded to Santa Barbara for the night. The next day, we kept driving, until we reached La Jolla.

For the past month, I have been calling La Jolla home -- from a rental that we have for the next six months while we try to figure out whether to become Southern Californians for good. Out of our master bedroom upstairs, we overlook the Pacific -- a view more stunning than any I have ever known. We are surrounded by palm trees and people in flip flops. Guys and gals tote surf boards, as casually as if they were carrying laptops. On the freeway, we drive past convertibles -- and monster trucks.

To try to fit in, we have made a concerted effort not to wear any foot gear other than flip flops. I have yet to tuck a surf board under my arm, but Jeff has been going to work regularly with a boogie board and a beach towel in his trunk. We have strolled up and down the streets of Bird Rock, a little enclave of La Jolla, and hit many of the take-out joints in Pacific Beach - but have yet to brave the bars where we see women clad in bikinis and men in cut offs partying as if they were in a John Cusack film.

The past month has passed in a blur. The first few days were dedicated to unpacking and sorting out our material possessions to approximate some state of stability even as our two car garage remains filled with unpacked boxes and plastic bins. Then the dam of work I had put up while our lives took their course broke and I have been drowning in it since. Even though we hired a part time nanny to help us, we don't know what we would have done if my parents hadn't put their own lives on hold to help us with the transition.

Yesterday, I took the day off. We piled in the car and drove one exit over to Sea World. Once there, we pressed our palms against the glass panes and marveled at the orca whales swimming past us. We lathered sun screen on the little guy and braved the sun to watch the dolphin show. And giggled at the sea lions barking for more food. Later, we gobbled up ice cream bars shaped like Shamu.

I purchased an annual membership to the place - and the second year is for free. So until little T turns three -- and if we find ourselves lucky enough to make this our new home -- we'll be there regularly, befriending the whales, the dolphins, the sea lions, and the sea otters. Maybe even the moray eels.

I think about how life must look to a little person like our T, who has suddenly been transported 500 miles and planted in a new home that is three times the size of the only home he has ever known. Who is now showered with overwhelming attention -- and incessant feeding -- by his grandparents from 2500 miles away. Who suddenly finds himself exposed to humongous creatures he has never seen in his one year of existence -- dolphins and orca whales that jump out of the water and crash dive back in.

What else does life have in store for him -- and for us?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I am embarrassed that I haven't posted in almost 6 weeks! I feel like such a delinquent. Work has been very busy, and trying to fit that in, even on a part time basis, while taking care of the little guy seems to squeeze away all the free time I might otherwise have. On top of that, I have been obsessed with planning for little T's first birthday party coming up in early October. But perhaps the better excuse may be that we're preparing for a move to San Diego! We're moving in just two weeks, and we still have a lot of packing left to do.

A part of me is apprehensive about the move. I never thought I'd live in Southern California, and I really love the Bay Area. Even though I am not an extreme liberal, I appreciate all that San Francisco stands for, with its hippie backbone and room for outliers. It has also been my home for the past 11 years, more than a quarter of my life. I have so many friends here that it's hard to imagine just picking up and moving away from them.

I'll start posting again once things calm down. Probably in about three weeks. Please check back in then!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Along the Divide

We're already thinking about no. 2. Little T is only 10 months old, but I've hit my 474th (you do the math), and I'm not about to challenge mother nature's patience after my experience the first time around.

My hope, as I've explained repeatedly to Jeff, is that if no. 2 is a girl (if we're lucky enough to have a second, knock wood), then we call it a day and settle into a family of four. If no. 2 turns out to be a boy, then we keep plugging along to no. 3. If no. 3 turns out to be a boy, we can all pat ourselves on the back for trying and find complacency in our life of mini van and baseball bats.

Jeff hasn't yet bought into my insistence that we keep trying until we welcome a girl into the family. What's the difference, he asks with one eyebrow cocked. Well, I respond, I don't want to be the only girl in the house with you, Sherlock, and our sons. I want to have a daughter, if we can.

When I make my case to Jeff, I feel a little on edge. As if my wish for a daughter is coming from a place of fear rather than desire. A fear that I do not completely understand.

I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the way we grew up, like most other things. The way my sister and I chattered away in the kitchen as we chopped this and that for our mother, even as we sometimes bickered or complained, while my dad sat on the couch clutching his newspaper and my brother flittered in and out of the kitchen, unsure of where to land. The way my dad never learned how to talk to his children. The way my mother filled my ear with her complaints, sorrows, and longings unmet by her husband. The way my brother and I have never had a meaningful conversation our whole lives. It seems strange even to me as I write it.

In our family, alliances were forged often along gender lines. Not intentionally, but perhaps because that's how we understood or didn't understand each other. I never understood my brother's penchant for Ozzy Osbourne or Led Zepplin, even though I could easily understand why my sister loved Les Miserables. I could never understand my father's stoicism and reticence even though I could identify with my mother's need for empathy and yearning to be heard.

But these leanings probably weren't coincidences. Our gender divide was established for us from the beginning. For the first 14 years of my life, my dad went to work, and my mom stayed home. As the older girl, I was relegated the job of helping my mother. When my mother cooked, I was her sous chef. When she did the laundry, I folded. I was always called on as her assistant and raised in her shadow. I don't know if I ever saw my brother do the dishes. Or fold the laundry.

We were a traditional family -- with roles meted out to women and men along conventional lines. And it was in the kitchen where my sister and I often found ourselves, helping our mother prepare the many dishes that she cooked. With our sleeves rolled up, our hair pulled back in pony tails. Flour or grease smeared on our arms or faces. My mom's many appliances hooked in here and there, as we stood over the kitchen table with a turner in hand. Or stationed above the stove, manning the skillet. And in the many hours while we cooked, we talked. Not just about the cooking, with my mother spouting out instructions here and there, but also about the things happening in our lives. Our friends. Our teachers. Whatever was on our mind. And it is here where my father and brother never found a place to belong.

Now that I look back on our childhood, I can see how the men in our family must have felt left out as my mom, my sister, and I chattered away in the kitchen. How they couldn't find a way into our conversations. Sometimes, they hovered over us, but only to grab a glass of water or to poke their heads in the fridge. Or to sample whatever we were cooking. But they never grabbed a spatula and said, "How can I help?" Or sidled up to our mom to say, "What do you need me to do?"

Instead, they sat in the living room. My dad with his newspaper. And my brother with his eyes on the TV. But not together. Without talking.

I wonder if they felt lonely. I'm sure they must have. But I never asked. And they never expressed it.

I suspect my wish for a daughter is my fear of feeling left out. Of being that odd person out. In my own family. I remember that scene from A River Runs Through It, where the father and his two sons go off fly fishing -- and the mother waves them good-bye as she takes a break from doing the laundry. I don't want to be that mother.

I know my fear isn't rational. I won't have the same family that my parents had. Jeff and I aren't my parents. So obvious. If only someone could impress that into my loopy brain.

The funny thing is when I imagine our family these days, it doesn't necessarily include a daughter. Before we had little T, I pictured a daughter, but ever since he showed up, it's hard to imagine a child of ours other than him. These days, when I think of our family, I see me and Jeff with little T. Or with three little boys who look just like T. All giggling and climbing all over us. Both of us.

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.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Trying to Figure it Out

I haven't been feeling so chatty lately. As if I don't have much to say -- or if I have something to say, it isn't very original or interesting. That most things have already been said before. Ever since I had my baby, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about my family and families in general -- and how to be a family now. And how to avoid some of the stresses we suffered as a family. In some ways, trying to figure that out feels overwhelming. I think spending so much time thinking about these issues and trying to dissect my family has been exhausting and makes me want to shut down a little.

A few months ago, someone asked me what I would do differently in raising our child from the way I was raised. It seems like an incredibly difficult question to answer. I didn't know how to sum up my upbringing so neatly, view it with enough detachment to see all of its holes and crevices, and then be astute enough to present solutions to those holes and crevices. At 39, I feel as if I am just beginning to understand some basic things about myself. I also feel reluctant to judge my parents and their parenting through the norms I've adopted growing up here. It seems awfully unfair and narrow-minded.

But I'm not sure how to reconcile the family I had growing up with the family life I want to create for little T. To think about this clearly, I need to be able to see my past with some objectivity, but I don't know if that is even possible. Maybe at the end of the day, there is no such thing, and all I have are clashes of values and subjective choices -- and I have to simply choose as best as I can based on my current context -- which then creates additional anxieties about unexpected future shifts that may upset my paradigm, as it happened to my parents. Or maybe we don't even really have choices in that way, and we are largely the by-product of the environment in which we grow up, what we have around us. Are any of us really capable of detaching ourselves from our cultural/social norms, instead of just bouncing around within it?

So instead of trying to figure out answers to questions that I can't answer, I've been spending my time just hanging out. Meeting with friends for lunch. Going to playgroups and swim class and music class. Shopping for little outfits for our little guy who's growing in spurts. Preparing his meals.

Immersing myself in the day to day feels like a relief somehow. Watching the little guy chew on his tractor and then flop on the green one-eyed monster and then bang on the music table, cushioning him when he's pulled himself up against the ottoman and suddenly lets go in a free-fall, pulling him to my chest when he cries out rubbing his eyes. Letting him bounce up and down in the Jumperoo as his feet thud and thud against the hard wood floor and his arms flop up and down while he squeals and giggles. Wrapping his warm little body against mine and feeling the supple, dimpled chub on his arms and legs. In those moments, I feel content, as if nothing really matters. And in those moments, I think, maybe this is the way we're meant to parent.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Happened to June?

The last few weeks have been unusually hectic. We went to New York to visit my parents for a few days, our little guy suffered from a bout of pink eye (requiring us to administer an ointment in his eyes three times a day while he screamed as if we were about to gouge his eyes out), then I had to entertain a cousin from Korea whom I hadn't seen for the past 12 years, and on top of that, I've been bombarded with work. Whew! I just have a couple of more work deadlines to meet this week, and then I'm back to my usual - but not the exceptional - craziness.

We returned from New York with this lovely outfit for T to wear on his one year birthday. It's still several months away, but it's hard to believe that we're in sight of this milestone. Can't wait to see him in it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Victim Triangle

Hello, Readers,

I won't have time to post until this weekend or next week, but in the meantime, I wanted to share a link to a post I found tremendously helpful in understanding some of my family relationships.

If you want to read it, click here.

Happy reading!

Monday, May 17, 2010

On Anger

For the past three and a half years, my sister has been angry at me and has refused to communicate with me. I'm not really sure what we're fighting about and she has refused to explain. We haven't really communicated during this period except for the few times I tried to reach out clumsily, only to make the situation worse.

Before the fracture, I had considered her the most important person in my life along with my parents. Of course, we've had our differences, and I'm sure the things I did to annoy her accumulate to a sizable mound. But whenever I cooked a new dish, I made plans to cook it for her and my parents. And when I traveled, I always bought her a little trinket first before buying one for myself. I had valued her as a friend and an ally in the family, and trusted her as someone I could talk to about things that mattered the most. She always had great insights, and it had always been important to me to get her perspective and input.

I have friends who are estranged from members of their family, but I never imagined it could happen to me, especially not with my sister. I just never thought we would have a problem that we couldn't talk or fight through, that we would at any point in our lives just give up on the other person, that we would forever condemn each other for our faults or foibles.

Since it started, this has been a great source of distress. She didn't attend my wedding, hardly knows Jeff, and has not yet met our baby. Also, because of the awkward situation, I have avoided going home to New York to see my parents or my brother and his family, including during the holidays, which has created all sorts of additional guilt. The one time I visited during the summer, I pleaded with my mother not to mention my visit to her. I couldn't stand the thought of having some huge blow up or being treated as a pariah by her.

In a way, this fracture has colored my perception of so many other things in my life. For one, it makes me question the nature of relationships in general. When a relationship you've relied on for a big part of your life breaks off, is it possible not to wonder about the tenuousness of all relationships and to feel anxious about life's unpredictability? The severing of our relationship has also made me despair a bit about my family in general. Whereas before I saw cohesion and rays of possibilities despite all of our difficulties and differences, I now only see fracture and the looming cloud of failure.

It may be different if I had a better understanding of what we're fighting about and if she could explain why she is so angry. There is a list of offenses that accumulated after we started fighting, but they never seemed to explain why this started in the first place, what is really at issue. Being in the middle of a devastating fight without understanding its cause has felt maddening at times. It takes away the ability to think through the issue, to assess the rightness or the wrongness of the behavior, to address the problem, to make amends. It takes away the ability to find a sense of order. It makes me feel powerless and helpless. It's being stuck in a maze with no way out.

I've tried to examine our relationship from every angle to try to understand why she may be so angry with me. I of course have my suspicions, but it's difficult to reach any conclusion or view it with any clarity when the other person in the relationship refuses to say yes, that's why or no, that's not it. I am in limbo, waiting for her to respond in some manner and address the issue.

Last week, I read a book called The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner. Years ago, I read a few of Lerner's other books and bought this one at that time, but never really got around to reading it because I never thought of myself as a particularly angry person. Something made me pick it up the other day, and it is probably the single most important book I've read in the past ten years. It helped me to see the relationships in my family, particularly with my sister, with a new perspective and to understand some of the causes of tension as well as my own missteps.

Lerner's premise is that we become angry and our relationships suffer when we allow the demands of the relationship to supersede our own needs or if we expect others to address our needs for us. The book starts with this insightful comment about anger:

"Our anger may tell us that we are not addressing an important emotional issue in our lives, or that too much of our self -- our beliefs, values, desires, or ambitions -- is being compromised in a relationship. Our anger may signal that we are doing more and giving more than we can comfortably do or give. Or our anger may warn us that others are doing too much for us, at the expense of our own competence and growth. Just as physical pain tells us to take our hand off the hot stove, the pain of our anger preserves the very integrity of our self. Our anger can motivate us to say 'no' to the ways in which we are defined by others and 'yes' to the dictates of our inner self."

She also writes:

"Anger is inevitable when our lives consist of giving in and going along; when we assume responsibility for other people's feelings and reactions; when we relinquish our primary responsibility to proceed with our own growth and ensure the quality of our own lives; when we behave as if having a relationship is more important than having a self."

She believes people (women in particular) "betray and sacrifice the self in order to preserve harmony with others," a process she calls "de-selfing." "De-selfing means that too much of one's self (including one's thoughts, wants, beliefs, and ambitions) is 'negotiable' under pressures from the relationship."

In the book, she focuses on family relationships because she writes "[i]t is here that closeness often leads to 'stuckness,' and our efforts to change things only lead to more of the same." One of the most insightful points she makes is that often, family members fight, not to change, but to maintain the status quo. In other words, fighting is a way to resist change.

"If feeling angry signals a problem, venting anger does not solve it. Venting anger may serve to maintain, and even rigidify, the old rules and patterns in a relationship, thus ensuring that change does not occur."

I found myself underlining sentences from every other page so that I could remember her words and go back to them later. There are too many to go through all of them here, but I'll discuss one point that's relevant here.

Lerner says that in close relationships, our boundaries often blur so much that our sense of responsibility gets confused. She writes:

"Instead of taking responsibility for our own selves, we tend to feel responsible for the emotional well-being of the other person and hold the other person responsible for ours. When this reversal of individual responsibility is set in motion, each partner may become very emotionally reactive to what the other says and does, and there may be a lot of fighting and blaming..."

She believes women in particular are prone to this blurring of the self: "Why is the question 'Who is responsible for what' such a puzzle for women? Women in particular have been discouraged from taking responsibility for solving our own problems, determining our own choices, and taking control of the quality and direction of our lives. As we learn to relinquish responsibility for the self, we are prone to blame others for failing to fill up our emptiness or provide for our happiness -- which is not their job. At the same time, however, we may feel responsible for just about everything that goes on around us. We are quick to be blamed for other people's problems and pain and quick to accept the verdict of guilty. We also, in the process, develop the belief that we can avert problems if only we try hard enough."

She writes, however, that we do not cause the other person's reaction; the other person chooses how to react:

"It is tempting to view human transactions in simple cause-and-effect terms. If we are angry, someone else caused it. Or, if we are the target of someone else's anger, we must be to blame; or alternately -- if we are convinced of our innocence -- we may conclude that the other person has no right to feel angry. The more our relationships in our first family are fused (meaning the togetherness force is so powerful that there is a loss of the separate 'I's' within the 'we'), the more we learn to take responsibility for other people's feelings and reactions and blame them for our own. ('You always make Mom feel guilty.' 'You give Dad headaches.' 'She caused her husband to drink.') Likewise, family members assume responsibility for causing other people's thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

"Human relationships, however, don't work that way -- or at least not very well. We begin to use our anger as a vehicle for change when we are able to share our reactions without holding the other person responsible for causing our feelings, and without blaming ourselves for the reaction that other people have in response to our choices and actions. We are responsible for our own behavior. But we are not responsible for other people's reactions; nor are they responsible for ours."

Those words fell on me like a bucket of ice on a hot day. I am not responsible for my sister's anger. Her anger is her own.

Somehow that thought is completely liberating. I feel like I've been punishing myself for the past three and a half years, trying to set this right, trying to find a way to appease her, trying to get to the bottom of it. And this whole time, I've been waiting, waiting -- waiting to be pardoned, waiting to be forgiven. But if someone were to ask me for what, I wouldn't know the answer.

At the same time, I've been allowing my sister's reaction to overshadow my own. I was so caught up in reacting to her anger and being consumed with a sense of guilt for having caused her anger that I didn't really think about what I want out of all this. She has not been a part of my life for the past three and a half years. During those years, I got married, had two miscarriages, lost a job, had a child, and experienced so many personal changes that I don't even know where to start. Yet, she has not been involved in any of that. We no longer have a relationship. So why am I struggling so hard to try to find a way to have a relationship with someone who wants nothing to do with me?

I've decided to give myself the permission to move on with my life and not feel hung up by this situation. I also decided that I should not use this situation as an excuse to give up on my other relationships and to give in to the easier path of dejection. There is nothing I can do to change her or her anger, and it is hers to live with as she wishes. But I can find a way to be happy in my own life.

Yesterday, Jeff and I went to our friends' wedding at the Brazilian Room in Tilden Park. They are one of the greatest couples we know, and we were thrilled to see them on this day. The day was chilly and foggy, but the smiles on the faces of the couple, the bridesmaids, the groomsmen, all the family and friends lit up the place. The couple had written their own vows, and they each promised to be present for each other -- to listen to each other, to fight fairly, to forgive easily. Later, after all the jokes and the stories and the laughter, the bride's father - who was himself divorced - toasted the couple with his one wish -- that their love for each other be stronger in 30 years than it is now -- as he admonished them that they have to work at it, that it won't come easy. As I sat there to witness, I gathered the wisdom in all of those words and took them in for myself, as I vowed to apply them to those who choose to remain in my life.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

On Mother's Day

My mom called, and as soon as I picked up the phone, she shouted, "Happy mother's day!" It's weird to have this day apply to me. Me! Til now, it has been a day when I thought about a little gift and a card I could find for my own mom. Even this year, I thought about it more as a day for my mom than for me. But as I sit here blogging in the middle of the day (!), the little guy is taking a nap and Jeff is in the kitchen preparing a gourmet Italian meal for us. What an indulgence. Shouldn't we have mother's day more often?

In Korea, May 5th is Children's Day. When we moved to the US, I remember asking my mom with great concern, When is Children's Day in America? My mom responded, Everyday is Children's Day in America. Shouldn't that also be the case with Mother's Day??

My life now is drastically different than it was a few years ago. By 9:30 this morning, I hadn't showered, hadn't eaten breakfast, and hadn't even thought about making a cup of coffee. But I had already fed our little guy two meals, filed his nails, prepared and froze the broccoli and English peas we bought for him yesterday at the farmer's market, and played with him for two hours. A few years ago, all I could have mustered by this time was to take a shower, get dressed, drag myself onto the muni, stand in line at Starbuck's, and sit in front of the computer with my latte, thinking about the long day ahead.

To everyone who told me that being a mother of a 7 months old is completely different than being the mother of a newborn, you are so right! These days, I actually have time to read! Read -- as in books for myself, not just skimming books on how to take care of babies. And for our baby sign classes, which I host at my house, I've actually had time to bake snacks like bread pudding and pear tarts. Those little snacks were a great hit. Granted, those baking events require a little coordination. I pick out the snack about a day in advance and do all my shopping the day before. Then during the morning of the gathering, I try to squeeze in all the work while Little T naps. If I still have more to do when he awakes, I plop him into the Exersaucer or the Jumperoo (see photo above), two of the greatest inventions for parents.

I'm getting greedy and starting to plan for all the other things I want to do. I already signed up for a writing class that starts in two weeks and have been doing pilates once a week, which I would like to expand to two. We've again started to have friends over for dinner, which I had sorely missed. And I'm itching to brush the dust off of my brand new sewing machine, which I hardly had time to use before I got put on bedrest during my pregnancy. This is on top of all the things I want to do for our little guy, like regularly going to the farmer's market to pick out produce for him. Now that he's eating solid food, I am getting the greatest pleasure out of trying to figure out what to feed him and what he may like. Seeing the little dollops of peas and sweet potato go down his throat is inexplicably and completely satisfying. I also spend inordinate time these days on Amazon and Toys-R-Us websites to try to find toys that may be fun and good for his development. I realize I'm probably being overly ambitious and that I'll not get to all of these, but it feels like a little challenge to try to figure out how to squeeze more time out of the day.

My life these days is nothing like those days when I could sit on the beach and read my beloved books under the sun. When I could take a 2 hour jog in the middle of the day. When I could run out at a last minutes notice to meet with friends for drinks. Those days are long gone. But these days, I have my adorable baby boy, my wonderful Jeff, our beautiful family. It's much more than I could have hoped for five years ago.

Entering motherhood had been a tremendous privilege. It has given me an opportunity to take stock of my life, to see things from a new perspective, to learn things about myself that I had previously been blind to, to find levels of satisfaction I have never experienced before, and to feel the all consuming love for a precious little person. I feel like the luckiest person to have been allowed this chance at motherhood. Yes, it certainly is reason to celebrate.

In Rejection of Denials

In our family, direct communication is not our forte.

This is what happened when I asked my parents if they wanted to vacation with us in Hawaii this summer.

When I called, my dad answered the phone. When I asked him if he wanted to go to Hawaii with us, he told me to ask my mother.

So I asked my mom.

"Mom, how about going to Hawaii with us this summer?"

"Oh, this summer may be difficult."

"Difficult? Is there a better time for you and Dad? This fall?"

"Maybe the fall is better. But it's too soon to know. You and Jeff should just go by yourselves with the baby. Don't wait for us."

"But Mom, we want to go with you and Dad. We were planning to visit New York, but then thought it would be more fun for all of us to go to Hawaii instead. Is it because you're still having back pains?"

"I'm not completely healed yet, but you guys should just go by yourselves. Don't worry about us."

"Mom, it would be fun to go together. Maybe we can plan something for fall."

"Well, let's see. It's too early to plan now. Anyway, you should go by yourselves. Because you and Jeff got married so late, you have to squeeze in more fun than other couples."


A few days after the call, I talked to Jeff about the best possible times for us to travel, given his work schedule. I looked through our calendar again and scanned for blocks of time that didn't interfere with our baby's swim class, baby sign class, and music class. With those date options, I scoured the flights on Orbitz, compared prices for various airports in the Bay Area, checked prices for flights from New York for my parents, and jotted down the few flights that seemed reasonably priced.

I then called my mom back.

"Mom, how is your back? Is it better?"

"It's better now. I'm almost completely well."

"Oh, good. What a relief. Does that mean we can plan our trip to Hawaii now?"

"Well, it's hard to plan now because your dad is getting the driveway repaved."

"Oh, is something wrong with the driveway?"

"It's messy. Not as good as the neighbor's."

"Oh, I never noticed. So how long does it take to repave the driveway?"

"I don't know. We have to ask the contractor. But he has to get the permit first."

"Does the permit process take long out there?"

"I'm not sure. They submitted it a couple of weeks ago."

"Oh, ok. Well, can you repave it after the trip?"

"After the trip?"

"Yeah. Maybe get the permit first and then hold off on the repaving until after the trip? We'll only be going to Hawaii for about a week or so."

"You and Jeff should just go by yourselves. Don't worry about us."

The conversation proceeded along this vein for a few more minutes, with me probing as if I were taking a deposition, and my mom either evading the question or answering only the literal question asked, like a well-trained witness. After a few more probes, my mom hesitated and then blurted out,

"Your dad and I are thinking about going to Canada this summer. Or maybe Yellowstone."

"Oh, really? Mom, that's a great idea. You've already been to Hawaii so you should go somewhere you've never been. Are you going with one of these Korean tour groups?"

"We're looking at it. We haven't booked it yet."

"That sound really fun, Mom. We can go to Hawaii another time."

"You think it's ok?"

"Of course it's ok. It sounds great, Mom."

When I got off the phone, I thought about this funny exchange. Why couldn't my mom have told me up front that she wanted to take a different trip this summer? It was perfectly understandable since she had often spoken of her desire to travel but had not had many opportunities before she and my dad retired. Since she had already been to Hawaii, it made sense that she would want to travel somewhere else. Instead of a simple declaration of her preference, however, we bounced back and forth, back and forth, with me assuming she was just hesitating because she didn't want to impose on us, the way Koreans always go back and forth about who's paying after a restaurant meal.

As a family, we've never been good at expressing our desires. Instead, we are experts at denials. Pretending that we don't really want anything while secretly hoping that someone picks up our subtle cues. The way the last piece of kalbi always remains on the plate and we each take turns encouraging the other to eat it, denying that we want it for ourselves. Implicit in each of these denials is an assumption that fulfilling one's desire would be a deprivation for the other. If I eat it, you can't. The problem is that it ignores the enormous plate of kalbi that had just been consumed, sitting in our overextended bellies. If this assumption relates only to material needs, it may not be such a big deal. After all, pretending that you don't want that last piece of kalbi doesn't really matter when you can turn around and eat a tub of KFC. But in our family, this inability to say "I want" extends into other realms.

For example, in our family, we don't know how to say, I need a hug today - or to make any other expressions of emotional need. Growing up, I don't recall hugging or kissing my parents or holding their hands, even though we have photos of them holding us as babies or toddlers. I almost never saw my parents hug or hold each other's hands. And god forbid that they should ever kiss. After I moved away from home, my mom started giving me hugs when she and my dad picked me up or dropped me off at the airport. They would be standing by the cordon behind the gate, and when I walked out, she would greet me with a big hug as if she were making up for all the hugs missed over our lifetime. My dad often stood to the side with his arms behind his back, and after hugging my mom, I would give him a quick pseudo-bow as he smiled sheepishly. I have given my dad a few hugs in my life, but they were awkward occasions. I would approach hesitantly and clumsily but a little too hurriedly put my arms around his torso as I avoided his eyes, and he would give me a quick pat on my back as he stiffened. But those were special occasion hugs. Casual hugs didn't exist in my family. Expressions of physical connection were not a part of our everyday language. But it was apparent that we longed for such connection because every once in a while, our needs would seep out in a disguise. Like the times my mom pretended to hug my dad while posing for photos. Or the time my dad furtively kissed my baby right before running out the door and down the steps as they were leaving for the airport. That was the only time I ever saw my dad kiss anyone.

We also don't know how to say, I need you to listen to me. As a family, we don't quite know how to talk to each other. Sometimes we chit chat about current events or other random happenings. Or my dad will make announcements about our extended family in Korea. Most of the time, my mom talks elaborately about dishes she'll cook for us or she'll dispense advice about how we should conduct ourselves when we're out in the world. I have of course talked to my mom about things going on in my life, and it turns into a funny game of telephone when she fills my dad in what I told her. But it's always just one of us talking to our mom with a filtered version of events. As a group, we don't really know how to talk about things that matter. Like our ambitions, our anxieties and fears, what we really think. When we timidly venture into such terrain, we're often misunderstood, whether it's due to the language barrier or an assumption that the world we inhabit in America is the same as the one in which they grew up. We interpret the other's message only in our own context because we don't always know how to make our minds large enough for differing realities. When we feel misunderstood, we initially hold our silence. On occasion, the silence accumulates like a dark cloud until the resentment boils over and we explode with a rant. Sometimes, the inability to open a clear communication path causes us to mutter and bicker about the pettiest of all petty grievances, until we wonder what the hell we're arguing about. At other times, silence is used as a weapon, as in I am not going to respond to anything you say and I won't talk to you until you figure out what the hell you did wrong and don't look to me to help you!

Along the same vein, we never learned how to say I need you to see me as I really am. Growing up, we spent a lot of time doing things behind our parents' back. That may not be so unusual. After all, isn't that what teenagers do? But when you're in your late 30s and still doing the same thing, something is wrong. We're still stuck in the role of trying to live up to our parents' expectations and seeking their approval. It is almost as if we have a deficit in the things we were supposed to have accumulated in our childhood, whether it's parental approval or assurance. We children still spend too much energy judging ourselves through my parents' eyes, ultimately a dissatisfying process since we live according to different values and cultural norms than they hold. To this day, the echo of whether we failed or succeeded in their estimation reverberates in our lives more vigorously than it should.

Another thing we never learned to say is I love you. After all, what is a greater expression of our need than to love, to be loved, and to know that we are cared for in this world. Jeff and I say it to each other and to our baby almost every day. We want the other person to hear it regularly, to never doubt that we love each other. But growing up, those words didn't settle on our tongues very well. We always assumed -- hoped -- they didn't need to be said. That our other evolved ways of showing affection, like my mom's over-dedication to feeding us, were enough. But it isn't always easy to reciprocate with another mound of food, not as easy as simply saying, "I love you too."

I'm not sure why we never developed the skills to express our needs with each other. Maybe saying "I want" flew in the face of a family shaped by self-sacrifice. Expressing one's need in such a family requires heightened sensitivity to the others lest we add more burden to one who had already sacrificed too much. So before blurting out desires for ourselves, we engage in a little do-si-do, maneuvering backwards around the others to first feel them out, anticipate their sensitivities and their needs, and signal that we mean no threat to them. After a while, it becomes a habit, just a way of being.

Stuck in this mode, we seem to hope that others would somehow detect our needs, without having to spell it out for each other, or that with enough denials, we would somehow be able to arrive at getting our needs met, like three right turns becoming a left. So at times, our denials are screamed out loud, as in I don't need you, I'm better off without you. Or don't worry about me, just go on with your lives. It is those indirect cries that often ring the loudest in our ears.

Looking back over the past 39 years, I wonder where our denials have gotten us. It feels like nowhere, a never ending loop of right turns when all of us really want to turn left. There is always a pervading sense of deprivation and resentment -- and a sense of resignation that not all needs can be met. Not this way, not when we have to expend so much time reading between the lines to try to decipher each other's messages. And I'm always left with a sense of guilt that I didn't know how to read the messages properly or do more to address them.

These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to be a family. How do we take care of each other and still find a way to take care of ourselves? Someone recently asked me what I would do differently in raising my own children. One answer is that I decided to leave behind the model that leaves no room for individual needs in the name of family. We don't have to step all over each other, but we also don't need to travel a mile out of the way to avoid the possibility of imposing on the other. We can speak directly and clearly when we ask for what we want and allow the other to respond in kind. Maybe somewhere in that process of talking, we'll find a way to meet our needs -- all of our needs.

My first mother's day seems like as good a day as any to start down this path.

Monday, May 3, 2010

An Aerial View

The problem with having unidentified sources of anxiety is that the source is unidentified. So when I meet with my lovely therapist, we cover many topics. But we often veer to the topic of family, the top candidate for the source of most things in my life. I give her the outline of my life story, the family I had growing up. She listens, asks questions, listens some more, and then asks more questions. That is how we delve into the details of my life. Slowly, a picture emerges of this world I inhabit physically, mentally, emotionally.

When I present her with these details, she sifts the information with a more dexterous hand. She repackages them for me, in a way, and delicately bounces them back in the form of questions. Sometimes, the questions spring back lightly. "Why?" "Why do you see it that way?" Other times, the questions land with a thud. Last week, she asked me, "What would it be like to have a family without obligations?" They are almost philosophical, these questions. And like almost all questions along that vein, the answers appear elusive. Yet they seem to hold the key to the missing piece, the sharpening lens that could bring the fuzzy pictures into focus.

Through this process, I start to see my world as it may appear to an outsider like her. I gain a little distance from the familiar, the every day assumptions that have moved in and taken hold, like fixtures that begin to define the house.

I am now realizing how I've become stuck in my perspective over the years. I've fallen into the habit of casting the various members of my family in certain roles and playing the same narrative over and over again in my head. These roles have overtaken all else, like weeds that begins to suffocate the unsuspecting flower. In this refrain, we no longer know how to relate to each other outside of these roles, as the full human beings we are when we are out in the world. However peculiar they may appear to an outsider, I've accepted these roles and the ways of my family as facts, truths. And forgotten that there are other ways.

Here is where the therapist steps in, re-focuses the lens, and asks me to take another look. Look again, she says. Don't you see all the assumptions tucked away in there? She reminds me that there are other possibilities. We have choices in the way we want to be, the way we want to live. We don't have to keep doing things the same way, just because it has always been. We can break out of these roles.

I find myself looking back at her, my mouth agape. Of course, of course. Why didn't I see that before? It feels earth-shattering. And relieving. And so painfully obvious.

But I remind myself that sometimes, it takes an outsider to point out the obvious. To help remove the blinders we've forgotten we have. To remind us to move our heads side to side, up and down, all around, and to shake the dormant strands of thought loose.

It feels like a privilege, this opportunity to talk about my life this way. To study it, almost like analyzing a piece of literature, looking at it this way and that, probing for more details and examining it further, piecing bits and pieces together, searching for insights. But this time, it isn't just theoretical and it isn't about someone else's life. Here, there are immediate consequences. It helps set me in a better direction, a much needed tune-up, at a time when it seems critical as I start out with a new family, before I have a chance to screw up a new relationship. And to do it with someone who has no agenda but to help me think about my life. She has insights inaccessible to me, and she finds patterns in my behavior I've never noticed before. A stranger to my life who sees more than I can. She helps lift me out of my own life for an aerial view and points out the obstacles I have built over the years. Not so insurmountable, she suggests. No, I certainly hope not.

We should all be so lucky to have this chance.

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.