It can be tricky to have children who are at different developmental stages. Our conservative strategy for navigating these treacherous waters is to wade in only as far as would be knee-deep for our youngest child. Recently, for example, the kids watched Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, even though the boys would much rather have seen Gravity. A couple years ago I caught my daughter, who was then six years old, reading The Hunger Games, which I had gotten for her oldest brother. I snatched it away from her and told her she could read it when she was older.

The other day I asked my thirteen year old son, “When do you think T will be old enough to read The Hunger Games?”

“Well, to be honest, I think she’s old enough now.”

“Really? But she’s only a third grader.”

“Yeah, but to tell you the truth, she’s way more mature than I am now.”

“Seriously? You really think so?”

“Yeah. And when I realized that, it kind of ruined my day a little bit. But I’ve come to terms with it, and I’ve accepted it now.”

This may also explain why I’ve heard the thirteen year old say to his younger brother, “We have to be nice to T now, so she’ll let us play video games in her basement when we’re all adults.”

I’ll be back in a week…Happy weekend and Thanksgiving!

The Inferno

Life in our household has been full of stress and strife lately. I’ve been having terrifying nightmares, which continue to haunt me in my waking hours. Migraines keep grabbing me in a vise-like headlock. The pain, always concentrated in one throbbing eyeball, makes me clench my teeth as I wait out the four hours until I can pop three more Advil. To tell you the truth, lately there have been moments when I have wallowed in self-pity and dark despair. I’ve asked myself, “My God! What have I done to deserve this?

Here’s the thing. I have a beautiful child, who is intelligent, creative, talented, funny, sensitive, generous, and kind. He has always marched to the beat of his own drum, and I admire and respect him for it. To be honest though, I have to admit that I’ve also regularly engaged in epic battles with him because of this. We all have to function and live in a world of rules and deadlines and norms, I reason to myself. And so I try to coax and cram and bash my square peg son into the round hole over and over again. I do this out of love and concern for his future happiness, but all the good intentions in the world can’t transform it into a pleasant experience, or even a reasonable endeavor.

In school, children are assessed in ways that may make sense for most, but not for those who do their homework, and then routinely forget to turn it in or lose it between home and school. They don’t work for kids who can’t remember to bring home their textbook to study for the quiz they have to take the next day. The standard assessments simply can’t capture the abilities and gifts of children, whose minds crackle with intelligence, but shut off when confronted with boring, routine tasks. It can be exhilarating to parent such a child, but truth be told: at times it can also be thoroughly exhausting and demoralizing.

A couple nights ago, my son managed to finish his homework, take his shower, and practice his piano pieces at a godly hour. At the beginning of the school year we had optimistically stated that his bed time would be 9:30. Lately, bed time has been whenever we tell him he simply can’t work any longer on whatever paper, project, problem set, lab, or translation is due the next day, because it’s already 10:30, 11, or past midnight. On that blessed night, all of these tasks were done and there was a still a little time to spare before bedtime. It was a miracle.

My son and I looked at each other awkardly, uncertainly, not quite knowing how to handle this unexpected turn of events. This usually would be about the time when I would trot out a fist shaking “You can do it! Shake it out!” lecture à la Bela Karolyi, or a “Pull it together and FOCUS, kid!” lecture or the: “My head is going to explode if we keep having this same argument” lecture or the “Just crank it out, please, I’m begging you for the love of all things holy: just. crank. it. out” lecture, or the “Think, really think if there’s anything else you’ve forgotten that you need to be working on right now” lecture. You get the picture. That night, there was no need for any of those lectures.

“Well…are you heading to bed then?” I finally asked.

“I think I’ll stay down here and just talk with you a little, if that’s ok with you” he replied as he settled himself on the couch at my side. He hastened to add, “NOT about school or homework or anything like that. Let’s just chat.”

We did just that. When he finally did head to bed, I heard him say as he rounded the corner, “Oh, I forgot something.”

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! My heart sank and I tensed up as I waited to hear him tell me what important assignment he had forgotten he had to do. And then he came back into the family room where I was sitting, because what he had forgotten was to give me a goodnight hug.

As I hugged this extraordinary child, I thought to myself, “My God! What have I done to deserve this?” These moments of grace remind me why I would walk through fire for this boy. We’ll walk through this Inferno together and there will be love and light at the other end. Amen.

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Oh, to be more like…the Camellia

At the moment, the fiery leaves of my Japanese maples are taking center stage in a garden that is otherwise withered and brown.

But there are two other superstars in my autumn garden right now:

Oh, to be more like these Camellias!

  • unexpected, but always welcome – for most of the year, these are unassuming, well-behaved, handsome shrubs. In late fall, winter and early spring when nothing else is blooming – they suddenly explode with glorious blooms.
  • intrepid – although the flowers look like they should be grown in a perfectly climate-controlled greenhouse, they’ll bloom under mantles of snow
  • luminous – the glossy leaves and blooms light up shady spots in the garden

Poems for November and a few more leaf prints

November Night

by Adelaide Crapsey

With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

Autumn Movement

by Carl Sandburg

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman,
the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things
come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go,
not one lasts.

Related post: Leaf prints

A week ago today…

on our final day with our friends in Madison, Wisconsin, we took one last round of photos:

I posed for Rosita’s Portrait of a Feminist project:

We picked Noah up from school and headed to the airport:

My brother Teddy met us for dinner at the airport in Minneapolis, where we we had a longish layover:

Another airport, another “chonom” video:

Thanks for showing us around your new hometown, friends. Until we meet again! xoxo

You can find my friend Rosita’s blog “on being American, Asian and adopted” here.

Even More Madison…

On Sunday our friends took us to University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union. We lured the kids there with the promise of ice cream, but warned them in advance that there would be a photo session!

The boys worked off some excess energy with a little Parkour:

The Googleyezer got down to business:


We found the perfect spot for photos!

The flashbulbs were firing!

I loved how these ones turned out:

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More Madison

Our tour of Madison continued on past the Wisconsin State Capitol:

…where a philosopher had set up his “Socrates Café” out front.

We caught the very last day of the farmer’s market, where I admired the rather stunning cabbage bouquets:

and got to taste fresh “Squeak-a-licious” cheese curds for the first time. (Mmmmmmm)!

We had lunch at Tutto Pasta, where I caught up with a friend from China, who has just began her studies at the University of Wisconsin:

We visited some of the many great stores along State Street. We lingered at Ragstock:

No joke. This photo shows only a small portion of their vast collection of ugly Christmas sweaters:That evening I got to see my youngest cousin, who just relocated to Madison. We reminisced about old times, got caught up on family matters, and…well:

Gabrielle d’Entrées et une de ses soeurs, c. 1594 by unknown artist. Louvre

…we engaged in some art appreciation. Yep, that’s what it was: Art Appreciation. Because we’re super classy that way. (It must be genetic)!

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The Wishing Tree

My friend Rosita took me to the newly opened Central Library branch of the Madison Public Library.  It has been thoughtfully planned to meet the needs of a modern, urban community. Within the 119,200 square foot LEED certified building are dedicated spaces for children, teens, and adults. There are public meeting and study rooms, auditoriums, a cafe, art galleries, and a media lab. While we were there, a string quartet was rehearsing in one of the open spaces.

There was art everywhere:

One of the most remarkable things about this library is how the community has taken into consideration the needs of the homeless. In recognition of the fact that libraries are often refuges for the homeless, space has been allotted to social service agencies that work with this population to help them find housing, treatment, and work. The library provides other programming for the homeless such as book clubs and movies as well.

My favorite spot in the library was “The Bubbler,” an art studio within the library that offers “hands-on pop-up workshops” led by local experts on everything from animation to screen printing. I was drawn to the far corner of the studio, where there was a “Wishing Tree”:

The wishes were handwritten on the backs of recycled card catalog cards:


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Château des Poules

In the morning Noah gave us a tour of the henhouse, which he had helped to build:

He explained to us that the golf balls are there to encourage the hens to lay their eggs in that spot:


We met the royal denizens, specially selected to withstand the cold Wisconsin winters:

Nicholas picked up a thing or two:

Country Bumpkins

On Friday afternoon I pulled into the pick up line at Nicholas’ school and settled down to wait for him. Soon I spotted him running towards me with his gigantic backpack slung over his shoulder and a huge grin on his face.

“Rooooaaaad trip!” I whooped as he opened the car door and got in.

It’s been a rough month for us, replete with the usual heavy doses of teen and parental angst, handwringing and recriminations. School has been stressful and that stress has bled into our home life. Too many of our interactions lately have revolved around nagging and arguing about schoolwork. We were both glad to escape from all of that, if only for a weekend.

Once we established the happy fact that Nicholas would NOT be dragging his backpack to Wisconsin, we relaxed into the hour and a half drive to Richmond International Airport. This is the first year my son has been able to sit next to me in the passenger seat, rather than in one of the back seats. It felt great to be chatting side by side, at the very beginning of our trip to visit our friends.

Dinner at Richmond Airport

Dinner at Richmond Airport

We switched planes in Detroit. As we made our way to the gate, we passed through this tunnel:

“We seriously need to have one of these in our house. You have to take a video of this!” Nicholas insisted.

“You know what Grandma would say if she saw us videotaping this?” I asked Nicholas as I complied with his request.

“What would she say?” he asked.

“She’d call us a couple of chonoms.”

“What does that mean?”

Chonom is Korean for country bumpkin.”

“She’d be totally right. We are a couple of chonoms getting all excited about the light show. Oooo! Now let’s videotape this fountain!”:

We finally arrived in Madison, bedraggled and exhausted from our travels, but so happy to see our friends waiting for us in the lobby.

More on our trip tomorrow…