The Snow Queen and Other Snow Day Tales

With a son in high school and another in middle school, we’ve been flirting with the idea of letting all three kids stay at home alone without adult supervision. I know it might strike some as ridiculous that this would even be an issue at this point. As an eleven year old still in elementary school, I was babysitting infants. As a “safety patrol” armed with nothing but a frayed vinyl orange belt and a cheap badge slung over my scrawny little shoulder, I was in charge of a whole bus stop full of kids far from the watchful eyes of any of our parents. But that was a very different era. These days in our peaceful little neighborhood nestled in the bucolic countryside, I sometimes see parents waiting at the bus stop with their high school-age kids.

"The Voyage of Life: Youth," Thomas Cole, 1840.

“The Voyage of Life: Youth,” Thomas Cole, 1840.

The last time we asked the boys if they would feel comfortable staying home alone and in charge of their little sister, they looked at us wide-eyed with fear and vigorously shook their heads. Could it have been the fact that we began the discussion with exhortations to hide if they heard anyone at the door, to NOT answer the phone unless they recognized our number, and to call 911 IMMEDIATELY if their sister so much as coughed a little? Could it have been the scenarios we role-played in which evil sickos disguised as sweet old grannies would plead with them to open the door, because their car had broken down and they were hurt and needed to come in to use our phone and by the way they had a cute little puppy and sacks full of candy too? Possibly.

"The Voyage of Life: Manhood," Thomas Cole, 1840.

“The Voyage of Life: Manhood,” Thomas Cole, 1840.

We were very close to finally taking the plunge last week when the fairly modest snow we got here in Charlottesville shut down the school system for an entire week. Every day last week I would get a text from the county announcing that school would be closed for another day. Like clockwork, the next text I would receive shortly thereafter would be a one word expletive in response from my husband, who would be losing yet another day of work to stay home with the kids. Towards the end of the week, his one word text bombs would literally make me LOL.

We just couldn’t quite bring ourselves to leave our nine year old daughter home alone last week, even in the care of her older brothers, and despite the fact that my son has openly acknowledged her superior level of maturity. And so my husband and I traded our daughter back and forth throughout the entire week, while we fulfilled our various work obligations. This kind of shuffling has been going on for years. Once when my husband didn’t get back home in time to take over parenting duties, I was forced to bring my infant to a class I was teaching. I’ll never forget having to change my son’s diaper in the middle of my lecture on Russian literature. I’m sure the students will never forget it either. More recently, the kids have had to spend many a snow day or sick day sitting in on their dad’s political theory lectures. I’ll be so bitterly disappointed if after all this, they don’t have enough credits to earn their B.A.s by the time they get their high school diplomas.

It snowed again late last night and early this morning. School was cancelled for all three kids, but alas NOT for the parents. This morning we debated back and forth about how to handle this latest development. Finally, we decided that it was at last time to cross the Rubicon. We would leave all three kids at home.

A little while after getting to my office, I called home to check up on them.

“Mommy?” my daughter asked as she picked up the phone.

“Yes, it’s me!” I answered, “Oh YAY! You haven’t burned down the house yet!”

MOMMY!” she replied. Did you know it’s possible to actually hear the sound of rolling eyeballs?

“Have you gotten any homework done?”

“Yep! I’ve done some math and I’m going to do some word study.”

“And what are you guys going to have for lunch?”

“Actually, we’re in the middle of lunch right now,” she replied.

“Really? Already? It’s only 11:20…”

“Yeah!” my daughter replied, “We’re having a big fat cooking showdown.”

My heart sank.

Big fat cooking showdown sounds really scary to me. Are you guys making a big fat mess?”

No. So, N and T both made me dishes and I’m deciding which one tastes the best.”

“What are the dishes?”

“T made me macaroni & cheese and N made me some delicious noodles.”

I guess I know who won the showdown. I have to laugh as I imagine the boys microwaving the  ready-made macaroni & cheese and pouring boiling water over the instant noodles and then presenting their “dishes” to their sister with a flourish. I should probably start planning my outfit for the James Beard Award Ceremony.

I also have to laugh as I envision my daughter dispensing judgement upon her loyal subjects. It reminded me of the time a few years ago when I took the kids swimming. Eventually, I noticed that the boys were not frolicking and splashing about as one might expect two carefree kids on vacation to be doing. Instead, they were assiduously taking turns giving their little sister rides on their backs and then anxiously asking her to rate their performance. It turned out that my daughter had ruthlessly pitted her brothers against each other in a  “Best Brother Contest.”

“Well…I’d say you’ve got a 7.5 so far. N gave me a smoother ride, so he gets an 8.2, but maybe you could improve your score by giving me a longer ride.”

More bitter disappointment is coming my way if that girl doesn’t become Ruler of the Universe in my lifetime…

Until then? I’m pretty sure they’re all going to be just fine.

Lost and Found

IMG_0573First posted 2/12/13.

For weeks now I’ve been asking my son to find the brand new winter coat I bought him. He wore it to school one day and it hasn’t been seen since. I’m sure it’s buried deep in the Lost and Found bin at his school. The snowfall and the frigid temperatures last Friday prompted me to ratchet up my usual low-level nagging into a full-throttle turning of the screws. I let him borrow one of my coats that morning and I must have told him at least four or five or thirty-eight times to MAKE SURE TO BRING HOME BOTH COATS. BOTH. COATS!!! I conscripted my husband to reiterate this directive as well, (the old double-barreled shotgun approach).

Of course, (as I half knew would happen), he came home without either coat. I admit it. I blew like Krakatoa. I got the kids in the car and we headed to my parents’ house for a quick overnight stay to celebrate the Lunar New Year. For the first fifteen minutes of the journey I barked and lectured and threatened and droned on and on and on and on…I couldn’t stop myself. I was like a runaway train whose brakes had failed.

Hell-bent on riding the poor boy like a witch on a flaming broomstick for the rest of the trip, I had him pull out his science notebook and start taking notes for his genetics project due this week. The assignment was to create a family tree that included inherited traits from both sides of his family.

“What have I inherited from you, Mom?” he asked.

“Well, think about it…What do you think you’ve inherited from me?”

“Ummm…thick, dark hair?”

“Uh-huh. Go on. What else?”

“Shovel teeth…” (Side note: Did you know that Asians and Native Americans have concave top incisors, also referred to as ‘shovel teeth’)?

“I’m sure you can think of other examples. There are some really obvious similarities,” I said impatiently.

“Well, I’m not very physically flexible…”

“Yeah, that sounds like me too. But there are even more obvious similarities.”

“Oh, uh…brown Asian eyes?”


“…And I think we have the same type of personality.”

Ahhh, there it was…He’s right. We do have similar personalities. I flattered myself by entertaining thoughts about some positive traits we might share – generosity, creativity, a compassionate nature…

He continued his thought: “For both of us, it’s absolutely inconceivable that we could possibly be wrong about anything.”

Oof. Oh yeah. He said that. Verbatim.

When we arrived in Arlington my kids went straight to bed. I stayed up for a little while to chat with my mother. She asked me how the kids were doing and I immediately launched into a litany of complaints about my son’s forgetfulness, about how he slaves over homework assignments but then forgets to turn them in or loses them between home and school, about the two coats that did not make it back home…My mother just shrugged her shoulders.

The next day, after a traditional Korean New Year’s lunch of Dduk Gook (see New Year’s Soup), we headed back home. I called my mom to let her know we’d arrived home safely.

“Mom, I think I left medicine on your kitchen counter by mistake, but don’t worry, I have extra bottles at home.”

I expected her to be anxious about this and to ask if she should express mail it to me. I was surprised when she merely said, “O.K.,” as if it were no big deal. But then she added in an emphatic and pointed voice, “AND you forgot your sweater. So don’t blame your son for forgetting the coats. He gets it from YOU!”

Sorry, kid. Sometimes genetics can really come back to bite you in the ass.

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Korean Mom Cred

Until now, I’ve been a miserable failure as a Korean mother. My children have not grown up eating rice and banchan made of organic vegetables grown in my backyard. They do not speak a word of Korean. They are not on the straight and narrow path to becoming doctors or lawyers. Despite the long list of failures to my name, I think I can say that I’ve finally earned my Korean mom chops. How did I manage to accomplish this, you may be wondering?

Was it:

a) By starting my children on piano/violin lessons mere seconds after their umbilical cords were clamped?

b) By exploiting fully taking advantage of the free mini-workforce at my disposal?

c) By laying on my children’s tiny little shoulders the heavy burden of responsibility for each other?

d) By pulling off fantastic feats of frugality?


I’ve asked the boys to start giving their little sister piano lessons. Each boy is responsible for giving her one thirty minute lesson a week. I figure they’ll hone their own skills, get a little practice in, all while giving their sister free piano lessons!

Bwahahahahahahahahahaha! Look at me: I’m a Korean mom.

Valentine’s Day

It was not the Valentine’s Day of my dreams…

In the afternoon I attended the memorial service for a man with whom my husband and I used to sing. He was a retired minister with a warm smile, a twinkle in his eye, and a deep love and steadfast devotion for his wife. His son described the love his father had for his mother as a “perfect shelter.” One of his closest friends spoke movingly of the time he spent with him on the many hikes they would take together in the Shenandoah Mountains. He was one of those rare people in this world who simply radiate goodness and light.

I went alone to the service, and my husband stayed home with the kids. As I was leaving the house, I asked my family to think of something fun that we could all do together when I got back. I knew it would be a wrenching occasion, and I wanted to have something to look forward to when I came home.

When I returned, my husband suggested that we go for a hike.



Did he not remember that I had asked him to think of something fun to do?

Did he not remember that in all of the almost twenty years that he’s known her, his wife has always, most definitely been an indoorsy kind of person?

Did he not remember that we had just gone on a hike the weekend before, thereby 100%, maybe even 175% fulfilling the annual hike quota for 2015?

Did he not care that it was about 20 degrees outside?

No. The answer is no, he did not.

And so we went.

We went to the Ragged Mountain Natural Area, which at this time of the year looks like this:

As we walked along I kept hearing alarming creaking noises and thought it was only a matter of time before I got beamed on the head with a falling tree.

My fourteen year old had decided not to wear his winter coat, and in keeping with my resolution to let him make his own crazy-ass wardrobe decisions, I kept my mouth shut. He did not look very happy:

As we hiked, I was quickly outpaced and fell behind. Everyone disappeared from view, and I trudged along by myself, thinking sad thoughts and apprehensively eyeing the groaning tree trunks. Suddenly, I saw this brave little plant right in the middle of the path. It seemed to be miraculously growing out of rocks…

I thought it might be a sign.

When I reached the summit, I found this:

It was a beautiful view worth hiking for, and it made me smile for the first time that day.

And then, to round off Valentine’s Day, we went to Lowe’s to pick up a part to fix a light fixture that had blown out…

And that’s how we restored a little light and love to Valentine’s Day.

In memory of John, who really did love hiking, and who brought so much light and love to the world.

It’s Called Love

First posted on December 28, 2013.

When we were younger and would gather together with all of our extended family for the holidays, there were a few uncles we would avoid like the plague. One of them, in particular, would freak us out by placing his hands around our faces and lifting us up off the ground. Later, when my sisters complained of this mistreatment, he said, “Hey, I did you a big favor! Look how tall you are now. I didn’t do it to her (he glanced meaningfully in my general direction) and look…”

My sister reminded us of another practice that our own dad would engage in when we were little. He would gently stroke our forehead until we fell into a stupor and then would give it a sudden, smart smack.

We chortled as we fondly reminisced about these and other sadistic Korean practices.

“What was that last one called?” my brother asked as he wiped away tears of laughter.

“Love,” my sister responded without hesitation.

After Christmas breakfast, my siblings and I remained at the table chatting. My brother disappeared and returned again with a piece of paper. He began industriously drawing up a list.

And then it happened. My brother became that uncle:

Remember, kids…it’s called love!

Chunky Fingers: A Love Story

Reposting from last Valentine’s Day…

There was an awkward period of time when, for the life of me, I couldn’t define the nature of the relationship between my future husband and me.

We met when we were both graduate students in New York City. We were in a singing group, and soon started spending a lot of time together outside of rehearsal. At first we hung out with a group of singers. Eventually, we started doing things on our own.

“So are you dating?” my sisters would ask me over the phone.

“Ummm…I’m really not sure,” I would reply.

I was getting some seriously mixed signals.

“You have the hands of a pianist,” he remarked one day.

I instantly understood that he was trying to flatter me. I imagined all of the things he was surely thinking…Your hands are so elegant! Your fingers are so long and tapered!

As he was obviously trying to find a pretext for paying me a compliment, I obligingly gave him the opening.

“Really? You think?…What do pianists’ hands look like?”

“Well, they have really chunky fingers,” he replied promptly and earnestly.

It never ends well when my husband and I discuss how the nature of our relationship was eventually clarified, but the resolution once again involved my hand. As I remember it, one day we were walking down Broadway, about to cross 113th St., when he held out his hand for me to hold. I took it, and that was that. From that moment, we both knew that we weren’t just really good friends who happened to take note of each other’s physical traits…We were dating.

My husband remembers it differently. One day he had the nerve to imply that I had made the first move.

What?!” I protested, “You’re the one who grabbed my hand! Remember?”

“It was icy. I was just holding out my hand to help you down off the sidewalk,” he replied, “And then I was really happy, because you kept holding my hand.”

I had to resist a very strong urge to throw something at him.

That was seventeen winters ago. We were married a year later. We still argue about things. We still walk hand in chunky hand.

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