Monthly Archives: April 2015

Dreams of Flight

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When I was a little girl, I would occasionally dream that I was flying. I can still feel the exhilaration of effortlessly swooping and soaring through the air. My flight path would always take me high above my school playground, where I would see my grounded classmates gaping up at me, hands shading eyes, as I flew past. So vivid were my dreams, I was convinced that it was only a matter of time and practice before I would be able to fly in my waking hours too. Alas, the many hours I spent running and flapping my arms in my back yard were all for naught. Sadder still: as I grew older, my flying dreams became rarer and rarer until I eventually stopped having them altogether.

Last week a storm took the power out in our neighborhood. Reluctantly, I surrendered to the darkness and went to bed early, griping to my sister by text that I hoped to awaken in the 21st century, when we could take things like power and light for granted. At 4 am when the power was restored, I was awakened by the sound of systems coming back online. As I lay in bed listening to the clicking, whirring, and humming of my house in the ‘burbs coming back to life, I realized with nostalgia and regret that I had had my first flying dream in decades. It went like this…

My dream began at work, where I quarreled with a colleague and huffily announced that I was quitting to take another job. The new job was even more stressful, because I had to pretend I knew what I was doing, all while straining to be perky and personable to make a good first impression. Suddenly, I was outside, and I was flying. But instead of soaring past it all, sleek and serene, as if in a Chagall painting, I was seated on a wobbly, flying ring. I gripped the sides of the ring for dear life as it bore me aloft. I was completely at the mercy of the wind. Scared that I would lose my balance and plummet from my perch, I timidly tried to exercise some control over where I was going by kicking my legs, to no avail. From time to time, a strong gust of wind would suddenly lift me to a dizzying height. Just as suddenly, the wind would die down, and I would sink alarmingly fast toward the ground. At one point, I looked down to see a man and his child flying a kite. I glanced up just in time to see their big box kite coming straight at my face and had to quickly duck my head to avoid slamming into it. It was then that I woke up.

It’s pretty obvious the universe is sending me an important message through this dream. I think it’s telling me it’s time to shrug off this mortal coil, to slip “the surly bonds of Earth,” to get out there and start flapping my arms again…And I almost definitely will! Maybe tomorrow. If it’s not raining, or too hot, and if I’m not too tired after work.

 

 

 

Weekend Snapshots 21

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Saturday

I put well over 100 miles on my chariot of fire in one day, ferrying the three kids to their soccer games all over town. I usually share the driving with my husband, but this weekend he was tied up with a conference he was running. With just one driver, the margins were razor thin. As soon as one game was done, I would have just enough time to get home to pick up the next kid. It was cold and rainy all day, so instead of standing around on the sidelines like I usually do, I ran errands. Some of the errands were important ones – like buying groceries and a new dishwasher. Others were less important, but so very satisfying.

Around this time last year, I discovered the joys of a store called Tractor Supply. I was lured into the store for the first time by a huge sign in the parking lot that was announcing “Chick Days.” My far more urbane siblings are rolling their eyes for sure as they read this. My husband is breaking out into a cold sweat as my agrarian fantasies once again rear their sweet, sweet, fuzzy little heads:

I didn’t bring home any chicks or ducklings. This time.

As soon as the last child’s soccer game was over, we raced back to the house so that he could get showered for his piano recital. We made it to the church just in time:

As we were waiting for the recital to begin, my daughter and I were admiring a spectacular floral arrangement that was on the altar. I was dying to go up and feel the flowers to see if they were real, but that would have been really uncouth and embarrassing. So I made my daughter do it. She took a photo too:

Obligatory-Post-Recital-Closed-Mouth-Portrait-Because-There’s-Enough-Reception-Food-Crammed-Into-Those-Cheeks-To-Feed-A-Small-Nation:

No-Way-Am-I-Cooking-Tonight-Post-Recital-Celebration-Dinner:

Sunday

I got to spend a few blissful hours getting my hands dirty in the garden:

 

April Garden

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Here’s what’s blooming in my garden right now…

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven –
All’s right with the world!

-Robert Browning

Well-apparell’d April on the heel
Of limping winter treads…

-William Shakespeare

And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

“I hear a thousand nightingales. Spring hath sent them to awaken Earth from her morning slumber, and Earth trembles with ecstasy, her flowers are hymns, which she sings in inspiration to the sun… “– Heinrich Heine

Joséphine

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After a fitful night, I was groggy and crabby when my daughter burst into my room yesterday morning. But when she asked me if I could put her hair in a bun and if she could borrow one of my dresses for the project her group of friends would be filming at school that day, I immediately sprung out of bed, fully awake and with a big foolish grin pasted across my beaming face. This kind of thing doesn’t happen very often around here. This is how my girl usually likes to dress up:

She’s no dainty flower, that’s for sure, and I love her all the more for it. Sometimes, though, I do try to cultivate the softer side of her.

Lately, I’ve been trying to break “Thugerella” as we affectionately like to call her, of her habit of thundering up and down the stairs as if she’s being chased by all the demons of hell. I swear it sounds like a herd of buffalo.

“Imagine that with each step, you’re walking on top of your mother’s head,” I coax her.

For some reason this particular admonishment has not yielded the desired effect…Whenever I hear her pounding down the stairs, cracking her dear mama’s skull with every step, I have to resort to bellowing, “HERD OF BUFFALO!” in a most unladylike fashion. At that point her footsteps usually quiet down to a mere dull, concussion-inducing thudding.

“There WILL be pictures,” I said, as I pulled her hair into a bun, beside myself with excitement. “And YES, I’ll absolutely be putting the pictures on my blog.”

Poor girl. All she could do was sigh heavily and wince as I stuck her with a million bobby pins. I personally think the pain was worth it…

I present to you: Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais!

“Look regal,” I instructed.

It’s impossible to thunder up and down the stairs in an evening gown…

Texting with the Harpies…

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The internet can be so alluring and yet so utterly revolting all at the same time. Not too long ago I was obsessed with watching nesting eagles on a livecam. The first time I watched, I saw the mama eagle feeding a headless-yet-still-flopping fish to her fuzzy little eaglets. It was shocking and gruesome, yet I couldn’t stop myself from constantly checking in to see how the eaglets were getting on. A couple days later I got a message from the friend who turned me on to the livecam in the first place. She was traumatized by what she had just witnessed on the livecam and was writing to both process the horror and to warn me not to check in on the nest for a while. She told me that she had just seen a “fluffy black cat” being served up to the eaglets for dinner. I never tuned in again.

Another friend recently posted this CBS News story entitled, “Scientists create toe, belly button cheese from human bacteria.” I mean, come on, who’s not going to click on that?! I gagged as I read through the article and then immediately bestirred myself to share this important news with the three people in the world I knew would appreciate it the most: my Wheat Belly Sisters and our Crossfit/Paleo-Brother.

Another beautiful moment brought to you by the Interwebs…

My Parents’ Journey

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Grandfather's Journey

The first time I read Grandfather’s Journey out loud to my children, I kept having to stop to recompose myself. My children were entirely used to this kind of nonsense. It would happen every. single. time I read them Eileen Spinelli’s Sophie’s Masterpiece, at many points throughout the years it took us to read through the entire Harry Potter series, every Christmas when I would read them Max Lucado’s The Crippled Lamb…When I would pause to gulp back a sob that threatened to escape, they would glance up at my face and then look back at the page I was in the middle of trying to read, politely ignoring the tears dropping on their little heads, waiting patiently for me to resume.

I felt a keen pang of recognition as I read Allen Say’s story, the Caldecott Medal winner in 1994. In spare language and restrained watercolors, Say recounts the story of his grandfather, who immigrated from Japan to America and then back again to Japan. It reminded me of my own parents’ story:  their love for two different countries, and their irreconcilable longing for both. Say’s book ends with these words:

“The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.”

My mother told me once long ago that the minute she stepped off the plane in San Francisco for the first time in 1963, she felt at home in a way she never had in Korea. America suited her. As a woman, she relished her newfound freedom. She felt like she could finally be herself: an irrepressible charmer, who would easily chat up strangers everywhere she went…a woman who, instead of demurely tittering behind a hand covering her mouth, would toss her head back and give a full-throated chortle that would carry for miles…a Drama Queen, who could always command an audience. She discovered her true self in this country, and she was proud to become a naturalized American.

It never occurred to us that our parents would ever leave their adopted country, which they both embraced with a frank and almost corny patriotism. After many years, however, when they had lived longer in America than they had in Korea, they were reluctantly drawn back to the country of their birth by an overwhelming sense of duty and filial piety to help run a university that my grandfather had founded. When they would come back to visit their children at Christmas they would tell us that they couldn’t wait to get back to their own house in Virginia, the clean air, and us, of course. Every year they would declare that they would stay in Korea for just one more year. We believed them for the first few years, but these conversations were repeated every Christmas for more than a decade.

My mother finally returned to America when she was diagnosed with primary amyloidosis and was given 18 months to live. My sister found a clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and convinced her to come for treatment. After multiple rounds of punishing chemotherapy it became clear that the treatment would kill her faster than her disease. My mother was kicked out of the clinical trial. To our utter dismay, as soon as she could manage to drag herself to the airport, she returned to Korea.

That summer my family and I went to Korea for a month. We were terrified that we would lose our mother at any minute and we wanted to make the most of the time we had left. We acted upon the premise that this summer might be our last one together…We took a long and grueling trip to the countryside to visit our maternal family’s burial grounds, assuming that it would be the last time my mother would ever be able to visit her parents’ and brother’s graves:

My dad showed my brother and me where our own names were engraved on our grandparents’ markers:

My mother recognized someone from my grandfather’s church, who was there tending the graves that day. She took the opportunity to point out to him the spot she had picked, not far from her parents’ graves, where she wanted to be buried.

My mother was spending most of her days in bed, but one day she insisted on taking us to the center of bustling Seoul to buy my daughter a traditional Korean dress. I remember nervously holding my breath as she made her way across busy city streets at a painfully slow crawl, not bothering to look left or right. My daughter has never been one to tolerate itchy clothing, and she was never shy about letting her displeasure be known if we tried to force her into anything that looked remotely uncomfortable. I was so worried that she would complain about having to try on the dress and ruin an experience that meant so much to my mother and had cost her so much energy. I could have wept for joy when she beamed with delight at the sight of herself in the extremely itchy Korean dress my mother bought for her.

I will always cherish the memory of my mother’s smile as she watched my daughter twirl this way and that, admiring herself in the mirror. Later that day when my mother had collapsed in bed, my sister and I dressed my daughter up in the hanbok again. We taught her how to bow in the traditional Korean way so that we could videotape it to show my mother later:

I noticed a change in my mother that summer. She was sick and weak, and yet she somehow seemed more powerful in Korea. One day we were on the campus of  the university when we noticed a young man skulking against a wall smoking a cigarette. She imperiously demanded that he leave the premises and that he take his offending cigarettes with him. He did so, repeatedly bowing apologetically as he hurried to obey my mother’s orders. Speeding cars hurtling along the streets of Seoul would come to a screeching halt as she would step into the street, staring straight ahead. Like Moses parting the Red Sea, she would hold up her wrinkled hand, commanding the drivers to stop for the several centuries it would take her to shuffle across the street. She knew all the best restaurants and their proprietors. She knew the best stalls at the marketplace and would chat amiably with the women who sat on their haunches serving up whatever mysterious roots or vegetables they were selling that day. One afternoon she called to tell me that she had picked out a bracelet for my daughter and that she wanted me to come with her to the jewelry shop across the street from her apartment. I watched awe-struck as she bargained with a woman, who helplessly caved in the face of her calm insistence that the price she would pay for the bracelet would be a ludicrously tiny fraction of the price listed on the tag. She was comfortable. She was home.

We didn’t know it at the time, but the chemotherapy that almost killed my mother, saved her life in the end. She is still in remission. About six years ago, my parents finally returned to their house in Virginia. The first months were terrible. My parents happened to arrive in the middle of a particularly harsh winter. The long flight had exhausted my mother, and it was taking much longer than usual for her to recover from jet lag. She knew she would never be able to make the arduous journey across the ocean again, and she was profoundly sad to have left behind her life in Korea forever.

“But mom,” I said to her, “Remember you once told me you felt more like yourself here in America?”

“That was before…I’ve been away from here for too long,” she replied sadly, “It’s not the same.”

That spring my mother desperately waited for the cherry blossoms to bloom on the tree in her yard. Cherry trees were blooming all around DC and in my parents’ neighborhood, but the tight buds on the tree in their own yard stubbornly refused to open. My sister and I anxiously conferred with each other about the status of those blooms every day. My mother’s very survival seemed to depend on that tree finally coming back to life again. As I wrote in my Cherry Blossoms post a few years ago, if my sister and I could have opened each blossom by hand, I swear we would have. Of course the tree eventually did break into bloom. It was the most riotously joyful display I’d ever seen on any tree anywhere. With their appearance, my mother’s spirits began to recover.

The cherry trees are blooming again now…I’ve always loved cherry blossoms, but they mean so much more to me now. Even after the bitterest of winters, they faithfully return every year, blessing us with their impossible, miraculous, ravishing blossoms.

My dad is turning 80 this year. For his birthday, my sister told him she would take him anywhere in the world he wanted to go. He’s a history buff, and has never been to Europe. We assumed he would want to go to a place like Rome or London. He wants to go back to Korea. In a few weeks I will go with my sister and parents back to a place they never thought they would see again. I think we will go back to visit the graves of our grandparents. We will leave Seoul to go to the country to visit my father’s surviving brothers. I imagine it will be for the last time, but who knows?

Life can be so precarious, so unpredictable, and sometimes…so wonderful.