I’m a Korean mother, and I can’t help it.

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When I was growing up, I never experienced a summer of complete freedom. My mother believed in the power of math workbooks as fervently as she believed in the power of the Bible. Every day I would have to labor away doing the prescribed five pages of what she called “Daily Math.” Ugh. I hated it with every fiber of my being. My friends were spending their days at the swimming pool, at summer camp, or just loafing around watching tv. How Korean of my mother, I thought, to ruin my summer by making me do math!

I vowed to myself that if I ever had children of my own, I would let them enjoy their summers unencumbered by scholastic assignments. When I finally did have children, I remembered that vow. I signed those kids up for all kinds of fun summer camps and activities. I’d pull into the parking lot to pick them up, basking in the glow of virtue you feel whenever you do a kind turn for someone.

“Oh, thank you, beloved mother,” I could practically hear them say, “Thank you for letting us go to this magical place where we could work on God’s eyes rather than algebra problems!”

“Thank you, sweetest and kindest of mothers, for letting us frolic with our friends getting bronzed in the golden sun, rather than making us hunch over a math workbook at the kitchen table all day growing as pale as grubs…”

But no. Every day, three slump-shouldered, resentful grouches would climb into the car and inform me that they didn’t want to do “Summer Playground” or “World Cup Soccer Camp” or anything really, other than hang out at home. “Don’t sign us up for any more camps!” was the message I heard loud and clear, and I was actually ok with that.

So this summer the kids basically became feral. I would come home from work to see them sprawled in exaggerated poses of relaxation as if they were posing as allegorical statues of Indolence, Sloth, and Torpor. I bore it for as long as I could, but as it turns out, I’m way more Korean than I thought I was. Their sleepy eyes, uncombed hair, and languid movements began to offend me. I literally couldn’t help myself. I started leaving them lists of things to accomplish by the time I got back from work. Nothing too onerous, mind you! The tasks were on the order of: “Load dishwasher,” “Do one load of laundry,” or “Put shoes away in the mudroom.” But every once in a while I’d slip in a small directive that might require slightly more effort:

  • Brainstorm ways to alleviate the refugee crisis.
  • Come up with an action plan to reunify the two Koreas.
  • Find a cure for cancer.

The other day I overheard my son talking to his younger sister.

“Now when Mom asks me what I’ve been doing all day, I can honestly tell her I really have been working on a cure for cancer!”

Apparently the kid has connected his computer to a massive global project out of Stanford University, which harnesses the collective power of volunteers’ computers to crunch numbers. I can’t really understand the science of it all. (Despite my mother’s attempts to stack the deck with “Daily Math,” all those workbooks did nothing but send me reeling straight into the torrid embrace of Russian Literature). But here’s what the website has to say:

“Help Stanford University scientists studying Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and many cancers by simply running a piece of software on your computer. The problems we are trying to solve require so many calculations, we ask people to donate their unused computer power to crunch some numbers.”

You can check it out for yourself here:

http://folding.stanford.edu

and here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folding@home

As far as I can tell, the boy has discovered a way to plug into an astonishing feat of alchemy by which supreme laziness is transformed into something rather enterprising…It’s genius, really, and it makes this Korean mother so proud!

Related post: Amadeus and my own preternaturally precocious offspring.

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