Monthly Archives: March 2018

Weekend Snapshots 57

Standard

Friday

Spring has sprung in C’ville!  I took the day off work to spend some time with family and friends…img_3383

…who came to support our favorite author at the Virginia Festival of the Book!

Saturday

Tiger Pelt book signing…

Sunday

Universal Snow Day

Standard

The kids knew since Tuesday afternoon that they would have a snow day on Wednesday. For me it wasn’t so clear. I checked the university website early yesterday morning to see that they had announced that “non-designated ” employees did not have to report to work.

The announcement raised some burning existential questions in those early morning hours…Who am I? What am I? Oh, dear God, please let me be “non-designated”!

img_3350-1.jpg

PJs on a Snow Day for this Non-designated employee!

My prayers were answered!

The two younger kids got bundled up to play in the snow. Their older brother remained seated in the living room, tapping away at his laptop with an air of serious concentration.

He had always been the first kid to rush outdoors in any kind of weather. IMG_6133snowdayNow, he’s at the tail end of his senior year and is weighing his college options… IMG_5885Lately he’s been enlightening us with impromptu dinner time lectures on everything from the immortal science of Marx to intersectionality…

Aren’t you going to go out to play with your siblings in the snow?!

It’s too cold out there!!!

Believe me, I can totally relate…but are you sure?

Yeah! I don’t want to freeze!

Hmmm…I replied sadly…I feel like you’ve crossed some kind of Rubicon. It’s kind of bumming me out a little to be honest.

I’m still doing childish things! He said as he continued to type away at this laptop. I’m playing a video game! Just indoors!

OK, kid.

img_3371

Grave Concerns

Standard

For as long as I can remember, my parents have been fond of torturing us by talking about the afterlife with unseemly anticipation. My mother, in particular, has harbored a long time death wish. As a little girl, I remember feeling rather offended by the wistful quaver in her voice as she would sing: “Beyond the sunset, o blissful morning when with our Savior, heaven is begun. Earth’s toiling ended, o glorious dawning, beyond the sunset when day is done.

“Jesus Christ!” I’d think to myself huffily. “Don’t trip over your feet in your rush to ditch your little kid!

Scan 3When my mother was diagnosed with a serious illness and given eighteen months to live (ten years ago), it looked like her dreams were finally coming true. My parents began to prepare for the end in earnest. My dad already had a suitable poster-sized photo to display at his own funeral, but my mother did not. My dad rarely gets bothered about anything, but about this particular issue he fussed endlessly. He hired a photographer to come to their apartment in Seoul to take photos of my mother. In the end he rejected every single one, because he felt that she looked too sick in all of them. (Should have taken her to Glamour Shots, Dad!) Over the next eighteen months, he rooted around in old photo albums searching for possible funeral photos. When we’d see him at Thanksgiving, or Christmas he’d find a moment when my mother wasn’t around to pull one of us aside and furtively slip us an envelope containing her photo. We inevitably viewed his choices with dismay. (Really, Dad? She’s got a poodle pama* in this photo. Ugh – not this one! Her dress is hideous!)

We kept these uncharitable thoughts to ourselves, of course, and dutifully promised our dad that we would deal with the odious task of getting the photo enlarged. We would then routinely, perhaps subconsciously, sabotage the project by putting it off until we forgot all about it…only to be reminded the next time we saw our dad and he would give us a meaningful look and ask if we’d “taken care of the thing I asked you to do.” Once, in advance of a family get-together, my sister called me in a panic and confessed to me that she’d misplaced the latest photo my dad had given her. She knew he’d ask her about it, and she couldn’t admit to him that she’d lost it…The poor man kept plying us with new photos and pestering us until at long last we finally showed him one of the photos he’d chosen, enlarged to poster size and ready to display at my mom’s funeral. Lord only knows where it’s gathering dust now…

The next issue to be sorted out was where my parents would be buried. During the worst of my mother’s illness, when she truly was close to death, my father, brother, and I helped her stagger up the mountain to the spot where her parents are buried.

 

My brother and I wept that day, our hearts wrung with searing grief, when our dad told us she had come to say a final goodbye to her parents because she knew she would never be able to make it back up the mountain again.

As it turned out, that indomitable old woman was able to haul herself back up the mountain again under her own steam just a few years ago.

IMG_3344

But back then, on that terrible day on the mountainside with the chill shadow of death looming over us, we could never have imagined that we would one day stand next to her again at the gravesite years later. On that day my mother recognized the caretaker who was tending the graves. She summoned him over in her usual imperious fashion, all the more freighted by her deathly pallor. The man hustled over with a deferential air, and listened with a bowed head as she weakly gestured to a spot she had picked near her parents. She informed him in a barely audible, raspy voice that this was where she wished to be laid to rest. My father, brother and I stood there, a mute tableau of sorrow, with rivulets of burning tears trickling down our faces. I believe in a just God, because S/He meted out swift punishment to our mother for torturing us with her maudlin performance. After hearing her out, the man informed her that the mountain, (which her own father had bought), was reserved solely for members of the church he had founded, and therefore she was ineligible to be buried there.

In a final twist, later that day when my brother and I had caught our breaths after the repeated sucker punches to the gut, my dad privately complained to us that although my mother wanted to be buried with her parents, she should in fact be buried with his people, in the countryside far away from Seoul.

My siblings and I discussed this latest revelation amongst ourselves. We had always known that dying was our parents’ version of winning a trip to Disney Land, but until then – the idea of having to bury them had been purely notional. It was then that we realized we had no idea how to actually handle it. It’s not really the kind of casual conversation one wants to have, say, over Thanksgiving dinner. My parents cleared up all our doubts a couple years ago by announcing that they had purchased burial plots in Virginia. They handed each of their children identical envelopes containing maps to their adjacent plots and instructions for their funeral services, including the phone numbers for the ministers who had already agreed to officiate and instructions for how much to pay them. After a major freakout, my siblings and I finally settled down. Eventually, we even felt grateful that they had made their wishes so perfectly clear.

Our dad, who is usually fairly vague about pretty much everything else, spelled out with exacting specificity the kind of coffin he wanted: a plain, pine coffin with absolutely no decorative elements or adornments of any kind.

Thereby ensuring that everyone will think his children are a bunch of cheap $%^@s! my sister concluded.

*Korean women are required by law to get a short, homely perm (“pama”) the minute they turn 40.

Weekend Snapshots 56

Standard

Friday

My daughter’s soccer team was playing in a pre-season tournament in Arlington this weekend. Serendipitously, The Wolves, a Pulitzer-nominated play about a girls’ high school travel soccer team, was having its final run this weekend at the Studio Theatre in DC. My sister got tickets for the three of us and we decided to tell my daughter only that she had a surprise in store.

I picked her up early from school on Friday to make sure we would beat the traffic and make it to DC on time. As we walked to the car, she asked, “So are you going to tell me now what the surprise is, or are you going to make me wait until we get there to find out?”

“You’re just going to have to wait till we get there,” I said, “But remind me…you’ve never had an allergic reaction to any anesthetics, right?”

She merely smirked and rolled her eyes at my clumsy attempt to throw her off the scent.

IMG_3218

It took me to Ruckersville to come up with a second gambit: “Hey! You really like organ meat, don’t you?”

“What’s organ meat?” she asked me, not even looking up as she tap tap tapped away on her phone.

“You know…like, intestines, brain, heart, liver, kidney…,” I said, forcing down the wicked laughter that was bubbling up inside me.

“I’d gladly try organ meat,” the little saucepot replied serenely, not even glancing up from her phone, “but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to eat it.”

DAMMIT!” I cursed inwardly, frustrated by the girl’s infernal insouciance.

I brooded over the problem all the way up Route 29 until we reached Culpeper, when a devious idea began to form in my brain.

“You did remember to bring a fancy dress and your nice shoes, right?” I casually asked.

My girl whose standard uniform consists of sweatpants and a t-shirt dropped her phone and whipped her head around to look at me with a horrified expression: “Wait, WHAT?!

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ah, sweet victory!

“OK, you really got me that time,” she said. We collapsed in a paroxysm of laughter, and I could finally relax for the rest of the trip!

Our first stop was the W Hotel and the POV rooftop lounge:

IMG_3215

IMG_3205

Virgin Mojito!

Everything was delicious, but I’m going to dream about the Buñuelo Fritters for the rest of my life. They tasted like impossibly scrumptious, warm air.

IMG_3208

IMG_3227

The pop up “Museum of Contemporary American Teenagers” at the Studio Theatre

IMG_3226

The play was amazing!

Saturday

The tournament didn’t begin until the late afternoon, so we had all morning to relax…

Grandpa & Grandma tested out the new leg massage contraption their favorite son sent them…

 

Lunch at Rice Paper, Grandma’s favorite Vietnamese restaurant in the Eden Center in Falls Church:

IMG_3244

My girl’s own cheering squad, including her grandparents, my sister, and my BFF, turned out in the bitter cold to root for her team…

IMG_3254

BRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

The girls advanced to the finals with two wins under their belts.

 

Sunday

Because of Daylight Savings, we woke up ten minutes before we had to leave for the first game of the day.

We raced out the door with my dad, who decided to play hooky from church to join us on the field. I can’t emphasize enough how exceedingly rare and hardly-to-be-believed-bordering-on-miraculous this was.

IMG_3257

This man skipped church, sat in the freezing cold, and used a porta potty. Now that‘s true love.

 

Good thing they won!

IMG_3289

Tournament Champs!

IMG_3290

 

Weekend Snapshots 55

Standard

Friday

I awoke to the sound of our son (aka Jiminy Cricket) opening our bedroom door. An early riser, he was the first to realize that powerful winds had left us powerless. He was making the rounds of all the bedrooms, leaving flashlights for everyone on their bedside tables.

Schools were closed for the day for the kids, but my husband and I had to get to work. It was a harrowing trip that involved rerouting several times because of road blocks, driving through a roadblock, and twice driving under a tree resting on power lines. Meanwhile, the kids spent the day shivering in a house that was cold, dark, and without water. My daughter’s was delighted to get out of the house that evening to go to her quartet practice…

IMG_3135

We went out to dinner and then killed some more time at a bookstore, all the while compulsively checking the Dominion Power website on our phones to see if power had been restored to our neighborhood. When it became clear that we would spend another night without power, we stopped off at two different grocery stores to find enough water to drink and to flush toilets.

My daughter and I camped out in the living room next to a cozy fire…

IMG_3136

Saturday

…but woke up shivering in a house that still had no power.

It’s amazing how quickly we lose the will to be civilized when there is no electricity. Dirty dishes piled up in the sink. Clothing was discarded on the floor. Tissues were used then left on the coffee table rather than thrown into the trash. Worst of all, we became like rats in a cage, snapping and snarling at each other for no good reason.

We tried to restore our humanity at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, where we caught the end of the remarkable Terracotta Warriors exhibit…

IMG_3143

IMG_3155IMG_3159IMG_3157IMG_3160IMG_3161

Back in Charlottesville, we dropped one son off at a friend’s dad’s office to work on a project and my daughter off at church, where her Sunday School class was serving dinner to the homeless guests who are there for PACEM. After taking the opportunity to fill jugs with water to take back home, my son and I decided to have dinner at the newly-opened J Petal: a Japanese crepe and Thai ice cream restaurant.

IMG_3173IMG_3174

We picked my daughter up and as we drove back to the house, I began to whine about the prospect of having to spend another cold night without power. I felt immediately chastened when from the back seat my girl piped up: “Think about the people in Puerto Rico…Some of them haven’t had power for 6 months. And then, of course, I thought about the homeless people who have to worry about keeping warm and having enough food and water to eat on a daily basis. We came back home to lights, heat, water, and a renewed appreciation for the simple things we take for granted. It was hard to fully enjoy it, though, knowing that friends around town were still without power and thinking about those for whom this situation is not just a temporary inconvenience.

 

 

It’s hard to know.

Standard

On Monday, Lit Hub published this piece by my sister, in which she talks about “Returning to Writing After a Stage Four Cancer Diagnosis.” I shared it the same day on Facebook with mixed emotions that included both trepidation and relief.

When Annabelle first learned that she had Stage Four lung cancer this past spring, she only confided in our oldest sister. This is how our family rolls. We blunder through life trying (and often failing) to navigate the intricate web of secrets and lies we construct to protect each other from the truth. Months later she finally revealed her diagnosis to my younger brother and me in a masterfully worded email that led us ever so gently to the terrible conclusion. After reading her long email, I sat reeling. I was struck by the fact that even in that moment, she was trying to take care of us, just as she has all her life. She somehow managed to reveal the heart stopping news in such a way as to reassure us that this was not the worst thing in the world, but an unfortunate blip on her horizon that she would get through.

When I talked to the sister who had borne Annabelle’s secret by herself for months, she said with a rush of pent-up emotion: “I’m so glad you know now, because it was horrible to be the only one to know. But I’m so sad you know, because now that you do, I know you can never be happy again.”

Until the publication of her essay, Annabelle had been slowly titrating the news of her diagnosis to family and friends. It took her multiple attempts to tell my parents. I think they are in such denial that the fact hasn’t actually sunk in even now. I have had several painfully uncomfortable conversations with my mother in which she’ll casually ask, “Is Annabelle sick or something? Do you know what’s wrong? It’s not cancer, is it?” Each time this happens, I call my sister to ask her if she was perfectly clear in explaining the situation. The last time it happened, she said, “I JUST got off the phone with her and we discussed it. She definitely knows.” I think my mother knows, but doesn’t want to know.

It was a relief to post Annabelle’s essay, because like our oldest sister, it was hard for me to carry on as if nothing was wrong. But now that it’s out there, how do we carry on?

Annabelle’s essay begins with a quote from her novel Tiger Pelt, which is partly inspired by our dad’s life: “Fall seven times, get up eight.” That’s what Annabelle’s doing with her usual (unusual)? strength, humor, and grace. That’s what I’m going to try my best to do. But now that we all know, what else can we do?

  • If you buy things on amazon.com, (is there anybody who doesn’t?), you can go to https://smile.amazon.com/ and choose Lung Cancer Research Foundation as your charity of choice. At no cost to you, Amazon will donate a percentage of your purchase price to the charity. Great strides are being made in research and development, especially in immunotherapy drugs that make it possible to live with cancer as a chronic, but treatable condition. Even if you don’t pick Lung Cancer Research, pick ANY charity, because – why not?!
  • If you’d like to make a direct donation to the Lung Cancer Research Foundation, you can do so here.
  • If you happen to be going to the Virginia Festival of the Book, come say hello! My sister is on a panel to talk about Tiger Pelt in the context of “International Stories, Shared Humanities.”
  • Be inspired by Tiger Pelt, a story of hope and survival against terrible odds. We are a family of survivors!
  • “Be kind for you never know what battle someone is fighting.”…When I posted my sister’s essay, I knew I would hear from family & friends. To be honest, I dreaded this a little, because I knew it would bring me right back to the day I learned the news. What I didn’t expect was the outpouring of love and support from friends who wrote or called or told me in person that they were moved by my sister’s words and that they are holding her and our family in their hearts and prayers. This has meant the world to me and I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart.