Category Archives: Parenting

Goodbye, Summer!

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In honor of the first day of Fall: a farewell to a summer of transitions.

The first frame shows my oldest with his siblings, celebrating his high school graduation. After trips to New York City, Cape May, and let’s not forget: Bumpass, we dropped our son off for his first semester of college in Manhattan, a city dear to our hearts because it’s where his dad and I met as graduate students. A short while after, my college friends and I got together for our annual reunion. I like to imagine my son someday in the future getting together with the friends he’ll be making in the next few years. A week after my college mini-reunion, I flew to California to attend the wedding of a childhood friend. I stayed with another mutual dear friend, and together we celebrated a beautiful wedding and a lifelong friendship that has weathered all kinds of life changes – big and small, sad and joyous. The last frame of the video is from this morning. After my second son passed his driver’s test and officially got his driver’s license, he drove me home, and then banged out this song with me. It’s one I used sing to each of my babies as a lullaby…

The Necklace

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Many years ago, my mother returned from a trip to Korea bearing gifts for my sisters and me. We grew up getting socks, underwear, and school supplies for Christmas and our birthdays, so when my mother gave us necklaces that she had had made at a jeweler, it was completely unexpected. They were simple necklaces made out of polished stones in plain silver settings fashioned from silverware that she had melted down. I’m ashamed to say that my sisters and I regarded our necklaces with vague curiosity that quickly gave way to disinterest. The three of us stashed them away, and it pains me to admit that I’m not sure if any of us ever wore our necklaces a single time. It was only much later that I appreciated how precious they were.

My grandfather came to the U.S. as a young man in the 1950s. One of the places he visited on that trip was Cape May, New Jersey. He was far from his home: another seaside town on the other side of the globe. He had grown up on Jeju Island, where he was raised by a distant cousin. He was orphaned as a very young child, when three generations of his family were massacred in a single day in one of the multiple bloody purges of converts to Catholicism that occurred in Korea. His cousin, an innkeeper who had no children of her own, hid him during the massacre, and raised him into adulthood.

I’m not sure where or how my grandfather met my grandmother. Although they were both from Jeju Island, they came from different worlds. My grandmother came from a family of prosperous merchants, who owned a factory that produced and exported canned sea food and buttons made out of shells. Religion brought the downfall of my grandfather’s family; wealth brought disaster to my grandmother’s. Communists captured her father, beat him, and burned down the factory. The family escaped from Jeju Island and made their way to Seoul.

In Seoul, the family was able to rebuild their wealth by opening up a leather goods factory and store on Myeongdong Street. Besides the factory and store, my grandmother’s family owned an orchard on a huge swathe of land that was next to what is now the Blue House, (the Korean White House). Their own traditional hanok was right across from City Hall and Deoksugung Palace. It was unusual for women of that generation to get a higher education, but my grandmother was sent to Japan to earn her graduate degree in Psychology. She was a cultured, worldly woman who grew up in comfort. When she met my grandfather, he was a poor man with big dreams.

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Six of their children survived to adulthood. Their eldest child is my mother.

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My grandfather was in the U.S., trying to raise money for the university he was trying to build in Seoul. One day in Cape May, he looked for a suitable gift to bring back to his wife, who by that time had poured every penny of her wealth into the school. He brought her back a bag of polished beach pebbles. I imagine the smooth, colorful stones looked beautiful to him compared to the black, pitted volcanic rocks that cover the beaches of Jeju Island. My grandmother took one look at my grandfather’s humble offering and tossed the pebbles into the trash. My mother, that soulful little girl standing in the forefront in the photo above, felt sorry for her father, whose gift had been so callously discarded. She secretly rescued the rocks from the trash and kept them hidden away for decades.

It amazes me to think about how long my mother held onto that bag of rocks. I couldn’t tell you the number of times she’s moved in her lifetime. There have been multiple international moves, and perhaps as many as a dozen moves within the U.S. My parents tended to regard every move as an opportunity to purge and start all over again. My father remembers giving away a television and a car to my mother’s brother, before boarding a Greyhound bus with his wife, two little girls, and a couple of suitcases to begin his studies at yet another school, in yet another city. In another of our moves, we lost almost all of our clothes, because they had been packed in garbage bags that were mistakenly tossed out as trash. My mother is a minimalist at heart. She has always relished giving things away or throwing things out. The fact that her father’s rocks made it through every single move is almost as miraculous and unlikely as his own survival on that terrible day when the rest of his family was slain.

When we were deciding where to spend our annual family summer vacation, my sisters canvassed several possibilities. We could go to Fenwick Island, where we’d already spent two happy summer breaks. We could try another beach in Delaware, or we could go to Cape May. Without hesitation, my mother declared that she wanted to go to Cape May, where her own father had gone more than half a century ago.

“Remember?” she reminded us, “That’s where my father bought those stones that my mother threw out. The ones I saved and made into necklaces for you girls?”

In the weeks leading up to our trip to the beach, my sisters and I went on a desperate search for our necklaces. I would lie awake in the middle of the night, brooding over that lost necklace and trying to remember where I’d put it. To my husband’s dismay, I’d leap out of bed several times a night to rummage around in a new spot that I hadn’t already tried before. I kept returning to the same spots too, indulging in magical thinking that the necklace would somehow reappear where it hadn’t been the last time I’d checked. Alas, I never did find my necklace. My sisters weren’t able to find theirs either.

A couple nights before we were to leave for Cape May, I was having my usual late night self-flagellation session as I racked my brains trying to think where the necklace could have gone. A sudden thought crossed my mind. I got out of bed again and rummaged around in my sock drawer. I pulled out a small pouch that my mother had pressed into my hands some years ago. As is her wont, she had gone on a binge of paring her possessions down to the essentials. She had gathered up all her most precious jewelry in a small pouch and had told me to give them to my daughter.

My daughter and I were both horrified to see that she was giving us her wedding ring, and the jewelry that was most precious to her. It seemed to us a portent of something we did not want to face. My daughter cried and tried to hand the pouch back to her grandmother. The poor girl hadn’t lived long enough on this earth to realize that her grandmother’s will is as inexorable as the passage of time.

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My mother’s most precious jewelry isn’t worth much money. The fake pearl necklace is chipping. My father was a poor graduate student when he bought her wedding ring. The watch was another modest gift from him. Their immeasurable value lies in the fact that she wore and treasured them all of her adult life.

As I suspected, the necklace she had made and kept for herself from one of my grandfather’s pebbles was in the pouch.

IMG_4684I polished the silver and wore the necklace to Cape May, where it all began.

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The Greatest City in the World

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On Saturday morning we set out to conquer another day on our packed itinerary. En route to Central Park, we sidled over to the Richard Rodgers Theater to gaze longingly at the Hamilton marquee and to fantasize about actually getting to see the show…

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By this time we had more or less decided that we would probably try to get in the cancellation line on Sunday. We were still waffling, because the thought of the long drive home afterwards, in the unlikely event that we would actually get in to see the musical, was daunting.

We pressed on to our destination, slowed only by my daughter’s insistence on stopping every five seconds to peek into restaurant windows to check on the progress of World Cup games:

IMG_4486We made a stop at Rockefeller Center to visit Magnolia Bakery and La Maison du Chocolat.

IMG_4492We finally made it to the Central Park Zoo. We didn’t get to see the polar bears I had remembered from my last trip to the zoo, but we did get to see the sea lions working hard for their lunch:

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Work, work!

IMG_4532IMG_4533IMG_4538IMG_4540By this time our feet were throbbing with each step, but we were determined to make it to Zabar’s, the next destination on our itinerary. Like those sea lions, we had to work for our food.

Why Zabar’s? you may be wondering…A few years ago, we were driving to my parents’ house to spend the weekend. It was around Christmas time and in the car ride up, I had been pestering the kids to come up with their wish lists. At my parents’ house, my daughter happened upon a Zabar’s catalogue that was lying around the house. She spent the whole weekend poring over the pages with rapturous wonder.

Could I put stuff from this catalogue on my list? she asked.

When we were leaving Arlington she couldn’t bear to be parted from the catalogue and asked my parents if she could keep it. It’s been enshrined on her bedside table ever since and has been thumbed through countless times.

Needless to say, a trip to Zabar’s was at the top of her list of things to do in New York.

In our 12-page itinerary, the plan was to stop at Zabar’s to buy a picnic lunch, then head back to Central Park to watch the Shakespeare in the Park performance of Twelfth Night.

The church next to Zabar’s, by the way, just happens to be where my dad was the minister for a Korean congregation in the 70s. Every Sunday for four years we would get up at the crack of dawn to drive two and a half hours from Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania to New York City, and two and a half hours back again after church. That was back in the days of no air conditioning in cars. My brother and I were consigned to the cargo area of our station wagon, where we would alternate kicking each other, singing songs at the top of our lungs, and puking from carsickness into an empty coffee can we kept in the car for just that purpose. Ah, the good old days…

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IMG_4552By the time we reached Zabar’s, we were completely out of steam. Our friends decided to head back to the hotel for a rest, and my daughter and I decided to skip Shakespeare and just hunker down at the counter to have lunch.

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I’m just like my country – I’m young, scrappy, and hungry.

We met back up with our friends at the hotel and collapsed onto a bed as we contemplated our next move…

My daughter took one look at my swollen feet and howled with laughter. They looked like puffy baby feet with pads of fat on the tops!

According to our itinerary, we were supposed to take a ferry to Brooklyn, get dinner at the Brooklyn Market, then hoof it back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge in time to catch the sunset.

Instead…we decided to “plan for spontaneity.” We did a little shopping at Muji:

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Muji 2018

…which for some reason uncannily reminded me of the last birthday trip to New York City and a visit to Muji:

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And then we hit the Hamilton cancellation line around 4 pm, four hours before the show was to start. There were already seven people in line ahead of us. Could we face it?

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When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game. But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game…I want to be in the room where it happens.

Our friends came prepared with the blankets we had been planning to use for the Central Park picnic that never happened, games to while away the time, and newly-purchased art supplies from Muji:

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Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it.

Having been the crazy person to have suggested that we try the cancellation line, I was anxious to try to manage the girls’ expectations. I kept trying to mentally prepare them for the distinct possibility of waiting four hours for nothing.

“Girls, don’t be disappointed if we don’t get tickets.”

“If we only manage to get two tickets, you guys will go and we’ll pick you up right here after the show.”

“Even if we don’t get in, standing in line is part of the whole New York experience!” my friend blustered with cheerful, if unconvincing bravado.

By the second hour, I began saying, “Girls, remember: don’t be disappointed when we don’t get tickets, because we probably won’t.”

“OK,” they would dutifully reply every time, both of them looking inscrutable, yet ripe for complete and utter devastation.

By hour three of our four hour wait in the line, my daughter was getting antsy. She leaned over to me and whispered, “Honestly, I’d rather just go to Brooklyn. We’re wasting four whole hours of our last day in New York just sitting here for tickets that we won’t even get.”

When someone from the box office came over to the line about an hour before the show and let just the first two people into the theater to buy tickets, we really began to lose hope.

“Let’s plan all the fun things we’re going to do this evening in case we don’t get tickets…Let’s spoil ourselves with a really yummy dinner in Brooklyn…and ice cream! And won’t it be fun to walk across the bridge? I’ve never done that before!”

“Uh-huh, yeah,” the girls replied as they stared off into the distance with glazed eyes, some unseen inner melodrama playing out in their little souls.

About a half hour before the show, all the happy ticket holders filed past us as they walked into the theater, stopping under the marquee for their obligatory social-media-worthy Hamilton photo.

Five minutes before the show we were still waiting.

Suddenly, a man ran over from the box office and pulled the first two people in line to enter the theater and buy tickets. After a minute, the man came back and got the next person in line. Another minute later, he brought over the mother and daughter who were directly in front of us. By this point, my heart was pounding, and I studiously avoided catching the girls’ eyes.

And then – glory, glory, hallelujah! – it was our turn! When we got to the box office, the woman at the counter said she had standing room only tickets left for $40 each.

We rushed up the stairs just in time for the opening number. The last person to get in was the man standing right behind us in line.

We stood there in shock, joy, and disbelief. It’s just possible that some of us may have even teared up a bit…

The opening number was spectacular, but my eyes kept drifting away from the stage and over to the girls. I can honestly say, it was just as fun for me to watch their rapt expressions as it was to watch that first number. As it came to an end, I leaned over to whisper in my daughter’s ear: “This is so boring. Let’s just leave and go to Brooklyn instead.” She barely deigned to acknowledge my frivolous comment, not even peeling her eyes from the stage for a second. (Cue the song: I am not throwing away my shot!)

It was literally painful to stand on our aching feet for the almost three hour show, but we loved every minute of it.

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Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!

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When our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.

And now? My job as a mother to this child is done. I might as well retire now. What more could I possibly do for her in life to top this?

We returned the next day before we left New York for our obligatory marquee photos…

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You’ll be back like before!

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Rise up!

Weekend Snapshots 61: we’re still standing

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Saturday

img_4056My husband took my daughter to her soccer game in Blacksburg this Saturday. I played hooky and spent the day pottering around in my garden, getting a few more patches of poison ivy rashes on my legs. Meanwhile, my son took himself to his own soccer game, but had to come home early, having badly sprained his ankle. He’ll have to be on crutches for a week or so.

While he convalesced indoors, I kept being drawn outside to admire the flowers. I’ve been especially enamored with the irises I planted a couple years ago. They’ve finally come into their own this year…

I was annoyed, however, to see that a bright orange interloper had popped up in the flower bed.

 

My daughter noticed it immediately and asked “What’s that orange flower?!”

“That’s an iris. They must have sent it by accident with my order.”

I was just about to tell her that I was going to yank it out and replant it in some obscure patch in the backyard when she gushed, “I LOVE it! It’s SO cute!” So, I guess it’s staying…

What’s NOT staying is the huge oak tree, pictured upright just beyond the orange iris in the previous picture. Today it looks like this:

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Yesterday, I drove home from work through a powerful storm. It was late and I was so thoroughly exhausted that I somehow managed to pull into the driveway without even noticing that the tree had fallen into another huge oak tree, whose top sheared off and took down the fence with it, and fell into the road, blocking traffic coming from the other direction. When I came through the door, the kids came running up from the basement, where they had been cowering in fear.

“Thank goodness you’re home!!! Did you see the tree?!” my daughter asked breathlessly.

“Tree? What tree?”

YOU DIDN’T NOTICE THE TREE?!

She had to drag me to the window to point out the obvious.

Sunday

We sang in the choir all together for the last time. During the service there was a big, mushy send-off for the graduating seniors, including my son, who is heading to college in New York this fall. I was reduced to a quivering mass of exposed nerves, tears, and snot right up front and center in the choir loft. I’m sure I stuck out like a gaudy orange flower, and not in a cute way either.

But…we’re still standing.

Weekend Snapshots 58: Easter Fools Editions

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Friday

We celebrated the start of the kids’ spring break at Maru, the new Korean restaurant on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall.

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There are some interesting twists on the menu, like kimchi arancini.img_3497

And there are straight classics, like dolsot bibimbap.

The kids loved their bossam, (lettuce wraps).

Saturday

Virginia Bluebells always remind me of this scene in Sleeping Beauty, when the fairy godmothers try to outspell each other to make her dress blue, no pink, no blue!

When my mother-in-law’s primulas start blooming, I know it really is spring at last. 

I took the kids to see Fun Home at LiveArts. The themes and language were far more adult than I was expecting, but the musical was deeply moving and beautifully performed.

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Sunday

I awoke in the early hours of the morning to the sound of tape being ripped with ferocious intensity. The night before the younger two made their declaration of war. Their older brother asked to be left out of the battle. It took me a moment to figure out that the Great April Fools Easter War of 2018 had officially begun.

The noise I had heard was the sound of the 15 year old taping saran wrap to his sister’s bedroom door. She had frozen his toothbrush in a mug of water the night before. He retaliated by using his Water Pik against her like a makeshift water gun. She in turn attacked him with chalk fingerprints all over his choir robe.

Finally, after singing for two Easter services in a row, we were all feeling rather exhausted.

“Please, let’s stop this. I can’t take anymore,” the 15 year old said as we trudged back to the car.

The 12 year old was exultant: “Does that mean I won?!”

“Yes! You won. I’ll take my punishment. But, please let me do it tomorrow. I just can’t face it today.” (More on that later).

And so an Easter Armistice was declared.

The kids celebrated the end of war with the Easter egg hunt that awaited them back at home…

The biggest hit was the new basketball the Easter bunny left for them…

That evening we sat down to a traditional Easter dinner…if Easter just so happened to coincide with April Fool’s Day…The parents had one last trick up their sleeve:

Oh…and that punishment I mentioned earlier?

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Weekend Snapshots 56

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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.

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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:

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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.

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

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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:

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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…

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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.

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

 

Good thing they won!

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Tournament Champs!

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Youth Sunday & Other Forms of Torture

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We woke up at the crack of dawn to get to church by 8 am for the first of two back to back services led by the youth of the congregation.

A couple weeks ago the boys were asked to perform a Mozart duet as the closing voluntary. Those two short weeks felt like an eternity in hell, during which time I was roasting on a spit in slooooooow motion.

Just learn one page! I exhorted as they sturmed und dranged over the impossibility of pulling it together at such short notice. You can play the first page twice!

Please don’t be mean to your brother! I begged my older son, who becomes a complete tyrant when it comes to music.

You’re getting there! Just keep practicing!!! I nagged for two weeks straight.

Hey, Olympic committee! I totally deserve a gold medal for my performance of a lifetime! And a trip to Disney World. By myself.

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And then the church sprung the torture known as “Rite 13” on me. I have now been subjected to this particular agony three times…Thank God it’s the last one I’ll ever have to endure.

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This girl laughed in my face during the whole ceremony as tears leaked out of my eyes, and I guess that was a blessing, because it probably saved me from the ugly crying that would have disgraced us all…

It’s a wrap. I’m going to bed!