“What happened to you? You were supposed to become someone amazing: some kind of a great success! Look at you, you are just a mom and a housewife. Why?” my cousin asked me about six or seven years ago.
“I’m working on my graduate degree and I’ve been writing.” I replied, feeling defensive.
“Everyone used to talk about how smart you are. They all said you were going to be very successful someday. You used to be brilliant.”
“Everyone said that?” I asked surprised.
“Yeah. But you didn’t do anything special with your life. You became nothing.”
I was hurt, to say the least, but I dismissed it as one of my cousin’s brash moments. What I would remember later, and what I didn’t think to say to her at that moment, was that when we were kids, I was also being told by my mother and other family members about all of my cousin’s great accomplishments and how creative and amazing she was.
My cousin and I have always had a kind of bond, almost like sisters. We played like sisters and fought like sisters.
I am thinking now that the fights and the competition between us were orchestrated by the adults in our lives.
My mother used to show my cousin’s published poems to me and explain to me how amazing she was to get published in Korean papers at such a young age. After a few years of hearing about her poems getting published, I entered a nationwide songwriting contest and won fifth place. My mom was proud of me and hung the little flag where everyone could see. But still I never got published in any papers, and I knew that I had failed my mother.
I recently reconnected with my cousin after a few years of not speaking to each other after an argument. I had said some very harsh things to her, and I know that I hurt her feelings.
When we reconnected a few months back, I first told myself that she is the same person, and that I could not trust her. But last night when I spoke with her, I sensed a more grown and mature woman who is actively working on herself and focusing on doing things for others. She is adopting her nephews since her brother is not doing so well financially. He is an artist and is struggling to make it.
She and I had a wonderful heart to heart, and we carried it through to this morning in text. I for the first time felt really connected to her, and felt thankful to have a cousin who is more like my sister.
After I had texted with her, I began to realize the impact our family had created in our lives. I think that our families saw two bright and talented girls full of personalities and energy. I think that they assumed that if we were competitive with one another that it would cause us to realize our full potentials.
My cousin did become, and continues to become, something special. She fell in love with an American businessman that she met through her work. She married him and came to America. She then divorced him after a few years of what felt like abuse, and at one point became completely broke. She worked at shops as a seamstress and took classes at the local colleges to improve her English. She then took an intern position with a large clothing company and now, after a few decades, she is a buyer and quality controller for that company, traveling all over the place and making herself a very respectable salary. She married a man more than a decade younger and has created a family life for herself and is happy.
I cannot blame our families for trying to get the best out of my cousin and me, but it did affect our relationship in a negative way. We antagonized each other, never really knowing why. We at times resented each other, and so we followed a pattern of being friendly, and splitting apart at our individual offenses, before coming together again and repeating the pattern.
I wonder what would have happened to our relationship if our elders had not induced a competitive relationship between us? I wonder if she and I might have even manifested something wonderful together, a successful enterprise of some kind? Food for thought for people raising siblings, aunts, uncles and other family members out there.
Did I ever tell you what a wonderful hapa-child I have?
he was three years old his favorite color was purple. He loved purple
because it was the color associated with Donatello, his favorite Teenage
Mutant Ninja Turtle. He declared that his first car would be purple.
When I said, “Well, you might change your mind about that,” he began to
cry, and I learned that he was a sensitive soul.
When we bought
him a bike, we knew that we had to find a purple one, and finally did at
a garage sale. It was purple and in fantastic condition, but it also
happened to be a girl’s bike. The very next day he proudly walked out
to the courtyard full of boys who were mostly older and larger than he
was. I nervously listened from my kitchen, fearing the reaction that he
might get and how he might feel afterwards.
Sure enough, the boys
all yelled, “Hey that is a girl’s bike!” The next few minutes of
silence lasted almost too long for me, but it was broken when I heard
the indignant little voice of my son:
Dash: Am I a boy or a girl?
The boys: A boy.
Dash: Whose bike is this?
The boys: Yours.
Dash: This is my bike?
The boys: Yes!
Dash: And I’m a boy?
The boys: Yes.
Dash: Then this is a boy’s bike.
The boys: Oh. Well alright.
quietly held up my fist and shook it in the air, the proudest I could
imagine of my little three year old! The boys never mentioned it again.
Later he entered UC Berkeley School of Law at nineteen years
of age, and was one of the youngest students in the fiercely
competitive environment. As a kid who grew up playing and listening to
punk rock music, his style was heavily affected by this, and in spite of
the formal attire of most of his peers, my son dressed to fit his
“punk” roots with skinny jeans and graphic t’s.. One of the older
students took a photo of him wearing a pink t-shirt and his tight black
pants, in pretense of liking it, and then sharing it around the campus,
causing my son to become butt of many jokes.
He decided to wear
that shirt every day for months (washing it, of course) in response to
their antics and would not back down. I urged him to stop wearing that
shirt but to no avail. It broke my heart to know what was happening to
him but looking back now, I am impressed with his fearlessness. He
almost quit the school, but finished the grueling three years of law
school with those same bullies graduating around him. In his tradition,
after successfully graduating with his law degree, he refused to
practice law, pursuing instead comedic acting, writing, stand up, and
The photo above is of him playing a character from an
upcoming web film project of his that he is writing/producing/directing,
a project that combines his love for superheroes and passion for
creating his own path: his own purple trail.
parent of a ‘tween I found myself at the mall with my daughter the other day.
It was right after school and she was still in her all-girls school uniform.
walked by one of the kiosks, a young man stopped her and asked if she went to
ABC Private School – he recognized the uniform as the uniform of his all-boys
high school alma mater’s sister school. He was indeed correct – except my
daughter is in the sister school’s middle school.
it’s the “Asians don’t look their age” stereotype or maybe it’s because she was
in uniform or maybe because she’s tall for her age but as she said yes and I
gave my best KDS (Korean Death Stare) to this young man and gently guided her
down the hall, I had a mix of remembering the feelings of being mistaken as older at that age and what it may mean for my daughter..and me as her mom.
the faster-than-the-speed-of-light economic growth in China, and young people
flooding in from rural areas to the bustling cities in search of jobs and
opportunities, a saying has developed about this group of new-to-the-city young
women: The software doesn’t match the hardware. Kind of creepy when you think
about it. Here’s a young woman in search of opportunity and she has been
reduced to an electronic, a cliché, because she’s attractive but
in the United States are guilty of perpetuating some of that concept, too. Look
around: magazine covers, tv shows, music . . . Have you tried shopping for
“cute” girl clothes recently? Listened to the actual lyrics of some popular songs. Next
time you’re at the grocery store take the time to glance over the covers of magazines specifically designed for your teen!
fellow moms and I complain about the lack of appropriate clothing, the
pressures our girls face to wear make-up, shave their legs and have first
dates/first kisses, etc. And because many of these concepts were foreign to my
mother, the "right" way to navigate through them are in many ways foreign to me.
remember the first time you were mistaken as being older than you really were (as a 'tween/teen)?
Angie in Texas is practicing her KDS for all future boys...
this winter we celebrated warmer, spring-like days here in South Texas. There
was so much happiness and hope in our little family – the way spring is
supposed to be. What spring is supposed to mean. But as all South Texans know:
if you don’t like the weather: stick ‘round, it’ll change.
With a fierce, biting wind reminding me it was still winter, my world became
cold and barren.
the definition of a normal, modern, blended, American family. We struggle with
schedules, negotiate the school-work balance, commute to and from
extra-curricular activities, schedule social time among adolescent and adult
friends, cope with extended family matter dramas and move through our daily lives as
a family living alongside two ‘tweens.
had written off as normal ‘tween girl drama I can retroactively see now as
warning signs. Stereotypical signs, too! Tumbling grades (check!), increased
arguments with us, (check!), a new passion for fighting with her brother (check!),
yelling matches and hurling hurtful words (check!), periods of deafening total
hip, consciously-aware, educated, socially active mother (certainly not like
the old-school Korean mother I grew up with!) I knew and understood the stage of growing up she was
going through. She was in the
early stages of adolescent spring! The winter of child childhood fading. I could even empathize with the season of
adolescent spring: the bright sunlight moving from family to friends, chores and
homework to trips to the mall with friends and PG-13 movies in giggly, awkward groups.
here I was am trying to understand. I’ve Googled. I’ve
read. I’ve Tumblred. I've seen and read things that have broken my heart a million times into a million pieces. I’ve gone to see our family therapist. I’ve cried. I’ve begged. I’ve
pleaded. I’ve prayed. I’ve overdosed my daughter with “mommy and me” time(!) not
because I particularly enjoy spending countless hours talking about My Little
Pony, cats and watching Animal Planet, but because I’m too scared to leave her
alone. Too scared what I may find when I come back.
what I know about Koreans and depression; knowing what I know about my Korean
parents, depression and alcoholism; knowing what I know about my own struggles
with depression, alcoholism and addiction I wish I knew more about how to help
I think we are moving through this season of hurt, but then I am reminded of
the very meaning of seasons and that cutting isn’t just a one time thing, a one hundred
time thing, or even a one thousand time thing . . . it’s a lifetime thing.
Nothing has brought me closer to death than giving birth.
Before I had my son, I thought about death, but only occasionally, the way I assume most others do. It was there in the abstract, off in the distance, never threatening, never looming. Like a distant cousin, it reminded me of its existence every once in a while, when I happened to pass an accident on the freeway or read a novel with tragic ending, which in turn reminded me to live more purposefully, meaningfully. But apart from its occasional pep talk, it had little to do with me.
Back then, I didn't fear death. If anything, I felt cavalier. So what, I remember saying. What do I have to lose? My life was my own, and I was beholden to no one. If something were to happen to me, a few others may be sad or even devastated, but I didn't own their grief. I was the only one who could potentially suffer, but not really because wouldn't I be dead after all? Just make it quick and don't let me suffer too much, was my canned retort.
(Please forgive the "first-world problems" feel of this post.)
As my children have gotten older (they are now almost 10 and just a touch over 12), I have noticed a disturbing pattern that I may have been unaware in the past: specialization.
My daughter's into soccer. She plays in a youth sports group and they practice for about 1 hour once a week, play once a week and the season is only about 2 1/2 months long at a time. She plays probably 2-3 "seasons" a year. Though she is 12, most of the girls on her team are 10 and 11. They "play up". Playing up is based on the theory that if you raise the level of competition they will play to meet that challenge (or something like that).
Many of the girls on her team will probably leave in the next season or two to move into "club" soccer. Club soccer here is more . . . specialized. This is when teams practice 3-4 times a week for an hour or an hour and a half each practice and will play 2-3 games a weekend. They will also travel to surrounding areas (and in Texas that could mean 3+ hours of driving) and play in tournaments that go on for entire weekends (Saturdays and Sundays).
My son was participating in Tae Kwon Do and in tennis. A few months ago, he had to make a very difficult choice: he had to choose. He is 10 years old and he was being forced into specializing. As a 10 year old he would do tennis 2 times a week and then TKD 2 times a week and depending on visitation weekends, TKD sparring on Fridaysa and TKD tournament team on Saturdays or a tennis tournament. Tennis was 2 private lessons a week plus 'clinic' for a total of about 7 hours of tennis a week. This wasn't enough . . . his new schedule is tennis 4 days a week (about 10-12 hours a week) and an average of 2 tournaments a month (tournaments begin on Fridays and end on Sundays if you're playing well).
I look around and I see it amongst many of our friends: a 12 year old who plays club volleyball - tournaments are all weekend long and consist of many games per day, a 14 year old who is now home schooled so she can pratice tennis 8+ hours a day, and a 17 year old who has been taking tennis lessons for 12 years.
And this is just the sports side. I know children who practice piano 15-20 hours a week, a neighbor's child plays drums for school, church and 2 bands (he's 16) and on and on and on...
In all of these cases (and from personal experience) I have been told that kids HAVE to specialize if they want to remain competitive. Competitive for school, college, scholarships, professionally.
As parents we want what's best for our children.
We want opportunities for them that we didn't have.
Little Prince is a Korean-born chain of kid-centered cafes, and it is basically the healthier, cleaner, saner alternative to Chuck E. Cheese's. Instead of cacophony, consumerism, and chaos, kids can play in a variety of settings: an indoor jungle gym and ball pit for the more active tykes, a dress-up and pretend play area, and a library. All areas are supervised by attentive staff who speak both Korean and English, and you can also keep an eye on your little ones from your table thanks to the video camera feeds displayed in the dining area. Littler kids can stay close to their parents by playing in the middle of the dining area in a quieter, more padded zone.
The menu is eclectic, highlighting Korean-style cafe food. There is pizza, pasta, and house-made chicken nuggets for the kids, and more sophisticated fare for the parents such as hamburger steak, galbi, ddukbokki, and "grown-up" pastas. My personal favorite is their kimchi fried rice with cheese, washed down by a couple glasses of their iced coffee.
I am not exaggerating when I say that Little Prince has greatly expanded my social life. It's the perfect spot to meet up with old or new friends who are in town.
Do your friends have other kids that aren't quite the same age level as your own? Send them all on their merry way to play with the unnis/nunas/oppas/hyungs at their own pace. Chances are, they will start playing with each other as well.
Is your friend childless, but they would like to meet your kids and hang out with you? Again, perfect venue: your kids can be around to say hello and be hugged and adored, but then they can zoom off without either party being antsy or nervous. Then you and your friend can catch up in peace.
They also offer packages for birthday parties, and I think it would be a perfect venue for a dol, or any year up to about age 6. It's especially handy if you expect a mixed crowd of kids, older and younger siblings, and adults without children.
Food is pretty pricey, but the servings are HUGE. In addition, you pay a per-hour fee per child. So, if you are in the southern CA area, you should definitely try it out. Awesomely enough, Living Social is offering a deal with Little Prince right now (and for the next 6 days). You get $25 credit for $12, which amounts to 52% off!
So, am I going to see you there? We can do plan a formal Kimchi Mamas meet-up or just keep it small. Let's discuss.
Little Prince Kids Restaurant 5300 Beach Blvd. #118 Buena Park, CA 90621 714-690-1432
I have not and am not planning to teach my kids a lot of Korean. I am not ruling it out. If they have interest, I am happy to teach them in the future or enroll them in Korean school. You know, the dreaded Saturday classes?
BUT, I am having some internal struggles on how to reply when my parents or my MIL ask about this subject. They want my children to know Korean. Especially my dad and mom since they don't speak a lick of English. My MIL, even though she lives in Korea, actually has learned English a bit and can converse decently, so she has not yet been insistant on requesting that her grandsons know Korean but I feel the question coming in the near future.
I don't see my parents or talk to them often, so that kind of helps... but it seems like almost every time I do see my dad, one of the things he says is, "You should teach your kids Korean." My response so far has been either 1. no response or 2. the docile "neh" meaning something like "yes" or "sure."
I really enjoyed reading everyone's comments on my last post about ethnicity/race here... but now I am curious...
What is the "right" way to ask questions about a bi-racial/multi-racial (or not-so-obvious ethnicity/race) child's ethnicity/race? Especially if the child is only with one parent and it's not obvious, or if the child is adopted from a ethnicity/race not the same as both or either parent. Or is it even Kosher or PC, to ask about ethnicity/race anymore?
Some of the wrong ways might be:
Is your child adopted?
Is your wife/husband Oriental?
Is that your friend's son/daughter?
Are you the nanny?
Is he/she from China?
Where is your family from?
If you are the parent of a multi-racial or biracial child, how would you prefered to be asked about your child(ren)'s race, if at all?