There are some memories that get left behind in childhood and some that stay imprinted in our minds. Not sure why some stay or go, but it’s been interesting to see how some of these childhood memories inform some of our decisions as parents.
I’ve written before about how we rarely traveled when I was a kid. From photos, it appears that my parents and I did a bit more traveling in my earliest years before my brother was born – I remember going to Niagara Falls; I’ve seen photos of us in Washington DC. But it seems that after my brother came along, the traveling became less frequent. I don’t know if it’s cultural and the influence of how my parents grew up themselves, but I’m pretty sure the whole notion of vacation didn’t exist under the circumstances of their upbringing back in Korea. I remember getting exasperated by their “why do you have to go there?” response every time I told them that I was going on a trip. They never understood why I wanted to leave NY when NY had everything. And visiting a destination twice? That was even harder for them to understand. But sometimes I also wonder if this was actually the norm back when I was a kid because I don’t remember any of my friends traveling either. Maybe it happened, but from my recollection I never heard of my friends taking trips to Florida or the Caribbean during Spring Break or going to Europe, or really anywhere. It could just be that I grew up in a working class neighborhood in Queens and people vacationed the way we did – occasional weekend motel trips to Montauk or the Poconos – or that vacation was an entirely different concept back in the 70s or 80s, but Spring Break and Summer vacations to us were playing in the back yard, playing with our toys, watching TV and yes, sitting around the house getting bored.
Those few trips to Montauk and the Poconos, however, are some of those memories that stuck around. They were never very long and they certainly weren’t fancy, but I remember that they were fun. We’d gather a few other families, sometimes cousins, aunts and uncles and sometimes family friends, and we’d rent a few motel rooms and all pile in for the weekend. I hadn’t been back to Montauk since one of those childhood trips so it had been a good 30 or so years since I’ve been out there. At one point a few years back, it seemed like everyone in our neighborhood was going out to Montauk. It had become suddenly hip and was on everyone’s radar. We decided over the weekend to take a spontaneous drive. It’s pretty far from the city, especially because of one lane traffic at the end of the island, but not a bad drive from where my parents are. We left early in the morning and stayed until the sun went down before our drive back. When we got to Montauk, nothing looked familiar to me – not the beaches or the town and at night, the whole place seemed to transform into a party (by the way, you want a sure fire way to make yourself feel instantly old? Realizing that all those teens and college aged kids spilling out of those house parties are much closer in age to your kids than you are should do it. I seem to be doing that a lot these days. I see a group of teenage girls and think, oh my god, this could be the girls soon. But I digress). It wasn’t until we got to the lighthouse at the end of the day that I felt a sense of familiarity. I remembered those rocks and I remember taking photos on that rocky beach.
Ironically, I was the first person in my family to take a trip outside of the states, overseas on a plane. It happened twice and both times I went without my family. The first was on a government sponsored trip to Korea when I was 10, the one and only time I had ever gone back since being born there and the second happened when I was 17 on a school chaperoned trip to London and Paris during Spring Break. Our high school conducted many of these trips to a few European cities every year. Twelve kids on a 9 day trip chaperoned by a nun and a biology teacher (I went to a Catholic high school). Pretty wild for this British music obsessed American teenager in the late 80s. I feel really grateful to my parents for sending me on those 2 trips and opening up my world. The first trip was hard because it really was a culture shock and I was away from my parents for 2 months at still a young age in essentially a foreign country (and that was the point of the government sponsored trip – to reacquaint Korean American kids with their home country. We were even on the news because this was the first program of its kind). The second trip was just pure fun – and yes, nuns know how to party, especially when they start drinking at dance clubs and uh, French Burlesque shows.
Because we’ve made travel a priority, I’m learning that fancy vacations don’t matter to the kids, just as I don’t think those childhood trips to Montauk would have been any more memorable had we stayed in fancier digs or ate dinner out at restaurants instead of cooking meals on a grill. Similarly, we’ve figured out how to travel fairly on the cheap no matter where we go (someday the girls might roll their eyes over stories of how their mom stuffed suitcases full of snacks to save money on food). I know we’re lucky in that we have family to visit in such nice places as Seattle every year – the girls look forward to that trip every summer more so than anything else. I also know that we’re lucky to have my parents’ house in the Long Island burbs to escape to on the weekends. It makes city living all the more bearable when you don’t feel so trapped in by concrete and crowds at all times. But despite what my parents have always told me when I was a kid, that there was no reason to leave NY, I think it’s important to show the girls that there is indeed life outside of NYC and that people live differently in different places. So we do what we can, and what we have is good.
I hope your summer is good too.
Posted by Jenna | 11 Comments
I kept thinking over the weekend as I watched the girls enjoy the beach during our day trip to Montauk that we’re giving the kids a really good childhood. And it’s not because we have lots of money to spend on toys and gadgets and trips. On the contrary, we have pared down our lifestyle even further in the last 18 months, partly out of necessity and partly out of the desire to cut down on needless consumerism, but we also acknowledge that we are more fortunate than most. The one thing, for the most part, that we’ve had in abundance despite the intense juggling of business and work, is time spent with the kids. This is what I need to remind myself of when the envy starts to creep in. Oh you know, looking through vacation photos of friends on Facebook, admiring stuff that you wish you could buy.
But what I have learned in recent years is this: the stuff that you wished you sometimes had, that you thought you would need to give your kids a good childhood is often not necessary at all. Sometimes our perception of what we need can be influenced by what our friends and peers have, but it’s really not how much you have that’s important; it’s what you do with what you have that matters.
Not to say that the girls themselves aren’t immune to this. Mia in particular, will sometimes say that she’s the only one in her class who hasn’t traveled to another country yet (oh reeeally? I ask her). She’s been asking to go to sleepaway camp for the past few years like so many of her friends and I tell her, I don’t know, maybe some day. It’s these moments when I start to feel a bit bad that we don’t have the means to do some of the things that they ask for because frankly, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to afford sleepaway camp or extra dance classes or music lessons. But I just need to shake those feelings off because sleepaway camp or no camp, European vacation or not, the girls have a pretty sweet childhood.
Sometimes I feel like I manage our money a little too tight fisted and perhaps that’s rooted in the fear of what’s unknown, but when I see their smiles at the beach or the movies, or the times we spend in the burbs at my parents’ house, then I know that choosing experiences over things is right for us. It may get harder as they get older when they’ll feel pressured on their own to keep up with their peers, but I do hope that we’re laying down the foundation for them to feel secure within themselves, despite of all that (sometimes we need this reminder ourselves too). I remember wanting things and wishing my life was a bit different; I was a teenager once. I hope when they look back, they’ll remember how good it was and they’ll know that we tried to give them the best childhood that we could, just as my mom tried to give us a better childhood than the one she had.
Posted by Jenna | 34 Comments
I think we might be all festivaled out from the past few weekends. We didn’t set out to spend Father’s Day weekend at 2 festivals. Actually, I was looking to recreate the tradition that we started last year – spending a peaceful day strawberry picking at a farm. We did decide to go to a strawberry festival on the North Fork, but we didn’t realize what a carnival-type scene it would be, crowds and all. I thought it would be more of a quaint, relaxed country type affair – you know, where people judge the best pie and race little piglets or something, but it ended up being more like Coney Island, but in the middle of farm land. We ate lots of fried stuff and a huge strawberry shortcake big enough to feed an entire family for $5. That was pretty much the only strawberry themed item at the Strawberry Festival, but eh…like I said about Disney World, I can embrace the cheese and have fun pretty much anywhere (that’s a good skill to have, by the way. Comes in handy when doing unpredictable, family outings). Besides, I think Mark secretly enjoyed chasing after Mia with his bumper car and repeatedly slamming into her.
Saturday was spent with my dad at a Korean block party somewhere in Queens. There were performances up on stage, ping pong tables, and oddly enough, a sand pit where Korean wrestling was supposed to take place later on in the afternoon (don’t ask…I don’t know), but as it is at most street fairs, it’s usually all about the food. I think what my dad really wanted though was a bowl of noodles at some restaurant down the block because he kept dropping hints even though there was food around us everywhere. Even after finishing off a plate of rice, beef and kimchi, he kept mentioning noodles (uh…dad…do you want to go get some noodles??). Finally about an hour later, he steered us towards the restaurant he wanted to try out, giving as an excuse the fact that Miss C hadn’t eaten anything yet. When we sat down, we realized that it was a Vietnamese Pho place run by Koreans (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and not a typical Korean noodle shop like he thought. It was ok though; my dad had spent a week in Vietnam last year and had eaten plenty of Pho, but he kept asking us and the waitress if it came with “hove”. Huh? Interestingly enough, the waitress knew what he was talking about, but Mark and I were completely perplexed. What the hell is “hove”? My dad kept insisting that he didn’t want any “hove” on his noodles and told us that in Vietnam, he liked the food as long as they didn’t put any “hove” in it.
Um, ok. “Dad, I don’t what you’re saying. Hove is not a word.”
And then it hit me about 15 minutes later. He meant herb . “Hove” was herb, but he couldn’t pronounce it correctly because, well you know, it’s hard for Koreans to pronounce an ‘r’, no matter how long they’ve lived in the states. He didn’t want any cilantro on his pho. “No hove, no hove!”
I told you Koreans didn’t like cilantro.
ps. I know Michelle Obama’s name is spelled wrong in that last photo. It amuses me endlessly that Koreans still get amazed every single time they see a non-Korean person eating and enjoying kimchi. It’s the same reason why Mark gets the white person treatment at Korean restaurants, which my parents then have to correct with the waitress. Oh, you know, getting cold water instead of hot barley tea, a fork instead of chopsticks, not getting certain individual appetizers when the rest of us do. It makes him so mad.
Posted by Jenna | 15 Comments
When I was younger, I remember my mother climbing the stairs to our upstairs attic where she would head after dinner nearly everyday for 2 years. My mom was earning her college degree long distance from a small private college in Maine and she used that little 8′ x 8′ room at the top of the stairs as her study. I don’t really even remember how old I was and I certainly didn’t understand what a big deal it was for my mom at that age; I just remember helping her sometimes with the grammar on her papers because English wasn’t her first language and even though she was a fairly fluent speaker, writing was a whole other story.
Of her 4 siblings, my mother was considered to be the “smart” one and the one that had the most ambition. She always wanted to be a doctor, but opportunities were scarce back then in Korea, especially for girls, so she went to nursing school instead and came to NY in 1971 soon after she graduated, seizing the first opportunity that she could find. But she always wanted a college degree. When she finally completed her studies sometime during my high school years, she traveled up to Maine for the graduation ceremony alone. I remember seeing photos of her trip to the college, but I always later wondered why we didn’t go up to the ceremony as a family.
When I think about my mom being the age that I am now, I think about her with a daughter who was 19 and already gone from the house and a son who was 13 and ready to enter high school. I think about how she switched careers at this age after 18 successful years as a nurse to real estate because she realized that her career was taking a physical toll on her health. She also knew that she had 2 kids to send to college and she couldn’t do that on a nurse’s salary. I don’t remember with clear details her transition from one career to the other because I had already moved out of the house at that point and quite frankly, was too busy trying to live my own life. But I do remember that my mom would cook and leave dinners wrapped up for my brother as her new work schedule had shifted and she was no longer home by the time he got home from school. My brother’s high school years in that respect, were different from mine.
I remember many years ago having a talk with my mom when I wasn’t feeling any validation from her, or praise, or whatever I was seeking at the time. After all those years, the approval from my mom wasn’t any less important than it was when I was 10. I don’t even remember what the conversation was specifically about, but I do remember her response. She asked me where her validation came from. Who was telling her that she was doing a good job? Who was telling her that they were proud of her? Maybe that is why she went to her graduation alone. She never expected validation from her family because she never received it before, from her parents or siblings growing up or from us. Maybe she learned to accept that ultimately, the only person she needed validation from was herself.
It’s ironic that I wrote that post about validation from strangers a few weeks ago, because I think about my mom’s response often. It wasn’t the response I was expecting, but it holds truth. We often expect so much from our mothers – the basic needs for survival, food, shelter, unconditional love, praise, and security. When we’re younger, our mothers are our mothers, beacons of love and protection, and we don’t necessarily think about the people that they are separate from that identity. But there comes a point when we realize that our mothers are people too – fears, insecurity, frustrations and all. Maybe you come to understand this when you see your mom cry in front of you for the first time or when you witness a vulnerability that you never saw or understood before.
As my girls get older I think about this more and more as we start having conversations not just as mother and daughters, but as people having discussions with our own opinions. I think about the message that I send out to the girls with my actions as well as my inactions. I think about the relationship that I have with my mother and the role that I have as a mother to my daughters. Whatever shortcomings may have happened in the past doesn’t have to be irreparable in the present, and I just want to say to my mother today that I am very proud of her.
Posted by Jenna | 27 Comments
This week was a blur. Not enough productivity, too much sliding down the wormhole to the past. Some days the lack of focus is so hard to overcome that you might as well pack it in. Eat another muffin, watch another concert video on Youtube. This is one of those days when the rain and the return to cold is dragging me down (and I’m actually considering retiring in Seattle one day? Hmmm). I’m not feeling this day.
Claudine and I have been having a regular exchange almost weekly where she goes to put her dirty clothes in the laundry basket and upon discovering that it’s full, walks up to me all huffy, but in a totally deadpan way says, “you’re really bad at doing laundry.” And then we go back and forth for a few minutes of banter, her stare almost challenging me. When she walks away rolling her eyes, I question whether or not that conversation actually took place, mostly because I stooped to the level of a 6 year old with my immature retorts back to her. Sadly, she is right. I hate doing laundry with a thousand passions so it often does pile up. I’m staring at the laundry right now, in fact. I was thinking recently how true it is that being a parent keeps us accountable in so many ways. The kids keep us in check and their school schedule is the rhythm that provides the structure to our days. If I didn’t have to walk them to school every morning, I probably wouldn’t leave the house or get to sleep at any reasonable hour that makes it possible to interact with humans in the rest of the working world. Meals too. They’re probably the reason we even have food in the fridge.
So thanks girls, for saving me from a life of take-out and TV dinners and vampire hours. You make me laugh when you make my bed for me, even better than how I make it, but leave me a post-it note on the pillow reminding me to thank you. You make me smile when you offer to give me a foot massage, squeezing my feet with little fingers for all of 2 minutes before dropping my foot like a hot potato and running off when your sister wants to play with you. You make me look forward to birthday week with your schemes and whispers behind my back even if I’d rather forget the fact that I’ll be turning another year older. Your enthusiasm for even the mundane things in life is the spark that keeps me going on days like this.
Posted by Jenna | 23 Comments
I don’t know why I even have a “craft” category for the blog seeing as we seem to only accomplish 2 kinds of crafts each year – paper snowflakes and Easter egg dyeing (and if you click on crafts, that’s pretty much all you see post after post – so much so that it’s laughable). We haven’t even carved pumpkins in the last few years because the girls get too attached to their pumpkins and can’t bear the thought of stabbing them with knives and scooping out the guts. Oh! I tried to teach the girls how to make origami cranes last week, but that didn’t really go over so well because I forgot how to fold one myself and the only origami paper we had was too small for tiny hands trying to make precise folds. Hey, I tried.
After last year’s rather successful first attempt at natural egg coloring, we went back to the Paas dye tablets, mostly because Mark’s mom sent us a box in the Easter care package she sent us. We didn’t do anything fancy this year (though I thought about it for a minute, I swear). Mia did scratch a phrase in wax on one of her eggs: “Peace, love and hamburgers” (uh, whatever that means to 9 year olds), but we did try ombre-ing a few of the eggs. I think next year I might try experimenting with tape.
We took our traditional drive upstate to spend Easter with Mark’s dad and uncle. The girls get super excited about Easter because of the egg hunts (this year we drove out to a state park to hide chocolates in the woods). Nothing was Spring-like about it because the weather was still a bit chilly and the trees still so bare, but they still had a super good time. I find it funny that they are both so blinded by the fact that one of us is obviously the Easter bunny hiding the candy. I’m surprised that Mia still believes there’s a furry animal with thumbs capable of placing chocolate eggs on window sills and perched on tree branches. She knows there isn’t a tooth fairy and hasn’t really believed in Santa in awhile (though she claims to believe in him again), so why the Easter bunny? Especially when I had “mysteriously disappeared” while Mark took them to a bench to look out over the lake.
Posted by Jenna | 3 Comments