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.
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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.
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The thing that I couldn’t get over with the night shows at Disney and Epcot is that they do this huge, Olympic ceremony caliber production every single freaking night. I mean, am I right? I knew that I didn’t want to miss the electrical parade and the fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom even though it meant keeping the kids up after that marathon of a day. At one point during the afternoon, Mark hinted that maybe we didn’t need to stay to catch the show – I mean we’ve seen fireworks before. Pshaw. We were pretty tired around 6pm, but after we finished a quick dinner and re-emerged back into the park under the night sky, we all perked up because the crowds were thinner and the park had more of a party atmosphere. By the time we found a spot on the sidelines for the parade at 8:30 the girls were fading again, but as soon as the twinkling floats approached us at 9pm, Miss C was waving to all the characters and actors and at one point reached back in a bit of a panic after realizing that she wasn’t wearing her mouse ears. “I need them”, she said as she put them on and resumed waving.
A few last words about Disney: It’s pretty impressive how well run everything is. Just about everything is seamless right down to all the sounds. Being audio geeks, we couldn’t help but note how smooth all the audio scenes from the rides cross faded into each other or all the analog synth sounds that were used so well in the parade. Sometimes when you really observe what’s going on around you it’s completely surreal and even a bit bizarre when you realize that you’re riding in a clam shell on a long conveyer belt of people on one of the rides – a conveyer belt that continuously loads and unloads thousands of park goers in and out non stop for 12 hours a day. But you really do sort of have to suspend your disbelief and buy into the fantasy which we did for the most part, aside from those few moments where you shake yourself into reality and you catch yourself thinking, where the hell are we?
Oh, and I just figured out yesterday why my mom thought it was so important that we take the kids to Disney and why she saw it as such a pivotal part of the American experience. When I was a kid, I used to look at these old photos of my mom wearing one of those black Mickey Mouse caps with mouse ears and standing next to one of the 7 dwarves. She was 25 and had made a layover in Southern California on her way to NYC from South Korea in 1971 when she first immigrated here. Disneyland was her first exposure to America. Arriving from a country that was struggling to get back on its feet from the Korean War, the Disney experience in sunny California must have felt surreal and worlds away from her childhood filled with poverty and a broken home. Can’t imagine what she must have been feeling at the time – all the emotions of leaving her country and her family (including me as an infant), but there was also the anticipation of starting a new life in a new world. That is true magic.
Posted by Jenna | 18 Comments