Men and Women: Oh, the Flu

She gargles the fire in her throat (upstairs),
makes lunch (downstairs),
dusts (both floors),
washes the sheets (downstairs),
reviews geography with her son (upstairs),
heats the castor pack (downstairs)
hacks into the waste bin,
does her saline wash (upstairs),
empties the trash bin (downstairs),
gets her boy more blankets (upstairs),
checks the soup (downstairs),
does the dishes,
runs over to the library (outside),
makes bone broth (downstairs)

 

He….well, he…pulls down the covers and does the hard work
of opening his mouth for the nice hot water and pills.

 

Women, Money, and Barbarians

8 Years Old:

Boy: Mom, if I marry a girl and then don’t like her anymore can I switch?
Mom: *shake head* No, that’s why you must choose very carefully.
Boy: Oh. *looking disappointed*

++++++++++++++++++++++

Boy: Mom, when do people get married?
Mom: You can marry in your teens but most people do it in their 20s and 30s.
You have to work hard and be able to provide for your wife and kids. House, food…
Boy: *Nodding* I have to make money.
I would like to babysit.

++++++++++++++++++++++

Mom: Yes, everything, all of creation started decaying when Adam and Eve ate the fruit.
Boy: Even the Tree of Life?
Mom: *stumped* Good question.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

Daddy, Mommy said I can get the Pokemon cards for Christmas.
Dad: Why don’t you get it with your allowance?
Boy: Mommy, should we get it with my allowance or yours?
Mom: *laughing* I don’t have a lot of money.
Dad: *hooting* Mommy has a BIG allowance! It’s called a credit card.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

Mommy, I realized it’s not good to be rich. People will get jealous and kill you.
You should be medium rich.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

Daddy, are barbarians still around?
Dad: What do you mean? Of course not.
Mom: Honey, it’s an honest question. The Western Roman empire fell to Barbarians. He’s wondering what happened to them.
Dad: Well no, Tennyson. They became civilized. BY THEIR WIVES. They were tamed by their wives.
*family laughing* There was the male barbarian. And the even FIERCER female barbarian.

 

You do realize some body-snatching went on here?

You do realize some body-snatching went on here?

The Woman You Praised

Cleopatra in Wiki

Cleopatra in Wiki

The one thing she wasn’t known for was a beautiful face but people – men in particular – were arrested by her presence, charisma, eloquence, and intellect. Cleopatra was captivating with a beauty only she could claim.

What is the greatest compliment you have received as a woman or paid one?

Though I have never known myself to be particularly attractive, in years past I’ve admittedly found the attention of men flattering. I don’t see that it wouldn’t be. It’s a confession that doesn’t sound politically correct against the backdrop of the many popular posts defending inner beauty and self-acceptance. I was startled by the realization this week that you also have all made me feel very beautiful. While male bloggers may enjoy affection or encouragement from their readers, they are not going to say we made them feel so lovely. Julius Caesar attracted people with the same qualities Cleopatra boasted but he wasn’t thought to be bewitching. What I’m getting at is that while the attributes that draw our admiration for both sexes will often reflect things deeper than skin, we praise men and women differently. We’ll choose language that polarizes gender. Certainly the very point of feminist contention, but I’d like you to think about – without worry over judgment – the most flattering or ennobling praise you’ve received not only as a person but as a woman. Or given to a woman, whether it’s something that affirms, emboldens, or redefines her femininity. We had fun with the posts where I swore I was a man. My husband would love it if I were softer. If I had to choose, I would rather have respect than love. Give me brains over beauty any day – a vote for myself and the female race. And more than traits, virtues like wisdom and integrity obviously merit recognition and make us really lovely. But even I can’t help but feel more womanly, and therefore more in touch with myself as a person, when I feel not only appreciated or liked but beautiful inside and out.

I Think I Love My Body

My husband knew I was The One when he first saw me. I (with a roll of the eyes) chalked up what he called love at first sight to the way the clothes happened to flatter me that evening. He stopped me in my tracks, though, when he admitted for the first time after 10 years together, “But I wouldn’t have wanted to marry you if you were fat.”

Now, he’s one of the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate people I know but apparently all that’s besides the point when it comes to attraction and mate selection. And call him what you will but I wonder. Doesn’t he have the right to want what he wants in a wife? Who’s to judge our sweet palate? Here we plunge into the politically correct thicket. How many people are more attracted to overweight people than to those who’re thinner? Let me preempt the comments. I am not saying large – or can I say it? – fat people cannot be attractive. I know big people who are pretty. And yes, I do believe some men (some) do want “more to love” of a woman. Nor can I say that the large couple over there doesn’t enjoy romance and abiding love. Add to the mix of disclaimers the cultures that are less obsessed with the Barbies of the developed world. So I’m obviously brushing with broad strokes. But do slimmer people, among women especially, really do have a better chance at love?

“I know I’m supposed to hate my body,” the patient said according to Kerry Egan, hospice chaplain and author, in a CNN article What the Dying Really Regret.

“But why…?”

“Well, Kerry, ” she looked incredulous that I even asked and laughed. “Because I’m fat!”

“The world’s been telling for me for 75 years that my body is bad. First for being female, then for being fat and then for being sick. But the one thing I never did understand is, why does everyone else want me to hate my body? What does it matter to them?”

Sometimes [what other people want them to believe is] based on their allegedly unattractive features. They might be ashamed of their weight, their body hair…It isn’t always the media and peer pressure that create this shame; sometimes it comes from lessons at home…Some women grow up thinking that their very existence in a body that might be sexually attractive…is cause for shame – that their bodies make bad things happen just by existing.

Clearly, we want to keep grounded in a sense of self that does not rely on our appearance and does not put too much premium on our effect on others (for better or worse). Not to withhold sympathy from this woman, but I don’t believe I am categorically lovely no matter how I look or how much I weigh. I just finished saying in The Obligation of Beauty that it’s a show of self-respect to take better care of oneself, and that means inside and out. But the self-love this article talks about turns a corner where it meets death.

There are many regrets and unfulfilled wishes that patients have shared with me in the months before they die. But the stories about the time they waste hating their bodies, abusing it or letting it be abused — the years people spend not appreciating their body until they are close to leaving it – are some of the saddest.

“I am going to miss this body so much,” a different patient, many decades younger, told me. “I’d never admit it to my husband and kids, but more than anything else, it’s my own body I’ll miss most of all. This body that danced and ate and swam and had sex and made babies. It’s amazing to think about it. This body actually made my children. It carried me through his world.”

It’s the very existence of being in a body, something you likely take for granted until faced with the reality that you won’t have a body soon. You will no longer be able to experience this world in this body, ever again.

So they talk about their favorite memories of their bodies. About how the apples they stole from the orchard on the way home from school tasted, and how their legs and lungs burned as they ran away. The feel of the water the first time they went skinny-dipping. The smell of their babies’ heads. And dancing. I’ve heard so many stories about dancing…I can’t count the number of times people — more men than women — have closed their eyes and said, “If I had only known, I would have danced more.”

Precious, isn’t it? Those drowning in the sea of mortality throw us pearls and we find their wisdom to be the simplest things. This one’s about love at last sight, so sad when the appreciation for self and breath and texture comes so late. The self-love we are encouraged toward isn’t a stout call to self-esteem but a fresh vision of beauty birthed by the anguished promise of loss. Recast in this light, the distinctions between thin and big people diminish. We all have a strong, strong chance at love.

Money in My House

Math lesson: “Mom’s money is Mom’s money and Daddy’s money is Mom’s money.”

=======

Boy: Counting, recounting the money he earned folding laundry this month. Saving for a tablet. “$7.50. I have a long way to go to get to $200.”

Mom bites lip, looks up at ceiling. He doesn’t know she borrowed the $120 he made as a child study in a psychology program (last year).

=======

Tonight

Daddy: “Daddy’s sad because he lost his wallet.”
Boy: “Oh, that means will be poor now.”

The Measure of a Woman

I don’t remember my mother ever having the cold or flu. She must’ve had her share, especially in the sharp New York winter. She remains healthy in my memory because she never took a day off, never took a nap, never complained. Not even when the needle flew off the Singer and disappeared into her finger. Between the waitressing years in New York, Mom sewed for the giant garment industry that Latino and Asian immigrants pinned their hopes on in the 70s and 80s. The heaps of cut fabric she brought home in the metal shopping cart they literally called homework. It enabled her to raise her kids and stay involved in my early schooling. Mom did everything fast. She would feed polyester rectangles through the machine and recruit me and my little brother to flip them into shirt collars. At two cents a piece, time was the enemy. She ate a lot of dust.

The older I grow, the smaller I feel in the shadow of my mother’s sacrificial silence. I grew up exasperated with Mom, but her threshold of patience in marriage and motherhood was a lot higher than mine. Thanks in part to the freedom of speech this beloved Land of the Free so fiercely protects, the culture of rights I am privileged to claim citizenship in. Thanks in part to a nature that still begs tempering. I need to be humble. Need to love. I worship a God who exchanged his rights for a cross.

MomKitchenI don’t have the patience and gentleness for my son that Mom had for me. How dare I draw myself up to her small frame in these comfortable shoes that cost more than what she ever spent on her own tired feet? It wasn’t just waitressing that her legs ached from. She stood hours in the kitchen over the traditional side dishes every meal called for. Did you know Korean food is misogynistic? When I dug up this picture of Mom, I was surprised at the poor quality of the photo. It had stuck in my head as a beautiful shot, one of my favorite of hers, because it shows her radiant slaving away in a hole with no ventilation in a tiny apartment. And then my grandmothers had it even harder. No appliances to keep up with the laundry for a family of eight or nine. My mother’s father passed away when Mom was three, leaving Grandma to flee on foot with six children when the communist North invaded Seoul three years later. My mother became the youngest in the family when her brother, three years old, died en route from the pneumonia they could not treat in the winter flight. They buried him on the road and this and the rest my grandmother endured with silent heartache and grace. If unassuming, unreserved sacrifice is the measure of greatness, surely greatness diminishes with each generation. Or is it just me? I am probably the weakest link in my line. No, I don’t believe all the women before me were virtuous, and I know of many among Mom’s generation who even abandoned their own. I’m talking of the times and culture. Though I may shoulder my hearty share of struggles, my days aren’t heavy with the desperation I sensed in Mom when I was a child. The small matter of war aside, she and the women before her had to push through resistance just to procure the basics. Korea was poorer then, and immigrant life tougher than the country that shut no door on me as I was growing up. Living seemed to have required more fortitude. There are things I do better than Mom did. Like many of us, I determined to be a different parent. But my savvy turns out to be simply a matter of knowledge and opportunity – from the education my mother paid for with her very self. I had set out to do better, but I now see that every success of mine is the dream she chased.

The Invisible Woman

PleaseLookMomThough Please Look After Mom was an international bestseller by a South Korean novelist, I didn’t care for the lackluster title or the parts that were overstated. But the well-painted portrait of a mother who goes missing redeemed the read plenty. She is a prototype of wife and mother from every culture since the dawn of time. We see the heart of the invisible woman.

So-nyo, an elderly mother of four grown children, vanishes in the Seoul subways. Her husband hurries ahead in the crowd, characteristically impatient, and in a moment of disbelief the subway door shuts their hands apart, pulling the car away with him. The novel is a rotary of voices – of the children and husband who search for her in despair while thinking back in shame at the woman they realize they had never seen.

Hyong-chol, the eldest child, thinks back on the time his father brought into their village shack a woman to live with him, with the family. Naturally, So-nyo left the house. Trying to buy her way into the hearts of the kids, the Other Woman carefully packed their lunch, even to top it with the fried egg, then a luxury. Hyong-chol not only didn’t eat it, but made his siblings bury their lunchbox. The Other Woman went on to buy them new containers that kept their rice warm. The son refused to renounce the food strike.

   Mom came to school to find him.  It was about ten days after the woman had come to live with them.
   “Mom!” Tears spilled from his eyes.
   Mom led him to the hill behind the school. She pulled up the legs of his pants to reveal his smooth calves, grabbed a switch, and hit them.
   “Why aren’t you eating? Did you think I would be happy if you didn’t eat?”
   Mom’s thrashing was harsh. He had been upset that his siblings weren’t listening to him, and now he couldn’t understand why Mom was whipping him. His heart brimmed with resentment. He didn’t know why she was so angry.
   “Are you going to take your lunch? Are you?”
   “No!”
   …Instead of running away, he stood still, silent, and suffered her blows.
   “Even now?”
   The redness bloomed into blood on his calves.
   “Even now!” he yelled.
   Finally, Mom tossed the switch away. “God, you brat! Hyong-chol!” she said, embracing him and bursting into sobs. Eventually, she stopped, and tried to persuade him. He had to eat, she said, no matter who cooked the meals.

Even in the second reading, my eyes smarted. I am not endorsing child abuse, of course. But my heart swelled with understanding of So-nyo’s pain and the desperate attempt of a mother to get her child to eat – though it meant that she let Another Woman feed him. In one of the most telling moments in human drama, embracing insult to injury, a mother physically tries to force her son to an act that reinforces his father’s galling unfaithfulness. She swallows her dignity for the well-being of her child.

So-nyo chooses to go under. I’m not praising her for laying down as a doormat beneath the man she had served with nothing but devotion. In fact, she returns home to chase him and the Woman out of her house. But part of the attraction the book holds for the reader is that So-nyo seems to be Everyone’s Mom. Please allow the sweeping generalization that bears exceptions. The protagonist was so recognizable: I saw a great deal of my own mother in her and could pull up a good many other moms and grandmothers who could have replaced her name. Hers is a life of sacrifice from the day she marries and her self-renunciation, a silent one. Not once does she complain – I think because it doesn’t occur to her to. Interestingly, I don’t recall her ever saying, “I love you” to any of her kids. Calloused hands freeze over while washing the offerings of the garden, the clothes, the dishes in the winter water. Unflagging fingers pickle food for the seasons ahead while dancing over pots and fire as they contrive the next meal. In fact, she has an awful lot in common with the women out of Little House on the Prairie. In reading aloud some of the stories to my son and husband last year, I tried to figure out what was so familiar about the Prairie series when my life has been so unworthily comfortable by comparison. It hit me one day that the untiring work of the parents, especially of the mothers, mirrored the call to unsung exertion that many Asian women answer when they have children. But this isn’t ethnocentrism. Many, across time and culture, can see So-nyo in our own mother, aunt, neighbor, or grandmother. She is not attractive, and goes about with a towel over her eyes for the sweat. She is no model but certainly beautiful. She has always been there for her family, receives her husband with ready food when he slinks back from an entire season of idle adultery. But she is missing from the family radar. When she actually disappears, the family unravels both individually and as a unit.

Two years ago, I asked a friend if he thought he appreciated his mother who had raised five boys. He didn’t begin to, he answered, until he had his own. And pointing to my boy, added that Tennyson will come nowhere near appreciating the cooking let alone the rest of it until he himself becomes a father. After having my own family, I have nursed shame for not having helped my mother enough in the long immigrant years she juggled work, cooking, and housekeeping, all the while somehow keeping present and active in my schooling. In my elementary years, Mom sewed for the garment factory. One time, flying off the lightning force of the Singer machine, the whole needle sank into her finger. I remember her rushing to the doctor, trying to cup the dripping blood with the other hand. The pain did not slow her down in the many things her hand had to touch: the needle’s remained to this day. We can never thank Mom enough. Because by the time you’re a parent who sees your mother’s hands in your own labor, your own family becomes priority. Grace runs down – not up. The love of a mother will outdo and outpace her child’s, and the debt you owe her is one you pay forward.

Finger Injury and A Philosophy of Mishaps

P1030734Yesterday morning, I was wrestling my son when, as I was about to call it a wrap, he kneed me in a flash that remains a blur and my left finger burned tortuously. I know the neighbors heard me scream. At the risk of downplaying or demystifying the initiation into motherhood called birthing, I have to say it hurt more than it did bringing Tennyson into the world drug-free. I didn’t scream like that then. When I was able to open my eyes and uncurl from the fetal position yesterday, I saw blood had pooled instantly at the base of the nail. I won’t belabor the pain, the swelling, what the lack of circulation did to the hand but after a day at the doctor’s and X-Ray at Urgent Care, I learned the finger’s not broken. Just a very bad sprain that will take up to six weeks.

Those who’ve been following me a while should not be surprised that I’d like to take the occasion to contemplate a philosophy of mishaps.

Two voices have been trying to talk over one another in my head. Yesterday, I was everything from frustrated to worried and angry. Mostly frustrated. What is it about me that attracts accidents and physical impediments? Sheer, simple clumsiness? If you missed the Car Accident – in the Garage tale, here it is. Some hopes and plans for the upcoming months are now delayed. So disappointing that I must wait until I’m whole again. But the steady murmur that usually accompanies me won out today: on what gumption do I wake every morning expecting the day to unfurl my way like a red carpet? I often carry the awareness that everything can change any moment. A drunk behind the wheel can wipe out my family or some freak circumstance leave my son fatherless in less time than it takes to order take-out. I am not in control. So even through rough days, I live in the preciousness of the moment and gratitude for everything I have, all gifts.

P1030739I want to grumble. It’ll serve me well to lay off the typing for a bit – another displeasure, as I can’t not write for long. My piano finger! In keeping with the broad definition of ambidexterity, I favor my left for a lot of tasks. The most unpalatable part has been having to slow down the mad speed that I rush toward one thing to the next with. The dishes, the showering, the doing everything with 1.25 hands. But this too, shall pass. I’ll take it – over something permanent or chemo.

There really wasn’t a choice: I had to cut loose the pair of wedding rings. They had choked off the blood supply and were bottlenecking the finger that only kept ballooning. Peter had realized something had to be done about the rings or the finger – he was supportive, though bummed. I was SAD when they were cut apart in Urgent Care!

Nine years since the engagement, and my finger’s naked again. Honey, when I’m healed, I’ll need a new ring.

P1030760

Dance and Marriage: Metaphors

Dance. Marriage. They serve each other as metaphors.

The Story in the Dance
Part of the charm swing dancing held for me in my early California days was its expression of manhood and womanhood. I noticed right away that it anchored men in their responsibility
1) to initiate the relationship (from the sweet, genteel May I have this dance? still extant in ballrooms) 2) to lead his partner gently through to the end.

I could slide out to the floor knowing virtually nothing of the steps the song calls for, but ended up looking like a queen when I allowed myself to lean into the cues of my skillful partner. When I relaxed under his control, the dance turned out smooth, fun, elegant. He turned my wrist, knowing where he wanted to take me in the next part of the song, and my feet somehow followed. In strong, watchful arms, I even did aerials. I flew. When he was insensitive, busy enjoying himself; or plain clumsy, I got injured. On my part, I could usually attempt only moves my partner knew. No matter that I had just learned some cool steps in a class if he didn’t allow me to showcase them. The night I met my husband, he made room in the dance for me to spin and sashay hips in a way not usually done in Swing, blending my elaboration into his choreography. The times I tensed with other men, especially in the exasperated judgment that they didn’t know what they were doing, we went out of sync and lost cadence and harmony. Which meant that oddly, yes, when I swallowed the impatience and went along with the artless motions of a dud of a dancer, we actually ended up looking pretty okay as a couple. He could take lessons, and come back new and improved. But as long as he was a botch-up all I could do to salvage us in that dance was to go along.

The Story in the Marriage
The longer you stay married, the more you experience the ways you can keep in step with one another and enjoy the music or slip into a dysfunctional waltz where you keep tripping your partner: pull or push too hard, lead without seeing the other, or refuse to follow in trust. It really is a holistic journey, so simple we miss it. All a dance is, is a pattern. The Lindy, 123 and 4, 567 and 8. Repeat. It is math in music. A healthy relationship builds on a pattern of ingenuous courtesy. You keep in tune to each other’s wishes.

The video was taken at our wedding reception which we held at the ballroom where we had met. We couldn’t run for you the original music from the reception for copyright issues, nor could we shorten it readily so if you don’t have two minutes, please don’t bother seeing it through.

I’m clearly no dancer. Peter is a different story. It was his impromptu idea at the wedding celebration that we enact how he’d approached me that fateful night we danced as strangers. So I stood again on the very spot where he’d first asked me

to dance.

Postscript
I just realized it was today in May, nine years ago, that we met.  Happy Anniversary, Honey. Sorry I kept talking about dancing with other guys.