we felt so grown up when we were kids and now wonder that we are so old when we're not yet grown we started losing our parents to time and frailty. in the cycle of life things go upside down sometimes you rush d o w n the rabbit hole into a world above the logic of sorrow and find you are so small, but remember: Mom's high ceiling, your sure ground. see the sky and trees in your pool of tears they're the other side of life. how beautiful things are when they drown how clear it is underwater. you long to run to the garden beyond that door but you don't fit life would feel deformed under the weight of loss if it weren't for the faith that was bigger than the life that shut down she archived her fears and hopes in her kids, did anyone hear the story in between, did anyone look? hold fast your heirloom assurance the midnight of your dreams is really a new day. for HJ & anyone else who would like it
Pinch me. Go on. Pinch me. You are so kidding me. The house is still but for the clicking of the keyboard. The men are on their first father-and-son overnighter in the mountains.
I am home alone tonight.
In case you don’t quite see it: over three years as a human milk bottle, I’ve also served up 11,984 meals for the Little Person. Eight years of service and I’ve earned 24 hours of heartbreakingly gratifying, suspiciously sweet time to myself. I think I’ll cry. Make that 16 hours, as I need my sleep. (Dang it. I will cry.) My men have freed me up in the past but this will be the first time T’s bed will be empty. Even as I sign my declaration of independence, relishing in my SELFHOOD, my WOMANHOOD, my WRITERHOOD…I miss my boy. No matter how deep in the mountains he goes or how long he stays away, I am a mother. His mother, the one he’ll come home to as long as she’s breathing. I blink back tears.
So. In the meantime, what shall I do with myself??
– Hit the salon & spa. (Nah. I’ll tense on the table over how long it’s keeping me from the blog.)
– Do the dishes. (LAUGH. Laaauuggh.)
– Clean and mop. (And watch Dirt Vader come undo it tomorrow.)
– Organize all these papers. (Tempting.)
– Write my next post.
I can’t type fast enough. (Don’t bother commenting. Let me write.)
i trace the exquisite lines of my grief, run
my fingers over the contours of the rock that is
my gut like the tender potter over his clay
kneading, kneading to soften the lump
and lift my head to find the
world hadn’t ground
to a halt in honor
of my loss.
squeals puncture the playground air
with a drumroll of sneakers that sound carefree but
for the worry of Tag. nothing matters more to the
flustered It than not being It anymore.
the park, a carol of delight
in the moment
it is a holiday.
a daughter is given away,
the sun breaks on the threshold of her hopes,
her horizon wide outside the windows of the church
i walk into an office, took the long way
through hell. after the unsure “i’m sorry”
the girl behind the counter continues on her business.
epiphany: the sky that had fallen on me
had shielded her head. her day intact, she consults
the clock that agrees she ought to pick up her
son from school. she doesn’t see
her beautiful ordinary.
a baby is born in the moment of my
stunned helplessness. such long arms:
the hour holds my emptiness in one hand
the fullness of a mother in the other.
but i bow my head again
my sorrow, a pain that refracts the sun.
why must anyone orbit my heartache?
i free the world to its joys and
mourn with those who mourn.
to every thing there is a season and
a time to every purpose under heaven
my time to weep, someone’s right to laugh.
i loosen the hold on the rock that is
my gut, slippery with tears. my offering
before the opulence of living.
~ for all who have grieved
When he walked in this evening, Daddy wanted to take his boy to the park. As I changed Little Man on the landing, he wrapped himself around my neck and kissed me. He smiled, “I will never let you go.”
The sacredness of the moment hurt – a swelling tight at the edges. I was thrown forward to the day time will have run out on us, make me let go my son with the borrowed breath.
“Someday you will have to,” I said quietly. A weak smile back, and we puckered for two more wet kisses.
I squeezed those little fingers down the rest of the steps.
I learned not to expect anything from anyone – not even my amazing friends – but to give. People have their own burdens. I am grateful that anyone should stop to think of me in some way. Wish I had known earlier not to impose standards in my relationships, to free people in their weakness, free God to grow them.
It was the decade I fell in love twice. With the man I agreed to marry and the baby boy I found myself cradling. I realize my guys have been my 30s. With an I.V. needling sustenance into my broken body on my 30th birthday, I had yet to imagine I would meet my husband the following year – on the dance floor. While some of the most excruciating trials darken this period of my history, these 10 years have been my best. That I should be given a companion to come alongside, hold me up and provide for me, depend on me in the mundane. That I should experience the ineffable wonder of growing a person and bringing forth that life from my own body. My hands, given to help fashion a mind and soul, feed and grow health in the person God had knit in my womb.
It was the decade I lost myself. When I plunged headlong into motherhood, Diana disappeared and in her stead emerged a little guy’s personal Hometown Buffet. Everything-From-Scratch MOM. Homeschooler. Walking Unmade Bed, way too tired to care about looking presentable.
Better late than never: on the threshold of the next decade, I began to recover that self. I hadn’t realized how I’d let myself go until I lopped off the hair that was brushing my low back last fall. I—felt—human. Eating right did not exempt me from looking okay. A photo of me and Holistic Husband when it was just the two of us presents a woman accessorized and made up. Make-up? I’d forgotten I not only once wore it, but sold it. Sigh. Last month I parted with the clothes I’d worn over 12 years. Closet’s bare! Thank God for Winter Clearance. With the help of earrings and a top that doesn’t hang on me as a freebie from a friend, I now pass for a female. I blow the dust off the gifts that shape me, so I can serve God the way I was meant to.
With the intent studies in health and natural living, I came to understand how to eat the way my body needs to. Sixteen years in the formal education system impart absolutely no working knowledge of two of the weightiest matters in life: how to eat and how to manage money. I can see why Israel’s desert wanderings lasted 40 years. Some lessons take that long. I’ve learned the kind of care my body needs, and how relationships and my response to life affect me.
I’ve developed a compassion entirely alien to my nature and temperament. It’s hard to go through near-death training and come out with no empathy for those who suffer. One step forward for every 2 or 3 in reverse has made it one dogged climb against a steady rain of impossible setbacks.. I can’t figure the math on how I’ve ended up on higher ground, except for the grace of God and the stints of running He’s blessed. I have plumbed unchartered dimensions of heartache and blackness, laid bare the nemesis fear, coming to see just how deeply it runs beneath my upsets.
It was the decade I should have known better and paid heavily for some stupid decisions. But there is no stumbling block that cannot transform into a stepping stone.
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.
I 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 that 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.