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
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.)
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 sacred moment hurt – a swelling tight at the edges. I was thrown forward to the day time will have run out on us, ask that I return 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 just because it was 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 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.
Words go unsaid too many times but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice when you step to the shadows so I can have my day in the sun. You’ve saved portions of food so that I’d have enough to eat when I get home from work. You laboured over the stove when you were so ill it made my whines about my colds seem like tantrums. It is such a struggle in our third world culture to be a woman, wife and of all things, a mother. It is a job that gets the most rocks thrown at, the rocks I have thrown at you to feed my teenage angst. All the hurtful things I have said, you have never held them against me. I am where I am because you believed that being a woman is not a disability, that being Indian is not something to be ashamed of. You taught me the power of following your dreams, not with endless lectures, but by being an example. I have explored the world on the wings of your sacrifices and cheerleading.
You know that day they say will be ours, that everyone will have their day? I know that day will come only because you have built it patiently, rock by collected rock (you never seem to be able to get rid of anything I give you). They will one day look at me and say, look at that woman, doesn’t she look like her mother? It will be the proudest day of my life.
Cupitonians at This Labrynth I Roam
My mother had a fine palate for music even as a girl. She didn’t grow up with much in Seoul but was cultured in the great Classical composers. So 25 years later when the world-famous Chung Trio was expected to play at Carnegie Hall, Mom didn’t think twice. It was a memory she couldn’t help see through for her kids. So what that she was an immigrant, didn’t know English? She reached deep into the pockets of her waitress apron, a matter of course that the most sophisticated halls of New York should open its doors to her family. She managed piano lessons for her girl. It would be inspirational for her daughter to see a Korean family perform on such an illustrious stage. Kyung Wha played violin and her sister cello, their brother on piano. But I was actually more impressed with the grandeur of the theatre than the performance when Mom kept asking how I liked it. She imagined I had more discernment in music than I did as a ten-year-old. Not many years later, Mom found me crying helplessly while listening to one of her favorite pieces, Gounod’s Ave Maria. I couldn’t explain the ache of all the memories, of having watched her work so hard, the feeling of her that welled up and over from the song I always associated with Umma. Twenty-five years later I would play it for my boy. My little musician doesn’t know that someday he will love it even more when it brings back his Umma.
Holistic Wayfarer on A Holistic Journey
My parents were German emigrants to Australia. I remember lying in the middle of their bed in Sydney, my mother laughing as she tried to teach me to whistle, rain bucketing down outside. I still love hearing rain on a tin roof. After her passing, my father was my next mother. A practical industrial chemist, he made pea and pigs trotter soup in his lab. And brought the huge pot home in the trunk of his car. I still fear the smell of pea and ham soup! When my grandmother came from Germany, the soup got much better. She knitted itchy jumpers with love, and I translated English movie plots into German for her. My Australian stepmother cooks with love: bread, lemon cakes, butterscotch tarts, date cuddle cookies. Cabbage rolls and herring salad for my father – even pea soup. She understands the nostalgic potency of a mother’s cooking. My mother-in-law is quintessential Australia: roses in a crystal vase on a windowsill, chicken veggie soup, the darn lemon tree that’s been dying for ten years she refuses to give up on, the dreadful songs on country radio that were old twenty years ago, the smell of lamb roast wafting through her house. Mothers reach us through the senses into the sense of our soul.
Susan at Putting in a Good Word
When I was a child Maman sewed most of my clothes. While she hemmed a new summer dress, I had to stand still.
“Parfait,” she declared with a final critical look.
Everything had to look perfect for Maman.
At lunchtime Maman used to dash to the garden, leaving the subtle mix of her eau de toilette and hairspray traceable when I came home from school. She returned with a bunch of fresh parsley she held like a bouquet of flowers. Those agile fingers chopped the herbs and sprinkled them on the tomato salad.
“Taste,” she would urge, pushing a plate in front of me. “Meilleur?”
Everything had to taste better for Maman.
I was so tired of parfait and meilleur that I couldn’t wait for wrong and worse.
It is said a daughter understands her mother when she becomes a mother herself. But it sometimes takes going far away to grasp the significance of rituals and customs mothers pass on. In California, the memory of Maman guided me while I clumsily pinned the hems of my girls’ prom dresses. Now my daughter is planting herbs – cilantro, her parsley.
Bonne Fête Maman!
Happy Mother’s Day!
Evelyne @ Evelyne Holingue
I’ve condensed the radio interview that featured on This American Life, Love is a Battlefield. What do you make of this woman?
For seven-and-a-half years, Daniel was confined to a crib. He ate in it, stared out the window during the day and slept upright in the space he shared with another boy in the orphanage. He had no idea that across the Atlantic, a woman named Heidi had picked him out of a magazine from an adoptive agency. She would fly to Romania with her husband Rick to take Daniel to his new home in Ohio.
The adjustment for everyone was relatively smooth the first six months. Until Daniel’s eighth birthday rolled around. He had never contemplated what a birthday meant and started wrestling with the realization that he had parents who could have chosen not to leave him in an orphanage. Anger overwhelmed him and “he needed to hate someone. Heidi and Rick were the people closest at hand. And so his tantrums became tornadoes of rage. Seven, eight hour marathons where he would throw literally anything he could get his hands on. He put more than a thousand holes in the walls of his room. They had to move everything out of his bedroom except a mattress.”
Social workers and specialists left their home bleeding, needing medical attention. But Daniel’s greatest pleasure was in hurting Mom. She shared, “One time he gave me a black eye when I was trying to help him and he smiled like he was so happy.”
“And what did you think when you saw your son smiling?”
Observe her unemotional response.
“I thought he really needs serious help.”
Rick had to hire a bodyguard for Heidi and they called the police regularly. Rick could take only so much and threatened to leave. When Heidi was asked point blank if she would’ve sacrificed her marriage, her voice trailed off, “I didn’t want to…”
I was so exasperated. She obviously had been willing.
Then one day when Heidi was preparing Daniel a snack, he grabbed a knife from the counter and held it to her throat.
The interviewer asked, “How do you love somebody who is homicidal?”
And I was disarmed: “Well, because he was my son. I mean, you have to love him or else there’s no way out of it. It’s like, if you’re lost, you want to keep moving forward to get to the end place. I don’t think I ever questioned my love.”
She was his mother. As simple and as definitive as that.
What Heidi feared was that Daniel would end up seriously hurting someone else. After consulting a string of psychiatrists, she settled on a highly intensive program related to attachment therapy under the guidance of Dr. Ronald Federici in Virginia. She and Daniel were required to spend eight weeks side by side, literally no farther than three feet apart.
“The goal of his plan is to try to recreate the bond that never occurred because I wasn’t with him when he was born. But it’d be very natural for a newborn baby to spend an extensive amount of time just next to the mom.”
Daniel reported: “I didn’t go to school. She stopped her job. When she would go to the bathroom I would be right outside the door. When I went to the bathroom, she’d be right outside. The only time she was not next to me was when I was sleeping. And like literally, that was it.”
Like mothers and their babies, Heidi and her son also had to spend time looking at each other. Daniel was required to look into Heidi’s eyes in every interaction. Every time he resisted, he was subjected to greater gestures of intimacy. They would sit on the couch and she would punish him by hugging him. Initially, Daniel’s behavior deteriorated.
But then he gave in.
He actually came to understand, likely for the first time, that his mother loved him. The transformation came slowly, and when stealing replaced the violence, the therapy changed. Rick and Heidi cradled him 20 minutes like a baby every night. At 13, Daniel was bigger than Mom but complied for the ice cream they spooned into his mouth to keep him still. He started opening up, talked about what it had been like in the orphanage. Slowly helped around the house, made friends.
Then he won the Brickner Award from synagogue, given to the valedictorian of the confirmation class. Though Mom had taken Daniel to synagogue hoping it would help develop morals, he was kicked out many times over the years with the help of the police. The distinction he earned was a miracle. Sharing the troubles of his early life in his acceptance speech, Daniel kept his composure – until the end. He shook:
“Before I finish, I’d like to thank two people, my mom and dad. The reason that I’m here today and the kind of person I am today is because of you. Dad, you’re one heck of a guy to put up with a crazy family like this. And you guys are both amazing. I love you very much.”
Heidi said it was “without doubt, the most spectacular moment of her life.”
This moment made for an exultant redemption of an arduous journey. But the closing footnote was what I found most interesting.
“Heidi and Rick were able to take a seven-year-old with no direct experience of adult affection, and with a certain amount of pain and suffering, turn him into a loving son. The only problem is that the actual participants in this story see things differently.”
Heidi said she doesn’t feel one can teach love.
Heidi: I don’t think the goal was ever love. The goal was attachment.
She seems utterly practical about the whole thing, even about whether or not her son now loves her.
Heidi: Yeah, I feel loved by Daniel. I don’t think he wants to hurt me. I don’t worry about that at all.
It’s a very unsentimental view of her relationship with her child. But that is probably exactly what had made Heidi so successful. She is an unusually pragmatic person. She’s not a flowering earth mother with a wealth of love to give. She is fundamentally realistic, tough-minded. And these are precisely the characteristics that are needed in this situation. If you’re the kind of person who actually needs love, really needs love, chances are you’re not the kind of person who’s going to have the wherewithal to create it. Creating love is not for the soft and sentimental among us. Love is a tough business.
What do you think of Heidi’s missionary zeal, her unflinching devotion to her son even against the threat to her life? And the closing commentary? A lot of women – a lot of people – would’ve wrung their hands and most understandably taken it personally to have a knife put to their throat in this context. I was fascinated by the thought that anyone more emotionally needy than Heidi would not have been able to pull off the change of heart in her son. Parents who are abusive are in fact often acting out the disappointment of not receiving the love they demand from their child. You also wonder how much grief biological parents would take from their kid. But Heidi’s parenting reveals that to her, Daniel was her blood. Any thoughts on this woman’s bottomless reserve of patience and determination?
Authorities report petite 5’3″ Asian-American woman with brown hair, brown eyes, who had gone missing six-and-a-half years ago emerged tired but happy under a mountain of blogging notes in her office. Her story follows.
I was never sympathetic to mothers who wanted to step outside the home, whether for coffee or career. Until the poem st r u gg ling artist sprung a leak in my heart. Oh, I see. The women were trying to keep her in view, the SELF the roles within the four walls can easily consume.
I would never have written the poem my first five years as a mom. I had erased, along with myself, my capacity for wanting anything more than domesticity. With easy and undemanding husband and son, it was a self-imposed disappearance traceable to those troublesome standards of mine. I would give all as Mother. But as the st r u gg ling artist took on life it hit me that simmering and soaping in the kitchen for three hours was a bit excessive and not the best redemption of my education and time. Ah, there’s that question of woman’s place in the world, the loaded pistol. I consider homemaking among the noblest of callings, the kitchen the literal source of nourishment for the family. With joy I have poured years and love into that room. Another place with a tale is the car that is a second home for many Californians. I’ve realized rearview mirrors are for looking at someone else – not yourself. Just yesterday it had shown me my baby boy taking in the world in wonder. He now smiles back through that small mirror, full of questions and song and laughter. Okay, Mom, sit back. God’s blessed those years over stove and sink. Your boy thrives. And you?
Fall in love is what I did on the blog, the best thing I’ve taken up since marrying the man I did and having my son. Fell in love with the process, the art. What a thrill – not the instant rush in a roller coaster but the profound satisfaction of being communicated. Readers let me know, yes, I got through. And along the way, I discovered I am a person. A self-portrait of the woman who’d gone missing in the mothering reemerged from the words that came. She loves telling stories. She’ll pick her battles but on marked ground will dig her heels in, even to bleed in the fight. When she doesn’t have the answers, she could think out loud through the writing. And find a world was listening. My heart felt like it started beating again to put words together. How can this be, when I love my family as I do, when plenty of good filled my life?
When you are your child’s school and you try to keep up the home cooking, time is wishful thinking. This variable summary of the activities that fill my week doesn’t even include the groceries. In cracks of time, I’m reading our history text or planning my next post, though I’m scribbling away in my head throughout the day.
Fresh air/Extracurricular activity
Martial Arts/My workout
Son’s bed routine
Sink into office chair. Oh yes, I have something called a husband. Tend to homeschool matters. Get back to readers. Try. To. Write. Clean? Build my social media networks? Talk to more magazine editors? Write my ebook? Don’t forget my food blog.
So kidding me.
The Opinionated Man declined to answer this question in the recent interview: “If your wife had your personality, abilities, and drive (that is, were she your twin but by gender) do you think she could pull off blogging as successfully as the Opinionated Woman without compromising her responsibilities to her family – especially as a mother?” OM said he didn’t like to get into hypotheticals. All I know is when my husband takes our son out to leave me to my devices, he throws open a window for me but I can’t shake the guilt that I should be with them. No, women can’t have it all. At least not mothers. So while my statistics pale in the shadow of power bloggers, I take pause at this milepost of follows to look back on the road my guys and I have managed to pave. I came on WordPress in March, (backposted February’s thoughts) a neophyte in the world of blogging. Took a while to puzzle out the technique and art, and gained a modest 100 followers by May. I tried putting up this post right on the heels of a 1000 subscribers five months later – but you guessed it, time did not allow.
I rummage in the purse for a weightier token of my affection and gratitude for your faithful reading, the benevolent feedback. Thank you doesn’t seem to cut it. But night has fallen and the sand rises in the hourglass. The thanks will have to do. If you can stay a bit, here’s a lineup of oldies you might have missed. I saw day in their writing. It might not be clear that you can tap the links to open. Hope you enjoy. You’ve been amazing.
The post that launched the holistic journey:
Lessons from My 30s
The Question of Human Suffering
The Writing Process: Save Spit
The Writing Process II: Let the Clichés R.I.P.
The Writing Process II: Grammar Mafia
The little guy fell in love with this song by Chris Tomlin, Sovereign, when I was practicing for church last year.
I think Tennyson played better here. He was 5 1/2. In the zone. I quickly grabbed the camera: