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
Yes, we all have our job. Yours is to study, mine is to cook and teach you, Daddy’s is to make money.
Huh. I have the hardest job of all.
Umma, what is the bottom number? The lowest number….the floor?
*Smile* It’ll be a negative number, right? Way below zero. Only God can reach it because He is infinite.
When I get to heaven, I’m going to ask Him to show me how He stretches from the lowest to the highest number.
*Watching him eat, in amazement*
Where does it all go? It’s a three-mile tunnel in there.
Mom, what is M x X?
Mom, you know what the bottommost lowest number is?
His prayer in Sunday School
Lord, give us joy as we fall at your feet.
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.
Back in high school, a good friend said after meeting my family, “Your mother is so beautiful. What happened to you?!” I laughed. Good question. Part of Mom’s looks have been their enviable resilience to time, which she never took for granted. Korean women are vigilant against the insistence of gravity on their face, and here I am without the aid of benevolent genes. All the more I really should groom. Mom saw the family photos I sent and called me with an opening commentary on my husband. “He looks so good. He looks better every year. But…you! Take care of yourself!” she urged. She meant the face.
I came across a group shot of friends from five years back and was shocked to see how young we were. One guy is not yet 40 and has since gone gray. But he doesn’t look bad. Somehow his wife doesn’t wear the wrinkles so well. My mother still had to maintain her attractiveness with the diligent day-and-night regimen in a way Dad was free not to have to worry about. My husband is aging like wine. Me? I’m the milk on the counter.
You men. Just how do you turn the card with the salt and pepper hair and crow’s feet? Dignified. They say you look dignified. Ugh. Not only are you spared the angst over a biological clock that measures the worth of your manhood but you have a longer visual expiration date. To add insult to injury, all you have to do is shave and get a buzz and you regain three young, handsome years. As a statistic, you die before we do. Your eye candy loses its sweetness and you’re gone. You leave us to our chores just when we could really use your muscle.
Several readers have asked to get together off the blog. I’ve taken a rain check for circumstances that keep me busy and close to home but I’m tempted to reconsider. God knows what I’ll look like in a year.
Here’s Part 1.
my boy i am the shade of his sun afraid he will burn, but i am more than the smell of the bosom he has learned, i am the album of regrets and and deficiency and forgiving the roots that climb deep down parents' omissions i am the redemption of the years my mother pushed through the choices she didn't have, on grit and coffee did you know? korean grandmothers don't have a name but Grandma in korean and tradition erased their childhood -- no one heard -- their cheerful silence was their greatest gift to us i am the epode on the piano G major 7 in improv and syncopation while i keep time for my family, i am the sus pension that knows to resolve the heave of jazz i can S C A T i am the cherry blossoms that concede their soul in season, unabashed and the ones that could not hold on their delicate dance down in death dust to dust i don't need self-esteem i know Whose i am but God doesn't have twins and He doesn't make machines we are each His masterpiece no -- no, i don't need to roar that i am Woman i just wish silence -- license -- to put to paper my person who cares what i am but the earnest page and the memories and dreams that ask not to die i am the apology that i know what i want and have begun to sing before the cicada's time i am the choices i live with am almost the books i wait wait to write. The Commons Getty Collection Galleries World Map App A fascinating report on cicadas ran in a number of media outlets last year. A certain species remains underground for 17 years, surviving on roots, to buzz an intense noise for six weeks upon surfacing - only to perish. After months of trying to figure out what about these creatures enthralled me so, it hit me in the writing. Seventeen is about the age kids leave home for college.
Every time I drive by the church where it happened, I still look away. I drown the memory in a parade of new thoughts and have managed to take Hidden Valley with the casualness I run through any other road. That evening six years ago, I was leaving the church with my toddler in my arms and didn’t realize I was about to step off a curb as we neared the parking lot. I thought I was on level ground. When the pavement gave way under my foot, we didn’t just fall. We crashed straight like a tree, Tennyson’s forehead bearing the full weight of my body in the sickening clap with concrete. I can hear him scream.
I am finding this the hardest thing I have written on this blog. The tears aside, my heart pounds with fresh pain and I am clammy with sweat, replaying the tape. My boy was okay (by medical standards, though I knew cells and neurons had their work cut out for them). And as I walked through a doorway the next day wearing him on my back, I didn’t know he was sticking his head out to the side. BAM went his head against the wall along the threshold. Yes, on the same spot.
I was beside myself when I called my husband. Rather than blame me for my incompetence and idiocy, the amazing man expressed compassion. He had only to imagine what I was going through to feel terrible for me. I will never forgive myself the injuries my son suffered that week. And I will shut off the comments if you try to encourage me out of it. Finger on the trigger.
I peer at myself as I would a lab specimen. I am not one of those people who goes around saying sorry. I don’t wring my hands, gush to please and – as much as I pity them – don’t cry for cats that are run over. I am also well versed in the theology of forgiveness and grace, my surety and the cornerstone of my faith. But when I dissect the narratives in my head, I discover so many threads of quiet self-condemnation it’s as though I’m built out of it. The bruises of masochistic abuse remain well hidden. They are more like innocent white noise of the subtext that plays out in my day.
Even now it takes effort to switch off the autopilot on the self-blame when Tennyson comes down with a cold. Why didn’t I dress him more warmly yesterday? I shouldn’t have given him dairy. My mind reels back through the previous few days to puzzle where I’d gone wrong, what I ought to have done to keep him well. I live with the sense of failure for not keeping my home tidier. Tennyson’s math workbook disappeared recently. But I just organized! I marveled. For days I scoured the car, the learning room, the laundry room, family room, office, and then looped back wondering how I could be so inept at the housekeeping so as to lose lesson books. I asked the little man again if he’d seen it. Then when I presented him with the next book in the series I’d resigned to fast-forwarding him to, my sweet child exclaimed, “Oh, I know where it is!” slipping the magic find out of a crevice behind a poster.
Disbelief. He had hidden it so he wouldn’t have to do his math. My son, who’s made no habit of lying.
I swallow guilt every morning I start him with the book while (and so that) I can get back to readers. I should sit with him more. My conscience reminds me that I have yet to teach him piano and the Korean alphabet. What will I do with myself when I come through? Ah, fortunately for me the Holistic Fault Factory runs a tireless operation. Can’t disappoint Korean management. I’ve spoken of the ongoing struggle it is for me as an artist, caught between my writing and the life outside it. A friend shared a bit of wisdom she picked up in regard to time that I have to digest: receive the gift of your limitations.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? Even when freed up to blog, I’ve felt bad for shooting out more than one post in a day, though a new rhythm is something I’ve had to deal with in the fall school year; I’ve hated to bother you. I refrained from writing about myself in any depth for a full year, not wanting to waste your time with stories of my past. I will sometimes disable the likes, feeling bad for getting “too many”. Simply unable to keep up, I’ve grudgingly learned to fall behind on all the blogs to visit back. I’m tapping into followers and visitors from January – not that anyone’s waiting. So trying to make heads and tails out of this strange creature in the mirror, I’ve a suspicion guilt is something we experience in and between relationships. I feel its weight as wife and mother, and even as blogger.
I grapple with it in connection with my body, eating guilt when I don’t do enough vegetables. As a teenager, I didn’t salt my food. I felt guilty for the flavor. Then there’s the chagrin when I ease up on the work-outs in order to write. And the resentment, those other days, in not being able to open the windows of my mind, let my words out, is actually the sorrow of being untrue to myself. I’m crazy. Annoyed every time my mother cries about all the ways she (says that she) wronged me in my younger years, I think people derive a certain pleasure in the self-incrimination. It is possible – God makes it possible – for us to live free from our failings and remorse. Why are we afraid to let these go? Why do we resist grace?
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.
Your toe broke through the sole of your shoe. I didn’t want you stepping on the cold, wet ground. I put you on my back – my boy almost seven – and had trouble walking. With a friend of mine, we peeped into some run-down restaurants for a new shoe. Leaving the row of shops, we stood on a threshold under the eaves, facing the pavement. I cradled you.
I would carry you in the rain.
You grew a few years smaller in my arms. As I asked my friend to cover your face with your blue jacket, you slipped into bed with me, pulling me out into the fresh, dry morning. The first thing you asked was what I’d dreamt.
Last week you mused, “I wonder what’s inside the sun, Umma. I want to see.” You expressed this so imploringly. Should I not have told you that you will burn? Should I have left you to dream impossible dreams? Did I kill your wondering?
The other day you took car tracks bereft of car and remote, and turned them into a runway for your plane. The delight on your face when that plane took off. And Daddy and I had wanted to get rid of the tracks. You blow me away. Life blows you away.
I forget why I keep you close. To free you to stand on your slab of questions and ingenuity, ready to run into the sun. I know that this side of dreams, there’ll be no carrying you in the rain.
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?