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moving blues

My mom has been talking about moving back to Seoul for years. My brother lives there, and Korea has only gotten more exciting in the 31 years she’s been gone. Now, she’s finally doing it. I’ve spent the last weeks and months in denial, but at night, in the moments after I’ve closed my eyes and am awaiting sleep, I see it—my life without her. And I am unmoored.

But I can’t dwell on the emotional stuff yet, because we’re just getting through the logistics of her move. Last weekend I was forced to confront the reality of her departure by helping her sell her belongings at a garage sale. Tom, Tate, Finn, Cuz, and I packed into our cars and drove over to my Mom’s at 8:00 AM.

Garage sales are absurd. As I am scared of old things, and am even more scared of other people’s old things, I had not fully realized this fact until I was forced to participate in one. Garage sales are also tragi-comedies in miniature. A mountain of STUFF, representing fragments of a life, being sold for pennies on the dollar.

My mom is purging. She’s excited about her future, and her main priority is to clear out her house so she won’t have to put her things in storage. But a lot of those things, which represent to her the life she wants to leave in her rearview mirror, are, for me, anchors to memories that are getting fuzzier by the year. She wants to move forward, but I cannot hold onto the past, or her, tightly enough. And so, on the day of the garage sale, she kept putting things out on the tables, and I kept moving those things to my car.

I hate clutter. I don’t want more stuff. But still I stole her red mug, from which she drank her tea every day when I was growing up. I slipped my dad’s favorite blazer off the sale rack and buried my face inside it, irrationally hoping to smell his smell even though he’s been gone 14 years, and felt the tears rise when I couldn’t. No matter–into the car it went. Art books my mom bought at the Met after our trips there, where she instilled in me a love of art so deep that I majored in art history in college; furniture that had stood for years in my childhood home; party clothes I remember my mom wearing, in the unreal and untouchable beauty of her 30s and 40s. All of it, being sold, for nothing.

The past—the tragic part of the tragi-comedy.

But in my kids—the future—there was comedy. Watching kids at a garage sale is great fun, because they fixate on the weirdest, most valueless things amongst the detritus. Like dinky little calculators and ten-year old cell phones. Finn called his new (old) calculator his “Super Duper Computer” and punched numbers into it for a good two hours. Tate talked into his new (old) cell phone. Possibly, to order pants, because he had an accident as soon as we got to the sale, and had to spend the rest of the day in a pair of my mom’s underwear, tied off with a scrunchy.

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Liberated of pants, Tate ignored everyone else and curated his own pop-up within the sale. Only the finest Tate-approved items, laid out in a deconstructionist arrangement that reduced the experience of being a 3-year old boy, down to its essence. On the left, the Stick. In the middle, some negative space, an assortment of balls, and the aforementioned Nokia. On the right, the Wooden Rackets, which, depending on how they are wielded, offer the full spectrum of destructive force required by a toddler. The only thing missing from the installation is a Lego boat filled with three Lego figures missing their hats, but my mom wasn’t selling any Legos. Otherwise, Tate could have glued it all down, titled the installation “Objects: and then i was thrEe,” and sold it at auction.

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How can she leave Tate? He’s so cute. How can she leave me? How can she leave me.

I dread the day my Mom gets on that plane. But I welcome it too, just so I can experience again what it’s like to live life without swallowing past a lump in my throat.

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pesto for all

I feel like my kids are turning a corner with food, as my friends promised me they would. Finn ate the celery or carrots in his lunchbox, five days in a row. At dinner on Tuesday he only dry-heaved twice while eating a green bean. On Thursday, Tate ate two fistfuls of broccoli when I looked past my fear of celebrity chefs to try Jessica Seinfeld’s admittedly delicious recipe for Beef with Broccoli.

I can hardly breathe for the excitement. But I’ve gotten excited at my kids’ minor dietary improvements in the past, scared them by going overboard (see, spinach-garbonzo bean fritters), and ended up worse off than before. This time, I’m pacing myself.

So, pesto. My friends Patrick and Mollyanne brought some pesto for the kids when we went on vacation. Patrick is a chef, so I’m constantly watching his kids eat stuff that makes me want to flip a table over, in rage and jealousy. But Tate, who I suspect would be an adventurous eater if he didn’t see his big brother reject foods on a daily basis, ate up Mollyanne’s pesto, quick as a wink. Finn, that wretch, refused to try it. But Finn’s recent forays into new foods had me hopeful. So yesterday, I made my own batch of spinach-basil pesto, heavy on the spinach.

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Look at the color!! A bright and sexy jade green. Almost unidentifiable as a food object, in the best possible way.

Unfortunately, Finn’s not impressed with the color green, especially as it relates to food. When I brought the pasta to the table, he actually cried. I’m accustomed to it now, but still, there’s no crappier feeling than cooking something that reduces someone to tears.  I made a five-pound turkey meatloaf once that had Tom crying for a week.  I know it’s not right, but when it happens, my first impulse is to dump the food on the head of the person who is crying, or to smash their face into their plate.

In any event, this isn’t my first ride on the merry-go-round. At this point, the crying has to be pretty intense to faze me–like, there have to be hiccups.  I ignored Finn’s tears and put three pieces of green pasta on his plate, and told him he was to try it. After his second bite, his grimace relaxed into a confused expression. And then, the clouds parted. “I like pesto, Mama.” He ate two bowls for dinner, and a cucumber from the salad (dry heave: 1). All told, he probably had a single serving of vegetables. But still, better than nothing.

That’s not even the clincher. When I tucked him into bed later that night, Finn requested pesto in his lunchbox the next day.

I may have cried a bit myself when he said that. Tears of motherlovin’ joy.

No Tears Spinach-Basil Pesto

1 cup packed spinach leaves (more or less won’t hurt)

1 cup packed basil leaves (ditto)

2 T pine nuts

1-2 cloves garlic

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1. Combine ingredients in a food processor. Whir until blended into a rough paste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately or refrigerate with plastic wrap touching the top of the pesto, to retain the color. Store up to three days.

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race blind

Some things are complicated. Like how to address race with my kids. Cuz, who has lived in NYC all of her life aside from a four-year sojourn at Dartmouth, recently overheard me talking to Finn about someone with brown skin. “What the hell is a brown person? You mean a black person?” I looked at her in horror. “We don’t say ‘black person,'” I hissed, fighting the urge to cover Finn’s ears. “You’re right, ‘brown person’ sounds so much better,” Cuz shot back. This, only days after I overheard her nonchalantly chatting with a wide-eyed Finn about people she knew, DYING. I have a feeling this is going to be an educational year for Finn.

I admit to being overly sensitive about race and nationality. But consider this. I am Korean. And over the years, I’ve built up a distaste for inaccurate labels. Like, when people ask me if I’m North Korean. I get that question every couple years, usually from a lawyer. One day, I hope to work up the guts to respond “Yes, I broke out of North Korea and swam to the US.”

Let me save you and the Koreans in your life from an awkward moment: chances are extremely high—like 99.8%—that none of the Koreans you know are from North Korea. I know a lot of Koreans, and I don’t know any.  Cuz has met ONE, and the incident sticks out in her memory as if the North Korean she met was Kim Jong Il.

To put it in perspective, asking a Korean-American if they are from North Korea is like asking a Canadian if they know Santa Claus. Neither question reflects well on the speaker’s intelligence.  A quick refresher: North Korea is an impenetrable hermit kingdom from which there is no easy escape. There is a reason you don’t see real North Koreans except every four years during the Olympics, when their tiny delegation will inevitably suffer some unfortunate diplomatic slight. I come from South Korea, a modern democracy that has HOSTED the Olympics and is likely responsible for producing your cell phone, flat screen TV, and the valedictorian of your high school class.

But I’d rather be called North Korean than oriental, any day of the week. I don’t hear it as often as I used to, but I still hear the word and it drives me batsh*t crazy. If you don’t think “oriental” is still a thing, consider that until very recently, Wendy’s had a menu item called the Oriental Chicken Salad. First of all, many of the Orientals I know don’t like chicken, and they sure as hell don’t like it on a salad. Second of all, the addition of canned mandarin oranges to a dish does not make it Asian. It just makes it gross.

tom (two-time Wendy’s Employee of the Month) and his half-orientals

Anyway. My kids seem to have it figured out, in spite of my pathetic efforts at political correctness. Denying or negating differences just doesn’t work, and leads to lots of uncomfortable questions to which I have no answers. So I’ve decided to affirm my kids’ astute observations that people are different. Because we ARE different. The kids sometimes describe friends and teachers as having browner skin or whiter skin, and their daddy as being pink. Which is all true. Why get in the way of that kind of honesty?

Last night we sat outside Ruby Jewel, licking ice cream cones. Finn silently shot all passerby with his finger gun, until a black man passed by. Finn then gave an enthusiastic hello: “Hey, Man!” The guy turned to smile at Finn and say “What’s up.” Tom and I froze and looked at one another, thinking identical thoughts. Tom gave me a look: my turn.

“Hey, so Finn, why did you call that guy ‘Man’?,” I asked.

Finn slowly licked his ice cream cone and rolled his eyes. “Because, Mommy. He’s a MAN.”

And there you have it.

pleasantville

I’ve processed many short bits of “Breaking Bad” over Tom’s shoulder in the last few months. I know nothing about the show but it seems to involve unattractive people and unsavory dealings in a suburban milieu. I don’t know if it’s the show, or the fact that Portland can’t seem to afford an active police force right now, or the fact that Cuz, recently transplanted from NYC, has commented numerous times about the dangers of living in Portland—yes, Portland—but I’m feeling a bit spooked and under siege in my home.

It started a month ago, when neighbors started emailing around about would-be thieves posing as Comcast employees. I don’t want to get into the details but the incidents were alarming enough that we all took extra care to lock our doors for a while. But time passes, and I forgot all about it, until I went grocery shopping with Cuz and she started talking about a weird Comcast employee who had stopped by during the day, asking her a slew of questions about who she was and how long she was staying in Portland, and where my husband and I were, and for how long. He left a flyer, with a handwritten note to call him about saving money. Bad number. Ugh.

The Comcast story isn’t that interesting, except to lay the foundation for my current, keyed up mood. All of a sudden, I’m buggin’. I see danger everywhere. The morning after I heard about the Comcast guy, I woke up and saw this in my parking strip.

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I’m not one to freak out unnecessarily, which probably explains why I am robbed bi-annually. But that is a heavy metal mystery box chained to a tree in my front yard. With a serious lock, and electric wires protruding from it. I didn’t put it there. I thought, for three seconds, that it may have been Tom, but let’s be serious, there are at least seven things in this photo that require mechanical know-how that my husband does not possess.

Plus, I’ve seen a lot of episodes of McGyver. And if I learned anything from that show, it’s that if a box has wires coming out of it and is chained to something, it’s a bomb. Normally, my rational mind would stop me at this point to say, “Yoona, what are the chances that there is a bomb chained to a tree in your yard?” But as I said, I’m keyed up. On top of the Comcast thing, I’d been watching the DNC all week, worrying that someone would try to bomb the convention. So I saw this box chained to my tree, and promptly freaked out. I then proceeded to do the one thing I always do when I freak out, which is, to bother Tom.

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But Tom wasn’t taking my texts that morning, either because of a legal emergency, or because he appears to permanently reside in a deadspot that is immune to receiving texts from my phone, unless I’m texting him to ask for his Chipotle order.

When Tom finally did call, he told me, matter-of-factly, that this box is likely a monitor of sorts, a machine that measures speed and other traffic info. He said he saw such boxes growing up in Michigan. Which hardly seems possible, because there are solar panels on the top of the box, and solar technology certainly postdates Tom’s childhood by at least a couple decades. But, per the usual, the more Tom talked, the more it made sense. Once explained, I hated the box even more, because now, the box made me feel stupid. It also made me feel panicked, because it suggested that someone on my street had complained about the speed of driving on my road, which made me wonder if they had called about me.

No time to dwell on it, though, because there was other spooky stuff to get paranoid about. That very night, I opened up Tom’s medicine cabinet looking for some Advil, and stumbled upon this.

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I would hardly say otherwise here, but believe me when I say that I am clueless about drugs.  Almost the entirety of what I know about drugs comes from local news stories about meth, and my trusty US Weekly.  I still don’t really know anything about meth except that it gives you terrible skin and that you cook it, using common household items like fruit roll-ups. As for US Weekly, my most favored news source tells me that prescription drug abuse is running amok through Young Hollywood. Tom’s not a part of Young Hollywood, but Young Hollywood nonetheless sprang to mind when I saw his medicine cabinet.

I had so many questions. What was Patanase? A quick glance at the label revealed that Patanase is a nose spray for allergies. But WHY? I hadn’t noticed Tom’s allergies being particularly intense this year. Why would anyone have that much nose spray? Could my husband be addicted to Patanase? Could the addiction be spiraling out of control? Could the spiraling addiction explain why he keeps washing my yoga pants with towels, and also forgetting to turn the sprinkler off? Could it?? And how about the coupon for $40 off? $40 off a container of Patanase? How much did this stuff COST??? How could he need MORE Patanase? And when would the coupon expire?

Tom says most of the Patanase tubes are empty. Which raises lots of other questions, like why I even allow him to have his own medicine cabinet. But between the fake Comcast employees and the traffic boxes that look like bombs, I’m too tired to think about it.

boy crazy

We spent Labor Day weekend with a group of friends at the Oregon Coast. The last gasp of Summer 2012. Two houses, and ours was the boy house. At various points in the weekend, there were seven boys, aged 4 months to 6 years, tearing through the house. That’s Kai at left, who I managed to fall in love with, in spite of his dad Kenji being Japanese.

You already know the weekend was nuts, so you probably think I’m going to go all downer on you, but not today, friends. Try this on for size: boys are awesome. Throw in the reliably amusing behavior of their dads, and it all added up to an epic weekend of observing all the different ways in which men can be men.

don’t worry, there’s no maker’s in the yogurt

The weekend reaffirmed for me everything I’ve known since I was 17 and told my high school boyfriend that I wanted three sons. And that is, that boys rule.

finn with cool girl tessa

As I was saying, boy behavior is really fun to observe. Here’s Garrett, a stellar boy child who spent most of the weekend clicking photos on a little fake camera and dragging his brown blanket around. See that bit stuck in his nose right there? That’s the “Stinky Part.” The part that Garrett sticks in his mouth and nose, the part that soothes him as no other part of the blanket can. The part he asks for by name. Garrett’s mom Michele worries that there’s actual mold in the Stinky Part, but he’s a stubborn one. Boys can be that way.

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Garrett found a mate in Tate, my chill kid who is usually doing his own thing away from the crowd. In the pic below, there’s a group of sand castle makers, and then Tate, in the distance, making an offering to the sea. He played silently by himself in this manner for a long stretch of time, only pausing to snack on handfuls of sand and some charred wood from a bonfire.

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But not even Tate could resist the fun of romping around with a bunch of boys all weekend. And that’s the beauty of boys. Get a bunch of them together, and they physically cannot stay apart. They’re like magnets. The touching inevitably leads to fighting, so you try to nip it in the bud and pull them apart early on, but why? Then you’d miss out on moments like this.

Or this. BTW we don’t think Garrett was going for a Nazi salute. Or that Finn intended to hug his brother by the face. But with boys, sometimes the execution can be a little rough.

Big boys are fun to observe too. Michigan played Alabama over the weekend. Luckily for the group, we can claim as our own, the two most long-suffering Michigan fans west of Ann Arbor. When I met Tom, Michigan was winning, and things were different–he was obsessed, but justifiably so, and while the team might lose a game or two, the season always ended on a happy note. These days, watching Whitey and Tom sit through a Michigan game is akin to watching two people flagellate themselves. It’s all very sad to observe. But also, very funny.

Here they are, mid-game. Note Whitey, self-medicating. Note Chris, in background, bored. Note Tom, looking like he’s passing a stone. Please also note that I’ve actually watched Tom pass a kidney stone, and he looked less pained then than he does here.

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Probably due to the strain from staring at a TV that hard for four hours while willing it to show something other than a 41-14 loss, Tom woke up the next day with a bruised, purple eyelid. He admitted early on that it didn’t hurt, but that doesn’t mean the eye didn’t make its presence felt throughout the remainder of the weekend. In fact, given Tom’s intense focus on his eye, you would think that the eyeball had fallen out or was hanging on by a single nerve. When I asked if anyone needed anything at the store, the sole request came from Tom, who mewled that he could use some hydrocortisone and Advil. When he disappeared for an hour before dinner, I found him hiding under a duvet, sleeping. When I poked him awake, he yelled that he was “resting his eye.”

Tom spent a good part of Saturday googling his symptoms on his phone, with no firm diagnosis. For the record: if you google “purple” and “eyelid,” you will quickly land on “eyelid dermatitis.” It took me like 17 seconds, as it might take you—assuming, I guess, that you are female. If you are male, you might start with “purple eyelid,” get distracted by game highlights on ESPN, and then find yourself watching Kate Upton doing the Dougie on YouTube, two hours later. No joke, my friend Ethan has watched that video like 3700 times. But I’m rambling again. I guess if Tom had managed to diagnose his eye, he couldn’t have enjoyed lurking in the background all weekend with a dishtowel pressed to his face. Here he is, photo-bombing poor baby Graham.

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Boys are wild. Boys are rambunctious. Boys can be hooligans. But I’d argue that boys have a capacity for uncomplicated joy—expressed through flying-ninja kicks, overeager hugs, and go-go-go—that is second to none. Boys have no talent for artifice, and call a spade a spade, even if that spade means offering the unsolicited opinion that you have a moustache. They love and feel pain with everything they have. And if you’re lucky, your boys turn into men like the ones here: complicated, challenging, indomitable, and my God—so damn amazing.